Islam 101, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Learning to Read All Over Again

Assalamu Alaikum, everyone! One of the fundamental but perhaps most daunting tasks that all new reverts face is learning to read Qur’an. While most born Muslims are given the opportunity to learn while they are young and while their brains are still flexible, those who choose to convert to Islam may find their journey a little less simple. If you are a native English speaker or speaker of any of the Romantic languages, you may find learning to read and write Arabic quite difficult. The way this language is set up is completely different to how we are used to speaking. Aside from the obvious differences in alphabet, pronunciation is on a whole new level with sounds that I have never before had to make. This is what makes learning Arabic fun but also extremely challenging.

As my husband has so patiently told me, learning this language takes time and because the Qur’an has been spread all over the world, pronunciation will differ with everyone. An Arabic person will tell you how to pronounce a certain word much differently than how someone from Malaysia will teach you. And while the way a born Arabic speaker recites the Qur’an is typically the correct way, for almost everyone else in the world the language is so different from their own that it is a struggle to adopt the correct pronunciations for every word. You simply have to exercise patience, practice consistently, and try the best you can. The goal is to be able to ready the Holy Qur’an and to understand its teachings. And, if this offers any bit of comfort, learning to pronounce the letters once they are connected into words is much easier than learning to pronounce the letters individually.

Why am I saying all of this? Because I am having so much difficulty learning to read and pronounce Arabic. English is my first language with Spanish coming in at a close second. Spanish also happens to be in the same family of languages that I am familiar with and I began learning it when I was in elementary school so I have been able to pick it back up easily. Arabic is an entirely different ball game. I am having to learn a new alphabet, new ways of pronouncing things, and new sounds that don’t exist in English or Spanish. Combine all of this with the fact that my Qur’an teacher, who also happens to be my British husband, tends to pronounce th as f. His teaching is wonderful, he’s patient and thorough but even the cultural differences in how we pronounce certain letters has caused some confusion and frustration. He also happened to learn Qur’an the Urdu way which is slightly different. But, I think once we realized that we pronounce certain letters differently, it cleared everything up. I’m laughing right now remembering how seriously he looked at me as he pointed out thaa’ was pronounced with a th like “fhaa” and I couldn’t wrap my head around how that was possible.

It has been a challenge, and we are nowhere near finished but, alhamdulillah that we get to undertake this challenge together through the mercy and goodness of Allah (SWT). So, if you’re feeling stuck or extremely frustrated, just know that this is normal. Instead of giving in to the negative feelings, use them as motivation to conquer these obstacles. If you need to, slow it down and focus on perfecting one letter a day. And remember that there are plenty of free resources online, especially YouTube, that are fantastic (and free) which are perfect for if you are trying to teach yourself. If you can, try to find local classes or a generous brother or sister willing to help teach you. I find that practicing with someone who has gone through it themselves is so much more helpful than trying to carry on by yourself. I pray that Allah (SWT) will guide each and every one of you through this journey and that your hearts will be filled with love and praise for Him as you learn to read His words.

Thank you,

Nahlah

Standard
Islam 101, Uncategorized

Islam 101: Making the Most of Prayer

So, more than likely, you already know the basics of prayer. If not, there is a very helpful WikiHow tutorial that you can follow for the steps to the obligatory prayer. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I finally memorized all of the recitations and two surahs. It was such a relief not to have to glance at the words on my phone and to pray wholeheartedly, completely focused on worshiping Allah (SWT). But, as with everything, there is always room for growth. For example, were you aware that there are sunnah (recommended) and fard (required) rakats to each prayer? That’s right. The 2-4-4-3-4 rakats of the 5 obligatory prayers can be supplemented with extra rakats. It looks like this:

Fajr= 2 sunnah + 2 fard

Dhuhr= 4 sunnah + 4 fard + 2 sunnah

Asr= 4 sunnah + 4 fard

Maghrib= 2 sunnah + 3 fard + 2 sunnah

Isha= 2 sunnah + 4 fard+ 2 sunnah

Now, it’s not required to recite these extra rakats but it is highly recommended and can greatly enhance your prayer. I know that there are times where we may not feel like going the extra mile but think of much time there is in each day and then think of what you spend most of your free time doing. While some people have children and activities which make taking extra time for prayer difficult, I myself have quite a lot of free time and have found that if I can dedicate time to reading or browsing the internet, I can make more time in my life for my iman. Allah (SWT) does so much for us, asking us to willingly volunteer a few more minutes of our 24 hour day is such a small request. Here are some other steps to take to not only ensure that your prayer is valid but also, that you are making the most of this sacred time.

