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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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My first trip to a mosque

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going to mosque

The pious (and blurry faced) family

I was hoping to write this yesterday, with my experience fresh on my mind, the every thought still vivid, but any Muslim reading this will know how hectic the first day of Eid is, and it was certainly no exception for us. But, it was the first thing we done that was the most, perhaps only one with religious significance. My first trip to a mosque.
The feast prayers were starting at 9am, but when you have a toddler alarm clock that isn’t particularly early. Still full up from the night before, having breakfast wasn’t a worry and instead I focused on getting ready. Firstly there was performing wudu, I knew after I done that I wasn’t allowed to go to the toilet or even so much as fart as I just did not have the courage to perform wudu again at the mosque. I then slipped on my abaya and began pinning my hijab. Now that was a challenge, despite having a month of practise I didn’t know how conservative I had to do my wrap for mosque, how long should my scarf be at the front and back, how tight under the chin? And socks! Was I supposed to wear them? Was my feet meant to be bare? I felt like I was messing up before I had even got there. After a frantic SOS post on a FB group I decided that I shouldn’t wear socks (thankfully I didn’t read the posts that later disagreed with the first reply, I think my head would have imploded). And then we were off.
What if I was one of only a few women? What if my clothes looked nothing like anyone else’s? What if I completely mess up the prayer? Will people see my hands shaking?
According to the website the building can hold 300 people with room for women. I’ve heard some horror stories about the women’s spaces in mosques, and that some didn’t allow women at all. What if I was stuffed into a dark closet sized space, in the sweltering heat, not hearing what the imam was saying?
My heart really was pounding in my chest. I did feel slightly better when we pulled up near the building and the street was lined with cars and Muslims pouring out. Plenty of women that I can just follow to show me the way, and the more women the less likely my total inexperience will stand out.
Outside the building there were mats laid down just in case the men couldn’t all fit indoors. Surely that means women really will be crammed in some tiny space as the men will take priority (as men have to pray in a mosque but women can pray at home)!
I spotted a small doorway to the side of the building that women were going through. I don’t think I have ever experienced segregation like that, to the point of a different entrance. I admit it, it seemed very reminiscent of black/white segregation in America less than a hundred years ago. What was waiting for me inside? Was the feeling of second class citizen going to continue?
With a pounding heart I said goodbye to my husband and son and went to my door. Just on the inside of the entrance were shelves to place shoes, thankfully I was already aware of this. I took my shoes off and slowly edged forward. To my left was a bathroom where women were removing their hijab and performing wudu, I was glad that I get to at least avoid the stress of doing that publicly. But then, was I supposed to do it there? If I didn’t would people criticise me? I couldn’t deal with the added stress that I may already be making a mistake, and instead focused on the room to my right.
From my angle all I could see was a line of chairs full of women chatting away. I wasn’t sure if that was where I was meant to go, of if that was some informal meeting. Well, it was either in there or the bathroom, so holding my breath I entered.
As I stepped in a realised this was certainly no closet space! We wasn’t even in a separate room to the men, instead the hall was divided by a barrier, probably no more than 6ft high. And not only that, but the barrier divided the room equally. I was shocked, of course more men would be coming to mosque, but still they made the space 50/50. The barrier was placed diagonally (to indicate the direction of mecca, the direction we have to face to pray), and we had fans! Large fans lined the back wall, keeping us cool on the hot summers day, a luxury the men did not have.
Women were sitting on the chairs in the back or in little groups chatting away. There was still plenty of space, so after a moment or two looking dumbfounded, I shuffled slightly away from the door and quickly sat.
There was still fifteen minutes before the prayers began, so I assured myself that there was nothing I needed to do other than sit and take in my surroundings.
salwar kameez

