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First Summer as a Muslim Woman

First Summer as a Muslim Woman

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.

Enjoy Yourself!

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.

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Source: Onislam.net

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Choosing God

Choosing God

We are never out of God's presence.

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.

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How a Convert Woman Sees Their Status in Islam

How a Convert Woman Sees Their Status in Islam

 

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

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.

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Source: Muslimvoices.org

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With Every Shahadah a New Life Is Born

With Every Shahadah a New Life Is Born

 

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.

_________________________

Source: ibnatalhidayah.blogspot.com.

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Experience Lessons from Converting to Islam

Experience Lessons from Converting to Islam

prayer beads, Islam

Some people may continue to cut you off, but even those hurts will heal as so many more people continue to love and accept you.

1- It Gets Easier

The beginning is always the hardest. You’ve found the truth, fulfillment, and a sense of peace you never imagined possible. A handful of people can’t wait to share Islam with their families, but for most of us, breaking the news to parents, grandparents, relatives, and sometimes kids, brings a sense of dread.

This sense of dread has been even more heightened since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Many people perceive being a Muslim as the antithesis of being an American for example, even though Islam teaches us to uphold religious freedom. To most people, Islamic practice embodies the opposite of American or Western values and lifestyles.

Family members may be shocked or even mildly okay at first, but after it has sunk in, they may be angry, devastated, or cut themselves off from you. You may never again experience the kind of emotional hurts that you will when you first tell your family that you’ve accepted Islam. The reality is they are hurting too, and their hurts are justified in their minds, even if they aren’t in yours.

In the beginning many family members will act their worst, making threats and saying hurtful things, but the more you stay calm and continue to be yourself despite your new faith, the more they will cool down and eventually realize they overreacted.  Some people may continue to cut you off, but even those hurts will heal as so many more people continue to love and accept you.  Hang in there, it does get better.

2- No Matter How Much You Explain, They Still May Not Get It

Sometimes we think that if we just explained to our family members what Islam is and why it is right or why it doesn’t oppress women and why it isn’t about terrorism, our family members will suddenly have a light bulb moment and say “You know what, that does make perfect sense! I’m not upset anymore!”

Don’t be surprised if it seems to go through one ear and out the other. The truth is they are hearing what you’re saying and cataloging it, but they are too emotional to focus on it right now.

Over time you will begin to have thoughtful, rational conversations with family and friends, but it’s not something that’s going to happen right away in many cases. Even if your family doesn’t have a problem with Islam, or Muslims, they have a problem with you becoming one. You were as American as apple pie; they watched you unwrap Christmas presents under the tree every year, and dreamed of your white wedding. There is a sense of loss that they are trying to cope with.

Don’t expect to rationalize with them much at first (unless they ask questions—and even then, don’t expect too much) and don’t be disheartened.

3- Goodness Is Not Just about Religion

You will find that some of the best people you know are still people of other faiths, and by ‘best people’ I mean people who are ethical, caring, and altruistic; people who are civil and well-mannered. You will find that some Muslims act as third-world and corrupt as the dictators that preside over their homelands.

Do not assume that all Muslims will be exemplary human beings (and the organizations that many of them run are even worse). Expect to be gravely disappointed in the way many mosques are run and how unkempt they are, in how rude and ill-mannered some of your brothers and sisters in faith are, and at how dysfunctional Islamic schools and their students seem to be.

Be ready to feel a pang of disappointment when you find Thanksgiving with your family was more pleasant than iftar (meal to break the fast) at the masjid with your brothers and sisters in faith. Don’t, however, let this disenchant you from the deen or become harsh with them. You may have been privileged to grow up in a first world country and raised on its high standards. No one chooses the family and country into which they were born. Hone in on your strengths as a citizen and what positive things you can bring to the community, rather than letting it make you arrogant.

4- Be Merciful

Converts are surrounded on all sides by frustrating experiences. They have to deal with ignorance and intolerance from other faith based family and friends, and often have to deal with the same thing from the Muslim community. Add a few bad relationships or failed love stories in and you have a recipe for some serious bitterness.

Many times we get blind-sided by our negative emotions: fear, disappointment, anger, resentment, etc. We become intolerant of the shortcomings we see in others that we don’t find in ourselves.

As converts we are in a unique position of having a blended identity that gives us different perspectives, but whatever shortcomings we see in others we should remember that we have our own as well.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) truly had no shortcomings, and his trademark in dealing with ignorance was mercy. Instead of looking at others with distaste and judging them, we should feel sorry for them if they really have a problem and resolve to be good friends.

At no point should any person look at us, Muslim or not, and get the impression that we have our noses in the air. We should focus on keeping a soft heart towards everyone, because the real enemies of Islam are few and far between (though they may get the most traction) and we should always maintain a soft heart towards our Muslim brothers and sisters.

