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My last day as a Muslim

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Has it really been a month? I woke up on my last day as a Muslim thinking how anticlimactic it seemed, but what did I expect? I just wanted to do something, a final push perhaps, but when I have to spend my day with a toddler, my options are limited. I knew where I needed to go, I knew what I needed to do, and after begging my manager, I was given my evening shift off to be able too do it.
I needed to focus on Islam, not the show of being a Muslim. I probably should have done more of that in this time, but then, there are a lot of things I probably would have done differently if I could redo this month. I was going to go to mosque for maghrib prayer (around 8pm) and stay reading the Quran until ishaa prayer (around 10pm).
Not much perhaps, but I truly felt that is where I had to end this, that is what I should be doing.
With my evening plans sorted, the day time was uneventful and insignificant. I discovered a new hijab wrap, and felt a pang of sadness that my hijab days were about to be behind me. I quite liked having something different about me, standing out from the norm, and of course there is the community that goes with it. At the same time, I do miss my hair, and having my ears free from material.
It felt too surreal to honestly think exactly how I felt about it being my last day. In some ways I don’t feel ready for it to end just yet, in others ways I do. It very much feels like what it is- I have been playing a character for a month, and that can get exhausting. It didn’t come naturally to me, I didn’t feel like me as a Muslim, not just due to the beliefs, but the clothes, the attitude, the actions. But I also feel like I need more time, that it has only been in the last few days that I felt any true connection, and the desire to learn openly and honestly.
When I asked for the sign during my first time in a mosque, and when during the day there were moments I genuinely thought it was going to happen, I cannot shake that feeling. Excitement, nerves, fear, joy, and then the feeling when the day ended and the sign was never shown. Empty, betrayed, surprised and yet nonchalant… disappointed? I still haven’t made up my mind exactly what I feel about God even if He were real. I morally disagree with many of His actions and ideals that the holy books (Bible and Quran) accredit to Him. And yet, it would be nice, wouldn’t it? That comfort, feeling part of something bigger than yourself, having a purpose.
The evening came and I got ready for my second trip to mosque, I went armed with my quran and note pad, but when I arrived it wasn’t like what I had experienced just two days previously. It was empty!
What a difference there is between the first day of Eid to the last. I stood in the woman section feeling a bit lost. Although I had prayed many times, I also needed some visual guide, be it my husband or YouTube video. Thankfully my husband saw my lost expression and decided to pray with me behind the barrier. Afterwards he disappeared back to the men’s section and I sat to read Quran. I got through about five suras (chapters), reflecting at the end of each one. I half smiled as I read small parts here and there about the signs God has given us, and frowned as I read more promises of afterlife torture.
If I was looking for *something* to put it all in place, I didn’t find it. I was just left frustrated. There was no connection, I didn’t even feel spiritual. I wished they had dimmed the lights, lit candles, burned incense, have the Arabic Quran playing, just something! Bright red carpet, dull walls and cheap lighting, it just didn’t feel like the type of environment that a religious awakening can take place. But surroundings aside, I had hoped that something in the text would feel personal to me, that would strike a chord. I’m still a way off truly understanding why so many have converted, I want to understand and so making it a continuous mission to do so.
I haven’t finished the Quran, but I will, and it doesn’t stop there. I do believe the most important thing to do when learning a religion is to go to the holy book first. Use your own brain and see what it says before having people tell you what it says. They easily manipulate words to make it come across as more positive or more negative, they are bias one way or the other. However, I also believe that with a book that can be so complex and difficult to read, it is great to seek other sources to help you reflect. I’ve a growing list of other books I want to read, and speakers I want to hear. Clearly a lot of people gain something positive from Islam, they see it as the absolute truth and beautiful, I might never believe but I want to continue learning and understanding why others do.
I prayed the final prayer alone, wanting to test my own ability. Well I messed up, twice. I assumed I enjoyed praying alone more, but I missed the feeling I had when I prayed with a room full of women during Eid prayers and really hope to be able to do it again. Is that wrong of me? Not doing the shehada (affirmation of faith) but wanting to go to mosque and pray?

