Ramadhan Mubarak!

Salaam alaykum and Ramadhan mubarak to all my brothers and sisters in Islam!  I pray that Allah will make the long hours of fasting easy for you and give you strength to get through these long, hot summer days (for those of you in the northern hemisphere!). 

Ramadhan is a month in which we abstain from food and water to not only purify ourselves physically, but also to constantly remind ourselves to work toward purifying ourselves spiritually.  In light of that, I have some goals in mind for this month that have become apparent to me recently.

Goal 1: Speak up with a smile. 

I’ve recently been mulling over my concept of “being nice” and have concluded that perhaps my definition is incorrect.  Since childhood, thoroughly ingrained into my mentality is the Christian standpoint of “turn the other cheek” and “if someone takes your cloak, give him your shirt also” (Matthew 5:39-40), and therefore now instinctually don’t defend myself or stand up for myself when dealing with others – instead, I just let it go.  But, what happens over and over again is that people, acting on instinct, respond by just running right over me and crossing boundaries without hesitation.  I’ve realized that as social – and imperfect – creatures, we are constantly bumping up against each other, so it is completely natural to bump back in order to maintain your position and standing with everyone around you.  If you offer no resistance when bumped, and instead easily fall down, people will simply step right over you and continue bumping into everyone else.  Thus, naturally – and Islamically – we need to assert ourselves and hold firm when others push up against us.  Islam is very specific about upholding the rights of God, of ourselves, and of others.  We must uphold our own rights.  If we don’t, no one else will.  Someone once told me that a mo’min (a believer) might let it go the first time something happens, but not the second time (which falls in line with the English saying “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”).  In reading the Quran and listening to lectures, I’ve been noticing that indeed it is true – prophets and upright companions were regularly met with resistance and would usually SAY something in response.  They weren’t rude, they didn’t have an attitude, they calmly spoke the truth.  Essentially, my concept of being nice or polite is simply ignoring and avoiding conflict.  Defending myself and pushing back is not something I ever associated with religion or as something “good”; I associated it with being dramatic, concerned with trivial matters, and rude.  Thus, my current project is attempting to change my mental definition and actively put it into practice.  Assert myself, speak up – but with a nice facial expression and calm tone of voice.  I need to gracefully look after my rights, while taking care not to tread on the rights of others –  A delicate balance which requires great attention and skill. 

Goal 2: Use good words

As a Christian, I would never utter swear words or even the words that represent swear words – my family was very strict about this (for instance, we also couldn’t say crap, heck, or dang), so even in college I continued to refrain from bad language.  Despite prolonged, humorous attempts from friends to get me to say some of the less offensive words, I refused.  Yet, due to linguistic awareness (that words are given power and meaning by the society that uses them and are not inherently ‘bad’ or ‘good’, but are simply means of expression) and the decreasing grip that Christianity had on my life, I began letting some of these words in.  Yet as Muslims, we too should refrain from using offensive words and should keep our speech clean and uplifting to others.  If we use certain words, people automatically associate certain qualities or characteristics to us that we wouldn’t want to be known for, and we certainly wouldn’t want people connecting those associations with our religion!  So, while I still don’t use such words around others – mostly to myself – I still want to make a concerted effort to get rid of them and replace them with something more fitting and appropriate to who I am. 

I’ve thought about adding a few more goals, but I think these two will be more than enough to keep me occupied!  It’s easy to type something out, but much harder to act on it every single moment of every single day.  I pray that God will help me in my efforts to improve myself, and that He will help all of you as well to work toward self-improvement and giving to others during this blessed month.

For more on specific rights in Islam: http://www.iec-md.org/IECE/religious/treatise_on_rights.html

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Forgiveness and Respect

Although I’ve written on this subject before, I find myself still continuing to regularly grapple with forgiveness and respect – for myself. 

Earlier today a friend posted something from a Christian site that I found to be very powerful and true for all of us, regardless of religion – or lack thereof.  It stated:

“true respect for another comes from self respect. True love for another comes from self love.   True forgiveness for another comes from self forgiveness.” 

How true this is.  We can’t actually connect to others or have any impact on others until we first deal with ourselves.  Jesus (as) is reported to have said in the Bible that we must take the plank of wood out of our own eye before we can comment on the speck of dust in another person’s eye.  But, in order to begin that process, we must first see ourselves honestly.  Prophet Muhammad (saws) said the one who knows himself knows God.  What does that mean?  It essentially means that knowing yourself opens the door to understanding the world around you and all that is in it.  You must truly know yourself before you can know others, and most certainly before you can truly know God.   

