Genesis 11:5

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. Genesis 11:5

The Most Beautiful Month

This time last year, my mom refused to appear with me publicly. She hated my hijab. She still says that, but now we go out together, and she knows well that I will never remove it. Last Ramadan I sublet a small room in New York that had a window but no air conditioning. It was in a shared flat that had a roach-infested kitchen. I was incredibly uncomfortable with the living arrangement, and lost a lot of water sweating due to the high temperatures in the city and in my room. I was also working full-time, teaching. By the end of the month I was completely exhausted. I had no other option, however, as my mom would not allow me to fast Ramadan at home.

All thanks and praise be to Allah the Lord of the Worlds. Alhamdulillahil Rabil Aalamin. This year I enjoyed the most pleasant Ramadan of my life - the third time is a charm. I truly thank Allah for making it easier for me. My mom agreed to allow me to fast at home, and I was privileged to not have to work. I listened to the entire Quran and read the English translation, I watched encouraging and informative bits and pieces about Ramadan, and I began memorizing another Surah of Quran. I incorporated the duas from The Accepted Whispers into my daily worship. I prayed Taraweeh prayers every night, either at home or at the local mosque. I enjoyed meeting sisters from the local Muslim community, including other American converts to Islam. I fasted Ramadan with a much deeper understanding of what I was doing, what I should do, and why.

Reading through the Quran this month, I was especially struck by Allah's power as the sovereign Creator and Owner of everything that exists:

Surah Al Hadid (The Iron) 57
How beautiful is all that Allah has created; how plentiful are the signs of Allah's power and existence among creation! Truly creation is a sign to all of us from Allah.

I was also surprised this Ramadan to become more aware of my growing distaste for television and 'idle talk', in general. I noticed it repeatedly throughout the month - many pass time entertaining themselves with topics that consist of crude or shallow subject matter, that harms themselves and others more than it benefits. A mind that frequently remembers Allah considers every moment an opportunity to increase her knowledge about Islam, memorization of Quran, and to put forward actions that will benefit her in this life, or more importantly, in the next. In such scenarios I felt restless, at least internally, eager to use my limited time productively. How quickly time passes, and what a short life we have to seek and earn the best of the Hereafter.

Most of all, this Ramadan I was amazed by the grace of Allah, the mercy of Allah, the forgiveness of Allah. Throughout the month I encounter countless Ayat from the Quran and Hadith that convey the mercy and forgiveness that Allah offers us. 

When I woke to my alarm before four every morning I remembered that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that "Allah sends His blessings and praise upon those who eat the meal before dawn (sahoor), and the angels also ask Allah to bless and forgive them." The many times when I was with folks who were not fasting, I took comfort in the reminder that "Verily, the angels send prayers upon the fasting person when others eat in his presence until they are finished.” In the last ten days we ask Allah for forgiveness:

I was not perfect this Ramadan. Did I give the month my best? Did I pray as much as I could? Did I force myself to stay awake and lose sleep often enough? I hope it was my best, but I could always do more. I lost my patience with my mom on occasion, which is the most shameful of all. I tried to increase charity and kindness, prayer and dua, remembrance of Allah and avoiding sin. But in retrospect, I am disappointed that I did not do more, and push myself harder. I am at the mercy of Allah, and truly begged for forgiveness this month.

I ask Allah to allow us all to live to see the next Ramadan Amin.

Converts to Islam Tell their Stories

Living in a Muslim country, the Muslim tends to take the ease with which Islam can be practised for granted. I mean, five times a day the call to prayer resounds beautifully throughout the entire country. One becomes accustomed to seeing beautiful mosques in every city. No one looks at me strangely for wearing an abaya, or hijab, as they would at home. No one harasses or insults me because I am Muslim. And generally speaking, the vast majority my attempts to practice Islam sincerely.

Masjid in Tabuk, Saudia Arabia before Salaat Al-Magrib
Weeks ago when I returned home to visit the US, I felt sad to exchange my abaya with my winter coat, and to remove the niqab. Certainly a variety of clothes from countless cultures can prove compliant with the Islamic dress code, but to exchange clothes you are comfortable wearing outside of your country, for fear that you will face discrimination, is frustrating. Furthermore, at home family members and family friends are not shy to sharply criticise my religion. For several hours one night I was bombarded with a number of accusations and misconceptions regarding my faith. Sadly, before a Muslim can discuss the beauty of their religion, they are forced to provide clarifications and explanations regarding the misportrayal of Islam by the media and sadly, misinformed Muslims.

Although the conversation was incredibly challenging, as I was one Muslim revert among three adamant Orthodox Christians, I had the opportunity to express how happy I am to be Muslim, and that I consider being Muslim to be a gift. The next morning I woke up with a sense of pure happiness for being Muslim. The Messenger (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said “Whoever says ‘I am pleased with Allah as my Lord, Islam as my religion and Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) as my Prophet’ paradise becomes compulsory for them."

Masjid in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia after Salat Al-Magrib
Recently, we had an informal debate in our office over which is a more compelling reason for nonMuslims to become convinced of Islam: Islamic literature or the living example Muslims. Personally, I began my investigation of Islam with Muslim people. I thought, if I want to know more about Islam, I should first get to know Muslims. Sure, I met some folks who are nominally Muslim, but not really practising. But I continued to seek out and associate with Muslims who are convinced of their faith and practise sincerely. I believe that it was their impressive behaviour that inspired me to eventually read the Quran and other literature in order to learn more about Islam. SubhanAllah, can you imagine how stunned (and pleasantly surprised) I was to recognise the exemplary behaviour of my Muslim friends in the words of the Quran?! As I first read the Quran, it occurred to me that my Muslim friends were not simply "nice people", but that their kindness and generosity aligned directly with the commands of Allah.

