Family Matters

I did it. I told my family – at least some of them – that I am Muslim.

I can’t tell you how scary it was. I did it because some of my family were coming to visit me at Christmas, and I thought that even if I don’t wear hijab or pray in front of them they will likely see the books in my house and the prayer rugs kept under my bed. (My apartment is not that big.) As well as the fact I don’t drink alcohol anymore, which would be quite noticeable by them on New Year’s Eve.

But mostly I just wanted them to know. I have felt so detached from them for so long. I am very close to them and I hated them not knowing about such a big thing in my life. And at the same time I really feared that by telling them I could lose them.

It really impacted the rest of my life and relationships too. I mean, if I could not tell my sisters – my best friends – who could I tell?

So — what happened? I decided to call my sisters first prior to my brother and his family arriving here to visit.

My first sister was shocked and upset, but was careful to stay calm and assure me that she loved me and would accept my choice. She became more upset as time went on, but mostly because she was afraid for me based on everything she sees in the news. She was open that it was her hang up and prejudice, but it did not stop her from being upset. But the key here is that she accepted it.

My second sister was a bit surprised, but seemed fine with it. She was quite funny in fact. She has a work friend who is Muslim so knows that Ramadan is right in the middle of summer for the next few years, and she told me I better not cheat during Ramadan. She was even fine with the fact she might one day see me wearing hijab.

Finally, I told my brother when he was here. I waited until after Christmas in case things went badly. However, while he said he did not understand it, he also said that he did not care as it was my decision. I think it upset him more than he said as he was a bit distant for the rest of the day and he did not want to talk about. But things seemed to go back to normal after a day or two.

A few days later I told my sister-in-law. She was actually happy for me. She said she was glad I found something. There are many things she does not understand about Islam or my choice, but was ultimately very accepting.

Interestingly, all of them were adamant that I should not tell my parents, noting that they think my parents would never accept it or ever get over it.

Even though I had the same thought, it was a very tough message to hear. I certainly won’t tell them anytime in the near future. But can I really not ever tell them? On the one hand if it will upset them so, I should be careful not to hurt them as they are my parents. On the other hand, shouldn’t they know who I am? What if there was a circumstance such that it would be inevitable that they know. Wouldn’t they be more upset that I waited to tell them?

Ultimately, now that my siblings know, I am sure my parents will find out. And knowing I won’t lose my brother and sisters – and that they will support me even – I am okay with whatever happens.

It is really life-changing that they know. I know not all of my old friends will be as understanding as my family. And I know that my family will not understand everything. But having faced this fear it gives me more courage to continue this journey.

And I feel even closer to those in my life who already know and who have been supportive all this time. I feel incredibly blessed. Alhamdulilah.

What was your experience telling your family and friends?

To Hijab….

Since I moved to London, I have started wearing hijab. Admittedly only in my personal life, not my work life.

But this is a HUGE change from where I was just a few months ago when I first wrote about my struggles with Muslim fashion and wearing hijab.

I have read the books recommended by several of you on this subject, including “Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil” by Bullock. Incredibly enlightening and helpful.

To be honest, I am not somebody who thinks wearing hijab and a long skirt provides more protection to me as a woman. Yet I do feel more comfortable and more secure when I wear it, and I love that it is a visible symbol that I am a Muslim. And, of course, it keeps me warm in the cold days of winter!

The best part of wearing hijab is the hijabi mafia. What is this you ask? Well, I have found that when I wear hijab I go from being completely alone in London to receiving smiles and greetings of salam as I walk down the street from other hijabis. Further, I get offers of help and local tips from hijabis whenever I look lost or confused. It is fantastic. When I have had a particularly bad week, being acknowledged by fellow Muslimahs makes me believe I will get through this challenging time.

As for work, I do contemplate how I will manage the to transition to wearing hijab. I have read so many news stories recently about the prejudice in the corporate workplace regarding women who wear hijab.

I have changed my style of dress and I am very open that I don’t drink alcohol anymore – but wearing the hijab is different. As someone in the workplace already and fairly senior, perhaps I could break a barrier. But I could just as easily find myself out of a job and deported.

I am not sure if I am being a coward or being considered in taking my time to figure it out. Perhaps the biggest thing is that I am thinking about how I could do it. This is something I could not even imagine a year ago.

