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, and the website,

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:

The second, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi in a Tennessee newspaper, posted at MuslimMatters:

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 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):

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

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

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

5. First Tashahhudd (continued)

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

7. Second Tashahhud (contiued)

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

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

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Ilm Feast: Etiquettes of Eating

I stumbled across this via Facebook on Thursday, and it's very fun nugget of ilm (knowledge.) So watch Shaykh AbdulBary Yahya in Seattle at one of my favorite restaurants, Olympic Express. It makes me miss Seattle a little, but hopefully I'll be back in just a few months, inshaaAllaah!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Reverts and their Muslim Communities

One of my articles, recently published by You can visit the article to vote and leave comments if you wish.

Isolation is scary, and it’s not easy to face troubles alone. Sometimes converting or reverting to Islam is one of the easiest steps, belying a difficult journey ahead. But the converts who stay on their own and avoid the 
community are the most likely to lose their way. 

In Surat al-Fatihah, we read about a Siraat al-Mustaqeem, a Straight Path, and we ask Allah to guide us towards it. Let’s think about the way this path is described for a moment. Though there are other words for “path” in the Arabic language, the word Siraat, refers to a path which is straight, long, dangerous, wide, and unique. If a path is wide, that means many people can take it at once, and unique in this context means that there is no other path available to the destination. In other words, it is the Path to Salvation, and there’s not an alternative route. But because it’s a wide path, we don’t need to go alone. In fact, when we pray this du’a every day in our salah, we ask Allah to guide us to the Straight Path. We don’t ask individually, or say “Guide me,” but we make du’a collectively—we declare that we worship Allah, and we seek His help, and then we ask Him to guide us, at least seventeen times a day in salaah.

Imagine being lost in the woods, and you come across a path like this—straight, long, wide, etc. And imagine that the path is crowded with people, some even carrying flashlights. It’s easy to join in and follow along. But if you hang back, or walk on your own, you might get lost going down a detour—not the right way, and off the Straight Path. Similarly, in Islam we have a group walking together, and scholars to guide the way. But when a convert leaves the group, even intending to keep going the same way, it becomes more difficult to stay on the Straight Path.

Islam is not a religion to be practiced in isolation—it demands community. Remember that when the Messenger of Allah (saws) moved to Madinah he spent the initial months establishing brotherhood and a masjid. For today’s new Muslims, integrating with the community is similarly important. And the community revolves around the masjid. The Muslim community can be a means of support for a convert or revert who has become isolated from family members, a means of education and instruction in practicing Islam, and a means of constant companionship.

But as our individual identities are often tied to the communities that raised us, entering a new community as an adult can be a daunting experience, notwithstanding the community’s ability to welcome new members. And it’s as important for a masjid to offer programs for local new Muslims as it is for the converts and reverts to involve themselves as much as possible.

Iman will go up and down throughout a person’s life but what might keep someone from leaving Islam altogether is support from other Muslims, and guidance that they wouldn’t have access to on their own. A healthy community should aim to provide its new Muslims with ample social as well as educational opportunities. Informal events offer people a chance to connect with each other and cultivate relationships, while classes and seminars offer knowledge guidance in new terrain.

And just as it’s important for the community to provide the opportunities, it’s as important for the new Muslims to get involved. The Internet can’t substitute for real social interaction, for brothers and sisters who can demonstrate how Muslims really live, day-to-day. And search engines are terrible scholars. Our imams and teachers know (or should know) how to explain things without overloading the listener. As important, they can offer advice tailored to an individual. A website full of fatwas doesn’t know the details of a person’s particular situation. So while the Internet can be a great resource, it’s still critical for new Muslims to involve themselves in their communities, and also for local Muslims to reach out so nobody becomes isolated, and consequently left behind.

Sometimes, the first experience a convert has with a community is a visit to a mosque. The critical first impression might be negative if the convert isn’t able to connect with anyone. This especially happens with sisters who aren’t even able to find women at the mosque, or if they do, the women can’t speak English. Sometimes new Muslims have too many expectations of their community, but there are some steps the community can take to help make things easier for them. For instance some problems could be reduced or eliminated if the community is able to well-publicize its events. An easy-to-see event board and an active website can be important ways for a convert to learn about events. And though it does require effort from some volunteers, properly publicizing events through websites and posters at a mosque are crucial to letting new Muslims learn about activities. Since they are not usually regular in praying at the mosque, announcements after the salaah might not reach them. In particular, because women are in general infrequent at mosques, they might not know about activities even if they are asked.