My friend also commented that she found the advice timely as she had been “beating (herself) up” over some past sins that God had long forgiven.  Her thoughts resonated with me because I often do the same thing.  Past sins and mistakes sometimes come hurtling back, hitting me like a runaway train, paralyzing me with shame, fear, and self-loathing, leaving me incredulous that I could have ever done such a thing. 

Yet I often wonder what role our past sins and mistakes should have in our lives.  We should not forget them altogether, because then we may not remember the pain and anguish we suffered through the experience, and the important lessons learned may quickly fade.  We may also find ourselves back in the same place again because we failed to keep in mind the small, seemingly inconsequential steps we took initially that eventually brought us to that horrid place.  Yet in contrast, if we always think about our past sins, we may render ourselves unable to pick ourselves up and move on, paralyzed by the shame and self-hatred.  In essence, we can’t forget our past but we also can’t get lost in it.  It’s a difficult balance to maintain.  

Further, if we lose ourselves in our past sins, we’ll be unable to forgive ourselves, which means we won’t be able to love ourselves, and certainly not respect ourselves.  And if we can’t do that, we will have great difficulty in doing that with others in a way that feels genuine and real to the other person.     Yet, if we easily forget our past and dismiss it quickly, self forgiveness, love, and respect may be shallow, and perhaps not even a conscious process, which may eventually lead to not being aware that we’ve messed up in the first place.  Our ethics with others may be superficial as well; fleeting, changing, insincere.  We will quickly find ourselves repeating the same mistakes over and over, either wondering why it keeps happening, or perhaps simply accepting it as an uncontrollable way of life, part of our personality or environment.  And eventually, some may become completely unaware that they’ve done something wrong, and others may even begin to boldy defend their actions as something good.  

As human beings, we have a tendency to block out the bad things and remember only the good.  Think back to your own childhood or to any fond memory.  Chances are, it’s a warming, glowing, positive memory – with nothing negative clouding the view.  In fact, maybe someday you’ll look back on this moment in time right now with fondness, completely forgetting all the hardship and agony you may currently be facing!  So, it appears that we should actually make concerted efforts to remember the shameful, sinful things we’ve done and struggle retain what it felt like and how we got there – because otherwise… we’ll quickly forget. 

A careful balance is necessary though, because if we go too far, it will be difficult to hold our heads up high, speak with any confidence, or even feel worthy to have friends or other relationships.  Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) encouraged us to look at those less fortunate than us.  This doesn’t mean only financially, but in all other aspects as well.  If you keep your sights set on the big picture, you’ll have a more accurate view of yourself and how you fit in with the world around you.  Chances are, you aren’t that bad.  And even if, in the worst case, you ARE that bad, more than likely you aren’t bad in EVERYTHING in your life.  You probably have something not so bad, or perhaps…. even something good. 

You might think that you’re the only one you know with this particular situation so you have no one less fortunate to look to, but in that case, I would suggest looking online!  There are forums on every possible subject imaginable in which people, strengthened by the anonymity the internet provides, share their stories and experiences with more honesty and detail than they ever would in real life.  Reading the accounts of others is eye-opening.  If you still don’t find someone in a worse situation than you, at the very least you’ll find someone who is similar to you, which helps to make you feel not so alone, and – not so bad. 

So, we can’t forget what we’ve done… but we can’t let it destroy ourselves either.  As Hussain ibn Ali aptly stated, “Moderation is wisdom.”  And so it is.  Balance, moderation… this is the wisest – yet most difficult – path.

Christmas: Jesus is the Reason for the Season… Right?

I have to admit that Christmas has always been my most favorite time of year.  Growing up, I always had a running countdown of the days left until Christmas – in fact, my countdown started even before my mom put up the handmade advent calendar in the shape of a Christmas tree, on which we would hang one bell for each day that passed.  On Christmas Eve, my brothers and I would stay up all night, eagerly anticipating Christmas morning – when we could wait no longer, we would rush into our parents’ room and terrorize them until they got up (5 am isn’t early for Christmas, is it?).  And yes, even now, I still enjoy the festivity of the season, with all the bright lights and beautiful colors and music, and the overall bustle and thrill of anticipation that seems to run through nearly everyone.

