An Unlikely Muslimah

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I sometimes feel frustrated with all of this. In the spirit of sharing the good, the bad and the ugly – it hit me big the other day. Not surprizingly it came right when I was feeling calm, in the rhythm of things, and as if I was rising above it all.

The details of what happened are not that interesting. Suffice to say I became irritated, and I was snapping at people, feeling sad to be by myself, and frustrated with everything that I am still struggling with on this path.

And most of all, I felt like I was failing at Ramadan! Just a week into my first Ramadan and I was not being nice and kind, and I had lost my perspective.

Its times like these I think, how crazy is this?!?! How can I be Muslim? Not that I think Islam is crazy. I think Islam is the most logical and common sense choice in the world, and converting is the smartest thing I have ever done.

But when I was making the decision to follow Islam and during my times of frustration – like the other day – it hits me that I am a western career woman of middle age (though I certainly don’t feel old!) with no husband or children, and 6,000 miles from my family.

Thus, with the wonderful and strong emphasis on family and community in Islam, I wonder, “What am I doing? How can someone like me ever really be part of the Ummah? And how will I ever learn everything I am supposed to learn?”

As usual, I then stop, take a breathe and remember that Islam embraces anyone who chooses the straight path, and believes in one God, Allah (SWT), and Muhammad (SAW) as his messenger.

And it occurred to me that my own predjudices and pre-conceived notions of what a Muslimah is supposed to be – or, more precisely, what kind of Muslimah I am supposed to be – are probably the biggest barriers on my journey in Islam. I have to remember what others have said to me, “Be patient, keep learning and be yourself.”

So I will always keep trying. An unlikely Muslimah perhaps, but happy to be trying.

Coming home

I am enjoying my first Ramadan so far. There is a rhythm that develops in the day around prayer and food – and sleep. I am not sure why I don’t feel this all the time. But I guess that is the point of Ramadan – to slow down and notice.

I must admit though that a friend had to talk me off the ledge on day two. While making food for Iftar, I popped a green bean in my mouth without thinking to see if it was cooked. Then nearly choked on it when I realized what I had done and promptly spit it out. (I was assured that small tastes in the cooking of food was okay. :-))

Anyway, I am feeling less uptight now. And am in Dubai!

The Food here is amazing and the shopping is great. But I am trying to stay focused on Ramadan.

And yes, I am wearing hijab! I have to admit that I have a mini-crisis each time I put it on – most definitely feeling like Olga. But I am fine once I am out the door.

I have read many stories of the experience of women when they first put on — or take off — their hijab. The words that are often used are ‘liberating’, ‘respected’, ‘noticed’, ‘un-noticed’, ‘special’, ‘hidden’, ‘loss of individuality’, ’empowered’ and many more.

For me, I simply feel…like me. Normal.

And that is sort of how this whole Ramadan feels for me so far.

One the one hand, there is still so much I don’t know and haven’t figured out. At the same time, it all feels perfectly normal. Like I was always meant to be doing this. Like I have come home.

How is your Ramadan so far?

Apps and the Modern Muslim

So far I am enjoying Ramadan. Moving more slowly, not rushing anything, paying attention. Its nice.

To help pass the time during the day I have been reading a lot, including online news and information on Ramadan and Islam. And one of the articles I came across was a piece questioning how Islamic apps and other technology are impacting the community. The author wondered if Islam was becoming too commercialized – and was all of this putting Islam and special times such as Ramadan in danger of becoming exploited like Christmas.

Currently I don’t live in the most Muslim friendly environment and the Islamic community where I live is primarily German speaking. I know my German should be better than it is. I can speak restaurant-,shopping-, take out-, and taxi-German – but I cannot hold a conversation.

The point of all this is that I have had to find other means to learn about Islam, learn my prayers and begin learning Arabic.

And I have to say for me, the abundance of information available via apps and online has been a life saver. Alhamdulilah! Apps on Islamic topics are fantastic, and they are typically free or at a very low cost. (Though I realize this still assumes you can afford a smart phone and computer. I am blessed.)

