Where Are the Bigots When a Muslim Does Something Good?

When Rima Fakih won the Miss USA pageant last year, the media jumped all over the story. OMG! She’s a Muslim! The Muslim community must be horrified!

Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs delighted in the notion that Fakih’s  “accomplishment” was “an affront to islam” and a “pox on their house.” She practically nominated Fakih for sainthood for embodying “everything sharia and the Islamic world deplore — free women.”

Burn those burkas, baby, and come on in. The water is just fine. I wonder if the ink is dry on the fatwa …

But when the story broke this week about Saheela Ibraheem, the 15-year-old New Jersey girl who was just accepted to 13 universities, including M.I.T. and six of the seven Ivy League schools she applied to, who got a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT (and a 2340 overall score), who plays three sports, an instrument and sings in her school’s choir, among other achievements, not one news outlet mentioned the fact that this exemplary young woman also happens to be a Muslim. (Full disclosure: most of the articles did mention that she is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants.)

Is there something twisted about this, or is it a sign that the world is beginning to look past someone’s religion to the person beneath the hijab?

I think it’s twisted. If you’re going to be quick to point out Muslims who are behaving “badly” (for Muslims), shouldn’t you be just as quick to point out Muslims who are a credit to their religion? I sincerely doubt that Saheela wanted to hide the fact that she’s Muslim because she clearly wears the hijab in all the pictures I’ve seen of her (including when she’s participating in sports). But she doesn’t mention it either, probably because to her it’s no big deal.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that one’s religion or race should be mentioned when his or her accomplishments are being touted. What I am saying is, where are the bigots like Pamela Geller when a Muslim does something good? They would have us believe that there is no such thing as a Muslim who is a model citizen. After all, everyone knows that all Muslims are terrorists.  If they acknowledged that someone like Saheela Ibraheem is a Muslim, they would have some explaining to do.

According to Islamophobes, Muslims want to bring down Western civilization and take over the world. Saheela Ibraheem just wants to be a research scientist and study the brain.

See an article and video  about Saheela Ibraheem here.

Progress Report: Twenty Months as a Muslim

I’m still glad I’m a Muslim and I’m actually a lot more comfortable with it than I was for the first few months. I won’t lie to you; those days were hard. First of all, I felt so out of my element. So much of being a Muslim is cultural and I’m definitely not from that culture. I’m as WASPy as you can get, or at least I was until I became a Muslim. (WASP stands for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.) Now the only part that doesn’t fit is ‘Protestant.’ But I’m still white and Anglo-Saxon and have blue eyes and fair skin. In other words, I don’t look Middle Eastern which is where most non-Muslims think Muslims come from. (In actuality, only about 20% of Muslims are Arab.)

But the real difference between me and most born Muslims is that I’m not steeped in all the traditions and attitudes that come with being born into a Muslim culture. At first, everything felt strange to me. I’ve written in earlier posts about how I responded to all this “Muslim business.” Well, I’m still learning. I find out something new almost every day that I didn’t know about being a Muslim. Some of the things have been disturbing, others amusing, most of them enlightening.

But at first I was terribly hung up about all I didn’t know. I felt like I’d never learn how to be a “real” Muslim. And I was consumed with guilt about all the things I did know but didn’t follow.

For instance, I found it very difficult to say all my prayers every day. Each day that went by where I hadn’t prayed five times (or sometimes not at all) made me feel horrible. I was sure I was going to Hell and I was afraid to admit to anyone that I was having trouble with the prayers. Also, every time I found out something new that some Muslims think is mandatory, I would get discouraged by how difficult some of the things were.

I got so hung up about whether or not I was doing everything right, I lost my joy about being a Muslim. But even in my worst moments, I never regretted my decision to convert. I didn’t feel like Islam let me down but rather that I let Islam—and other Muslims—down.

After a few months I finally started to relax. It helped that I finally made it through the Qur’an. And I had many Muslim friends, both born and converted, to encourage me and teach me the most important things I needed to know. I began to understand that Allah knows our hearts, judges us by our intentions as well as our actions, and is always willing to forgive us and help us to start over. I will never be a perfect Muslim, partly because there is no such thing (Muhammad is the only one who came close) and partly because I’m human.

But most of all I learned about the importance of prayer. That’s the cornerstone of Islam. I still don’t always say all my prayers, but when I do, I am so blessed. I can’t believe how good it feels to be in God’s presence and have a conversation with Him. I’ve come to love the prayers themselves, even when I don’t understand every single word. I get off track a lot, but prayer always brings me back to Allah. And I praise Him for that. Alhamdulillah!

