Learning Arabic: Rosetta Stone

One of the greatest challenges for the Western convert to Islam is learning Arabic. I only know my basic prayers (and I have no idea if I’m saying them right) and a few phrases. Plus I’m somewhat familiar with the alphabet. I was blessed with a wonderful teacher for awhile, but we didn’t meet consistently and I’m not the best student in the world. I keep thinking there ought to be an easier way to learn Arabic, but somehow I don’t think there are any shortcuts!

Still, I keep on looking for learning aids and one I’d heard about was Rosetta Stone. I haven’t tried it because it’s so expensive. But I found a detailed (and humorous) review on the blog “Hijabman” which helped me to decide whether or not to try it.  Here is an excerpt from the review:

Rosetta Stone uses the immersion method, which means that aside from the instruction booklet that comes with the CD, there is no English anywhere. Not even a glossary. People who are excited about this method inevitably argue that that’s how babies learn languages. Infants don’t have dictionaries! They don’t study grammar! They don’t need to know what “of” means! This is true, and would be relevant if only Rosetta Stone constituted a true immersion environment and the people who used it were infants. It would also be helpful if you, the learner, were content to study the language all day every day for seven years and end up with a second-grade vocabulary and second-grade reading skills. You know, like you did in your first language. Unfortunately most people have more ambitious goals, and less time to meet them.

Read the entire review here.

Maybe someday if I can get the program for free I’ll give it a try. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking.

Does anyone have any suggestions for learning Arabic besides moving to an Arabic country?

Humor: “Red State Update” about the Murfreesboro Mosque

Last night I watched a CNN special, “UNWELCOME: The Muslims Next Door” about some folks in Murfreesboro, Tennessee who are against the construction of a mosque there. It didn’t depict Murfreesboro in a very flattering light. Watch this humorous video for an alternative view of what “rednecks” think about Muslims. (Warning: It has some strong language.)

The Laugh in Peace Tour

Noor Islamic Cultural Center of Dublin, Ohio, would like to invite you to a function that will be held at Congregation Terifth Israel on April 10th. It is a new kind of interfaith activity where three comedians representing the three Abrahamic faiths will share with the audience the funny sides of their communities.

Congregation Tifereth Israel’s Spotlight Series presents the Laugh in Peace Tour, starring comedians Rabbi Bob Alper, Azhar Usman and Rev. Susan Sparks, at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 10, at Congregation Tifereth Israel, 1354 E. Broad St.

Sirius/XM satellite radio plays Rabbi Bob Alper‘s comedy bits several times daily. He is an ordained rabbi who served congregations for 14 years and holds a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Trained as an attorney, Azhar Usman is a Chicago-based Muslim comedian, actor, producer, activist and founder of the popular “Allah Made Me Funny – The Official Muslim Comedy Tour.”

A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is America’s only female comedian with a pulpit. She is the Senior Pastor of the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City, and the author of “Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor.”

Tickets are $35 for adults and $15 for students. To order tickets, call Shelley at (614) 253-8523, or send a check payable to Congregation Tifereth Israel to: Congregation Tifereth Israel, Attn: Spotlight Tickets, 1354 E. Broad Street, Columbus 43205.

Here is some more information about two of the comics from the AEI Speakers Bureau website:

The New York Times declared that they “had the audience convulsing.” And that’s just what to expect when comedians Azhar Usman, a Muslim, and Rabbi Bob Alper (a Jew, of course) take the stage.

There’s a reason why XM / Sirius satellite radio plays Vermont resident Rabbi Bob Alper‘s comedy bits several times daily, often sandwiched between Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby: Bob’s unique background…he’s an ordained rabbi who served congregations for fourteen years and holds a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary…prepared him well for a twenty-three year comedy career with wonderfully unique material presented in a way that’s hilarious, sophisticated, and 100% clean.

Azhar Usman is perhaps the world’s most famous American Muslim comedian. He was the subject of an entire episode of ABC’s Nightline, and was featured on CBS Sunday Morning. He hails from Chicago, with roots from the Indian subcontinent, and has performed throughout the US and in numerous foreign countries with the “Allah Made Me Funny” comedy tour.

Together, Bob and Azhar perform at colleges, churches, synagogues, and theaters in a show that The Detroit Free Press calls “one of the most unusual and uplifting cross-cultural experiences you’ll have this year.”

Rabbi Bob Alper also performs with Nazareth, a Palestinian Christian, and Mo Amer, a Muslim born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, and occasionally he adds a third comedian to the act, Rev. Susan Sparks, minister of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church, NYC, stand-up comic and former lawyer.

