All American Muslim

No, not the TV show (that was canceled)…I just like the picture

On many of the TV shows, youtube videos, movies, etc., that I have seen featuring western converts to Islam, many of them forsake their old identity for a new, Islamic centered one.  Changing their name, their style of dress (not just halal-ifying it), picking up a new language in the hopes of moving to an Islamic country….yes, I’ve seen all of (or many) of these things occur.  Let me just take a moment to remind everyone:

You are still you.

Islam is both a guidebook for living and a religion- but it is not a culture, per se. I think that many of us have identified Islam with the middle east and, when converting to Islam, many people will pick up the culture-ways of the middle east as well.  While I do subscribe to the notion of all muslims being of one ummah (nation)I don’t think that means we should forget who our families raised us as.  While some converts/reverts embrace a new culture because they married into it (like myself- who embraced Turkish culture BEFORE I embraced Islam),  I am troubled by those who seek to isolate themselves from their western identities because they feel Islam is not amenable to their culture.

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.– Ch 49, vs 13 of the Holy Quran 

I whole-heartedly believe that Islam can fit into any culture, and therein lies its beauty.  When people seek to release their previous culture in favor of a more Islamically rooted one, they are propagating the sense of “otherness” that many Western societies associate with Islam.  Muslims are “the other”, “the odd ones”, the mysterious eastern people with their strange customs and strange ways…as seen through the eyes of the US and others. But, here’s the thing… Muslims can be American too. Americans can be Muslim.  Please, go to the mall in your hijab, go out for coffee and lunch with your friends. Be SEEN. Interact!  You are no less the person you were born as before accepting Islam as you are after it.  In fact, you are only a BETTER version of yourself. But you are you.  Remaining an active part of your society after converting to Islam can be one of the best acts of dawah (inviting to Islam) you can do!

So, I don’t know about you, but I plan on keeping my name and my identity after my conversion.  I’ll always be that All-American girl next store…with a head scarf!  What about you?

God’s Not Dead: A response.

  When I first saw the trailer for God’s Not Dead I thought to myself, “This could be really good, or really bad.”  I recently took to watching the film and couldn’t finish the last 40 minutes because I was too offended to watch further.  What I had expected, in all my naievety, was a movie where people of different faiths could all join hands and say “God’s NOT dead!” and celebrate the different views people hold of God- but all agreeing that God exists. What I got was a load of anti-everyone-but-christian propoganda that made my cheeks flush with frustration.  Obviously, the part that was most offensive to me was the muslim family.

  In the scene where the girl, Ayisha, was being dropped off by her father I could sense a feeling of discomfort from the girl over her hijab/niqab that she was wearing.  When she removed it hastily upon her fathers leave,  I saw what could have been a great opportunity to explain hijab and its importance in Islam (majority opinion) and how it is an act of worship for a god that is not dead.  When she dawned the hijab again before her father’s return and another student commented how pretty she was and how she wished the girl didn’t have to cover, followed by a comment about “old fashioned” from Ayisha, I knew it was all down hill from there.  This showed a blatant misconception and misunderstanding of hijab in Islam- how it isn’t cultural, but scriptural (again, the majority opinion of scholars. I’m not looking for a debate, just stating my understanding and beliefs).  Additionally, the idea that her father made her wear a head scarf and veil herself is contrary to the “No compulsion in religion” part of Islam.  Even more, the short sleeved shirt she wore didn’t really fit into the additional requirements of hijab.  Well, if you’re going to misrepresent something, you might as well completely screw it up.

  Oh, well, maybe they can still save the movie.

  Then, when Ayisha is caught listening to biblical scripture (ironically, 1 Corinthians, which also states that a believing woman should cover her hair as to not shame her head…but of course that wasn’t included) her father smacks her around and throws her out of the house. Oh yes, how very islamic of him.  I’m not saying this doesn’t happen.  It’s unfortunate, but it is not limited to Islam.  A dear friend of mine, raised in a Christian home, has recently come to words with her mother because she has been studying religions besides Christianity as of late, looking for the truth as she can see it. The Qu’ran says to respect Christians, Jews, and other faiths.  Somehow, I didn’t get a sense of “respect” when a young girl was slapped by her father and physically removed from her home.  A Muslim father is responsible for the safety and well-being of his daughter, whether she is Muslim or not. 

