Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Proof is in His Plan...

I can honestly say that I know with certainty that Allah seeks people out well before they ever know He is working in them. Alhumdulillah, lately there have been so many incredible moments that have shown me that many years ago, Allah had a plan for me. Minor things-- as I reflect on them that seem as though others could chalk them up to coincidence but I am certain could only be from Allah's unending grace. Take for example my education. I entered into a very specialized program that has required me to get a degree in linguistics. If I wasn't in this program I can guarantee that I would have NEVER majored in that field. It wasn't an area that interested me, and at times was very painful for me to try and get through. Now, as I am only months away from my graduation I have almost decided in entirety that I am not in the field that I want to work in. After many years of education I know that I am likely not going to work in the area I was trained in. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel... Lately I have been taking an Arabic class. My teacher often talks about the phonology and phonetics of the Arabic language. Where sounds are created, and how they formed within the throat and mouth.
Alhumdulillah the fact that I am a linguistic major has enabled me to learn and understand what he is explaining to me at a rate which is more rapid than I would have if I didn't have the knowledge I do. What reason, if not for assisting me in my comprehension of Arabic could this path have been taken for as I won't be working in the field my degree would enable me to enter. Alhumdulillah Allah is so good. I began my path into that career five years ago... How amazing that I can see in hindsight how Allah was pursuing me even then.
There have been numerous things like this... small occurrences that are easily overlooked and ignored. Alhumdulillah Allah opens my eyes to these things. He shows me His power and mercy everyday, and my Iman increases because of it. How blessed am I? It is true that Allah chooses whom He wills, and Alhumdulillah He chose me.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Oil and Vinegar

I look forward to each day in a different way than I did before. Not only am I grateful for another day of life and all that it has to offer, but it has become a daily adventure to see what kind of comments I will receive about the fact that I have converted to Islam.

I sent out an email to all of my friends and distant relatives that had not yet heard of my reversion. In it I discussed the peace I had found, that I know Islam is the right faith... it is truth, and I am happy in my decision. The first response back that I got was
"I am very sad for you".

I went to work on Sunday and was quietly reading the Qur'an when a man walked by my desk and looked at me strangely. He paused, grabbed a newspaper and then looked at me again.
"Where are you from?"
"Canada" I responded
"You're from Canada?"
"Born and raised"
At this point I turned away to let someone in the front door and hear this disgusted groan from the man as he was looking at the books I had spread across my desk: The Qur'an, The Role of Women in Islam, and Women in Islamic Shariaa.
"But your Muslim!"
And he took off...

Twenty minutes later--
"So, what--you're reading the Qur'an?"
Again a disgusted groan followed by an "Oh my"

After his tennis game he comes by again...
"So can I ask you what would make you become Muslim when you are from a Western country?' So I give him my two minute shpeel knowing he isn't going to hear a word of it anyway. I was right-- I barely get the words out of my mouth when he says...
"Well you aren't one of those terrorists are you?"
And yes he is completely serious....

However, that wasn't the reaction that was the most surprising for me. I had a meeting tonight with a bunch of colleagues. I told the small group that I had converted to Islam. I received nothing but support...
It was incredible. Why I had any fear I am not sure? I guess I was lacking faith-- Lacking faith in my colleagues and lacking faith in Allah that He would give me the words, and open their hearts to understanding. That He would make it easier for me if I just trusted in Him. As I was sitting there having the support of all of the women around me, if felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my chest.

I never know how people are going to react and what they will say. What I have noticed is that at times I don't give enough credit to those around me. Granted there are close friends who have hurt me by their responses, but the majority of the people I tell have been supportive and wonderful... Alhumdulillah.

For lack of a better analogy I will say it reminds me of oil and vinegar. I am vinegar and all the reactions and comments I receive from others are oil. Initially when comments are made it is like when the oil is poured right into the vinegar. They mix and I internalize them. It is as though we become one and I cannot separate myself from what was said. However, as time passes, the oil settles to the top and lays there. The vinegar is still as it was. Although initially I feel like the comments that get made are at times very hurtful and I let them into my heart, I need to realize that they are what they are, and at the end of the day I will be me. That being said, if one was to make a dressing they would use both oil and vinegar. They don't fully mix but without the oil the vinegar lacks the structure and taste it has with the oil. -- Without the remarks that on a daily basis get showered on me, I would be lacking in who I am. My thoughts and my journey would be structured differently, I would be lacking in the "flavour" that has helped shape me as the Muslima I am...

Friday, June 16, 2006

Hard Lesson Learned...

Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahiim

Today is the first day since I have been Muslim that I felt such deep sadness I couldn't contain my tears.

