The 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