If you’re interested in having the Laugh in Peace Tour come to your area, contact the AEI Speakers Bureau at 1-800-44-SPEAK or visit the individual comedians’ websites (see links above).

What I Love About Islam

I love the meaning of Islam: submission and peace.

I love that Islam has no concept of original sin.

I love that Eve is not blamed for our fall into sinfulness.

I love that Islam is so smart about human nature.

I love that the Qur’an is one long letter from God to human beings.

I love Islam’s emphasis on moral behavior.

I love its emphasis on helping and serving others.

I love that women are cherished and honored.

I love that women are prized for their inner beauty and are not seen as sex objects.

I love that there is no gender discrimination between men and women.

I love Islam’s emphasis on the family.

I love that I have a direct line to God.

I love the prayers.

I love that we are called to make a special effort to remember God and come into His presence five times a day.

I love that Allah reveals His nature and His intentions so clearly.

I love the 99 names of Allah.

I love that Allah gave us His Messenger to guide and inspire us.

I love that Islam reveres all the prophets.

I love that Islam teaches that there is to be no distinction between people.

I love that Islam teaches peace and tolerance.

I love that Islam is all about justice and fairness.

I love Islam’s emphasis on acquiring knowledge.

I love Ramadan (and the way Allah and other Muslims help me to get through it!).

I love the Five Pillars.

I love knowing that Allah created me intentionally and knows me intimately.

I love being held accountable for my actions.

I love that Allah makes it so clear what He expects from me.

I love that there is such a thing as repentance and starting over.

I love that Allah takes into account my intentions.

I love my brothers and sisters in Islam (the ummah).

I love being known as a Muslim.

I love knowing that this life is a test and that through patience and perseverance, submission and faith, I can meet all trials with grace and humility.


Sin and Forgiveness

Even when I was a Christian, I understood that I was supposed to do the will of God. But I avoided seeing the obvious: that His will is for me to live a moral, caring and righteous life. All I ever thought about was what I wanted to do and then I would ask God to help me to do it. I did things because they “felt” right or good. I never asked myself if I was meeting God’s standards.

And I certainly never asked myself if I what I was doing would earn me eternal life. After all, I “knew” I was saved, because I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I thought that having to do certain things to earn a place in Paradise was an awfully legalistic way of relating to God. I thought if I was always “under the Law,” I would be preoccupied with earning my salvation and always worried about whether I had done enough. Believing that Jesus had taken the punishment for my sin let me off the hook. But it also raised more questions than it answered.

What little I knew of Islam had led me to believe that Muslims must be in a constant state of anxiety about their salvation because they don’t have the option that Christians have to accept Jesus’ sacrifice as payment for their sins. Imagine how surprised I was when I got to know some Muslims and found them to be mindful of their obligations to God, but strangely secure in their relationship with Him. No, they don’t have the assurance of salvation that Christians have. But they have something better, in my opinion: because their concept of God isn’t clouded by questions of the Trinity and the divine nature of Jesus, they seem to have a clearer picture of who He is.

Continue reading Sin and Forgiveness

Targeting Muslims in the “Fight” Against Terror

The congressional hearings about radical Islam which were initiated by Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, started yesterday. It’s too soon to tell what effect the hearings will have on relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in America, but I fear it won’t be a good one. King is on record as saying that there are too many mosques in America and that “80-85% of them are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists.” Yet he insists that he is not out to “get” Muslims in general.

He may believe that his motives are pure, that he is only interested in making the U.S. safe from terrorist attacks, but he has been criticized by Muslims and non-Muslims alike for targeting a whole community for the actions of a minuscule fraction of it. King has also charged the Muslim community with negligence for not adequately policing its own members. Many Muslims feel that this charge is unfair and that expecting them to be watchdogs for terrorists is unrealistic.

King seems to think that Muslims should be able to recognize terrorists in their midst. He bases this on his assumption that terrorists all act alike and come from similar backgrounds (Islamic ones). Nothing could be further from the truth. They’ve been young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, and converts as well as born Muslims. (They’ve also been male and female.) It’s not that easy to tell what’s in a person’s heart, especially when he’s trying to hide his true intentions from the world.

The fact is, not all terrorists are Muslim. Now, that’s a shocker. An article on Think Progress.org tells us that:

A January 2011 terrorism statistics report — compiled using publicly available data from the FBI and other crime agencies — from the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) shows that terrorism by Muslim Americans has only accounted for a minority of terror plots since 9/11. Since the attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, Muslims have been involved in 45 domestic terrorist plots. Meanwhile, non-Muslims have been involved in 80 terrorist plots.

So why is King targeting Muslims? Could it be, as John Esposito says in the “On Faith” department of The Washington Post, that the hearings are really “Islamophobia draped in the American flag“?