Many reverts to Islam, myself included, consider the positive example of Muslims an essential catalyst for their interest in the religion. Therefore, Muslims cannot refer nonMuslims to Islamic literature in order to absolve themselves of their responsibility to demonstrate Islam properly, politely, and sincerely to people of all faiths, including other Muslims. I assure you that nonMuslims are watching, even when you think they aren't. As a nonMuslim, I put every kind and unkind gesture I witnessed in my local Muslim community on trial; at that stage I held Islam accountable for the good and the bad. I thank Allah for all of the extremely polite, generous, and nonjudgmental Muslims who inspired and nurtured my ever-growing love for Islam. In the article "Not 'brainwashed'': American women who converted to Islam speak out", one American convert to Islam states that "The more you can do to educate people about Islam, not by preaching, but by actions, the better."

To be honest, before I became Muslim, I was not very interested in or influenced by the stories of reverts to Islam. In fact, I felt that their stories put pressure on me to make a decision quickly, while I wanted to conduct my research and make my decision at a slow and rational pace. I did not want to become Muslim just because other people had done it; I wanted to make my own decision. 

Nevertheless, knowing that you are not the only one to have researched Islam and become convinced, however, can be helpful for some. At the same time, I understand that others who have even the slightest interest in Islam just may not find these stories to be inspiring until after they have made their own conclusions about the religion. Truly, everyone approaches the topic for different reasons and in different ways. This post is meant to be a resource for anyone, Muslim or nonMuslim, who wishes to benefit from the stories of converts to Islam.

At this point in my life, I feel quite happy hearing such inspiring stories from reverts around the world. According to the reader's interest, please follow the links below to closely review the accounts of the following reverts to Islam:
  • Greek-British singer-songwriter Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, reverted to Islam in 1977.
  • Timothy Winter, a British revert to Islam, is now the Islamic chaplain at the University of Cambridge and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, and is also known as Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad.
  • Famous French singer MĂ©lanie Georgiades reverted to Islam in 2012 at 32 years old. 
  • I first met British revert Lauren Booth, acclaimed journalist and Tony Blair's sister-in-law, in London at Al Quds Day 2011. She attests to the impact that sincere, practising Muslims in London and Palestine in particular, had on her remarkable "Journey to Islam". The following photo of young Palestinian Faris Odeh standing before an Israeli tank with a stone in his hand stopped her life in its tracks in October 2000. Interestingly, Lauren Booth said Shahada (the Muslim's profession of faith) even before she read the Quran.
  • Next, feminist British journalist Yvonne Ridley was captured by Taliban in 2001, and subsequently became Muslim, as a result of the incredible respect and treatment she received during her imprisonment. She was released when she promised her captors that she would read the Quran upon returning to England. To hear her tell the story in detail, watch In the hand of the Taliban.
  • One young German-born formerly Greek Orthodox lady called Jenna speaks about her decision to become Muslim.
  • Another inspiring Greek woman speaks sincerely on the STAR channel about her reversion to Islam and decision to wear hijab, despite the criticism she faces in Greek culture.
  • Former Playboy model Jimmy par born explains her decision to convert to Islam. 
  • In April 2012 a Canadian University professor converted to Islam while working as a teacher in Saudi Arabia.
  • In this video, two old friends reunite and find that since they've seen each other, both have become Muslim.
  • Indian Sunita Williams is a US Naval office and NASA astronaut. She became Muslim after journeying to the moon in 2011.
  • American Dr. Lawrence Brown describes his sincere exploration of all major world religions and his final decision to become Muslim in How I Came to Islam.
  • Harvard Bible Scholar and pyschotherapist Dr. Jerald Derks was first exposed to Islam in the United States when he and his wife began conducting research on the Arabian horse. He was incredibly impressed by the example of Muslims around him, who were "living morally in the context of a moral vacuum." His wife Debra, who was raised in the Mennonite church, simultaneously developed an interest in Islam. Although Dr. Derks discretely practised Islam for a long period of time, he hesitated to publicly declare his devotion to Islam, for fear of accepting his new identity as a Muslim. He says that it is "easier to change one's religious beliefs than to change one's identity." It is possible to contact Dr. Jerald and Debra Derks, who both became Muslim in 1993, directly through their website.


Last month, February 2013, I was given the great privilege to visit Mecca for Umrah (lesser pilgrimage). The following video (below) highlights the photos, videos, and audio recordings I was able to capture during my visit to the holy city and Al Masjid, Al Haraam (The Holy Mosque). 

After arriving late Wednesday evening, we set our alarms for 3:00am. When entering the Holy Mosque for the first time, two dear friends of mine were on each side of me. We walked inside hand in hand while the suspense of seeing the Ka’aba was building. It was beautiful; enormous but not intimidating, majestic yet strangely familiar. By 4:00am we were in front of the Ka'aba in Masjid Al Haraam (the Sacred Mosque) beginning Tawaf (circumambulation of the Ka'aba 7 times). At approximately 5:30am, we were praying Fajr (dawn) prayer in a congregation of millions. [The place was bursting at the seams- First, the King had welcomed all Muslims to perform Umrah - during the next 6 months, pilgrims will not be required to acquire a visa in order to enter the country for Umrah. Second, this is the weekend of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and some Muslims (incorrectly) consider it a more auspicious time to visit Mecca.]

