Sunday, December 29, 2013

Salam aleikum!

I am a terrible blogger. Slacktastic in the extreme. I haven't had much to talk about, though. 2013 has been, as a year, a mixed bag of shenanigans and general lack of inspiration, motivation, and other -ations if they fit here.

2014 is going to be a big year for me, though. I'll be moving into my tiny home, to a new city, to start a new job, and return to college for my future profession as a Library Lady, inshAllah. I hope to make more time to ponder things, study Qur'an, write blog posts, and clear away the clutter - mental, physical, and emotional - so that I can be a better, more authentic me.

So, as the year draws to an end, I will simply say:

2013: Alhamdilullah.
2014: InshAllah.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Falling Off the Wagon

The prayer wagon, that is.

I'm not sure how it really happens. I don't plan it. I'll wake up, intending to make my five prayers that day. Or I'll go to sleep, intending to wake up for fajr. (Let's face it, fajr is the hardest one of all for so many of us.)

But then I sleep through fajr because I was up until the wee hours (a more common occurrence than I honestly want it to be).

Having done that, I'll procrastinate the rest of them. *adhan app goes off* Thinks to self: "I'm doing such-and-such, I'll go pray in a few minutes." But I forget, and suddenly I've missed dhuhr and it's asr or (worse) magrib. Then, oops, I missed magrib, too. "I'll pray isha before I go to bed tonight", I tell myself. But then I don't do that one, either.

All of a sudden, I've missed an entire day - and those days become a week, then two... and even longer.

I think about all the time that's passed, all the prayers I've missed, and feel guilty. When I do pray, I love the way it makes me feel. I make that connection with Allah. I step on that prayer rug, and it's like a 2x4 spot of peace. That's when I really settle in to my identity as a Muslim. So why do I have these long gaps where I don't make a single prayer in an entire day?

I know I'm not the only one who struggles with this. I can't even try to excuse it by saying "I'm busy", because I'm not. I don't have a job. I'm not going to school. (Though I am looking for work and will be taking a continuing education class at the local college in a month, inshAllah.)

The only answer I can come up with is that I'm lazy. It's true. I'm lazy. I don't try to be. I don't intend to be. I just let myself get bogged down with frustration over my aimless, jobless state, and so I don't do anything.

I want to get myself back on track. I really do. Of course, the only way to do that is to pull out that rug and pray. Being consistent in my prayers really is #MyJihad.

How do you get yourself out of it when you fall into a prayer rut?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Sign of the Times

I got an idea of an experiment that I wanted to do a few days ago. Given the date, I thought that it seemed like the perfect time to try it out, though the timing wasn't deliberate on my part.

The experiment? Take my cute hijabi self and stand at a busy intersection with a sign that said "Peace Be Upon You". I wondered what kind of reactions I'd get. Let's face it - my new town is in the Bible belt, and you can probably count the number of Muslims in town on one hand. You can hazard a guess at what would happen, but I wanted to know for sure.

Let me tell you what happened. People waved at me. They smiled. They gave me thumbs up and honked their horns. More than a few flashed peace signs - including (not surprising to me) a trio of soldiers in one car. Two comments: "Salam aleikum, sister. Islam is the path of peace. America needs Islam!" from one middle-aged African American brother. Another drove by and shouted "That's right, sister! That's right!"

In short, on a day most Muslims dread because they worry about negative comments and behavior, the response I got was overwhelmingly positive. Not a single person made a negative comment. Not a single one made a negative gesture. People understand, by and large, that Muslims are their neighbors, friends, coworkers, and family members. They understand that we're normal people, just like them. This new understanding and acceptance is a sign of the times that we live in.

To me, this just goes to show that a little faith in the basic goodness of humanity can go a long, long way. Alhamdilullah.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Happy Eid!

Well, they've made the announcement: tomorrow is Eid, which means we get the party started tonight! What are your plans to celebrate the holiday?

Personally, I'm just looking forward to eating during the daylight hours again!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Going It Alone

It's tough to be alone. I know, "you're never really alone, Allah is always there".

However, as human beings, we want to be with other people. We want to be accepted as we are. We want to not have to censor ourselves to gain that acceptance. We just want to be ourselves and not be told "You're wrong, you're kuffar/outside Islam/following your own desires/ignorant and need to find a good scholar to teach you/etc."

I've heard some variation on all of this before. One person even suggested I needed to find a good Muslim man to marry so he could teach me proper Islam. (That he would be Sunni went without saying.)

Converts often go it alone. Even within the community we can often face discrimination and prejudice -- for our citizenship or our skin color or simply our status as converts, especially if we commit an egregious error and marry an Arab Muslim man -- one who is viewed by the "born" Muslim Arab women as rightfully the property of some one or another of them, and therefore "stolen" by us, and we aren't "really Muslim" anyway, they say.

