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Wanted: Muslim sisters

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muslim sisters
The other day I posted how I wanted/needed to go to a mosque, and I still intend to, but the more I think about it the more nervous I get.
I am not one who enjoys new situations, and when I have no choice I really like someone to “hold my hand”, at least for the first time. I assumed I would have my husband to hold my hand, but alas this can not be.
I already knew that men and women did not pray together in most mosques- most have women in a separate room, some behind a curtain, and apparently there are even some that don’t allow women at all. Now I can’t begin to say how anti I am for all three of those. This isn’t a dig at Islam, because it ISN’T Islam. In the time of the prophet it can be gathered by hadiths that women were in the same room as men, not hidden away. Yes, they were at the back, but free to participate in mosque discussions and with clear view and hearing of the imam. I really can go on about the subject, but this Muslim brother’s blog page pretty much sums up my thoughts on it perfectly: http://muslimreverie.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/its-time-to-end-gender-segregation-in-mosques/
Anyway, so as nerve wracking as I knew it would be to enter a mosque, I was prepared for it. I thought to lessen anxiety my husband and I could go for Iftar (evening meal after fast), until he informed me that that too was segregated! For someone who isn’t the most confident of people, the idea of sitting around eating and trying to make small talk with complete strangers has to be up there with one of my worst nightmares. I know I’d hate every minute of it. Obviously I will be dealing with feelings of not belonging there and feeling a fraudster, but feeling lost and confused on top of that? Argh!
I don’t want a trip to the mosque to be tainted by my own fears, I wish I knew even just one Muslima in the “real world”, to show me where to go, what to do, to talk to me as we eat.
But I don’t, all I have is my husband and he wouldn’t be much of a support in another room.
Before Ramadan many large London mosques were running classes for new Muslims and those interested in it. That would have been perfect, at the very least I wouldn’t feel like an imposter, and they would know and expect ignorance on my part. Sadly now it is the holy month, mosques are a bit preoccupied and the classes have ended/put on hold.
And it isn’t just visiting mosques that having Muslim sisters around would help with. The only Muslim in my life is my husband, and obviously he cannot explain to me Islam from a females point of view. In fact, he thinks I obsess about the differences between men and women in Islam, but he just doesn’t *get* it, there are difficulties women face that he doesn’t, and so doesn’t understand just why they are difficult. A woman however would get it, and explain how she deals with it/understands it. An example of this is the segregation mentioned above- my husband who gets to be in the main room with the speaker, able to participate in the discussions, cannot say how women feel being hidden away. Ok, some, maybe most, women might love it, but only they can say that, not a man. It is easy for men to say women shouldn’t wear make up, shouldn’t pluck their eyebrows, shouldn’t do this, shouldn’t do that, they are not living it, so they don’t bother truly thinking about it and understanding it.
When nonmuslims talk about the worst things about Islam, it is likely to be ranked: 1) terrorism, and 2) female oppression.
Now I know number one is simply not true, I didn’t need to do this month to know that, but number two is what I am working on now. You don’t need western media distorting Islam and making it out as sexist when so called Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia do it perfectly well all by themselves. But I have known some women online for years who are Muslim and not the “stuck in the kitchen and only out in a burka” type. The Prophet Muhammed’s first wife, Khadija, was a strong, successful business woman, much older than he was. Their monogamous marriage lasted for 25 years until she passed away, making me believe he must have truly loved and respect her. Doesn’t seem like the type of woman or marriage for a man who some claim just wanted women hidden away.

I need to start addressing the issues I have with Islam, and not be like those who are judging it by inaccuracies. I’m thinking of starting a facebook group and posting my questions/concerns there. Right now, whenever I discover something I disagree with, I’m seeing it as a point against Islam, instead of researching the why and even credibility behind it.
I’m nearly half way through being a Muslim for a month and feel as if I’m still clueless. I need more dialogue with actual Muslims, preferably sisters!

