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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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.

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Islam 101

Islam 101: Sutrah

Sutrah: “an object used by a person performing salat as a barrier between himself and one passing in front of him.” (Wikipedia)

“Abu Juhaym said, “The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, ‘If the one who passes in front of a man praying knew what he was bringing upon himself it would be better for him to stop for forty than to pass in front of him.’ ” Abu’n-Nadr said, “I do not know whether he said forty days or months or years.” (Muwatta, Malik, Shortening the Prayer, Arabic Ref. Book 9, Hadith 366; Sunan Abi-Dawud, Prayer , Arabic Ref. 701)”

“It was narrated from ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Abu Sa’eed that his father said: “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘When anyone of you performs prayer, let him pray facing towards a sutrah, and let him get close to it, and not let anyone pass in front of him. If someone comes and wants to pass in front of him, let him fight him, for he is a devil (satan).’”(Sunan Ibn Majah, Establishing the Prayer and the Sunnah Regarding Them, Arabic Ref. Book 5, Hadith 1007)”*

I wish I had known this before I thoughtlessly stepped in front of my husband in sujood whilst attempting to get to the bathroom. In my defense, he had planted himself right beside the bathroom door, but it was a mistake and I knew as soon as I did it. Alhamdulillah, I have been blessed with a husband who is sweet and gentle. He kindly and promptly informed me that I should never walk in front of someone in prayer as it is haram (not permitted, forbidden). Doing this disturbs them and distracts them from their prayer. The Prophet (SAW) would drive a stick or spear into the ground whilst travelling or out in the dessert and pray before it. He recommended others to do the same with a similar object or by praying facing a wall. This is the best way to ensure that the prayer is not interrupted.

*Hadith and sources courtesy of islamandquran.org.

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Islam 101

Hijab 101

Assalamu Alaikum, guys!

Today I want to talk about the oppressive rags we Muslim women are forced to cover our long gorgeous locks with…just kidding! Well, we are going to talk about the hijab but this will be an enlightening conversation and one that stresses greatly that most of us aren’t being forced to wear it. Contrary to popular belief, the word hijab does not mean headscarf. The most accurate translation would actually be “barrier” or “partition”. I know I call my headscarf a hijab and so do most other muslimahs, it’s just easier that way. But, as you can see, the term itself has a much deeper meaning. You can find a very well written, clearly explained article by the BBC here. This article highlights verses supporting modesty and the wearing of a headscarf as well as a few hadiths on the various types of dress. Definitely worth the read!

So for those of you wondering where you can find evidence of modesty and hijab (in this sense, simply covering) and also questioning why men don’t have to abide by it, I give you An-Nur 24:30 of the Quran where Allah (SWT) instructed Muhammad (SAW) “Say to the believing men that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste). This is better for them.” (24:30)

Men don’t get off so easily here. In their case they must be covered from below the knees to just above the navel, cannot wear gold or silk, and cannot wear clothing that drags on the ground.

And to the women, “Say to the believing women that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste) and not display their beauty except what is apparent, and they should place their khimar over their bosoms…” (24:31)

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” (33:59)

And for the history of how hijab came to be and an in depth look at the controversy of hijab vs. no hijab, I suggest listening to this very informative TED Talk given by Samina Ali. Obviously, there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the question of whether the Quran actually commands women to wear the hijab. We’re not touching that one with a ten foot pool in this post, that’s for another day…maybe. I’m not ready.

Needless to say, I love my hijab. In one of my earlier posts, I talked about the reasons why I chose to wear it and how it has empowered me. I also enjoy educating people about it if they want to know. I’m sure we’ve all heard or seen ignorant comments concerning the way Muslim women choose to dress. You’ve got uni-lingual Betty from Alabama who thinks we should all be jailed for our burqas, speak American, and go back to Shania Twain law (I wish I was kidding but this sentence was constructed from pieces of real comments made by real Americans). I’m aware that talking about the different types of hijab won’t conquer bigotry in one fell swoop but it’s a start.

Below is a nice little graphic on the different styles of hijab or veil.

Veils BBC News Web ArticlePhoto taken from here.

Here in the States, I’ve witnessed most of these styles except for the niqab and burqa. As I’m sure many of you can imagine, these wouldn’t go over so well although some women still choose to wear it, mash’Aallah. There are many different reasons for why women choose to wear a certain style. For many it’s cultural and for many it’s based on their interpretation of modesty and what they believe the Holy Quran has instructed. For most of us, the veil is not a symbol of oppression for we wear it proudly and it is a part of who we are and a symbol for what we believe. It is not a garment meant to confine us to shame but one that commands dignity and respect.

What most people here don’t realize is that Islam and Muslim women are complex and detailed. It’s not what you see on TV and it’s certainly the farthest thing from what Betty posts on Facebook. There’s a tendency for people to see a veiled woman and refuse to see the woman. Instead she’s a walking symbol with no thoughts, feelings, passions or fears. At the end of the day, we are normal, we’re simply trying to live our lives and practice our faith in peace. We aren’t untouchable or scary or violent. The misinformation and violence of radical groups shown on TV is not an accurate representation because, frankly they are not a part of Islam.

The true representation of Islam lies within the kind-hearted and dedicated Muslims in your community. And instead of making rash assumptions and listening to people who have no first-hand knowledge, take some time to go to the source. Read the Quran, talk to the Muslims you may interact with, ask questions, and learn about the culture and why things are the way they are. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Thank you and assalaamu alaikum!

Nahlah

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