My Best Friends are Kufar

Let me tell you about my two best friends. 

They know who they are. 

They came into my life at very different times, and I believe, very different reasons.

  One of my oldest friends, let’s call her Brown Eyes, went to high school with me.  Funny enough, she was a relative of someone else I was friends with, and we never really spoke until we ended up in the same homeroom class. She saw me through a lot of my firsts (first real boyfriend, subsequently the first heartbreak, first time moving away, first year at uni, and when I first met my hubby!)… And I’ve seen many of hers as well.  

 My other best friend, let’s call her Blondie (which she embraces fully, don’t worry), dropped into my life unexpectedly in the last year of my undergrad. This was also one of the hardest times in my life, because my husband had to move to another state for school.  But she filled a hole in my life and brought a lot more than I had expected. We both were in the middle of our personal growth, and we kind of fed off each other and took the best from each other and left the worst. I was looking for a roommate and she was looking for a place to live.  Funny enough, she overheard me telling someone about my problem during class (we were both food science majors, but never really talked before)… And the rest is history! 

Oh yeah, 

And they are kufar. 

For those who don’t know, kufar means “non-Muslim”  in Arabic, and if you didn’t already know,  it’s not very nice.  Honestly, I hate that word. 

 (I’m using it now to make a point) 

 We became close (my best friends and I) before I converted to Islam.  And they are STILL my best friends afterwards. Even though they are still in the states! 

Why? Isn’t their lifestyle contrary to my religious values? 

Maybe.  But they don’t bring that part of their life into our friendship.  

They’ve never tried to bring me to a bar.

They’ve never tried to make me hang out with guys (beside saying hi to their significant others).  

They never questioned my wearing hijab or hinted that I don’t have to wear it. 

They never judged me for the level of Islam I’m at right now. 

And they have always encouraged me to keep learning about my faith, even though it isn’t theirs.

They enjoy talking with me about it! 

They even say Maşallah and ask me to pray for them. 

An atheist and a  Christian have been more understanding and supportive of me than most Muslims I have met (particularly the ones in Turkey).  

And that’s why they’re still my best friends. And why (outside of this post) I won’t call them or any other non-Muslim kufar.  

Being Muslim isn’t necessary to be a good person and a good friend. 
 

Difference(s) between Christianity and Islam

Having been a Christian for the majority of my life, and having attended a christian school for ten years of it, I like to think I know a lot about Christianity.  On the other hand, I spent roughly three years studying Islam independently, learning as much as I could about the religion that belonged to my husband…and now me.  With this background I am frequently asked about the differences between Christianity and Islam…and although I’m not a scholar on either of these topics, there are nine things I have gleaned from my studies that I usually mention in every discussion about religion that comes up.

  Disclaimer: Anything wrong that I say here about Christianity or Islam is my own mistake, and does not reflect the religion in any way.  Anything true that I say here is thanks only to God, who has blessed me with the ability to learn and understand

1. Christianity is older than Islam.

The first and most obvious difference is the age of the faiths.  If you consider Jesus’ (salallahu alayhi wasalam) birth to be the year 0, and his death to be around 32AD, then you can consider Christianity to have started somewhere in that time. Islam, however, was founded by Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wasalam) around 500 AD.  Several hundred years after Jesus’ death/ the founding of Christianity was when Islam came about.  However, something I find very interesting in my studies is that, if what I read is true, no one claimed Jesus to be the son of God until nearly 500 years after his death…around the time of Muhammad’s revelations from God. Even further, this fits well with the intent of Islam, which was to clarify that God has no son, which is what modern Christians believe.

2. The original sin

Both Islam and Christianity agree that there was an original man and woman (english: Adam and Eve) who lived in a beautiful and rich place (aka Garden of Eden), free of sin and whatnot. However, the events that transpired there are significantly different between religions.  According to Christianity, there was a tree within the garden with fruit that would give you the knowledge of good and evil if you ate from it…and God told the original humans not to do so.  However, satan in the form of a snake approached Eve and tempted her into eating the fruit and bringing it back to her husband, Adam, to also eat.  For this reason they were expelled from the garden, and now all humans hold the burden of sin for all eternity (giving way to the necessity of salvation).  However, in Islam, the tree that was forbidden was the tree of immortality, and from that they should not eat (please note that God did not call this tree Immortal, it was Satan that used this term in order to tempt the humans).  Satan approached BOTH Adam and Eve together, and tempted them in equal measure. Although they were expelled from the garden for their transgressions, God (in his infinite compassion and mercy) forgave Adam and Eve of this sin, and all of humanity is not burdened with this original sin.

