Welcome to my blog!
This blog is an honest look at what life is like for this particular American convert to Islam. We're taught in Islam to cover our sins, to not air them, for fear of lessening the severity of sinning. In this blog, I may relate past indiscretions from time to time. This isn't to make light of them, but in the interest of educating Muslims and non-Muslims alike as to the realities of life as an American convert, I present my mistakes honestly. I make no excuses for them, nor do I claim that they were okay to make. I am not perfect, and I make no pretenses as to that. If others can learn from my past, know that Islam, and religion in general, is open for people no matter what mistakes they've made, then I will gladly air my sins when needed.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Advice for Converts (and Lax Muslims)
Someone on Jezebel messaged me because while they converted two years ago, they're not really practicing, and neither is their husband. They want to learn more, and asked me for advice. This is the novel I wrote in return.
Faith has to be learned and taken to heart - it has to be an active thing, not a passive thing, and it takes time. Muhammad, peace be with him, said that faith comes and goes. Sometimes you have a lot of it, sometimes you have a little of it, and that's completely natural. Maintaining the same level of faith for forever generally means you're not doing your faith.
It took years before the first Muslims were ordered to pray, and the prohibitions against alcohol came in stages. People needed to be eased into the faith, and so do converts and lax Muslims.
I also came to Islam from an intellectual perspective, so the "faith" part can also bother me. I don't seem to feel it like others do, except for rare moments. It helps to remind myself that, even if I think the rule is silly (why do we cover our hair when we pray at home?), God's rules has reasons behind them. Muhammad, peace be with him, said "God is modest and loves modesty." Covering while praying at home could be seen as deferring to God's modesty, and love of modesty. Or, if it really bugs you, don't cover when you pray at home. The wonderful thing about Islam is that so long as you're trying your best, God tends to let you screw up without punishment. He understands that it's a struggle. :)
When I was 15, I saw Gundam Wing, an anime show. One of the characters was of Arab descent, and when I was 17, there was some speculation on the mailing list I was on that he could be Muslim. So some Muslims piped up. Later, I played a role-playing game and made a character who could work miracles. I made her Muslim, and had to learn about it. I played her two years in a row. Then, each year, I'd have the urge to read about Islam and cover up and everything. In 2008, I took a class at my now-mosque, after meeting a Muslim guy where I worked. In 2009, I started covering my hair and learning again, and this time the urge didn't leave. I made friends with a Muslim girl at school and she got me in touch with another friend, and I went to a different mosque for a youth conference. It was very conservative and while I enjoyed the conference and went to that mosque on Fridays, I wasn't feeling it.
Then, someone on a world-wide LiveJournal group for modest dressers mentioned she'd just converted at that mosque. I messaged her and we went to my current mosque for Jummah, at which point I said I didn't know enough to convert and she told me if I waited until I knew enough, I'd never convert because I'd never know enough. So, the next week Dad came with me and I converted. Huzzah!
I don't like pork or alcohol, so I didn't have to give those up, and I was already covering my hair because I do things bass-ackwards, sometimes. The real difficulties were getting my family used to it and weaning myself off of being touchy-feely with my male friends. With my family, I wouldn't pry at their house because my dad's household was iffy with my conversion.
Finally, my friend told me that it's like a new coffee table. If you hide it away, no one will get used to it, but if you leave it out, people will bang their shins on it for a bit, but then they'll be used to it. That helped.
Also, praying. I've only recently (in the past 2 months) started praying regularly. It's my main struggle. I've got it to where I'm praying 5 times a day, even if I have to make prayers up, and I'm going to try to start shifting my prayers times to on time, one at a time. It's a process. :)
If you want to get more involved in the faith, I would suggest starting small. Work on the five pillars one by one. Get the big picture down, and then fill in the small details. If your local mosque has classes, take them! :)
1) Shahada. There is no God but the Abrahamic God, and Muhammad is His final messenger. Learn about the Oneness of God (Surah Ikhlas sums it up perfectly, and is said to be worth 1/3 of the Qur'an), and learn about Muhammad, peace be with him. Get to know them and find stories that touch you. I love hearing hadiths that give the Prophet a very human image in my mind, about his jokes and his kindness.
2) Prayer. Start small. One prayer a day for a week, maybe, and then work up to all five. It ought to take 6 weeks, if you do it that way, counting about a week for your period (and don't let people tell you that women are less than men because they don't pray as much - we don't pray because God told us not to, so when we don't pray on our periods, we're more in a state of submission to God than men will ever be). And if you fall off the bandwagon, get right back up! :)
You'll have to learn at least three chapters from the Qur'an - al Fatiha and two others. I do Ikhlas first, then Kauthar. They're really short. :) If Arabic is giving you trouble, learn your prayers in English and recite as much Arabic as you know, then go back to English - or say "SubhanAllah, ahumdulillah, Allahu ackbar" until you get to a point that you know. It's fine, because you're still learning. And it is so exciting to be able to track how much you're learning, and you'll get so excited, if you're praying in congregation, when the imam gets to a part that you know. :D
3) Charity. If you make above a certain amount, you have to pay 2.5% of your net wealth in charity each year, or make up for it with good deeds. Give what you can. If you see a homeless person on the street, go buy them a bag of apples. Do it with the knowledge that it's pleasing God when you give in charity, and also, you're doing someone a kindness that may make or break their day. Suicides have been prevented by a simple phone call or kind word. Charity isn't always money; it's also actions.
4) Fasting. Fast during Ramadan. Ladies, even if you're not comfortable with wearing hijab (you can start with wearing it while you pray and whenever you're at the mosque, to get used to it), fast during Ramadan. Go to the mosque for iftar, stay for taraweh prayers. Mingle with Muslims as much as possible, during all stages! :D They help you to feel Muslim.
5) The pilgrimage. If you can afford it, go. If you can't, learn about it, or give money to sponsor someone else who's going. I may never be able to afford it. :/ Sad day.
Read the Qur'an and take classes during all of this. It could take months or years, or less, or more. Take the steps that you're comfortable with, and try to push yourself to expand your limits. Don't do things that you resent, because faith has to be done willingly and out of love.
Of course, if you're married and your spouse isn't supporting you with this, it will be more difficult. Talk with them, let them know that you want to get more serious about Islam. See if they want to, also. That would be awesome. But if not, see if there's a halaqa, convert group, in-law, or Muslim friend (or all of the above!) who would be good support for you, and maybe you can inspire your spouse to get more serious.
But most of all, remember that you should take Islam in stages. If you can't stop drinking right away, it's all right. Improve in another area. If you can't wear hijab right away, that's fine, too. Wearing hijab doesn't make you a better Muslim, it makes you a visible Muslim. Which is, honestly, a pain in the ass. :)
So, in conclusion, take your time, and take the steps that you're comfortable with. Islam is a process; you can't do it all at once, and you shouldn't. Ease into it, and find a good support group. :)