Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Faith first, but then what?

Last night was the weekly Da'wah Class--the final class, though we haven't finished the book. During Ramadan there will be no class of course, and I doubt that it will resume thereafter. But alhamdulillah, and it turned out to be an interesting night.

There was a sister who came for maghrib that I'd never seen before, and she came to the Imam's class after the salaat. After the class though, and before isha, she started telling me about one of her relative's wives who had converted to Islam. The new sister lived in a town distant from Muslims and was having a difficult time beginning to practice. She was already covering, but didn't know how to pray. The sister in front of me was asking what she should tell the new sister--to cover or uncover or what to do next, how to learn, etc.

It's interesting that she asked after the class--because the imam discussed the importance of hikmah in da'wah, and putting everything in its right place. He talked about prioritizing when teaching people Islam, and gave the example as he often does of Mu'adh who went to the Christians in Yemen to give them da'wah. And the Prophet (saaws) instructed him to first call them to laa ilaha illAllaah, Muhammad ar-rasoolullaah. And then if they accept that, to call them to the prayers, and so on.

This idea has come up a lot, that faith, iman, aqeedah--this should all be the first focus when calling people to Islam, or teaching the Muslims. If a person has the faith, then what comes next is the salaat. Just like that. In part three of my story about coming to Islam, I briefly mentioned the importance that the salaat had for me, and how my Islam really started to turn around once I first started seeking to learn to pray, and even more once I finally started praying. It is absolutely crucial. Now of course, if it becomes just a ritual it might be next to useless and hard to maintain, but to someone who believes the words he says it is the very beginning of learning the relationship between our Lord and His slave. There is a reason that salaat is called the 'emad of the deen, the central pillar of Islam.

So I suggested to the sister that she help her relative learn to pray. There are so many resources online available now that make this task even simpler. I explained what I needed, personally--someone to literally show me the actions. I had to see and practice them once and then I was able to continue them on my own. I needed a resource with information on the order of the movements (in case I forgot), timings of the prayer, and what things to say in the prayer. It is possible to learn the prayer without learning to read Qur'an first... and I'd actually recommend it, as learning Qur'an can take weeks or months while the salaat can be learned quicker. So for me a book with that information in it was helpful, along with transliterations (and translations) of the Arabic. This is best when used in addition to an audio(and/or video) recording of the basic Arabic used in salaat (including Surat al-Fatihah and another short surah like Surat al-Ikhlaas).

I provided the sister with such a book (I had one in my purse) and some internet resources I had found beneficial. I also gave her some tips for learning the salat which helped me--and these I will share. The book became cumbersome for me to hold during prayer so I opted for creating a sheet of paper, with all the recitation portions written in English on one side and transliterated Arabic on the other side. When learning smaller sections, I would memorize the English first and write the Arabic on notecards which I would hold during the prayer, or leave beside me for reference, in case I needed them.

The best way to learn is by doing. Surat al-Fatihah is read 17 times a day by a Muslim who prays, and throughout the day. Just repeating the prayer will teach the person how to pray, and everytime it can get easier with greater concentration.

May Allah increase us all in khushoo' in our salaat and make us among the musalleen.

My Opinions on Da'wah

I seek refuge in Allah from my own misunderstandings of Islam, and from the misunderstandings of those around me.

This post, I think, will be pretty much useless. But after watching a video which claimed to be about da'wah (in a humorous way), and having a conversation with someone who has very different views than I have, I just feel an urge within me to actually express my viewpoint. It might be wrong. And if I am wrong, please correct me.

It has bothered me for a little while that some people consider da'wah to just mean talking to people about Islam. That is, da'wah to Islam--just talking to someone about Islam? For example, Person A says, "I'm giving da'wah to PersonB." Asking about how PersonA is giving da'wah, he shares some of his statements to PersonB, like this one, "Your KKK grandfather must be rolling in his grave knowing you're working with a Muslim!" It escapes me--how is that da'wah?

Here's another one, PersonC is maashaaAllah strongly opposed to dealing with usury (riba), and while conducting a financial transaction (among non-Muslims) makes a point to explain that he cannot do this for religious reasons. Now first this caused a tremendous amount of heartache to everyone involved until, and alhamdulillah, Allah resolved the issue in such a way that PersonC would not have to deal with riba in the transaction. The non-Muslims noted how simple and sensible the response was, and PersonC reports this as da'wah. Please--how so?