Next, we began Sa'i, which involves walking back and forth between two mountains: As-Safa and Al-Marwah 7 times. All pilgrims performing Hajj and Umrah must perform this ritual, reenacting the example of the wife of the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) Hagar, who walked hastily back and forth between the two mountains 7 times when she was searching desperately for food and water for her infant son Ismael. The opening of the well of ZamZam was the answer to her prayers - water sprung forth for her, and in Masjid Al-Haram millions drink from the same well everyday. It's the cleanest, smoothest water I've ever tasted. Finally, once we completed Sa'i, we sat down on the floor that was covered with short pieces of hair, like a barber shop or salon that needs sweeping. The last ritual of Umrah is to cut a finger-tip length of hair (for women) or shave the head (for men - some men also just cut their hair enough so that it is noticeable). What I've experienced this month is what millions around the world could only dream of.

On Friday before congregational prayer, it took an hour just to exit the mosque. Everywhere we turned there were masses of people – pilgrims even laid prayer rugs in the stairwells, as the entire place was absolutely overflowing with people. We had to hold each others hands to not lose each other. Everyday we saw groups of men carrying the caskets of men, women, and children from cities near and far all the way to the Ka’aba. 
I was overwhelmed seeing how earnestly millions upon millions of pilgrims are circumambulate the Ka’aba in worship and in prayer night and day. I had never before witnessed a monument that unifies nearly 1.5 billion people across numerous languages, cultures, ethnicities, ages, and economic classes. The prayer area was diverse, resonating with the beauty of worshippers of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Everywhere I turned, going upstairs, downstairs, around, forwards, backwards, and even exiting the mosque, there were more and more people. 
There was no entertainment - no concert, no amusement park, no performer. The Holy Mosque is simply crowded by worshippers, the elderly, adults, youth, and children alike, eager to pray and ask Allah for forgiveness.

on being a Muslim woman: Hijab

Several months ago I visited my alma mater, and my supervisor. Very kindly he asked me: "So how do you feel as a woman in Islam?" His question was quite appropriate, considering I attended Keith's Religion and Sexuality class while I was a student at Goshen, and feminist concerns were at the forefront of our Bible and Religion course. Also, you may recall Rick's letter, in which he made sarcastic remarks about the role of women in Islam, implying that Islam oppresses women. Therefore, I would like to share a bit about my experience in Islam, and more specifically in this post, how Islamic dress appealed to this American woman.

Muslim women are often assumed to feel or be oppressed, particularly because they wear hijab and loose-fitting clothing. Muslim women are usually perceived to be uneducated, dominated and unthinking creatures, especially if they wear niqab (cover exposing only the eyes). When I first started befriending hijabi and niqabi Muslim women, I was quite curious about their experience, but at the same time, I certainly assumed that these 'covered' women were not freely choosing to cover themselves.

I grew up in an Evangelical Christian church, and distinctly remember all of the teenage girls being sat down at youth group to be scolded. Apparently the boys had complained to the youth pastor that the girls at youth group were wearing the same clothes that the girls at school wear, and we were too much of a distraction for them. We were then told to get our act together, essentially, by raising our neck lines and wearing longer shorts. Since the vast majority of Christians (understandably, considering the surrounding verses) ignore Biblical passages such as 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 NRSV*
5 but any woman who prays or prophecies with her head unveiled disgraces her head-it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. 
and 1 Timothy 2:8-10 NRSV*
8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.
no Biblical basis whatsoever was offered to us young women to explain the necessary revision of our dress code. We were only told that we were causing the young men to 'stumble', or sin, and therefore, we were to blame. Even worse, the men were never criticized for their inability to control themselves; never were Jesus' words from the book of Matthew 5:27-28 NRSV mentioned:
27 "You have heard that it was said 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
In short, this is the only guideline in Christianity, other than tradition, that provides women instruction on how to dress. These guidelines are ignored first of all, because they are couched between frightening passages about women's subservience to men and women's mandatory silence in church. Secondly, exegesis of this text will reveal the limitedness of these texts, insofar as they were essentially only applicable at that time and place (The details of the 2nd point are less known in the wider Christian church. I will also not outline them here, as it's not the focus of my discussion). Ahmed Deedat explains that it is a Christian woman's choice whether to cover or not, but by choosing not to, she is living dangerously. Also, I find it extremely problematic that the men were never instructed to reform their behaviour.

The Quran provides clear, undebatable guidelines on how both men and women should dress and behave.
Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision (Looking only at what is lawful and averting their eyes from what is unlawful) and guard their private parts (from being seen and from unlawful acts). That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is acquainted with what they do. 
And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision (Looking only at what is lawful and averting their eyes from what is unlawful) and guard their private parts (from being seen and from unlawful acts) and not expose their adornment (natural beauty - e.g. hair, body shape - or accessories - e.g. flashy clothing, jewelry) except that which appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment [i.e. beauty] except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, their brothers' sons, their sisters' sons, their women, that which their right hands possess [i.e. slaves], or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed. Surah An-Nur 24:30-31.
O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known (as chaste believing women) and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful. Surah Al-Ahzab 33:59
In addition to Quran, Hadith (narrations of the Prophet peace be upon him) and Seerah (the account of the life of the Prophet peace be upon him) provide clear guidance from Allah to believing men and women on how to behave and dress appropriately. Let me emphasise that unlike Christianity, there are clear expectations for men and women about appropriate and inappropriate dress. Adherence to these guidelines is expected of men and women equally. If a woman chooses not to obey Allah by covering her body, she is not blame for the man's attraction or fantasies about her - no, the man is responsible to lower his gaze, and he is responsible for his sin. The Quran never suggests that Muslims will live in a world where all men and women are unattractive or covered in an Islamic fashion. If the Quran assumed that every Muslim lived in a society where men and women did not dress to flaunt their bodies, then Allah would not have included the command to lower our gaze.

