By Anisa Kissoon
Summer is a time to feel a bit free and to have a chance to do all the things you didn’t have time to do during the year. For many people it is a time for sea, sun, and surf, or for bushwhacking, mountain climbing, canoeing, or hiking. But as a new Muslim woman what can you do in the summer?
New Muslims are going through many changes. They are making the transition from old habits to new, from old friends to new ones, and to old ways of enjoying their times to new ways.
Depending on where you live, there may be places you can go to enjoy swimming. For Muslim women, as long as they are dressed modestly they can swim with other women. In many countries Muslim women can organize the local swimming pool to make a women-only day. In other countries there are beaches you can visit with your family where you can enjoy your privacy.
Hiking and bushwhacking, camping and canoeing are fine as long as the Muslim woman dresses in long, loose clothes. There are many styles of Islamic clothing and you can find one to suit the activity you want to do. The other factor you have to keep in mind in such activities is safety. It is better to go in an organized group and take your husband, brother, uncle, or father along with you just in case. There was even a group of Iranian Muslim women who climbed Mount Everest! The sky is the limit!
But life for a Muslim is not just having fun and playing games. There is a time for everything, and a Muslim’s life should be balanced. The Muslim should always have a goal in mind for any activity in life. So if we keep the fundamental goal of life itself — to worship Allah the Almighty — then everything we do, with the intention to please Allah, is a form of worship and is rewarded.
Learn, Learn, Learn … and Then Teach!
Spend some time gaining knowledge. The first thing for a new Muslim to do is to memorize some Qur’an and the Prayers in Arabic. Find a place that teaches Arabic for beginners, or get a cassette or book to learn Arabic. Where there is a will there is a way, so be wise and use some of your time to learn. I met a sister from a European country who had been very poor as a child and had never gone to school. She couldn’t read or write even in her own native language. However, she was able to memorize one juz’ (section) of the Qur’an simply by listening to a cassette over and over again.
There are many books available that provide information on the life of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), the meaning of Prayer, Islamic dress, the family structure in Islam, how people should deal with each other, among other things. Get a hold of such books and enjoy the bounty of learning. There are also a lot of magazines and journals. In addition, the Internet has become a tool for learning as well as a way of meeting people and sharing experiences.
Make up your mind to learn something new or develop a skill you already have. Afterwards, give back to your community by teaching others. Try to find a way to help the people around you and learn to empathize with others. Allah has given all human beings skills and abilities, so find what yours are and share them with others. There is so much satisfaction in helping others when we do this for the sake of Allah and not to be thanked or acknowledged by people.
Gardening and Exercise
If you like gardening, there is a blessing in this too. If you plant a tree or something that benefits an animal or human being, you will continue to receive the blessing for that as long as the benefit remains.
The strong Muslim is better than the weak Muslim, so find ways to exercise and keep a healthy diet so your body will be strong and healthy. To keep a healthy mind you must have a positive attitude toward life. Such an attitude comes about after you learn to surrender to Allah and trust in Him, being ever-hopeful and ever optimistic. Whenever a calamity strikes turns to Allah, ask for guidance and relief and trust in Him.
Reach Out and Help Others
Try to be charitable and hospitable. During the summer invite other new Muslims to your home and have a meal together. This does not have to be an elaborate meal, but just something simple. This is the way of the Prophet who shared all he had. Try to inculcate the spirit of sisterhood, love, and kindness between the people you bring to your home. Be the one who makes the first move to introduce people to each other. Discuss problems in the community in a way to find solutions. Encourage the others to be active in the community and to help each other and thereby foster feelings of love and friendship. Bring along someone who is knowledgeable so you can have a short and meaningful lesson. In every gathering we should remember Allah so we do not waste our time.
Therefore, there are basically two ways of looking at your free time in the summer. You can either have fun and enjoy yourself and make this your supreme goal, or you can use all the things you do as ways and means of obtaining blessings from Allah. Even going mountain climbing can be a way of receiving Allah’s blessings if we thank and praise Him for all we see and enjoy.
Whatever you do this summer, let it be a source of reward, a way of drawing close to Allah, a way of learning, sharing, and getting to know other Muslims.
We are never out of God’s presence.
