My Hijab Story (It’s Backwards)

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Assalaamu alaikum!

Here is my hijab story.

When I was about four years old, I was in a grocery store with my mother. I remember seeing a lady in a long flowing dress and veil, which I now know were a jilbab and khimar (a type of hijab). I turned to my mother and asked her inarticulately why some ladies wore headscarves. She responded by saying something I don’t recall… and then she added something that I remembered and believed for years. She said that these women believed that for every hair they showed, they’d spend a thousand years in hell. I never forgot that. I recall spending several years examining women’s veils from afar in public to see if they were showing any hair, and wondering why they believed these things. 

Growing up, the only times I saw veiled women in the media was when the evening news was doing a report on terrorism or the numerous Middle East conflicts. I never saw them in TV shows or movies – except as terrorists or abused victims cowed by their wrathful husbands. But yet, even so I always was captivated by these beautiful pieces of cloth. I wanted to look like that: dignified, regal. 

Parallel to this, at home when I played dress up I used to pin blankets around my body like robes or long flowy dresses, and I would always put something on my head. It could be a shirt, a scarf, an old hat: anything. I loved it. I was mildly obsessed. The more covered I was, the better I felt. 

So, fast forward to 2013. I had read 1Corinthians 11 years in the Christian Bible a number of times and wanted to wear hijab. I began chatting with Muslims on Google+ via my only internet connection: a tiny 3G cell phone that was terribly slow. I felt inspired and wanted to wear hijab. On my own time I occasionally put it on at home in secret -terribly awkwardly I might add – wondering what magic those Muslim ladies did to keep the cloth on their heads from sliding around. In June, I spent a week in Brazil on a choir tour. During that time I put a scarf on my head a few times in a way that I wouldn’t dare to call hijab now, in hopes of enjoying the temporary freedom I’d found. While there, in the middle of a concert, my kerchief was yanked off my head by a fellow choir member. A couple of pranks were played on me to make fun of my scarf. That was my first realization that wearing a head scarf wasn’t socially acceptable. So, I did what any modern teenager would do: I took it off and tried so very hard to forget about it. Now keep in mind that during this whole time I was a devout Christian! Not Muslim!

 In September of the same year a major life change occurred, and I moved to a new location. I was finally significantly freeer to explore my options and make my wardrobe decisions. Except, unlike a typical young woman in her mid teens, I wasn’t looking for miniskirts. I read and studied and researched 1Corinthians chapter 11 ad nauseam. I joined Facebook groups and met Christian ladies online who took the Bible as seriously as I did. Finally in December I began wearing headscarves and modest clothes, which I then called hijab though it wasn’t really proper hijab. It was more like tznius, which is basically orthodox Jewish modesty. 

My crisis of faith began a few months later (see here), but I temporarily recovered my faith in Christianity. In June of 2014, however, I took off my headscarf and unusually modest clothing for a lot of reasons. I was tired of harassment and ridicule from everyone around me. I was lonely and isolated and couldn’t bear it anymore. I had major travel plans and wanted to travel discreetly without stress in airports. I wanted to be normal. I was spiritually drained from my doubts and fears. My mental illnesses were tormenting me to no end. And on and on. I took my trip, scarfless save for when I prayed and read the Bible in private. I came back to the US. And in December of 2014, I realized how deeply I missed my head coverings. I realized that as lonely and lost as I was feeling in regards to my faith, my scarf was the one act of worship I had the strength to carry out daily. I resolved to wear proper hijab. It would prove immensely comforting at a time when I went ages without praying except for broken tearful two-sentence prayers begging God for peace and strength. 

After a long journey I submitted to Allah and said my shahada through tears and fear. I was vulnerable and scared. (That story can be read in two parts, part one here and part two here.) From then on my hijab took on more meaning. Today, it is a symbol of my faith, a daily act of worship, an act of liberation from a society that wishes to value – or rather, devalue – people, especially women, based on their worth as a sexual commodity, a public declaration that I am proud to be Muslim, and a reminder of the painful yet rewarding journey that I’ve been on to get to the Straight Path. Above all it is an act of being Muslim; that is, an act of submission to Allah in obedience to (one of) His commands.

A lot of Muslim women start wearing the hijab during Ramadan. So, I’d like to give a few tips to new hijabis. First of all, study the hijab. Read what the Quran and the Sunnah have to say. Listen to orthodox scholars’ opinions on the matter. Once your conviction has been firmly established, I recommend beginning to wear it in stages. First, learn to cover the legs in loose opaque clothing when you should be observing hijab (see the Quran for those guidelines). Then move on to the torso. Take care to cover the belly and back. Then proceed to cover your hips with your top when wearing pants. Then extend your sleeves to cover your arms. Finally move on to the head. Get used to wearing something, anything up there. A headband, a barrette, anything. Train yourself not to leave the house without it. Then begin wearing turbans, consistently. Finally, wrap a hijab. With each step, firmly establish the habit before moving on to the next thing. And of course, stay humble. Don’t be the haram police, telling other hijabis they’re doing it wrong. Lower your gaze. As your iman increases you can work on “smaller” details, like not being vain, deciding whether or not to cover your feet, wearing less makeup, and so forth. With each step, pray hard. Make a lot of dua and observe your salaat. Never abondon your salaat. 

