London calling

When I was a young girl in California, I wished I would live in London when I grew up. I am not sure why exactly. I just felt like I was supposed to be in London. My mother thought I was crazy.

I did move a fair amount as an adult: different cities within California, other states in the US and two countries in Europe, but I never came close to moving to London. Really, I did not think about it much or make an effort to move there. It was just something I had wished as a child.

Several months ago after I said my shahada I felt that I was ready to move again and wanted to live where I had a greater opportunity to find a place within the Ummah. I also felt like I wanted to live in an English-speaking country again. I was not ready to move back to North America however. London was back in my thoughts but was not sure how to get there.

Then, just a few weeks later, my boss came to me to let me know a position had opened up in our UK office and I would be perfect for it. I had not even told her I was thinking about moving there.

And now – completely stressed and surrounded by the mess that is my apartment – I am moving to London in just a few days!

I am trying not to put too much pressure on the place, but I feel this is going to be a great move for me. A place to start fresh along with my new life in Islam. Not that everything before is to be forgotten, but I feel this move is at the direct hand of Allah – about 35 years after I first wished for it but at exactly the right time. Alhamdulilah!

Christmas mourning

I am in the process of moving house, going through everything in my apartment and deciding what will and won’t go with me, and sorting through boxes in my attic and cellar, some of which I have not unpacked since I moved in seven years ago.

Not surprisingly, I am coming across many things that do not fit into my new life as a Muslim and I have to decide what to do with them.

Some things are obvious, like my cellar full of wine. To be honest I had almost forgotten about it as I have not been down there in nearly a year, since before I said my shahada. And while some of the bottles of wine are closely associated with memories of friends, trips and special occasions, the decision to get rid of it all is an easy one.

Then there are things I am not so certain about, like some of my wall hangings that depict the human form. There is nothing indecent about the art and I certainly do not view any of it as items of worship, simply an aesthetic that to me is still beautiful. I will keep these for now.

And then there is the big box of what I call “Santa barf”, that is Christmas ornaments, decorations and keepsakes.

Though I converted to Islam less than a year ago, I was never one to celebrate Christmas once I moved out of my parents’ home. The exception being when I visited my family at the holidays, and I viewed it as a family and cultural tradition, not a religious one. I love spending Christmas with my family, but I have also spent many a December 25 not celebrating Christmas without a second thought.

The box I mention is filled with items given to me by family and friends in the spirit of trying to put me in the spirit – beautifully painted glass ornaments and hand-made decorations.

Much to my surprise, I find myself filled with emotion. This box represents what I have left behind. It reminds me that even if I do spend December 25th with my family, I am separated from all of this now.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that I have gained so much more with Islam. Never-the-less, despite the fact I was never sentimental about the holiday, I feel its loss looking at this box of keepsakes. So today, I am taking the time to mourn Christmas. (And I decided to get rid of all the Santa barf except the Christmas ornaments made by my nieces. These transcend the holiday.)

Me and myself celebrating Eid

This past week when thinking about what I would do for my first Eid, I started to feel a bit disconnected again. Eid is a time for community, family traditions, and celebration with loved ones. I will spend it alone.

But I remembered when I started Ramadan I had the same thought. While I did spend much of it on my own, I was not really alone. Some of the time was spent in a normal day-to-day manner at work. I was also incredibly fortunate to spend some of my time in Dubai where I met wonderful people with whom I hope to develop lasting friendships. And friends checked in on me on nearly a daily basis and stayed up late with me via text messaging on a few occasions.

I admit I also spent a fair amount of time connected to the world via the internet: perusing articles by fantastic bloggers like yourselves, relishing stories of Ramadan experiences around the world, staying caught up on the achievements of Muslim athletes at the Olympics, and reading the news from Burma, Syria, Egypt, the US, etc.

All of this has made me feel inspired, disappointed, energized, horrified, elated, and a little bit scared.

We all know that the depiction of Islam in the mainstream media is imbalanced and overwhelmingly negative, and others have written far more eloquently on this topic than I could — but the question that keeps running through my head is how – in this environment – do I explain to non-Muslim friends and family that I chose to follow Islam because at its core it is about peace and benevolence? And what is my responsibility in all that is happening in the world? Ramadan and Eid are times for charity, which is hugely important, but it is enough?

So, as I think about how I will celebrate Eid, first I will be grateful as I realize I will spend it in a lovely apartment, in a safe neighborhood, and with plenty of food and clean water to drink. Alhamdulilah! I am blessed.

Next I will begin to establish my own Eid traditions. Remembrance of my sister and other loved ones who have passed, perhaps a pancake breakfast followed by a long walk by the river, and calls to friends and family (even if they do not realize they are celebrating Eid with me).

