Saturday, October 08, 2011

Why Learn to Read Arabic?

Even though many Muslims are taught how to read the Qur'an from an early age, for various reasons many still don't know how to read the Qur'an in Arabic as adults. Some were never taught, some converted to Islam as adults and never got the chance to learn.

But now it's become easier than ever to start learning Arabic, even for adults who never learned the Arabic alphabet. Many masajid offer classes for beginners, and so do various online institutes, all to help Muslims attain their Qur'an goals. So why would a Muslim who can't read Arabic start learning?

First, to gain the blessings of reading the Qur'an in Arabic. How could you read the Qur'an in Arabic--the language of its revelation--without knowing how to read Arabic at all? And every letter of the Qur'an that we read is a blessing. In fact, Allah rewards us just for reading the letters of the Qur'an--

Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah, he will have a reward. And that reward will be multiplied by ten. I am not saying that “Alif, Laam, Meem” is a letter, rather I am saying that “Alif” is a letter, “laam” is a letter and “meem” is a letter. (At-Tirmidhi)

A second reason to start learning Arabic is to learn how to properly recite the Qur'an. Proper recitation is a science in itself, but something that even a beginning student of Arabic can start to learn. After learning the basics of reading, it's natural to learn the rules of recitation in order to beautify the recitation of the Qur'an.

A third reason is to start memorizing more Qur'an for salah, and even to memorize the entire Qur'an. It's very difficult to memorize Qur'an without being able to read Arabic, and memorization also requires the ability to recite Qur'an properly. But after learning how to read and recite, we can start memorizing.  And the amount of Qur'an we have memorized will determine our rank in Paradise--

It will be said to the companion of the Qur’an: Read and elevate (through the levels of the Paradise) and beautify your voice as you used to do when you were in the dunyaa! For verily, your position in the Paradise will be at the last verse you recite! (Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi)
And lastly, we should learn to read Arabic so that we can begin studying the Arabic language, and then we can understand the meaning of the Qur'an while reading and reciting it.

The world of the Qur'an opens up once we begin to read and recite it--this is the very first right that the Qur'an has on us, and it is our responsibility as Muslims to read the Qur'an. Reading Arabic is the first step--if we can't do that yet, then it's time to learn!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

He said that Arabic is too hard

Several years ago, I was just starting to learn Arabic. And while taking a class at the mosque to learn the Arabic script, I went to a bookstore and found a few books on learning Arabic. I was a big fan of bookstores in those days, and would spend hours in there reading parts of different books that I couldn't afford to buy. But on the day that I happened to pick up these books on Arabic, an Arab man found me and asked me about studying Arabic. Then he went on to tell me how difficult the Arabic language is and how nobody can learn it unless they learn it from birth.

But I believe he was wrong.

I had a lot of opportunities for learning the Qur'anic Arabic in my first few years as a Muslim--not something that everyone can boast--and alhamdulillah now I can understand the vast majority of the Qur'an when I read or hear it, and hope to gain 100% comprehension within the next year. I'm certainly not going to be composing any Arabic poetry, or writing books in the language, but I'm pretty close to completing my goal of being able to understand the entire Qur'an in Arabic, without requiring a translation.

And I think that many Muslims have that same goal--to be able to read the Qur'an in Arabic and understand it. And honestly, it's a reasonable and realistic goal. Allah made it easy for us. Even though we might hear teachers say that the Qur'an is the most eloquent of Arabic language, and hear random Arabs say that Arabic is the most difficult language ever, we shouldn't buy into a myth of an unreachable Qur'an. No, we might not all be scholars of Arabic language, producing awe-inspiring poetry or even conversing in the language fluently. All we need is to be able to understand the Qur'an--not every last detail, not writing a tafseer, but to comprehend the text even at a basic level. And that is an amazing gift.

Don't be turned off by the naysayers, skeptics who think that Arabic is too hard. If your goal is the Qur'an, then inshaaAllaah you'll find it well within reach.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Transformed By the Qur'an

I usually insist, when people ask me why I embraced Islam, on the importance for me of reading the Qur'an myself. While there are less relevant details I try to omit--why I felt compelled to read it in the first place, for instance--I focus on this point because it is truly what changed my heart.

Obviously, I read a translation. And even then, there's much I read which I still didn't understand. But from the first page, I read voraciously, daily, whenever I had the time. I didn't read a passage here or there, or hear random quotations fired like bullets by a preacher, but I had a personal, intimate dialogue with the Qur'an myself.

I don't think it's possible to have a similar dialogue with any other book--the miraculous nature of the Qur'an and its compelling inimitable rhetoric capture the mind and the heart of the reader. And so it's not surprising that those who hear the revelation and disbelieve in it are so scorned. At the same time, can I ever be grateful enough to have been guided by means of the Qur'an? That my heart was opened to its call?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Preparing for Your First Ramadan

If you have embraced Islam sometime in the last year, then you're probably preparing right now for your first Ramadan. If you've not grown up with exposure to Muslim cultures, then you might discover many new customs, habits, clothes, and foods these days. Hopefully you'll make many new friends in addition to all the spiritual benefits and blessings that come with the month of fasting.

But while many Muslims look forward to Ramadan months in advance, if this is your first you might be feeling anxious--so I'd like to offer a few tips to help ease any worries ahead of time.

Intention


Much can be said about the importance of intention (niyyah) in Islam. We're told that we need to "make intention" before beginning any act of worship, like wudhu or prayer, and this goes for fasting too. But when it comes to Ramadan, and fasting in particular, you might find that with the correct intention, you are able to focus on and commit to an act more than if you were just doing it for yourself. So remind yourself that you are fasting for the sake of Allah, to follow His commands, and to seek His mercy and forgiveness.

Tips

  • Make your intention at the beginning of Ramadan to fast for the month for the sake of Allah, seeking His forgiveness. 
  • Renew your intention daily before fajr to remind yourself why you're fasting. 
  • While you make intention, take an opportunity to review the start and end times of the fast for the day on your timetable. 


The Days of Ramadan


As soon as you can, get your hands on a prayer timetable. You're going to want to keep track of a few things during Ramadan (and all year round, so if you can get a yearly table for your area, you should.) For Ramadan, you'll want to know when it starts, the dates of certain days and nights, like which are even and which are odd, and when the 27th is, for example, when it ends, the time to start fasting and the time to stop fasting, and all prayer times throughout the day.

The First Day
It's not always possible to know ahead of time when exactly Ramadan is going to start because Muslims follow a lunar calendar for determining religious holidays. But you can have a pretty good idea. Each one of the 12 months is 29 or 30 days long, and the month before Ramadan is called Sha'ban. You'll want to find out from your local mosque when they expect Ramadan to be.
A note on moonsighting--it's unlikely that all mosques in your area will have the same start and end dates of Ramadan, because some use different criteria for sighting (or not sighting) the moon. You should pick one that you trust and stick with it. 
They might have a date confirmed already based on astronomical calculations, so you'll know when to start fasting. Or, they might tell you when the 29th of Sha'ban will be, after which they will wait to see if the moon has been spotted. If it is spotted, then Ramadan officially starts that night. You'll want to check their website or call someone who might know in order to find out, if you're not able to attend maghrib and isha prayers at the masjid yourself.
In a Muslim calendar, the night precedes the day, so the first of Ramadan will start at maghrib prayer, and taraweeh prayers will begin on that night after Isha prayer. 
If it is not spotted, then it means Sha'ban is lasting 30 days instead of 29. So do not fast on the 30th, but Ramadan will begin at maghrib the next day without any question of moon-sighting.

And don't forget to make your intention to fast for the month of Ramadan!

Tips

  • Find out when Ramadan starts by contacting a local mosque. 
  • Get a hold of their prayer timetable as soon as you can--they might publish one before Ramadan, but should definitely have one afterwards. 
  • Make plans for finding out if Ramadan has started--know which website to check, or number to call, if the date isn't already set. 


The Night of Power
The Night of Power, Laylat al-Qadr, is a special night in the last 10 nights of Ramadan when your du'aa are most likely to be answered, so you definitely want to catch this night in prayer. It will be on the last odd nights of Ramadan, so you should keep an eye on your calendar/timetable. Many people believe it is on the 27th so you might find even bigger crowds at the mosque on those nights. Be prepared, and arrive early!