The type of clothing most were wearing


The women were pouring in and my did they look stunning! I wasn’t in a room with women in black burkas looking miserable, but a room alive with fantastic colours and sparkles. Some were in diamante encrusted abayas like me, but the majority were wearing the Indian/Pakistani salwar kameez in the most gorgeous bright designs. Hijabs were wrapped in all the ways you can think of, some accessorised with flowers and brooches. Bangles and earrings didn’t seem off limits either, and to my relief there was a mix of socks and bare feet.
Looking around though I noticed I was the only one sitting alone. I felt like I was in a no mans land circle as women came in and then went off to greet their friends and family, leaving the space around me bare, and making me feel more and more lonely.
“Ria?”
My name that has been with me all my life didn’t make sense to my ears at that moment, after all, who would know me here, who would speak to me here?
I turned and expecting to see no one, but instead I saw a face which seemed somewhat familiar from years ago smiling at me.
She reminded me of her name and that we had gone to school together. I think my wide, petrified looking eyes very quickly gave away that I had no idea what I was meant to be doing, and probably with sympathy she sat down with me and we began to chat.
I couldn’t have been more thankful and my nerves finally began to calm. I didn’t mention the blog but did say I have spent the month reading and learning the Quran and hadn’t done any official declaration of the faith. I regretted not being more honest from the get go, but to be fair I didn’t feel like I had much control over what I was blurting out of my mouth.
She invited me to come sit with her mum and herself, an invite I gladly accepted. Her mum greeted me warmly, as a British convert to Islam, married to a man from a Muslim country, she seemed to emphasise with the manic emotions I was feeling.
Eventually people began to sit in their rows. Although crowded, there was enough space for me not to worry that my backside was going to go in someone’s face when I had to bend down. The Imam was speaking from the other side of the barrier, not like I could really hear him. This wasn’t the fault of the barrier though but the women! Despite the Imam constantly reminding people to be quiet, the women chatted away endlessly, all distracted with their “Eid Mubarak’s” and kissing cheeks. The nerves that were fading returned with vengeance however when I heard the Imam explain the differences in the prayer. Differences? My husband hadn’t warned me this prayer was different to any other. All I heard was something about four “Allah Akbar’s”. I was certain I was going to mess up.
And then the prayer began. I didn’t have to worry about messing up, after the first “Allah Akbar” most of the women then moved on to the bending down position, only to quickly realise their mistake and stand up straight again, my husband later told me the men had done the same *phew*.
My mind was blank, I forgot the little part of the prayer that I had learnt, instead I just went through the motions trying to look like I had been doing this for years. And then there was another bit of unknown territory. After the prayer, people stayed sitting with their hands raised and palms towards their face. Unsurely I done the same, I don’t know if they were reciting quran, or saying some other specific words, but something told me, rightly or wrongly, that I should pray, this was my time to ask God anything I wanted from him.
So I did. I asked (perhaps cliché) for a sign.
What the sign should be is personal and needed to be shown before the end of the day, but it wasn’t something like moving a mountain, appearing in front of me, letting me win the lottery etc. I also knew that even if the sign came, it would still be the start of a long, perhaps difficult journey, but it would also be the only time in my life that I seriously prescribed to the idea that God is actually real.
After the prayers we all got up and once again the room was alive with kissing cheeks and happy Eids, dates were also passed around. After giving my thanks to my old school friend for taking me under her wing, I made my way out and found my husband and son (who had been given a lollypop).
Despite the nerves I left on a buzz, it wasn’t a negative experience and many parts of it pleasantly surprised me. I didn’t feel like a second class citizen, and the women didn’t look solemn and oppressed. Praying in a group is perhaps something that takes getting used to, and the more you go the less you would be taking sneaky looks around and just fully immersing yourself in the prayer. Although the sneaky looks around did prove fascinating as well. I saw elderly women performing their own version of the prayer with the aid of a chair, children either attempting it or just watching on, and then a couple of girls sitting on the chairs in the back, sporting the camel bump hijab and sleek abaya, with a sour, bored expression as if they were the cast of an Emirates version of “Mean Girls”. Yes, the room was certainly diverse in more ways than just race.
I wish I had gone during Ramadan, although I’m not sure if it is always open as a mosque/Islamic centre , or just for the special prayers. But I have to say it was not what I was expecting at all, and there really is nothing to be worried about, even if you are not lucky enough to have someone recognise you.

As for the sign I asked for. Well at some parts of the day I actually thought it would come to pass, I was ready to declare “la illaha illallah” (there is no god but Allah) the moment it did, and although it might take a long time to truly understand what that means, and what path that placed me on, I was ready to take the first step.
It didn’t happen. I’m trying to work out exactly how I feel about that, is the disappointment simply stemming from the fact I didn’t get what I asked for, or because of something bigger? Why do I feel slightly betrayed?
I know I know, people will come up with every excuse- “God has already given you the signs”, “look around you isn’t that enough”, “you can’t manipulate God”, “maybe he didn’t give you it for a greater purpose”, etc etc etc. I know all that, but obviously those “signs” that other people find enough doesn’t work on me, and God knows they don’t, not because I choose to ignore them, but because I look at things such as the universe, nature, birth etc, a different way. After starting the day on a religious high, as midnight came I was at a low. Tomorrow is the last day of the journey but right now I’m not sure where to go from here.

The last day of Ramadan

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Alhamduallah!