Let me know what you think of my hijab story and what hijab means to you here in the comments or on my Facebook page! Thanks for reading! Wa as salaam 💜

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A Muslim’s Comments on the London Tragedy

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Assalaamu alaikum…. Goodness knows we need salaam! 

It happened again in England. This time in London. First of all let me say loud and clear that I join with my fellow Muslims in wholeheartedly condemning this latest act of terrorism and all other such acts. They are deplorable and go against every Islamic value and teaching. Having said that, allow me to address some misconceptions about Islam and terrorism.

Not only are Muslims not terrorists, but also no matter what terrorists say, terrorists by their very nature are not Muslims. Quran 2:256 says, “Let there be no compulsion in religion….” Quran 109:1-6 tells us to tell non Muslims “to you your religion and to me mine…,” rather than argue with them, much less fight them. Quran 5:32 tells us that in the eyes of God killing one innocent person is like killing all of humanity. Likewise, to save one innocent person is to save all of humanity. Murder is obviously therefore a huge sin. Terrorists, by perpetrating horrid acts, are going directly against the Word of Allah. They are heretics and outside of the fold of Islam. We should realize that if they call themselves Muslims, they’re lying just as they lie about everything else. Why should anyone take their word for anything?

People who claim to be Muslim aren’t the only terrorists. There is, for example, a “Christian” group called The Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa. Or, how about Buddhist violence in Asia? Hindu terror in India? Zionist Jewish violence? And so on. No one calls these religions inherently violent or flawed, nor does anyone say that they have teachings that cause violence. That is as it should be. And because their violence typically targets people of color, the western media pays little attention to them. Everyone recognizes that these terrorists aren’t reflective of the religions they falsely claim to represent. We realize that these terrorists cannot and must not be trusted to tell us the truth about religion. Muslims and Islam deserve the same trust and intellectual honesty. 

Some people think that Muslims don’t publicly speak out in condemnation of terrorism. This isn’t true. There are at least hundreds of instances of high profiles Islamic religious leaders speaking out against hate and terror. There’s this, for example. Or how about the Chief Egyptian Mufti who issued a fatwa (formal Islamic legal ruling) against terrorism. Then there’s the case of SEVENTY THOUSAND clerics in India issuing a ruling against terrorism. I could go on for ages. The cases of Muslims speaking up and out against violence are innumerable. They are available for anyone willing to see them. We ask that you hear our voices and believe us when we do everything we can to condemn hate and violence. Such deplorable actions being committed in God’s name is a sacrilege, as I’m sure we can all agree. 

Please realize that Muslims cannot control terrorism anymore than anyone else can, but if we could we’d eradicate it. And when we have the opportunity to do something, we do. Besides fatawa against terrorism, every imam I’ve known has delivered khutbahs (sermons) right in the mosque against terrorism. There are many US Muslim soldiers working to keep peace in the world and eradicate terrorist groups. 

I hope that this blog post has been informative. If anyone has questions about Islam or anything mentioned in the article, please leave a comment below or message me on my Facebook page. Thank you. 

Wa as salaam! 

My First Ramadan as a Muslim!

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Assalaamu alaikum! Well, it’s finally here alhamdulillah! My first official Ramadan. I say official because last year I semi – observed Ramadan even though I hadn’t yet converted to Islam. But this year I’m Muslim – alhamdulillah! – and I’m going to throw myself into this holy month with all the energy I’ve got, inshallah. 

Some may wonder if I’ll be fasting. For those who don’t know, the main activity during Ramadan is for all able bodied Muslims to fast from the time of pre dawn prayer to sunset prayer. That is about 16 hours where I live during this time of the year. Fasting for Muslims includes no food, no beverages, no sex, and some say no swearing and no smoking. During Ramadan Muslims also pray midnight prayers at the mosque if they can, as well as study and memorize Quran. We focus greatly on our faith by studying and praying a lot, doing a lot of charity both in the form of good deeds and otherwise, and basically doing everything possible to become better Muslims and better people inshallah. 

The practice of regular fasting for those who are able is clearly prescribed in the Quran and the sunnah. Fasting during Ramadan is also laid out in the the Quran and the sunnah as something that is fard (obligatory) – again, for those able to do so. So this is more than tradition – it is a critical part of our faith. 

So, to answer the question, no I sadly will not be fasting. It’s not for lack of desire to though. I have a lot of health issues and take numerous medications. It would be dangerous for me to fast. And yes, Islam does make the explicit provision that if there is any danger to one’s health, they shouldn’t fast. If they improve later, they should make up the fast if possible. So, women don’t fast during menstruation. When one is sick, even with a cold, they don’t fast. And when one is chronically, seriously ill – like myself – they don’t fast. 