Tips

  • Make a small list of things you would like to make du'aa for, either before Ramadan or when it starts. 
  • Use it to remember what you want to ask for throughout Ramadan and especially on the Night of Power (and all the nights it might be.)
  • Try to arrive early at the mosque in the last days of Ramadan--consider breaking your fast there!



The Last Day and Eid
The end of Ramadan comes with similar confusion, unless your mosque has already determined the dates. If the moon is sighted after the 29th, then Ramadan is only 29 days, and the following day will be the holiday Eid al-Fitr. If not, then you'll fast one more day and Eid will be after that. There's no fasting on Eid but lots of takbeer--saying Allaahu Akbar.

When You're Fasting

Starting the Fast
Another reason you'll want a timetable is to know what time in the morning the fast officially starts. It begins at the start time of the fajr prayer, so on your timetable that might be labeled as Fajr or possibly as Imsaak. This is probably going to be pretty early in the morning (especially during these longer summer days) but you still should get up to have a small snack or meal (called suhoor) before beginning the fast. Be sure that you're done by the time the fast begins.
A note on prayer times--they are based on the location of the sun in the sky and they will change daily and vary geographically. If you are travelling during Ramadan, you'll need to know the prayer times for all locations you'll be. You can find this online if you don't know of a mosque in the area. Many smartphones also have apps with prayer times, which you can adjust by changing your location. I use Guidance for my iPhone. 
It's a good idea to renew your intention to fast at this time as well! The food you eat at suhoor is going to last you through the morning. Drink plenty of water and avoid having too much sugar early on. If you have a habit of drinking caffeine, you might want to drink some coffee with your suhoor to avoid getting headaches during the day.

Tips

  • Drink plenty of water at suhoor time to stay hydrated throughout the day. 
  • Avoid sweets for suhoor which will make you hungry later on. 


During the Fast
While fasting you need to abstain from all food (even gum) and water, as well as marital relations. You can resume all of this at night while you're not fasting.
A note on medical conditions--if you need to take regular medications, or have an illness which might prevent you from fasting, you should see a doctor to make sure it is safe, and see if you need to adjust your medication schedule. If you are still not able to fast, then you might be able to make up the days later if it's temporary, or feed a hungry person for each day if it's permanent. 
Tips

  • Be extra-conscious of your behavior, and avoid lying, backbiting, gossip, and useless talk while fasting. 
  • Use the fast as a chance to tell people about Islam. 



Ending the Fast
As soon as the adhan is called for maghrib prayer, at sunset, you can break your fast. This is called iftaar.  There is a du'a that you should make, and it's recommended to break your fast with dates and water. Then pray maghrib and enjoy your meal, and don't forget to thank and praise Allah and ask Him for forgiveness.

It's likely that you will have many opportunities to share an iftaar with other Muslims, and I would advise you to take advantage of these opportunities as much as possible. Many mosques host iftaars, sometimes donated and sometimes for a small charge. Look out for community iftaars, or if anyone invites you to a dinner at their home. This is a great way to learn more about Islam and Muslims through interaction, time to spend with Muslim friends you know, and to make new friends, while you share in the blessings of Ramadan.

Tips

  • Learn the du'aa to say when breaking the fast. 
  • First break your fast with dates and water, and then pray maghrib before eating your meal. 
  • Eat light and small quantities of food so you still feel fresh when you go pray taraweeh!


Taraweeh


Every night of Ramadan (starting with the 1st night, which will be before you've started fasting) there will be Taraweeh prayers during which the Qur'an will be recited, basically cover to cover over the 29-30 days. This starts after ishaa prayers at night, and will be either 8 rak'ahs or 21, recited in units of 2. There will probably be a short break after the first 4, and some people might leave after 8, or after 11, if the congregation is performing the witr prayer at that time. You can leave then, if you want, and pray witr in the masjid with the group or at home before suhoor. Or you can wait for the completion of 20 rak'ahs, followed by the 21st which will be the witr.
A note about witr--the word means "odd" and is basically a single unit of prayer, usually following 2 or more units, often separately but sometimes attached. (I.e., 2+1, or 2+2+1, etc, or sometimes 3.) This is a highly recommended prayer, in addition to the mandatory 5, which is prayed at night. It can be prayed anytime after ishaa prayer before fajr comes in, but it's recommended to pray it later, after sleeping. 
Praying Taraweeh can be really rewarding, even if this is your first Ramadan and you don't understand a word of Arabic. Try to attend as much as you can to listen to the Qur'an being recited. To help understand what is being recited, read the translation before you come. And it's a much more rewarding experience than, say, watching TV. If you have some regular shows you watch, plan ahead to record them or stream them after Ramadan, so you can spend as much time as possible during Ramadan in worship.

Tips

  • Read a translation of the passage before coming to the prayer so you'll understand more of what's being recited.
  • Bring a bottle of water to help you hydrate between the prayers. 
  • Come early so parking won't be a problem. 
  • You can pray witr at home when you get up for suhoor if you didn't pray it at the mosque. 


Days of Not Fasting


It's a reality that most women will not be fasting for a few days in Ramadan, and it's nothing to be embarrassed about. You can still attend iftaars--the other ladies will understand why you won't be fasting. For days of menstruation, you'll need to make up the fasts later in the year, before next Ramadan, so keep track of how many days of fasting you missed.
A note about menstruation--as soon as you notice it, you should break your fast. Do not pray salaah or fast during this time. You can resume fasting on a day when your period has completely finished before the time of fajr, but you can resume praying as soon as you make ghusl
If you are pregnant or nursing, it might be best to check with a scholar for the ruling on making up fasts missed due to pregnancy or nursing. There is agreement that it is permissible to break the fasts, but different opinions regarding whether to make them up or feed a person for a missed day.

If you are travelling or too sick to fast for a few days during Ramadan, then you should make up the days later in the year.

Tips

  • If you're not fasting and need to make up days, mark the days on your calendar or timetable so you know how many to make up. (Don't throw it away until you've made them all up!)
  • If you're attending an iftar and haven't been fasting, let others go first in getting food as they have been fasting. 


Eid al-Fitr


The holiday at the end of Ramadan is called Eid al-Fitr. The festivities begin after maghrib once Ramadan is officially over, by praising and glorifying Allah. It is good to repeat lots of takbeers at this time, until the Eid prayer in the morning. You should find out ahead of time where and what time the Eid prayer will be--and expect to arrive early. Whether at a mosque, convention center, hotel, or fairgrounds, traffic will probably be a problem. Planning to arrive early (at least 30 minutes before prayer time) is a good way to ensure you have enough time to wait in the traffic, park, and walk to the designated area.

The Takbeer
What you'll hear people repeating from maghrib the night before, up until the gathering and time of prayer, is the following:
Allaahu Akbar Allaahu Akbar Allaahu Akbar (Allaah is greater x3)
Laa Ilaaha Ill-Allaah (There is no god except Allaah)
Allaahu Akbar Allaahu Akbar
Wa Li-llaahi-lHamd (And to Allaah is all praise)

Feel free to join in!

The Prayer
The Eid prayer is much like a regular two-rak'ah prayer like fajr, prayed in congregation, though the takbeer phrase "Allaahu Akbar" will be repeated in the prayer more times than usual. The imam will usually explain this before it starts--just follow what he and the congregation do. After the prayer will be a short sermon, which you should sit and listen through before greeting everyone around you.

The Festivities
Try to find out about Eid activities in your area--there might be Six Flags visits, fairs for children, parties, and other activities to celebrate on Eid and the following days. Have fun!

Ramadan Mubarak!

I appreciate your feedback as comments and by email. If you have additional tips or recommendations, can correct any mistakes, or would like to re-post the article, please do let me know! Anything good is from Allah. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How to Keep Women Out of Your Da'wah Project

I feel connected to American Muslim Da'wah Projects, having found Islam and grown as a Muslim with the help of volunteers working for Islam here in the US. Through networks of da'ees spanning the country, and even the globe, I've seen countless people find and embrace Islam. And the diversity of people seeking information about Islam requires a diverse pool of volunteers who can connect with them.