Well here we are, the last day of Ramadan. Boy am I so ready for it to end! Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate every minute of it and it definitely brought me an understand that I would never have achieved if I hadn’t participated, but yes, my mind and body feel spent. Maybe it was wrong of me having the vast amount of the experiment during Ramadan, I’m looking forward to the three days of Eid where I can be a Muslim without the holy months restraints. Perhaps a week before and a week after too would have been better? But then, muslim46weeks doesn’t have the same ring to it.
I don’t think this will be my last Ramadan, I don’t think next year I would be able to just sit back and eat and watch as my husband fasts.
But what a fantastic day to have as the last! The weather is perfect, and it is my mum’s birthday (happy birthday!) so people are coming round to sit in the garden and eating. Ok, I’ll have to sit there for nearly two hours before I can join in with the eating part, but still, it is nice that I will have a celebration feel around me like I would if I was in a Muslim country (albeit the celebration is for something else).
I’ve already raved and moaned about the fast in previous blogs, it really is a rollercoaster of emotions. I can’t say I felt closer to God, obviously, but I can see how it makes people reflect more. One month is certainly a good amount of time for it, it pushes people but not to the point of resentment… well there were some moments.
Tomorrow I go to mosque in the morning for feast prayers. My plan: Stand in the back and don’t make eye contact with anyone! If a woman tries to make conversation I don’t know whether to be honest with the experiment, but then making me a total outcast as a disbeliever, perhaps some might not even want me there, or should I say I’m a new convert/exploring Islam? Maybe it will be a case of “me no speak the English” to be on the safe side.
I have to cut this short as male guests will soon be arriving and alas I am not appropriately covered. At some point tomorrow during the Eid celebrations I will of course come on and tell you in detail me experience in the mosque, my experience praying for the first time in a group. I wonder how it would differ to how I feel about prayers now? I could imagine preferring to pray in solitude, but we shall see.
Eid mubarak!

The last days of Ramadan

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My last blog entry caused the biggest reaction I’ve had, with the topic spilling over to a facebook group I am on. The more I look into the subject of Hadith, the more firmly I believe that the Hadith was never supposed to be part of Islam. If God truly sent the Quran, then when he said it was complete he meant it.
I find the subject fascinating and will likely delve far more into it when I have the time, but right now with the end of my exploration in sight I have too many other pressing matters to focus on.

Firstly, when I talked about going to Mosque that wasn’t just idle chitchat. It is customary to go to mosque the first morning of Eid, so that is what I shall do. Eid (three days of feasts after Ramadan) looks set to start on Sunday, that gives me just enough time to truly freak out about it. Ok, it is actually an Islamic centre as my town doesn’t have a mosque, but still, eek!
Secondly, there is the pressing matter of reading the Quran. I could finish it if I just speed through like I would with any other book, but I like to take note, reflect, question, perhaps frown and scratch my head.

Just three more days of fasting! You have no idea how good that sounds to me now. After having my wisdom teeth removed last Wednesday I had a few days off the fast whilst I took medication and returned to it on Tuesday. And now I’m already sick of it. It isn’t the hunger, that comes and go briefly throughout the day but doesn’t really burden me, it is the *wanting* to eat that is frustrating. An ice cold lemonade on a hot summers day, a cheeky lick of my sons ice lolly before I give it to him, testing the food as I cook it, meeting the girls for lunch, having popcorn when I go see a film, going out with my husband for a dinner date, stuffing my face with free strawberries when I go strawberry picking, oh god I miss it all. Due to one reason and the other I have had ten days off fasting this month, so I can imagine how much I would be tearing my hair out if I didn’t at least have those breaks. Saying that though, even when I didn’t have to fast I still felt too uncomfortable to eat in public whilst wearing a hijab.
And talking about hijab, I miss my hair! Sure I take it off when I’m at home, but due to having it on earlier in the day my hair has a massive bump in it from being in a bun, so I just keep it tied up. People always joke to me that at least I don’t have to worry about brushing my hair, no instead every time I want to go out, even if it is just to get the mail from my postbox, I have to find a scarf that doesn’t clash with my clothes and pin it all together. Ok I’m approving with my time, I can now easily just use hijab pins instead of holding it all together with safety pins, but it is still more time consuming than brushing hair (which I never bothered about doing just to go to my postbox anyway).

nonmuslim hijabi

Despite my complaints, I had fun trying out new hijab styles


If I were to ever convert to Islam I’m still of two minds whether I think a hijab is essential or not. The majority of Muslims would say yes, but I just can’t see the logic of it, nor does it seem particularly important in the Quran.
Saying that though, I do get a buzz when someone greets me in Arabic, and I definitely think it was the right thing to wear for this month to “fast track” me into the community feel.

On a brighter note we are planning Eid! It couldn’t have landed on a better day as Sunday is the one day both my husband and I don’t work. Mosque in the morning (did I mention “eek”?) and then a fun filled day with our son and perhaps a romantic dinner out in the evening, hmm maybe a film with popcorn too. Also traditionally (I don’t think there is any religious bases for it, just cultural) people buy new clothes to wear for the feast. Now I’m not one to need an excuse to shop, but if you are going to give me one, I’ll happily use it! For mosque however I’m going to pull out one of my abayas that I got from Egypt. I haven’t been out in one yet, I have found in the past people react far more to them than they do the hijab alone. My neighbours will probably think I’ll be in a burka next!

Well, this time next well it will all be over. I’m still not quite sure what “over” means just yet though.

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!

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!

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.