Of course, Christmas these days seems to be carried out to the extreme – people rushing from one place to another, spending too much money, desperately searching for discounts, feeling overwhelmed and stressed with all the parties, performances, traveling, and various obligations we have this time of year.  Amidst it all, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and get swept away by the tide of commercialism, consumerism, and decadence, causing many religious observers of the holiday to feel obligated to bring things back into perspective by echoing the well-known phrase: “Jesus is the reason for the season.”  Indeed, we wouldn’t even have Christmas if it weren’t for the birth of Jesus….  right…?

My investigation into the history of Christmas began by accident back when I was in college (and still a Christian).  My friend and I were musing over the purpose of Christmas trees, since it seemed unlikely evergreens would be that common in Palestine during the time of Jesus.  I decided to look it up on the Internet, and immediately saw that indeed, the Christmas tree was of pagan origin.  I didn’t feel too good about that, so I stopped any further searching as I didn’t want to know what else might have pagan origins as well!  Of course though, over time, my curiosity got the better of me and I did begin to look into the origins of Christmas, which became easier to face as I had begun having doubts about Christianity anyway at that point.

So is Jesus the reason for the season?  Well, although it sounds nice and feels good to say, unfortunately, Jesus is not the reason for the season.  In reality, Jesus is more of an afterthought, added to the holiday several centuries later.  The real reason for the season comes not from one sole source, but from a variety of other religions and traditions, the majority stemming from pre-Christian ancient Roman religious practices.  For instance:

Christmas day (Dec. 25th):

In ancient Babylon, this day was a celebration of the son of Isis, during which people would have a feast, throw wild parties, and engage in gluttonous drinking and eating.

Later, in pre-Christian Rome, the holiday, termed Saturnalia, was celebrated in honor of the god Saturn.  This was a time of hedonistic debauchery, celebrated with large feasts, drunkenness, and even orgies.

Another pre-Christian Roman religion was that of Mithra, the sun (or “son”) of God (in fact, much of Paul’s teachings about Jesus are exactly the same as the teachings of this religion).  December 25th was celebrated as the birthday of Mithra.

Christmas caroling:

In celebration of Saturnalia, some ancient Roman people (known as Mummers) would dress up in costumes and travel from house to house, entertaining people with songs and dances.  Incidently, when Christianity came on the scene, caroling was actually banned by the church.

Christmas trees:

Trees were worshipped by the ancient Druids in Northern Europe, and during the winter, people would often bring evergreen trees (and sometimes decorate the trees) inside to remind themselves of the hope of the new life to come in the springtime.  Early Christians abhorred the practice, and believed it to be blasphemy.

Gift-giving

Even giving family and loved ones gifts on Christmas has pagan roots – during the celebrations of the god Isis, people would commonly give each other gifts.  For Saturnalia, the rich often gave to the poor and less well-off people around them.   Gift-giving was also banned by the early church.

Santa Claus

The origin of Santa Claus comes from 4th century bishop, St. Nicholas, who was known for giving gifts to others secretly.  When the church realized the difficulty of preventing people from celebrating the traditions of the popular culture around them, they allowed gift-giving on the rationale that St. Nicholas, a Christian, had done it.  The mythical figure of Santa Claus was modeled after St. Nicholas, and in the 1800s, American cartoonist Thomas Nast began drawing yearly pictures of him (initially in religious robes), which thus began the transformation into the bearded, plump, short man in a red suit that we are familiar with today.   Ironically, the only originally Christian Christmas tradition just so happens to be Santa Claus, whom many modern-day Christians now bemoan and even refuse to include in their Christmas celebrations.

Jesus

Jesus was later added into the well-established tradition of Christmas celebrations about 300 years after his death, as church leaders decided that it was too difficult to fight against the tide of Roman culture, and determined instead that it would be better to add a Christian element to the mix to better attract non-Christian Romans to the religion with the promise of allowing them to retain their popular religious traditions.  In reality, however, Biblical historians believe Jesus to have been born sometime in September, nowhere near the date of December 25th.

The Real Reason for the Season

So, the real reason for the Christmas season is exactly what we see today (minus Santa Claus and the actual name, which stems from “Christ-mass”).  Overindulgence, gluttony, excess spending and the materialistic emphasis on gift-giving (or rather, gift-getting), wild parties, drunkenness, and debauchery.  Excess and frivolty is the reason for the season.

If Christians want to truly celebrate the birth of Jesus, then they should celebrate it in September, but should take care to remember that there should be no caroling, no Christmas trees, or presents (unless you’re Catholic, in which case Santa Claus and gift-giving is allowed as per St. Nicholas).