Unfortunately, now and again a da'wah project, or a voice within one, might seek to promote homogeneity among volunteers. But a da'ee in the USA is likely to face both men and women from different races, countries, and cultural backgrounds, and I think that an organization that doesn't include diversity in its volunteers is going to have trouble reaching an American audience. Specifically, a volunteer base that doesn't include women won't be effective in reaching women.

A majority of converts to Islam are women, so it seems strange to me that anyone giving da'wah would try to impede the participation of women in the da'wah effort. And it seems outright hypocritical to suggest that it's not appropriate for a Muslim woman to engage in dialogue about Islam--if it's wrong for a Muslim woman to talk to men to give da'wah, then how is it okay for a Muslim man to talk to women for the same purpose? Clearly the best approach is for women to be available to speak to women, and for men to be available to speak to men. And given that Islam is frequently under attack regarding its treatment of women, isn't it much more powerful for women themselves to dispel the common myths fueling those attacks, rather than men whose attitudes may inadvertently confirm them?

With women embracing Islam at three times the rate of men or more, we need more women giving da'wah, not less, who can answer the questions and provide follow-up to women learning about Islam. But I've still seen women prevented from being effective in da'wah by policies and more frequently by other volunteers who oppose their participation.  Here's some signs it might be happening in an organization you're working with.


1. Women are not invited to participate. 
This could happen a number of ways--is the organization really only open to a select "boys' club" of friends and colleagues, without inviting the community to participate generally? Is advertising restricted among a male-only circle via email, or in a masjid? If only men are being contacted to participate as volunteers, or serve on the board, then the crucial input of the community's sisters is being neglected.

2. If women come to your meetings, they must sit in another room. With the door closed. 
Segregation can go too far. Picture a board meeting taking place in one of two adjoining rooms, where all the male board members sit except for one sister who is expected to sit in the other room with the door closed--she can neither see the other board members nor hear them well, and cannot be seen or heard herself. I'm sure that in a professional setting, these men wouldn't dare suggest that their female coworkers sit in another room, so why ask it of female board members? Separation prevents a few flow of ideas and places a barrier not just to seeing the opposite sex but from their contributions. Literally locking women out does not encourage them to participate or to voice their ideas; it devalues their opinions. And even if they try to participate, physical barriers prevent them from being heard and taken seriously by other members. This is not professional, and it's not the way an organization should conduct itself. Meetings should be open for fluid communication where everyone's voice can be heard equally.

3. The email list is used to express disapproval with women's participation in the organization.
Politics do not belong on mailing lists--it's unprofessional and immature--and the mailing list of an organization or a da'wah project should be treated with utmost professionalism. Are the members not representing Islam, after all? Using the mailing list as a means to voice one's opinion cheapens the discourse and turns people off. Using it to protest the contributions of women is not only offensive but can sabotage the productivity of the organization. Sending articles to promote segregation and marginalization of women in other countries, for example, only serves to isolate and attack women volunteers. The way men and women are separated in Saudi Arabia, for instance, might work fine for the Saudis but as a model won't translate well in the USA. Arguing about how the Saudis do it is neither relevant to the work of da'wah nor beneficial to an American da'wah project.

There are many da'wah projects tailored to American audiences, taking into account the different culture and attitude volunteers might face here in the USA rather than in Muslim countries they might have come from. Participation of women is one factor that American da'wah workers need to consider--if they want to keep women out, I'm sure they can. A bad attitude and behavior like I mentioned will keep many away--myself included. But what kind of da'wah is that, really?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Road Trip Number 3

In just two short weeks my husband and I will begin our third road trip together. The first was our honeymoon, from Raleigh to Seattle in December 2009. Our second was last summer (2010), driving from Seattle to Dallas so I could attend an Arabic program, and our third will be the return trip from Dallas back to Seattle.

Our first cross-country road trip took over two weeks even though a direct, all interstate route might have taken a third of the time, but we had so much fun that we've enjoyed seeing other parts of the country as well. Our first trip took us through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to the US Space and Rocket Center in Alabama, through Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona and up to the Grand Canyon after a snowfall. We stayed a few days in beautiful Sedona before breezing through Death Valley, and driving up the Oregon coast along US-101.

For our second trip, we wanted to visit a few more national parks, and stopped at Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and the Rocky Mountains. So between these two trips, we managed to drive through all the Western states except for one--Utah. And when planning this particular trip, we made sure to include at least one of Utah's many national parks on our route. Unfortunately, we won't be able to make too many times since we're pressed for time, but I think we will still have plenty of nice sights to see.

The Route (tentative)


View Larger Map


So in shaa Allaah this year's road trip (June 2011) will start with us leaving Dallas, TX on June 24th, heading westward towards Carlsbad, NM where we'll visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park.


From there we'll go north through Roswell (maybe stop and look around if there's anything fun there) and then towards Albuquerque, west across New Mexico and then across the NE corner of Arizona, crossing the Colorado River in Page and heading up into Utah. The only park we'll be visiting is Zion National Park, in the SW corner of the state.

After visiting Zion National Park we'll be taking the fastest route back to Seattle, through Salt Lake City then cutting across Idaho and Oregon before reaching Washington state.

Of course the last time we were in the American Southwest, it was December--not very hot. In fact, pretty chilly at some altitudes, with several feet of snow falling at the Grand Canyon. While we traveled last summer, the parks we visited were further north (temperatures dropped below freezing the night we spent in Montana) and at high altitudes so we mostly had comfortable temperatures, except in the Rockies, where it was a bit cold at the top. But this time we'll be facing a lot of arid heat--the National Park Service says that summer days in Zion NP are usually 95-110 degrees F but hopefully being in the early part of the summer it won't be quite that hot.

Any recommendations for summer travel? Additional sights to see along our route? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Punctuality

You might think that because the day of a Muslim is built around prayers which need to be performed at specific times, that Muslims would be fairly punctual people as a rule. But this seems not to be the case, even though I've heard several scholars remind listeners of the importance of being on time. I remember Shaykh Yaser Birjas indicating to students at a seminar that they should arrive for class like a mu'adhdhin arrives for prayer. (He has to arrive early enough to be ready to call as soon as the time for prayer comes in.) This suggests that Muslims should be acutely aware of time as part of their preparation for prayer, or class, or anything else.

After becoming Muslim, though, I started hearing plenty of jokes about a tendency of Muslims towards tardiness. Although, the observation relates mostly to religious and social functions because late arrivals to work or school often result in disciplinary action. I find American society generally to be less tolerant of tardiness than Muslims (so kudos to the Muslims for being so forgiving) but this can result in some confusion for the American Muslim community.

I heard the story of a convert who made the observation, on his first visit to jumu'ah prayer, that when he arrived--at the indicated time--only a few people were present, but during the sermon people continued arriving until the hall was filled by the time of the prayer. Yet I don't think this experience is rare.

Similarly, I've noticed that when attending Islamic lectures and classes, most respected teachers endeavor to begin and end on time. While helping to organize a 4-week da'wah training program a few years ago, I learned an important lesson regarding punctuality. The class was supposed to begin early on a Saturday morning, and though a few people showed up early, there were crowds coming through the door even after the "start" time. I wanted to wait for the students to settle in--and that was a mistake. The imam of the masjid told me that even if some people were still arriving, I should still start on time, and end on time.

To start with, punctuality is respectful of people's time--if they showed up on time, they shouldn't have to wait for the program to begin. Moreover, ending on time allows people to leave for other engagements they may have planned, instead of detaining them longer than they expected. And also, if an event fails to start on time, what incentive is there to arrive on time?

Since my own lesson on punctuality, I've made a point of observing when speakers (scholars, imams, community leaders, teachers, etc.) deliberately start on time--or as best they are able, when faced with logistical delays--and end on time. I understand it to be a part of the etiquette of being a speaker--of being a teacher, or an imam, and have found that the more knowledgeable, respected, and elder teachers usually strive for punctuality, even when students are late. For that reason, I don't accept that tardiness is religiously appropriate behavior--since it's not from the etiquette which I have witnessed from religious scholars.

