miteypen

Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

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.

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 inĀ  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.

Acceptance and Rejection

In Family, Friends, Writing on October 11, 2009 at 1:16 pm

From the statistics I’ve been able to access, no one is reading this blog and my readership on my other primary blog, Femagination, is down by 30% from last month. I don’t know quite how to take this. It’s true that I stopped writing here almost completely, so that can’t have helped. And I cut way down on my posts on Femagination over the past month because I was so preoccupied with the aftermath of my decision to convert to Islam.

But at the same time, I had a piece published in my local daily newspaper about my learning Arabic. It was based on the posts I wrote here about learning Arabic and what it has done for me. Because I wrote it pre-conversion, it doesn’t mention the role my learning Arabic had in my decision to convert. Actually, it was the other way around: I realized recently that the main reason I wanted to learn Arabic was because I wanted to get to know the Muslim students better, because I was interested in what made them tick. In other words, I wanted to know what part their religion had to play in their character formation and I thought I’d get closer to them if I learned Arabic.

I was right, but even I was surprised by the reaction I got to my overtures. And when I became a Muslim, the news spread like wildfire through the Muslim community. I had planned to keep it quiet for awhile, while I got used to the idea myself. But I didn’t get that chance. Once one of them knew, they all knew. I found that I didn’t really mind after all. I still haven’t told the people I work with, but I imagine they have some idea, since the Libyans have been quite vocal coming up to me with their congratulations.

So things have a way of balancing out. And if I were to be honest, I have experienced much more acceptance than rejection in my life over the last month. In my last post, I mentioned how my husband, children and close friends have accepted my announcement that I am converting. So what if my readership has declined? It will come back, God willing. Relationships are more important anyway. I should be praying that I develop relationships through my blogs instead of just getting visitors to bop in for a peek every once in a while.

One thing I fear is that I’m being rejected because of my conversion to Islam. But if that’s going to bother me, I better toughen up. I will undoubtedly experience a lot more rejection in the course of my life because of this decision. But God will also bless me, I believe, as He does us all, in ways that we often fail to notice. And as long as I have His love, how can any rejection on earth retain its sting? (I’m not going to lie and say that it won’t ever sting.)

I pray every day that God will use me and the gifts He gave me as He sees fit. Acceptance and rejection aren’t up to me. Being faithful is.

“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.

Prejudice

In Religion on November 17, 2008 at 1:03 pm

What I feared is already happening: a surge of hate crimes across the nation after the election of our first black president. I am so afraid for his safety and I’m afraid of certain segments of our society. We will have to worry as much about home-grown terrorism as we do about al Qaeda. I only hope that the law enforcement entities are ready, willing and able to protect President-Elect Obama and his family. I pray every day that he will not be assassinated.

I don’t understand the mind-set of people who would burn crosses in the front yards of black and biracial families. Or who would have assassination betting pools. They obviously are completely incapable of empathy. Nor do they seem to have heard of the Golden Rule. What is the most disconcerting is that many of them call themselves Christians.

In my opinion, there is no place in Christianity for being against anyone. Jesus wasn’t. That’s the guide I use and it has served me well. God is inclusive; He has to be to draw us all to Him. I know how insidious prejudice is; most of us harbor prejudice of one kind or another. We may not even be aware of it. But if we are, our earnest prayer should be that we be given the mind of Christ, that our prejudices should be taken from us.

Render Unto Caesar

In Religion on November 3, 2008 at 4:38 pm

“Evangelicals feel that God should be on the throne in our country. But our government is not a theocracy; it’s a democracy–and people of different faiths must work together, side-by-side, on the assembly line and in the board room. Our forefathers — in their wisdom — created the separation of church and state. I believe, as an evangelical, that the wisdom of the separation lies in the fact that if not separated, the potential to divide us as a nation is enormous. Our founding fathers knew that. In fact, that’s one reason our country was founded… for religious freedom… free of government control. Evangelicals want religious control of government, but as Christian politics have become more powerful, our nation has becomes more divided.”

From “An Election-Eve Call To Reconciliation” by Tim Harrison on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” website.

When I entered into a personal relationship with God 35 years ago, I did so in the evangelical camp and considered myself an evangelical for many years. In a way I still do, but I started to feel a dissonance between my views and those of prominent evangelicals starting in the ’80s when Reagan ran for office. it seemed that overnight evangelicals had become identified with “right-wing” and “conservative,” something I had never considered myself to be. Suddenly people like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed announced themselves as the evangelical movement’s spokespersons. I was appalled and bewildered. I was raised to think of church and state as being in two totally different spheres. When I became ‘born again,” I felt that my beliefs would color everything I do and think, but I never considered voting for someone purely because he or she is a right-wing conservative Christian–or might as well be, based on where he or she stood on the issues of abortion and gay rights.

I guess the problem for me is that I don’t think of evangelical Christians as synonymous with fundamentalism. I always saw evangelicalism as a not exactly liberal, but an open environment. I grew up as a Christian reading Christianity Today more than Charisma and the likes of C.S. Lewis and Franklin Schaeffer. Abortion and gay rights were not major issues at the time. And they certainly weren’t litmus tests for political candidates. I personally believe that God calls us to be witnesses to Him first and foremost–that to me is what evangelicalism means. The other things were side issues–important, but subject to our working out our faith in fear and trembling by walking in a personal relationship with God. In other words, how you felt and what you did about things like abortion, homosexuality, poverty, celibacy, and redemption were between you and God.

I don’t mean that God doesn’t care about these things, but that our mission in this world is to be inclusive, not exclusive. We are meant to draw all people in, not keep certain people out. Supporting people as they try to live their lives the best way they know how doesn’t mean that you condone what they do. It means loving, accepting and listening. It means following the model of Jesus. I believe that we can do more to attract others to Jesus Christ by how we treat them than by being right about abortion and gay marriage.