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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?

The community

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Last night I walked into my staff room where a new security guard was waiting for his shift to begin.
He looked at me, and then with a smile said: “Salam alaikum”.
It is an Arabic greeting meaning “peace be upon you”, and is used by all Muslim, regardless of whether they speak Arabic or not.
“Wa alaikum al-salam,” (and upon you be peace) I replied.
It felt warmer than what would have been a simple awkward “hi” had I not been in hijab. He greeted me in such way which showed me that he too was Muslim, a “brother”.
The sense of community in religion is undeniably strong and welcoming, I know nonreligious people who go to church every Sunday just so they can get that sense of belonging and connection to others.
When I wear my hijab out, no I don’t feel modest, but I do feel like part of something. I see another hijabi and want to smile in acknowledgement, we are part of something together. However, I don’t know whether she feels the same, so without knowing the correct protocol, I avoid eye contact and pretend I don’t see her (the same way you stare intently at your mobile when you see an old acquaintance and not quite sure if them being on your facebook really warrants a real life hello- best to just look distracted).
I have seen how religious people are with newly converts or those “on the edge” of it. Suddenly you get a million best friends, they will listen, they will be understanding, they will shower you with informative internet links, and happily talk the night away with you. Wear a hijab for the first time and expect a hundred of complimentary comments: “beautiful”, “mashallah”, “it suits you”- it doesn’t matter if actually it has made you look like you’ve aged twenty years and nowhere near as nice as your hair looked, they will make you feel as if you had just been professionally made over. They are like your best friends who will tell you your hideous new shoes are stunning. Religious communities will take you into their bear hug, and for some people it doesn’t actually matter what the religion is, it is the community that they were drawn to.

Is it a bad thing? I don’t think so, however it is such a powerful feeling that many use it as a converting tool. Christianity is probably leading the way here, and cults too use this “love bombing” as an effective way to get converts, however usually it is a genuine show of warmth and hope to an individual you pray would join the faith. My husband got to experience this with our devout Christian neighbours at our old address. When they invited him out to London on a nice sunny day, he had no idea he was going to a Christian celebration. Once there he said it felt like a “bring a disbeliever day” as there were many nonchristians just like him that had been brought by believing friends. There is no denying the neighbours and those he met that day were nice, really nice, probably some of the friendliest you will meet (especially in London). But there was an agenda, it was the same agenda they had when they invited him out again a few weeks later, and why they are so insistent on us going to some community camping trip this summer. It is definitely more effective than knocking on doors.

However converting people aside, when you are part of a faith, you suddenly have a massive thing in common with up to two billion people. This is more than just having the same favourite colour. Your core morals, ethics, beliefs are similar, they come from the same place. Yes people have different interpretations but the overall picture is set.
You don’t have that with atheism.
Atheism is a simple disbelief, and links people as much as a disbelief in Santa does. Some try to makes it as a community, they come up with groups like “Brights” and “Humanists”, there is even an atheist “A” symbol, but it really doesn’t make sense for a disbelief. In everyone’s life there will be thousands of different types of communities we will be part of, it is human nature to seek out those with similar beliefs and circumstances, hell I’m part of three separate online communities just because I’m married to an Egyptian, but religious ones are in a league of their own.
If this is sounding critical it didn’t mean to. I LIKE the feeling I get when I’m out wearing a hijab and people think I’m “one of them”. I think this feeling is stronger and even more important when you are living in a country where you are the minority. It is also probably stronger in Ramadan. You are not just sharing a religion, you are sharing a struggle, a challenge, a goal.
And because of this I cannot wait until I can fast again, and that is something I never thought I’d say. I miss it, obviously not the feeling of dehydration, or dragging myself out of bed at silly o’clock to eat, but doing something, experiencing something, sharing in something… important. When I read a diabetic Muslim friend of mine had tried to fast for a day with dangerous consequences, I thought she was crazy, why on earth would anyone risk themselves like that, but now I get it (although obviously I don’t recommend it). Not fasting these last few days has given me the same feeling I would have not putting decorations up at Christmas- sure you don’t need decorations up to celebrate Christmas, but it helps you feel part of the holiday.

