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?

Coffee Klatch

After my first Mosque visit – see my previous posting for that story – it was a while before I went to another Mosque. First was in a large hotel when I was traveling on business – but I was alone in the prayer room.

Next….. was Istanbul. I am so amazingly fortunate! I was able to go to these enormous, beautiful, historic mosques.

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And this is where I really gained insight into what it means to pray in congregation – or at least an insight.

I was still a bit nervous going in to pray, and I definitely caused a bit of confusion. Heading to the Blue Mosque for Asr I was greeted with shouts of, “Lady. Lady! The Mosque is closed to tourists. Lady!” I did not break stride, I just kept going until I found the place for wudu for women, where I received more looks of confusion. Then I went into the Mosque and entered the woman’s area.

It was a bit before Asr still. There was a small group of women in a corner chatting, a young woman sitting in the window reading a book, an older lady peeking over the partition at the men’s area, a couple of other women praying according to their own rhythm, and children running in and out and all around.

And, if I am really honest, there was also the smell of feet. But that could have been me as my shoes were in my bag that was just in front of me, and it was a very hot day.

As we reached the time of prayer, the place was packed and we all prayed together in our little section of the Mosque. It was wonderful.

I went to a different Mosque each day I was in Istanbul, and it was a similar experience to varying degrees depending on the time of day that I was there — women chatting quietly, praying, lying down, reading.

And it occurred to me. The women’s section is a total coffee klatch but without the coffee! A place to go think, rest, chat and – of course – pray. And how wonderfully this supports, or is the result of, the importance of community in Islam.

Alhamdulilah.

What happened to the uncomfortable pews?

One of my big challenges – other than my wardrobe – was going to Mosque for prayer. I am not sure if all converts find this intimidating, but I definitely did.

I grew up Catholic and I know what to expect when I go to church — standing, kneeling, sitting, hand gestures, as well as all the prayers and confession. Thus, I was certain there must be many aspects of prayer in Mosque that I don’t know or understand that are natural to those who grew up Muslim. I imagined – or feared – that I would do something wrong and offend an entire community of Muslims.

My first challenge was to find a Mosque – not easy where I live currently. A friend who has become my personal Islamopedia found a couple of places near where I live.

So I ventured by myself one Saturday to the first place. Excited and absolutely terrified. Unfortunately, no woman’s section and nobody spoke English. (My German is functional shopping-, dining-German at best.)

There was a woman’s section at the second place I tried but only on Fridays. So, I went the very next Friday. I received a lot of odd looks going in as I asked where the woman’s section was. They pointed upstairs — to an apartment above the Mosque.

The woman’s section was the apartment of this lovely woman who took in total strangers for prayer every Friday. I was overwhelmed with her generosity and trust. I told her excitedly that this was my first time at Mosque….. uh… she did not speak a word of English.

Her mother was there along with her young daughter and another woman with her young daughter. That was it. And no one spoke any English.

I watched as this sister provided tea and cookies to her guests and readied herself for jumua. The two young girls ran around the apartment laughing and happy. Later on two older girls came home from school – though they went back to their room. And the grandmother folded laundry.

Finally, I heard the call to prayer – which takes my breath away every time I hear it. Everybody finished up what they were doing and I was waved up to come join them in the middle of the room. I forgot everything I had learned and memorized beforehand, and I just started following them. They guided me as needed, making sure I was standing in the right place and providing me with a long black covering to wear. (Apparently I was not as suitably dressed as I thought.)

Between prayers we sat for a long time on the floor, though the grandmother was lying down on the floor. A lot of talking was coming through the speakers connected to the Mosque downstairs. Everything was in German or Arabic, and the children continued to run around us.

I was completely lost.

This was not the orderly, precise, reserved Sunday Catholic Mass where we sat stiffly on uncomfortable pews. And I was a bit worried about the Grandmother. Why was she lying down? Was she feeling okay? (For those who were raised Christian, can you imagine if your grandmother just lied on the ground during church service?)

Then, as suddenly as it started, it was over. I received a kiss on the cheek and was wished well. I handed back the covering they had lent me, put my shoes on and left.

I was not sure what exactly had just happened – but was thrilled for the experience.

I spoke later to my friend who explained it all to me. And while I fully intended to make this a routine part of my week, I never did. In the end, I didn’t think this would be the place I would find the community I am seeking. But I am so grateful and humbled by this woman’s kindness and generosity to allow me and other sisters into her home for Friday prayer.

I wish her and her family all the blessings of Allah.

(And yes, I realize now the grandmother was just fine. :-))

For those who grew up Muslim, what is your advice to converts as they begin to attend prayer in the Mosque? For other converts, how did you manage your first experience going to Mosque?

Muslim Fashion?

In my journey in Islam, there are many things that I thought would be challenging for me that were not. No drinking, no pork, only helal meat — easy. What is challenging for me, or more challenging than I thought it would be, is the clothes.

I love clothes, shoes, everything. And I have a lot of clothes, shoes, everything. While I never thought I dressed immodestly before I became a Muslim, I am struggling with my old wardrobe in my new life.

I like a sophisticated fashionable look with simple clean lines. I am not trendy as trends typically do not suit me or reflect my personality – but I do enjoy the unusual and a splash of color now and then. Vivian Westwood and Alexander McQueen are two of my favorite designers to give you a flavor of what I mean.

I am also VERY short, so anything that is loose, layered, etc, makes me look sloppy, dumpy and 20 pounds overweight. Now, I realize my ego and pride should not trump modesty and appropriateness, but I do need to feel comfortable and confident.

Furthermore, I work in a corporate environment and the people I work with don’t know I am Muslim…yet.

So what do I do?!?!

I have been wearing more pants, lots of long sleeved body suits under my tops, tights / pants under my dresses and skirts, and always with a scarf. But it does not always feel quite right.

I believe that clothes reflect who you are and I really want to embrace being Muslim in a way that is sophisticated, modest, elegant, appropriate and modern – and doesn’t make me look dumpy and 20 pounds overweight. So, where do I go? Where should I look?

I found Barjis. A very cool site for clothing for “modern Muslim women.” I plan to try their bespoke services when I move to London later this year.

I also found blog spot called hijablicious. It may be a bit young for me, but I am excited to explore it.

Other thoughts, suggestions, tips?

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