Disclaimer: Some of these may seem obvious to most of you, but these tips are more for my fellow reverts who haven’t grown up around Islam. The practices can be a lot to take in and certainly a lot to remember at one time.

  1. Make sure there are no photos or replicas of living things (humans and animals) in the room or if there are, make sure they are covered or turned around.
  2. Both Dhuhr and Asr are recited silently.
  3. Make sure the area and the clothes you are praying in are as clean as possible.
  4. Keep your focus on the front of your prayer mat to avoid distraction.
  5. Men should be covered from the navel to the ankles but it is customary to also cover the the torso, upper arms, and in some cultures the head. They should also make sure their trousers don’t extend below their ankles. Women should be covered with exceptions for the hands and face, and the clothing should be loose.
  6. After Fajr and Maghrib, recite “Allahumma Ajirni Minan Naar” which translates to “Oh Allah, protect me from hellfire!”
  7. When you go down to the ground, go straight into sujood. When you sit up, make sure you rest one hand flat on each thigh.
  8. You only have to recite the takbeer, Surah al-Fatiha and the following surahs aloud. Everything else can be recited to oneself.
  9. Pray as soon as the adhan is sounded (whether that is from the local masjid or the alarm on your phone) or as soon as possible. Don’t delay. Approaching prayer in a timely and enthusiastic manner not only increases your reward but also allows you to focus fully on worshiping Allah (SWT) and allows you to take your time and pray correctly and make any dua that you need to make.
  10. Take time to incorporate the sunnah prayers before the fard prayers. An easy way to start is with the sunnah prayer before fajr. Since both are made up of only two rakats, it is quick and makes for a positive start to your day. The Prophet (SAW) made sure that no matter what, he prayed the two sunnah rakats before fajr. The surahs to be recited during this sunnah prayer are Surah Al-Ikhlas and Surah Al-Kafirun.
  11. Recite Surah Ibrahim (14: 40-41) after the second tashahhud and durood sharif (As-salaah al-Ibraaheemiyyah).
  12. Make sure that toes are pointing forward when in sujood as well as hands. Keep elbows off of the ground and don’t rest your stomach on your thighs.
  13. It is so helpful to learn the meanings of what you are reciting. I find that this helps me to keep my focus and to pray with a better intention.
  14. Don’t make your intention to pray out loud, it is to be made in your heart so that you do not make a false intention. It is also considered an innovation by some scholars which would make it haram.
  15. Speaking of innovation, if you are unsure of what to do during prayer or forget something don’t make it up as you go. It is permissible and actually mentioned in a Hadith that if one makes a mistake during prayer or loses focus, they can start over.
  16. This article is really helpful if you are someone who often gets distracted or forgets things during prayer.

I hope that these little tips prove to be of some use in performing your daily prayers in the future. They are small details that I feel can be left out when first learning everything. Oftentimes, because they are so used to it, born Muslims may forget to teach you these things or you may not find the advice readily available on the internet because to most, it seems like common sense. Don’t worry or feel pressure to learn all of these at once. Take your time and focus on keeping a pure intention and praying wholeheartedly. Allah (SWT) knows you are learning and trying your best and you will make mistakes, but what matters is how you go about correcting and learning from them. As always, if you have anything to add to the list above or any corrections, please let me know below!