I also see political beliefs as different from religious beliefs. Our faith informs our politics, but shouldn’t supercede the system under which our government is structured. The government belongs to the people–all the people, not to Christians alone. Jesus made it very clear that Caesar’s concerns were different than God’s. The kingdom of God was not meant to be synonymous with our earthly kingdoms. If we tried to superimpose Christianity upon our government, we would only create tensions between us and all the other religions and belief systems in this country.

I agree with Tim Harrison that “absolutes are partly to blame for why we have big problems that we can’t seem to solve. Such a narrowly-drawn focus on “moral” issues has driven a wedge between Americans, and it is a wedge that the media loves to feed on. We dig our heels in deeper and deeper, all the while vilifying those who disagree with us. How could we ever expect to solve the huge issues facing our country after burning bridges over the “moral absolutes”?”

Moral absolutes belong in our conversations with seekers, in our prayers and in our confession. But they don’t belong in politics, except as personal guidelines. If I feel that I cannot in good conscience vote for a candidate who is pro-choice, then I am free to vote for someone who is. But I may be more concerned for instance with a candidate’s policies toward the poor. I may be forced to prioritize my absolutes. But I think that candidates should also be judged on those things that fall into Caesar’s camp: how effectively they discharge their political duties, how responsive they are to the needs of the majority and how well they abide by the public’s trust in them.

Faith Priorities For This Election

In Politics, Religion on October 28, 2008 at 1:40 pm

I can’t say it as well as Jim Wallis says it in his God’s Politics blog post, “My Personal ‘Faith Priorities’ For This Election,” but here are my own. These are my non-negotiables.

1. The candidate has to be pro-choice and pro-life. This may sound like a cop-out, but hear me out. I want a candidate who is pro-life in all its forms: for unborn fetuses and the prospective mothers, against the death penalty, temperate about war, and concerned about each person’s quality of life. But he or she also needs to recognize that what each person does is between him or her and his or her God and it is not for us to judge or stand in the way of that relationship.

2. As I said above, I want a candidate who will use diplomacy before a show of might. Who will talk softly while carrying a big stick. Senator McCain emphasized the big stick in the second presidential debate, but it’s understood that the U.S. has that; what it needs more of is the soft talking.

3. I want a candidate who fights for the the unfortunates and against the those who are greedy and self-seeking. Who believes in the common good. Who recognizes that one of the roles of government is to pool together all our resources in order to take care of all our countrymen and -women.

4. The candidate has to be a proponent of women’s equality in all phases and sectors of life. A corollary to this is a concern for children and families, which means that the candidate must seek ways to make work more equitable, flexible and rewarding, to supply adequate child care programs for all children, to curb and punish violence in the home, to offer affordable educational opportunities to all people (from whatever class and whatever age), to protect and expand the Family Medical Leave Act, to fight for maternity and paternity leave (ideally paid), and to provide health care for all.

5. The candidate has to care and pass measures to protect our environment. These means policies that explore green ways to provide energy as well as to take up the mantle of the sacred trust that is ours: responsible stewardship of the planet and all that is on it.

6. This is related to #2, but I want a candidate who seeks to work cooperatively with all nations, to not seek only what is good for America, to not wage wars for fiancial gain, but based on justice and human values and to join the planet in fighting global warming and for other environmental concerns.

7. I want to see compassion in my candidate, a caring and respect for all people regardless of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion and social class. I want a candidate who is willing and eager to work and act locally and globally.

8. The candidate must work to rehabilitate America’s stature in the world and among its own citizens. To do that he must have impeccable character and sensitivity toward others.

9. The ideal candidate must also have humility and a willingness to listen to his opponents as well as his advisors.

10. And finally, the candidate must have wisdom and spiritual maturity.

If a candidate fits all these requirements then I believe he or she will be in line with Christ’s mandates to His followers, whether or not he or she is a Christian. I believe in a technical separation of church and state, but not a separation of values and actions. And I believe that a nation led by such a president can be an agent for good in this world. God will be able to work wonders such as we haven’t seen in this country in a long time. I truly believe that.

Not A Christian Nation

In Politics, Religion on October 20, 2008 at 6:22 pm

I am sick and tired of hearing and reading that America is a Christian nation. It isn’t now and never has been. That is not to say that Christianity hasn’t played a part in the founding of this nation. But even back among the Puritans and Pilgrims, we fell short of God’s commandments. And we still do to this day.

The truth is that few Christians live up to the tenets of their faith. They focus on the tangential aspects instead of the main exhortations, which are to love our neighbor as ourselves and our God with all our heart. We try to be God instead of follow Him. We’re much more comfortable judging and second-guessing God as to how he sees His children. We can’t be bothered putting ourselves out there to help those in need. We act as if all one must do to be a Christian is follow the rules. (Of course we get to choose which rules to follow.)

For this to be a Christian nation, we would have to follow Jesus’s admonitions in all that we do. That means giving to the poor, sharing our wealth, keeping the peace, loving our enemies, acknowledging our myriad sins, confession and repentance and making amends. It would also mean doing as much as we can with the gifts we have been given, not piling up our treasures on earth and seeking the common good instead of focusing on ourspecial interests. How many of us truly live up to these principles?

“What Would Jesus Do?” has become a secular catch-phrase, but it is still one that we should take seriously as Christians. If Jesus wouldn’t do it, neither should we. It’s that simple.

The Washington Post’s “On Faith” Web Site

In Religion on September 9, 2008 at 5:09 pm

For interesting and thoughtful musings about faith in this crazy world, click here.