If I truly want to immerse myself into a religion, I must immerse myself into its religious community. Islam puts emphasis on the ties between believers, fellow Muslims are your brothers and sisters, it demands that you look after each other, “The Believers are but a single brotherhood….” [Al-Hujuraat 49:10] . The next step in my experiment is clear- I have to go to a mosque.

The personalities of the pious

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I have been wondering if it takes a certain personality to be able to be a Muslim (and other religions). It doesn’t come naturally to me, I tend to find I disagree with more than I agree with in terms of what I can and cannot do. People tell me Islam is meant to be easy, well for me it doesn’t seem to “fit” (yet).
It isn’t just about believing God, and Mohammed being his prophet, I think I would need a total personality overhaul.
For example yesterday I was out in a maxi dress, cardigan and hijab. Perfectly acceptable by most Muslim standards, until that is I rolled my sleeves up. It was an automatic thing, I felt hot, I do it all the time. When I realised I put them back down, but not because of any horror that people saw my arms, I couldn’t have cared less, they are just arms in my mind, but because of this “experiment”. Will I ever feel any shame for showing strangers that part of me? Do I think for a second women should feel such shame? No, it seems such a strange concept for me. I just don’t get it.

musims view on magic mike

If that’s wrong I don’t want to be right

Days before I started this month I saw Magic Mike, a film about male strippers. I also read 50 Shades of Grey, and I want to see Ted, a film about a vulgar teddy, I love Family Guy. I’m not a PG type person. Is a good Muslim girl allowed to see/read such things? Ok, 50 Shades was awful, but that’s not the point, do you have to change who you are when you become religious, or will only certain people ever follow “restricting” religions, because they already believe in the principles?
I’m not a bad girl by English standards. I’ve never been in trouble with the law, never done drugs, don’t smoke, never been in a fight. I’m not Mother Teresa, I’m not evil spawned either, I’m an average 26 year old woman. Up to this point I’m pretty much OK with my interests and humour, but if I converted to Islam, would I suddenly not be allowed to laugh at certain jokes? Not allowed to see certain films and TV programmes? Will I really be “me”?
I wonder if this is why many converts change their name, despite not needing to, to represent a complete new them. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that, I’m not even sure if it’s possible.

Rubbish book, but is it sinful?


At work I will often have a break in the staff room with just one or more male co-workers. Probably not allowed for the pious. Also working with people aged mainly 18-23, I hear the crudest of the crude things, and laugh. It is an involuntary action that I don’t believe I would ever be able to change. I also had a baby outside wedlock, my parents had grandchildren before they married, and my brother’s girlfriend is due their first in Sept, are we supposed to feel like sinners?
So I ask converts to Islam- did your morals, values and personality fit Islam before learning about it, did it change as you learnt about it, or is it a constant struggle to keep having to remind yourself the things that are now not acceptable to you? Or maybe you have a different view on what is required in Islam and you proudly saw Magic Mike in hijab, couldn’t put 50 Shades down between prayers, and you know more crude jokes than Jimmy Carr.
Can a very left wing liberal,15 certificate rated westerner ever fit Islam?