3. The heart of man

Given what we just discussed, it is now clear why Christians believe that everyone is born with sin in their hearts.  Due to the original sin, all humans are born with an evil desire in their hearts- and it is only God’s grace that lets us overpower them.  In Islam, though, humans are not cursed with this original sin.  Mankind is not born with dark hearts, on the contrary, Muslims believe that everyone is born with the desire to do good, to be good, and to seek out God.  It is the sin that lurks in the world that can cause us to turn away…but it is not our nature.

4.  Sacrifice for sin

So, with this curse upon mankind, Christianity explains that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for this plague.  Without accepting his sacrifice, we are burdened with the price of sin- eternal death in hell.  Since Islam doesn’t adhere to the idea of original sin/ the curse of sin, there is no need for a blood sacrifice.  However, animal sacrifices may be performed as a show of piety and faith in Islam.  For instance, during Kurban Bayram (the sacrificing holiday), Muslims sacrifice an animal as a recollection of Abrahams willingness to sacrifice his own son at the command of God (but similar to both faiths, he did not).

Just to be clear, when Muslims sacrifice an animal there is a special ritual that must be done, and the animal must be slaughtered humanely and with no suffering.  The meat is to be distributed, 1/3 is for yourself, 1/3 is for your neighbor, and 1/3 is for the poor amongst you.

5. Who was Jesus

According to Christianity, Jesus was the son of God, born of a virgin for the purpose of ultimate sacrifice.  According to Islam, Jesus was a beloved prophet, born of a virgin, who worked miracles and healed the sick.  Jesus was never crucified, according to Islam, but instead someone similar in appearance was taken.  The Christian story of the resurrection explains how Jesus appeared as a gardener outside of his own tomb, with the stone rolled away so that he could escape.  Similarly, Islam says that Jesus did appear as a gardener after the crucifixion, but in order to not be discovered.

6. Forgiveness and Heaven

In order to achieve forgiveness for your sins and ascend to heaven when the time comes, Christians say you must accept Jesus as your personal savior, acknowledge his sacrifice, and then you are basically set.  Islam, however, says that there is no sure way to be forgiven and enter heaven.  Indeed, a hadith explains that even a man who prays and fasts and gives his due may stop doing these things on his last day…and not enter heaven.  Conversely, a man could murder, drink alcohol, lie, and cheat his entire life, and pray on his final day with a pure heart, and enter paradise.  It is only God’s decision who enter heaven and who does not- all we can do is the best that we can.  Only a pure heart with good intention can enter paradise, if God so wills it.  Doing acts of kindness and good deeds in your life while staying away from evil is all that a Muslim can do to curry favor with the Almighty.

7.  Hell

Either way you look at it, hell is a horrible, terrible place. There is not much difference in the descriptions of hell, but there is a difference in what it is there for.  In Christianity, if you go to hell you are damned for eternity, and you will never escape.  In Islam, hell is a place you go for your punishment…and when the punishment is over, you enter paradise.  Inshallah, all Muslims will eventually go to heaven, once their term is completed.  I have seen different opinions on if everyone goes to heaven eventually, but God is both fair and merciful, and I wouldn’t think it wrong to hope that everyone, regardless of faith, will see paradise one day.

8.  Intentions

As described in point 6, doing good deeds is critical for the life of a Muslim.  Even the intention of doing a good deed, if not completed, still counts as a good thing for you.  Having the intention of doing a bad deed, if you don’t follow through, is also good.  God commands Muslims to do things for the right reasons (e.g. praying to be seen as pious by others doesn’t count as good..but doing so as a command is), and intentions play a huge role in the daily lives of those following Islam.  In Christianity, any bad thoughts or feelings are seen as a symptom of a sinful heart and are counted as a sin against you.