However. I will be throwing myself into other Ramadan activities. I normally don’t have money for transportation to the mosque, but I will try to go at least once inshallah. I hope to memorize Ayatul Khursi in Arabic, read through the whole Quran during the thirty days of the month, read at least a couple of Islamic books, and abstain from most secular entertainment. I hope to spend my days reading Quran and other Islamic materials, listening to khutbahs and lectures, watching Islamic videos, and praying a LOT. I don’t know what I’ll do to celebrate Eid (that’s the three day celebration at the end of Ramadan). I have a sad feeling that I won’t get to do anything. But we’ll see what Allah has in store!

Someone asked me recently what Ramadan means to me. For me it is a time to learn and grow in my faith. It is time to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually separate myself from the secular world and focus on my iman (faith in Allah and the religion of Islam.) It is a time of reflection, of repentance from my sins and resolving to do better. It is a time to establish good spiritual habits, as well as habits such as charity, kindness, love for Allah and others, and more, that I will carry out in my secular activities. An important Islamic principle is that the spiritual should reign over the secular. We shouldn’t separate our religious and secular lives. So, our good spiritual practices should directly influence our day to day habits. Ramadan for me – and, I do believe, for my fellow Muslims – is a time to establish just such practices. 

I hope that this post has been beneficial for all of my readers.  Inshallah I plan to check back in over the course of Ramadan and tell you all how things are going. I wish all who are observing a blessed Ramadan. Ramadan Mubarak! 

The Importance of Ecumenical Studies

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Assalaamu alaikum!

Even before my crisis of faith came to a head, I have been fascinated with religions and spirituality. I love learning about other people’s perspectives on God and how to relate to Him. By not living in a bubble of my own beloved traditions, I can learn about God without limits. Many people think that if they learn about God beyond their own religion, they will jeopardize their faith. The way I balance being open-minded with being faithful to Islam is by studying every faith I can think of with enthusiasm, but also filtering what I take away from other religions with the filter of my own religion.

I recently went on a tour of a Hindu temple near my home and listened to lectures and read pamphlets on Hinduism. I have been watching a lady named Rivka Malka Perlman on Youtube to learn about Orthodox Judaism. Also, lately I have been talking to a number of LDS friends about their Mormon faith. I’ve been watching a channel called 3 Mormons on Youtube to learn about various LDS church teachings. What I have discovered is that Mormons and Muslims, while admittedly having lots of theological differences, also have a lot in common. The same goes for Hindus, Catholics, Jews, and so many other faiths. I have also enriched my understanding of God and salvation.

Something that I have come to see over the past couple of years is that people can be faithful believers in God and genuinely good people without believing what orthodox Islam would call sound theology. And because our shared humanity and sincerity are so clear, I cannot believe that God would condemn someone to eternal torture (commonly known as hell) just because they made some theological mistakes. I also have come to the realization that although I am a firm believer in Islam, other people believe just as strongly in their faiths and so it is always a possibility that I’m wrong and they’re right. We true believers, whatever our faith, must be willing to entertain the possibility that we’re wrong, whether on some things or everything.

I believe that I have the correct understanding of faith in general – but I could be wrong. My understanding of Islamic teachings could be way off. As soon as tomorrow or as late as in the next ten years, a sheikh could tell me something so profound that my entire understanding of God could be upended. Any human being’s understanding of an infinite God will naturally be limited by our finite mental capacities. If we aren’t willing to acknowledge this, our pride will limit our understanding of God even more!

Many very devoutly religious people are unwilling to expand their spiritual understanding because they’re afraid of weakening their faith. Frankly, if your faith is so fragile that a little ecumenical research will destroy it, the real problem isn’t the research – it’s your weak faith. I have worried about this myself, and the solution has been to engage in daily faith – building activities. I pray the five daily prayers, read the Quran daily, read frequently about my faith, listen to Islamic lectures, and so forth. That is my priority. But as long as I am fulfilling my duties, I don’t hesitate to study other faiths.

I’ll be honest, as spiritually enriching as interfaith research can be, my main goal in researching religions other than my own is not a spiritual one. It is human. I want to better understand the people who belong to other faiths. I want to be able to be a better friend, daughter, sister, aunt, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, and so forth to my many non-Muslim loved ones. If, by my research, I discover new spiritual truths, that’s great! But first and foremost I want to discover human truths.

All my readers are invited to educate me on their faiths, or tell me what their faith is so I can research it myself. You can always drop me a line about your faith on my Facebook page. Thank you for reading!

Peace ✌️

 

 

 

 

 

Update on my Minimalism Journey

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Assalaamu alaikum!

A while back I wrote about how I did a lot of purging of belongings and became much less materialistic. I’d like to talk a little bit more about this today.

I was raised by hoarders – like, proper hoarders. Our home was filthy. I kind of learned to hold onto things because 1) that was the environment around me; and 2) my belongings were one of the very few things I could control in the midst of a very out of control situation. So I learned to treasure material things wayyyyy too much. In 2014 when I went to Portugal I had to live out of two suitcases for three months. One of the suitcases was full of medications and some toiletries, so my wardrobe had to fit in one suitcase. And you know what? It actually wasn’t nearly as challenging as I thought it would be! I really didn’t miss my big wardrobe. When I came back and shortly thereafter Daniel and I got married, I had to majorly downsize so that Daniel’s things could fit in our closet. At that point I realized how much I didn’t need. That got me interested in minimalism, partly in hopes of distancing myself from my childhood demons.