I saw a good friend today-- A Muslima in the community who was excited to tell me that there was a man who had recently arrived from overseas. Many years ago he was Muslim but later in life had converted to a different religion. Now upon his being in Canada, by the grace of Allah he felt a tugging in his heart to re-seek Islam. He had questions and wanted to talk to an Imam in the community. My friend gave him the number of someone to get in touch with.

Tonight my friend called me to tell me that the man she was telling me about got killed at work four days ago... she suspects before he ever had an opportunity to talk to the Imam.

I didn't know this man and had never met him, but the sorrow I felt when I heard that was inconsolable. I wanted to cry out to Allah and ask that He would give this man Jannah, but I know I can't...

As I sat in my room crying, Allah opened my eyes and heart and started to lift my sorrow. I opened the Qur'an and began to read...

"O you who believe [in Moses and Jesus] Fear Allah and believe in His Messenger, He will give you a double portion of His mercy, and He will give you a light by which you shall walk (straight). And He will forgive you. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

So that the people of the Scripture may know that they have no power whatsoever over the Grace of Allah, and that (His) Grace is (entirely) in His Hand to bestow it on whomsoever He wills. And Allah is the Owner of Great Bounty." 57:28-29

Alhumdulillah Allah reminded me that I need not grieve. Allah knows the hearts of everyone, and He knew the heart of this man. He knew his desire to re-seek the faith of Islam, and I trust that Allah knows best. I trust that "Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."

Alhumdulillah it was a way for me to praise Allah for His favour on me. The weekend I converted was the weekend of the MSA conference here. The first night of the conference, I knew I was at the stage where I could make shahhada (profession of faith in Islam) but I put it off until Sunday. Br Green joked (but in seriousness) that "I never know what could happen and why would I wait until Sunday when I could die tomorrow."
I of course smiled and still waited until the end of the weekend.
When I heard the story about this man who was killed (possibly before he said shahhada, but Allah knows best) it was a wake-up call for me. It could have been me.

This was a hard lesson learned... It is so important that those who are seeking are those whom we reach out to. I think about how if I was never contacted and encouraged by the Muslim community here, then where would I be? Inshallah Allah would have continued to seek me out and draw me closer to Him, but as Muslims, if people are seeking Allah, we need to show them Allah.
This could mean different things for different people. Monitor your actions, your speech... If someone asks or contacts you about Islam, make sure you are speaking the truth. If you don't have the answers find someone who does and make sure you follow through when you say you will! Increase your knowledge so you can be the one to answer the questions. If someone comes to you, keep in touch with them.
Remember it isn't just about the benefit of knowing your religion and following through on commitments to others, but potentially you could influence someone's faith.

Trust in Allah... Allah knows best. Alhumdulillah I am constantly being reminded of this.
لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Don't Go to a Dentist When You Need a Doctor.

One of the things that I know for sure is how loved I am by my family. Since my conversion they have spent countless hours on the internet trying to find out what Islam is all about. Of course this means I get sent numerous emails about all of the "not so desirable" traits Islam seems to always be associated with. It gets exhausting. One of the issues that constantly gets brought up in discussion is the rights of women. My family definately has it in mind that "I don't know what I am getting into."
Quite the contrary actually. I know rather well what Islam is about, and who I am as a woman in Islam. Of course my family needs to see that themselves -- something that will only come with time. This is where I need Allah to give me more patience.

One of the emails I recently received from my mom outlined some of her concerns about my future. She told me that she was meeting with a Christian pastor who had done Missions work with Muslims in Canada (I don't know the specifics but I am sure the goal was to convert Muslims to Christianity.) Glad that my mom was making the effort to ask questions and get information I couldn't say much, but was discouraged that her source of infomation was someone who obviously doesn't support the faith of Islam. I decided that the only way for me to help my mom get answers to some of the questions she had was to hook her up with the number of one of the women in the community here. A Muslima who was raised in Canada, has one parent who is Christian, married a Muslim from the Middle-East, wears hijab etc. I thought to myself "who better to clear up some of my mom's concerns than someone who is living my future life!" With eagerness I sent my mom the contact information excited that I had supplied her with a way to get some of the answers she might be looking for. Here is the chance she has been wanting/needing. An opportunity to talk FIRST HAND to a person my age who is living the Muslim life.