9.  Logic vs Faith

In verse after verse, the Bible praises those who have faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  (Hebrews 11:1)

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind (James 1:6).

Christianity emphasis believing, even when there is no evidence there.  In fact, the one who believes despite evidence to the contrary is held in the highest regard.  However, Islam encourages the believer to seek knowledge.  It is true, the first command given from God to the Muslims was to read, and to learn.  Learning and education (not just the religious sort) is a requirement of every Muslim- man, woman, or child.

Read! In the name of your Rabb (Cherisher and Sustainer) Who created— created man, out of a leech-like clot: Read!  And your Rabb is Most Bountiful Who has taught (the use of)  pen.  He has taught man that which he knew not.” (Qur’an, 96:1-5)

“He grants wisdom to whom He pleases; and he to whom wisdom is granted receives indeed a benefit overflowing; but none will grasp the Message but men of understanding.”  (2: 269)

Many ayat are ended with praising “those who learn”, “those who think”, “those who know”, etc. This is one of many reasons that Muslims do not feel the disconnect from science that many churches often proclaim in Christianity.  Science, in Islam, is not against God, it is proof of Him.

These are only some of the differences between Islamic and Christian doctrine…but there are also many similarities.  If you liked this post or found it helpful, let me know and I can post more about Islam and Christianity.

Mocking Others and Arrogance

Ten years ago, five years ago, yesterday… This is a problem I really struggle with.  Being American, we have a culture of joking that often involves mocking others, and I am one of the guiltiest people for using this style of humor. Additionally, I have a terrible habit of enjoying the blessings Allah has given me as far as skills and whatnot, and being arrogant about it, even if I don’t voice it.  I hope this video is a good reminder to those like me that all Muslims are equal in the eyes of Allah, be you revert, born muslim, hijabi, non-hijabi, black, white, asian….the only thing that separates us is fear of Allah (Taqwa). Inshallah we are all blessed with a great fear of Allah and live our lives accordingly.

Being neutral does not mean supporting…a word on Turkish gov’t

Today I was watching a video on The Young Turks youtube channel, one of my favorite places to get my news (the anchors are hilarious).  I watched a segment on some events going on in Turkey, and I made the grave mistake of looking at the comments.

Just for a little background if you don’t already know:  Turkey is a majority Muslim country with a secular approach to government.  It has been as such since WWI when the Ottoman Empire was ousted and Ataturk, “father of the Turks”, took fledgling Turkey in a more westwardly direction, culturally.

Anyway, in the comments I witnessed some viewers commenting on the current governing party in Turkey.  I couldn’t tell if these folks were Turkish, living in Turkey, or whatnot, but their handles/usernames were not Turkish sounding.  I digress. The comments were expressing a grave concern about Turkey being made more religious/islamized/ whatever wonky word you would like to use, because of the religious agenda of the president/PM. Now, I only know a bit about the current president/PM, and politics being what they are, I don’t feel comfortable giving my own opinion on the governing group because I just don’t know enough.

Personally, I believe that religion belongs in the home/community, and not in the government.  I don’t think anyone has any business telling me to abide by their moral code, and the same applies to me.

Everyone can have their own opinion on the Turkish government, and that’s ok, but what REALLY infuriated me was commentary on a recent law that was passed (early 2014 I believe).  Previously, it was illegal to wear hijab at public universities and federal buildings.  Now, thanks to the current governing party, it is not illegal. I know, this seems crazy considering Turkey is a secular country with soooo many Muslim citizens (around 98%), but it’s the truth. No, not all Muslimahs cover their hair, but when I was in Turkey I saw plenty.  That is a lot of women to bar from higher education and involvement in federal affairs (be it as support staff or political careers).  This brings us to the comments from the unfortunately narrow-minded peanut gallery.

According to them, Turkey was being made more Islamic, and religion is being forced on the citizens because covered women are allowed to enter these locations.

I CAN’T EVEN

  How can anyone draw the conclusion that giving freedom of religion equates supporting, nay, pushing any religion on the populace.  How ignorant can you be?!  So if you aren’t oppressing the people, you are glorifying them? What happened to neutrality? Non-discrimination?

