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.