5- Being a Muslim Is Awesome, Becoming a Minority Is Difficult

Welcome to a world you may have never experienced before, the world of ‘the other’. This is the place of those who don’t hold an ‘entitlement’ card by virtue of their birth, a world of strange looks and racial slurs. This can be hard to grapple with initially since some of us were never raised to deal with it.

When you wear hijab you may notice that people aren’t as friendly to you as they once were; you see the change in demeanor that is provoked by your religious identity. It is not fair, and being raised on certain values that preach fairness and equality but never having really experienced racism yourself, you are in for a frustrating experience.

You will see the latent hypocrisy that exists in many aspects of our society, you will have a perfect image of our great nation shattered, you will experience double standards and security checks and anti-Muslim bigotry, but take heart in the fact that you will also experience the greatness of the human spirit and the people of your country. You will see that for every negative experience you have, you will have many more positive ones.

On the other hand, you will meet people who go out of their way to compliment you on your hijab, people will politely ask you questions and make it a point to tell you how much they respect what you’re doing. You will find that most people strive toward fairness, justice, and morality. The bumps in the road are just going to make the smoother patches seem all the more smooth. Don’t focus on the negative or take it personally, just enjoy the positive.

6- Don’t Be a Groupie

Never subscribe to any single imam, scholar, or organization as the ultimate authority and source of knowledge, and stay away from people who tell you to do so. There are kooks and cults within the Muslim community, and your innocent, convert face makes you a perfect follower.

Even within conservative Islam, there are varying opinions on many subjects, and the best scholars and imams are those who acknowledge those differences respectfully. Be wary of imams and scholars who are quick to put down others, who insult, and who promote their teachings and opinions as ‘correct’ with a disdain for those who are ‘incorrect’. What most people don’t realize is that these types of people are everywhere, not just in the Salafi community. They are Ṣufis, Ḥanafis, and progressives too. Every sect within Islam has its extremists. Stay away from all of them.

Also, keep in mind that if you have a question you want answered, talk to a sheikh or imam who understands your particular scenario, preferably one who has a great deal of experience with domestic issues and converts. In such cases avoid Google if you can. A good rule of thumb is to seek religious advice or rulings only from someone who is very familiar with your society and circumstances.

7- You Are the Trophy Muslim

“How long have you been Muslim? How did you convert?” These are two questions you are going to hear for the rest of your life, so have the edited monologue ready. Every time people ask you these questions, their eyes light up. (I know, it’s annoying.) They want you to move them and give them their daily iman-boost with your magical story, and suddenly you feel some pressure to perform. You don’t have to.

While I encourage you to be polite, understand that you aren’t putting on a show to make others else feel good about themselves or Islam. Keep it short and simple. Other people will patronize you in the beginning when they hear you’ve been Muslim for a few years, and may ask you basic questions, assuming you know nothing. They are well intentioned, but have a response ready, that is polite but also ends the conversation. You don’t have to stand there and smile and endure this time and again.

Be nice but brief, and know that you don’t have to share any details of your life or conversion that you don’t want to.

8- Be Careful of Whom You Marry

There are plenty of examples of successful interracial and intercultural marriages, and most converts will marry someone who is not of the same ethnic background. However, I will say this: you are more devoted citizen than you probably realize, and even if a man or woman has been living in this country for decades, if they grew up in a Muslim country, you are going to have some major differences in terms of expectations, mannerisms, and how you think and process things.

While racism is completely prohibited in Islam, a person who marries a Muslim from another country will face challenges directly related to race and/or culture. If you’re a woman, you may be especially vulnerable to being put in a position where you are expected to sacrifice aspects of your identity, especially because you are the one coming from a non-Muslim background. This is not to say that this is always the case, but it is a common problem that converts face when marrying, so it’s something to keep in mind.

9- Stick to Your Nationality

Some Western policies are at a low when it comes to how this country treats Muslims both at home and abroad, and unfortunately anti-Muslim bigotry is shockingly rampant. Many You are not a drone program or a war or a policy. You are not anti-Muslim or anti-Western bigotry. You are a person who was born in a country that has so much more positivity going for it than it does negativity, a country that has provided you with an experience that has made you into the person you are today: the person who chose Islam as their faith.

You may be outspoken, educated, independent, proactive, charismatic, caring, brave, and filled with dreams that you are determined to make come true for the better of the Muslim community and the world. You didn’t become all that the day you became a Muslim, you became all that the years you were raised as a can-do American or British for example.

Don’t let anyone else tell you what it means to be a true or a real patriot. Don’t let anyone make you feel that as a Muslim you are less entitled to being the person you have been your entire life. You have the unique opportunity to redefine your citizenship, so get out there and do it.

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Source: muslimmatters

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