By the time I went home and to bed, the day felt as anticlimactic as it did at the start. I feel like I’m missing something, although I am no longer going to “play Muslim”, I know this isn’t over yet, I don’t want it to be. Yes I am still an atheist, but there is a thirst for knowledge I don’t feel quenched. This is supposed to lead to something and I want to know what. God? Perhaps, or maybe it is nothing to do with religion specifically, but the learning. I’ve been at a bit of a crossroads in my life lately, my toddler is getting older and at twenty-six I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. I always said I wanted to go back to education, maybe a religion/theology class is the way to go?
I will give an in detail overview of my thoughts, feelings and perhaps changes to myself during the month in another blog post, I just need to work out what they are first.

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Comfort in the Quran?

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islam hell

So far in this blog I’ve hardly spoken about the Quran. It is a touchy subject. But that can’t continue, it is the very essence of the religion, it is the most important thing to learn. Forget about the prayers, the head scarf, the fast, saying alhamduallah and inshallah, they all came about due to the message, the book… the word of God?

On Wednesday I was at hospital waiting to go under general anaesthetic to have my wisdom teeth removed. I was scared. No, not about the teeth, it was being put to sleep that concerned me. The night before my fears drove me to a point that I made my final wishes known to my husband, right down to which songs I want at my funeral. On the actual day there was a lot of waiting on my alone, allowing me to over think such thoughts. A perfect time to read a holy book, this time not just to learn, but perhaps to seek comfort and to sooth.
Well that was the hope.
Although England is pretty secular, it is still a Christian country and must grow up knowing an idea about the religion, and the concept that Jesus loves us. Jesus hates the sin but not the sinner. Jesus sacrificed himself for us. Whatever we do, whoever we are, we are loved by Jesus- in fact, God IS love.
That is quite comforting stuff. I could have done with a bit of that from the Quran. But I didn’t get it.
Reading the sura’s (chapters) of the Quran I didn’t feel like God was trying to coax me to him with a bear hug, I felt like he was trying to make me run to him because there was an angry mob with torches behind me.
Again and again and again the Quran reminds us that if you don’t believe you will have agonising torment, you will be fuel to the fire, you will have humiliating punishment. My mouth actually dropped open when I read: “We shall send those who reject our revelations to the fire. When their skins have been burnt away, we shall replace them with new ones so that they may continue to feel the pain” (4:56).
I wasn’t comforted, I wasn’t soothed. Where was the love?
People shouldn’t be scared into belief, it doesn’t work, and why would God want people to believe in him simply because they were too afraid not to? It is Pascal’s Wager: it is better to believe in God as if you are wrong you lose nothing, but if you disbelieve and are wrong you are punished.
I could write a lot about the errors in the wager, but most people don’t need to know religious debate 101 to see the flaws in such an argument.
You cannot scare someone who doesn’t believe into believing, it isn’t a switch. I have said it before and I will say it again: Atheists do not deny God, we haven’t turned away from him, we have no control over our disbelief just as a believer has no control over their belief.
And apparently because of this, God doesn’t love us. He will torture us, forever.
No, I wasn’t comforted, I wasn’t soothed.
Maybe a believer finds soothing words in the book (I should add I still have a way to go before I finish it, so can only talk about what I have so far read). But with all that negativity in there, do they just skim by it? Do they just not see it as it doesn’t apply to them? And what parts of it do believers find comforting? I decided it might help if I read it from a believers point of view, but even then I wasn’t filled with much uplifting joy.
Heaven, a place of gardens and flowing streams according to the Quran. Doesn’t that seem like the type of heaven those in the desert would picture? I can get that by going to the Lake District! Ok, yes believers I hear you scream “it will be a hundred times more beautiful”. But, well, I don’t *need* more beautiful. The idea that heaven is perfection for ever and ever and ever doesn’t really appeal to me, especially not when people are being tortured, loved ones, good people whose only crime was being atheists or polytheists. And let’s just say when in heaven I lose that human compassion and do not care about them, the idea of eternity of bliss actually sounds quite boring. Anything I want I can have? So what is the point? Everything becomes meaningless.
No, I didn’t feel comforted, I didn’t feel soothed. I felt disconnected.

Well obviously I came through the operation alive and well. The post op tablets I have to take mean I cannot fast for five days as they have to be taken with food. There are no slaves nearby that I can free to make up for these lose of days, but I can make them up after the month, or feed the hungry. Freeing slaves and feeding the hungry, admirable. The Quran is also very focused on being just to orphans. There is good in there I know there is, I just wish it would ease off the fire and brimstone talk.

Did I rush into this?