Now I am struggling a bit with being a minimalist because my weight fluctuates so much that I am constantly needing to buy more clothes. I never know what size I’ll be wearing in the next, say, two months. But I am trying to shop more mindfully, buying only what I truly love and not compromising just so I can say I bought something. I am also trying to think more about the quality of what I purchase, and whether it could still fit me if I go up or down in size a little bit. I am also trying to be realistic with myself, giving away what I honestly will probably never fit into again. I don’t have many belongings beside clothes, accessories, and toiletries, because my husband and I live with my mom (that’s a topic for another post!).

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have been struggling to not obsess about not living up to my minimalist ideals. I imagine myself having a perfect capsule wardrobe, donating a piece every time I buy one, eating a clean and simple vegetarian diet, and shopping only rarely. Unfortunately I am not doing those things, and I am not sure how to get back on track. Hopefully I can improve. I am planning to go through my closet again in the next few days and get rid of things that no longer fit, and reorganize what does fit. After doing this I may do a post showing some hijabi outfit ideas and explaining how I put together modest outfits. What do you all think about that?

I guess this is all for today. If you have any blog post suggestions, drop me a line here or on my Facebook page! Salaam ✌

Conversion to Islam Q&A

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Assalaamu alaikum!

This is my second post addressing questions regarding my conversion from Christianity to Islam. In this one I will be answering questions sent to me by friends and social media followers. Some questions have already been addressed in my last post in which I tell my conversion story. 

  • Are you Sunni or Shia? What madhhab do you follow? 

I’m Sunni. I looked into Shia Islam but Sunni Islam spoke to me more. Like many average Muslims – especially converts – I haven’t yet picked a madhhab (religious school of thought) to follow. I do tend to lean Hanafi though and may end up officially picking that madhhab to follow. 

  • How has your conversion affected your husband and your marriage?

My husband – who is Christian – did struggle with the changes that have come about, but has since come to be very supportive and accepting of me and my faith, alhamdulillah. Our marriage has been strengthened by our ongoing interfaith dialogue and by open communication about our faiths. We already kind of had a precedent for interfaith bridge building because we’ve had to maintain open inter cultural dialogue since we’re from different countries. So we were somewhat familiar with the process of communicating honestly about our differences. 

When I was beginning to consider converting to Islam, I recall reading a book on interfaith marriage. It basically explained all the ways our marriage could fail because of our religious differences. While it was a rather frightening read, it did point out to me some critical pitfalls to watch out for. I’ve learned that the principles of respect, open and continuing dialogue, love, holding one’s tongue, finding middle ground, and making fair compromises are invaluable for making an interfaith marriage work. I highly recommend the book I read, though I also recommend that you not let it kill your hope for interfaith love. It is called ‘Til Faith Do Us Part, by Naomi Schaefer Riley. 

  • What was the hardest thing about your conversion? 

That’s a good question. There were several things that I found hard. One was losing my Christian privilege and becoming an outsider in a very non Muslim society. We make up about one percent of the US population. If that isn’t a minority I don’t know what is. I wasn’t used to being a minority. I was used to being part of a powerful, dominant majority. So that was an adjustment. 

    • What was the hardest thing to take on as a Muslim?

    Probably the five daily prayers (called salaat). Memorizing a lot of Arabic was difficult for me. It was also challenging to arrange my schedule around them. I actually did a blog post on this topic, which you can read here. I have to say though, the struggle was sweet. Salaat has become one of my favorite parts of my newfound faith. 

    • How did you come out as a Muslim? 

    I came out slowly. My husband knew from the beginning of course. Then I came out to a few friends who walked the journey with me. Mashallah they were truly gifts from Allah! I came out to my mother on my birthday of all days. Other people found out through Facebook mostly. I slowly began posting things like, “as a Muslim, I think xyz,” and such. So I didn’t write a big coming out post, it just slipped out here and there that I am Muslim. Hubby and I together told my in laws via skype (alhamdulillah they were accepting!). I only recently told our YouTube channel viewers. You can read that story here

    • Do you have any tips for someone considering conversion to Islam? 

    Be patient with yourself and with the process. Read the Quran and try out praying before you convert. Don’t make conversion into something like flipping a light switch. It’s a process, a journey. Take it one step at a time. Don’t rush the lifestyle changes but don’t let yourself stagnate either. Whatever you do, avoid wahabbi (a.k.a. Salafi) ideaology at all costs. Research different strains of Islam and pray about which one to believe in. Don’t let a mentor drag you down a path not meant for you. Never think your mentors or born Muslims are perfect. Islam is perfect; Muslims are not. Never think you know it all. Stay humble! Find a support network. You will need support, especially if you live in a non Muslim area. And finally, never stop asking questions. 

    • What was the reaction of your friends and family? 

    Their reactions were mostly either positive or neutral alhamdulillah. This is because the family and friends who weren’t supportive of me in general had already been cut out of my life by the time I formally converted. There were a number of people who said things along the lines of, “I don’t agree with Islam but you were courageous for coming out.” My mother seems to think I’m going to hell, so there’s that…. I do have some family members who I don’t dislike but with whom I have limited contact for various reasons, who haven’t reacted at all. Whenever we talk again I may get an earful. We’ll see. 

