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Posts Tagged ‘Faith Statement’

Seven Months As a Muslim

In Opinion, Religion on May 13, 2010 at 12:35 am

Things look a lot different now that I’ve been a Muslim for over seven months. I’m wearing the hijab for one thing; I started wearing it full time about a month ago. I’m actually surprised at how good it feels. I don’t feel strange at all. You know what my biggest worry is? How am I going to make it through the summer! I have to wear long sleeves and pants, dresses or long skirts besides the hijab and I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to stand it. My Libyan Muslim friends say that it’s not that bad, but they’re used to it. Oh, well, I’ll just pray a lot and hope for the best.

But how I dress is just an outward thing. That’s why I don’t think it’s critical to one’s faith. It might even stand in the way for some people, like if it makes you feel so self-conscious that you can’t concentrate on your relationship with God. One of the things I like the best about wearing the hijab is that other Muslims know right away that I’m one of them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people ask where I’m from as if they can’t believe that someone like me is Muslim. (I look stereotypically American: blue eyes and fair skin, light eyebrows–my hair is blonde.) When I say I’m from “here,” they ask if I’m Muslim and when I say yes, they get all excited. Mash’allah is something I hear a lot. (That’s what you say when something is good.)

Or someone will say to me, “Salaam alaykum (peace be to you),” which is a standard greeting from one Muslim to another. I’m prepared for it when one of my Muslim friends says it, but when a stranger says it to me, I’m taken aback for a moment. I forget that I’m wearing the hijab, so I’m not expecting someone to recognize me as a Muslim. I had a young man apologize to me the other day because he was afraid that I wasn’t a Muslim after all, since I hesitated before replying, “Wa alaykum salaam (and peace be unto you).” I told him I’m just not used to it yet!

Sometimes I have trouble arranging my headscarf or I can’t find one to go with my outfit (or the other way around), but I’ve managed to collect about 20 hijabs so far, so I do okay. At first I was worried that I’d look awful, but I needn’t have worried. I look different but not worse. And sometimes I even think I look better. But that’s just a vanity thing. It shouldn’t matter what I look like, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t give it a thought. I am a woman after all. Becoming a Muslim doesn’t erase who you are.

Some people think that women who wear the hijab are more religious than those who don’t, but Muslims are quick to tell you that what matters is what’s inside, not outside. So how am I doing on the inside?

Well, I still think I made the right choice to embrace Islam. But it’s not an easy transition, at least not for me. I have trouble getting in all my prayers every day. I can’t read Arabic so I have to rely on pronunciation guides, which are hard to find. I get confused when I hear different opinions about what Muslims can and cannot do. I wasn’t prepared for there to be a difference of opinion. But I should have been; after all, Muslims are human. There are Muslims who are very strict about the “old” ways. And there are those who are more open to modern interpretations.

I can see both sides. After all, I wear the hijab, which is seen by some Muslims as mandatory. But I don’t think, for instance, that women should be closed off in a room or behind a barrier when they go to the mosque. A woman has as much right to hear and see the iman, the recitation of the prayers and the sermon as a man does, and depriving her of that right puts an obstacle in her path to Allah. That should be a sin (and possibly is, in God’s eyes).

Even though I often feel inadequate, I know that what God wants is for me to concentrate on Him, and all else will follow.

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Thoughts About Islam

In Charity, Culture, Religion on November 20, 2009 at 12:23 pm

It’s been two months since I said my Shahada at the masjid on the last day of Ramadan. It was a pretty special, if hectic, day. I was so nervous. I’d never even been to a mosque before and everything except for my friends was strange. We were almost late for prayers and I ended up saying Shahada in the mosque office in front of my friends, the secretary and a man whose name I forget now. (He gave me a slip of paper with his name and phone number on it, but I don’t know where I put it!) Then we rushed upstairs while prayers were starting.

I’m not exactly unfamiliar with the experience of arriving late to church, but it’s a lot different from arriving late to prayers. Especially in the women’s room, I think. We just kind of joined right in. I didn’t know how to do my prayers at all at that point so I just followed my friends’ lead. Now I know the Fatihah and I’m working on the Tashahud. It’s a little hard right now to say my prayers because I broke my foot two weeks ago and I have to do them sitting down. I don’t like that much–it doesn’t feel right. But I’m trying to be patient.

I’m having trouble being patient about any of this, though. Now we’re in the holy days before the day of Arafat and this is all new to me, too. I don’t intend to slaughter a sheep but I will fast the day before. I don’t even know how to celebrate the Eid. I wish I could fix a meal and invite my kids to it. None of them has asked me anything about my new faith, not even if I can celebrate Christmas. (They do all know that I’m getting them presents.)

