Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

As I surfed the Internet this morning, I came across something called WikiIslam. I thought it would be a source of information about Islam. It was, but not in the way that you’d think. On the “About Us” page, the originators claim that WikiIslam was created “to be the one-stop source of high-quality factual and objective information about Islam.”

To put it bluntly, they lie. To say that they’re objective is like saying that pigs fly. The site is a mix of facts, Qur’anic excerpts and teachings of Muhammad presented in ways that make Islam look as negative as possible. And the contributors’ comments are anything but objective. For example, read this excerpt from the article “Why terrorism is allowed in Islam:”

The life of a non-Muslim is not sacred in Islam, but many Muslims and non-Muslims alike, will present you with Qur’an 5:32 which they claim denounces killing, and equates the slaying of one human life to that of genocide against the entirety of mankind:

“On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person – unless it be in retaliation for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew all mankind: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all humanity.”

Where does it say in that verse that it’s all right to kill non-Muslims?

Obviously the author of this entry is trying to say that Muslims believe that God will not hold you accountable for killing if the only people you kill are non-Muslims. What bothers me about this allegation is that you can always find Muslims who follow or believe such negative interpretations of the Qur’an or a hadith, but that doesn’t mean that all Muslims believe them.

Continue reading Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Reaching Out to the World

It’s one thing to witness to non-Muslims by being strong in our faith. We shouldn’t shy away from practicing the Five Pillars or being open about who we are. But how many non-Muslims will feel comfortable about approaching us if they see this impenetrable wall of  Muslimness? And how do we reach through that wall if we know nothing about non-Muslims’ hopes, dreams and beliefs?

Why did Allah make us all different?

The Bible implies that God made us all to speak different languages as a punishment for man’s attempt to reach heaven by building the Tower of Babel. Islam puts a much more positive spin on our differences. Allah means for us to learn from one another. People who have different experiences of life can add to our wisdom about how to live. I don’t think it’s incidental that Muslims are taught to seek knowledge. We should always be open to learning new things. And one of the things we will learn is that people are not so very different at the core.

It’s wrong for Muslims to think that they are better than non-Muslims. If anything, we are just more fortunate. To harbor hate or prejudice in our hearts toward those who don’t embrace Islam runs counter to everything Allah intends for us. Hate and prejudice diminish the person who holds onto them. The only way to make an impression on non-Muslims is to show charity and love toward them. Love is the most powerful force in the world.

What can we learn from the Bible?

You may think that I sound too much like a Christian when I write things like that. But why do we consider Jesus to be one of the greatest of prophets if we don’t listen to what he had to say? Muslims have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Because we reject Jesus’ divinity, we tend to ignore his teachings. I know that Muslims think the Bible is corrupted, but that doesn’t mean that it has nothing in it that can teach us how to be better Muslims.

I was led to convert to Islam by a combination of knowledge and being loved. I didn’t come to Islam because I was afraid I would go to hell if I didn’t. In fact, I had to get over my fear of hell if I did. As a Christian, I was taught that the only way to God, and to eternal life, was through Jesus Christ. If I didn’t believe that Jesus was God and that he died as a sacrifice for my sins, I would go to hell. Even after I had stopped believing that Jesus was divine, I was afraid to stop going through him to get to God.

My conversion

But then I met Muslims who were secure and happy in their faith, who accepted and loved me even though I wasn’t a Muslim. They answered my questions about Islam, but left it totally up to me whether I would convert or not. And I know that even if I hadn’t, they would have remained friendly and caring toward me, because I’ve seen the way they are with other non-Muslims.

Non-Muslims think of Muslims as hate-filled and resentful toward Western culture. I won’t deny that there are some who are, just as there are some Christians who are hate-filled and resentful toward Islamic culture. But a Muslim—or a Christian—who is truly submitted to God isn’t like that. Submission to Allah means submission to His will, and His will is that we all come to Him. Anything we do as believers that causes non-believers to turn away from God is against His will, and therefore a sin.

Reaching through our Muslimness

Islam is simple at its core, but complicated in its practice. Sometimes I think that we make it too complicated. I know there are Muslims who believe that the simplest way is to follow all the precepts in the Qur’an and in Mohammad’s (pbuh) teachings. But what if you don’t know all there is to learn about Islam? You could become paralyzed wondering which way you should turn. Sometimes I feel afraid to do anything; it seems that the safest way is to reject anything that is not specifically labeled Islamic. But if you do that, you lose touch with the world, and I don’t believe that Allah wants us to do that.

