Salaam Alaikum! (Peace be upon you)
My name is Deonna, and I am a Muslim who, on occasion, does a little bit of paranormal investigation. I am the new editor of Ghostvillage.com, one of the Web’s most popular paranormal destinations. In September, my book, Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts, Hauntings, Spooks & Spirits will hit the bookstores.
To my knowledge, I am one of the few Muslims in the paranormal community – but I know I am not the ONLY Muslim doing a little bit of ghost hunting.
There are three questions people tend to ask me these days. The first is 1) How did you become interested in the paranormal, followed by 2) How do people in the paranormal community react to you being a Muslim. Finally, someone gets around to 3) How did you become a Muslim in the first place?
Raised in the rural South, I was christened Methodist and reared Southern Baptist. I went to school with fellow Baptists and Methodists, plus Mennonites and Pentecostal Holiness. Because I was tucked away so far in the woods, I didn’t meet anyone who was Catholic or Jewish until I moved to the big town when I was 16 years old. How I stumbled into Islam is interesting, but not part of this particularly blog entry. Nor am I going to talk about how I became interested in ghost hunting. You’ll just have to read my book to hear that story.
I will address question number two: How do people in the paranormal community react to you being a Muslim? And I’ll add a second part: How do Muslims react to me being a ghost hunter?
The Paranormal Community
First, the paranormal community has been really supportive and genuinely interested in my personal beliefs. This is quite profound, as there are large segments of the community that are politically conservative. Unfortunately, there are even larger segments of American society that are Islamophobic. The paranormal community is really tolerant when it comes to spiritual beliefs. It is one of those rare places a Catholic priest can meaningfully interact with Wiccans and psychics. I commend the community for being so accepting and tolerant.
Honestly, I have no idea how Muslims will respond to this. I know there are Muslims who are fans of paranormal reality TV, and there are even a few doing research. A young white woman in Virginia recently identified herself as Muslim. I also stumbled across a Muslim-martial-arts-ghost-hunting group in Singapore, as a matter of fact. My jaw dropped. Seriously. I am so curious to know if they actually do martial arts during investigation.
Here is what I will tell Muslims, or anyone else who want to know about my journey:
First, it has been a struggle for me to so publicly engage with something currently deeply embedded in pop culture. I appreciate academic stuff. I use big words and postulate with the language of postmodernism and poststructuralism. Academics words ending with -ology have no place in ghost hunting (at least, at the grassroots level). I’m married to a United Nations diplomat who is a Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate; his mere existence has made the world a better place. So, my seemingly banal hobby of “ghost hunting” is a hard one to justify.
But…it has allowed me to rediscover my American identity after years of being, well, a different kind of American. I was one who lived abroad, negotiated my daily existence in a cross-cultural marriage. I eat macaroni-n-cheese with tandoori chicken. Most of my friends over the past decade have been as hybrid and global as myself, so I lost touch with my rural, Southern upbringing.
Paranormal investigation gave that back to me, in a way. For the first time in almost two decades, I started interacting with down home folks, with (gasp!) Republicans and even (double-gasp!) Tea Partyers. Ghost Hunters, the SyFy show, unveiled more than ghosts – it allowed me to rediscover the America within myself.
Many people find the paranormal as an outlet for spirituality and personal identity. Part of this journey requires engaging local history, personal stories, and recalibrating how one sees the world. Mine merely occurred with globalism as the backdrop. And, for the record, I’ve shared this story with Ghost Hunter’s cast members, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. Again, you’ll just have to buy my book if you want to read more.
Finally, ghost hunting has allowed people to interact with me, a covered Muslim chick, in a way devoid of politics. Think about it: every time a Muslim speaks or tweets, it is always within a political context. If you see a Muslim on CNN – it has something to do with politics. See a Muslim comedian – and they are making fun of those who make fun of Muslims (and it is funny). See a Muslim on TV – and again, stereotyped, clichéd politics. There is rarely a moment a Muslim can transcend political baggage and just be cool. That space of coolness is where people connect. After all, pop culture is where cultural meaning is created, and it is also the space of social change. To be Muslim ghost hunting girl makes me part of a larger cultural pulse, and I am really proud of that.
(Note: this entry will be featured at my website as a podcast. The website, http://www.deonnnakellisayed.com, is currently being upgraded.)