  It was at this point that I turned it off.

  I’m not sure who paid to have this film produced, but it was incredibly unfortunate to take this stand.  Islam isn’t the fastest growing religion (with the largest number of converts being women in the west- according to a discussion I’ve heard previously) because of patriarchal, mysogynistic BS.  While people are free to believe what they want about God and their own faith, they are not free to make up whatever they want about other cultures and peoples faiths.  As if Islamophobia wasn’t already a problem in the US, a film such as this fans the flames.  Muslims are your/our neighbors, teachers, coworkers, family, and friends.  They aren’t going anywhere.  It’s about time someone extended an olive branch of peace and tried to understand Islam instead of demonizing it.

 

Happy Ramadan/ Ramazan Mubarek! (Day 1)

Selam aleykum and Ramazan mubarek!  Today (or, technically, yesterday night) begins Ramadan, a very special and blessed month in the religion of Islam! As I began preparing for my first month of fasting I realized that I didn’t really know much about Ramadan, besides that fasting from sun up til sun down is required.  I struck out on a quest to learn more about it, and I would be happy to share some information about it with you!

What is Ramadan

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar (a lunar calendar) and is the month during which the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammed (SAW).  The gregorian calendar that we use in the USA is set, but lunar calendars change based on the phases of the moon, which explains why the days of Ramadan fall on different days of the gregorian calendar every year (this year, fasting begins June 28 and ends July 28).

During Ramadan the gates of Hell are locked up, and the gates of Heaven are wide open.  The value of good deeds are multiplied during this month, where in obligatory good deeds are multiplied 70 times, while voluntary good deeds are worth as much as the obligatory ones.  Sincere praying, fasting, and charity during the month of Ramadan can cleanse the sins you have committed during the previous months.  Indeed, the month of Ramadan is very blessed, Subhanallah!

Why do muslims fast for Ramadan

 Fasting was perscribed by the Prophet (SAW) as an act of worship during Ramadan.  By denying yourself those carnal desires that are permissible (halal), you can surely deny yourself the desires that are not permissible (haram) during Ramadan and the rest of the year!  Fasting is as much mental as it is physical, sharpening your mind and your soul/spirituality (imaan) by focusing on your spirituality rather than your physicality.  Additionally,  by fasting we feel the pangs of hunger and thirst that those less fortunate than ourselves experience on a daily basis.  This helps us to develop empathy and give more freely to those in need.

How and when to fast during Ramadan

Fasting in Islam is more than just obstaining from food.  During Ramadan muslims are to obstain from all food and beverages (including water) from sun up (Imsak) until sun down (Iftar).  This includes simply rinsing your mouth with water, or chewing gum. You can’t just look outside and tell when to break and begin fast, you need to check the calendar provided by mosques, masjids, and other Islamic sources.  The time spent fasting varies by country/ state.  During these fasting hours, you are also forbidden from other typical haram acts, such as swearing, gossiping, and drinking alcohol, acts that are discouraged (makrooh) such as smoking,  and sexual acts with ones spouse (which is halal).

The only time rinsing your mouth during the fasting hours won’t discredit your fast is during wudu (abtest/ ablutions), the ritual cleansing practiced before prayers/ reading the Quran.  There are other activities that can break your fast, such as vomiting or excessive bleeding from the mouth, among others.

During the evening hours,  all halal acts that are obstained from during fasting are permissible 🙂 until fasting begins again the following day.