Muslim women cover first and foremost because this is a command from Allah subhana wa ta'ala. Women maintain their modesty and dignity out of obedience and worship to Allah. This is one reason why the clear instruction in the Quran on dress code is vastly different from the largely ignored passages in the Bible. In my youth group, we were essentially told to cover our bodies for the men. In this case, women are caught between two methods of pleasing men: Either putting off clothing to attract them, or by covering up, solely for their benefit. But in Islam, the command to cover our bodies is first for Allah and our own benefit. Yasir Qadhi articulates this when answering the question of a young woman who asks for advice about wearing hijab:

As an American woman who was raised in the USA as an Evangelical Christian, I am especially grateful for the guidance in Islam on how to dress in the most dignificd and modest way. I understand how it feels to throw on short shorts and a tank top, let my hair down, and run out the door. I understand the wish every woman has to be attractive. And I can assure you that I come from a culture where women dress for men. And if we don't dress attractively in pursuit of the affirmation of men, then we at least dress in a way that will not invoke negative comments or disapproval of men. I agree with Kathryn Pauly Morgan's assertion in her chapter "Women and the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Women's Bodies" that in our culture "women's attractiveness is defined as attractive-to-men." 

 Whenever I miss going out with my hair down, getting dressed up in skinny jeans, boots, and a cute, tight shirt, it's because I crave the affirmation of men. I'm being completely honest here. But I've also been in the situation all too may times when strange men feasted their eyes, although I didn't want them to. I've been literally chased down streets (in Philadelphia, in northern Indiana, in Greece, to name a few) by men whose attention I did not want, and whose attention offended me.

For example, I've also experienced modern Greek culture, and the pressure on women to dress to impress men, and to maintain an appearance that pleases men of all ages. A number of years ago my family and family friends in Greece repeatedly criticized me for being overweight. A couple years later when I returned, having slimmed down, I was affirmed purely on my improved physical appearance, my ability to squeeze into tight jeans that leave nothing to the imagination. My own gray-haired uncle called me to his side, put his hand around my waist, and smiled while his friend gawked at me saying, "This is how we like our women."To date, when my family in Greece inquires about my well-being, they don't ask about my education or my career, but whether I am fat or slim.

Mary Wolstonecraft wrote in 1972 that "Taught from infancy that beauty is women's scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison." Continuing in this vein, Pauly Morgan says that
When Snow White's stepmother asks the mirror, "Who is the fairest of all?" she is not asking simply an empirical question. In wanting to continue to be "the fairest of all," she is striving, in a clearly competitive context, for a prize, for a position, for power. The affirmation of her beauty brings with it privileged heterosexual affiliation, privileged access to forms of power unavailable to the plain, the ugly, the aged, and the barren.
We undeniably live in a world where women are all too often valued first and almost solely for their physical appearance. All too often the measure of my waistline or the length of my hair has mattered more than my professional accomplishments. Not to mention, the low blouses, short skirts, and high heels that male designers sell transform the woman into a vulnerable, weak, and even childish character. No longer is a woman who can't move for the tightness of her clothes and the pain from her shoes able to escape an attacker by running, or hide from unwanted glances. She is no longer a confident, intelligent woman, but merely an object with no value beyond her sexual appeal. And God forbid a woman appear publicly without meeting the male's expectation for what is physically attractive.

Again, Paul Morgan articulately states that we live in a culture that "defines femininity in terms of submission to men, that makes the achievement of femininity (however culturally specific) in appearance, gesture, movement, voice, bodily contours, aspirations, values, and political behavior obligatory of any women who will be allowed to be loved or hired or promoted or elected or simply allowed to live."

I understand that Muslim women from Muslim cultures may wish to experience the sensation of removing the hijab in public. I imagine that if I had grown up in a culture that required Islamic dress, I would be curious too, and perhaps even envy what I perceived to be the 'freedom' of western women. But Allah knows best. And I believe that women will eventually realize the freedom it is to indulge in our right to cover our bodies, our right to be judged on our intelligence, our right to choose whose eyes gaze at our beauty.

And this is how Islam, and the standards set by Allah, not men, on how to dress Islamically have become for me a liberation. Take a closer look, and you will become even more sure that women covering their hair and concealing the shape of their bodies is most displeasing to men. A dear friend of mine, who was raised in a Muslim country, was constantly put down and criticized by her father, especially in front of guests, because she chose to wear the hijab. Moreover, I once heard a British employee of my University complain about women covering their bodies, saying that he was offended by their assumption that he would be attracted to them. Embedded in his comments was the idea that he has the right to see their bodies, and is entitled to determine himself whether any woman is attractive to him or not. Note that he made no complaints about the young students who paraded around campus, even in freezing weather, wearing low-cut shirts and skin tight, short skirts. Men like to see women's bodies, and it is unnatural for men to propose that women conceal their beauty in public.

I faced a great deal of criticism from men and women when I started wearing hijab, especially colleagues from work. Men who had hit on me before asked, "What happened to you?" One French woman, who was actually married to a Morrocan Muslim man, told me when she saw me without hijab in the ladies bathroom: "Now I can see a real woman," as if I'm not a real woman while covered. Hijabi and Niqabi women seem to face criticism from every direction, but yet we still press on. Consider the depiction of Mary the mother of Jesus in the Christian tradition - in nearly every depiction she has her hair covered, a loose-fitting dress, and sleeves reaching her wrists. Muslim women are proud to match this description.