By Sarah Joseph
I have experienced a lot of reactions from people when they found out that I became a Muslim. Confusion, happiness, incredulity, joy, outrage; but the reaction that I am most uncomfortable with is when a Muslim says to me, “You chose to be a Muslim. You are better than I am.”
I do not accept the idea of me being “better” in faith than someone else is. That’s really for God to decide. I know my own imperfections, and as I mull over them I know also that I cannot even console myself with “I try my best”. I know that my “best” can be better than it is currently. We should not judge another’s relationship with God – either to think theirs is better or worse than our own. Our duty is to our own relationship with The Divine.
“There is no compulsion in religion,” as the Qur’an loftily reminds us in Surat Al-Baqarah 2:256. Thus, everyone must make their own free choice to self-surrender their lives to God, or not.
Even if we can trace our lineage back to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) himself, we as an individual have to decide whether we are going to merely accept some inherited identities from our parents or whether we are going to actively own the faith for ourselves – intellectually, morally and spiritually.
We cannot inherit faith; it is something that has to come to our own hearts – through our own efforts and God’s grace.
Our daily lives are a constant distraction from God. Endless to-do lists, jobs, money, homes, studies, people, all compete for our attention. Most of us are surrounded by others, and in many ways we live our lives with and through them.
Our parents, siblings, cousins and other family members shape our early life. Teachers and first friends shape the next few years. Marital relationships and children take up our adulthood, and then work and social colleagues too. All of these people can be a conduit to our life choices – for better or for worse. Yet we will stand alone before God one Day, and thus we have to learn to be alone with God in this world too.
Being alone with God is not always easy. There is the mischief of the whisperer who whispers into the hearts of mankind (Qur’an 114:5) in order to distract us, and then there is self-realization and awareness of our own weaknesses. This can be a painful experience, but we cannot hide from them if we are true to ourselves.
We are never out of God’s presence. The question we have to ask ourselves is, are we happy to be in His presence? God is always there, but do we want to re-orientate our life’s compass and move towards Him? Do we want Him in our lives? Or is His presence a hindrance to all the other things we want to do, and which we think will give us pleasure?
God has promised in a hadith Qudsi:
“He who draws close to Me a hand’s span, I will draw close to him an arm’s length. And whoever draws near Me an arm’s length, I will draw near him a fathom’s length. And whoever comes to Me walking, I will go to him running.” (Muslim)
Thus, any small move towards God will bring Him close; even our sins are not a barrier to His engagement in our life for He has promised to provide forgiveness.
The only barrier is our decision. But it is not a once in a lifetime decision. We have to keep choosing God. Every day that we are alive, we have the opportunity to make a conscious decision to let the Creator of the universe be a central part of our day, or not.
As such, the fact I chose Islam does not seem to be very remarkable to me. We all have to choose, and I continue to choose Islam on a daily basis.
Once we make that choice, and once we draw near to God through worship then, as the hadith Qudsi promises, “I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks.” (Al-Bukhari) This is because our life then becomes orientated towards Him.
The article first appeared in Emel Magazine, Issue 77, February 2011.
Sarah Joseph is CEO and Editor of Muslim Lifestyle magazine(emel) and commentator on British Muslims. She is a writer and a broadcaster and lectures on Islam both within the UK and internationally (USA, Europe, Middle and Far East). Sarah converted to Islam at the age of 16 in 1988 after being brought up as a Catholic.
Thompson was drawn to Islam because of what she calls the ‘peacefulness’ of the faith as well as the personal nature of Muslim religious practice
Converting to a new religion is never an easy thing. There’s a lot to learn and, of course, the issue of how to break the news to family and loved ones. Things can be even more complicated for non-Muslim women who convert to Islam … most of the time.
‘I feel really blessed because my family reacted much better than other families I’ve heard about.’
Sarah Thompson is a native of Noblesville, Indiana. She grew up in what she would call a Christian household but says she always felt like something was missing and eventually left Christianity. It wasn’t until she began exploring Islam that she says she felt like she found a spiritual home. Thompson converted a few years ago after taking several months to learn about the faith.
A Family’s Reaction
‘My mom was like, ‘Okay, great, this is wonderful; what can I do?’ Thompson says of her mother’s reaction. ‘And she went out and bought me like fifteen scarves. I mean, she was just amazing.’
Although not everyone has been amazing, some of her family did have a difficult time understanding Thompson’s decision. Her father and stepfather, in particular, began to take it hard once they realized ‘just how real’ Thompson’s conversion was.