And another example, where PersonD explains that he won't be having lunch with non-Muslim PersonE because he is fasting, and then later describes the conversation as giving PersonE da'wah. I don't see it--do you?

I have this idea--and really, I might be wrong!--that da'wah is not telling someone about Islam. Or more precisely, telling someone about Islam is not necessarily da'wah. Because one non-Muslim could tell another non-Muslim something about Islam. For example, "Yeah, Ramadan starts in September so the Muslims are going to be fasting. This means they can't eat or drink until sunset." Is that da'wah? I wouldn't say so--it's just a conversation between one non-Muslim and another. Nobody is inviting anyone to Islam. What if the person repeating the line was a Muslim? Would it be da'wah then? I actually don't think it would. So at least in my opinion, someone talking about Islam doesn't make his speech da'wah.

And I have another opinion--that everybody is entitled to receive da'wah. Whether they ask for it or not. Whether they are our bosom buddies or not. I've heard someone say that Muslims shouldn't give da'wah (and they might even consider some of the above to be da'wah... ouch) unless they have been solicited for it. Like, don't tell them about Islam unless you're good friends. Don't tell them that Allah created them unless you've known each other a while. Don't mention what you believe unless they are comfortable with you, and they are asking you. Why, why, why?

And no, I'm not advocating in the slightest that a Muslim should hammer strangers with the shahadah and if they reject it to cut their necks. And I think I have to even say this because some people might actually think I'm suggesting this extreme, when I'm not.

I just don't see the point in putting up barriers (which I consider to be excuses) that prevent us from giving da'wah. I can't tell him about Allah because it might hurt our friendship??? I mean, doesn't that show some distorted priorities? Some people might not understand this the way I do--and I repeat, that maybe I'm just wrong--but I understand that we give da'wah because that is what our Creator has told us to do. And because that is the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (saaws.)

And I'll say it again... this is my opinion, and it might be wrong. If you know better than I do, by all means I beg you to correct me.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How I came to Islam (part 3)

Click for Photo CreditThe long awaited conclusion... Continued from part 2...

By the time I found myself prostrating on the floor facing some Easterly direction, tears of frustration and humility dripping town my cheeks, I realized something was wrong.

Between me and my Lord I knew that I believed, and I knew that I needed to worship Him. I didn't want to pray just because Muslims have to. I wasn't joining a club or organization, I simply sat on my bedroom floor wanting to talk to my Lord.

Up to this point I had maintained fairly regular conversations with the man to whom I said shahadah--and he was immensely patient with all my struggles. Even as my frustration was often released on him, he persisted in talking to me with gentle manners, still trying to guide me. For a while I spent less time on that forum, not feeling like I really fit in--and when I did post, I would get in furious arguments with other posters about minute issues which covered my mind like stormy waves on the sea. And all I could see were those troubled waves, too fearful to jump in totally, afraid I might drown. In life terms, I was afraid of failure, and afraid of living a new lifestyle which largely rejected much of my upbringing. I was afraid that I was taking too much of a burden on myself.

But while I was so afraid of diving into water too deep, something came from my side and gently ushered me to calmer water. Out of the metaphor, I mean that I finally began to see Muslims as human beings with human struggles. In what was still a largely anonymous environment, I got the opportunity to talk easily and socially with other Muslims (brothers and sisters) without getting hung up on the troubling matters of the deen. Something so simple as conversation paved the way for me to progress in Islam--and here's how.

Once I met (online) a brother and sister who lived in my area, in Raleigh, I began to talk to someone who at least sort of understood the community here, and how things worked, which made me far less intimidated by the mosque, its website, local Muslims, even the MSA--all of which caused me some level of anxiety.

What I did do was actually sincerely contact the mosque--by emailing the imam. I wanted to learn how to pray, and that simple request is what I conveyed to him. Unfortunately, I didn't get a response for several weeks--which was actually quite disheartening.

But Allah SWT pushed me as well, and with an odd twist of fate (and I do believe this to be the Qadr of Allah even though I'm using an English idiom) an opportunity presented itself for me to communicate with the Muslim Students Association at my university. At the time I was the Membership Educator for my sorority, and at the end of the semester we held some events which conclude the candidacy period for new sisters. Because of my position, I was responsible for setting the time and place, including reserving the room, for some of these events. At the time, reserving a room was mostly a formality which some organizations ignored, but which we (i.e., my sorority) made a point of doing to make sure that we had rights to a particular room on campus for our events. And one night while casually browsing the MSA website for upcoming events (just in case I could muster the courage to attend) I noticed that they had planned a meeting the same night as one of the activities I had planned. So of course I couldn't attend--but what stuck out was that they were advertising the same soom which I had already reserved for my sorority!! And this was only days ahead of the event.