Furthermore, women who dress modestly benefit society as a whole. By wearing hijab and loose-fitting clothing, we begin to realize our deep value as human beings, rather than as objects of the attention of men. We foster a spirit of intimacy and privacy in the home, when we demonstrate to our spouses that our bodies and beauty are shared exclusively with them. We realize that we need not rely on the affirmation of men to determine our value. There is no need for another women's husband, or a man other than my husband to see my hair or the shape of my body. I used to think it was freedom to walk out of the house in the same clothes that I wear inside the comfort and privacy of my own home. Now, I am convinced that there is no need for me to be on display in public.

It is a woman's choice to cover. Of course, a true Muslim government will require women and men to comply to the Islamic dress code. Even in this situation, I believe, that covering one's body is a choice. I'm not referring to the choice one has to violate the dress code or to go to prison, in such a setting. No, I'm assuming that individuals dress in accordance to Allah's instruction in the Quran. The choice, in my understanding, lies in every individual's intention. For if a man or women covers their body modestly out of sincere obedience to Allah subhana wa ta'ala, they will be rewarded (inshallah) for their intention to obey Allah. But if a man or woman covers their body will a rebellious intention, angry at the guidelines sent by Allah, then Allah will recognise their disobedience. Consider the following Hadith:
Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) related from his Lord (Glorified and Exalted be He): "Verily Allah has recorded the good deeds and the evil deeds." Then he clarified that: "Whosoever intends to do a good deed but does not do it, Allah records it with Himself as a complete good deed; but if he intends it and does it, Allah records it with Himself as ten good deeds, up to seven hundred times, or more than that. But if he intends to do an evil deed and does not do it, Allah records it with Himself as a complete good deed; but if he intends it and does it, Allah records it down as one single evil deed." (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Wearing hijab does not make a woman a Muslim; growing a beard does not make a man a Muslim. But such deeds are signs of obedience and devotion to Allah.

*There a numerous aspects of these passages that are problematic to me, especially the surrounding verses! Unfortunately, that's an entirely other topic that I cannot deal with in this post.

Dhu Al-Hijjah & Menstruation

Last Wednesday marked the start of the last month of the lunar calendar, Dhu Al-Hijjah. This is the month in which Muslim pilgrims travel to the holy city of Mecca to perform Hajj, fulfilling the fifth pillar of Islam. During the last few days of October, my inbox was buzzing with emails reminding us to fast and pray as much as possible during the first nine days of this sacred month. I referred to this brief, yet informative video laying out the virtues of Dhu-Hijjah:

Allah has ordained the first 10 days of this month to be extraordinary, a special time to repent and to be forgiven by Allah's mercy. Also, during this period good words and kind deeds are of utmost importance. "Whoever is not able to go to Hajj should occupy himself at this blessed time by worshipping Allaah, praying (salaat), reading Qur’an, remembering Allaah, making supplication (du’aa’), giving charity, honouring his parents, upholding the ties of kinship, enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil, and other good deeds and acts of worship." For this reason, I've been making a point to fast, read Quran and devote energy on a daily basis to serve or help strangers, friends, and family alike.
Among the special seasons of worship are the first ten days of Dhu’l-Hijjah, which Allaah has preferred over all the other days of the year. Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him and his father) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "There are no days in which righteous deeds are more beloved to Allaah than these ten days." The people asked, "Not even jihaad for the sake of Allaah?" He said, "Not even jihaad for the sake of Allaah, except in the case of a man who went out to fight giving himself and his wealth up for the cause, and came back with nothing." (Reported by al-Bukhaari, 2/457).
The most important day to fast is the 9th day of Dhu Al-Hijjah (fasting the 10th day - Eid - is completely prohibited), the Day of Arafah. However, if the Muslim is performing Hajj, then they are not required, nor permitted to fast the Day of Arafah.

"Fasting on the Day of 'Arafah absolves the sins for two years: the previous year and the coming year, and fasting on 'Ashura, (the tenth day of Muharram) atones for the sins of previous years." [Reported by all except al-Bukhari and at-Tirmidhi]
SubhanAllah the mercy and forgiveness of Allah are endless.

Some women may be disappointed to find that they are menstruating on the Day of Arafah, and are not able to fast or pray that day. Take heart! In the following narration (Hadith), we notice that Aisha (radi allahu anha) [wife of the Prophet Muhammad sallalahu alayhi wa salaam] was crying due to receiving her period during her attempt to perform Hajj. Nevertheless, she is not chastised, as menstruation is ordained by Allah and in my view, a gift from Allah to women.
Volume 001 :: Book 006 (Menstrual Periods) :: Hadith 293
Narrated By Al-Qasim :
‘Aisha said, “We set out with the sole intention of performing Hajj and when we reached Sarif, (a place six miles from Mecca) I got my menses. Allah’s Apostle came to me while I was weeping. He said ‘What is the matter with you? Have you got your menses?’ I replied, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This is a thing which Allah has ordained for the daughters of Adam. So do what all the pilgrims do with the exception of the Taw-af (Circumambulation) round the Ka’ba.” ‘Aisha added, “Allah’s Apostle sacrificed cows on behalf of his wives.”
 If a woman cannot fast the Day of Arafah due to her menses, it is not possible to make up the fast, as the reason (day) for the fast will have passed. It is recommended that she fast the 10th day of Muharram (Day of Ashura). InshaAllah she will be rewarded with forgiveness for the sins of an entire year. The most comforting point to mention is that Allah subhana wa ta'ala the All-Merciful has taught us that the woman who usually fasts the Day of Arafah or intended in her heart to fast the Day of Arafah will still be rewarded as if she fasted that day, because of her good intention. We base this knowledge on the report narrated by al-Bukhaari (2996) from Abu Moosa (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “If a person falls sick or travels, he will have a reward recorded for him like that of what he used to do when he was at home and was healthy.” And Allah knows best.