The fact that so many Christians ignore the history of the development of their OWN religion and religious holidays is astounding.  Admittedly, I was once one of them, and in retrospect, I know exactly why I chose to remain blissfully ignorant.  The truth will force one to face the reality of one’s beliefs, much of which is based on mere fantasy and fairytales.  Logic and fact should therefore be avoided at all costs in order to avoid shattering the fragile glass house constituting one’s beliefs.

In the end, celebrating Christmas for what it truly is – a purely cultural holiday – is certainly not something horrific or satanic.  Rather, Christmas is a cultural tradition deeply embedded in Western societies, with a rich and diverse history extending back thousands of years.  It is doubtful that modern Westerners worship Christmas trees, Saturn, or Mithra, nor do they sing songs to Roman deities or engage in mass orgies (well, the majority probably doesn’t anyway).  On the contrary, it is a wonderful holiday during which people gather together with family, give each other presents as a sign of our appreciation and love for one another, and make unforgettable, warm memories that will stay with us to the end of our lives.  Certainly, there is nothing un-Islamic or un-Christian about that.

So, to that end – Merry Christmas everyone!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas

http://www.essortment.com/all/christmaspagan_rece.htm

http://www.history.com/topics/christmas

More Thoughts on the Veil

For the Arabic class I’m taking, I had to view a couple of videos regarding the Islamic headscarf, and answer some questions pertaining to the video.  I decided to post both the videos and my responses.  Your response to the videos welcome!

 

 

Al Jazeera: The Veil part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlkaX4csHyM

Al Jazeera: The Veil part 2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35cD16_AQAU

Questions & My Responses:

What thoughts come to your mind when you see a woman wearing al-hijaab
الحِجاب or al-niqaab النِقاب ? How do you view one vs. the other?

Before I came into contact with actual Muslim women, I viewed the headscarf as oppressive and forced.  However, when I began teaching for the first time and had a class full of Muslims, my perception immediately changed as I saw these women as having a great deal of honor, respect and dignity for themselves.  They looked like regal princesses to me, and I realized that someone in a position of nobility or high status doesn’t normally reveal their bodies to every common person around them, but would keep their personal appearance for only those in their private circle.

Regarding niqaab, I have had a few students who have worn the niqaab, and while I respect their decision to do so, I find it unnecessary and entirely counterproductive to their purpose of wearing it in the first place.  As the niqaabi woman in the video explained, the niqaab is to cover oneself physically from view of others and not draw unwanted attention to oneself.  However, niqaabis in the US and most other countries (included countries such as Egypt) draw a great deal of attention since they stand out as very different and even suspicious, as the TV reporter noted.  Islamically, the niqaab is not required (except for those in the Wahabi/Salafi sect), so adamantly wearing it and therefore drawing a lot of negative and suspicious attention to oneself, and furthering negative stereotypes of Muslim, is incredibly counterproductive in my view.  Islam encourages Muslims to dress in the same way as the culture they live in, as long as they ensure that the appropriate areas are covered.

How do you view an Arab woman who does not wear either al-hijaab or al-niqaab? Do you think that a woman dressed like that is making a political or a religious statement?

A few thoughts cross my mind when I see an uncovered Arab woman.  I may wonder if she is Christian or irreligious, or if she comes from a liberal Middle Eastern country, such as Lebanon or Syria.  She may also come from a more liberal city or family (Jeddah is Saudi Arabia is fairly liberal, as I have encountered students from Jeddah who don’t cover their hair, and know of individuals from even conservative areas in Saudi Arabia th don’t observe hijab in their private lives simply as the family in general doesn’t practice it).  Further, an uncovered woman may come from the West, from irreligious parents or mixed religion parents, and finally, the woman may simply not believe in it and chooses not to wear it.  Thus, when I see an uncovered Arab woman, I refrain from judgment and prefer to simply wait for more information.

In working with Muslim students from typically conversative countries however, I have seen that uncovered Muslim women are usually treated differently by their Muslim classmates; they are sometimes not respected as much and are treated as ‘loose’ and are not taken seriously, which is in line with what the TV reporter explained regarding women who don’t cover in Egypt.

Do your views apply to Arab or Muslim men who dress in a non-western manner?

Dressing in a non-Western manner for men or women from any country is their prerogative, and has little to do with one’s religious affiliation.  Islam is clear that a person can dress in a culturally appropriate manner wherever they are, as long as the appropriate areas are covered.  A male or female wearing jeans and a T-shirt to me simply look like they’re integrated and are not trying to set themselves distinctly apart from the culture around them.