Thank you,

Nahlah

Standard
Thoughts

The Golden Rule

Something I find so refreshing about Islam is our respect for the beliefs of other people. Despite the media’s attempts to paint us all as radical enforcers of Sharia law, we are generally a very easygoing bunch. While there is a passion for sharing our faith, I have never found it to be forceful or unnecessary. In most cases, I believe most Muslims keep to themselves, focusing more on their own faith (or that of fellow Muslims) than the faith of a non-Muslim. On the contrary, growing up in the Christian church, the act of witnessing to people whether they welcomed it or not was highly encouraged. Witnessing activities played a big role in the youth group I attended and I remember inwardly cringing as I tried to participate as little as possible. It wasn’t the act of telling people about God or doing good for the community, it was the pushiness that this particular church acted with that didn’t align with something inside of me. It didn’t feel right. I could almost read the thoughts going through people’s heads as they were bombarded with more information than they had asked for. I’m positive they had heard it all before and were simply trying to be polite. Aggressively sharing one’s beliefs is often more intimidating than effective and I find that it pushes more people away than it draws in. So I found it quite the relief when I learned that this is not a common practice in most Muslim communities. I saw instead an influence on charity and doing good in the community. We are to live our lives as if we were billboards for our faith. This is not to say that all Muslims are perfect and have never forced their faith on anyone. Like in every belief system, there are radicals with a misguided view of their religion and what is right. Let’s get one thing straight, radical Islam is not Islam. A radical Muslim is someone who has taken the sacred words of the Holy Quran and twisted them to fit their own evil narrative. Just as neo-Nazis and white supremacists twist the words of the Bible and everyone else to suit their agenda. This is also not to point fingers at all Christians as being the way I’ve described above. My family attended a particularly proactive evangelical church that often times put their own agenda ahead of the needs of others. This does not represent true Christian values as found in the New Testament of the Bible. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many Christians who hold the same values. There are so many good, kind-hearted people in these communities who truly want to help others and they are the ones who make the biggest impact. 

I believe we can all learn from this. If you want to make a difference and spread a message that you deem is important, lead by example. You won’t accomplish anything if you intimidate, harass, disregard boundaries, or even try to bring up your religion every time you speak with someone. We must respect what other people choose to believe. We don’t have to agree with it but must allow them to live how they see fit (as long as it does not cause harm to anyone). The best way to show them the truth is to let them see you thrive and be a good person because of that truth. Words mean nothing to anyone. We’ve all heard people make claims but to see someone’s actions that make them stand out in a good way really drives the message further. In my own life, I am surrounded by non-Muslims of all different backgrounds which presents a wonderful opportunity to impact their lives in a positive way, alhumdulillah. If I live the way I should, these people can look at me and see a positive example of Islam, insha’Allah, and I may be the only real Muslim they’ll ever interact with. This is a necessity here in the US because most people only associate us with 9/11, the news, or TV shows that depict us as radical jihadists. In other words, they really don’t know us or what we stand for at all. We have to be willing to learn and be more understanding of those who are different than us. These differences should not pit us against each other so violently. We don’t have to all be the same, but there are some value that we all hold in common and if we want to spread those values, we must be united. At the end of the day, we are all more alike than we realize and we should treat everyone the way we would like to be treated. It’s the golden rule and it is more  necessary now than ever before.

Standard
Thoughts, Uncategorized

Thriving Alone During Ramadan

Assalaamu Alaikum everyone!

We are 5 days away from Eid al-Fitr which means Ramadan is almost finished. It was my goal to fill this blog with articles before and during the holy month with helpful tips and lessons that I’ve learned. Instead, life took over and I became fully immersed in simply trying to experience and make it through the month. In reality, life does not stop for times such as these. If I could have had it my way, I would have spent this month with my husband and his family overseas. I would have opted to bypass all of the stressful hurdles that come with life change so that this month I could have focused solely on my iman and staying on my deen. I would have surrounded myself with friends and family who are of the same faith and lifestyle as myself instead of eating iftar alone.

I won’t lie and say it’s been easy. Ramadan is a time that emphasizes spending time with our loved ones and sharing in this fast together. When your family is not on the same path as you and if you’ve struggled to make friends in the local Muslim community, this seems like the perfect time to feel self pity. It’s easy to feel down and alone, like you’re struggling. But you can’t. Ramadan isn’t simply about family, it’s also about personal growth in our iman, a commitment to our deen, charity, worship, and prayer. This is definitely not the time to feel sorry for oneself no matter the situation. I know that it’s difficult, especially when you can see families eating together and celebrating Eid together and when you see friends spending time together to distract each other from the hunger. When you don’t have that, it seems like the most precious thing in the world and it’s all you want. So how do you thrive during this holy month when you don’t have that?

As I’ve gone through this month, I’ve found that this time alone is a blessing. The only distractions are ones that I choose to let in so I have no excuse to miss my prayers or to neglect studying the Quran or to forget about charity. Being alone, there is less a chance to be influenced into negative behaviours. I learned that creating a healthy, productive schedule for the day starting with suhoor puts us in the direction we want to walk in for the rest of the day. Don’t rush, take your time with preparing the food and eating. I like to keep this meal simple, healthy, and easy to digest. I follow this same mentality with iftar as we are told to eat for nutrition and avoid excess. I make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the evening and early morning so that I do not find myself overly dehydrated during daylight hours.

This is also a wonderful chance to commit to praying on time and with great care. Take the extra time to pray the sunnah prayers as well and memorize a few supplications so you can make dua by heart. After your prayers and if you have time, study the Quran. During this month, I would recommend letting go of modern entertainment and look to Islamic books and speeches instead. As you are going about your day, listen to Islamic speakers and podcasts to fill the silence but to also learn and find solace in the fact that you truly aren’t alone in this world. Many of these episodes and speeches can be perfectly applied to everyday life and can give you much encouragement if you are feeling down or lost.

If you are blessed to have family and friends close by whom you love and enjoy spending time with, make an effort to be around them. Even if they are not Muslim, being in their company still gives you a chance to practice compassion, educate if they are curious, and establish good representation for the Islamic faith and lifestyle. If you do not have family and friends close by, find ways to volunteer around your community. You can also reach  out to your local masjid to see if they hold any classes for women or if they have any female activities.

You can also develop a daily routine and stick to it, no matter what. This will encourage you to be productive and not spend the day in bed, although it is so tempting! Set a goal for yourself this month like reading through the entire Quran, learning Quran, reading through a good Islamic lifestyle book, writing, creating art, deep cleaning your house, spending time with a neighbour in need, learning something new, etc. Make sure to get adequate sleep, take naps if you have to, and don’t stay up later than necessary. Cook real food for iftar and suhoor and make sure they are balanced and healthy meals. If you have a day off, cook a lot of food that day and freeze it so that you can save time and energy on cooking every day.

I’ve seen a lot of posts lately surrounding the topic of self-care. Most of these center on buying gimmicky products and treating ourselves to unhealthy habits. While buying a new face mask and indulging on that cupcake from that one Instagram-worthy bakery (or during this month, binge-watching Netflix) can make you feel good temporarily, Ramadan is not about these quick fixes and over-indulgences. To me Ramadan is a time to focus on lasting, beneficial change. Throughout this month, I’ve come to realize that my attitude needs adjusting sometimes, I can be self-centered, I put too much time into worthless things, I practice a few bad habits, and I’m not as committed to my deen as I could be. So my version of self-care is to stop with the self-sabotage. It looks like eating healthy, small meals and going to bed on time only after praying on time. It also looks like working on my attitude and putting the petty away when she tries to come out and play. It looks like not complaining about horrible drivers during my commute to work (I’ve failed at this practically every day). It looks like being quiet and listening instead. It looks like reading good books that call me out on my negative habits (Purification of the Heart, anyone?). It looks like loving my husband unconditionally and treating him with as much respect and care as he deserves. It looks like being grateful for all that I have been given and all that is to come. It looks like being positive. It looks like taking naps instead of perusing the internet. It looks like putting my all into my work and not half-heartedly approaching anything. It looks like self-discipline in the face of anything. It looks like letting go of control and trusting in Allah (SWT) to take care of it all.

I am not sure if I would have realized all of this if I had not been alone. To sit and reflect on oneself and life without distraction is such a beautiful gift. Through all of this, my eyes have been opened to so much and I could not be more grateful. As I said before, it is easy to feel the sting of loneliness and descend in to self-pity. But that will lead to nowhere. I believe aloneness is a gift from Allah (SWT) to recenter and focus us on what matters. It is a gentle but effective way to remind us to return to the practices He has commanded of us and to see so very clearly, the areas in which we need development. I hope that for all of my sisters out there who have experienced being alone or struggling through this Ramadan, Allah (SWT) brings you happiness and peace. Have a blessed Ramadan!

Standard
Thoughts, Uncategorized

What to Expect When You Cover Your Hair in America

Every revert’s story is different. We all come from different backgrounds and lifestyles which can greatly determine the level of ease our assimilation into this new life will have. This is such a deep and individual process that for this article I will stick to the basics of what a female revert will probably experience when she starts covering her hair. What can you expect from the world around you? From your friends and family? From future employers and strangers?