I've even seen some scholars who seem to be as strict about punctuality as my high school band director--for us, it was an enforced rule. Students late to rehearsal would have to perform push-ups or run laps. Arriving late for a trip would mean getting left behind--nobody would wait. And if our rehearsals ran over schedule, even by as little as five minutes, the director would shorten the next day's rehearsal by the same amount. Breaks came regularly--and if they were delayed, then they were extended also. (Noting that breaks were usually barely 3-5 minutes, enough time to sit and drink water.)

When I'm in a class or a lecture where the speaker goes on--beyond an hour, sometimes beyond two, I find myself becoming irritated and even resentful towards the speaker, while my concentration plummets. Especially when scheduled breaks have been neglected by the speaker.

How is a student supposed to feel after arriving on time and waiting over an hour or more for an instructor, who then proceeds to lecture for an hour or two without giving students a break? I think the only way a student can feel, in that situation, is that the instructor lacks respect for his time, leading the student to not respect the instructor.

So I'll emphasize again why tardiness is not something seen in the most erudite of scholars, and why I don't believe that it is religiously appropriate. And I maintain that view despite the prevalent disregard for time in some Muslim cultures.

Unfortunately, punctuality can even be an inconvenience in a culture with more lenient and flexible schedule. My husband stresses the importance of arriving promptly to dinner parties--that is, he wants to arrive at the time indicated on the invitation. However, I find myself stalling our departure in order to avoid inconveniencing the hostess. Since most guests tend to arrive 30 minutes or more late, she might not be fully prepared for guests if we arrive "on time." And she might struggle trying to make conversation with me while still cooking and cleaning, leaving me in an awkward position while he goes off to another room with the host.

On the other hand, an American crowd might be expected to arrive 5-10 minutes before the scheduled time. That's why there can be some confusion. Of course, punctuality should be the norm for all events, but I'm not sure what it would take for people to accept that on a wide scale. It's not easy to enforce it with other people, but the least we can do is enforce it on ourselves and make punctuality a fixed attribute for which we are known.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Finding Dignity in Hijab

I wear a hijab now. Hijabs are cool.

That's a line that should ring familiar to Doctor Who fans--the Eleventh Doctor (played by Matt Smith) likes to justify his odd clothing choices in this fashion. For instance:

Yeah, it's cool, bow ties are cool. (The Eleventh Hour)
It's a fez. I wear a Fez now, Fezes are cool. (The Big Bang)
I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool. (The Impossible Astronaut.)

And the hijab line? It's been making its way around Twitter recently, apparently showing that even hijabis think Doctor Who is cool. But with recent headlines about the hijab, maybe it's time to give the iconic Muslim headscarf a PR makeover, of sorts.

We've heard France banning face veils, thinking to save women from male oppression. We've read NPR's story about some women's choice to remove the hijab, patting them on the back for fighting against what is still seen as male oppression. An article by Leila Ahmed appeared this week at foreignpolicy.com challenging the idea that hijab represents patriarchy. And last week I had to monitor a chatroom discussion about hijab, and listen to women from a variety of backgrounds parrot the same idea they've been fed--that hijab is about male domination, a symbol of suppression.

And I recall the quirky wisdom of a local sister who once remarked that if men were really setting the dress code, women wouldn't be veiled, they'd be wearing bikinis. Some men feel possessive about their female relatives and might want them to be dressed modestly, sure, but the rest of womankind? Ever hear of a place called Hooter's?

Now if a woman understands this about men, that they are generally attracted to women and given the option would like to see whatever bits they can, then she has two options, as I see it. First, she can give men the responsibility and control over her body when she decides to freely display her flesh. She can say that they're responsible for what they see, what they think of her because of what they see. Some might be responsible, then--they might do as the Qur'an says, and avert their gaze. Or they might hoot, holler, and harass her when she walks by.

Some might say it's the man's responsibility anyway--he's responsible for looking, or not. And I won't argue with that. But frankly, if the woman doesn't want to be looked at, then she has a responsibility too. And the second option is to take that responsibility, to take charge of her dignity and cover whatever she doesn't want any passerby to see.

One of the first feelings I had when wearing full hijab for the first time was dignity. Covering didn't make me feel cowardly, or weak, but strong and dignified. And I think this word--the one I've used three times in the past three sentences--should be the new word to associate with hijab: dignity.

If we see a picture of an impoverished young woman in a war-torn country wearing dirty clothes and fraying fabric to just cover the top of her head as well, does she symbolize the oppression of patriarchy? Or a symbol of preserving the last vestiges of dignity, despite oppression?

Many of the arguments I have heard from hijabis in defense of covering relate to dignity. Have you heard the sisters with advanced degrees tell how covering forces coworkers and peers to treat them based on their competence instead of their appearance? Dignity. Or have you heard some college students frame it as their form of feminism, representing the strength of their character against social pressures to conform? Dignity. Or ladies who insist on reserving their beauty exclusively for their beloved? Dignity. And what does it take to choose to dress differently than everyone on the street, to explicitly identify with a maligned minority (in non-Muslim countries), to be prepared to take a stand on faith, while anyone else is free to keep quiet? Dignity.

That's what hijab is. Dignity.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Qur'an Goals

Last Ramadan I listened to a webinar (or maybe two) about making personal goals in regards to studying the Qur'an. And despite seeming to have been studying it for the last seven months, I haven't done a good job of setting clear goals and consequently, haven't accomplished them.

Last Ramadan, for instance, I wanted to finish reading the Qur'an in Arabic, for the first time. Turns out that I bit off more than I could chew with that one. Which is fine, I think--so what if it took longer, as long as I did eventually finish it, right? Well the problem was that after Ramadan I came to Texas and as I started learning Arabic, I found a whole new set of goals--daily, and weekly, but not long-term precisely. And I found myself with trouble deciding which path I wanted to take--for instance, should I work on memorizing, or maybe trying to get a tajweed ijazah. For me, there was just too much going on, and I think I was behind other students in just general familiarity with the Qur'an.

So, after seven months, I'm starting fresh with my Qur'an goals, and renewing my intentions. I'll be concentrating on just one for now, and that is finishing it in Arabic. I have the benefit of understanding quite a lot of it right now, so it's more beneficial reading than before, but I'm not reading for depth right now, but to accomplish two things. First, I want to get into the habit of reading new material (what I haven't memorized or gotten used to reciting) daily, out loud. I've been weak about this before, spending personal time with the Qur'an, but I think it's important for me before I move back to memorizing. And I want to finish going through the Qur'an entirely, and get into the habit of completing its reading on a regular basis.

And once I do finish, after focusing for a while on just the one goal, then I'll shift to another specific goal, and I can focus on it. And then, hopefully and inshaaAllaah, achieve it.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Summer 2011 Programs for Muslims

Just a list, in case anyone is looking for something to do this summer. These are all pretty much based in the USA or open to Americans, even if they take place in another country. I don't have any information about programs from other countries. (Edited to Add: Global Section added at the bottom in case anyone wants to add more on in comments)

Intensives
SunniPath Qibla Summer Intensive in Amman, Jordan
Term 1: June 18-July16, 2011
Term 2: July 20-August 20, 2011

Zaytuna Summer Arabic Intensive in Berkely, California
June 20-August 12, 2011

Bayyinah Qur'an Intensive in Dallas, Texas
June 3-July 1, 2011

Rihla 2011 Deen Intensive in Bursa, Turkey
June 30-July 21, 2011

Ilm Summit in Houston, Texas
July 8-17, 2011

Conferences/Conventions
Reviving the Islamic Spirit-USA in Long Beach, California
May 28-30, 2011

ICNA-MAS Convention in Hartford, Connecticut
May 28-30, 2011

ISNA Convention in Chicago, Illinois
July 1-4, 2011

Global
World Conference on Riba in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
July 26-27, 2011


Anything missing? Leave a note in the comments and I'll try to add it to the list.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Memorizing Translation

I once knew a boy who has made to memorize some surahs from the Qur'an from listening to Yusuf Ali's translation on audio tape. And he was made to recite what he had memorized in a tajweed class (of all places, right?) to an imam who was shocked and tried to explain to the boy's parent why this was not a good idea.