Do any of you have the experience of being established in the corporate culture and making the change to wearing hijab?

Buyer’s Remorse

Salam sisters and brothers.

It has been a while since I have written. I have to say my move and new job have been more challenging than I anticipated. I have been really questioning whether this was the right decision, and thinking maybe my adventure abroad should come to an end – and I should just chuck it all and move back to California.

Part of it is just the logistics of the move and part is due to a difficult start in the new job. But it is more than that. I just don’t know what I am doing here or where I am headed. I have been feeling quite lost.

However, it is exactly times like these when I have to have even more faith and know that I just have to be patient, right?

A friend mentioned that part of my feeling – in addition to the normal challenge of an international move – may in part be due to the fact that I moved here to shift my priorities from my work life to my personal life, and my feeling of being lost is that I have ramped down work but still have to seek or find the focus of my personal life.

And a women I met recently reminded me that in life, as a Muslim, it is not about being rewarded or punished for what you have done in this world, but that when something good happens we must be grateful, and if something bad happens or something is difficult, it is a test and we must be patient. We must remember that we cannot see the greater context of things and Allah (swt) knows and sees what is best.

So, I am not entirely sure how to continue building my new life here. I have been visiting Mosques and I am taking a class to learn to read and recite the Quran. And there is a person here who has been an incredible anchor for me and whom I hope will become an even bigger part of my life.

I think perhaps I need to be patient with myself and the journey,  and stay committed to the reasons I moved here.

My biggest challenge and my biggest area of growth as a Muslim since day one has been sabr.

How do you stay patient through challenging times?

The bumpy road to the straight path

Not one of us goes through life without times of challenge. It is a commonality for which we can all be certain.

Though I realize in the big scheme of things I am quite lucky, three years ago I hit a particularly bumpy time. I was betrayed by someone in way that can only be described as ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. As part of this betrayal, I found out I had unwittingly participated in something I viewed as unconscionable. I was devastated.

But I kept telling myself there had to be a reason for all of this. I knew there was something I clearly needed to learn and this was part of my path.

Just two months later, I experienced an even worse blow to my life when my sister, with whom I had been estranged for more than 20 years, died before we could reconcile. I was numb.

Then lots of small things happened: financial troubles, friends moving away — all of which brought me lower. I delved into anger and isolation, and behaviors and relationships for which I am not proud.

Two things kept me going: that voice in the back of my head saying there was a bigger picture here and I just could not see it yet, and the fact that I was moving my professional life in a calmer direction in the hopes that I could re-build my personal life. I had found the perfect job that maintained my standard of living but moved me off the ‘fast track’.

Then, just a few months later this was taken away. I still had a job but I was transferred back to a high pressure position. Certainly I had the choice not to take the position and leave, but due to a variety of circumstances I chose to stay.

Though it was my decision to stay, I was resentful. And not just of the job. I was angry with God. I felt like I had lost everything in my personal life, my family was still reeling from the death of my sister and after years of trying to down shift my career, I was right back where I started. I felt… completely broken.

I also realized that many of the circumstances in my life were in large part a result of my own choices and actions. So I decided that as a starting point to try to move things in the right direction, I was going to dig in to the job I had agreed to take on and do it to the best of my ability, hoping it would lead me to something better. I did not know why or how it would lead me to something better, I just knew I needed to do something…anything.

During this time as a result of this job that I had not wanted, there was a person I came to know who had this amazing core of strength, and I don’t mean the kind you can get with Pilates. I wanted to understand the source of this strength and how I could get it, so I began asking questions.

Low and behold…..this is how I was introduced to Islam.

In the beginning, I just found it interesting. I have always been interested in religion – its history and philosophy – and I began to learn more about Islam in that spirit. To my surprise, there was a lot in Islam that I already believed. Many of the things I struggled with in Christianity were solved with Islam. It all made so much sense. It was logical. It was beautiful. It was grounded.

I still did not think I would or could ever convert. Yet, as time went by and I learned more about Islam, I started to feel better. I was healing.

Gradually I realized I couldn’t not follow Islam. I couldn’t not be Muslim. And one year ago this week I said my shahadah. Alhamdulilah.

I know that this is the path I was being guided towards all those years ago. And I also know the journey is still just at the beginning. Inshallah.

Whether you were born Muslim or are a revert, what was your journey to Islam?

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.

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