Do you think that Muslims living this country should dress in a way that is not different from anyone else around them?

Muslims should dress in accordance to the area around them.  What I mean is that if they live in a more educated, open-minded area, dressing in their own cultural attire is fine as the people around them probably would be more accepting and open to that.  However, if they live in a conservative, close-minded, uneducated area, they may want to adopt the dress around them so as to not draw unwanted attention to themselves.  Again, the Islamic emphasis is always on covering the appropriate areas, and beyond that is a personal choice.

Can you think of other religions wheremen and women dress in certain way because they think that their religion requires them to do so? Does the American society view these other religions and their followers as they view Muslims who adhere to particular clothes?

Practicing Jewish women also dress similarly to Muslim women; they wear modest clothing and also cover their hair (which is a practice alive and well today as I came across many websites and tutorials on Jewish hair covering when I was trying to learn how to cover my own hair as a new convert to Islam).  Jewish texts record that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, never left the house without covering her hair, face, and hands (just like the niqaabi woman in the video).

Christian women traditionally also wore modest clothing and covered their hair, as Paul in the Bible admonishes women who come to church without their hair covered, saying that such women bring shame to themselves and deserve to have their heads shaved (incidentally, Islam does not take such an extreme approach!).  Some Christian women in other countries do still cover their hair.  Women in the FLDS denomination of Christianity dress modestly, as well as the Amish (who also cover their hair).  Women in the Apostolic and conservative Evangelical branches of Christianity have strict beliefs against cutting one’s hair (as the Old Testament states that a woman’s hair is her glory and should not be cut), and that women should not wear pants (as the OT also states that women should not wear men’s clothing and vice versa).  Catholic nuns dress in the same way as Muslim women by wearing long, loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf, and no image of Mary mother of Jesus (peace be upon him) is complete without Mary wearing a headscarf.

By no means has Islam introduced modesty or the veil to religious clothing practices; it has simply continued what has been practiced by other Abrahamic faiths for centuries. Yet, Westerners seem to forget the clothing practices of their own faith traditions historically and to the present.  If Mary is seen as holy and pure for wearing a headscarf, why then are Muslim women seen as oppressed and brainwashed for wearing the exact same thing?

After Conversion: End of the Story?

After one has found the right path and has officially declared the shahadah and determination to follow the straight path, is that the end of the story?  Is life all rainbows and butterflies from there on out?  Often we are intrigued and thrilled by the stories of those who have converted to Islam, what did they believe beforehand?  What made them interested in Islam?  But we sometimes forget that after being guided, these individuals are now living in a very hostile world, with trials and hardships that often far outweigh the difficulties faced before they were Muslim.  It’s easy to tell the revert, “MashAllah, congratulations on your conversion, may God bless you,” and then walk away and go back to your Muslim family and community that surrounds you, protects you, and shields you from the inhumanity of the rest of the world (as it should).  Yet the revert is left still alone, isolated, and standing against a torrent of disapproval and hostility.

Thankfully, some have wondered what happened after I converted – what about my family, what about my friends, what has my life been like as a new Muslim?  Instead of filling up the comment section on several of my posts in response to all the inquiries, writing an actual post on it seems like a much more efficient solution!

Muslim Friends

I converted to Islam 2 years and 3 months ago.  I was so excited and bursting at the seams to have found such phenomenal truth and wisdom – to be guided and on the straight path to God, at last.  I wanted to meet every single Muslim in the area and was exuberant to share my story and make new friends.  Yet, over time I was faced with the reality that Muslims are human after all, and while Islam is perfect, Muslims are far from it.   Many of the Muslims around me (which weren’t many to start with) were more concerned and preoccupied with their culture rather than their religion, so my attempts at friendship failed miserably.  I finally gave up smiling at the Muslim women I passed outside or on campus, as usually they ignored me or glared at me (as an aside, yesterday when I was out running, I passed by a Muslim woman who looked up and smiled at me – I was so surprised I almost tripped over myself – and gave her a big smile in return.  That totally made my day!).  I went to a mosque in the area a few times, but was mostly stared at.  I felt awkward and uncomfortable to be alone despite sitting in a room full of chattering women (who also didn’t seem too interested in the lecture either…).   I was in a different mosque, and the woman next to me leaned over and asked if I was Lebanese.  I replied that I wasn’t, but I was a convert.  That didn’t seem to interest her, and she went back to chatting with the woman next to her.  Last year I met a few Muslim women who were also working for the community college I was teaching for, and while we exchanged information, neither of them seemed interested in communicating beyond that initial contact (despite my attempts to contact them).