What Kind of Muslim Am I?

When I took a survey on Beliefnet the other day, I was asked what kind of Muslim I am. There were only three choices: traditional, moderate and progressive.  I found it difficult to answer because I feel that I am all three, depending on the issue. I wear the hijab and adhere to the Five Pillars, for instance, but I also think that the Qur’an is open to interpretation, I don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin, and I support a woman’s right to abortion and birth control. That is what I believe today. I can’t speak for the future, because I know that Allah isn’t done with me yet. I will always be developing as a Muslim, until the day I die.

No doubt I will have sisters and brothers who will think that I’m wrong about some of my positions and who will take it upon themselves to correct me. I welcome advice, but I’m not fond of being preached at, especially by someone who doesn’t know me, my situation or my background. I feel strongly that a Muslim’s greatest tool is prayer and that it is only through prayer that he or she can be transformed. Allah alone has the power to change me.

That doesn’t mean that I want to exist in a social vacuum. I do feel a responsibility to the ummah. I know that there is strength in numbers and that my brothers and sisters have much to teach me. I will listen, but what I really covet are their prayers.

So what kind of Muslim am I? I hope I am the kind who:

  • Is not afraid to witness to my faith.
  • Seeks knowledge and is always open to new ideas and teachings.
  • Is humble and willing to listen to others.
  • Participates in the life of the ummah.
  • Is faithful in the practice of Islam.
  • Treats others better than I do myself.
  • Is sensitive to the needs of others, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
  • Lives fully in this world while looking forward to the world to come.
  • Submits to Allah in all things.

Palin Tweets About the Ground Zero Mosque

On July 18th Sarah Palin tweeted this: “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.”

I’ll give her credit for one thing: at least she acknowledged that there are peace-seeking Muslims. Nothing makes my blood boil more than people who state that every Muslim is out to kill the infidels. That we’re bloodthirsty heathens who execute people for the merest infractions and love to do so in the most barbaric ways. (Another thing that makes my blood boil is that some Muslims do fit that profile, and that they kill in the name of Allah.)

But her plea for healing is one-sided: both sides need to heal from the events of 9/11. Non-Muslims just can’t seem to grasp the concept that Muslims have suffered as well. They’ve been profiled, reviled, marginalized and blamed for every misstep made by Muslims the world over.

Not only that, but healing only comes with understanding and forgiveness. Eradicating anything that reminds you of your pain doesn’t cause you to heal; it only pushes the pain underground.  (As many have realized after executions of murderers—their deaths don’t make up for or ease the pain of the loss of those who were murdered.)

The only reason a religious center is ever seen as provocative is when there are already ill feelings toward the religion. Those who are protesting against the center may say that the center just doesn’t “fit in,” but what they’re really saying is that “we don’t want to have to deal with ‘those people.'”

What are we to think when Palin says that the mere thought of an Islamic center near Ground Zero “stabs hearts”? Does she feel the same way when she is in the presence of a Muslim? If she had her way, would she ban all Muslims from the area surrounding Ground Zero? Or all mosques from New York City?

What “stabs hearts” is the lack of communication between Muslims and non-Muslims. We fear each other precisely because we don’t understand each other. It’s easier to presume the worst about others than it is to try to see things from their point of view.

I think the Muslim response to non-Muslims’ concerns about the Cordoba House should be empathetic but firm: “We understand your feelings, but we believe that they are based on misconceptions. The Cordoba House is an opportunity to set the record straight: Muslims are not your enemies; they are your neighbors.”

[Side note: Kudos to CBS and NBC for rejecting an ad from the National Republican Trust PAC that crosscut footage of the 9/11 attacks with the sounds of Muslim prayer and this narration: “On Sept. 11, they declared war against us and to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at ground zero.”]

Covering While Exercising

When I joined a gym recently, I hadn’t thought of how hard it would be to get in shape and be an observant Muslimah at the same time. Many Muslim women are overweight and physically unfit because they can always “hide” their bodies under their loose clothing, so being fit and slim isn’t as big an issue for them as it is for non-Muslim women who expose more of their bodies to public view. Not only that, but modest clothing requirements make it harder to exercise. Either the garments are unwieldy or Muslim women and girls are forbidden to wear them when exercising or playing sports.

Maybe joining a gym right before Ramadan wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I was tired of making excuses. My children have been trying to get me to exercise for years. I kept telling myself that I could exercise at home, but I never did. It just never seemed that important and, besides, I’m extremely uncoordinated when it comes to most sports, although I do love to swim.