Presumably, the intention was that the boy would learn the text in meaning this way, rather than "just" a text which he wouldn't be able to fully understand. But a translation is not equivalent to the Qur'an. Having spent the last few weeks reading the Qur'an in Arabic and trying to discern the meaning from it without relying on an English translation has taught me to appreciate the difference, and what is lost through translation.

But think of a community that doesn't have the ability to understand to Arabic. Without it, they might lose even the appreciation of the Arabic and place more value on the translation, even to the point that they would memorize it as though it were the words of Allah.

We're supposed to have a relationship with the Qur'an but how can we if we can't even understand it? We shouldn't let children grow up without at least a basic understanding of Arabic. Because without Arabic, as a community we lose the Qur'an.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Wrong to Call Out Bigotry?

One of my favorite books is Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. I'm surprised I didn't bring it with me to Texas, but a summary is available online if I ever want a quick review. (http://www.westegg.com/unmaintained/carnegie/win-friends.html)

Because my recent post about political correctness and bigotry got a little popular, I've been giving more thought to the idea. I do think that "political incorrectness" serves as a mask for all kinds of bigotry--racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and more. But I doubt that the purveyors of it think of themselves as bigots. With the exception of some elites who might be deliberately "stirring the pot" I think most people probably believe their grievances are valid. Their irrational hatred, fear, or disdain seems to them to be sensible and obvious, though unpopular.

It is very easy for a person to insulate himself among similar ideas and points of view, perpetuating his belief system. For instance, I can choose to read only articles and blogs that I already agree with, and only discuss these issues with people who share my perspective. But if I do that, then I'm just stunting my own growth in understanding.

Although, this doesn't mean that by conversing with people of opposing opinions I necessarily enhance my understanding--a lot of people can talk and argue without listening or absorbing the arguments of their opponent. The key, I think, is to deliberately keep an open mind.

And that's where the Carnegie book comes in. A few of his points are especially relevant here. When "handling people," we shouldn't criticize. If you're trying to explain, for instance, that calling Islam a cult is stupid, saying that the majority of Muslims sympathize with terrorism is a lie, if you get straight to the point and call your opponent a stupid liar, you've pretty much closed the door to his understanding your point of view.

Another key strategy to "win people to your way of thinking" is to "show respect for the other person's opinions." Yep. Even if they are stupid lies. (Bad Amy!)

Granted, these techniques are for one-on-one interaction. Personal interaction can be extremely powerful, so it's important for Muslims to articulate their beliefs to their neighbors and communities. But in the public sphere, the impersonal world of media and blogs and punditry, perhaps other strategies are more appropriate.

I would be interested in learning the Real reasons that an individual has to oppose building a mosque, for instance, especially if it's not anywhere near him. I wonder if most people would maintain such acerbic criticism if someone sat down with them and listened to their concerns with an open mind, and let them offer solutions to ameliorate those concerns.

The Good, the Bad, and the Facebook

Seeing some tweets recently about canceling and renewing Facebook accounts, I thought I finally wanted to make a post about it.

I am at the particular age which enables me to have seen Facebook from its much earlier days. I first heard of it my junior year in college from a girl who was "pledging" my sorority with me. Then, it was only for college students--you had to have a .edu email address--and mostly relevant for just your own university. And I thought it's greatest usefulness was being able to select my class schedule and find other students in the class. That function, of course, no longer exists.

In fact, Facebook is completely different. Things started getting strange, I thought, when it became open to other than college students--high schoolers, even middle schoolers. Then their parents. I started getting "friend requests" from all sorts of people and Facebook in general only became less interesting to me, and seldom useful.

So I guess I don't really understand how people find it burdensome and time-wasting, that they feel the need to completely cut it off, since it isn't really a part of my life. See, I only log in about twice a week on average, and almost never for more than 5 minutes.

So when I hear people discussing the evils or the benefits of Facebook, I just wonder why it's so important in the first place. I know some people are able to use it successfully for marketing, for announcements about events in the community, or to keep in touch with friends. But personally I hate having to rely on Facebook to hear about programs. (Whereas I really love subscribing to RSS feeds, which I can easily filter.) In fact, I actually hardly ever hear about activities through Facebook--usually through email or occasionally through Twitter.

Then I wonder--if I feel this way, why is it such a big deal for everyone else? Or is it?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In What Order?

I recently heard a convert say that he was an "American Muslim, in that order." I took issue with the point because it seems to force a collision between two ideas that needn't collide. It seems to say that if he had to choose only one, either American or Muslim, that he'd choose to be American. I don't even think most Americans would put their country above God. Don't they say "God, family, country," in that order?

Personally, I don't think the sequence of the words should extend their meaning. One might call himself an American Muslim to distinguish himself among Muslims from other countries, while one might call himself a Muslim American to distinguish himself among other Americans. The two terms describe different spheres by which a person can identify himself, and affect different parts of his life. You could say, for example, that a woman is a teacher and a mother, describing first her career path, and also her role in the home, while both make up parts of her identity.

Similarly, we can describe a person's identity without having to prioritize either nationality or religion. But forcing one to supersede the other undermines at least one of these components. In this case, Islam is undermined, as if the speaker were saying that he was only Muslim insofar as it was compatible with whatever he valued as being "American."

I consider myself to be an American Muslim (or Muslim American--whatever) without conflict. But I know that when I die, only one of these will matter, and that's my priority. In fact, I think that's what makes me a Muslim in the first place.

Monday, March 21, 2011

No More Answer Keys

Because I studied engineering in college, I developed a certain kind of study habits which served me well in technical courses. For the most part, my "studying" was built on acquiring a skill--the skill to solve the problems on which I would be tested. It meant becoming familiar with a procedure--how to find an answer to a problem with a particular set of given information. However, the tools necessary to answer the problem would usually be available--that is, the equations and constants--and I just needed to know how to use them.

So most of my study time was spent practicing rather than actually memorizing anything. If I would use something often enough, I might memorize it naturally but I didn't spend much effort towards memorizing.

And it was common to find, in my engineering (and math and science) textbooks, that the answers would be available in the back of the book. Because the point of the problem was never to find an answer, but rather to learn how to solve it. So having the answer available was really important--even if it was just a number. Because it could indicate whether or not I was solving the problem correctly. It never mattered what the answer actually was, but whether or not I could solve the problem. Instructors often let us bring in our own formula sheets--a page or more of formulas, diagrams, constants, whatever we thought we might need--for an exam, knowing that no amount of data we could fit on a sheet of paper would serve us any good if we hadn't learned how to use it.

So I have developed this approach to studying that I've found is not actually serving me very well right now. Learning a new language, quite obviously, requires a lot of memorization. And it seems that theory (never stated, just my observation) is that with memorization, the skills will come.

Suppose you want to write a sentence in a language you're studying. You'll need to know the meanings of the words to use--the equivalent vocabulary in both languages. You'll need to understand something about grammar, how to actually construct the sentences and use the words. And you might need to know something about conjugation and morphology in order to use the words correctly in the proper places.

So the way I have been accustomed to studying would familiarize me with grammar, and how to construct the sentence, and the conjugation and morphology would get me the right word forms. When I was working on writing, answer keys would have been really helpful, to make sure that I was getting the sentences right. Being able to check the solution while still solving a problem is incredibly useful--you can note the mistake right away, rather than continuing to make the mistakes for days or weeks before seeing the answer or taking an exam to find out that you were wrong. Never underestimate the power of immediate feedback.

Now this much aside, where I struggle is with knowing the words to use in the first place! And in this, an answer key won't help so much as a dictionary. How long does it take to grow a dictionary in your brain? I have a habit of just looking things up that I don't know, rather than memorizing them to use later. I'm used to being able to look them up. But that's not going to gain me fluency in a new language.

So right now I'm trying to train myself to squeeze all these words into my brain with flashcards and repetition, and I'm finding it very hard to retain it all. Now, I'm told that there is a solution to this problem--to speak (or even write) in the language as frequently as possible. I believe it's true, because I know that every time a word is recalled in the mind, it is reinforced, more likely to "stick," if you will, and recalling the word in different ways (through listening, reading, writing, and speaking) will reinforce stronger than using it in just one of these ways.

