Music/Features

Sinead O’Connor’s conversion to Islam is an act of reclamation

It’s unsurprising that Shuhada has a complex relationship with organized religion.

October 29, 2018

Sinead O’Connor is no stranger to transformation. The singer rose to fame in 1990 when she covered Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2U.” She started out her career by shaving her head when she broke into the music industry in the late 80s at a time when women were in a precarious position. In 1992, she performed a cover of Bob Marley’s “War” on Saturday Night Live where she made a statement about the Catholic Church’s history of child abuse by ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II, horrifying the pearl-clutching masses. She went on to intimately discuss the details of her struggles with mental health in the public eye in an attempt to destigmatize mental illness. On October 19th 2018, she announced her conversion to Islam on Twitter, calling it “the natural conclusion of any intelligent theologian’s journey” and announcing that her name will be Shuhada’ Davitt.

It’s 2018, so why do we still care what Shuhada’s religious affiliations are? Because 2018 has proven to be a year of hostility for those who are not straight, white, cisgender men, just like every year that came before it. The fight to be seen and heard is at the forefront of women’s issues and Davitt’s life is not an exception to this narrative. Her history of trauma and abuse both at the hands of her parents and the systems that institutionalized and repressed her have led her to feel the same way many gender oppressed people are currently feeling: exhausted. Existing in a world that was built on the notion of your inferiority is nothing short of harrowing. When men who value your subjugation more than your humanity are deciding who is worthy of protection, compassion, and dignity, it’s rather easy to feel that the world around you is out of your control.

All things considered, it’s unsurprising that she has a complex relationship with organized religion.

Her experiences as a survivor of the Catholic Church’s Magdalene Laundries, which were essentially institutions for “fallen women” who were classified as such by virtue of anything that wasn’t considered normal, are nothing short of terrifying. Davitt described the place as a “prison,” and talked about how it was these very experiences which led her to the iconic Saturday Night Live performance of 1992. Davitt made it clear: when people refuse to listen, force them to watch.

All things considered, it’s unsurprising that she has a complex relationship with organized religion and it’s nothing short of remarkable that she’s able to take something that so intensely traumatized her and turn it into an empowering choice. First with her ordination in the late 1990s and an accompanying name change to Mother Mary Bernadette, then her 2002 interview where she suggests that Christianity helped her heal from her childhood abuse, and now with her conversion to Islam along with a new name, Shuhada’ Davitt. In this case, her conversion is an act of reclamation and resistance against years of inner conflict and strain.

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