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.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Converts vs. Cultural Backgrounds

I touched very briefly on this subject in my last post, and a good friend of mine reminded me that I had wanted to include it, but it really does deserve its own post.

Religions, as my friend noted, have as many cultural traditions as they do scriptural traditions, and if you don't come from the same cultural background as the adherents of your new faith, it can be, and is, incredibly alienating. All too often I see converts - honestly, sincerely trying to follow their new faith as best they can - take on the cultural traditions of the Muslims around them, mistaking them for religious traditions.

Wearing an abaya and hijab or a jelbaba and keffiyeh -

Pictured: Not religion.
Picture © Corbis Images

- or a shalwar khameez -

Pictured: Also not religion.
Picture © BuyNx

- instead of pants or a skirt and long-sleeved top -

Pictured: Still not religion.
Picture © Clutch Mag Online

- doesn't mean that you're following Islamic dress codes. You may very well be - but the origin of the outfit itself doesn't make it Islamic.

Once you convert, you're Muslim. Or Hindu. Or Christian. Or Jewish. Or whatever you've converted to. And a lot of the faiths in the world have strong cultural connections, connections that sometimes overshadow the religious part of them, but you don't have to wash away all of your culture once you convert, nor should you, and if anyone tries to tell you that you have to, kick them in the shins. Tell them I said it was ok. I'm Queen of the Muslims, after all. We have those, right?

All you have done in converting is take on the religious beliefs of that faith system. That is all. You do not have to change your dress to another culture's style. You do not have to change the food you eat*. You do not have to change your name**. You do not have to take on the cultural attributes of your new faith. You can bring macaroni and cheese to the pot-luck iftar (dinner during Ramadan, when you break your fast) at the mosque even if everyone else is bringing Arab or Pakistani or Yemeni food - probably because they're Arab or Pakistani or Yemeni. If you can wear jeans and a shirt and cover the basic requirements of the Islamic dress code, then congratulations, you're dressed Islamically. If your name is Michael, you don't have to change it to Mikhail - for the love of God, that's just "Michael" in Arabic! An Arabic name is no better or worse than a German or Greek or English name - my name means "gift from God" and you can not tell me that that is an unIslamic name, regardless of the language it's from.

A thing is not inherently more Islamic simply because it's Arab/Pakistani/Malaysian/Afghan/whatever. A thing is Islamic because it is a good thing that follows Islamic guidelines. Which mac and cheese totally does. And is delicious.

Haters to the right.

So be aware of this, when you're wandering around your new place of worship. Your native culture is still yours after you convert. It is no better or worse then any other culture. Leave the bad parts of it and run wild with the good. You do not have to choose between religion and culture because religion and culture are not mutually exclusive.

Are there people of different ethnicities in your new place of worship? Go up to a few and ask them all the same question, maybe about clothing requirements - can you wear American clothing, now that you're Faith X***? If they tell you that you can only wear the clothing of their culture, or if they insist that Mikhail is better than Michael even though they both mean the same damn thing, then run screaming nod politely, thank them for their wisdom and guidance, and do as you please - because you are not Pakistani/Arab/Afghan/whatever (unless you are, in which case that was a lie) and you do not have to abandon the culture you grew up in just to fit into your new faith (that part's still true).

Also, if you're not a convert, or have been around for a while, and you see new people, for the love of God, go up and say hello. They might just be new in town, or they might be new converts who have no clue what's going on, who don't have anybody to sit with during dinner or worship services, who don't have very many, if any, friends of their new faith. Make the converts feel welcome. Please make the converts feel welcome, and valued, and wanted. Think of us as orphans. Or immigrants to a new country. Or orphan immigrants.

Pictured: Coy baby fennec fox. Because immigrant orphans are depressing.

We need new friends and families, and we need to be made to feel welcome and wanted.

It would make Gir happy.

Pictured: Happy Gir
© Nickelodeon/Jhonen Vasquez

* Unless it's pork or alcohol, but baby steps.

** Small caveat: in Islam, if your name is one of the 99 names of God, has a negative meaning, or is the name of another god or goddess, then you need to change it - but it still doesn't have to be in Arabic.

*** Faith X is my new band name. No stealing.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Muslim Perspective

It is nearly impossible to give people The Muslim Perspective. No, it is impossible. There is no single, defining narrative that tells the Muslim story, because there are over 1.5 billion Muslims spread out over every single country in the world and every socioeconomic status and every strength and vision of faith. We don't even have the benefit of the Islamic version of a Pope to tell us and the world What Muslims Believe. Shariah law is defined and implemented by Islamic* governments and everyday Muslims differently. Our religious laws change with the times and cultures they're applied in - and they're meant to, because one-size-fits-all is not something that an accurate faith system should claim.

The incredible diversity found in the adherents of Islam, and how we adhere to it, is one of our biggest strengths, yet it also makes it that much harder to describe us to people who don't have three hours to spare while I tell them about the differences between Sunnis, Shi'as, and Sufis (and Nation of Islam, and Five Percenters, and, and, and ...); about the differences between the main schools of thought in Islam; about fiqh and Shariah and ijtihad and sunnah and fard and the jumbled mess of ahadith and ahadith that were meant for people in general and ahadith that were meant only for a specific person or group of people and fabricated ahadith and strong vs. weak ahadith and by this time you're yelling at your screen "Just give me the short version!" but this is the short version, and how do I possibly begin to describe the vast intricacies of Islam when you ask me a question that has a million different answers that are each correct, even when they contradict one another? Even if I give you an answer, there's no way that I can give you THE answer because I'm not the Queen of the Muslims, no one is, and no one Muslim or group of them speaks for us all (I'm looking at you, Saudi).