May Allah accept our fast and worship. Amin.

on Suffering

It has been asked, if Allah (God) exists, then why do we suffer? I believe that this is a bold and valid question. Even more, that someone poses this question may well be a sign of God's mercy and the individual's spiritual health.

First of all, we accept that we have been created by Allah (God). Allah says in the Quran:
O mankind, worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, that you may become righteous – [He] who made for you the earth a bed [spread out] and the sky a ceiling and sent down from the sky, rain and brought forth thereby fruits as provision for you. So do not attribute to Allah equals while you know [that there is nothing similar to Him]. Surah Al-Baqarah 2:21-22
The purpose of our creation is clarified immediately: to worship, to be righteous. In the Quran, Allah calls us 'servants.' In order to discover the answer to the purpose of our suffering on earth, it is absolutely essential to understand and accept that Allah (God) is our master/ruler (the most Merciful), and we are Allah's servants/slaves. To be Muslim, by definition, means to be 'submitted.' Here in Surah Al-Baqarah is an indication of the person's role as servant, along with a clear expression of Allah's mercy:
And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided. Al-Baqarah 2:186
Having established this relationship, the Muslim accepts that we are created by the mercy of Allah. As we are the servants of Allah, we are entitled to absolutely nothing. I believe that westerners, in particular, tend to incorporate a great sense of entitlement into our religious practice. In actuality, absolutely everything we have, including good health, functioning limbs, the five senses, are gifts from Allah that we do not deserve. Truly, we've done nothing to earn or deserve what we often assume are entitlements. Similarly, neither are we entitled to wealth, ease, or happiness in this life. That we were created alone is a sign of Allah's mercy. What we have of such things is all a sign of Allah's mercy. 
But the Jews and the Christians say, "We are the children of Allah and His beloved." Say, "Then why does He punish you for your sins?" Rather, you are human beings from among those He has created. He forgives whom He wills, and He punishes whom He wills. And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them, and to Him is the [final] destination. Al-Baqarah 2:18
In the scope of eternity, our mortal life is quite short. Keeping this in mind, we recognise that suffering is a test from Allah. Life is a constant test - will we respond with patience? Will we respond to life's challenges by being humble before Allah, and not defiant? Will we respond with gratefulness for what we have? Take the example of this 11 year old girl from New Delhi, who was born with a disability. Her story, featured by Aamir Khan on his show Satyamev Jayate, starts at minute 1:11, is subtitled, and ends at minute 3:35:

He (The Prophet Salih) said, "O my people, why are you impatient for evil before [i.e., instead of] good? Why do you not seek forgiveness of Allah that you may receive mercy?" They said, "We consider you a bad omen, you and those with you." He said, "Your omen [i.e., fate] is with Allah. Rather, you are a people being tested. Surat Al-Kahf 18:46-47
However, suffering is not our only test. Just as some are tested with hardship and poverty, others are tested with ease and wealth. In fact, it is those who are granted a life of ease who have the greater test, as they are much more prone to attribute their success to their own doing. In other words, to be handed a life of ease, and to not acknowledge the true Source of everything that one has is dangerous, punishable behavior.
And if Allah should touch you with adversity, there is no remover of it except Allah; and if He intends for you good, then there is no repeller of His bounty. He causes it to reach whom He wills of His servants. And He is the Forgiving, the Merciful. Say, "O mankind, the truth has come to you from your Lord, so whoever is guided is only guided for [the benefit of] his soul, and whoever goes astray only goes astray [in violation] against it. And I am not over you a manager." And follow what is revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and be patient until Allah will judge. And He is the best of judges. Surat Yunus 10:107-109
All of life, whether characterized by suffering or ease, is a test from the Most Merciful Allah, seeking an obedient and grateful response. Suffering is intended to humble us, so that we submit to Allah. Those who respond to suffering with obstinance, will be punished according to this behavior.

And We have already sent [messengers] to nations before you, [O Muhammad]; then We seized them with poverty and hardship that perhaps they might humble themselves [to Us]. Al-Baqarah 2:214
Or do you, [O Muhammad], ask them for payment? But the reward of your Lord is best, and He is the best of providers. And indeed, you invite them to a straight path. But indeed, those who do not believe in the Hereafter are deviating from the path. And even if We gave them mercy and removed what was upon them of affliction, they would persist in their transgression, wandering blindly. And We had gripped them with suffering [as a warning], but they did not yield to their Lord, nor did they humbly supplicate, [and will continue thus] Until when We have opened before them a door of severe punishment, immediately they will be therein in despair. And it is He who produced for you hearing and vision and hearts [i.e., intellect]; little are you grateful. And it is He who has multiplied you throughout the earth, and to Him you will be gathered. And it is He who gives life and causes death, and His is the alternation of the night and the day. Then will you not reason? Rather, they say like what the former peoples said. They said, "When we have died and become dust and bones, are we indeed to be resurrected? We have been promised this, we and our forefathers, before; this is not but legends of the former peoples." Say, [O MuĂșammad], "To whom belongs the earth and whoever is in it, if you should know?" Surah Al-Muminun 23:72-88
Surah Al-Mu-minoon recitation in full with English subtitles