I just checked out a couple of sources about whether or not Muslims can celebrate Christmas. The general consensus seems to be that while we can’t celebrate it ourselves, we can be present for non-Muslim celebrations and even give gifts. Of course we’re to abstain from pork and alcohol. I find it convenient this year that Eid Al-Adha is on Thanksgiving (or the day after, I’m not sure which). It wouldn’t be if the kids and we were celebrating Thanksgiving on the actual holiday but we’re not, so I can fast that day.

I just donated $50 to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank in Connie’s name. I was prompted to do so because of the holy days we’re in right now. Hopefully my donation will bear great fruit (no pun intended). The web site said that each dollar donated is worth $8 of groceries. Good to know that I might be helping to buy $400 worth.

And that’s one thing that I like about Islam. There are all these reminders of what you should be doing for others. That’s not to say that Christians or Jews aren’t also urged to give, but they don’t have as many specific goals. And human beings need goals. That’s just the way we are. And besides, when you do give or do something for others, it’s okay if you tell other people about it if you’re saying that you do it because Allah tells us to; it’s one of the pillars of Islam.

I don’t know why Christianity didn’t awaken my philanthropic impulses the way Islam has. Why it’s easier for me to set goals for myself as a Muslim than it was when I was a Christian. There isn’t a huge difference in the way that Muslims and Christians look at many things (or Jews either), but for some reason, the way Islam puts things speaks to me more clearly.

A New Muslim’s Baby Steps

In Religion, Self Improvement on November 2, 2009 at 2:57 pm

It’s easy to convert to Islam. All you have to do is say the statement of belief (the Shahada) in front of witnesses. It can be in  your own home, it can be only one witness. The only hard and fast requirement is that you bear witness that Allah is the one and only God and that Muhammad is His Messenger.

The hard part is what happens after that moment of conversion. At least it’s been hard for me. First of all, I had to start learning how to pray the five daily prayers. There is a definite ritual, both in word and action, and I’m only about halfway through the process. Because the prayers are traditionally in Arabic (the language of the Holy Qur’an), it’s a two-fold process for non-Arabic speakers. You have to learn how to pronounce the Arabic words and you have to learn what those words mean in your own language. It took me about a month to learn the Fatiheh, which is the first part of every prayer (and is also the first Surah, or chapter, of the Qur’an). But I still have to concentrate to recall the English meaning while I’m saying the Arabic words.

Because this isn’t exactly a smooth process, I’m trusting that I’m benefiting from the prayers even when I don’t understand every word I’m saying. God knows what I’m saying even if I don’t. And so does my soul. I believe that.

Two themes that come up a lot in the Qur’an, I’ve noticed, are patience and perseverance. I think it’s interesting that God mentions them so much because those are two characteristics that I badly need to develop. They are also interrelated; I’ve never been good at sticking to something because I get impatient and want to see results right away. Obviously I can’t do that with my prayers and my Arabic. That has wreaked havoc with my self-confidence. I’ve asked myself many times if I did the right thing. Is this just too hard? Is it too alien?

I’m lucky to have many friends who are eager to teach me the things I need to know. But that can be a curse as well as a blessing. These are life-long Muslims. The language, the customs, the beliefs, the scriptures are all second-nature to them. They’ve been very patient with me, but I feel so ignorant next to them, sometimes I want to give up.

But something keeps me going. And that something is the knowledge deep inside that I made the right decision when I decided to convert to Islam. I still feel the sense of peace and closeness to God that I felt when I first said Shahada.

Returning to Active Status

In Culture, Religion, Self Improvement on October 4, 2009 at 6:29 pm

I wrote in an earlier post that I was going through an existential crisis and I implied that the reason I haven’t been writing here is because I needed to resolve the crisis first. That is mainly true. I’ve also been having trouble writing posts in general, for any of my blogs, because I’ve been preoccupied with other activities.

I didn’t think that I’d be ready to announce what my crisis was for a while, because I thought it would take some time before I resolved it. As it turned out, though, things went pretty quickly and I’m now ready to reveal what has been keeping me from writing: I have become a Muslim.

There have been two parts to my struggle: one was deciding for myself what I believed and the other was telling others what I’ve decided. And obviously I had to tell family and close friends before I could blurt it out in one of my blogs.

I discussed it with my husband before I took the step. I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t been supportive, but I needn’t have worried: he’s been great. Then I told my daughters who were also accepting (if surprised). At that time I decided to say my profession of belief, or the Shahada, which is all you need to do to become a Muslim. I said it in the privacy of my own home, in front of a close Muslim friend and then finally in the mosque on the last day of Ramadan.