So here, I had a legitimate reason to talk to the MSA! On behalf of another organization and in a largely official capacity, I was able to do so without the fear and anxiety I felt presenting myself alone. So I emailed the MSA Shura right away--and took the opportunity to introduce myself first as a new Muslim, and secondly as a part of my sorority and that we had some kind of conflict about the room--they were advertising an event in the same room we had reserved.

Now, this email was pretty late at night, more like 1 or 2 in the morning, so I was astonished to get an immediate reply by phone from the MSA president! He politely explained what was going on--that they had not actually reserved the room, but it was the typical room where they held their meetings. This gave me an opportunity to actually be magnanimous--since they had already advertised their event to a large group, while I expected my own event to be somewhat smaller, I could easily reserve another room and inform my sorority of the change. So that's precisely what I did. (And no, not everyone was happy--in fact one person was very irritated at me for not making the MSA find a new room, and another made a comment about "ragheads" for which she later apologized profusely.) But overall, I actually felt very good about it--since it made it easier for me to talk to someone on the MSA. First giving me an excuse to contact them at all (instead of showing up, knowing nobody), and then it gave me something to mention when I stopped by the da'wah table later on to actually introduce myself. So because of this one simple event, I got to talk to and meet some members of the MSA who were very polite and strongly encouraged me to attend some of their events. Alhamdulillah.

A while after that I finally got a reply to my email to the imam. He had forwarded it on to another sister who then contacted me. I explained my predicament, and what I really wanted to learn was how to pray--it's actually quite embarassing to admit something like this, so please, if anyone asks you this question, be gentle and helpful, as somehow it's expected that people are programmed to pray instantly after saying shahadah. So she invited me to come with her to Jumu'ah prayer on Friday, which I did. She brought me inside (I knew ahead of time, this time, to wear a scarf) and gave me a chair to sit in, instead of on the floor. Before the end of the khutbah (of which I understood practically nothing) she pulled me out and instructed me in the very basics of the prayer. Namely, the opening takbir (Allah is Greater), the standing, bowing (and it's du'a), the prostrating (and it's du'a), the sitting, and the salaam.

That's basically six things, but that was exactly what I needed. You see, I had a book on "How to Pray." But it was written by Muslims for Muslims who probably already understood the terminology. Something as simple as "Repeat At-Tahiyyat..." causes frantic page-turning in someone who doesn't know what that means. But now that I had actually prayed, realized the order, realized how du'a was made in certain positions (you can't imagine all the questions that flooded my mind when just reading this book), it became very simple, and not the complicated ordeal which I had feared.

So when I got home, I could hold the book in my prayer, read the appropriate portions, and proceed with the prayer. I could then understand the differences in a 2-, 3-, and 4-rakah prayer. And in fact, from that point onwards, I did not miss a salaah. Alhamdulillah. (I didn't always make them on time, but I did not skip them.) In fact it was pretty exciting to pray at night before going to bed--a fact I shared with some non-Muslim friends who quite frankly probably labelled me as wacko right then... I haven't heard from them since.

But for the first time, I was truly able to consider myself a Muslim. Not just somebody who "believed" in Islam, in my heart, but somebody who was actually acting on that belief and doing to me what seemed the most important part of my new religion, talking to my Lord. And at that point in my life, I had never heard these things about the importance of establishing salaat first. Nobody told me that. But it was, for me, something I had felt the need to do for a long time.

I don't know if Muslims can imagine what it's like to not know how to call on Allah SWT, to fumble around with short and simple supplications, to not have this beautiful connection every single day. The real importance of this simple act really can't be overemphasized in my opinion--and I know for me it began to help me make radical changes--and to cope with their consequences.

Having to cover my hair for salaat made it practical for me to later decide to start wearing a headscarf full time (about two months later). One of the hardest things I had to do though was actually preside over a sorority meeting (for by then, I was the president) in my scarf for the first time. I took the opportunity to explain to everyone why I was wearing it, and mostly they were very supportive. And even though I concealed it from my family it soon became obvious what I was doing--resulting in some strained relations and my being forced to move out. I did begin to make friends with some Muslims, but only on a very shallow level, and when I moved out I found myself very close to the masjid, and made a point to offer my prayers there whenever I could.

