Genesis 11:5

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

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 Muúammad], "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:

The Best Season

The weather is getting chillier by the minute. I swear that last week I walked out of work and smelled snow in the air. I hear that it snowed in West Virginia that day - perhaps some WV air drifted our way up north. The tomatoes in the garden have slowed their ripening. Actually, I think I picked the last of this year's harvest early this week.
Also this week, special joy was added to the pleasure of autumn when I read the following Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: "The Winter is the believer’s best season. The nights are long for him to stand in them (in prayer) and its days are short for him to fast in them."
Wivenhoe, Essex England - About two years ago now.
This Hadith prompted me to fast. There's no shame in fasting the shorter days of winter. And I am striving to be more focused during the daily prayers - many times it's hard to avoid a distracting thought crossing my mind when I am praying. But I've learned that the moments of distraction are deducted from our reward. Suhaib Webb mentions the following Hadith in his post Impediments Toward Tranquility:
إِنَّ الْعَبْدَ لَيُصَلِّي الصَّلَاةَ مَا يُكْتَبُ لَهُ مِنْهَا إِلَّا عُشْرُهَا تُسْعُهَا ثُمُنُهَا سُبُعُهَا سُدُسُهَا خُمُسُهَا رُبُعُهَا ثُلُثُهَا نِصْفُهَا
“A servant may pray and only be credited for one tenth of the prayer, or one ninth, or one eighth, or one seventh, or one sixth, or one fifth, or one fourth, or one third, or half” (Abu Dawud, Ahmad).
This is because:
ليس للمرء من صلاته إلا ماعقل منها
“A man is rewarded only for that part of his prayer of which he is conscious” (Abu Dawud).
These days I'm praying for loved ones who are very close to my heart. I'm praying about marriage, I'm praying for my family, I'm praying for friends. I have found great challenge and comfort in the following quote recently:

The planning of The Almighty (Allaah) is better for you than your own planning, and He could deprive you of what you ask to test your patience. So let Allah see from you a determined patience and you will soon see from Allah what will give you joy. And when you have cleaned the paths of answering (of supplication) from the stains of sin [i.e have repented] and were patient about what Allah has chosen for you, then everything that happens to you is better for you whether you were given or deprived of what you have requested.” - Imaam ibn Al-Jawzee

Increasingly I am accepting this reality. At any given moment I may imagine that this or that would be great for my present moment, or for my future. But ultimately, Allah knows best what is good for me, and what I need. My part is the determined patience, committing to pray and ask for forgiveness.

Fasting Shawwâl and Protection from Skin Cancer

After the month of Ramadan, comes the month of Shawwâl in the lunar calendar. I learned this past Ramadan of the great reward of fasting six days of Shawwâl.
Abû Ayyûb al-Ansârî relates that Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) says: "Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan and then follows it with six days of fasting in the month of Shawwâl, it will be as if he had fasted the year through." [Sahîh Muslim (1163)]

It is related from Thawbân that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "The fast of Ramadan is like observing ten months of fasting. Fasting six days of Shawwâl is like observing two months of fasting. This together is like fasting throughout the year." [Sahîh Ibn Khuzaymah (2115) and Sunan al-Nasâ'î al-Kubrâ (2860) – and authenticated by al-Albânî]
As I only had time to fast two days of Shawwal whilst I was in New York, I fasted the four remaining days as discretely as possible once I was back home. You see, I did not want to make my mom uncomfortable. The idea of abstaining from food and water for the entire period of daylight worries her - naturally, a caring mother worries for her child. 

Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), although I was fasting throughout the work day at the book warehouse, I did not feel sluggish and my mind was clear. When my mom picked me up from work, she did not even detect a difference in my behaviour or mood. She's quite attentive - when I kissed her goodbye in the mornings she made sure to remind me to grab my lunch, and even asked me in the evenings what I ate all day. One night she asked me "how did you drink water at work today without your water bottle?" At this question, I first felt extremely grateful to have such a loving and attentive mother. She truly cares about every detail. Second, I felt a bit sad, because I wanted to tell her that I was fasting. I imagined that she would be shocked, since she did not suspect anything. I imagined that she would be able to see that one can function perfectly well while fasting. 

I was so tempted, so close to blurting out near sundown, and even after, "I fasted today!" Somehow it felt so important to tell her, as if I were being dishonest to not say anything. But in the end, I bit my tongue and kept it to myself for the sake of not ruffling any feathers. 

Mom is handling all of this quite well. Surely, I care about her very deeply, and I'm sad that it's been such a shock for her to see me become Muslim. She's told a few of her close friends, with a negative tone, I'm sure. But at least she's told them. This means I was able to attend a birthday party with her and some of her church friends last week. I switched from my traditional hijab to a scarf that I wear like a bandana, covering my hair. This style makes it less obvious in these settings that I'm covering my hair for religious reasons. The other night she exclaimed, "Can you please be Muslim and not cover your hair!" At first, I loved the comment because it sounded as if she was asking me to be Muslim, although this was not her intention. 

After my initial reaction wore off, I realized that Muslim women who don't wear hijab make it more difficult for Muslim women who do, particularly reverts. I mean, it's hard for me to explain to my mom, who cites examples of Muslim women who don't wear hijab, why I believe I should.

I believe, based on the Quran, that it is expected for a woman to cover her hair and body in a specific manner. I'm also well-aware that a hijab over my hair does not make me Muslim. I mean, such coverings and modesty is not a pillar of the faith. Islamic codes for modesty are not necessarily in the forefront of the theology. But when other women don't cover, their behaviour suggests that this is an issue up for interpretation, although I (with Muslim scholars) don't believe it is. In the Quran, Allah provides dress codes and guidelines for modest conduct for men and women (scroll down). I've reached a point where I feel that the dress codes outlined for men and women in Islam are small and easy gestures of our obedience. It's painless to keep myself covered, and I'm sure that the hidden benefits are even greater than the obvious ones:

With my hair and body covered in public, I feel more respected by others, and I feel more self-confident. Suddenly, I have a right to choose who gawks at my body, who feasts their eyes, and who doesn't. I don't have to be an object; I don't have to dress to attract the attention of other men or women, and my confidence doesn't have to be based on whether I feel physically attractive or not. I don't always assume that men around me will even find me attractive, and even if they wouldn't, I maintain a sense that my body is private, and also that strangers need not see my body unwantedly. Thus far, I have received more positive attention than negative. Occasionally, strangers approach me to compliment my hijab. My hair stays cleaner longer, especially working at the bookstore. My skin is now protected from the sun's rays, whereas before I was prone to sunburns. I'm happy to see other women wearing hijab. We can recognise each other and share a sense of community.
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