We are treated like an odd mixture of a bumbling toddler and learned adult. On the one hand, people feel they have the right and duty to "correct" everything we do -- from how we wear hijab in the masjid to the way our feet or hands are when we pray to sitting down to eat a meal. On the other, if we have a hard time fasting because we've never done it before, we're told that we're adults and it should be easy for us, that praying five times a day in Arabic isn't hard and if we don't get it, we're just being lazy. If we struggle to integrate this new paradigm of Islam into our lives while also dealing with non-Muslim families, friends, and coworkers who think we're going through a "phase" or are "weird" now, if this frustrates or angers or saddens us, we're told that we should reject our non-Muslim friends and limit our contact with our non-Muslim family members -- too often without being given other relationships to fill that void, if we actually do that.

I often think that the lonliest person in Islam is the convert. After all, we've traded in our old lives -- our "church families" -- for Islam. We believe that it's better, that this is the way, that we're gonna be swimming in a sea of brotherly and sisterly love forever, supported and encouraged by the ummah around us. This is what we are led to believe happens, without fail.

Sadly, once the flood of "takbir" and "mabruk" recedes post-shahada, some other new Muslim will take our place as the "shiny new thing", and the sisters and brothers who once eagerly returned our texts and messages and sought us out at jummah prayer fade into the background because they don't want the burden of helping us to fill in our practical application gaps. Many of us read the Qur'an and lots of books and blogs before converting, but we still need help with learning al-Fatiha and what is a sujood and tips that will make fasting easier and maybe a suhoor wake up call, just to make sure we're up for that important meal before we start a long day of fasting during our first or second Ramadan.

Instead, we're left to watch videos online and setting our own alarms (which, if we stay up late, may or may not be effective in waking us up before fajr) and eating the wrong things or not drinking enough water and perhaps getting ill in our attempts to fast.

And all of that is just if you're a traditionalist (Sunni/Shi'a) Muslim. If your interpretation is different from those two, then you can look forward to all sorts of verbal attacks, online or in person, when people find out you aren't Sunni or Shi'a. All of a sudden, they want to debate you with the same tiresome questions: "How do you know how to pray?" "How do you know how to fast Ramadan?" "How do you...." The list can go on forever. In the meantime, you're sitting there thinking "I don't want to debate. I'm tired of debating. I'm tired of people trying to undermine me as an intelligent person. I'm tired of being told to follow this scholar or that scholar. I'm tired of being told that I don't have a right to an opinion on anything because I'm not a scholar. All I wanted was to be around other Muslims and not have them impress their cultural-practices-passed-off-as-Islam on me. That's all."

As a result, even within a minority community (here in the US, at least), you're a minority. Looked down upon by others, judged, called names, and treated like you're carrying the plague, just because you don't conform to the local status quo in your deen.

Many people can't deal with that pressure. Some hide their interpretation behind a non-committal smile when approached and told to do something because "this scholar said" or "that school of thought says", all the while thinking "Just leave me alone and keep your superstitions and cultural baggage to yourself." Others avoid going to the mosque at all. Still others may just go back to their previous faith (or lack thereof), feeling like everything they'd been told about Islam and Muslims being welcoming and accepting and diverse was a lie.

I have resigned myself to never quite fitting in with most Muslims because of my approach to Islam, but I don't regret it. I know that this is the only deen for me. So when people say, in a way that's meant to convey their opinion that I'm lost, "May Allah guide you", I will simply smile and tell them "He did and He does".

I will work to eradicate the widespread notion of "Muslim = Foreign/Other/Bad" in wider society.

I will know that I'm not really alone, that there are wonderful people out there who share my perspective, who are just a mouse-click away.

And I will be content.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ramadan Reflections

Salam aleikum, folks. I know that we're halfway through Ramadan already, but I figured I'd jot down a few notes to reflect on the month thus far.

Ramadan is the month of the Qur'an. I set a goal to read through the whole Qur'an in this month, because what better way to get close to Allah than to read His Guidance, right? Well, I've failed pretty miserably in that goal, but I am reminded that every day is another chance to set and meet my goals, inshAllah. While reading the whole Qur'an in this month would be totally cool, is it really necessary? What good does it do for me to read the Qur'an during Ramadan if I don't so much as take it off the shelf the rest of the year? (For the record, I do try to read even one ayah per day, so my Qur'ans don't collect dust.)

I know this month is supposed to be one of reflection, of evaluating my life and relationship with Allah, and seeking to improve both.

Frankly, I don't get that spiritual connection. I get hungry. I get thirsty. I get tired and have headaches and bizarre sleeping patterns. But that "amazing spiritual renewal" that you read and hear everyone talking about? I don't get it. I never have. What I *do* get is a feeling of depression. Not "I'm a wee bit blue", but a full-blown "getting dressed is too much work" kind of depression.

I'm sure that this situation is partly to do with lack of food/water (let's be honest, I spend a lot of time munching on snacks and drinking assorted beverages - something I don't realize until I'm fasting). And partly to do with the fact that I quit a job I hated, moved halfway across the country, and am now (once again) unemployed - this time in a tiny town where jobs are scarce - and have too many bills. Ramadan started just in time for me to spend it alone again this year. The closest masjid is an hour and a half away, and I was far less than impressed when I visited it the first jummah of Ramadan.