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I thought knowing the basics of Islam meant I could easily fit in to the role of Muslim, it would be easy, right? Boy was I wrong, I was so unprepared and now paying the price. I’m not getting as much out of this month that I know I could had I waited, turns out little more than a week isn’t enough time to prepare to completely change yourself for a month, who’d have thunk it?
I needed a game plan, some structure. I knew I wanted to fast, I knew the clothes and I knew I wanted to read the Quran, but there are so many other things I should have added to help with the learning. I should have looked into mosque timeables to see when there are classes, I should have got in contact with an Imam to say what I’m doing and if they can help me along the way, I should have found some Islamic sisters nearby who would meet- I should have used at least some of my journalism skills that I spent twenty grand acquiring!
And most importantly, I should have made sure those around me were ready.
I should have made sure my husband was.
He is fine with what I’m doing, there is no issue there, but I don’t think he understands what I needed from him, being the only Muslim in my day to day life. I didn’t just need to act as a Muslim, I needed people to treat me as one, otherwise it feels like a losing battle.
I needed a teacher, a pushy one. What would have been better than someone with me every day who was born into a Muslim family and raised in an Islamic country? Well that actually proved the problem. My husband’s religion is such a habit that so many things he does, such as thank god when he finishes a meal, he doesn’t even notice. And because he doesn’t notice that he is doing it, he doesn’t notice that I am not.
Come the end of the day when it is time to break fast, he mumbles away in Arabic the specific words needed, whilst I just immediately down my water and eat my dates. I’m not Muslim, so it is so easy to forget what I’m doing and just be, well, an atheist. I need reminding, guided, and taught.
I need someone to take the remote control out of my hand and stick the Quran in it! Surely the Biggest Loser should pale in significance when I’m searching for religious enlightenment?
I didn’t make sure before I done this that my husband knew what I needed from him. To be honest, at that time I didn’t know what I needed from him either. I assumed this was a solo act, but actually I should have gathered a team of support.

And time! I’m really glad doing this meant I was able to experience Ramadan, but doing it in Ramadan means my time is very restricted. All day I have my toddler to run after, then as soon as he goes to bed it is time to prepare the meal and eat it. By then it is nearing 10pm and we have to go to bed so that we can get up at 2:30am. Doesn’t really leave much room for reading and studying the Quran!
My social life has taken a nose dive too (shocking how many social activities revolve round food), so I’m not really getting a feel for what those who convert to Islam go through mixing their old life with their new.

I should have organised this better so at the end of the month I’m not looking back and just thinking, “well, I rocked the head scarf and lost a couple of lbs” (oh ok, the latter isn’t true, boy you should see the size of the iftar meals!).
There is still time though, time to organise and come up with a schedule. Tomorrow however I won’t be doing the one thing I feel as if I perfected: The fast.
Tomorrow morning I go to hospital to be put under general anaesthetic to have my wisdom teeth removed. Apparently you have to eat and drink before being discharged with a lot of pain killers to take. So much for not eating.
On the plus side however, all the waiting around the hospital I have to do tomorrow gives me plenty of alone time to do what should be seen as the most important thing this month, reading the Quran!

Searching for religion?