At the same time, Allah offers mercy and forgiveness to those who respond to suffering and blessing with gratefulness and humility. For example, the Prophet Job (peace be on him) was tortured with hardship by devils, and Allah relieved his suffering:
And [mention] Job, when he called to his Lord, "Indeed, adversity has touched me, and You are the most merciful of the merciful." So We responded to him and removed what afflicted him of adversity. And We gave him [back] his family and the like thereof with them as mercy from Us and a reminder for the worshippers [of Allah]. Al-Anbiya 21:83-84
If Allah gives us plenty rather than poverty in this life, we are responsible to share it generously with those who have less. This is one way in which the wealthy can pass their test.
Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said, "When is the help of Allah?" Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near. They ask you, [O Muhammad], what they should spend. Say, "Whatever you spend of good is [to be] for parents and relatives and orphans and the needy and the traveler. And whatever you do of good – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it." Surah Al-Baqarah 2:214-215
Let a man of wealth spend from his wealth, and he whose provision is restricted – let him spend from what Allah has given him. Allah does not charge a soul except [according to] what He has given it. Allah will bring about, after hardship, ease [i.e., relief]. Surat At-Talaq 65:7
And obey Allah and the Messenger that you may obtain mercy. And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden [i.e., Paradise] as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous Who spend [in the cause of Allah] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good; Surat Ali Imran 3:132-134
There are countless statements and stories of guidance in Quran and Hadith concerning the purpose and reward for our suffering. Allah is all-Merciful and does not intend to increase hardship for us needlessly.  On the authority of Ali (may Allah enable his countenance), the Messenger of Allah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Whoever increases in asking forgiveness, Allah will make relief from him from every worry, a way out from every hardship, and provision from where he does not even imagine.”
Narrated Abu-Huraira (May Allah be satisfied with him): ‘Allah’ Messenger (May Allah exalt his mention and protect him from imperfection) said: “Allah says: ‘I am just as My slave thinks of Me, (I am Able to do for him what he thinks I can do for him) and I am with him if he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in himself, I too remember him in Myself, and if he remembers Me in a group of people I remember him in a group that is better than his, and if he comes one span nearer to Me I go one cubit nearer to him, and if he comes one cubit nearer to Me I go a distance of two outstretched arms nearer to him, and if he comes to Me walking I go to him running.’ (Bukhari)

'God told me to' - Letter from a Christian

"Don't be angry. This is a test from God for you."

These were the beginning of my dear friend Khadijah's words of advice. I told her about the letter I received earlier this week from my adopted grandmother, who has not been willing to speak with me since she learned of my conversion to Islam. I was honestly surprised when I realized that she is ignoring my calls, and avoiding my company. In order to smooth things over, I wrote a letter on my favourite Cath Kidston stationary. I harkened Granny Franny back to the years upon years that she's known me - since fifth grade, actually. She's always praised my religious fervor, strong work ethic, devotion to friends and family. She knows me as a sincere and trustworthy person. Therefore, she can be sure that my decision to convert was a thoughtful, educated, and prayerful. Not to mention, she would not notice much of a difference - I told her the only noticeable difference would be my hair covering outside the home, and that I'll slip away to pray at the designated times. Other than that, how about a Scrabble or Phase 10 game?

My adopted grandmother replied with a note on blue-lined notebook paper. This alone spoke volumes; Granny Franny has always loved her a good greeting card, and seemed to always find an excuse to send me cards covered in stickers, inside and outside of the envelope. Therefore, her choice of 'stationary' aligned well with her brief message: "I received your letter and I want you to know how very disappointed in your decision [sic]... I don't know if you were trying to convince me or yourself... Enclosed is a letter God told Rick to write you."

Not only did my adopted grandmother express grave disappointment that I have chosen to be Muslim, but she also invited her 40+ year old son, who hardly knows me, to read my letter. The first reason this frustrates me is because my letter was not intended for him. The second reason I am upset by this is because Rick enclosed his 12-page opinion on the matter, typed in Comic Sans MS of all fonts.

Rick, an evangelical protestant Christian, begins by explaining that God spoke to him directly, and instructed him to write me a letter. On the first page Rick writes that he asked God, "Father, what happened to that girl who used to love you so much?" Thereby, Rick clearly implies that I no longer love God. Obviously, Rick is a bold guy. First he claims that God speaks with him directly, and second he assumes that he is in the position to judge my spirituality. Not to mention, Rick referred to God as 'Father,' a quite uncomfortable term from an Islamic perspective, since calling God 'Father' necessitates that God has children (Muslims believe that Allah does not have parents or children).

"I am not going to bash Islam or throw a bunch of scriptures at you in this letter... I am simply doing what God asked me to do. The outcome is his responsibility," explains Rick. In page after page Rick details his testimony, or his faith journey in and out of and back into Christianity. Listen, I respect anyone's experience and life story. I admit that I used to speak the same 'Christianese' about my own life, and have even returned to some of the terminology as a Muslim. But I worry that 'God told me to' claims are irreverant, and that these statements are the definition of 'taking the Lord God's name in vain' as is prohibited for Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the ten commandments (Exodus 20:7 NRSV: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.) Misusing God's name, I strongly believe, is not simply saying 'Oh my God!' when one is shocked or in trouble, as I was taught in Christian Sunday School. Actually, a study of context and language reveals that making "wrongful use of the name of the Lord" refers to applying God's name to events or acts, which have not been commanded or condoned by the Creator. In the original context, wrongfully attributing God's name would have led to the Children of Israel engaging in battle with their neighbours in the name of God, declaring God's blessing on the violence, without actually having the approval of their Lord at all.