So I find myself spending my days sprawled on the couch -- sometimes in my pajamas the whole day -- watching torturous tv (have you seen "Man V. Food"? NOT the show you wanna watch while fasting... but I can't look away. FOOD!), maybe napping, and generally doing nothing beneficial or remotely related to spiritual things. I count the minutes until iftar, and wake up to eat suhoor in the dark by myself, then go back to sleep for a few hours. My life essentially revolves around the time that I can eat and drink again.

I had a brother tell me last year that he thinks perhaps Ramadan is less a "month of fasting", and more a time period of variable length in which we hit rock-bottom emotionally and spiritually and get to the point where we simply have to lean on Allah to make it through. I find his theory rather fascinating -- it would definitely explain how I feel during Ramadan -- I tend to be more literal and less philosophical in my approach. For my part, I don't like to analyze everything for deeper meanings. I think that, sometimes, a month is just a month. Fasting just means not eating or drinking. Salah just means praying. That sort of thing. I admire people who can take their study to such a deep level, but I like for some things to just be simple.

So, in the light of the depression I've faced both Ramadans I've attempted, how do I get that "Ramadan feeling" that everyone else is so elated about?

I don't know. But I've no doubt Allah will help me get there. When the going gets tough, the tough needs to crack open a Qur'an and just read.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

On Boston

I know it's been nearly two weeks since the bombing in Boston. I should've spoken sooner, but frankly, I've been sorting through the swirling maelstrom of emotions that have plagued me since then, sick at heart over what I've seen on tv and read in the news. My first thought, the moment I heard about it, was "Ya Allah, please please PLEASE don't let the people who did this claim to be Muslims."

To no avail.

The whispers began almost immediately: "Muslims." "Islam." "Foreign radicals." The faintest whisper and suspicion became a blanket guilty sentence on millions of people in the US.

Because we're Muslims, and when someone who claims to belong to us goes radical, we are "clearly to blame".

Let me break it down: We are tarred by that dark brush, guilty without a trial, guilty by association. Because we, along with 2 billion people in every country, speaking every language, in every culture, have a shared belief in Islam.

It took only hours before we started hearing of reprisal attacks: a woman out at the park with her child and a man punched her in the shoulder and screamed profanities at her. A man beaten up as he was leaving a restaurant by a group of men. The guy didn't even know about the bombings in Boston, but he was to blame because of his skin color ("looked Arab") and his faith.

What happened in Boston wasn't because of Islam. It wasn't because of Muslims. It wasn't because of tv or video games or movies. It happened because a twisted man had evil in his heart and acted on it.

It was heinous, wrong, evil, a complete violation of Qur'anic teachings and simple human decency. His wife, an American convert, is now being portrayed as brainwashed, stupid, ignorant, less than American. Some people act like her conversion was an act of treason instead of an act of faith.

Nothing will undo what happened in Boston, but we have a choice: we can honor those who lost their lives, help the wounded recover, grieve with those affected, and press forward, or we can allow hatred and bigotry to cloud our vision, darken our hearts, forget our shared humanity, and make us just one step away from being like Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

I know which path I choose. What about you?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hello, I'm Your Hijab

My name is hijab. Well, that's what most people call me. The word is a bit more encompassing than that, meaning also the rest of what you wear and, more importantly, your behavior, but we'll just stick to what most people mean by that word: I'm your headscarf. You wear me in different styles, like two-piece al-Amiras when it's time to hit the gym, or long shaylas for work, and in different colors. You seem to like shades of pink the most -- although I definitely like being black with rainbow tinsel. People compliment me a lot then.

I know you like being able to spot other Muslim women around town because of me. Maybe they don't always give you salams in return, but I have given you lots of chances to talk to curious people about who I am and why you wear me. I'm less of a dawah opportunity than a dialogue opportunity. In this world, where Muslim women are targets for attack in "retaliation" for what so-called "Muslims" perpetrate in their acts of terror, we NEED dialogue desperately.

I've taken on a role in recent decades that I never really wanted: people using me as a barometer to decide how pious and devout you are. I've got news for you, folks: I'm just a headscarf. A piece of cloth. I don't have magic powers (and, as Muslims, you shouldn't believe in magic, anyway -- that's superstition, which is a remnant of the jahiliyah). I don't make someone a "good" Muslim, and my absence doesn't make someone bad, immodest, or impious. You're forgetting an important fact: only Allah knows what's in the hearts and only He has the right to judge us.

When you decide that a woman wearing me is more pious than one who doesn't, and that one who wears me and an abaya is more pious than a woman who wears me with a t-shirt and jeans, and then a niqabi is more pious than the abaya-wearing hijabi, you're setting up a dangerous system of judgement. They might "look the part", but if you listen in, maybe you never hear them saying anything good about other people, just judging what they wear and how they wear it. They gossip, and their sharp tongues alienate sisters who feel unwelcome because they don't wear me. Then you wonder what happened to this sister or that sister, why they don't come to halaqah or the women's lecture or prayer class any more.

In short, you're dividing yourselves over me because you're forgetting what's really important: your mutual faith and belief in Allah. Love your sisters for who they are, not what they wear, because in the eyes of Allah they may be better than you.

It's time to go out now. I'm looking fabulous and have eyes to catch so people come talk to you. Peace out.