And finally, I will pray for guidance for how best to represent and communicate the beauty of Islam to my non-Muslim friends and family during the next year, and for guidance on how I can be a positive force in the community. (Suggestions are welcome!!!)

What do you think about the happenings in the world during this Ramadan? What is our responsibility as Muslims in all this? How do you think we can shift the negative perception?

TMI, but thanks for sharing

I warn you now that this will likely not be my most popular post with the brothers, or even the sisters for that matter. But it has been something I have wanted to discuss for a while and now seems the appropriate time as I am taking a break from my fasting as I take a break from salah each month.

When I first learned that I am not supposed to perform salah, go to Mosque or read the Qu’ran while I am menstruating, I thought it was a joke. Sort of like being told I should not go swimming when ‘aunt flo’ is visiting. But I follow the guidance and my goal here today is not to debate this.

What I am interested in is how do the sisters feel about this whether it is during Ramadan or any other month? Is it a nice break? Do you feel left out? Disconnected? Out of rhythm? Happy to sleep in?

And what do you do instead? Du’a at each prayer time? Read books on Islam and the Prophet (saw)? Listen to the Qur’an on an iPhone or similar device? Read an English interpretation of the Qur’an with no Arabic? Catch up on that mystery novel?

Maybe you don’t want to share this, but do you even follow the guidance? I’ve read a few articles with a ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ that no woman is ever menstruating during Eid al-Fitr.

Personally, I feel a bit disconnected not fasting etc. but am planning to do lots of du’a and listen to the Qur’an in the evening as we enter the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Certainly with everything happening in the world today this is not a burning platform or critical issue. I am just curious about the sisters’ viewpoint on this. (Happy to have a brother’s viewpoint as well.) 🙂

Rockin’ the covered look at the Dubai Mall

I was not sure what to write regarding my time in Dubai. It has been a collection of bits and bobs — small happenings and observations, many of which occurred at the Dubai Mall. Okay, I know that sounds shallow and I should not be so frivolous during Ramadan even if I am on a much-needed vacation. However, the mall was nearby and air conditioned, and there were many things to be explored and contemplated….really! (Though, I will admit to a bit of shopping as well.)

The diversity of the community here is something to see. For those who live here I am sure this is everyday for you and perhaps even a superficial view of Dubai, but it was the best people watching ever!

There were those dressed in traditional Arabic, Indian or African dress – to name just a few. And, of course, those in typical western dress ranging from mini skirts to business suits. Everyone was there together with no one ‘type’ getting odd glances or glares. Certainly there are many places in the world with a great deal of diversity, but not too many where it all seems to be so accepted. (Okay, I was a little bit judgmental about the mini skirts.)

I also visited the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo that was located, you guessed it, in the mall. I have mixed feelings about any zoo-like arena as I worry about how well any animal can live in captivity. But who doesn’t love to watch penguins swimming, jumping and waddling. And to view sharks, stingrays, jelly fish and giant spider crabs up close personal is just…cool. These are all so clearly some of the many ‘signs’ for those who choose to see.

The mall was also where I wore hijab everyday. I am becoming quite comfortable wearing hijab to the point that if feels odd to leave the hotel without wearing it. And yesterday a sales lady told me I was ‘rockin’ the covered look.’ She said this with no prompting from me I assure you!

And yes, I did spend time in other places. The most memorable being with an amazing couple to whom I was introduced via a mutual friend. They included me in two Iftars with their family and friends. They were so generous and welcoming. For me, it was a taste of the Ummah along with amazing dinners….. a sampling of what it is like to be included as a fellow Muslim, though there were non-Muslims at both dinners as well.

Finally, I had several dreams during my time here about various friends and family finding out I was Muslim. The only problem is that my dreams never showed me how they responded, just that they had found out. I guess their responses are something I will have to find out in my own time.

All in all, I feel incredibly blessed for the chance to get away and relax.

While I had a great time here, I am also thankful to be heading home. Maybe I will try rockin’ the covered look there as well. I am off to the airport now. Wish me a safe journey!

And I pray that you are all having a happy Ramadan so far.

PS: In the day during Ramadan, many of the restaurants and cafes are closed in Dubai and eating in the mall is prohibited. I felt quite bad for all the tourists. If they were not aware that they had arrived in Dubai in the middle of Ramadan, what a shock it must have been to go to any public area and find all the restaurants closed! I even saw a poor old man get busted for eating an apple in the mall. (Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone starved as I noticed several restaurants were open for take-away food and I am sure the restaurants in many hotels were still serving in the middle of the day.) But now as I head back home, I will have to forego the luxury that others will not be able to eat (at least in public) when I am fasting. I think it will be good for me though. Toughen me up after these short days of fasting. 🙂

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