Last week when I talked to my mom I asked her if she had contacted the Muslima in the community here. She had said no that "the majority of her questions had been answered." I wanted to crawl through the phone line so she could see the look on my face. "By Whom??!!??" I thought.
She had spent the last week or two talking with a Christian Man about the life of a Muslim Woman....
What is wrong with this picture? I am sure that he has valuable things to say, but lets be fair! If you wanted information about throat infections you wouldn't go to a Dentist just because they work with the mouth... you would go to a Doctor and get the real information from someone who knows what they are talking about, who is experienced and can provide you with the right answers.
Why is it, that people go to the internet, or their pastors, or in this case- Christian missionaries when they want information about Islam... particularly women in Islam.

I know my family is just worried for me, and as I said I appreciate their concern and know that I am loved, but at the same time I want them to see that Islam isn't all bad. Lets face it, Christians will tell you Christianity is right, Muslims will tell you Islam is right, Buddhists will tell you Buddhism is right... we all have our beliefs and have to be aware of how that influences our perspectives on things. That being said if we are going to learn about something new, get answers etc. lets go to someone who can give us information first hand...
You wouldn't go to a dentist when you need a doctor, so why would you go to a Christian to learn about Islam?

Islam in One Picture.

I got a letter recently that described Islam as a religion of hate, revenge and anger.
I couldn't disagree more. I don't have a word to describe Islam, but if I could chose one picture this would be it...

This is the beauty of my Islam.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Unrighteous, Undeserving, Undone.

I will never know why Allah in all of His power and majesty chose to seek me out and bestow on me His favour. I am so 'undeserving'.
Thinking about my actions today... all of the areas that I fell short, all of the areas that I "missed the mark." Why would Allah choose me? Why would He bless me with His grace and mercy, one who is so inadequate.
Alhumdullilah Allah shows me my faults. Alhumdullilah, Allah makes my actions weigh heavy on my heart so I know that I need to improve myself, become a better Muslima, strive against being 'unrighteous'.

Yet in all of my error and wrong-doings I still see Allah seeking me out. Drawing closer to me. It is as though at the end of the day He shows me yet again who He wants me to me in comparison to who I am now. And Alhumdullilah for that!
I am so BLESSED! I am so GRATEFUL! I will never be able to articulate what it feels like at the moments I know Allah has brought Himself closer to me to teach me something new, or to answer prayer. I will never be able to give Him the praise He deserves.
It is my most sincere prayer that my actions will be closer and closer to that of the Prophet (PBUH). That I would be a woman in Islam that would please Allah and be deserving of His mercy and favour.

I got an email recently that discussed concerns someone in my life has for my new life in Islam. They highlighted that Muslim's "live regimented lives dictated by the Qur'an". They tried to make this something negative... For me, it is what I desire. Inshallah I will live as the Qur'an instructs me to. Inshallah I will be a woman that is modest, sincere, pious, patient, and devoted to her family. Having the Qur'an to learn and model my life around will never be a negative thing.

Tonight is exactly one month of my being a Muslima. As I was pressing my face into my prayer mat, calling out to Allah I let myself go... becoming completely 'Undone'. Giving myself to Allah, asking Him to lead... Asking Him to show me my wrongs, to give me the strength to make them right. I know that I am "Unrighteous, Undeserving and coming Undone" before Allah, but He is UNLIMITED in what He can do.

لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله (There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A New Approach...

I find that people are constantly trying to find a reason and rationalize in their minds why I would/could convert. Recently I had someone I know come up to me and tell me that "they knew why I had converted to Islam... "
I thought "oh well then, please tell me" (I guess the explanation I had provided about my finding truth, answers, historical evidences, and peace wasn't valid enough.)
This person went on to tell me "That I had converted because I had been going to the wrong church and that I didn't have 'good' Christians in my life that were showing me the love of God. Truly if I had people in my life to encourage me in my Christian faith that I never would have converted."
I tried to explain that my brother is probably one of the STRONGEST most practicing Christians I know. He lives and is directed by faith, and it is beautiful. That I have very powerful strong Christian influences in my life but it wasn't about the people for me. It is about the faith. The questions I had about the faith weren't answered by the actions of those around me, they were answered by my own personal search, by reading and understanding what Islam is and believes.
For some reason this person didn't seem convinced. They insisted that if I went to Church with them and spent some time with some good Christians that I would change my mind....

It has got me thinking... I guess there is something wrong with the way I have been explaining the reasons I converted. Obviously the answers I have provided haven't been convincing enough to justify the change in my faith.
So... I have decided to try a different approach.

- Reduction in the chance of skin cancer (being more fully-clothed means fewer sunburns.

-I save time getting ready in the morning. No need to worry about styling my hair when I throw on my hijab.

-HUGE reduction in the cost of hair-dye as I don't have to keep up with the latest hairstyles and colours.