I think that’s pretty obvious. Part of the problem is that when people hear the words “terrorist” or “terrorism” they automatically think of Muslims and Islam. But there are many kinds of terrorism from “eco-terrorism” to “anti-tax terrorism.” (Not to mention the terrorist actions of some anti-abortionists, which include murder.)

This may not be a popular view, but I think another part of the problem is that Americans are paranoid and hysterical when it comes to terrorism. We have turned the term into anything that threatens the American people. The truth is, not all the threats that we face in the U.S. can be considered terrorism. If another country invaded the U.S., that wouldn’t be terrorism, it would be war. (Think of the attack on Pearl Harbor—was that called an act of terrorism? Would it be called that today?)

What about the threat from our own nuclear reactors, or corporately-dumped chemicals that poison our water supplies? Or what we’ve done to various segments of the population? (Blacks: slavery; Native Americans: annihilation.) Oh, that’s right, those actions didn’t threaten all Americans, so they must not have been terrorist. Because as we all know, terrorism comes from outside. If it’s home-grown, it’s not terrorism. No, let me amend that: if it’s not Muslim, it’s not terrorism.

The FBI doesn’t agree. They keep statistics on and investigate any “unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The defacement of a synagogue is terrorism. So is burning a cross in the yard of “unwanted” neighbors. What we did to Native Americans was most certainly terrorism. So was the murder of Dr. George Tiller at the hands of an anti-abortionist (but did you hear his killer being called a terrorist?).

The truth is, there are a lot of different definitions of terrorism. But not one of them says that a terrorist is always a Muslim.

Does Clothing Make the Muslimah?

I was so excited—and nervous—when I went to get my driver’s license renewed because I was going to photographed in my hijab. That might seem like a little thing, but it’s actually not. It means that for the next four years I’m going to be identified as a Muslim whenever someone sees my driver’s license.

I was so proud when the license bureau agent asked if I wear the scarf for religious purposes and I was able to say yes. I love to be identified as a Muslim.

The problem is, I’m often not.

Even when I’m wearing the hijab and dressed in long tops or skirts and long sleeves, I think a lot of people miss the distinction merely because I don’t “look” Muslim. I have fair skin and blue eyes and a certain all-American look about me. It just doesn’t seem to occur to people that I might be a convert.

I’ve even had Muslims ask me where I’m from as if they can’t believe that someone who looks so obviously American could be a Muslim. When I reply that I’m from the U.S., they look either shocked or surprised. Because of that, I’m especially grateful for the Muslims who immediately greet me with “asalaamu alaykim.” They make me feel welcome, as if I’m a “real” Muslim.

I’ve heard from a lot of converts that born Muslims treat them as “second-class” Muslims. I’ve been very fortunate that my born-Muslim friends have always supported me and been as excited about my conversion as I am. But I understand the frustration that comes from being a convert.

One reason why I wear hijab is because it makes my new religion real for me. I want to make the statement that I am proud of being a Muslim. It’s definitely not something I’m ashamed of.

And yet I find myself waffling when I’m around people I know don’t approve of my conversion. When I’m going to see them, I look for excuses to not wear the hijab (I’m going to be with family, etc.). But because I don’t push it, my faith rarely becomes a topic of conversation.

I realize that everything I do as a Muslim makes a statement about Islam. But I’m torn sometimes between wanting to proudly proclaim that I’m a Muslim and not wanting to make other people feel uncomfortable around me.

I was thrilled recently when a friend brought me a jilbab back from Libya. I own five abayas, but I never wear them unless I’m going to the mosque or some other special occasion. I love having an excuse to wear them, but do I really need one? Why don’t I wear them all the time?

It has taken me a while to acquire a wardrobe that conforms to the standards of hijab. When I think about how I used to dress, I cringe. I’ve found that I like not displaying my cleavage and accentuating my body shape. (Of course, it might has something to do with the fact that I’m overweight!) I wouldn’t dream of wearing the things I used to wear. So I guess I have changed to some extent.

I have to remind myself that I’m a work in progress, that I’ll become more bold about my faith as time goes by. But I’m impatient: I want to be a full-fledged Muslim now.

And yet I also need to remember that it’s not what I wear that really matters. It’s easy, especially as a Muslimah, to think that my clothing is more important than cultivating a relationship with Allah through prayer. And yet, what I wear is a part of what makes me a Muslim. Submitting to Allah’s rules helps me to give myself more fully to Him. And so I understand the emphasis on what Muslimahs wear.

I’m actually thankful that Muslimahs have a dress code, so to speak. It does help me to feel Muslim. Now all I have to do is act more like one.