It was really a journey for me, coming to Islam--this whole process took almost a year, from the time I started learning about Islam until I started practicing openly. I had some good and some very bad encounters with Muslims but ultimately I know that guidance came only from Allah SWT. And whenever I asked for it, it came.

Alhamdulillahi Rabbil 'Aalameen.

part 1 / part 2 / part 3

Friday, August 22, 2008

To What Does a Da'ee Call?

Click for Photo CreditSo far I've written two posts from my class on da'wah, namely 12 Characteristics of an Effective Da'ee, and The Recipients of Da'wah. This is the third, and the conclusion of the section on the pillars of da'wah. If you remember the first pillar of da'wah is the da'ee or the person who is doing the inviting, while the second pillar is the person receiving da'wah or being invited. Now the third pillar is what the da'ee is calling to, the actual da'wah which is of course Islam, the natural answer to the question asked in the title of this post.

Allow me to refresh the old analogy as well, wherein the da'ee is compared to a salesperson, and the person receiving da'wah (mad'oo) is compared to a customer. The da'wah to Islam is therefore the product being sold and bought in the transaction analogy. And there are many ways to describe Islam to somebody, but if we as callers to Islam want to know how to effectively present it to someone else, then it's useful to understand it in the ways I'm presenting it here.

First let's look at the meaning of Islam--it is total submission or surrender to God, to Allah, and it existed before the Prophet Muhammad (saaws). This is a general definition, describing Islam as being followed by Noah (and his followers) and Abraham (and his followers), and Moses (and his followers) and Jesus (and his followers.) All these groups could be considered to be Muslims under this broad definition. But more specifically when we talk about Islam we are referring to the deen of Muhammad. By deen I mean "religion" or "way of life." Muhammad (saaws) surrendered and called his people to Islam, and to Islam is what we are calling the people as well.

So now we look at Islam as having three main parts, namely 'aqeedah, shari'ah, and akhlaaq. We cannot present Islam as existing as only one of these parts, but must understand all three.

'Aqeedah of course means (roughly) beliefs. The pillars of imaan (belief in Allah, angels, prophets/messengers, scriptures, day of judgment, and the qadr of Allah) and other parts of iman fall under the category of 'aqeedah. This is also the theological aspects of Islam.

Shari'ah means the laws of Islam, and the differentiation between what is halal (lawful, permissible) and haraam (not permissible, unlawful).

Akhlaaq refers to good manners and morals.

So when we present Islam we should note that there are these three parts or dimensions to Islam, and by excluding any of the above the Islam is incomplete. After realizing that there are these three parts to Islam as a product, we move on to the characteristics of Islam which make it distinctive and why Islam is better than other religions. Specifically, these are the reasons why a person (mad'oo) would want to "buy" Islam from the da'ee, and why someone would choose to be a Muslim instead of following another religion or way of life. The da'ee should be familiar with these characteristics just like a salesperson should understand the features of the product he is trying to sell, in order to explain its advantages to the customer.

So these are the characteristics of Islam which should be conveyed when giving da'wah.

(1) From Allah - The first characteristic of Islam is that it came from Allah, and not from humans. This means that the beliefs have been prescribed by Allah ('aqeedah), as have the laws (shari'ah), and the moral behavior (akhlaaq) is also the result of Divine Guidance--from Allah.

(2) Complete - The second characteristic of Islam is that it is a complete way of life, meaning it is not devoid of any aspect, nor does it need mankind to finish, improvise, or add anything to it.

(3) Clear - The third characteristic of Islam is that it is clear so that people can understand it. Islam has answers for all of a person's questions, and in a way that mankind can understand and implement.

(4) Comprehensive - In addition to being a complete way of life (#2), Islam is also comprehensive, meaning that it covers all aspects of human existence. It provides guidelines and instructions for both children and parents, for rulers and those who are ruled, for example. It applies to individuals, to families, and to entire societies.

(5) Balanced - The fifth characteristic of Islam is that it is balanced between physical and spiritual aspects, and it is also moderate (not extreme.) This means that everything is to be given its right, and physical needs are balanced with spiritual needs without a person going to an extreme in either approach.

(6) Practical - Islam is also a practical religion (way of life), so that even if it becomes difficult, it is made easier. For example, if it becomes difficult for a person to stand for 5 daily prayers, he may sit. In this way Islam does not become a burden on its adherents.