    • How has the outside world reacted? Have you faced any stigma?

    The general public, such as people I randomly meet when I’m out and about, and our YouTube following, has had mixed reactions. On our YouTube channel we got a lot of condescension and some hate, as well as some support. We lost a lot of subscribers. You can read more about that here. Because I wear hijab, in public people sometimes walk up to me and alternately ask questions, say nice things, or insult me. Sometimes in public I face microagressions like stares, rude service at restaurants, and so forth. So in short, the outside world’s reactions have been mixed. 

    • Why is there so much of another language used when you speak of being Muslim? 

    That’s an interesting question. The language is Arabic, and it is used in speech not just when talking specifically about my faith, but can also be used when talking about anything else. The Arabic language is special to all Muslims because the Quran (our holy book) was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabic. Our five daily prayers, which are largely composed of Quran recitations, are always in Arabic. We believe that the Quran can only be fully understood when studied in its original language.  So it is a very special language to us. The words that we prefer to use in Arabic typically lose their full meaning when translated. It also gives us cultural cohesion, connecting us. For example, we greet each other with the Arabic phrase assalaamu alaikum, which means peace be upon you. This means that no matter what our language, national origin, or culture, one Muslim can greet another anywhere. That’s a powerful connection, and one that I treasure when I am out and see another Muslim. 

    Here’s a quick vocabulary of a few Islamic words.

    • Assalaamu alaikum / Assalaamu alaikum waramatullahi wabarakatu – Peace be upon you / Peace and God’s Mercy and Blessings be upon you. Said in greeting. The longer form is used in more formal situations or when you’re feeling particularly effusive.
    • Inshallah – God willing / if God so wills. This is said when making future plans. For example, “Tomorrow I will go shopping, inshallah.”
    • Alhamdulillah – all praise is due to God / thanks be to God. This is said when referring to something good that happened or something that’s a blessing. For example, “Today was a good day, alhamdulillah.
    • Subhanallah – glory to God. This is said when noting something amazing, typically something pertaining to creation. For example, “The sky is so beautiful, subhanllah!”
    • Bismillah – in the name of God. Said before giving a speech, before writing a major text or essay, before giving a sermon, before eating, before performing the ritual ablution for prayer, and before doing other things for which you want God’s blessing. 
    • Salaat – Name for the five daily ritual prayers performed in Arabic by faithful Muslims the world over.
    • Shahada – the Islamic declaration of faith.

    I hope that, inshallah, this post has cleared up some questions people have about converting to Islam. Feel free to ask more questions if you have them! Remember that while my experience isn’t atypical, still, every convert’s experience is different. If you’re considering converting to Islam and want support, feel free to reach out to me via my Facebook page. Thank you for reading! 

    My Conversion to Islam

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    Ever since I converted I’ve gotten lots of sincere questions regarding my journey and beliefs. I’d like to take the time to address the story of my conversion here. Soon to follow will be a post answering other questions about this inshallah. Feel free to comment with your questions so that I can include them in my Q&A post inshallah. Thank you. 

    Many people wonder how a devout Christian could “deny Christ” and become, of all things, a Muslim. I understand that it is surprising and perhaps confusing to some people. It is a bit difficult to explain. I mean, coming into or losing faith isn’t a choice. It is a choice to try to maintain faith, but for some people – myself included – no matter how hard we try, it just doesn’t work. Faith can die, and in my case it died a slow, agonizing death that nearly tore me apart. 

    A bit of background may be useful here. I was raised as an Evangelical Pentecostal and later moved to an Evangelical Baptist church. I took part in countless exorcisms, both as the exorcisor and the exorcised. I had a strong belief in the supernatural. I was a staunch conservative; politically, socially, and spiritually. Every morning I prayed and read my Bible for an hour. In the car and at home I listened to Christian music. I went to church several times a week and as I reached my teens I became involved in volunteering in the church in various areas. I read countless devotional books and other Christian commentaries, and had a good grasp of Christian theology. So, as you can see I was a very committed, and I’d even say enthusiastic, Christian. 

    Any time doubts came up, I shoved them down because I believed wholeheartedly in James 1:5-8 and similar passages commanding Christians to not doubt and to accept Christian doctrine without second guessing it. I was afraid to entertain doubts or to ask tough questions, because the answers might lead me away from what was familiar and comfortable. I soon learned that the most effective tactic was to not let myself be alone with my questions. Almost unconsciously, I kept myself ridiculously busy with church activities. Partly I wanted to bury my other sorrows, but I also was desperate to not let myself listen to that little voice inside that was whispering doubt. One day though, I began to listen to my heart (that sounds so cheesy, I know), and I decided to wear a head covering and modest clothes in accordance with 1Corinthians 11. Somehow I couldn’t hold myself back from listening to my intuition about what was right. Shortly I was expelled from my church. All my activities were taken away. There was no noise left to to drown out my doubts. I was left alone to face up to them. 