I had been observing Ramadan in my own way, which was to give up smoking. I haven’t smoked since August 22nd, and I don’t feel the urge to. I hadn’t had the nerve to fast, and didn’t feel that I had the right to anyway, since I wasn’t Muslim. After I made my Shahada the first time, which was about ten days before the end of Ramadan, I did attempt to fast, but I wasn’t very good at it. The Ramadan fast is a total fast (not even water) from dawn to dusk and I couldn’t do without some coffee in the morning to get me going. I wasn’t praying at that point, except for my own little baby prayers, but I still got up before dawn so that I could eat some breakfast before the fast officially started.

After I said my Shahada, it was explained to me that 1) all my sins from before were washed away; and 2) that Ramadan was a most auspicious time to make my decision. However, I recognize that celebrating Ramadan, in my feeble way, had a lot to do with my being ready to embrace Islam. The excitement level was so high and there was this hyper-awareness of the Islamic religion in the air, it was hard for me to not think about Islam. I tried to keep what I was feeling to the pages of my journal, but I finally had to talk it over with some of my Muslim friends. They answered a lot of my questions but didn’t try to push me one way or another.

I still have a lot of questions–I know nothing but the basics about the religion–and there’s a lot I have to get used to. Like praying five times a day. Deciding what to do about the headscarf  (I do wear it when I pray and at the mosque). Learning where to shop and how to cook halal (permitted) food. But those are all externals. What really matters is what’s going on in my heart.

And at least there I feel at peace.

Depressive Episode

In Mood disorders, Self Improvement on June 24, 2009 at 7:00 am

I’ve been struggling with depression lately–it’s been building for the past two or three weeks. The only thing that has changed is that my psychiatrist cut the dosage on one of my meds. That could be it–it probably is it–but I don’t want to go back on the previous dosage. Because the trade-off is that I’m thinking more clearly.

I noticed that before the depression set in. Dr. S cut my dosage because I complained that my thinking was fuzzy. I couldn’t think of words or think things through. I would forget things as soon as I thought about them. I couldn’t stay on task. Hell, I couldn’t get myself  “on task” to begin with.

But with this depression I’m having trouble thinking and acting for different reasons. My thoughts are obsessive: about how much I dislike myself, about things that could go wrong. All I want to do is escape from my thoughts. So I read all the time and when I’m not reading I fall asleep. I “nap” two or three times a day some days. I never jump out of bed and get going. (Although I’m not a morning person at the best of times.) The only writing I’m doing is for my blogs–and that’s been like pulling teeth. Nothing else appeals to me. I haven’t even been studying my Arabic.

I feel desperate but I’m hanging in there. Because I really want to try to work things out for myself. That could be an exercise in futility. But if my only option is to go back to fuzzy thinking, I’d rather use the brain power I’ve gotten back to figure out ways to fight this depression. What can I do to make myself feel better about myself? How can I reassure myself that the worst is not going to happen?

I haven’t been praying, but then I never have prayed much. I do direct thoughts “at” God and hope that He is aware of what’s going on with me. I’m just not sure how much He is willing to intervene. That makes Him sound so removed. And I’ve always drawn comfort from the concept of a personal God. But I’ve never believed that we can ask Him for things and then willy-nilly He’ll make them happen.

Besides, it’s not more faith in God that I need. It’s more faith in me.

My New View of God

In Culture, International, Opinion, Religion on June 6, 2009 at 11:42 am

After reading A History of God by Karen Armstrong (most of which was beyond me, I admit) I have come to the conclusion that it is sacriligeous for any of us to say that we have the last word on God. Why? Because God, by His very nature, is beyond our comprehension. It’s even sacriligeous for us to call Him “Him.” That’s one reason why I always capitalize pronouns that refer to God, to differentiate between Him and a human man. I would call Him “She” except that would be perpetuating the same misconception. And since I can’t quite handle calling God “It,” I use the male pronouns.

But the probable truth is, God is “It.” The “It.” Like most “its,” He is subject to misunderstandings and met with confusion. And humans don’t like to be in the dark about their gods. Any of our gods. We want to have total grasp of any and all subjects: biology, psychology, chemistry, physics, theology–the list is legion. And when we don’t–or can’t–have total understanding, we make things up to make ourselves feel better.

I wouldn’t say that I have lost my faith, because I still believe in God. I just think it is limiting to latch onto one interpretation of His nature, whether that be Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hindu, Druidism or whatever. I think some explanations have more merit than others, but it is hard for me to say–at this point in my life–that any one explanation is the only true or full explanation. How can God be captured like that?

If we were to be totally honest, isn’t it more accurate to say that “this is the way I experience God”? And since we are all products of our upbringing, history, culture and psychology, doesn’t it make sense that we are going to have different experiences? I believe that God exists, but I also think that people try to make Him fit into their version of reality. People who need a great deal of structure in their life are going to be more likely to identify with a specific set of doctrines, for instance. Or people who see God as an agent in history (or rather, the Agent in history) are going to experience Him in the context of their history.