So these six characteristics are that Islam came from Allah, is a complete way of life that is clear and comprehensive, while also being balanced and practical. There are an additional 5 characteristics (for lack of a better word) of Islam. These are things a da'ee should be aware of when helping someone to accept Islam.

(1) Allah (SWT) made the deen easy and removed the hardship from it. Human nature is weak, but since Islam has been made easy it is not a problem to adhere to it.

(2) Islam was implemented gradually during the lifetime of Muhammad (saaws) so that the hearts of the people could change. This should be applied towards dealing with other Muslims who might be attached (addicted) to certain bad behaviors in this life.

(3) In any act of worship (of Allah), mankind cannot initiate anything without proof. And the proof must come from Allah. So in Islam we have a way of worshiping our Lord that He Himself has taught us.

(4) Islam combines between firmness and flexibility as appropriate. For example, in transactions there is flexibility, that things are assumed to be permissible unless they have been forbidden, with proof.

The last point I have is the 3 kinds of rights in Islam--the rights that a Muslim needs to make sure are fulfilled.

  1. Rights of Allah - The first right is the Right of Allah, that we worship Him alone and do not associate anything with Him in worship.
  2. Rights of Self - The body has both spiritual needs and physical needs like food, education, and security, and has the right that these needs are fulfilled.
  3. Rights of Others - The last kind of rights in Islam are those of other humans, and non-humans. A person's relatives have a right on him, and his neighbors have a right on him, as do all the Muslims, and in fact all of mankind. For non-human rights, these are the rights of the environment and animals, for example.

So when a da'ee is calling someone to Islam, these are the things to keep in mind. Especially important is the answer to the following questions: Why should someone accept Islam? Why should that person be a Muslim, instead of being a Jew, a Christian, an atheist, or something else? What is special about Islam?

Without addressing the points mentioned in the post, it's likely that a person might get a distorted view of Islam from the da'wah, and see Islam as either only laws (shari'ah) or only belief ('aqeedah) or only good manners (akhlaaq). And unfortunately many people get this impression about Islam, that they just need to be a "good person" or that if they follow all the rules they are following Islam. This I think especially applies to da'wah towards Muslims. When giving da'wah to non-Muslims, it's important to point out that Islam is as mentioned, from Allah, our Creator, and that it is complete, clear, comprehensive, balanced and practical.

To give da'wah is to be on the sabeel or way of the Prophet Muhammad (saaws), as Allah SWT says in the Qur'an

Say, "This is my way; I invite to Allah with insight, I and those who follow me. And exalted is Allah ; and I am not of those who associate others with Him." (12:108)
So May Allah make us among those who follow this Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (saaws) and increase in those attributes where we are weak.

This post is based on my notes from a class with the imam on da'wah, but the commentary is pretty much my own words--so please forgive me for any mistakes as they are my own, while anything good is from Allah SWT and all praise is for Him.

part 1 / part 2 / part 3

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The end of summer

My summer officially ended today, as I returned to school for what I truly hope is my second-to-last semester. I've resolved to strive harder in school this semester than I have in the past--something that I think I can do since a number of burdens have been lifted from my shoulders.

But as I look back over the last couple of months, I realize that it has been a wild ride. It has snagged me in a few places, and I stopped to lick my wounds--wounds that are now turning in to scars, some larger than others. So I just wanted to share my thoughts and reflections as I look back.

I decided in the spring that I would not be taking any classes over the summer. I knew that meant that I would have to forego any chance of graduating in the fall. If I had taken summer school, it would have been possible, but I was burnt out on many levels. My attitude towards school had become largely apathetic, and my participation in class about as low as you can imagine. But aside from school I was still working and organizing things for the masjid, and delivering presentations for school groups at the masjid and elsewhere. Another reason I opted out of summer school was simply that I couldn't afford it. But I really needed a break--and I didn't even realize how much I needed it.

But once school finished I started working full time, 40 hours a week. And that was light! My work never came home with me, I never had deadlines for projects hanging over my head, no tests to study for, no homework assignments, or anything like that. And with that, when I came home from work I could easily tend to things that during school often got little attention--like dirty dishes, piles of laundry, and a dusty bookcase.

Since the masjid was offering a variety of classes on weeknights after maghrib, I made a point to start attending them. Going every night turned out to be too much for me, and eventually I was only going to one class in the week. But alhamdulillah, I haven't missed a single session of that class (except for when it was cancelled), and by sticking through it I've been able to get some really valuable notes that I've posted on my blog!