My Faith Journey: Searching (Part Five)

After I left my third husband, he became interested in a very traditional form of Christianity and started going to a new church. He lectured me on several occasions about how I couldn’t call myself a Christian because I had left our marriage. But by the time our divorce became final, he was already dating the woman he would later marry and was much happier with his new life.

I, on the other hand, was not. I was grieving hard for my parents and becoming more depressed and anxious by the day. I was still working full-time but not functioning very well. All I had to hold onto was my faith in God, but I didn’t go back to church and had no idea if I ever would. In my desperation I began going to counseling and ended up seeing a psychiatrist who diagnosed me as clinically depressed and put me on meds. But even that didn’t help. I eventually had to quit working and go on disability.

Around the same time I made a friend on the Internet who helped me through some of my worst patches. He was from Germany (but wrote and spoke excellent English, thank goodness) and was 14 years younger than I am, but we really hit it off. After about a year we finally met each other in person and realized that what we had suspected was true: we loved each other. Five years after our first contact, he came to the U.S. and we got married. We’ll celebrate our tenth anniversary this year.

He was raised as a Catholic, but no longer attended any church. He respected my faith in God, but didn’t share it. Even so, he was more than supportive as I searched for an answer to my “God dilemma.” Because by then I wasn’t just unsure about going to church, I was also questioning everything I’d ever learned about God. I’d always had doubts about the divinity of Jesus, for instance, and was bothered by Christians’ insistence that the only way to be saved was by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. What about people who didn’t believe that Jesus was God or that he died for our sins? Were they condemned to hell? I just couldn’t buy that.

In a blog I had at the time I wrote this:

I feel stuck at a crossroads, as if I can’t get where I want to go because I keep putting off choosing a direction. I know that I don’t want to go down the path to unbelief. I can’t. Because I do believe. But I have a lot of questions and doubts, too….I feel like I did in the days before I accepted Christ as my savior and God as personal. Like I’m refusing to surrender, but I know that inevitably I will have to. But what am I surrendering to? Or who? I’ve already become a Christian. Aren’t I still? Isn’t what in your heart what really matters?

I stayed in this holding pattern for several months. Then, on June 6, 2009, I wrote this post about “My New View of God.” I was done with Christianity.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

 

A Time to Celebrate

One of my best friends had a party last Friday night which I was fortunate enough to be invited to. It was partly a going-away party because she’s moving to another state in three weeks. But it was mostly a party to announce and celebrate her marriage.  She was married a couple of months ago but hasn’t been able to have the big wedding back home because of the situation in Libya right now. So she had a party here so that she can celebrate with her friends, both old and new, here in the U.S.

Other than baby and bridal showers, I’d never been to an all-women party until I was invited to one by my friends from Libya. Not all Muslims are strict about the separation of the sexes, but Libyans definitely are. The first time I went to a party where the men and women celebrated in different rooms, it felt strange. But I’ve become used to it and discovered that I don’t really mind it. Even at mixed parties in the non-Muslim world, men and women tend to split up into separate groups. So it wasn’t all that different.

The party Friday night was unique for me because I got to see my Muslim friends in all their finery. Off came the hijabs and niqabs and abayas and what emerged was dazzling. Everyone looked so beautiful, especially the beaming bride. The atmosphere was festive. Which was wonderful because Allah knows the Libyans have a lot to be worried about right now. But when isn’t a wedding a time of joy and hope?

We visited for over two hours before the meal was served, but it was well worth waiting for. I only took one portion of each dish and I still stuffed myself silly. I would love to learn how to fix Libyan food, but I doubt I could make it as good as Libyans do.

It was wonderful to see all my old friends and meet new ones. My youngest daughter came with me and I proudly introduced her around. The women made over her because she’s pregnant. There were a lot of “Mashallahs” and “Alhamdulillahs” going around!

I love the way Muslim women greet one another. There are the “asalaam alaykums” and “wa alaykum salaams” and a flurry of hugs and kisses. It’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced before. One of the things I’ve been most impressed with about Muslims in general and Libyans in particular is how hospitable they are. You never feel like a wall-flower when you’re invited into a Muslim home or to a party. My daughter and I left feeling very blessed. Alhamdulillah.

It’s not that long before Ramadan will be here again. The fasting is difficult, but the fellowship is amazing. I’m looking forward to celebrating it with my fellow Muslims.