    At the time all this was unfolding, I was dating a Christian (not the man I married). I was a novice at love and didn’t know that a woman should never limit herself for a man. So, even though my heart was by this point being powerfully drawn quite specifically to Islam, I was too afraid of losing that man. Around this time I bought my first Quran and created some anonymous and alias online profiles to talk with Muslims and learn more about the religion. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing this. When I first opened the Quran, I read the first chapter. For those who don’t know, it is a very short chapter. We Muslims pray that chapter every day. I didn’t know that then, however. But nonetheless I was struck by its beauty and instinctively prayed it. I was in love. I remember thinking very distinctly that it was everything I’d ever wanted to pray. It was perfect. I began praying it frequently.

    Sadly, as I realized that I’d have to choose between my relationship with that man and listening to my heart, I stopped it all. I cut off contact with almost everyone I’d been chatting with. I shoved my Quran in a drawer and deleted my anonymous online profiles. Then came the church crisis and shortly after that, that man and I broke up. To be fair, this wasn’t that guy’s fault. I chose to ignore my instincts. I chose to not even give him a chance to accept me and my doubts – or not. It was enough for me to be afraid that it wouldn’t work out if I were to become Muslim. Alhamdulillah, Allah in His infinite wisdom knew that I’d never grow if I stayed with that person, and ended up putting me with the amazing man that I now have the pleasure of being married to. 

    As my relationship with my now-husband took off, I got so caught up in it that for the most part I forgot about my doubts. I had found something new to drown out my whispery inner voice. I do however recall brief moments, flashes really, of that old nagging feeling that something wasn’t right.  My then-boyfriend (now my husband) and I used to read the Bible together every night in Portugal. I couldn’t escape my feelings when the Bible began to disturb me so much that reading it or hearing it read to me gave me actual panic attacks. So I stopped reading the Bible so often. When I returned to the US, I got busy again. But I kept praying every night with my husband. So much of my faith was fear-based. We prayed every night because I was convinced that if we didn’t, God would punish us by making our marriage fail! Things settled down with our visa situation and my mental health left me unable to study or work. I was also finally an adult, and didn’t have to sneak around online anymore. So my freedom gave me peace, quiet, time, and room to explore. 

    I didn’t use that room for a while though. I persisted, trying to believe. Finally, one night it came to a head when I was reading the Bible. I came across Deuteronomy 22. It is a very disturbing chapter. It wasn’t the first time I had read it, but this time the usual lines about the “Old Covenant” and “we’re no longer under the Law” didn’t fly. I had always been told that the Old Testament rules didn’t apply to us anymore because of Jesus’ supposed sacrifice on the cross. Previously that was enough to unravel the knot in my stomach that those verses always caused. But this time one thought got stuck in my head that I couldn’t do away with. “Everyone agrees that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) did come from God and was meant to be followed at one time. How could a loving God send down such a horrible text? Either the Bible is true and divinely inspired, or God is love. These two things can’t both be true.” Once I had found the courage to question, I soon found so many other parts of the Bible – including  in the New Testament – that had always bothered me but that I’d been afraid to question. 1Corinthians 11, James 1, most of the Old Testament, the contradictions in the gospel accounts, among others. 

    I couldn’t ignore these doubts anymore. Over the course of a year my husband and I discussed these things at length. I tried to pray and then finally just quit. We turned to his spiritual advisors for counsel. Alas, their cut-and-dried answers weren’t working for me anymore. I began to research in earnest my old love, Islam. I finished reading the Quran and then started over and read through it again. I read so much. I joined Facebook groups and met Islamic leaders and knowledgeable Muslims online who were able to explain Islam to me in a whole new way. Every doctrine made sense. The emphasis on compassion, mercy, and grace, the idea of retribution or reward for our deeds, the ancient rituals, the fact that the Quran was so beautiful and yet had never been revised, and so many other things made me realize instinctively that Islam was true. My husband was beautifully supportive, although at first it was a bit of a challenge for him. 

    During that year I began changing my lifestyle slowly but surely. I cut out pork and alcohol, I began wearing hijab properly, I began praying once a day with the intention of working up to the full five daily prayers, and I observed Ramadan by reading the Quran daily and researching even more.  (I did not fast because of my health issues.) Finally, last August in the wee hours of the morning on the third, I said my shahada (the formal Islamic declaration of faith) in skype with two witnesses. 

    Afterwards I cried so hard. It was scary! I’d already changed so much, and I knew more change was coming. I was afraid my husband wouldn’t support me. But he became ever more supportive, and I slipped into the routines of Muslim life like a hand into a tailored glove. Over time many questions have come up for me. I have learned my lesson though! I don’t shove my doubts and questions down anymore. I ask my support network questions and then follow-up questions to their answers. I do, however, continue to be satisfied with the answers that the Quran, the Sunnah (prophetic tradition), and those who interpret them, have to offer. 

    Quran 2:23 challenges disbelieving readers to produce a single Arabic chapter equal in beauty and truth to a chapter of the Quran. That speaks volumes. I for one don’t believe that anyone could possibly do so. Certainly no one has. I could go on and on about the scientific miracles of the Quran, the way it resounds with my soul, the way it draws me in like metal to a magnet, and the infinite layers of truth and wisdom it contains. But that is for another blog post! I will say that every time I open my Quran I am awestruck again with its beauty and wisdom. I read it with insatiable thirst. I’m thankful beyond measure for it and for the beautiful religion that I’ve found. 