On the other hand, I don't actually know enough vocabulary in the first place to be able to use it regularly. I can't actually express my thoughts in the language--though I know a few words, there are so many more which I don't know, but need in order to express my thoughts. When reading or listening, I hear far more words that I don't know than ones which I do. (This goes for regular speech, not for Qur'an, where the situation is reversed.) Which means I'm constantly having to look things up, and missing the meaning altogether--extremely frustrating.

And I'm hoping that the more I learn, I'll get out of this really uncomfortable phase of being almost able to use the language to using it in earnest. Any tips to move on, and get over this hump?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Absence of Political Correctness

Has anyone else noticed that in the last few years, attacks on minorities--which should be rebuked as bigoted and racist--try to claim legitimacy by saying they are only speaking out against "political incorrectness." As if to say that being polite and avoiding racist comments is just political correctness, and somehow obfuscating the truth?

I guess that we have this term--political correctness--to describe language which avoids offense. I guess the sense is that politicians should speak a certain way to avoid offending their voters, but any kind of official language nowadays usually aims to avoid offense. Or does it?

If it is politically correct to avoid offense, then what do we call language which is offensive (bigoted, even racist)? Apparently, the purveyors of such inflammatory rhetoric defend their bigotry by claiming that they merely lack political correctness, or by even attacking political correctness. Doing so suggests that they--by means of aggressive language smearing whatever target group--are actually speaking the truth in the face of a propaganda machine which is trying to hide it.

In other words, they're trying to say that they are not in fact racist (or Islamophobic or anti-Semitic or any other kind of bigot) but they're just speaking the truth.

But I think that is the sinister face of intolerance--it believes in its own validity. And it thinks that it's okay to smear an entire group of people based on the actions of a few--or even based on their own imagined superiority.

So when a politician gets up and says that he is speaking out against political correctness by suggesting that all Muslims are terrorists, he is in fact trying to defend statements that he knows a civilized society ought to reject. When someone writes a book filled with lies about Islam, what should he call it but "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam." (And having read it, I feel comfortable saying that it is filled with lies.) And then the opposition to their Islamophobic propaganda is accused of just being politically correct by speaking out in defense of Muslims.

Now, verbal attacks on Muslims have become commonplace in today's political discourse, but the effect of bigotry disguised as truth has spread. Take, for example, the video posted by UCLA student Alexandra Wallace in which she criticizes the "manners" of her peers (specifically, Asian students in the library.) She starts her rant by saying "So we know that I’m not the most politically correct person so don’t take this offensively." In other words, she admits that she's about to be very offensive but defends herself by saying she's just not politically correct. As if that's a legitimate excuse. And shouldn't it be? After all, that's what so many politicians are doing when they attack Muslims, blacks, or poor people.

And she begins to describe her response by saying "So being the polite, nice American girl that my momma raised me to be..." Really? In a video to be posted on youtube, saying offensive things about "Asians" generally, she considers herself to be polite and nice?

What is it going to take for people to see offensive speech for the offense that it is?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened When I Learned to Type in Arabic

When I started studying Arabic, I made a point early on of typing in Arabic. Then, most of the lessons were in English, but frequently used some Arabic vocabulary. And so at first I only learned to type those words in Arabic, and it was slow going, having to shift back and forth between keyboards, frequently having to check the keyboard location of some letters. But I was persistent.

I labeled the keys on my keyboard with a permanent marker (black keys, silver marker) and kept a "key" of their locations on my screen whenever I would be typing in Arabic--basically a list showing which English character corresponded with an Arabic character, laid out like a keyboard. I used it for a couple weeks before not really needing it beyond the addition of harakaat, and now I don't need it at all.

And the characters I drew on my keyboard have long since rubbed off. Because I started early, I was already typing away in Arabic while many of my peers were just ordering stickers to put on their keyboards to help.

But the more frequently I would type in Arabic, the more I began to notice a peculiar problem. On the occasions when I would like to type an Arabic word in flowing English and with Roman characters, I would find myself automatically striking the keys corresponding to the Arabic spelling. For instance, in trying to type out the word استعانة by spelling it as "isti'aanah" I would actually reflexively type "hsjuhkm" and keep going. In fact, it takes me at least two or three times longer to type the transliterated word than to type it in Arabic, because I have to stop and sometimes even (gasp!) look at the keyboard to check the English letters! And without surprise, I have a similar problem transliterating into Arabic, (eg, New York becomes نيو يورك,) albeit the difference is less pronounced since my Arabic typing is still slower than my English typing.

So I can type in English fine and in Arabic well but when I try to mix the two my brain has a really hard time coping with the transformation, and transliterating becomes a real difficulty, trying to make what are letters in one language correspond to sounds in another. It gets easier if I am able to see or look at a word already transliterated--then I can easily find the correct characters to represent it. But the first time writing it, I frequently end up with a weird jumble of letters that don't make sense either way, and have to slow down and think it through before I can type it.  Has anyone else had a similar problem?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Upcoming Book on American Muslim Women (press release)

New Book Explores Lives of American-Born Muslim Women

WASHINGTON D.C.  USA – March 14, 2011 – Islam has become one of the hottest of hot button topics in America. Time Magazine featured the rise of Islamophobia on its cover (August 30, 2010) and attacks on Muslims and mosques are taking place regularly across the United States. Pundits and politicians raise the stakes by questioning whether it is possible for an American to be both a good Muslim and a good citizen. Muslim American women are the subject of endless discussions regarding their role in society, their veils as symbols of oppression or of freedom, their identity and their patriotism.

In this polarized climate, a new book challenges stereotypes about being Muslim in America through the stories of forty women. I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim(May 2, 2011, White Cloud Press) brings together a diverse group of women, all born and raised in the United States, telling their stories of faith, family, and country.

The book editors are Maria Ebrahimji, executive editorial producer at CNN in Atlanta, and Zahra Suratwala, a writer and editor who owns Zahra Ink, a writing firm in Chicago. The editors want to fill a gap in current literature on American Islam by bringing out the stories of American-born Muslim women between the ages of 20 and 40. Ebrahimji notes that “As a member of the mainstream media, I am frequently exposed to the stereotyping of my faith, and this book was created to present the public with more candid, realistic portraits of a diverse group of women who are proud of their faith and their country.”

Readers of I Speak for Myself are presented with a kaleidoscope of deeply personal stories. A common theme linking these intimate self-portraits is the way each woman uniquely defies labeling, simply by defining for herself what it means to be American and Muslim and female. Each story is a contribution to the larger narrative of life stories and life work of a new generation of Muslim women.

Though the book’s official release date is May 2, it is currently available now for pre-order on Amazon.comBarnes & Noble and White Cloud Press. The suggested retail price is $16.95.

The book has already caught the attention of thought leaders who are calling the book an important addition to the literature on religious pluralism in America.

Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners magazine and faith community calls I Speak for Myself “a very important contribution to the growing interfaith dialogue in this country.”

Her Majesty Queen Noor notes that “By telling their stories they offer us new perspectives that are vital to the peace building process, and through their honesty and courage they are making a lasting contribution to the search for cross-cultural understanding.”

Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International says that this is “a must read for anyone curious to understand Islam from a woman’s and an American-Muslim perspective. I Speak for Myself is the story of every woman embodied in voices of today’s American Muslim woman.”

Bestselling author and school builder Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) feels that “this collection of essays . . . is empowering and inspiring, and a vital part of any education.”

For more information and dialogue on the book and American Muslim women, please check out www.facebook.com/ispeakformyself,  www.twitter.com/ispeakformyself and the website, www.ispeakformyself.com.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Reflecting on Outliers

My husband recommended that I read Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, and I'll admit that it was definitely a good read. It was interesting to see that what made people "outliers" wasn't just their hard work or dedication, but a series of opportunities at just the right time. And even our heritage, going back generations, has an impact on who we are in even the most subtle ways

For me, it was an excellent reminder about the Qadr of Allah, and His favors to us. We might tend to think that the education we received and the wealth we earn are products of our own effort. But someone with more education might earn less, and someone with less education might earn more. Someone might be scraping by at the poverty level despite hard work, and someone else might be born into wealth despite laziness.