Thus the Jews hold onto their conception of the Creator God and themselves as His chosen people. Christians have shaped their religion around the philosophies of the church fathers and have identified with a Triune God.  And Muslims see God as the last word in faith and history (according to Mohammad). Obviously I am oversimplifying here. And I’m leaving out the other belief and thought systems. But these are just examples.

I was raised as a Christian. Not only that, but as a Lutheran. I learned to identify with Martin Luther, the apostle Paul and Jesus Christ. (Not necessarily in that order.) It all made perfect sense to me. I was never beset with doubts about the Trinity or the resurrection of the body.  When I became an adult, I joined the Methodist church where I learned about John Wesley and the doctrine of works, not just faith, and the second blessing. Not long after that, I became a born-again Christian. I remained in the Methodist church, but identified with non-denominationals, probably because I felt constricted by the Methodist–and Lutheran–doctrines. I sensed that denominational differences had more to do with historical events and persons than with revelation.

Lately, I have been learning more about Islam and I realize that it, too, fits the culture out of which it grew. I don’t come out of that culture; hence, it seems foreign to me. At the same time, I recognize that Allah is as valid a concept as the God of Israel or the Triune God.  What, other than my background, keeps me from “trying on” another belief system? If I try to use reason and base my choice on comparisons among religions, I come away with the realization that they all have something to recommend them. But they also all have things that don’t make sense to me, or I don’t agree with, or I can’t see making such a big deal about. And I have to take that all into account. I can’t experience God without being who I am.

“Religulous”

In Culture, Opinion, Religion, Self Improvement on May 16, 2009 at 6:41 am

My husband and I watched Bill Maher’s movie “Religulous” the other night. I had a pretty good idea what itwould be like: Maher drilling holes in the beliefs of religious people. I know his style from his stand-up comedy. You could say that he’s the epitome of irreligious. He’s also pretty darn irreverent. Some of his act is just that: an act. But I got the impression that he was serious when he argued with and at times ridiculed the people he was interviewing.

He was asked by a couple of people in the film: “What if you’re wrong (about not believing in God)?” One time he answered, “Well, that’s a pretty lame reason to believe in God.” (I’m paraphrasing; I don’t remember what was said word for word.) Another time he asked back: “What if you’re wrong?” I don’t think he thought that through. If a Christian is wrong, it’s not like he is going to have something bad happen to him. He’ll just die and that’s it. But if an unbeliever is wrong (about the afterlife), he’s going to be mighty unhappy about the outcome.

I agree with Maher that that’s not the most ideal reason to believe in God. That’s not true faith anyway; that’s just fear. I suppose that’s not the worst reason to believe in God: because you’re afraid of Him. But as a Christian, I don’t believe that’s what God intended. He wants us to do what we do out of gratitude and love. I’m not going to get preachy here. I have my own doubts. And in that I agree with Mayer: having doubts is a sign of maturity.

If we believe out of fear, or habit, or only because we were raised in a particular faith, our belief system will be weak. It’s only when we have thoroughly examined God, our church’s doctrine and our own beliefs that we can consider ourselves grown-up. Anything less is for babies. That doesn’t mean that we won’t be immature sometimes, especially when we’re first starting out. But hopefully, we will allow room in our souls for honest inquiry.

Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) Is Back

In Culture, Music on May 6, 2009 at 1:35 pm

One of my all-time favorite records is Tea For the Tillerman by Cat Stevens. I was as mystified as anyone when he dropped out of the music scene and converted to Islam. The latest issue of Newsweek has an article about his recent reemergence in the music scene. Here is a 36-minute documentary about his journey.

My Religion Project

In Religion on January 26, 2009 at 4:18 pm

I think I know what church I want to start going to: it’s downtown, perhaps five minutes from me, a stone mid-to-late nineteenth century building right next door to the Columbus Museum of Art. (Since the Museum is free on Sundays, I could go there after church and enlighten my soul even further!) It’s a United Church of Christ congregation. I happened upon it during my research of Protestant churches other than the ones I was already familiar with (Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal). I was attracted to it because it describes itself as an open and affirming community of faith:

We believe we are all created in God’s image, female and male, and we are called to love our neighbors as Jesus loves us. We believe we are many members, but one body in Christ, and called to unite all people in God’s love. We welcome and affirm all people. We invite those who are seeking God’s presence in their lives to join us in our common journey. Our faith community seeks to unite persons of all ages, races, nationalities, ethnicities, sexual orientations, mental and physical abilities, socioeconomic levels, and political and theological backgrounds. Together in our diversity, and being empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit, we will “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).