I also volunteered to help the Youth program, which had a schedule organized for middle and high school with different activities on Friday nights. I took over the "education" portion and prepared some videos to show them. That ended up falling through in about a month, since truly the communication was just sub par, with the girls not knowing where/when their activities were held and ultimately not showing up at all.

And there has been the tajweed course, which was really just amazing alhamdulillah. Br. Wisam Sharieff from the Bayyinah Institute came to Raleigh in June to teach a tajweed course, and alhamdulillah I've been able to continue taking the followups ever since. In the course he basically taught all the rules of tajweed, and in the followups we practice, learning a new surah from the 30th Juz each week, and reviewing the rules in that surah and reciting to an instructor. I really feel that taking this class has helped improve my relationship with the Qur'an--and it should, since now I'm reading Qur'an much much much more often, and much more easily.

There have also been some unhappy times this summer. When my roommate got married and I became temporarily homeless, and then my own engagement was broken off. These two overlapping circumstances made my life incredibly difficult for a little while, but alhamdulillah--with difficulty comes ease. I moved and now am relatively comfortably settled in my new place, and Allah SWT has brought someone else into my life to help heal my wounds.

I have since embarked on a fitness plan that so far has helped me lose an astonishing 14 pounds, and I purchased a bicycle that, though exhausting, makes me truly happy to ride. So alhamdulillah for everything. The summer is over and life moves on. And now I'm back in school trying to reacquaint myself with the concept of homework!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Back Home

I'm sorry... the beach just got to be too much fun for me to keep updating my blog. I can't yet figure out what I was doing exactly that was so much fun... what did I do?

I figured out that I need to spend some time alone in order to keep from stressing out. So the next day when everyone went down to the beach to swim, I stayed back to just relax in the condo. I got to practice some tajweed and read some of the books I brought with me. My relaxing was cut short however when one of my friends lost her glasses in the choppy waves (in her defense, the water was very choppy and she hadn't even gone in really far but got knocked over.) But since I hadn't planned to do water that day, I was free to drive her around town to get some replacements--quite an adventure. We also did some shopping and it wasn't so bad really.

The next day I decided to rent a bicycle, something I'd meant to do early on. We went to the aquarium, and as we observed all the different kinds of fish I couldn't help but hope they would all make du'a for me when I go out to seek knowledge about Islam. That afternoon I also spent some time alone, and that evening took the bike and went for a little ride. Came back feeling much better actually--and from there, things kept improving.

Fort MaconThe next two days I did go down to the water and swam for a little while. I went to the pool a few times, once teaching one of my friends how to swim (or really just how to float.) I took some walks on the beach, alone and with company. One night did putt-putt golf and go-carts with one friend, and one day I went up to Fort Macon (which wasn't far from where we were staying) on my bike, by myself. And explored it. I had gone once before with my family but it was neat to do it by myself.

Fort Macon is a military fort on the North Carolina coast (obviously) that was built prior to the Civil War and was used in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War before being turned into a State Park, considered to be defunct. And then it was used again in World War II when U-boats were disrupting shipping off the NC Shores.

Civil War SignWhat was pretty interesting at the Fort though was the "Civil War" history. While upon occasion you would find the words "Civil War" on displays, it was much more common to see, as shown in this photo, the war called "The War Between the States." This particular room (the sign is on a door) contained information about the Fort's importance during that war. Pretty early on it was actually captured by Union forces (in case you didn't know that North Carolina was part of the Confederacy) and turned into a prison during the Reconstruction. I found this to be kind of amusing, the determination used in re-naming the war. I was always taught to call it the "Civil War" although I know some of my fellow Southerners used this term, as well as the "War for Southern Independence" and the "War of Northern Aggression" as we get progressively more biased.

The South Was Right! (?)And this I found in the bookstore--I actually thought about getting it for my mom, who considers her culture to be "Dixie" and the Confederacy (or "The South") the land of her birth. According to the cover, this book lays out the argument the the South (Confederate States) were legitimate in their secession from the United States, and that the North actually invaded. It's interesting though, that Southerners while they justify the actions of the South are not justifying slavery. I don't think so anyway. I think ultimately for them it's about States' rights. While in school we're mostly taught the other perspective that it was more an issue of slavery. Anyway. The North won... and I think that's probably better!

So I came back on Saturday and promptly went to a friend of mine's wedding--it was quite lovely--and then spent some time with my brother's lovely fiancee. And now Monday means back to work, and I go back to school next Wednesday--for those of you stalker types who like to know what I'm up to, there ya go!

