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

24 comments:

Brad (from WhyIslam) said...

Asaalam Alaikum!

Great series of posts! May Allah(swt) bless you for sharing your story with others!

I hope you're going to post more about your conversion because it can really inspire others.

Peace
Brad

Anonymous said...

Nice post. May Allah (SWT) keep you firmly on the right path. Ameen.

Regards,
Anonymous Coward

Faaz said...

Salaam Amy

Alhamdulillah, you do have a very touching and inspiring story, and I remember some of your struggles being on whyislam at the same time when you were going through some questions and some doubts, although I dont believe I ever got into any arguments with you over there, many atime I used to think I should answer some of your post, I am glad I did not, I learned one very important thing watching you struggle at WI and that is not to judge new muslims too quickly or even born muslims when they ask questions. thanks for the oppertunity.
I wish you great success in your life, May Allah(swt) grant your every wish which is beneficial to you in this worl and hereafter.
I do love your blog and your writing style is simple and fluid with no pretence mashallah.
your brother in Islam Faaz

lonlon558 said...

Asalaamu alaykum -
I was pleased to read your very personal story of your journey to Islam. Some of the emotions you describe in this post are so familiar to me, I can't even begin to tell you. I really connected with your description of the ways in which prayer books sort of assume you know certain things, even when the front cover states that it is specifically for "New Muslims"! I just recently started to pray - I am working up to doing all five - and I can't describe the feeling I have now that I am finally praying. It is like all of this time I felt inside that I was missing this HUGE part of being Muslim, and I still didn't understand how much it meant until the day I finally started.

Masha'allah thank you for posting your story - I really enjoy reading your blog, you have alot of thought-provoking posts.

Sarah said...

Asalam alaikum...
Mashallah very heart touching story....

keep it up

Jazak Allahu khair.

Amy said...

Brad:

Wa alaikum as-salaam. InshaaAllah I will try to post more. As I was writing this one, so many thoughts came to my mind that I would like to address in more detail but I tried to give kind of an overview. So I hope that I can write more inshaaAllah. :-)

Anonymous Coward: Ameen, and you as well.

Faaz: Wasalaam! It's nice to hear from you after so long. For me I had some tough days on WI and some people were nice to me and others were harsh to me... it was something I had to go through, all my troubles, and I learned a lot from how I was treated by some, and how not to treat others.

lonlon558: Wa alaykum as-salaam! Thanks for reading my blog, and for your nice comment. I think it is good inshaaAllah if those of who had bad experiences can use them as lessons to help others. It looks like you are doing that on your blog maashaaAllah, and I look forward to reading your posts!

Sarah: Wa alaykum as-salaam! Thanks for reading. :-)

IslamicSpirituality said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Salamalikum,
thumbs up, sister. Allah can do wonders. Islam brings out the best in people, or rather changes a person to his/her best form.
May Allah's(SWT) blessings be upon you *Ameen*.
Salamalikum.

batoor102 said...

Amy,

Thank you so much for a wonderful story. It feels so much like there are so many things to learn that I have put off my conversion to Islam- it's like Islam is so beautiful and so awesome and so complete, that I've felt like I've had to become a completely perfected Muslim first (before shahada).

The gift that you've given me is the understanding that that in fact is what I have been thinking and feeling. And it's wrong. To say shahada is to say what I feel- that I am Muslim in my heart and soul and in my mind as well. The perfect day to do it is here and now.

Thank you so much for sharing
Your soon to be Muslim brother
Batoor

Kay said...

Alhamdullah and MashAllah!!!!!! Sister your story is almost the same as mine, although I am not quite at the same stage as you. I love reading revert stories and the strength that is conveyed so humbly...they make me so happy :)).

Wa 3alaikum as-salaam,

Kay

LivingHalal said...

As a Muslim, it's funny to read about MSA announcing the room before booking it, it reminds me of my campus days :P

For Salah, good point about that most of the books were written for readers who already know basic Arabic or Islamic terminologies. Maybe you should write a small guide for how to pray for new Muslims, I know many born Muslims from non-Muslim countries who don't know how to pray. So, there is a need for such a Salah guide.

Please consider it.