Most of her close friends were also supportive of her decision, although Thompson says she did have a few who thought she was crazy.
Feminism and Islam
‘I’ve always been a really strong feminist, so when I say they thought I was crazy, that’s what they meant,’ Thompson says.
‘They have a very limited idea of what Islam is. It is the woman in the hijab and it is this woman in the veil that’s being oppressed and that’s sort of the image (they have).’
The funny thing is, Thompson says, that she feels more liberated as a Muslim woman than she ever did as a Christian one.
‘I didn’t feel oppressed, but I didn’t necessarily feel liberated in Christianity,’ she says. ‘I definitely feel more liberated, and more free, in Islam. The way that some women are treated in other countries is more cultural and it’s definitely not Islamic. In the Qur’an it says ‘men have this right and women have this right’ and it’s the same right.’
The Beauty of Islam
Thompson says she was drawn to Islam because of what she calls the ‘peacefulness’ of the faith as well as the personal nature of Muslim religious practice.
‘It is a community religion but it is really focused on you and your relationship with God and you making your prayers every day and your intent being right every day,” Thompson says. “Only He knows what you’ve done.’
Thompson says that, in many ways she feels she’s the same person she was before the conversion. The big difference is that, instead of just saying she’s putting her faith in God, as a Muslim Thompson’s actually doing it.
Last week my husband alerted me to a halaqah (study circle) for sisters at our local masjid (i.e., the one across the street). I’ve since been recommended to this particular halaqah by a few other sisters in the area, so I’m getting the impression it’s supposed to be pretty good. I’ve been twice now-last Friday and this one-and don’t think I’ve really gotten the chance to see what others see.
The first week, the instructor wasn’t there as she’d recently been visiting with family overseas. This week’s halaqah involved a little bit of catching up, and then it was planned to be short due to some activity at the Redmond Masjid-I can’t seem to figure out what it was though. But it was further cut short by a new sister wanting to take Shahadah (Testimony of Faith).
That actually took 15-20 minutes, even though the sister had studied Islam plenty before choosing to make this decision, I guess it is the protocol here to run through a crash course in `aqeedah (Islamic creed) for anyone who wants to take Shahadah, so the remainder of the halaqah was spent reviewing the articles of faith and pillars of Islam.
In Raleigh, we would basically quickly articulate the primary tenets of faith and practice if the convert was new to the masjid, but not nearly so extensively as I heard tonight. So I begin to wonder how other masjid react when someone wishes to say Shahadah?
But more than the `aqeedah crash course, a new Shahadah is always a reminder of guidance in our lives, a reminder that Allah guides whom He chooses. Maybe if we busy ourselves with da`wah we start to think we have a hand in people finding Islam, but so often people just show up at the masjid, ready to take Shahadah (this happens a lot in Ramadan.)
The guidance truly is from Allah, and He leads people to Islam. While we should definitely try to be as active in da`wah as we can (as it’s from the Sunnah and has the promise of a beautiful reward), it’s plain that we only ignite, and we cannot guide.
Watching someone say their Shahadah also brings to mind the overwhelming feeling of truly embracing Islam. From a hadith qudsi (Divine Hadith) we know that Allah comes closer to us as we come closer to Him, and it’s been my experience that certain acts of worship, performed with sincerity, nourish the soul beyond the imagination.
For me, saying Shahadah was the first such experience I had being overcome with faith in this way, and I’ve seen that experience reflected on the face (and in the tears) of many others when they also embrace Islam. Do you wonder why so often converts cry at their Shahadah?
At the very least, their sins have been forgiven. Even if they don’t know it, all their bad deeds are now written as good, and the effect of that beautiful purification-as we are being purified of our sins by Allah-is not merely academic. It can be felt in the heart, and so it’s extremely emotional.
Tonight, getting to see that, just reminded me of what I should be striving for.
Who is your God? How did you find Him? What are His words? Who is His final Messenger, from his time to the end of mankind?
What did lead you to Islam?
Most importantly, why Islam, and not any other religion?
Here are Dr. Bilal Philips provides the strikingly elaborate answers sharing his personal experiences about the choice of his life; Islam.
Here is an insightful story with great lessons for all Muslims, New Muslims, and non-Muslims as well.