Anyway... now that my life is boring again perhaps the blogging can resume, inshaaAllah!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Day 3 at the Beach

I don't think I'll be able to update my blog quite as promptly (lol, as if I do anyway) this week, since I'm at the beach. I do have internet here in the room though, I just tend to be doing other things than wanting to sit and write while I'm here. Then again, that may change later on inshaaAllah.

I have some nice posts coming up--the third part of the da'wah series, explaining the message of the da'wah, which is Islam, and what the da'ee should know or understand in order to give da'wah. And then of course I'll be continuing my story of embracing Islam inshaaAllah, which I've been breaking up into smaller more manageable, more detailed portions.

The Sands VillasThis is the place where I'm staying. We have a condo on the 5th floor--by the way, the building continues on much further to the left which can't be seen in the photo. There's more people thatn I would be comfortable with, but everyone is very friendly and nice--I say that because back home in Raleigh, people aren't quite so... friendly. It's nice being at the beach.

We drove down here Saturday, ate dinner once we got into town and then crashed Saturday night. We waited until Sunday morning before doing any grocery shopping, delaying a much anticipated breakfast. Sunday ended up being a lot of different shopping--grocery shopping first and then shopping for swimming gear later on. I really don't like shopping so that wasn't a super way to start the week off, but alhamdulillah it's over and I can chill for the rest of the week.

View Facing ICWThis picture shows the view from the front of the condo--that is, the other side than the above photo, which I actually took from on the beach. The condo faces the Atlantic Ocean on the other side, but this picture shows the Inter-Coastal Waterway (ICW), which can be seen when we walk out the front door of the condo.

Today we (some friends and I) went jet-skiing in the ICW. It cost about $45 for half an hour (we actually got a $10 discount) and I think that's kind of expensive, but it was fun to do that. The first time I'd ever gone on a jet-ski by myself.

Now that everyone's here (we had some late arrivals) we have 7 people in a condo that sleeps a max of 8 people. And it is getting crowded. I'm not sure how we'll be able to deal with everyone's nerves. Everyone has their own idea about what is a relaxing vacation. For me, relaxing is being alone... alone in the condo, alone on the beach, alone somewhere. For someone else, relaxing is riding a boogie board in some waves. For someone else, it is sitting on the beach eating a meal. For someone else, it's staying in the condo watching TV. Some people want to be alone (well, I do) and some want to be around other people. Some want to eat dinner strictly at a specific time and others are flexible. Some try to set a schedule while others fly by their pants. And some tell everyone their schedule and then don't stick to it.

So, at this point the whole vacation has been a little bit more stressful than I anticipated. I'm planning to spend a little more time alone, now that I have thought about it and find myself getting a short fuse at times (astaghfirullah.) My dad called me this evening while I was walking on the beach, and we both came to the conclusion that always when my family would come to the beach, I would go off by myself to do something--whether just to sit and think, to walk, to read, or anything, I liked being by myself to a certain degree. And I decided then that I should make more of a point to spend time alone.

CrabSo as I was going for a walk late tonight, I came across this little creature. He ran off in to the grass and I followed him, then he was kind enough to post and let me take a picture (with a flash, even!) In fact this was the third picture I took of him, because the first two were blurry. So if you were thinking this one was blurry? Well, that's too bad, it's the clearest of the three and I'm afraid now that I blinded him. After I settled for the third one and moved back, he ran off again.

I'll try to get my thoughts together for the two aforementioned posts I have planned inshaaAllah. Or I might just write more about the beach. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 01, 2008

How I came to Islam (part 2)

Click for Photo Credit ...Continued from part 1...

After declaring my shahadah over the phone to a man I barely knew, I was crying. I couldn't explain why the tears just kept coming, as it was a quiet and personal experience, but the feeling was really overwhelming. I've heard some say it's the feeling of a person's sins being cleared and returned as good deeds. Frankly, it surprised me, especially as my attitude going in was more along the lines of "I might as well," instead of "Yes I must do this right now." As I mentioned before, I did feel pressured into saying it at that point. But I did say it, and I cried, barely comprehending the words that came next, "You should probably take a shower."

At the time I knew next to nothing about practicing Islam, so I obviously didn't wake up and pray fajr the next day. He basically gave me a few tips: no sex, no alcohol, no pork.