Alternatively, I have met some Muslims online who are very sincere and genuine, and I am grateful for their friendship and support, despite never having seen each other in real life!  Nevertheless, as a result of two years of disappointment, I’ve since given up trying to befriend Muslims in real life.

Family

As I mentioned in my initial post regarding my conversion story, my family is conservative, Evangelical Christian, and are very anti-Islam (on both sides)!  There’s an atheist on my dad’s side and a Buddhist on my mom’s side, and both of them are seen as the black sheep, and much time and effort is spent praying for them and lecturing them when they are around.  I’ve told myself that I should take comfort in the fact that neither of them were disowned, but then again, neither of those paths are as heavily stigmatized and hated as Islam.  My family views Islam specifically as being from Satan himself (astaghfirAllah), and the most dangerous.

My dad’s father is a lay minister (he filled in as a ‘sub’ for churches without pastors and does guest speaking as well), and loves to listen to Billy Graham, John Hagee, Pat Robertson, and of course, Fox News.  My dad once put me on the chopping block when he told my grandpa that I had some Muslim friends, to which my grandpa responded by saying, “Well you’d better get rid of them fast.  They’re dangerous!”  I asked him why, and the entire room fell silent.  He sputtered and fumed and couldn’t understand why I was so senseless to not know why.  I decided to drop it – don’t want the entire room to explode against me, and definitely didn’t want to reveal myself.

My mom’s father was a Pentacostal preacher for most of his life, and both he and my grandmother firmly believe that if you aren’t Pentacostal, you’re going to hell (Baptists especially since they believe in the ‘blasphemous’ concept of “once saved always saved”!).  Most certainly they see Islam as a dark evil.

My parents religiously watch Fox News – my dad’s favorite show is Bill O’Reilly, of course.  They are also firm supporters of George Bush and believe he could do no evil (despite the glaring truth that tells us otherwise).  Once (when I was still a Christian), I brought up the possibility of 9/11 being perpetrated by Bush himself, due to the overwhelming evidence, and my dad was incredibly offended and angry (as if I had just uttered blasphemy), and said that Bush could never, ever do something like that – he was a ‘Christian’ after all!  Last time I checked, the only infallible person in Christianity was Jesus (as), so I’m not sure how Bush gained that status!

My parents are also very pro-Israel, anti-Iran, anti-Palestine, anti-Lebanon & Syria, very Republican, and now proud members of the Tea Party.  They believe that I am already brainwashed due to having gone to a “liberal, socialist” university for graduate school, and often dismiss anything I have to say about politics or society in general.  Despite having more education than they do (in my immediate family – my extended family has some doctors and PhDs), my education is dismissed as useless, liberal ideology and not anything worthwhile.

In fact, my family, both immediate and extended, treat me as an 6 year old child who has no common sense or clue about life in general.  Even my brothers treat me in this way, usually dismissing what I have to say or ridiculing me, ganging up against me, laughing at me and questioning my intelligence.  As such, I grew up to think that my brothers and father were very smart and I was not.  I believed that men in general were smarter than me, and I unconsciously deferred and ‘bowed down’ to any male around me.  The males in my family also treat my mom in the same way, never taking her seriously and ridiculing her and questioning her intelligence on everything.  My mom is quite expert at manipulation though (even with me, as I have just recently discovered, after all this time), and while it’s a destructive, unhealthy pattern, it works and she gets what she needs.   I’ve always thought that the first person I tell about my conversion would be my mom, but now I realize that that would foolish because she would only use that against me whenever it suited her.  My family has the mentality of ‘everyone for themselves’, and will sacrifice someone else for the purpose of saving their own skin.

My family is also very argumentative, negative, critical, and judgmental.  I’ve always hated conflict (although there for a few years during puberty I did take on my dad and challenge him about everything to the extent that he thought I should become a lawyer!).  My family will argue endlessly and NEVER let anything go, so I learned long ago that it just isn’t worth it.  I prefer relationships to be smooth and harmonious, not tumultuous and hostile, so I eventually got in the habit of just letting everything go.  Someone would do something to me or make a hurtful comment, and I would just let it go.  Again and again and again… to the point now where they just treat me like a stupid child since they know they can get away with it as I won’t stand up to them or challenge them.