What I have learned on apps:

  • Prayer times that can be adjusted depending on where you are – great for those who travel
  • Direction of the Quibla from a compass in the app
  • The prayers themselves of course. I found I needed a few apps to complement each other along with YouTube videos so that I could learn the pronunciation and proper movements.
  • Qur’an apps where I can listen to its recitation while seeing the words in Arabic, the transliteration and the English translation
  • The Arabic alphabet: essential for those beginning from scratch. I unknowingly started with a few apps to learn to read the Qur’an that assume you know the Arabic alphabet already.

As for the internet:

  • As mentioned above, sometimes you have to see how prayer is done and YouTube is fantastic for this
  • Free web sites with the full Qur’an and many Hadeeth
  • Muslim clothes shops – of course!
  • Amazon.com to find loads of books on Islam
  • And – of course – Facebook, Word Press and other social sites to connect with the Ummah around the world

I also would hate to see Islam and Ramadan become too commercial but I am very grateful for the modern technology that has facilitated my learning. (Though I try to always double check information with a trusted friend — just to be sure.)

I realize apps and the internet are not essential and people learned what they needed since the birth of the religion without technology. But I, for one, find it a blessing.

What do you think? And if you have a favorite app or web site, please share!

Ramadan Newbie

I am so excited! My first Ramadan is just around the corner.

I must admit though, I really have no idea what I am doing. As usual, I am flying by the seat of my pants – or abaya in this case.

I have been reading blogs on Ramadan (thank you fellow bloggers!), reviewing advice from Productive Muslim, and asking lots of questions.

I think I have the basics of fasting, prayer, and how it fits together during Ramadan. I figure if I can get the basics right that will be a great first Ramadan.

However, I don’t have any Muslim friends who live in the town where I live and I don’t have a local Mosque. (I realize this sounds odd in this day and age, but what can I say — where I live is not the most Muslim-friendly environment and my German is very limited.)

The thought of spending my first Ramadan all by myself in my apartment is too depressing. I realize this should be a time of self-reflection – and what better way to self reflect than when you are alone – but I also want to experience the traditions of Ramadan with others.

So, I’ve decided to spend the first half of Ramadan in Dubai. The days are shorter in Dubai than where I live, and the hotel where I am staying will provide Iftar and Suhoor. I’ve also been connected with friends of friends in Dubai for which I am very grateful.

I am looking forward to going to Mosque every day, sharing Suhoor and Iftar with others, wearing hijab (learning to embrace my inner Olga), and reading the Qur’an and books on Islam as well as studying my Arabic.

And I have to admit that I am also looking forward to shopping in the fabulous Malls that are nearby to explore Muslimah fashion.

I will post how my first Ramadan goes and I would love to hear from all of you how you are spending Ramadan – be it your first of fiftieth.

Ramadan Mubarak

The rise and fall of the revert

In my reading, I often come across the statistic that within three years of converting to Islam, about 75% leave the faith. I may not have the statistic exactly right – but it is along these lines. I am also not sure where this statistic comes from or how it is calculated.

But I do wonder…. even if number is only approximate, why do so many people leave? And do they really stop believing or is it that they go back into the ‘Islamic closet’ permanently.

From time to time I ask myself if this will this happen to me?

There are definitely times when I feel frustrated, sad and alone. I wonder, who would know if I changed my mind? Stopped praying. Stopped learning. Stopped searching. Called a friend to go out for a glass of wine and a plate of prosciutto.

No one would know.

But me.

And Allah (SWT).

So, what do I do when these times hit me?

I think about what I truly believe: La ilaha illa Allah wa Muhammad rasul Allah.

Then I do salah, make dua and perhaps read a bit of the Qur’an.

And I know – simply – that this is who I am. Really……its who I have always been, it just took me a while to figure it out.

So, two years and two months from now will I feel the same? In 10 years and 10 months? Insha Allah.