Also, a simple point of contact might be all that’s needed to break the barrier keeping a new Muslim from participating in events. Dedicated volunteers should be encouraged to specifically welcome new Muslims by directing them to beneficial programs and other Muslims in the area who can befriend them.
Some ideas for a masjid to reach out to new Muslims:

· Community Potlucks
· Book Clubs
· Play Dates for kids
· Iftaars in Ramadan
· Weekly halaqas geared towards new Muslims
· Classes on Essentials of Islam and Beginner Arabic
· Q & A Sessions with an Imam
· Dedicated volunteers for outreach to new Muslims

But what can a convert do? First, take Islam seriously and cherish it, and secondly start looking for ways to meet other Muslims (especially converts who know what you’re going through) and to learn more about Islam on an ongoing basis. It might require making time in your schedule, or driving across town. I offered a class one time that several sisters had trouble attending because they didn’t have cars. But some other sisters offered to provide rides and the end result was that they kept coming and they formed a close circle as well, supporting and encouraging each other. Look for activities at the local mosque and try to contact active volunteers for their advice about local events and activities. Look on websites for local organizations, mosques, and even on event posters—it shouldn’t be hard to find a contact.

Make use of whatever resources are available, and make a commitment. Islam is a journey that doesn’t need to be made alone. Join the community on the Straight Path.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Book Reviews

While spending the last few months studying Arabic and not blogging, I've also started reading again. There have been times in my life when I would read voraciously but, nowadays the tendency comes and goes.Especially since getting my iPhone, I've been reading more about current events in the news and on blogs through my Google Reader than reading books.

But after visiting my family this past fall, when my mother started talking about her plans to buy a Nook, and discovering that my husband has been using the Amazon Kindle App on his iPad to read books, I realized I could have that Kindle App on my iPhone and do the same. So in the past two months I've been able to read a few books, some fiction and some nonfiction, and I may decide to start blogging reviews of some of them.

I'm also hopeful that as my fluency in Arabic improves, I will be able to start reading books in Arabic and reviewing or even summarizing interesting portions, since they are likely to be less accessible to anyone reading this blog. So if anyone has suggestions for great books in English or especially Arabic, please let me know.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Tentative Return

It's been almost six months since my last posting and I think it might now be time to start blogging again. But before I begin, I would like to cover some of the reasons which have kept me away.

On the day of Eid al-Fitr, just after last year's Ramadan, my husband and I again loaded up my little red car and set out for another exciting road trip. Our first road trip, if you remember, was our honeymoon, when we took over two weeks to drive across the United States, passing through 15 different states and five national parks before arriving at our new home in Seattle, WA. But this time we went south, through seven states in six days (visiting three national parts along the way) to arrive in Dallas, Texas, where I would begin 10 months with one particular goal in mind--learning Arabic.

Unfortunately, my husband wasn't able to stay with me the whole time so I've been on my own a lot. And one reason I didn't want to blog the experience is so that I wouldn't be come a sole blogging authority on the program I'm in--which, if you didn't know, is called Bayyinah Dream.

I think when anyone becomes so invested in such a program, it's hard not to form opinions about the good and the bad. But I'm afraid it might disrespectful to my teachers if I took to the internet to complain, because they work very hard every day (honestly, I don't know when they find time to sleep) to make the program a success. If anyone has specific questions about it, I would like to invite your questions by email.

The other main reason I haven't been blogging is that I'm actually quite busy. (And when I'm not, I probably should be.) Since the program does make up such a large part of my life right now, I'm going to be somewhat limited on subject matter and time for writing, so I'm going to try to post at least once a week, which will be my current goal for now. It might be a good idea to subscribe to my RSS feed if you haven't already, so you don't have to check in regularly to see if there's anything new.

I'm hoping to write about studying Arabic generally, life away from my husband, and general issues that come up. I have written a couple of articles for/about converts/revert which have been published at a new website, I will try to repost my articles here as well inshaaAllah.

Thanks for sticking with me so far; I'm looking forward to writing again.