We still have choices to make, and we'll be accountable for our deeds, that's what we really earn in this life. But we shouldn't be deluded about what we are provided, that we earned it or even deserve it--we can't take it with us, anyway.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New Tech

Friday, March 11, was the release date for the iPad 2. When Apple announced, on March 3, its new tablet device, I found myself eagerly reading all the news about it I could find. For the last few months, I've started to want an iPad--especially for reading books and documents, some of which has become awkward on my PC while I'm trying to do other things simultaneously (e.g., take notes.) And since my husband has had one for a while, I already know of several Apps for the iPad which I'll be quick to download inshaaAllah.

To save myself some of the hassle of waiting in line, only to risk the store having sold out of the model I wanted already, I ordered online. I almost wished I'd waited in line myself after hearing that some of my friends opted to wait in line, and after listening to their excitement as they started to play with their new toys. But then again, I am glad I avoided the hassle, even though it means a little wait. And I was awake late (thanks to a particularly bizarre sleep schedule these days) so my order was placed 16 minutes after the Apple Store opened online ordering. (And the reason it took me 16 minutes to order was how long I took deciding on a Smart Cover color--I went for red, in the end.) I was hoping it would be one of the first shipped, and it seems that's the case, as it's already on its way. (The cover, however, seems like it might take longer.)

I can't wait!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What's Said About Islamophobia

It's been a rough week for American Muslims. With the ICNA Relief fundraiser protest making big news (though it happened a couple weeks ago) and Peter King's congressional hearings, attempting to legitimize prevalent marginalizing stereotypes about Muslims, I've been confused myself about even what to say. The attacks on Muslims seem bizarre and senseless to me, and I haven't even found words to reply.

But not everyone has been rendered speechless. In these days when Shari'ah is being widely misunderstood, the voices below demonstrate wisdom, reason, and calm in response to seemingly frantic anger directed at Muslims, and are worth hearing.

The first, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on Riz Khan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkzDUJHEw8Q&feature=player_embedded

The second, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi in a Tennessee newspaper, posted at MuslimMatters: http://muslimmatters.org/2011/03/11/yasir-qadhi-a-proud-patriotic-shariah-practicing-american/

Friday, March 11, 2011

An Abaya Trend

For a long time, I have been a fence-sitter. I've been wearing hijab for years, but a lot of times have felt that it's not quite enough--that it's time for me to put on an abaya or jilbab over my jeans. And I've been unfortunate to feel discomfort both ways--if I'd wear just jeans, even with a long shirt or dress (to my knees), I would feel a little exposed, like I should cover more--especially around Muslims, or visiting the masjid. But if I'd wear an abaya, I'd feel uncomfortable in it too, especially if I was anywhere other than the masjid.

Part of the problem has been my bad experiences with jilbabs and abayas in general--I never had any that fit quite right. Almost all the ones I owned were too short (legs and arms too) and I hated the style and cut of them. The better-fitting ones I had been able to find, I didn't mind wearing on occasion, but the heavy polyester wasn't comfortable, and the embroidery made me feel that they were more suited to special occasions than every day wear.

I also had some silly standards when shopping, in the past--in addition to being long enough and cut a certain way, I was picky about colors, too. For instance, I really don't like wearing black, as a rule. So no wonder I had a hard time finding abayas that would satisfy me.

At the same time, when I came to Texas, I realized that I'd be spending nearly every day with what is pretty much an abaya/jilbab-only crowd. And I considered that a good thing. I figured if I had to wear an abaya every day, then I'd get over my hang-ups about them. And finally, six months later, I'm starting to make progress on that front.

Remember the advice that if you want to start behaving a certain way, then spend time around people who already behave that way. I know one thing that made wearing hijab easier for me was being around girls from the MSA who wore it. I expected the same with the abaya.

But I still wasn't happy wearing an abaya every day, because of the same problems--mainly, they didn't fit properly, the fabric was uncomfortable, and I always felt like I looked silly wearing clothes that didn't really fit--especially over my better-fitting more stylish clothes that I was more accustomed to wearing.

So in order to really get into abaya mode, I started making conscious observations about the dresses of my fellow students. I didn't feel comfortable wearing my abayas in public, but I thought it might be different if I were wearing any of the more stylish and better-fitting abayas of my peers. So I took to the internet (not being familiar with any Islamic clothing shops here in Texas, though I'm sure there are a few) with a more specific idea about what I was looking for--and I did find an online store which offered abayas in the styles I liked, with a wide range of sizes, and allowed for the specific tailoring I needed (specifically, a few more inches of fabric in length.) I chose the most basic and inexpensive style, since I was weary of ordering from an online store.

I didn't know what to expect, so when it arrived just a week later I was extremely pleased with the results. I had, for the first time, an abaya that finally fit me properly, and I was eager to wear it to school. In fact, I liked it so much that I hated to wear any other one until I got a few more in the mail. Since then, I've made two more purchases from the same store, starting to expand my abaya wardobe (practical, since I do wear them almost every day of the week to class) and I plan to continue to purchase from them in the future.

And I was right--I feel much more comfortable wearing these in public than the ones I already owned. It's amazing how big of a difference it made. I wouldn't say I feel comfortable wearing them all the time, but I don't mind wearing them now, which is a big step for me.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Texas Life

I didn't know exactly what to expect when I moved to Texas. I had rented an apartment over the phone, without ever visiting the DFW area where I'd be spending the next year.

And honestly, Texas has been the butt of many jokes between me and my husband--we like to call it the One Star State. (Note: I've heard people wrongly say "so-and-so and I" so many times lately--they should say "and me," it almost sounds wrong to say "me" even though it's correct.)

Dallas is definitely not one of America's jewels. It seems to be known for its air pollution, football, and almost year-round heat (and now its inability to cope with winter weather) and even high crime. It's even on this list of 10 worst cities to raise a family. In general, the people aren't really that friendly (Carolina folks are nicer, in my opinion) and the scenery is just tiresome (I'm missing the picturesque horizons from Seattle, not to mention the greenery.) I hate driving around here, because despite the sign (from my honeymoon drive through Texas two Decembers ago), drivers are aggressive and either inconsiderate or oblivious to other drivers.

But there is something here which maybe isn't expected--a well-established and thriving Muslim community, including open and active masajid, and a number of well-educated scholars and imams. In fact, though my husband used to joke about hating to come visit me here in Texas, the last time he was here he remarked that Dallas actually might be a nice place to settle down--due especially to the masjid, surrounded by neighborhoods full of Muslims. Maybe that's easy to say in the middle of winter when daily highs are only rarely over room temperature, but I think it is true that Dallas is a good place for Muslims. Or maybe not Dallas specifically, but its suburbs--Irving, Plano, Richardson, Arlington, Colleyville, etc.

I'm not convinced that I'd like to settle here but I can't deny that the community is very welcoming. And while I can't disguise my eagerness to return to Seattle, some major credit should go to the leaders of the Dallas Muslim community for all their efforts to make this place such a great place for Muslims to live.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Tips for Converts

Yesterday a great post appeared at the suhaibwebb.com blog, including a list of 12 Tips for the Convert Muslim by brother Alex. I wanted to expound on some of the brother's advice. If you haven't yet read that article, I would encourage you to do so before reading this post, to gain perspective on my comments herein.

To start with, I think points 1 (Practice Islam as much as you can) and 11 (Stay away from extremism) might need to go hand in hand. The over-zealous convert is a common story, where a person dives head-first into Islam and leaves everything else behind, and adopts rigid opinions about food and clothes. But like the brother says, "Keeping up with your devotional practices is something that will strengthen your faith immensely." So in the practice of Islam, especially in the beginning, I'd qualify the first tip by saying focus more energy on the devotional practices--prayer, reading Qur'an, fasting if it's Ramadan--and less on external things like food and clothes.

His second point (respecting parents) was one of my crucial mistakes as a convert--I really wanted to debate my parents, instead of just trying to improve myself. It's now one of my biggest regrets--thankfully, my relationship has been improving now that I've backed off and just tried to be a good daughter.