    In closing, allow me to give a small piece of advice. Here it is: never ignore your intuition. Never! No matter what, listen to your intuition. Don’t ignore your doubts or questions. Don’t pretend that things are okay when they’re not. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way. 

    Assalaamu alaikum (peace be upon you) friends 💜

    • Follow me on social media on Facebook and on Twitter @genuinegemsblog

    My Journey to Prayer

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    For many years I was a very good Christian girl. I prayed and read my Bible and Bible commentary every morning before doing anything else. I always had words to pray, so many words. I also prayer journaled, which for those who don’t know is where you write out prayers to God in a notebook. When my massive spiritual crisis began in 2014, I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know what to say to God. I wasn’t angry at Him, just speechless. But I asked God to guide me. I began reading the Quran, and from the first time I read the Fatiha I began to pray it in English in the many moments that I seemingly had nothing to say to God. 

    It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say to God. I had so many feelings and thoughts bottled up inside that I wanted to let out in prayer, but when I bowed my head and closed my eyes I couldn’t seem to put those feelings into words. God seemed distant and deaf. I couldn’t help but wonder why He’d bother listening to me – or even if He would at all. Time and again, I turned to the Fatiha. It gave me the words I didn’t have. It summed up everything I wanted to ask of God. 

    As time passed I realized that I didn’t believe in the Bible and Christianity. I went months without uttering a prayer, pausing only occasionally to utter something for a few seconds. I deliberately avoided it. I was afraid that I was doomed for hell, because I was not praying. This fear in turn made me want to pray even less.  All my old fears of God and His judgement made me rather dislike Him, because I was very disconnected from His Mercy and Grace. As time went on I began reading the Quran again, and again began praying the Fatiha. This whole time I didn’t know that Muslims prayed the Fatiha daily. Soon, however, I learned this, because I began to research Islam again, this time thinking of converting. 

    I also learned about this amazing thing called salaat: a way to pray that God Himself gave us. Five times a day we get to meet God in prayer. And, He listens. I watched videos and listened to lectures about it. I found out how to perform it. I was so in love with the words! Instinctively, I knew that as soon as I prayed it salaat I would fall in love with it and my conversion would be inevitable. I already believed in the basic doctrines of Islam. Finally, one night in my walk-in closet I laid out a towel for a prayer rug, set up my iPad with a prayer tutorial, and followed along. When I finished, I was shaking, drenched in sweat, emotional, and almost euphoric. I felt in the depth of my soul that I had truly connected with the Divine. I spoke to the Creator of the universe – and He listened to me. Subhanallah.  

    Sure enough, soon thereafter I converted to Islam alhamdulillah. I don’t like to say that I converted – that implies that I chose it. No. God chose Islam for me, and I submitted to His will. Since performing salaat five times a day is a requirement for a practicing Muslim, I began researching the details of it even more enthusiastically. I soon found it difficult. Through the whole process I remained in love with salaat. However, I soon discovered that I had to pray in Arabic, not English, so I had a lot of memorization to do. I had to know when to prostrate, when to raise my hands, when to say what. I worked hard, watching countless YouTube videos about it and taking notes. I Skyped with friends and asked questions of every Muslim I knew – and some I didn’t know! I had found a way to talk to God, and I wanted to do it perfectly. It was the greatest gift I’d ever had. I still feel that way about salaat to this day, alhamdulillah. I mean, how amazing is it that God told us exactly how we can talk to Him?

    Many people think of communication with God as a one-way street. We pray, He listens and maybe does what we ask, maybe not. But Islam teaches us that prayer is for our sake. God doesn’t need our prayers. But He has blessed us with the ability to communicate with Him because He knows that without Him we are nothing. And, He communicates in return! Quran 45:3 and many other similar passages tell us that the creation is full of signs from God. All of creation, including our own existence, is a message to us that God is greater, that He loves us, that He is ar Rahman and ar Raheem, that He is the Almighty. God is speaking to us through His creation. Subhanallah!

    These days I still have a hard time making my own own duaas. The great thing is, there are many traditional duaas out there that we can use. I have downloaded an app that has duaas in it, and I often look up duaas for appropriate situations. I especially love the tradition of making duaa when it rains. It gives me inspiration to talk to God. When it rains, I do somehow feel more connected making duaa. I do still struggle with feeling unworthy to pray for things I need, so I often end up simply asking for forgiveness for my sins. I am painfully aware that I am very much in need of God’s forgiveness because I am very flawed, as are we all. My salaat, however, has improved greatly. My greatest struggle with salaat is concentration, but I’m working on it. I find great comfort in it and alhamdulillah am typically faithful to pray on time. I can only give thanks for this.  