Who fasts

Every able bodied/minded muslim should fast during Ramadan.  Exceptions include: the very young/old, the sick/recovering, pregnant/breastfeeding women, women during menstruation, those traveling and people undergoing rigorous physical activities, such as soldiers in battle. However, there is a price to missing fast.  When fast is missed (by days, weeks, or the whole month), one must either make up those days of fasting later, or feed/pay to feed a person in need for every day you miss.  There are some guidelines on which of these actions are better for each situation, but I am not fully sure of them and don’t want to mislead anyone.

 Beginning fast and Suhoor

Suhoor is the morning meal that is consumed before fasting begins.  It is imperative to eat this morning meal and drink lots of water, since you will be fueling your body for an entire day on this food.  There are blessing in Suhoor, and it is sunnet (the way of the Prophet [SAW])  to eat Suhoor as late as possible, before fasting begins (Imsak).  Typical suhoor foods can be found on various websites (such as My Halal Kitchen), but breakfast foods accompanied with fresh fruits and vegetables are the norm.

Breaking fast (Iftar)

Fasting ends at the time of the evening prayer (maghrib/ aksam), which is sunset. The sunnet way of breaking fast is with the consumption of water, a date, or an olive.  It is good to start slowly with the Iftar meal, since your stomach has shrunk during the day.  Don’t forget to rehydrate!

What to do during Ramadan

There is more than just fasting to be done during the month of Ramadan!  It is good to focus on your spiritual side, and take on some other goals for the month!  Some people undertake reading the whole Quran during Ramadan (20 pages a day), or learn new Surahs to use for prayer. Besides the typical 5 daily prayers,  there are night prayers that are strongly encouraged during Ramadan.  During these holy nights, it is said that Allah (SWT)  will give anything one supplicates for.  Allah (SWT) is indeed gracious.  For additional religous lectures during Ramadan, visit the Quran weekly youtube site for Quranic Gems by Br. Nouman Ali Khan!

Other holidays (Eid) related to Ramadan

After Ramadan is Eid-Al-Fitr (Seker Bayrami/Sugar bayram), the day after Ramadan, during which is much feasting and celebrating.  However, don’t forget to do your required charity before this holiday!  Each household must feed/ pay to feed one needy person per every person in your household before this Bayram, or all of your fasting and good deeds may not be accepted by Allah (SWT)!

(Any information here that is wrong or left out is due to my human flaws, and everything right is only due to Allah SWT)

As I said before, this is my first Ramadan!  I am going on hour 10 and Allah (SWT) has made it easy for me thus far, alhamdullilah.  I am able to stay home all day today which has made it much easier than it could have been.  Inshallah it will be this easy on days I am more busy.

Inshallah your Ramadan will be productive and blessed ❤

 

“I’m sure your husband doesn’t mind if you don’t wear hijab…”

This statement (even if not in these exact words) was told to me by a colleague while working on a field research project (literally-  a field).  The intense summer sun was beating down on us and the men that were present before to aid in the physical labor had left.

“Finally!” I exclaimed, beginning to roll up my long sleeves and loosening the scarf around my head, “Now that it’s just us ladies…”

My colleague looked at me with a mixture of sympathy and exasperation.

“I’m sure your husband doesn’t mind if you don’t completely cover yourself all of the time. It’s hot out here after all.”

While her intentions were pure, the statement was like a slap in the face.  Your busband doesn’t mind…  For any married women out there that have decided to don the hijab after marriage, for any reason, ya’ll have probably heard this before.  This was not the first time I heard this either.  There seems to be some misunderstanding in our (US and other non-islamic) cultures that hijab is something donned and practiced for men.  This thought is the seed from which grows the idea that Islam is mysogynistic.

Let me be clear.  While I can’t speak for others- I will speak for myself.  Wearing the hijab was my idea.  I put it on in my own time, when was ready to experience it.  Neither my husband nor his family ever forced the idea on me, or even planted it in my subconscious through actions.  I began studying Islam because wanted to know about it.  My husband was simply the sounding board from which I bounced my ideas of studying Islam and looking into it further via reading or action (he was even a little nervous about my wearing hijab- thinking that others would suspect it was his idea).  I’d known that hijab was obligatory for muslimahs for approximately two years prior to my wearing it, and was, in all honesty,  one of the biggest obstacles for me to overcome  and embrace Islam (which, technically, I haven’t taken my shahada yet but I am almost there, inshallah).  Being from a non-islamic country and background, I too began my journey into Islam with the jaded notion that women were completely subservient and slaves to men, that hijab was for men and was forced upon women by their elder male relatives.