Why do you think some reverts stay committed for the rest of their lives and some leave after a few years?

And what can we do to change this statistic of 75% who leave within three years?

To Hijab or not to Hijab

To hijab or not to hijab. That is the question.

Confession – despite the title of my blog, I do not wear hijab.

But I am absolutely fascinated by it. I know in the west that women wearing hijab receive a lot a looks and glances but I am extreme. I am sure there must be several restraining orders against me as I stare at these women all the time.

I look to see what kind of scarf they are wearing, how they wear it, how they pin it, and how it works with their clothes. And it took me a while to figure out why some women looked a bit StarTrek-ish with an elongated head underneath their hijab. This not a criticism! I wish I had that much hair – I can barely make a pony tail with mine. 🙂

I think the hijab is absolutely beautiful, though I still struggle with the notion of whether it is really required or if it is cultural. Do I have to wear hijab to be Muslim?

A fellow blogger gave me some great advice about making sure I stay who I am as I continue this journey – which was a huge comfort… and a relief. But there is a part of me would like to start wearing a hijab tomorrow whether it is required or not, simply as a visible statement that I am a proud Muslimah!

So what is stopping me?

Well, there is the fact that I am still in the Islamic closet. And wearing hijab is a pretty ‘out’ statement.

But even when I am ready to be out, my other concern is that as beautiful as I view the hijab and the women who wear it, I am fairly certain I will look like an old woman named Olga. There is no need to tell me that modesty is more important than vanity, and that it is what is inside that counts.

So, how to tackle this?

I have read enough to know that just like finding the right haircut, I need to find the right style of wearing the hijab that suits my features. I have a very long face and a high forehead. I’ve researched this on-line, including YouTube videos, but I have not quite figured out what I am doing yet.

My experiment will be when I vacation in Dubai this summer. I plan to wear hijab everyday no matter what I look like – just to see how it feels – to explore if wearing hijab feels right. And I am hoping I can find some women in the shops who can help me figure out the best way to wear it. But if you have suggestions or tips, please let me know!

For those who do wear hijab, why did you choose to wear it? For those who don’t, why not?

In the Islamic Closet

I know, it sounds like another blog on my adventures in Muslimah fashion. (There will be more on that soon!)

This is about the fact that nearly 10 months after having said shahada, I am still in the Islamic closet. My family and friends, with three exceptions, do not know about my conversion. And I do not know how or when to tell them.

On the one hand, I am so happy and excited to be on this path that I want to tell everyone. But I fear that the people in my life will be confused at best and horrified at worst. And I have not found a community of Muslim friends yet, though I hope that will change once I move to London later this year. I worry that if I tell friends and family, I will lose everybody in my old life before I have anybody in my new life – and I will be left alone and with nothing.

Now, I know that if if that were really to happen, I would not have nothing as I have Allah (swt), who is most important anyway.

And I am so lucky to have the three people in my life who do know. Of course, there are also the people I am meeting on-line to whom I am so grateful. I was never one who was too keen about on-line interactions beyond people I already knew in person – but I have changed my mind completely in the past six months. (Though am still cautious.)

However, there are two friends I tried to tell, starting slowing by mentioning that I am learning more about Islam. It did not go well. In addition, two other friends spent a considerable amount of energy criticizing women dressed in hijab and niqab who we saw while on vacation together last year. And my family… well, my family, whom I love and who I know love me, have a narrow view of Islam.

Part of me feels like a coward for not telling people. If this is what I believe and if this is who I am, then why shouldn’t I have the courage to be ‘out’ and ‘open’? But I am just not ready yet.

A friend who knows about my conversion keeps telling me to be patient and not rush anything. To wait until I am comfortable in my new life, and more secure answering the questions / challenges that will come.

So, as of now, my family and friends are waiting for me to end my weird diet so I can enjoy a nice glass of wine with them. Sigh….

For the reverts out there, what was your experience telling people? Any advice?

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