    My advice is that if you are struggling with prayer, keep trying. If you are Muslim, you already have two great gifts from God: the Quran and the Sunnah. And these together tell us how to make salaat. So, work on your salaat. Try to pray it well. Study the meaning of the words being recited, especially if you don’t speak Arabic. Become faithful to it. Pray on time, even when it seems inconvenient. Sometimes it is a sacrifice to get out of bed for fajr, but the relationship with God that these sacrifices open up for us is incredible and indescribably worth it! 

    Going Public With My Conversion

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    It’s done. Irreversibly done. Yesterday my husband and I released a video on our YouTube channel announcing that I’m Muslim. Ever since we had said that I was Christian back when I actually was, people have thought that that remains true. But of course since last year it is no longer true. For a long time when people asked my religion we curtly told them that we didn’t talk about religion. Many friends of my husband didn’t know about my conversion. So, a lot of people in our lives are kind of reeling from shock right now. 

    The backlash was a bit worse than I expected. We lost many subscribers, received an incredible number of dislikes, and were flooded with negative, condescending, and rude comments. This is for a couple of reasons. For one, Brazil is a very Christian country. Evangelicals there are even more socially and politically powerful there than they are here. For another, people came to our channel excited to see a Christian couple in the US. They felt that they had something in common with us. We were one of their own, not “other” or different. Now, that’s been turned on its head. While Daniel is still one of them, I’m not. I’m different and other. I’m foreign. 

    I’ve lived my whole life used to being different and not one of the crowd. Through this channel I finally felt like one of the gang. Converting to Islam has put me on the fringes of society once again, and now the last place where I felt normal has been taken away. I’m not one of the gang. It’s tiring, always being “other”. So, so tiring. 

    One of the things I’ve heard the most is that if I left Christianity, it must mean I was never truly Christian at heart. That’s not true. I was a devout, heartfelt, faithful Christian. I loved Jesus as God’s son. I believed in his death, burial, and resurrection. I read the Bible cover to cover many times and studied it in depth in countless churches, Bible study groups, and on my own. But, I stopped believing. I began to question, and it soon became clear that Christianity wasn’t the right path for me. People change, that much is for sure. And change I did. 

    I’ve also been told that I’m too young and inexperienced to know what I believe. The funny thing is, when I was the religion that everyone wanted me to be (i.e., Christian), no one said that. They praised my dedication and knowledge at my young age. But suddenly when I’m actually a bit older and am taking an unpopular path, I’m too young to know my own mind? I’m not buying it. The people who say this are speaking without knowing my story. I’ve been through hell in my short life. Hell. I’ve seen and lived and done things some sixty year olds can’t imagine. That’s not to say I’ve got it all figured out. I don’t. I have a lot of growing and living to do. And you know what? Now is the time for just that process to begin. It’s time for me to let myself grow. And you need to respect my growing process. You say I’m inexperienced? Well, I’m gaining experience right now. So let me. 

    I was once put down for being different by a mental health professional. His intention was to change me, but what he did was galvanize my determination to not live to please people. You do you, I’ll do me. I’m going to be true to my heart no matter what. The times I haven’t done so, I’ve been miserable. It’s not worth it. So I’m going to be loudly, proudly, unashamedly Muslim. This is who I am. In the coming years I have no doubt that I’ll change even more, inshallah. Hopefully it will be for the best. And guess what? I’m not afraid of change anymore. I welcome it. The changes that God has orchestrated in my short life have been wonderful, albeit painful, alhamdulillah. If more change is written in God’s plan for me, I’m open to that. I’m finally at peace with change. Alhamdulillah for everything. 

    I’m Not Going to Hell

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    …. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – Jesus, John 14:6

    These words have been twisted by many radical Christians to mean cruel things. So many times they have been used against me and my community to exclude us from God’s love and mercy. The people who cite this verse out of context claim to be able to know for sure who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. They are arrogant enough to claim to be privy to knowledge and decision making that are purely God’s business. 

    I was recently told that God would only save those who believe in Jesus as God and God’s son. I told the people who said this to me that quite frankly I don’t think that God is so cruel that He would condemn to eternal damnation someone who is a good person but doesn’t ascribe to very specific theology. Silence fell over the room. Somehow this idea that God is merciless has taken over a lot of Christianity. It’s one of the reasons why I left. To be fair, when comparable things are said by my fellow Muslims I am just as outraged.

    Christians, your own Bible says that God is love. What sort of loving God would be so unjust as to ignore someone’s sincere efforts at being good, and punish a good person for simply not believing in a very specific theology that varies depending on your denomination? If we are God’s children as you say, what kind of sadistic parent would torture their child for all of eternity just for a sincere mistake? It sounds pretty evil to think that God is so terrible. I do believe He is the epitome of love, and I don’t know what definition of love you ascribe to, but last time I checked loving someone doesn’t involve torturing them for a silly reason. 

    Excluding people from God’s love and mercy is not your job. You have no right to make that call. Furthermore, as Christians and simply as moral people you’re supposed to be reflections of God’s love. It’s not very loving to think that someone deserves hell because they don’t agree with your theology. The nice thing is that the Bible itself offers a wonderful definition of love and its importance. I’ll leave you with just that to ponder. 

    If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,but do not have love, I gain nothing.

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

    And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

    – 1Corinthians 13