  My heart rate just sky-rocketed and my brows are furrowed as I assault my keyboard.

  If you want the right to live your life the way you want to, and be given every opportunity to succeed in it, you should do the same for me and others.  I honestly cannot understand people who think it is right to shove their way of life in the face of others, and expect the receiver of this behavior to be happier for it.  Just stop. Stop it now.  You will see me be the first to stand up for the rights of others who don’t live by my rules, do the same for me.

I’m sorry you have to do that…

Lately I’ve noticed a new face around the building (a small building consisting of four laboratories and a few professors’ offices).  Maybe in her mid to late thirties, I had never met this woman nor been introduced, but heard she is working in one of the neighboring labs down the hall from ours.  Today she stopped me in the hall to compliment my henna/kina that I had done on my hand yesterday, just for fun.  I smiled and thanked her, and she also complimented my scarf and how I always look so nice. I smiled and thanked her again, and then she said-

I’m sorry you have to do that, but it really does look nice.

Uh, what? Hold on. What did you just say? The earnest smile dropped from my face and was replaced with an incredulous smirk. “What are you  sorry for?” I asked with a bit of cattiness in my voice.

You know, I’m sorry you have to cover your pretty hair.

At this moment a divine wave of patience washed over me and I paused.  If you know me, you know that this is incredible. I am the first person to shoot off my mouth when someone offends me or someone I care about. But this time, I waited a moment before responding with a smile, “I’m not sorry. I spent 23 years being a regular old American girl, and I am very happy with how I am now.”  This elicited a sympathetic (or perhaps embarrassed?) smile from the woman and she proceeded to ask me about my family, if they are religious, etc. She validated her point of view by telling me about a world philosophy class she took once, and that she isn’t trying to be rude but she has a lot of questions.  I encouraged her questions, saying it is better to get the facts from the source. She even asked me how I deal with people approaching me about terrorism in the name of my faith (at least she asked first if I was muslim) and that all religions have weird and disturbing parts (actually I’m very pleased with mine, thank you).  At this point my non-american, non-muslim friend who was going to eat lunch with me arrived and pointedly stated we had to go. Even she was offended for me. “She doesn’t even know you.” She exclaimed hotly after we left.

There are so many other ways it could have gone as soon as that unfortunately ignorant statement flew out of her mouth. First off, I know I’m fabulous, all day every day. Also,  I don’t have to do anything. I mean, religiously hijab is required (majority opinion), but no one is threatening my life if I don’t wear it (this is America, people.  I’m sure that it happens sometimes, in some places, but don’t assume you know all about my experiences based on my scarf.). To me, that statement is as ridiculous as “I’m sorry you have to put on clothes and not walk around butt naked in the street.” Maybe I don’t want to show my hair and skin? Is it not possible that this is a choice I made all by myself- between me and Allah?  It is my privilege and honor to don the hijab and be recognized as a Muslimah, even with the current climate of Islamophobia.  And asking about how I deal with other people’s questions about terrorism? Well- no one else really asks me, because they have enough sense in their head to know that 0.0019% of “Muslims” being terrorists (I quote Muslims because Islam is a peaceful religion, despite the many battles at its onset due to people trying to KILL THEM [Muslims] and CHASE THEM FROM THEIR HOMES) doesn’t mean the rest of us use our faith as a way to mask our political aspirations.  And the “not trying to be offensive” boat already left the harbor when you apologized for my life decision for me.

And here I was thinking that ignorance about Islam and Muslims was a thing of the past, despite all of the stories I’ve read, and that it wasn’t so bad everywhere. I have never been approached in a judgmental or apologetic way about how I dress or what I believe. I mean, colleagues have asked me politely about why I wear what I wear, and other Muslims have asked about my experiences that brought me to Islam since I was raised Christian in America… but I have never been approached by a perfect stranger.  I’m not sure if I should be flattered that I seem welcoming enough to speak to, or angry that someone tried to force their ideals on me.

Either way, I hope my responses and patience have given this woman some insight about Muslims and Islam.

#hijabiproblems

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.

 

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?