Friday, September 12, 2008

Helping New Muslims in Ramadan

Sometimes I get the impression that especially in this blessed month of Ramadan, my brothers and sisters would like to help any new converts to Islam that they know.

And it makes Ramadan a great time to be a new Muslim!

Alhamdulillah, this is my third Ramadan and by far it has been my most isolated one, mostly because I've needed so much time to myself to do the homework I have been assigned this semester. But I wanted to share (for new Muslims and "veteran" Muslims) some ways that my new family (of brothers and sisters in Islam!) has made Ramadan really special for me in the past.

Biryani - Click for CreditOne thing I love about the community here in Raleigh is that the masjid makes an effort to feed singles and travelers every night in Ramadan, ensuring that they have someone to break fast with, and some food to eat. It was nice to know that even if I had nowhere else to go for iftar, I could always go to the masjid. A few years ago it was only a few days out of the week and subhanallah now they do it every day. And because it's at the masjid, this provides a nice opportunity for Muslims to come to the masjid to break fast, pray maghrib, eat a meal, and then pray isha and taraweeh as well--although the best benefit is getting to be around other Muslims at iftar time. My first Ramadan, that brotherhood/sisterhood environment at iftaar time was what made the biggest impression on me, so I hope that we Muslims don't take it for granted. (And if you attend the IAR I think you should definitely consider donating to this cause!)

Aside from iftaars at the masjid, I also benefited from the iftaars held by the MSAs (Muslim Student Associations) at my university (NCSU) and other local universities (UNC-CH.) They are once a week, and again there's a big turn-out of Muslim students to break fast, and usually a short talk or program as well. As a new Muslim (and college student) this was a great opportunity for me to simply meet other Muslims on campus.

Now in addition to these iftaars which were held regularly, I was also invited to people's homes for iftaar--even people who I didn't know that well. So at these I had the benefit of breaking fast with lots of Muslims I didn't even know before, or didn't know well. I would encourage anyone who is planning to host an iftaar at their house to invite any new Muslims you might know. A lot of times a new Muslim doesn't have a large social network to break fast with and this is a great way to make them feel like they are a part of the community.

So, after taking care of the food, how else to help a new Muslim? I am so indebted to my former roommate for helping me establish three really good Ramadan habits--taraweeh, qiyyam, and suhoor. Suhoor is on to the food again so I won't spend much time on that--except to say that it's hard to start a new schedule of getting up really early to eat so encouragement on that point was really helpful to me.

About the taraweeh--I have to admit, the first times I went to pray taraweeh I was bored, and it was very difficult for me to stay. And I mean, to stay for 8 rakaat. I was uncomfortable and exhausted and understood none of what was being recited. I spent most of the time thinking about how hot it was, how much my legs or feet hurt, and wondering when it would be over. When we would make it in to ruku' I could feel my back cracking, and when we went into sajdah I was thankful for the relief it gave my legs. So it was very difficult to go, every night. But even my first Ramadan I went to Taraweeh about a third to a half of the nights in the month, and the people around me continually encouraged me to go. By the end of the month it did start feeling better (spiritually... my legs still hurt) just to go and pray, but I don't think I would have kept it up unless people had kept telling me to go.

The next year I went and it was easier--I couldn't really understand the recitation but since I had taken a class in Arabic grammar at least and I knew some vocabulary, I would distinguish some words and so listening was different. And this year I have tried to go most nights, and I actually end up standing much longer than I ever had before (standing on carpet now makes it so much easier!) and understanding entire phrases that are recited, and sometimes even whole ayaat since I've been following a word-by-word translation outside of taraweeh. So really it is getting easier--but I don't think I'd be able to say that if I hadn't kept going even when I didn't understand.

And the other big habit was praying qiyyam ul-layl at the masjid in the last 10 nights--they pray this in the last third of the night, in addition to the taraweeh. And that made a huge difference for me every time I did it--especially making lots of du'a in the long prostrations. Without my roommate I don't think I would have prayed all that much in previous Ramadans, or even in this Ramadan since now it's getting easier.

So I think 2 main ways to help a new Muslims this Ramadan would be, inviting them for iftaar or making sure they have somewhere to go, and encouraging them to perform extra acts of worship.

A new Muslim might not understand all that happens in his first Ramadan--the i'tikaf, the qiyyam, the taraweeh, the suhoor even, and might not be able to take advantage of all this extra worship for that reason. So to be encouraged, and invited to these activities is really helpful.

And this way the convert can start to feel like they are benefiting more from Ramadan, and also that they are a real part of the community, and partake in the wonderful blessing of brotherhood and sisterhood among Muslims. :-)

1 comment:

alajnabiya said...

There is a game of tag going around, where you list some of the bloggers who you are wondering about. You are supposed to choose at least 5, but I went a bit overboard. You are one of the bloggers I have been wondering about. I hope you are having a wonderful Ramadan, inshaAllah.