Recently, all that has changed, however.  After converting, I gained new confidence in myself (perhaps this should be a different post entirely, but I began to accept myself as a female, and realized that having feminine characteristics isn’t an awful thing, but is a strength), and I began to gain knowledge about the truth of the world around me.  I was more certain of my opinions and now had a great deal of fact to back it up, and began to stand up for my opinions.  Still, they would all start attacking me, so I would eventually give up and change the subject.

In recent months however, I’ve been trying to force myself to see it through to the end, despite the discomfort that it causes.  In fact, without going into the details, my mom and I are no longer on speaking terms (her choice, not mine), and my dad got involved (thanks to misinformation and manipulation from my mom) so we’ve had some intense arguments.  Even one of my brothers and I got into a fight because of the lies my mom told him, but fortunately I was able to set the record straight and he and I are actually on better terms right now than we have been in years.  And none of this going on now has anything to do with my conversion!!

I’ve realized that the only hope I have of being able to tell my family about my conversion without being completely annihilated is to change my relationship with them by getting them to respect me and take me seriously.  If I can achieve that, THEN I can tell them of my conversion and only then will they be forced to take it seriously.  If I tell them now, they’ll ridicule me, accuse me of being brainwashed, and my dad might even drive all the way down to where I live now with a U-Haul and try to force me to move in with them so they can take care of their senile, mentally retarded daughter!  I can only imagine family events – all the focus would be on me and it would be rife with exhaustingly endless arguments and attacks.  No one would listen to anything I have to say or even care what reasons I have for believing the way I do.

No, the only solution is to first change my relationship with them, and secondly, keep trying to change their perception of Islam.  If I can somehow get them to see Islam as at least just another world religion that is hugely misrepresented in the media and has many similarities to Christianity, then I may be able to put myself on the same level as my atheist and Buddhist relatives.  If my family continues to see Islam as evil and as the force on the side of the anti-Christ that Jesus (as) and the Christians will fight against after Jesus returns, then there is no hope for any sort of honest dialogue, discussion, or acceptance.

Friends

Very few of my friends know of my conversion as well.  Some reasons for this are merely circumstantial; I converted during my last year of graduate school (a different school and city from where I did my undergrad), and began covering my hair when I started an internship in another city.  I did see my classmates occasionally for classes during that time, and the reactions were mixed.  A few thought I had cancer, one of them did express her sincere support for my choice, and the rest of them either ignored me completely or began to just greet me politely when they saw me but stopped inviting me to hang out with them.  I was surprised actually, since I was in a counseling pyschology program and the emphasis in every class was valuing diversity and accepting and supporting people from all walks of life… but apparently this is mere rhetoric and not applied in practice.

I don’t often see my friends from undergrad, as I moved to a different city for grad school and they are all spread out everywhere; many of them are married and are starting families.  I saw one of them once though, after converting.  She had been to Egypt on a trip and seemed very interested in the culture and religion, and since she is also from a different country, I thought she would be more accepting.  So, I decided to tell her about my conversion.  Well… she seemed unsure about it and was concerned about what my family would think, especially since she knew me as being a very religious Christian.  After she left that day, I never heard from her again.

Another friend from high school told me a while back that he had converted to Catholicism, and was describing the difficulty he had with his parents, who are astutely Pentacostal.  I thought perhaps he would understand, since he had gone through a similar experience, so I told him that I also had changed my beliefs, and am pretty sure my parents would be very opposed to it.  I refrained from any detail though, as I wanted to see his reaction.  He seemed unresponsive, so I didn’t push it further – and yet again, I never heard from him again.

The vast majority of my friends from childhood through graduate school are very conservative Christians, so I know that I would face a very hostile onslaught of condemnation if I decided to declare myself as a Muslim to them all.  So… I decided it’s not worth it and have let it go.  I don’t see many of them very often anyway, from having moved so much (I’ve moved at least 14 times, to various cities and different states) and have lost touch with people over the years.  In fact, I have just moved again to an entirely different state to take a new job, so telling prior friends just isn’t much of a necessity.

I did make one friend recently who is not Muslim nor American, and I have been grateful for her acceptance and for seeing beyond my scarf and liking me for who I really am.  But, I’ve just moved and she’s too far away for frequent visiting now.