So the next day was a Friday, the day of Jummuah. I didn't even attempt to go to the weekly congregational prayer. But I did feel something inside me making me want to know what I should do. So, after work that day I went to the masjid. I knew where it was, but this was the first time I actually ever went there. I considered myself to be dressed somewhat modestly, wearing a loose 3/4 sleeve shirt and loose long pants, but I felt very uncomfortable and out of place. The first thing I noticed is that there were no women. Not one sister. Given the option, I would have gone up to a woman first instead of a man. As I walked towards the building, some time after 'asr, some men passed me but they wouldn't quite look at me. It made me very uncomfortable, feeling insulted actually. I walked inside and began to feel desperate. I really needed help so I finally approached one man, but even as I confronted him I could not bring myself to say that I had actually converted to Islam. I suddenly felt ashamed of having done so.

So instead of asking for the proper help I needed, I told the man that I was looking for information on Islam. I don't know what he thought of me, I began to be so overwhelmed I was ready to cry again (I don't think I did...) as he told me and I wrote down the phone number for the Masjid's Da'wah Committee. And then I felt I was being encouraged to leave this place, which was not welcoming me at all. So I left... and I never called the number.

I did not think of myself as a Muslim in any real sense. Even though I had declared my belief, even though I knew people actually did convert to Islam and I wasn't some strange anomoly in the world, I still felt like I was something fake, not a real Muslim, not even a real believer. In anything. As I went home, feeling rejected by the Muslims--after all, they wouldn't even look at me--I sort of figured I'd just go on through life knowing I believed in Islam but that be it.

I had, at the time, read most of the Qur'an, and I accepted the beliefs in Islam regarding Jesus, which was a hurdle for me, albeit not the biggest one. What I was stuck on, however, was the Islamic teachings about women. I figured they were inherently good but that they had actually been corrupted. In fact, I started to form the opinion that a lot of Islamic teachings had been "corrupted" and that the only thing I could really trust was the Qur'an. Not even the teachings of Muhammad in hadith--only Qur'an. But mostly since I wasn't intent on actually practicing Islam, it didn't matter. And I didn't practice it.

From then on I did stop wearing cute knee-length skirts to work, and low-cut shirts. I favored pants, and wore shorts less and less frequently as time went on, even though it was the summer. And I didn't tell anybody about my conversion, except those who knew about it to begin with, from the forum. I didn't reach out to Muslims at all and I didn't know any personally from either work or school. So my friend who I had said shahadah to decided to try to help me out by contacting the MSA where I went to school, to tell them about my situation and ask them to be friends with me. I wasn't very keen on the idea to be honest, and felt pretty shy about it, but I did talk via email a couple times with two sisters locally, though one was out of town. One actually called me on the phone at one point but I never met either in person (until later, anyway.)

My friend recommended that I subscribe to a mailing list of hadith from Riyadh-us-Saliheen, to help me overcome my aversion to hadith. He also recommended to me a site on the Science of Hadith to help me understand how scholars classified hadith and that not all were the same. These resources, which I initially approached without much heart, actually became very beneficial to me later on.

So even as the summer went on, I kept learning about Islam. I finished the Qur'an, I went on to read whole chapters of Saheeh Muslim, I kept up with the daily email from Riyadh us-Saliheen, and kept posting on the forum, asking my questions.

But then school started, I got very busy with school and my sorority, and Islam moved to the back of my mind. Sure, I still believed it, but I didn't think it was ever going to be possible for me to actually practice it. Just too hard I thought... so I went on with my life

Once school started, though, I didn't spend much more time researching Islam. I started to consider myself a closet Muslim, didn't socialize with Muslims at all and still had my doubts about Islam and certainly wasn't practicing, I still felt that in some way, before God, I was a Muslim. Ramadan came, and went, without my even attempting to fast, while I became busy with my sorority and its various activities--many of those activities I was responsible for organizing and coordinating. So even though I did tell myself I was a Muslim, I didn't pray, I didn't fast, and in fact I didn't even talk to any Muslims at all--Islam was really in the back of my mind, pushed further and further back by my busy schedule.

But it wasn't gone. In fact, I remember several times just trying to learn to pray--I wanted faith, I really did. Even though I wasn't practicing Islam, my heart still drew me towards faith. I once printed out a sheet explaining what to do in the prayer and (even though I didn't understand it) I stood myself facing which direction I thought was the Qiblah (and I didn't even get that right!) I wanted to learn, I wanted to talk to my Lord, but I didn't know how. So my face fell to the floor, in tears...

part 1 / part 2 / part 3