One step forward, two steps back

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prayers not allowedA mere couple of hours ago I was ready, I was pumped up, I was determined and dedicated. I was going to do it all, read the Quran at every opportunity, pray with the truest intention and fast without complaint, but then Mother Nature happened. I shouldn’t be surprised, I was kind of asking for it wearing a white dress so close to being due on.
All this week I was looking forward to it, thinking what a welcomed break it would be, no more fasting, no need to feel bad for my lack of Quran reading, nor will I have to do any prayers. But now “she” is here, I feel so deflated.
In a bit of a daze I poured myself a glass of water and drunk it, just yesterday I would have killed to be able to do the same, but now, now that I can and did? It seemed so bittersweet. I could have made myself a feast, but I have no appetite. I don’t *want* to eat, and not because I have developed some sort of eating disorder, I’m happily planning my iftar meal, it just feels wrong.
All those promises I made in my earlier blog, was it just this morning I said all that? And now, I wait, five days of setback. Five less days to read the Quran. 25 less prayers. Can I still practise the words, or is it forbidden merely uttering them?
I’ve already made my thoughts clear on what I think about the whole “women are unclean during their period” situation, so I’ll not repeat it, after all it wouldn’t be very Islamic of me.
I know I shouldn’t feel discourage, just because there are certain things I can’t do doesn’t mean the whole experiment is shelved, this is just something us women have to deal with. It isn’t the end.
But still… sigh…

The half arsed Muslim

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I realised something yesterday, I’m doing this all wrong. I’m still spending more time playing my virtual fish tank than reading the Quran, my prayers are all over the place, I haven’t really learnt any of the words, I’m not conducting myself appropriately- I’m not a Muslim, I’m a woman with a scarf on her head and strange diet!
This won’t do at all. Yes in outward appearance I “fit the role” but this is meant to be a spiritual journey, not just a new dress sense. Have I given anything to charity yet? No. Have I tried to avoid swearing? No. Have I cut down on TV, well actually yes, but that’s only because there is no time in the evening, however I haven’t cut down on facebook or, as mentioned above, my fish tank app.
I’m on my seventh day now as so disappointed with myself. It became all about the fast. All I was thinking about was not eating or drinking, and that making it to the end of the day was enough.
Well that’s about to change, I WILL be a Muslim for the month of Ramadan in all the ways I can be. I will step up my Quran reading and other Islamic studies, I will find a charity, I will watch my language and my rather x-rated sense of humour. And maybe I will master the courage to visit a mosque.
And yes, I will even put away my virtual fish, but don’t worry, they won’t die without being fed.

Sadly I’m not alone in my poor Muslim attempt, so many actual Muslims are no better. They focus on their outward appearance and forget about the most important thing is what you feel in the heart, not what the world sees.
For example I have met some “delightful” well covered women. They hold their heads high and think what great little Muslims they are as they wouldn’t dream of going out with their hair uncovered, but on the inside they are hypocrites. One, a favourite of mine who I’ve clashed with a couple of times online, will preach about the importance of tolerance towards hijabis, but then say the most downright degrading things about uncovered women (apparently they are merely pieces of meat). She will happily insult and backbite, but she looks “right”, so in her mind she done no wrong. And she isn’t alone in such thinking.
Men who go and pray at the mosque and then go meet their friends for a shisha (smoke pipe)- hypocrites.
Men who demand women wear a hijab, whilst they are on the beach in just swimming shorts- hypocrites.
People who have never given to charity and cannot remember the last time they prayed, but will happily judge another for marrying outside the religion- hypocrites.
Those who act however they want during most of the year but fast and ask for forgiveness in Ramadan are no better than the Catholics who confess their sins only to do them all again, and again, and again.
Well it is time I really got serious about this on a deeper level, it is time I feel Islam instead of just look like I do. Maybe some Muslims will take heed.

My first day as a Muslim

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Salamu alaikum and Ramadan mubarak!