-If I spill something on my shirt while eating breakfast I can just use my hijab to cover the spot... nobody will ever know.

-Looser clothing means I don't have to worry about those days that I am feeling bloated (gotta love being a woman!)

-Look at all of the money I save avoiding the latest clothing trends.

-All humour aside... I am no longer objectified by what I wear and the way I look because my modest attire protects me from that.

Really, all of these things considered, who wouldn't want to convert?? Yup, I think this should definitely be my "New Approach." Seems less likely I would have some of the arguments and feedback I seem to be getting.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Misunderstood by Misconceptions.

I was recently on Brother Green's website and his recent blog talked about "Misconceptions of Islam". Funny that it would be his topic of conversation as it seems to be one of the constants I seem to deal with on a day to day basis... what am I saying? It seems to be one of the constants that all Muslims deal with on a day to day basis. The one difference in my case is the fact that many of the misconceptions that I have been faced with are those that come from my family. Of course it would be unfair and unrealistic for me to think that my family wouldn't have questions, as mentioned before, they are miles away, and their only contact with Muslims is via CNN and the phone calls they get from their daughter. One source presents only the negative, the other (inshallah) the beauty of Islam. Unfortunately the power of the Media, the horrible images seen on TV and unfortunate actions of some seem to be pulling more weight...

This is where I get so saddened. Not only for Muslim's in that our identity in society has for the most part been formed by terrorism and birkas but that society as a whole has not taken the time to investigate what in that, is truth... Humans are so hungry for information they become like sponges and soak up whatever they hear, and accept it as valid. I see the same thing happen with society when they read celebrity magazines. "Jennifer Aniston loses 40lbs because of her dislike of anything she has to consume by chewing." Of course this headline is made-up and absolutely ridiculous, but if it were on the front of a magazine just watch how it sells as people want to 'get the latest.' Nobody who has purchased the magazine has ever met Jennifer Aniston but you can bet at some point during the week their conversation will be about her new 'eating habits.'
Do you see what I mean? How bizarre it is? Why is it that we as a society don't seem to have a need to make sure that what we read and see on TV is something we understand and or is something true? The whole world sees the negative things that are presented in the media about Muslim's, but how many people go and actually talk to a Muslim person about what is happening? How many take the time to ask if the acts of terrorism are conducive with the beliefs of Islam? I can speak for the people I know when I say very few.
There have been attrocities committed by all religious groups at some point in history, but it is clear we don't associate all members of that one group with the specific acts. Why then does it seem to happen with Muslims?

I know that I have moved away from the way I have been misunderstood recently by the common misconceptions of Islam into how Islam is misunderstood as a whole, but to me one is the direct result of the other. My family (and others too) is concerned for my safety and rights because of what they have been led to believe is true about Islam. I only wish I could help them to see this isn't the case. I am not talking about converting them either, I just mean trying to convince those around me that my being Muslim still means I can: Work, be educated (or pursue further education), leave my home without my husband escorting me, that I won't be locked in the house, that I will have rights, that I will be respected, that I have a role in the community, that if I were to move overseas I wouldn't be trapped never allowed to return, that I won't be beaten... (Only a few of the misconceptions I have been faced with.)
I just want people to see that I will still be me... that I AM still me. That I have seen the images the rest of the world sees on TV and I have read those newspaper articles... fortunately I have also read some of the books about Islam and what it really is. I have met Muslims who PRACTICE their faith in a way that is true to the religion. I know sisters from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Trinidad, Northern Africa and Canada and they all are beautiful educated, empowered, well-spoken women. Some of them have their PhD or are pursuing it after having achieved two Master's, some are parents, some are involved politically somehow, and almost all of them are working.

Of course there are differences between the Muslim faith and other faiths, of course there will be changes that I make, but I don't see them as sacrifices or in any way as oppression. I don't wear hijab because I am forced, I wear it because I decided to as a sign of worship to Allah, as a way to be modest... I don't consider getting up in the early morning to pray a burden (although some days I wish it was easier), I don't see the structure of the family unit in Islam as oppressive or degrading for women, (and if Christians read through 1 Corinthians and Ephesians they would see that the role of women in the family and church is no different).

I know this is the start of a LONG journey, and Alhumdullilah I am enjoying every minute. It is my prayer that Allah would make it easier for others to see the beauty of Islam. That something would stir inside them to make them question what Islam is about. That they would read with an open mind not looking for the negative but seeking the positive. Because for me, it is okay if people don't support my decision after both sides have been searched out, but what deeply saddens me is that I would be "Misunderstood by Misconceptions."

The First 26 Days...