Rick writes about "when [he] first gave [his] life to Jesus," his experience of hypocrisy in the Christian church, his life of "drinking, smoking, hidden sins, and hanging around ungodly people." Rick writes about losing his job, and hitting rock bottom. He writes about a vision of Jesus pulling up to the curb of a busy street corner, smiling while seated in the back of a white limosine (Unfortunately no, he didn't mention who was driving). 

 At this point Rick begins to speculate and admonish me more directly: "Don't turn your back on Jesus... Maybe you never even knew Jesus personally... Be honest with yourself... Give Jesus a try." Rick seemed to miss that I completed an undergraduate degree in Bible, Religion and Philosophy. I chose this line of study because my hobby, my hobby, in high school was reading the Bible from cover to cover, and writing my own commentary as I went. I was the leader of the Christian club in my high school of more than 2,000 students, and was involved in every possible activity at my youth group. In other words, throughout all of the periods of faith crises that he described, I was virtually a megaphone promoting personal relationships with Jesus (I do not say alayhi salaam here, because I am not referring to the Prophet Isa peace be upon him). Ironically, I was in close relationship with his mother during the years that she worried constantly about his welfare. I was one of the Christians who prayed for his safe return to the fold.

He didn't stop there. Rick begins the next section of his letter saying "I know very little about Islam...," and then proceeds to pose questions, which prove to be rhetorical. First, Rick asks "Where is your testimony?" He then elaborates, claiming that if God truly had led me to convert to Islam, "there should have been at least one or two more pages to [my] letter" to his mom. I suppose that Rick is assuming that I intended to convert his mother to Islam, and would need to include a bonafide 'testimony' to do so.

In response to the joy I expressed to my adopted grandmother saying "I've never been happier," Rick retorts, "Where are the details? Why are you so happy? I could talk your ear off telling you the things God has taught me and shown me over the last three years... To be honest, you don't sound too happy in your letter."

Next, Rick accuses me of being caught "in the same trap [he] was in," apparently of religious ritual, because I pray 5 times daily. He says, "I pray every waking hour of every day. I am not boasting. I am just stating a fact. Praying is nothing more than talking with God. I talk with him all day every day and he talks back to me all day every day."

Even more, Rick tells me about "the most beautiful, sexiest, coolest girl" that he got involved with, despite the fact that she was nonChristian and still married. Instead of dwelling on the problem that this lady was still married, he focuses on his 'sin' of involving himself with someone who was not a Christian. Rick claims that God asked him directly, "Suppose Beth was a Muslim and tried to get you to convert to Islam. Do you think she may have been able to persuade you?" Of course, this portion of his story leads Rick to accuse me of converting to Islam in order 'to obtain love or please a man.'

Finally, Rick repeats himself: "I know very little about Islam." And then says there's one question that he must ask himself: "Why would any woman ever want to convert to Islam of her own free will?" His question would have been legitimate, had he not followed it immediately with "It's a great system for the men! I'll give you that." Clearly, Rick wasn't lying - he knows very little about Islam.

Sadly, Rick concluded this 12-page letter saying that I am welcome to contact him if I would like to hear more of what God has taught him. Otherwise, Rick says, "Please do not contact me if you want to justify your decision, or promote Islam. I do not want to get into any debates. My search is over. If you are truly happier than you have ever been, your search is over also." 

After making accusation after accusation, Rick concludes his letter by completely refusing to hear the answers to the questions that he posed, or to engage me in dialogue. Not only do I feel violated because he read my letter, but I feel that his tone, questions, and assumptions are disrespectful. Also, having spent quite a lot of time abroad, and with people from many different faiths and walk of life, I'm shocked to encounter an American who simply does not know how to engage a person with a different perspective in dialogue. I mean, I don't feel threatened by speaking with a Jew, a Hindu, an atheist. On the contrary, I quite enjoy learning about perspectives different than my own.

So, the million possible ways I could begin to respond to this message have been bouncing around in my head nonstop this week. How frustrating! How sad!

In light of the guidance of the Quran, I've decided that I'm not going to send Rick or Granny Franny a reply. I'm going to dispose of the letter, in fact, since seeing it makes me upset, and I should not feel anger towards this person. After thirteen years of sharing the message of Islam with the polytheistic citizens of Mecca, Allah revealed Surah Al-Kafiroon (109) to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him):

 Say, "O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion."
I would not mention this Surah, had Rick not stated plainly that he wants to hear nothing of my perspective, and that his own search is over. Even if I did reply with kind words and a simple explanation of my experience, he would be completely closed, even to my answers to his questions. What I will do is take this opportunity to answer the questions and accusations that Rick posed on my blog throughout the next month or so.

As for the counsel I received from my dear friend today, I was reminded that sometimes "the best answer is silence." I have no desire to argue about my religion, nor to ask anyone to change their religion. Beyond that, Khadijah reminded me that tests from Allah are signs of Allah's love. Allah sends us tests to measure our strength, and to prepare us for greater challenges that lie ahead. There are many people in my family and social sphere who do not yet know about my conversion. Most likely, I'll encounter more and more opposition and disappointment, and I must be patient and kind in these situations. There's no need to be angry. I'll conclude with the CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) counter-ad to Pamela Gellar's offensive anti-Islamic, seemingly pro-Israel subway ad campaign: