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

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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.

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