Anonymous said...

as-Salaamu`alaikum;

nice story, may Allah ta`ala continue to bless you with guidance and beneficial knowledge..ameen..

it reminds me of a similar story of a gentleman (also from NC) who was in the same situation as you with respect to his "shyness" to go declare his shehadah..that time we are on-online and I had relatives of my wife who lived in NC and suprisingly that night there was an event at the local masjid..I got all the info for him and encouraged him to go, he was reluctant at first, but I kept insisting and told him not to delay as something may hinder him later. He did so that night and declared his shahadah in front of the whole gathering...alhamdulillah..

anyways, wish you and your family the best...btw, some of the prophet's wives kept their names when the converted from christianity and Judism (Maria and Safiyah), so keep your name as you like..

abu Rumaysah

Tatiana Q said...

Wow, it was great to read your story here Amy! I bet there could be 4th and 5th parts... a whole saga!.

asalaamu alaikum wa rahmatullah.

tatiana

Anonymous said...

Assalamu Alaikum,dear sister,alhamdulillah,thanks to Allah you finally found the Truth,your Light.it is what you believe in that really matters,Allah will make thins easier for you,never worry,for Allah is with us and He will not let any deed of ours,any sacrifice,big or small to go in waste.Be strong and be fair,Allah is with us.

realitygazer said...

salam,
:]
I grew up in a muslim family in asia, where prayers, head coverings, not eating or drinking certain things was part of the many constraints which i neva cud understood till i grew up and lived in a non muslim community.i cnt imagine how it mustve been tough on you, i envy u n all other converts very much on how you find faith yourself, n im so glad He had guided u to be part of the ummah.

alhamdulillah. thanks for sharing d post,
may Allah (swt) bless you, sister.

SoFia said...

Assalamu'alaikum Dear Amy,

A very touching journey to Islam. I really enjoy reading you story. May Allah bless you always.

-Sofia :)

Anonymous said...

I liked reading your "How I Came to Islam" because...wow...I have the same fears and nod my head *yes* when I read how you were reading a book on prayer and how they assume you already know these terms!!! I haven't been to a masjid yet, but I am having some anxiety over the things I don't know! - Krista

Amy said...

Thanks for stopping by, Krista!

I'm working with some converts these days, and remembering how many strange new terms there are for them will help me teach. Thanks for bringing my attention to this post again! :-)

ns8t said...

jazakum Allahu khayrun.

Anonymous said...

Assalam O Alaikum,

I hope you are in best of health. And may Allah the Almighty always shower His blessings and guide & keep us on the path of truth and most liked.

I hope I am too late to read this out. But it was nice reading through your journey to the Light(Noor) of Islam.

Did you face any resistance or pressure from your society, family or peers etc.

Amir Raza from PAK
Friend of your Husband Muhammad Umer.

Emma said...

Asalamu Alaikum! What a beautiful story! I find it so fascinating how you finally got to get in touch with the MSA of your university. Allah is Great!
I can recognize myself in most of what you've written. Learning how to pray was something difficult too, but thinking about it makes me smile now!
I just found your blog and saw that you decided to write again - I'm excited about that! I too would love to start learning Arabic and hopefully my future husband and I will go this summer to an Arabic school. Learning by yourself is definitely not easy.
Alhamdulilah! May Allah bring you peace!

Yellowflower said...

Hello Sister,
I am a newly reverted Muslim and also am feeling the stress of not knowing how to pray.
The basics that you were given is exactly what I don't know and the little book to hold during prayer is a wonderful idea! Where can I find one or the info to make one?
I wish I had even the few resources you had. The closest Mosque for me is 1 hour away.

Peace, Cindy

Amy said...

Hi Cindy

Try this page: http://ibnatalhidayah.blogspot.com/2011/03/learning-to-pray.html

It has some links with audio on the parts of prayer, which should help.

And this page:
http://www.islam1.org/iar/imam/archives/HDIP.pdf

It has a book with all the written parts of prayer, and pictures to show you how to do it.

Hopefully that helps! And if you need some more help, just try emailing me from the email available on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is amazing, I loved reading about your experience. I am in my own path searching for the true religion. I think I've found it but still not ready to say my Shahada.

I have also struggled trying to learn how to pray, I find it overwhelming specially when you dont speak arabic. But by practicing it gets easier. I've found this website very helpful and wanted to share it. This is how I am learnig, still hard when you try it the first times but it gets easier with practice.


http://www.islamicfinder.org/prayer/index.html

May Allah guide us all through the right path,

B