Being Neighborly

I don’t get along with my next-door neighbor. Let me rephrase that: I don’t like my next-door neighbor. Oh, he always acts friendly, but then he does passive-aggressive stuff like taking over part of our yard for his garden without asking and throwing a bush that he dug up in our compost bin. I don’t know how to take his actions or what to do about them. I don’t feel comfortable making an issue about them, but not saying anything at all makes me feel like I’m just setting myself up to be used and disrespected.

I’m well aware of what the Qur’an and the ahadith say about how we should treat others. In fact, it’s one of the things I love most about Islam. I think many non-Muslims would be surprised at the emphasis that Islam puts on loving our neighbors. Christians, for instance, tend to think that they have the monopoly on that. But in reality, there are far more verses and sayings about being kind and gentle to others in Islam than there are in the Christian Bible.

This is one of the dilemmas of being religious. We are taught to treat others the way we would like to be treated. But what are we supposed to do when we aren’t treated fairly? Are we just supposed to suck it up or grin and bear it? Are we supposed to act like push-overs?  Or should we say something in our defense?

The situation is even more complicated by the fact that I now identify myself as a Muslim by wearing the hijab. My neighbor has never asked me about it—we don’t have that kind of relationship—and it’s not that I think he does these things because I’m a Muslim. (He did most of the things before my conversion.) But since I choose to “announce” to the world that I am a Muslim, don’t I have a standard to uphold? Isn’t it a form of da’wa to be kind to our neighbors?

Years ago, before I was a Muslim, I left a sign in my neighbor’s garden telling him that I didn’t appreciate his taking over part of our yard. That year he was careful to stay off our property. But the next year when he asked if we were going to use that patch of land, what could we say? We don’t use it; we just don’t like him using it. So we said that we weren’t using it that year. He promptly put a fence around the entire area (ours and his) and has left it there ever since.

I wouldn’t mind planting some tomato plants this year, but now our part of the garden is behind his fence. It just doesn’t seem worth the hassle to tell him to move his fence so that it’s only around his property. Besides, I don’t like confrontation. And I know how uncomfortable things can get if you don’t get along with the person who lives next door to you. So I keep my mouth shut and seethe inside. And I complain to my husband, who shares my feelings anyway.

I know this seems like a small thing compared to world issues like conflicts in other countries or even the way Muslims are treated by some Americans. But life is made up of these small things. And how we treat our neighbor says a lot about how well we are submitted to Allah and His will.

For now, I guess I’ll continue to treat my neighbor respectfully and hope that he won’t do anything more aggressive. My ego keeps telling me that I should stick up for myself. But somehow I think that would only make things worse. But is it better to have this eating away at me?

I know I need to pray about this. But do you have any other suggestions?

 

 

Friends

I’m about to lose three people who are important to me.  Well, not lose them exactly: I’ll know where they are, and it’s not like they’re dying. But I won’t be able to see them, to share meals with them, or just spend time with them. They’ve been a huge part of my life for the past three years and I’m not sure what I’m going to do without them.

That’s the thing about friends. Sometimes they come into and out of your life like butterflies. It’s rare to have a friend who stays put for a long time. Or maybe you’re the one who leaves. Either way, all you can do is be grateful that you had a season with them.

It’s easy to take friends for granted. Sometimes they influence our lives in ways we hardly notice. Other times they accompany huge changes in our lives. The friends I’m losing are of the latter variety. They are the friends who led me to Islam.

The best thing about these friends is that we had established our friendships before we became brothers and sisters in Islam. I never felt like they judged me as inferior or not worth bothering with just because I wasn’t a Muslim. That made my conversion all the sweeter. Now we are more than friends; we’re family. And those are the best kinds of friends to have.

Years ago I had a professor say that there are all kinds of friends, but most of them are actually more like acquaintances. He said, “If you have one really close friend in your life, count yourself lucky.”  So I am more than lucky; I am blessed.

I’m slow to make friends. My children have fussed over my lack of friends for years. They’ve worried because I hardly ever do anything with the friends I do have and they wish I had more of them. So when the Muslims I came to know at work began to invite me into their homes or to offer to do things with me, they were thrilled.

Initially, I was just grateful that they took me, a new Muslim, under their wings. But gradually I came to realize that they were much more to me than mentors.

I think you know you have a really good friend when you realize that you love them. Not romantically. But it’s love just the same. I have affection for friends and I have friends who I’ve stayed in touch with out of loyalty or even obligation. But when you realize that you actually miss a friend’s company, when you find yourself thinking about the way she laughs or the way her face lights up when she sees you, then you know you have something special.

A true friend is one you hold in your heart. I need to remind myself of that. Because no matter how many miles and hours separate you, the bond between you stays the same.

I’m counting on it.