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This is no new question to me, be it from others or myself. Am I searching for religion? Well, that would explain my interest in it. Long before Islam ever entered my life I had already read and studied the bible, I was a member of atheist forums and a frequent poster in the Yahoo! Answers religion and spirituality section, and then before that I was very much into mythology, especially Nordic.
Not including subjects I formally studied at school/collage/university, I have spent more time studying religion than anything else.
Why?
Some will say that perhaps I’m searching for something, and maybe I’m a believer in denial. In fact, I’ve come across many religious people who do not believe anyone is truly atheist, but instead purposely turn away from God for various reasons. And some of those who do grudgingly accept that atheism does exist, still insist that the atheists disbelief isn’t as strong as their belief.
Am I a believer in denial? No. I honestly cannot stress my complete zero belief in deities enough. I have often closed my eyes a thought long and hard, searching if I felt there was a remote possibility, that perhaps there was some sort of Supreme Being, but I just come up empty. I’m not denying god purposely anymore than a theist denies the millions of possible other deities.
But am I searching for something? Do I *want* to believe? Ah, well this is where it gets complicated. I don’t think I’m searching for something, I believe my interest in religion comes from fascination, after all I know a few devout Muslims who are interested in the gods of ancient Egypt, it doesn’t mean they are being pulled religiously to it.
But as for wanting to believe, I just don’t know. I’m a nonspiritual atheist, I personally believe when we are dead, we are dead, nothing. It isn’t exactly comforting. I’m lucky that I’ve yet to lose someone really close to me, but when it happens (if I don’t go first that is), I’m sure I will be praying there was some sort of after all.
However saying that, if the Quran is indeed correct, then most of my close relatives and friends are doomed to be tortured for eternity due to most being atheists and agnostics, so hmm, I think the idea of “nothing” is a bit more comforting there.
But knowing that someone was always listening? Having faith in miracles? Now that is comforting.
When your life is at its worse and there seems to be no way out, having the comfort of prayer, and knowing that something can make it better- that IS comforting.
The community I spoke about in my last blog- that IS comforting.
I believe the need for comfort is one of the main reasons people are drawn to a religion. It isn’t just comfort because of loved ones and your own imminent death, but in a broader sense: The unknown. Whether it is questions of what happens after we die, or what was before the universe, “I don’t know” is a frightening answer. God supplies a far better answer, he/she/it/they make people feel loved and secure, and religion gives people a purpose and importance. It sounds incredibly reassuring.
If I could click my fingers and believe would I? Possibly, but I’m still searching to find what it is I would want to believe. As of yet, I can only draw comfort from Mark Twain: “I don’t fear death. I had been dead for billions of years before I was born, and hadn’t suffered the slightest inconvenience.”

I didn’t start this month because of a want to convert, I started it because I want knowledge, we all should. Whether you are an atheist, agnostic or theist, learning about other peoples point of view is the best way to end intolerances and broaden the mind. Fully immersing myself into the religion may seem like an extreme way to do this, but already I feel it is letting me experience religion in a way the years of merely reading about it didn’t. The forums and groups I was a member of before was geared towards finding the negative, whereas what I’m doing is to enter without agenda. I will be open about the good as I am about the bad and confusing. I’m not trying to debate it, which for me is a refreshing change, I’m trying to feel it.
So no, I’m not searching for religion, I’m searching for understanding, it should be an endless search for all of us.

I would love for hear from converts- to any religion or from it. What was your journey?

How did I get here?

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A western liberal atheist girl with a Middle Eastern conservative Muslim man was bound to be a bit of a roller coaster. When we met in May 2008 people told me he will want me to wear a burka within a year, that obviously never happened (in fact he isn’t a fan of them), but he did encourage me to learn about Islam, which I wanted to do anyway just to help me understand him.
I purchased a Dummies Guide and an English Quran and set to work. I never did finish the Quran and the Dummies Guide just left me with more questions. My Islamic studies were shelved and I decided that I had little need to know how a Muslim should be, all what was important was how my Muslim is.
Not exactly genius thinking on my part.
Islam was just a quiet voice in the background of our relationship, but that voice became a screaming importance when less than a year since we started our relationship, I fell pregnant. At times pregnancy felt like a negotiation as we worked out exactly how we will be raising our son.
In Islam children born of Muslim men are automatically considered Muslim, it is also believed all babies are born Muslim. So despite our eventual agreements that our son will not be raised specifically as Muslim but instead taught about Islam as well as other religions and my own disbelief, I know in my husband’s heart he is one.
At that point we still weren’t officially married. As our wedding day in England approached, there was another major Islamic problem: Muslims are NOT allowed to marry atheists:
“Do not marry unbelieving women until they believe. A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though if she attracts you. And not marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe. A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though if he attracts you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the fire but Allah beckons by His grace to the garden (of bliss) and forgiveness, and makes His signs clear to mankind; that they may receive admonition.- (al-Baqarah, 221)”
Boy did we desperately search for some sort of loophole for this. We never found one. My husband was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He chose me.
There is no perfect Muslim and yet when people hear of a Muslim marrying an atheist they act as if he had just broken the number one rule in Islam. Tell a Muslim that you haven’t prayed for a couple of days however and they shrug it off as unimportant, and that is one of the pillars in Islam!
So yes, my husband sinned, but so many seem happy to sin just for a glass of alcohol, he sinned to be with the woman he loved, mother of his child. If you are not going to be perfect, be imperfect in the things that will bring the most good and happiness I say.