I’m going to be real with you. As I’m sure you already know, there is a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering surrounding Islam that I hope to dispel as I continue writing on this blog. Your decision to embark on this journey is not going to go down well with a lot of people. It is very realistic to assume that your family will express disappointment in you, maybe even go so far as to cut you off. You will see friends that start to avoid you or pretend to be interested but slowly fade away. Coworkers will question your decision and, perhaps crack jokes or make you feel silly for it. If you choose to cover your hair, you can expect to have to learn how to control every word that comes out of your mouth. People will feel uncomfortable around you and you will be subjected to a level of surveillance that no one else has to go through. You will get dirty looks while you’re in the grocery store minding your own business. If you work with the public, you can most certainly expect comments ranging from curious to ignorant to downright degrading.

People will all of a sudden think that it is appropriate to discuss topics with you that they would avoid with anyone else. There will be people who think that simply because you cover your hair, that you are open and comfortable with discussing hijab and women’s rights in Islam. All of a sudden, you will become a poster child for hijabis and Islam, whether you like it or not. You will also meet people who feel that it is their own, personal mission to “save” you. They will see you as oppressed and confused, in need of confidence and freedom. They will feign concern for your well-being and worry about your own personal decisions. They will attempt to be saviours who debate with you until you see the light. And there will be some people who won’t talk to you at all and some who will be a little too friendly.

I will also advise that you use caution if you are going out alone in certain areas of the States. I don’t recommend going out alone once the sun has set and use your discretion when going into certain places. The key is to know where you are welcome and to use common sense. I live in the southern United States which means that there are certain restaurants and stores that cater to a group of people who have a tendency to hate Muslims. There are certain cities nearby that have a very small population and consist of the same type of people. I will not find any allies in these areas so I stay away. 9/11 didn’t just hurt and kill the Americans in those buildings. It brought on terror, threats, and death to the Americans who just so happened to be true followers of the religion that an evil group of men used as a scapegoat to commit terrorism. While American Muslims prayed, provided aid, and condemned the acts of these men, America turned on them and has sought to hold innocent people accountable ever since. There are too many stories of Muslims being harassed and killed here to take anything lightly now.

Life as a hijabi in the States isn’t a living nightmare but it does require some adjusting to how you would normally interact with others and carry yourself. I have personally chosen not to talk in depth about my faith with others. If they ask then I will answer, but it stops at that. Don’t make apologies for your beliefs or try to explain or justify any of your decisions. You don’t need to prove to anyone that you are an empowered woman with your hijab. You don’t need to reassure anyone that you are free or that you feel beautiful and confident. We should have love and patience for everyone that we come across, but we should not sacrifice our beliefs or well-being to cater to the ego of someone who chooses to remain ignorant and hateful in a world that offers plenty of opportunity to be the opposite. I love America and I am so grateful that I was born here, but this love for my country doesn’t mean that I should refrain from reality. Islam has given me so much more freedom and passion for life than I’ve ever had before. I cover my hair proudly now and I am so proud of each and every one of you beautiful women who have chosen the same path. This is a beautiful journey that brings so many benefits and as with every beautiful thing, there are those who try to stifle it. Trust in Allah (SWT), hold your head high, be prepared, and speak the truth.

Ps: And you know what else you can expect? The flood of support and love you will receive from other hijabis whether it’s on the street, in the store, online, in the masjid, etc. You are going to face some negativity but you will always have a support system of other Muslims behind you. Don’t forget that.

Standard
Thoughts, Uncategorized

Adopting a Minimalist Lifestyle

From my guest post on Hijabies Hood.

Minimalism has always had a special place in my heart. I first came across the idea while watching a bubbly YouTube video on capsule wardrobes. At first glance, minimalism was chic. It was neutral colors, clean lines, and a tally of possessions that could be counted on one hand. I loved it! I remember donating bags and bags of clothes, leaving only my most worn items hanging in the closet: it didn’t amount to much and consisted of only the color black. I remember the feelings of calm and relief that swept over me as I sorted through books, old school papers, jewelry, and useless little decorations. After the massive overhaul was compete, my room looked much like those one could find on a dream house Pinterest board.  