So when I found an affordable gym that was for women only and had a swimming pool, I felt like I’d run out of excuses. I joined a week and a half ago and I’ve lost two pounds so far. But even more important, I feel better about my body. To my surprise, it feels good to exercise. It even feels good to be sore, if that makes any sense. Because then I know that I really worked at it, that I’m not just fooling around.

One thing that encouraged me to join this gym is that a lot of the members are Muslim. However, they don’t know that I am because I haven’t been wearing my hijab when I exercise. I sweat so much already, I can’t even imagine the added heat from wearing one. I have seen a couple of Muslimahs with bare heads, or only wearing skimpy bandanas, but the majority stay covered. I keep wondering though why I have to cover from head to toe when there are only women around.

I know that some Muslims say that we are not to be uncovered even around other women if they are not Muslim. But when we separate ourselves from non-Muslim women, we give them the impression that we think we’re better than they are.  How can we ever practice dawa if we always keep to ourselves and never allow non-Muslims to get close to us?

One thing I’ve noticed about some Muslims is that they love to judge and preach at their brothers and sisters. I especially love it when they quote ahadith. I can’t help but wonder how I’m supposed to know all the ins and outs of being a Muslim when I barely know the Qur’an, let alone any of the Traditions. And by what authority do they judge me? I don’t know them and they don’t know me. There is only One who knows me, who knows what is in my heart and what I do and don’t know. Allah is my surest guide in this life.

I may err by not wearing a hijab when I exercise or by wearing a regular bathing suit when I swim. But it’s not because I choose to be disobedient. It’s because I’m unsure about the rules and I reject the idea that what some (but not all) Muslims do is automatically what I should do. I’m willing to listen to others’ opinions, but when they start telling me that I’m going to Hell if I don’t do things their way, I just pray all the harder. And if they really cared about my salvation, that’s what they would do, too.

Growing Into Islam

When I converted to Islam, my Muslim-born friends said they envied me. I was better than them, they said, because I chose Islam instead of being born into it.

I don’t feel better. Instead I feel hopelessly behind as a Muslim and I wonder if I’ll ever “catch up.”

From what I’ve read, many converts throw themselves wholeheartedly into Islamic culture as soon as they become Muslims. I haven’t been able to do that. Saying “Ahamdulliah” and “Insha’allah” don’t come naturally to me.  I don’t say ‘Peace be upon him” every time I mention the Prophet’s name. My prayers haven’t progressed beyond the Fatiheh and the Tashahod; I haven’t learned any du’as or surahs.  Arabic is a mystery to me and I’m afraid it always will be. I haven’t even read the Qu’ran all the way through yet. And I certainly don’t know that many ahadith.

The only thing I’ve been able to modify is the way I dress. I do wear the hijab and modest clothing and I thank Allah for that. Because otherwise I’m not sure that I’d feel like a Muslim at all.

What complicates matters is that being a Christian was such a big part of my life before my conversion to Islam. I had the creeds, prayers, commandments, rituals, traditions and doctrines down pat. It was second nature for me. And comfortable as an old shoe.

Maybe too comfortable. I took everything for granted: my relationship with God, His forgiveness and mercy, His acceptance of me, and, last but not least, my salvation. Because my salvation was a “shoe-in” once I professed my belief that Jesus Christ was my Savior, I didn’t feel that I had to worry about what kind of person I was. As a Christian, I believed that I was being remade from within by the action of the Holy Spirit. It was a very passive kind of transformation. And so subtle I hardly even noticed it. I just trusted that it was happening and then didn’t think any more about it.

Islam makes me more accountable. It expects more from me.  God requires submission and obedience; I have to repeatedly submit and obey. He also forgives and is merciful,  but I have to ask for and accept His forgiveness and mercy. I can’t take anything for granted. And through the process of meeting God’s expectations (that is, trying to meet them), I mature as a Muslim and a person.

I know that being a convert is a test. My Muslim friends warned me that it would be hard. But I’m impatient. I want to be a mature Muslim yesterday. I forget that maturity only comes from experience, from grappling with my weaknesses and building upon my strengths. It’s not a process that can be rushed. Nor is it a process that ever ends.

I can’t walk before I crawl or run before I walk. Even growth as Muslim comes in stages. I’m still at the baby stage where I’m lying on my back, helpless and staring at my hands, wondering what they’re there for. I don’t have a sense yet of myself as a separate human being who is capable of self -mastery. I’m still trying to answer the question, “Who am I?” Maybe once I figure that out, I’ll find it easier to grow.