Almost one month as a Muslima...
If it has only been 26 days, I can't wait to see what the rest of my journey will bring. I guess you need some background...
Last year I met one of the kindest, most modest, most sincere individuals I have ever known, I later found out this person was Muslim.
At that point my knowledge of Islam was really nothing more than most Canadians (which is to say that anything they think they know is likely wrong). Since 9/11 I think it is safe to say that when one mentions the word "Muslim" positive images are not the first things to flood one's mind. What was perplexing to me was how the nature of the individual I had become friends with was so contrary to what I had been told by the media... This is what started my journey.

Initially I had no intention of looking into Islam as a faith for myself... In fact it was quite the opposite. I had the mentality of "you have your faith, I have mine" but it was obvious I was living in ignorance when it came to knowing anything about Islam. I began to read, and read, and read... and the more I read, the more I began to see truth. Not only did it make sense to me that my friend would be the honest, integral, and modest person I knew (as I soon learned that that was Islam... a faith of beauty and mercy. Belief that encompasses all areas of life, and all actions) but I soon saw that many of the questions I had always been struggling with in my own religion were getting answered in Islam.
The more I read, the clearer it became...

After months of searching I attended a conference in which a Brother from England had come to speak to the community in which I live. Alhumdullilah, Allah bestowed His favour upon me, and of all the people attending that conference that wanted to meet and spend time with this speaker, it was I who had the opportunity. The first night I spent four hours picking his brain about any question I had. By the end of the night it was clear I had no question about faith issues... I knew that Allah was the one true God and that Mohammed (PBUH) was His messenger, but I wanted to hear about the history of the Qur'an. How it compared to the Bible... good hard evidence that I could take to my family and friends when I was facing their questions. It is easy to say I believe because that is what faith is all about... believing, but the rational in me wanted to have the facts of it all.

Of course, I could write for pages about all of the small prayers that were answered along the way... the amazing moments I had even at that conference but to keep everything to a decent length... on May 14th I converted. A moment I will never forget.

Since then, I have had some incredible moments... Alhumdullilah Allah has blessed me with a community that is so supportive. The Muslims around me never cease to amaze me, I know I am supported and cared for. If not for many of them I am sure I would still be searching, they are ever in my Dua.

Then there is my family... needless to say, my family lacked the enthusiasim the community here did. They live 3000 km away, and have had very minimal experience with anyone Muslim. Of course, as is the case for most Canadians (and Americans) my family's perspective on Islam was/is very much influenced by the horrific acts of 'some' and the way the media portrays that as 'all'.
Of course I totally respect the questions that they have and inshallah I will be able to answer them with truth. The differences in faith seem minimal compared to trying to dispel the myths they believe about what Islam to be.

The reaction from friends and non-Muslims has been 'interesting' to say the least. I had one person approach me the other day and ask me if the scarf on my head was worn for religious reasons... I told her that yes I was Muslim. Her response..."Why?" (with that hint of disbelief/disgust)
I said "because it's what I believe."
I didn't mean to sound cheeky but, come on, ask a silly question get a silly answer. Of course her next comment was that my husband must be Muslim...
"No, I'm not married and I didn't convert for a guy" I guess it is hard to believe that a white, freckle-faced, blue-eyed girl would convert if she "didn't have to."

I did an interview on CBC radio recently about my conversion "In a Time it is Hard to be Muslim" and afterwards even the correspondent told me that "I don't look Muslim". I wanted to ask him "well what does a Muslim look like?" but managed to bite my tongue. Instead I told him that "I guess people see what they want to see because a fellow brother or sister in Islam would look at me and know I am Muslim and greet me with 'As salam Alaikum' while a Canadian looks and sees a white girl with a scarf on her head." It just helped me to see again why my family would have a hard time picturing me Muslim.

About the CBC interview... What an amazing opportunity, Alhumdullilah. Initially CBC had come to my university to ask Muslim's about how they were dealing with the recent arrests made in Toronto... how it felt as a Muslim? I did a small radio piece that never got put on air, but got called by the station to do a one-on-one interview about why I converted "Especially with everything that is going on connected to Islam" ( of course another moment I bit my tongue and stopped from blurting out, that his comment implies that all Muslims are bad and doesn't acknowledge that it is a select group of people that are doing actions, not all Muslims.)
The interview went well, and actually somewhat influenced my starting of this blog... They have asked me to journal my experiences over the next few months and every month I will get in contact with them to do a small piece on the "highs and lows" of my conversion. Inshallah all of the moments will be 'highs' because every trial we are given is from Allah, and the closer we draw to Him the closer He will come to us.