What I found during my little “journey” was that minimalism was so much more than a seasonal capsule wardrobe. It was and still is a freedom from possessions and mindless waste. It is a rejection of what corporations push in our faces. In this modern age we have slowly taken on more gods without realizing it: stuff. We chase after possessions and glorify those who have what we don’t. I had become disillusioned with it all as many of us often do and I was seeking more. I saw minimalism as a mindset that shifted my focus onto values, learning, experiences, and connection. Before I came to Islam, being a self-proclaimed minimalist made me feel like I was partially fulfilled. I was focused on things that were adding value to my life rather than taking away but it wasn’t quite enough. It wasn’t until after I reverted that I felt completely fulfilled and found even more reasons to continue on in this lifestyle. And it all started with this hadith:

“On the authority of Abdullah ibn Umar (RA), who said: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) took me by the shoulder and said, “Be in the world as if you were a stranger or a traveler along a path.”

Perhaps I am a little biased because I love traveling, but I really connected with these instructions. I see living this way to mean that you only possess what is necessary and convenient, you experience many different cultures, you wonder at Allah’s (SWT) creation, you meet amazing people, you value your time, you work hard, you abstain from excess so that your journey will not be hindered, you are always learning, and you are always ready to pick up and go if Allah (SWT) calls you somewhere else.

The Muslim lifestyle, in general, is one that embraces moderation and simplicity. We are instructed to only eat what is needed, live as travelers, abstain from excess spending on weddings, not to flaunt beauty or wealth in public, and use our money for good (giving zakat). Not only is this way of living good for our health and bank accounts, but it is wonderful for our faith. When we are not so focused on the show and the stuff, we are more focused on Allah (SWT) and living as He has instructed us to.

Minimalism doesn’t have to look like it does on Pinterest or in the apartment tour videos on YouTube. Most of us have families/roommates or we have hobbies/careers that require us to keep certain things, or we just really love throw pillows. What matters is that we live lives that are in alignment with how Allah (SWT) wants us to live. This means that we must live with the awareness of our time, money, actions, words, and health. On the Day of Judgement we will be asked five questions: It was narrated from Ibn Mas’ood (RA) that the Prophet (SAW) said: “The son of Adam will not be dismissed from before his Lord on the Day of Resurrection until he has been questioned about five things: his life and how he spent it, his youth and how he used it, his wealth and how he earned it and how he disposed of it, and how he acted upon what he acquired of knowledge.”

I believe that if we live in a way in which we will be able to answer these questions with little to no regrets, we will not only be happier then but happier in this life as well.

Standard
Thoughts, Uncategorized

Imposter Syndrome: Revert Edition

When I first reverted, I was alone. I found myself in an area that was very much lacking in a strong Muslim community and so resorted to internet research and books to grow in my deen. It wasn’t until I met my husband, that I finally had the opportunity to connect with other sisters and brothers in Islam. I traveled to London to meet his family and felt like I blended in as soon as I landed. There were women in hijab EVERYWHERE. No one was giving me dirty looks, I was invisible, and I loved it. But something also happened, I started to feel like an imposter. Sitting there with my husband’s wonderful family, getting to know everyone, I realized how little I actually knew about Islam and how underdeveloped my iman actually was. I had so much to learn and part of me began to feel almost foolish due to my lack of knowledge. How could I sit there wearing hijab and claim to be Muslim when I knew so little?

Another factor that I believe contributes to this imposter syndrome, is how synonymous culture has become with Islam; specifically cultures arising from Asian and Arabic countries. Growing up in America, raised by a Black/Native American mother and a German/Welsh father, I shared a similar upbringing and lifestyle with many of my fellow mixed, American peers. Our culture here typically derives from a Christian background with a primarily secular lifestyle. Joining a new family and being surrounded by beautiful people from a completely different culture and a faith still new to me was fascinating and I am so grateful for it. But I cannot lie and pretend like I felt I belonged here. Just as the hijab set me apart from most people in the southern United States, my background and nationality felt quite alienating in my new Muslim family. Naturally, people who claim the same culture have a much closer bond. When I come across other mixed girls or other members of my family’s tribe, the connection is so much stronger then in my interactions with others. It’s simply how things are. So being a fairly new revert with distinctively different features from those around me, a Christian upbringing and an American accent felt so uncomfortably visible in a primarily Asian and Arabic community.