Oh, was I wrong.

The more I read and listened, the more I saw hijab for what it was;  a feminist (and Islamic, ofcourse) act of controlling how others see you,  and commanding dignity and respect with a modest appearance and behavior,  all while identifying yourself as a muslimah.  Hijab is for WOMEN, not men.  I fell in love with the concept. (note: there is a hijab for men too, but I’m talking about the one prescribed to women in the Quran.)

In understanding more about hijab and what it is,  I began to wonder where the idea of wearing hijab for men came from, this idea that prevails in non-islamic societies.  I then began to consider womens actions and dress in my own culture.  Do not women often choose their clothes, hairstyles, and makeup, to attract attention from men (and women)? While we may not be doing it knowingly,  our appearance is greatly determined by the thoughts of those around us.  In this way it seems clear that society would view hijab as an act for others (men specifically) because this is the only way that society knows how to think.  I’m not saying every woman is like this, but look between the lines of our cultural norms.

If you are behind your computer screen berating me for my thoughts, I challenge you to wear hijab for a day, or a week, or, hey, try the 30 day ramadan hijab challenge from June 28 to July 28 and show the world that you don’t care what they think of your look.  Put on the hijab for yourself and feel the liberation.  You may be surprised how much you love it.

#hijabiproblems

For all the right reasons

Do you ever wonder if you are doing something for the right reason? Sometimes it’s hard to say…especially when this decision will change your way of life forever!  You begin to ask yourself questions like:

“Am I doing this to blend in/ be different?”
” I like this now, but will I like it 5yr from now?”
“Am I just caught up in the rush of it?  Do I really feel this way?”
“I don’t care what others think,  but will I stick by this life choice if the going gets tough?”

Both marriage and moving to Turkey were easier decision to make than this one. What I’m talking about is converting to Islam and wearing the hijab.

Yes yes yes, I know what you’re thinking. You probably know (or are) a muslim who doesn’t wear hijab. No one can force me to wear it, I don’t have to wear it if I don’t want to. I suppose this is partially true. No one can force me, and that is a fact. But I feel like, if I am going to claim a religion that I wasn’t raised in, I must do everything that entails.

I really do like hijab. I think it is beautiful and comfortable. However, I began “trying it on” in the winter. Recently the high temperature here have reached 80F and I longed to feel the warm sun on my arms and neck. I have no problem covering my hair, I have been doing that for years (not daily, but several times a week with scarves given to me when I was in Turkey). What makes it difficult is covering my neck and wrists. I greatly admire the muslimahs that wear hijab as a sign of devotion.

But even with this issue, I cannot deny my draw to Islam. This has been a change I’ve been struggling with and contemplating since our return from Turkey in 2011. I have been looking deeply into the practices and beliefs of Islam, making sure that I am fully informed and agree with the aspects of Islam that many people may not know, even trying to reconcile the truth with the questionable practices we in the US associate with the Middle East. The more I read, the more I understand and love the faith. I’ve been told that it is better to accept the faith, take my shahada, and then try and adjust myself to the requirements and expectations. For instance, I haven’t eaten pork in 4 years (I never was a fan), but not drinking on occasion is a feat I still am trying to complete. Not touching men…well, I find refusing a business hand shake incredibly rude, so that one may never come to fruition completely in the US. But no one is perfect! Even the completely veiled hijabis have faults. It’s part of the faith to struggle with ourselves (inner jihad).

If my heart knows that Islam is the true and right way, why am I holding back? Changes…they’re hard. And I continue to circle back to my original questions. Is this really how I feel? Or am I caught up in the rush of a new concept to adapt to, and a group to which I can belong?