As for his third point (finding a teacher), I'm afraid it might not be practical for everyone, and I suspect that it's probably much easier for brothers than sisters, and might be harder in some communities than others. Sometimes an imam might offer classes for sisters, or even open classes for the community, which are important, but a sister can't visit socially with a male teacher. And finding female teachers is sometimes difficult--not that the women are lacking in knowledge, but are usually busy taking care of their families. And finding time to visit with a teacher on a daily basis isn't something that most people will be able to do. So I would advise for sisters especially to try to find any ongoing classes at the masjid--especially ones geared towards sisters, if available, where they can meet other converts or other women in the community. Finding a casual halaqah might also suffice, if no teacher can be found. Here in Dallas there are tons of programs for Muslims at every stage, and plenty of teachers as well. Not everywhere has that advantage, and sometimes taking classes online (not just reading websites and watching videos, but real classes with a remote teacher) might be another alternative for Muslims in more isolated communities. (Or living in areas where the nearest mosque is hours away.)

For his fifth point (learning Arabic), I'm thinking it might be easier said than done. Being in a full-time Arabic study program myself, I know it's not easy to commit to learning Arabic. Finding a good class locally might be the best way to go, I think, and not putting too much pressure on oneself. For a new convert, especially older converts, things like learning how to pray can be really overwhelming, with just that small amount of Arabic. I might advise not to rush if Arabic seems intimidating, and find a class moving at a comfortable pace. I do think Arabic is important, but not a priority soon after converting.

As for his seventh point (maintaining identity) I think this is much harder for sisters than for brothers. In fact, it's something I still struggle with. I don't even know for sure what my "identity" really is. When I converted to Islam, I was active in a sorority and hanging out with my friends frequently included alcohol. That's not an "identity" that can be preserved inside Islam, I think. But for a sister, donning hijab will inevitably cause identity issues. Whereas a brother can cover himself, and even grow a beard, without it becoming obvious to anyone that he's a Muslim. When a woman starts to wear hijab, her entire wardrobe (which for me, is also a reflection of my "identity," I think) is going to change. What she can wear in public might be drastically different than before, and the scarf itself is an obvious indicator of her conversion. It might even make her feel isolated from her friends and family--they might not want to spend time with her, if she dresses that way. I don't mean to sound all doom and gloom for anyone considering adopting hijab, but these common fears are based in reality.

So maybe it's correct to say to a convert that he/she doesn't have to abandon his/her culture entirely, and to try to find ways to incorporate the good parts of their non-Muslim lives into their lives as Muslims, and to find a balance in their identity. Because some things are going to change, at some point or another.

As for his eighth point (attending the masjid) I know this is definitely going to be easier and more worthwhile for brothers than sisters. With women frequently marginalized at the masjid, and rarely in attendance, praying at the masjid regularly is going to take a long time to pay off, for a sister. She won't be joining a row of regular musalleen* but might be one of only a handful who happen to have stopped by the mosque on the occasion. She won't see regular faces, and might not even be able to benefit from talks after the prayer. (At one mosque I've been to, for instance, the brothers will turn off the mic and sisters have no opportunity to hear the short lecture after the salaah, as they're in another part of the building.) She might even find brothers (or sisters) who discourage her from attending, or criticize her. Attending on Fridays will have a greater benefit, but it might take a while to see it. It's true that the more one visits the mosque, the easier it will become. But for women, I would advise they try to attend classes and lectures as much as they can, and try to find other women in the community who can assist them.

I heartily agree with the remainder of his points. It's a great post (if you still haven't read it, you should) and offers some practical advice. Converting to Islam might be hard in the beginning, but Islam as a way of life is for our benefit and the reward is beyond imagination.

(musalleen--people who pray salaah)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Non-Reaction to Hijab

I've been wearing hijab for a few years now, and I don't spend much time contemplating how people will react to it. Everyone I meet, nowadays, sees the hijab as much as they see me. It's just a permanent part of my wardrobe. But the other day I had an interesting experience, where someone met me without hijab and I'd get to see the change in their reaction.

Being unable to sleep at night, I got up early, prayed and went to the gym. I have class at 7:30 so there's not a lot of wiggle room in the mornings, and I'm sure nobody would appreciate my showing up all sweaty, so I typically shower at the gym after morning workouts. So after my shower, I came back to my locker to finish getting dressed (I usually get at least partially dressed in the shower area before walking around.) And just as I got there, another lady had walked in; for some reason or other, she immediately started talking to me, sharing a variety of experiences, non-stop, while I was getting ready.

I have to say, it was pretty embarrassing. I'm not used to a stranger talking to me while I'm putting on my clothes, deodorant, etc. But she kept going, oblivious or unconcerned about my discomfort. She talked about losing her job, interviewing after smoking a joint and trying to detox herself for a drug test, she talked about her friend giving her rides in exchange for "all-natural" wellness advice to deal with her constipation. So I was getting dressed, hoping that soon she would finish talking and just leave, but she kept going. So I kept dressing--socks, and shoes, then I waited a bit before putting on my abaya. I didn't notice any change in her behavior, so then I put on my coat--hopefully that would signal that I needed to go. But she kept going. I had zipped up my bag and put everything back inside but my hijab. In case the abaya hadn't given me away, the scarf surely would.

But time was ticking! So I started putting on the hijab, too--starting with the underscarf. She kept talking. Then the scarf--no change. I had it pinned an everything without anything more than a blink from her. Apparently, she could care less. Finally, I grab my bag and apologize for being unable to stay and chat, as I have class starting in a few moments. And then she released me.

We left the locker room together and wished each other a nice day. Not a single word about Islam, Muslims, my hijab--nothing.

And I have to say, after watching videos like these (Praying man harassed by protesters) (Protest at ICNA Relief dinner), I think I've unfortunately been expecting the worst from people. So it was nice to see someone who really didn't care.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Learning to Pray


A good friend of mine found these videos online a while ago, and mailed the list to a group of convert sisters. I also shared it with someone who was struggling with learning how to say the Arabic parts of the salah and she found it helpful too. So I'm posting it here for anyone else who might be looking for help in learning and memorizing the prayer, and needs a tutorial that goes very slowly.

1. Introduction and Surah Al-Fatihah (Chapter 1 of Quran, recited 17 times total in our 5 daily prayers):

http://www.islamictube.com/watch/9187da8e5ed4f7a6ea4c/1-Learn-Salat-s-Arabic-Recitation-Fatihah

2. How to begin the prayer with "Allahu akbar" (Allah is the Greatest) + Surah al Fatihah + bowing

http://www.islamictube.com/watch/f2ce038b3b0f82c7d6fb/2-Learn-Salat-s-Arabic-Recitation-Fatihah

3. What to say when bowing (rukoo) and prostrating (sajda)

http://www.islamictube.com/watch/c590ffbf1295ce92258d/3-Learn-Salat-s-Arabic-Recitation-Rukoo---Sajda

4. Learn first Tashahhud (what you say when sitting after 2nd rakat/cycle)

http://www.islamictube.com/watch/35058b1ef7b0ac1e11b6/4-Learn-Salat-s-Arabic-Recitation-Tashahhud-1

5. First Tashahhudd (continued)

http://www.islamictube.com/watch/98bfbdc8a619bef7b8f6/5-Learn-Salat-s-Arabic-Recitation-Tashahhud

6. Second Tashahhud (what you say in the last rakat/cycle of prayer while seated)

http://www.islamictube.com/watch/40027581047db105f334/6-Learn-Salat-s-Arabic-Recitation-Tashahhud

7. Second Tashahhud (contiued)

http://www.islamictube.com/watch/7de48a31f6b669e7ba26/7-Learn-Salat-s-Arabic-Recitation-Tashahhud

8. Dua (supplication) you can say after "Allahu akbar" and before Surah Al-Fatihah; and Surah Al Asr (Chapter 103; 2nd shortest chapter in Quran) to recite after Al-Fatihah

http://www.islamictube.com/watch/6b70f378a3a03d0c2638/8-Learn-Salat-s-Arabic-Recitation-Dua---Asr

9. Surah al-Ikhlas (Chapter 112) to recite after Surah Al Fatihah

http://www.islamictube.com/watch/ed14eb1e9c2580056a98/9-Learn-Salat-s-Arabic-Recitation-Surah-Ikhlas