I began to feel the same way on social media as I followed more and more Muslim women. In every post I saw gorgeous traditions and cultural practices, and it seemed like everyone connected over these things so much more than anything else. Everyone I met had been born into a Muslim family, so all of this was so normal and essential to who they were. They were well-practiced Muslims who were familiar with the lifestyle and the teachings to back it up. I felt like I was playing dress up, trying to join the party. I didn’t have much in common with anyone around me here, no familiar life experiences or similar upbringing, simply a shared faith. Could I ever belong? Probably not. I can appreciate this culture but it will never be my culture. I can love the people so dearly but I will never be one of them. I can be obsessed with the traditions and the style of dress but it’s not my style. And that’s okay. Because being a Muslim has NOTHING to do with culture.

Islam is a religion, a set of beliefs that are set apart from culture. Anyone can be Muslim because you don’t have to be born into it, Alhamdulillah! Allah (SWT) has brought you into this faith, so you do belong no matter how you feel. The key is to remain humble. You will not know everything when you revert, you won’t know everything one year after you revert, and you STILL won’t know everything 50 years after you revert. It is about being humble, pursuing knowledge, and putting that newfound knowledge to practice over and over and over again. You are not joining a new culture, you are joining the Ummah (Muslim community). This community encompasses so many cultures from all over the world. It is a very intricately woven, vibrant web of people coming from so many different backgrounds to join together in worshiping the one true God. It is very easy to come across cultural traditions from primarily Arabic and Asian countries and think that this is what Islam is. And when we focus on these cultures, it becomes exclusionary. That is one of the many great beauties of Islam: that so many different people can come together and share this faith and this struggle. Islam does not exclude those that God has brought into it, Alhamdulillah.

Standard
Islam 101, Uncategorized

Islam 101: Dining Etiquette

Assalaamu Alaikum!

I wanted to write an article that plays off of yesterday’s. One detail about the Islamic lifestyle that I don’t believe is transparent enough to reverts is dining etiquette. It’s simple and straightforward but if you are not surrounded by other Muslims who are willing to take the time to point these things out to you, how are you going to know?

There are quite a few details so I will write them all out as a list so nothing gets lost in translation.

  1. Before you begin eating, say Bismillah Irahmaan Iraheem. This means “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”. This essentially blesses the food and is equivalent to a Christian’s prayer before eating. If you forget and have already begun eating, say “Bismillahi Awwalahu Wa Aakhirahu”. This means “In the name of Allah at the beginning and at the end.”
  2. Only eat with the right hand as it is the most honoured hand and it is seen as very rude to eat with the left. A full explanation can be found here.
  3. It is very common in Muslim households to eat with one’s actual hand, no utensils. I have found that my new Muslim friends and family are very considerate and always provide me with utensils to eat with. But honestly, I prefer eating with my hand now too. It’s more efficient and after awhile, you get used to it and utensils become a burden. Ever forgotten to grab a fork? No problem now.
  4. This one is pretty common sense and you probably already practice this one: wash your hands before eating!
  5. Eat the food that is directly in front of you. No reaching in front of other people to grab a bite or taking from your neighbor’s plate.
  6. Once you have finished eating, say “Alhamdulillah.” This means “Praise God.”
  7. Wash your hands and rinse your mouth after eating.
  8. You should always eat whilst sitting. This is sunnah and also recommended by scientists as it aids in fully digesting one’s food. This should also be done when drinking liquids. There have also been some studies that claim standing while drinking is bad for the joints.
  9. Take what is offered to you (unless you suffer from a severe allergy or insensitivity) and do not criticize the food.
  10. It is preferred to eat in a group and to converse about subjects all across the board, as long as they are halal.
  11. Eat in moderation! This keeps you from feeling sick but also takes pressure off of your digestive system which can cause issues along the way if not done. One way I make sure to do this is to take half of the portion I believe I need. I also avoid empty calories and stick to meals that are primarily vegetables and protein. Also another reason to eat with other people and to talk to them is so that you give your body time to digest what you are eating and this allows you to feel full faster.
  12. Obviously, eat only food that is considered halal. I am currently working on an article that gives all the details of halal food and debunks some of the myths people believe about it. It should be up within the next week, insha’Allah!
  13. It is preferred that you do not drink water with your meal as it can mess with digestion.
  14. And lastly, avoid gold and silver dishware as it is haram.