Where do I begin? Well I guess 2:30 in the morning when the alarm went off. Having not slept until past midnight, you will understand why it took a good half hour before I managed to have both my eyes open at the same time.
Boy I couldn’t have been less hungry at silly o’clock, but like a trooper I made up my porridge with fruit, hard boiled egg on wholemeal bread and water with lemon. I ate it all with minimal angry tired mutterings too.

suhoor

suhoor: What I forced fed myself at 3am

Then there was my first ever wudu (certain way of cleaning before prayer). Hands three times, face, ears, hair, arms, nose, feet (the correct order is already lost on me), well it certainly perked me up.
The actual prayer itself? Well to be fair I didn’t really know what I was doing. I followed my husbands movements, listened to his Arabic words. I could tell the meaning was a bit lost on me when I noticed I was thinking that the carpet didn’t smell how I imagined it would, instead of God. But right now I am just going through the motions, I really must get the English translation, there is no hope with me connecting to words I don’t understand.
I crawled back into bed at 4am and realised it was bloody hard to get back to sleep with a full tummy and freshly splashed face. As you can imagine when my son woke me up nice and early I was doing my usual morning errands in a zombie state.

I finally got to wear one of my new hijabs out in the world, and had zero issue walking outside my door with it on.

Attemping to wrap my hijab

It was perfectly colour coordinated with my t-shirt, denim jacket and jeans (all suitably wide and long), and I even managed a strong wrap so I was able to walk around hardly noticing the new thing on my head. People’s reactions were nonexistent. I got the same amount of polite smiles, doors being held open and small talk, as ever (when I’m walking around with my toddler that is, without him people don’t bother with an acknowledgement). My town isn’t far from London, so although we are not incredibly diverse, hijabs are not a total rarity either.
The weather played nice, giving the same grey skies as England has known most of summer. I felt comfortable in my clothes and relaxed. I do wonder what the reactions will be of people who know me, but not the experiment (such as neighbours).
I made sure I was home for the other prayer times, one of which was without my husband as he was at work. To compensate I had a youtube video open and copied from there. I have to say these later prayers were as far from meditation as you can get. My son has rarely seen his father pray, so seeing me perform those movements were a bit of a novelty. He was climbing on my back, running between my legs, going under my skirt, etc, and when he wasn’t bothering me, he was bothering the dog, so I had to keep a close eye on the pair.
Prayer- five times a day, every day. How many Muslims reading this actually do that? It seems so much. Maybe once I get used to it, understand the words, then finding it a welcome relaxation will come. Right now however, out of all the things I am trying to do: Hijab, fast, reading Quran etc, it is the prayers that I’m struggling with.

So let’s talk about the fast. I feel like I must have eaten in some dreamlike state throughout the day because come evening I felt absolutely fine! Once or twice in the day I felt hunger pangs, but mostly I just wanted to eat, instead of felt the need to eat. By the end however I felt as if I had eaten breakfast just an hour before.
I broke my fast with a glass of pure orange juice and a date and fig. I prayed before having my main meal: lamb tabbouleh. I ate a portion size equal to any day and felt absolutely stuffed. What will I be praying for in my fajr (dawn) prayer? That the whole of Ramadan will be as easy as today!
Ok, so honesty time: I wasn’t perfect. In the morning when I opened a yogurt drink for my son I licked the lid automatically. I immediately realised what I done and was able to wipe my tongue before swallowing. Another thing, when my son dropped his lollypop on the floor I done the typical mothers thing of giving it a quick suck to clean it before handing it back to him. Old habits die hard. There were some times when the little devil on my shoulder whispered: “just take a bite, no one will know”, and yes of course I could technically lie all I want here, but I can’t lie to myself. At the very least I’m determined to have a sense of an achievement at the end of the month.

Tomorrow will be my first day at work as a Muslim. I realised today I actually forgot to give a heads up to my general manager, who also happens to be the one who works Saturday mornings. I think if I do recieve a negative reaction it will be from keeping her in the dark instead of the actual concept though. I work around food and it will be an incredibly busy shift, so I have a feeling my prayers for all days to be as easy as this one will go answered. Oh god, I can smell the hotdogs now!

Now I must sleep. It was likely this total exhaustion that kept the hunger at bay today- I lose appetite when tired- but I think I’d rather be hungry to be honest.
We still haven’t been able to figure out the accurate Fijr time for my town! Anyway…
Ma’a salama

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