So in this time together has Islam “rubbed” off on me at all? Possibly, ok not the belief, but some of the principles. Before meeting my husband if someone told me they didn’t drink alcohol I would actively encourage them to do so. I no longer drink myself (not due to being morally against it, I just realised that I wasn’t a “good” drunk, and made some very bad decisions). This decision has granted me some delightful “digs”, as apparently despite the fact even one of my closest friends doesn’t drink until intoxicated, my situation simply *has* to be because my husband wont allow me. Funnily enough, if I was a smoker and quit people would be rejoicing, quit alcohol and they act as if you have announced you have decided to amputate a limb.
Do I dress more modestly now than four years ago? Yes, but then when I met my husband I was a 21 year old university student, I’m now a mother and certain parts of my body are not where they used to be. Ok I’ve always been a big girl so not one for mini skirts, but I still don’t have any issue for those who do have it to flaunt it (within accordance to “time and place”). I’ve come across some of the most judgemental, nasty hijabis, and some of the sweetest, kindest uncovered women. Clothes in my mind are irrelevant to character.
The biggest difference having Islam enter my life via third party had to be on my view on religion and religious people. As I mentioned on my opening page, I was very anti religions and had many generalised view on those who followed religions. Now I have met many people, husband included, who do not fit my previous narrow and insulting view, I am far more tolerant. In that sense Islam as already help me become a better person, or at least certain Muslims have.
I never did really resume my Islamic studies though, at least not until my current cramming. Islam has just been a constant trickle in my life for four years, I now feel it is time to face the flood.

An atheist’s view on Islam

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Gharqad tree

“There is a Jew behind me!”

I have purposely not written a hypothesis as I don’t want to see it as an aim, instead I want to go into this with a complete open mind and absolutely no premeditated conclusions.
What I will do however is write my current feelings on the religion, to see if at the end of the month they have altered at all.

This post will be completely honest, please don’t bother reading if you will be offended by anything short of adoration.

Before I met my husband I never really thought much about Islam, I had my hands full with Christianity. I’m not the type to be suckered into media manipulation, but at the same time I was very anti religions and what I did know about that one I thought was very “cult’ish”.
Fast forward to meeting my husband and experiencing an Islamic society and I no longer view it on the same level as Scientology (for any scientologists out there that was a joke, please don’t hunt me down Mr Cruise ;-)) but as a religion as developed and varied as Christianity.
But that isn’t always a good thing.
On the one hand I get told something I can get my head around, and then the next there is something that has me shaking my head with disbelief.
Recently someone told me how the Hadiths predict the end of times will be- Jesus will come kill pigs, break crosses, and raise up Muslims to hunt down Jews who will hide behind talking trees, oh but the “Jew trees” wont tell on them (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 4, Book 55, No. 657; Fateh-ul Bari, Vol. 7, P. 302/ Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Fitan wa Ashrat as-Sa’ah, Book 41, 6985/ Kitab al-Fitan, hadith. 2239) Let me point out that not all Muslims believe this, but it does worry me that many however do.
I also find the way atheists, and disbelievers in general, are seen as quite unnerving. To have someone stare me straight in the face and tell me that of course I deserve to burn in hell simply for a disbelief, nothing to do with how I am as a person, doesn’t exactly scream “friendly religion” to me.
However, I am certainly not of the mind that Muslims are all terrorists and hijackers. Some of the nicest people I have ever met have been Muslims and they have all told me that Islam is a religion of peace, something that I hope to find out for myself when I read the Quran over Ramadan.
Another thing is separating Islam from Muslims. “Thank God I found Islam before I found Muslims!” exclaims one of my converted friends whenever she hears yet another Muslim cleric talking tripe, from warning the danger of phallic foods or saying it is ok to sleep with a dead partner. I didn’t have such luck. I have been surrounded by Muslims, be it in the media or in person, born or convert, but have actually spent very little time with Islam. How much of the negative views I have come from misguided individuals and Hadiths?
From where I stand now Islam seems very picky (I have just read a long conversation about the dangers of colourful head coverings), but maybe it is certain Muslims who have too much time on their hands that have actually degraded the religion far more than the Daily Fail, erm Mail, can ever do? After all, I am married to a wonderful Muslim man, someone who I’m proud to have as the father of my child, how can I not believe there must be at least some good in the religion when he would adamantly declare all the good he has comes from it? Just don’t talk to me about talking trees…