So, there you go. The 14 rules of Muslim dining etiquette. I have a feeling I probably missed something so if I did, please add the missing rule below and I will add it to the list! If you would like a more in-depth explanation of the above bullet points and the Hadith that support them, you can find it all here.

I hope that this post was helpful and that these tips will come easy to you. Bon appetit!

Standard
Islam 101, Uncategorized

Islam 101: Why We Use the Right Hand

As a new revert, learning and adapting Islamic practices can seem overwhelming. I have created this series, so that I may address the little details of being a Muslim that may come as second nature to most people born into Islam. The answers presented in these articles will be based on the Quran and Hadith, not opinion, and will be short and sweet, insha’Allah.

Assalaamu Alaikum!

Today, I want to talk about why Muslims only eat and drink with their right hand. It’s as simple as this:

The Messenger of Allaah (SAW) said: “No one among you should eat with his left hand or drink with it, for the shaytaan eats with his left hand and drinks with it.”

The right hand in Islam is seen as the more honoured and pure hand. It is used for purification (we start on the right side when cleansing ourselves), eating, drinking, shaking hands, putting on clothes, entering the masjid (mosque), and giving/receiving money/gifts, etc. The left hand is the one we use for cleaning ourselves after going to the toilet, amongst other things. While we obviously cleanse ourselves thoroughly, as it is required, the left hand is still seen as inappropriate to use for “clean” tasks. You can find a more in depth explanation and more Hadith to support this practice here and here.

It can be tricky to remember to do this if you are left-handed or simply that you’ve been using both hands to eat with your entire life. It takes practice, but eventually you’ll catch on and it will become second-nature. We should strive to do this because it has been commanded, but also because it is common sense. Using one hand exclusively for eating (also shaking hands and giving gifts) and the other exclusively for doing tasks considered “unclean” is an effective way to avoid spreading germs and maintain cleanliness.

I hope this article was helpful to you and look forward to the next topic in this little series, insha’Allah.

Standard
Thoughts, Uncategorized

Lonely?

Assalaamu Alaikum.

Today I want to address a more emotional topic: loneliness. As a revert you experience this in a way that is so completely different from any other. I’ve lived alone in a new city, so I feel like I have a pretty solid foundation to compare this feeling to. Loneliness as a revert Muslim can isolate you even when you are surrounded by loved ones. It can be scary and frustrating, it can eat away at you and threaten to take you down. Being alone in this way most commonly means that you find yourself living in an Islamophobic area with very few, if any, fellow brothers and sisters in Islam.

It’s an isolation that is all-pervading and can be almost impossible to explain to anyone who was blessed to grow up in a Muslim family and/or in a strong Muslim community. How do you even begin? It’s as simple as this: it’s just you and Allah (SWT) and it can make or break your iman (faith). When you are lonely like that, the only One you can rely on is Allah (SWT). Your family may not understand you, you may lose friends, you may receive dirty looks in public, you may face harassment, and you may know no other Muslims in your area. You are tempted at every turn and it is easy to lose control of doing the right thing. Often times I find it far too easy to slip up with very little positive influence in my life. If I am not making a conscious and self-disciplined decision to study Quran and Hadith and practice what I learn, I don’t stand a chance. I HAVE to pray five times a day or it won’t happen at all. I have to structure my life in a way that pleases Allah (SWT) in every way, or temptation will take control.

Alhamdulillah, I have an amazing husband and family in London who I can talk to at any time and who have already taught me so much. I just joined a writing group called Hijabies Hood that I am so blessed to write with and learn from as well. And I was born in the age of the internet so I have almost unlimited access to information on Islam. When you are feeling this loneliness creep up, look at what and who you do have. Check with your local masjid to see if there any women’s groups or classes you can join. Look for ways to give back to the community that will also bring you in contact with potential friends. And above all else, cling to your iman! Dedicate yourself to sincere prayer and study. Don’t let up even when it gets difficult. I can promise you that it will get difficult and you will question everything, but that is only a sign that you are going in the right direction and you must keep pressing on. And if you have no one else to talk to and you desperately need someone to listen, drop me a message. Your sisters in Islam are not going to let you down, we’ve got you.

Standard