Single female revert looking for a warm and welcoming Mosque

I was not sure what I would write about this week. With my recent move and starting a new job, I feel like I am constantly exhausted and am not as engaged as I normally am.

So I thought I would give a quick update on my Islamic explorations and get your thoughts and advice.

I have spent the last two weekends exploring Mosques around the city. There are still a few really big ones I have yet to visit, but so far I have visited nine Mosques.

To be honest, I am not sure I have found ‘my Mosque’ yet. Though, I don’t really know what I am looking for, or what I should be looking for.

I guess I still have in my mind the notion of a congregation dressed in their Sunday best that meets for pancake breakfast after Mass and being welcomed by the parish priest. It is so odd how parts of my upbringing pop up at the most unexpected moments – especially since I did not feel particularly strongly about these things growing up.

So… what am I expecting or hoping for? I suppose I am looking for a place where I can pray all of the five prayers, including Jumua – which I definitely did find. (I may pray mostly at home, but I would like to option.) I also hope it is a place where I can continue my education, and learn about lectures and other events around the city. (Though I have signed up for an Arabic and Qur’an class at a local Islamic Institute, which I will start in October. So excited!!) And I would like a Mosque where I can meet a diverse group of people to hopefully connect with.

So, what does it mean to you to belong to your community Mosque? What makes it feel like your community? Where did you find information about the Mosque – or from whom? How does one search for a Mosque?

Seeking knowledge

Islam teaches us to seek knowledge and to think about our faith. It is not a matter of taking a leap of faith, but finding a logical path to faith — at least this is how I understand it. And this is a huge reason why the path of Islam is so appealing to me.

I was trained as a scientist and worked in a laboratory for more than a decade. I still work in the sciences but on the softer side of things compared to what I used to do, but I still love science. (Yes, I am a nerd.)

Even when I was in my most ‘anti-religion’ phase in the past, I never saw the conflict between science and God. In fact, the more I studied science, learning all the intricacies of what we have discovered over the centuries and recognizing the huge gaps still in our understanding of the world, the more certain I was there had to be some point of origin or ultimate source of energy – though it took me years to come to terms with what I understood our creator to be despite my Catholic upbringing.

I started thinking about all this again when I read a blog by an amazing Muslimah who noted she was a bit wary of reading books like “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins.

I have read many of these types of books, though mostly in years before I decided to follow Islam. Typically these books are opinion pieces being presented as fact, with flawed logic and biased research behind the arguments. These books did nothing to drive me towards atheism. In hindsight, they may have even pushed me towards Islam since, for me, they did not successfully argue their point. But I found it greatly valuable to understand what other people believe and why.

And I wonder if this principle can be applied to biased histories of Islam, such as the one shown on television a few weeks ago in the UK, and ‘art’ that may be viewed as disrespectful to Islam – be it television shows or movies. In my view, Islam is so much stronger than anything else out there. Though I emphatically believe we should be watchful of Islamophobia and speak out against it always.

I embrace the call to seek knowledge in Islam, and I encourage the Muslimah to read Richard Dawkins or anybody else she wants to read.

We should study our religion deeply, but we should know other points of view as well as I think it makes us stronger. Reading something that contradicts your belief may just encourage you learn more and can deepen your faith.

What do you think? Can Islam and Muslims take it? Should we worry about biased historians or atheists pushing their agenda? Where do we draw the line between seeking knowledge and appropriate avoidance of negative forces? And where does tolerance and ‘agreeing to disagree’ balance with fighting Islamophobia?

Yes…I am going to say the word…here it goes…feminism

I have read more on Islamic feminism in the past several months than I knew even existed a year ago.

Though I am thrilled to have found all these writers / articles, I have to admit I debated writing about this topic.

I know there is a lot of emotion and perceptions about the word feminism. I’ve heard it described as everything from a basic human right to the demise of Western society. Everyone has an image of what this word means to him or her – good or bad.

Personally, I have always championed feminism though my view of it has certainly evolved with life experience. Trust me, I have seen the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly of feminism in the typical Western notion of the word.

In then end, I thought I would take the perspective of how I see this in the context of Islam, coming from a new revert who is a working woman in the western world.

For me Islam in its ideal is the perfect balance of the individual and the community, which is reflected in the balance of personal choice and responsibility to those around you. I view ‘feminism’ to be about women having the same opportunity as men for choice and subsequent responsibility – even if the choices and responsibilities are different….or not.

I am sure we could debate for hours the line between choice and responsibility, the differences between women and men, and the differences among women and among men. However, I would rather bring this back to what are for me the fundamentals — “There is no compulsion in religion” is just as true for women as it is for men. And just like each man is held accountable to Allah for his actions in this life, so is each woman. What can be more equal than that?

Some of the issues I had with Christianity were the historical depiction and treatment of women as chattel and the description of Eve as being responsible for original sin for which Christ needed to die in order to save us. These are just two examples of the way I personally felt Christianity diminished women. And to be honest, a year ago I probably viewed women in Islam as being oppressed or marginalized due to my own preconceived notions as shaped by the media. (And certainly in some cases Muslimahs are oppressed and abused. However, honor killings, mutilation, forced marriage and similar actions are  un-Islamic, and huge and important topics for another time.)

When I read the Qur’an and biographies of the Prophet (SAW), I was astounded. Women were liberated centuries before the term even existed from what I could read: daughters were to be as treasured as sons, women were given the right to property, women had the choice to marry and to divorce, women were equal in responsibility to worship and to do good deeds, women fought in key battles for Islam, the Prophet’s wives were strong and opinionated and loved by the Prophet (SAW) because of these attributes, and there was no ‘original sin’. To me, these are examples of feminism in action and I am sure the sisters and brothers reading this can provide even more examples.

While I may view this as feminism, I guess it does not really matter to me what name is used to describe it. What all of this boils down to is that what I have learned and experienced in following Islam empowers me as a woman.

More importantly, Islam makes me a better human being through my personal accountability to Allah (SWT), my responsibility to the Ummah, and the open encouragement to pursue knowledge about my faith through my whole life.

Alhamdulilah.

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.) 🙂

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