I don’t know anyone at all in my new city, although I’ve felt encouraged that my colleagues at my new job seem to be very genuinely nice and friendly.  I’m not that picky really, I gave up on the impossible task of finding Muslim friends, and am just looking for decent friends in GENERAL.  But… in the meantime, as I have nothing to do on the weekends, I can continue to research Islam and read and learn about other aspects of life, and of course – post on my blog. 🙂

So, in sum… life has not been easy since converting, but I realize that I am passing through a very important time and am learning necessary skills to make my life better in the future, inshAllah.  Only God knows what the future will hold, and I’m optimistic that no matter what trials and hardships I face, God will protect me and care for me.  I will gladly endure any difficulty for the sake of God and for the precious gift of guidance to the right path.  Nothing in this world is worth that.  The Quran tells us that this life is just a test and trial, and our real life begins afterward.  When we keep everything in perspective, the intensity and turmoil subsides and obstacles begin to look more trivial and inconsequential.

The Importance of Good Manners in Debate

When discussing issues that are emotional and close to one’s heart, it is often difficult to accept what other people are saying without becoming overly emotional, upset, or angry.  Because of this, Americans often avoid discussing potentially heated issues such as politics and religion.  In fact, it is a well-known cardinal rule that those two subjects are entirely off-limits at parties and social events (particularly when people are drinking because physical fights inevitably ensue!).

Yet, who knows the nature of humankind best but our Creator Himself?  God knows very well how easily upset we can become when discussing beliefs, which is why He instructed on how to do exactly that:

“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner; surely your Lord best knows those who go astray from His path, and He knows best those who follow the right way. (Quran chapter 16 verse 125). 

In other words, we are instructed to discuss our beliefs with wisdom and good encouragement (as opposed to sarcasm or criticism), doing so with the utmost of good manners.  It is not our job to convince them or change their minds, as God Himself only knows those who will listen to truth and follow it, or who will reject it and turn away.  Our task is only to speak the truth with good manners.  We should never engage in personal attacks (i.e. “I can’t believe how stupid you are to believe that!”), nor disparage their belief system (“What kind of idiotic, illogical belief is that?!”).  If we stoop to such behavior, the other person will automatically become defensive and immediately stop listening.  Good manners, encouragement, and wisdom are the keys to opening a person’s heart.  Yet, in the end, even if you do everything you can, the other person still may not respond the way you’d like them to.  Thus, we must remember that what is in the other person’s heart and mind is between that person and God alone.  

When I hear this verse, I am reminded of when I first heard the truth of Islam.  I still persisted in arguing against it and pushing my own stated beliefs, but deep inside… I was listening.  When I was alone throughout the day or laying awake at night, I was mentally replaying what I had heard, considering and reflecting on it.  Externally, no one would have guessed that the truth was having an impact on me, because I was stubborn and steadfastly defending my views.  Anyone interacting with me would have easily thought to themselves that there was no hope – I was too brainwashed, too senseless, too close-minded, too stubborn to let go of what I had been raised to believe was right.  Yet God knew what was actually happening inside my heart.  It is only He who guides us to the truth, and no one else. 

When we are faced with someone who seems so close-minded and refuses to listen, just remember that despite all their blustering and fury, inside they just may be listening.  And even if they aren’t listening now, they may remember what you’ve said much later down the road, and begin to reflect on it.  Only God knows the path an individual will take.  I heard a beautiful hadith of Prophet Muhammad (saws) the other day that made tears come to my eyes:

“The number of paths to God is equal to the number of human souls.” 

SubhanAllah (glory to God).  There is no one prescribed, set path that we all must robotically follow.  No, God has designed it so that we each find the truth in the timing that is best for us.  Perhaps one person finds the truth early on – and it is better for them.  Yet someone else may find the truth much later, and it is better for them – because they had many lessons to learn and experiences to pass through before they were ready.  My own path has been incredibly unique, and in retrospect I know that each step was crucial to taking me to where I am today.  Alhamdilulah (praise God).

American Domestic Terrorism

Although Western media has programmed us all to automatically associate terrorism with Islam, terrorism is certainly not under sole proprietorship of extremist so-called ‘Muslims’.  In fact, Christian terrorism is alive and well in the US to this day, in the form of several different organizations.  The abortion clinic bombings and murders of doctors and staff (one such murder occurred just last year: Dr. Tiller was gunned down while he was in church, of all places) are good examples of present-day Christian extremism.

I recently watched a documentary chronicling one Christian extremist group closely involved with many of the bombings and murders that took place in the 1990s.  It’s very interesting to see how they justify killing others for the sake of God, and even how they apply a great deal of psychological pressure one young member in particular to engage in violence.

I’ll post it here so you can watch it for yourselves: