Monday, December 25, 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Reverts and Non-Muslim Holidays



This is a picture of Santa Claus and me. On the back is scribbled, "3 1/2 years old". I recognize the handwriting as belonging to my mother. Since my family lived in New York City when I was that age, this picture was most likely taken in a Manhattan department store.

One of the best gifts left to me by my family is a rich photographic history of my childhood. The annual ritual of taking a photo with Santa is well documented.

Holidays were a big deal in my family. My mother was Roman Catholic and my father was Jewish. One of the things my parents did to try to make their inter-faith marriage work was to celebrate the holidays of both traditions. My mom hosted the Christian and secular holidays at our house, and the Jewish ones were hosted in the home of my father's mom, my grandmother.

On New Year's Eve my mother would cook sauer kraut and we would attend midnight mass. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, found us sitting in the synagogue, listening to the blowing of the shofar.

Spring brought the exictment of Easter and Passover. The Easter Bunny would bring us baskets filled with chocolate and jelly beans. My mom cooked eggs and my brother and I eagerly waited for them to cool so we could dye and decorate them. Our neighborhood had an Easter Egg Hunt. Passover found us sitting around the Seder table, reading from the Haggadah, and learning the significance of the traditional arrangement of symbolic foods on the Seder plate. At the end of the Seder meal, an afikomen (special matzoh) was hidden and hunted by all the children present. The kid who found it won a prize.

During the Christmas season, we made the annual trek to the department store to sit on Santa's lap, to tell him what we wanted him to bring for us on Christmas morning. There were sweet smelling Christmas trees, decorated with silver tinsel and colored lights. We left milk and cookies on the dining room table for Santa on Christmas Eve. As well, we lit the Hanuukah menorah and were given a gift every day for eight days. We helped to decorate at the synagogue, and play the spinning draedel game at home.

All this came back to me yesterday when I went to the pharmacy. As I waited for a prescription to be filled, I wandered through the aisles filled with Christmas decorations, miniature Santas, gift wrapping paper, snow globes, wreathes, and candies. A feeling of sadness came over me. It happens every year. It's not as bad as it was in the beginning, when I first came to Islam, but it still happens.

I became a Muslim, Alhamdulillah, in 1998. As I studied and learned more about my new religion, my heart swelled with gratitude for being led to Islam. At the same time, I entered a grief process. I was keenly aware that my choice to come to Islam meant shedding my old life, and starting a new one. Territory that was completely uncharted. It was frightening and exciting at the same time.

It started with my family's negative reaction to my re-version. Becoming a Muslim also meant changing the way I dressed in public: no more sleeveless dresses, no more hairstyles, no more flashy jewelry, no more nail polish. I exchanged these things for hijab, and now nothing shows of me in public other than my face and hands. My diet changed. The decor of my house changed. Just a few of many, many changes. Don't get me wrong, I do all of this for Allah (swt), and it is my choice, but it has been a process.

But the single most difficult part of the grief process was giving up non-Muslim holidays. Not only the Christian and Jewish holidays, but also the secular ones: New Year's Eve, my birthday, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving ... and my favorite of them all, April Fool's Day! The only holidays celebrated by Muslims are the the two Eids.

Ramadan and the two Eids exacerbated my grief process more than anything else. Why? Because I miss my family. Family is a crucial aspect of Islam. I miss the big get togethers. Like many reverts to Islam, I don't have Muslim family.

But in Islam, I have learned that no special day is needed to express love for my husband. Every day in our marriage can be Valentine's Day. Likewise, every day is an opportunity for Thanksgiving, or more appropriately, giving thanks, expressing my gratitude to Allah (swt) for the countless blessings in my life.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Voices For Africa


Voices for Africa is a project organized and made possible by Linda D. Delgado (Sister Widad), owner of Muslim Writers Publishing http://muslimwriterspublishing.com/books.html

Voices for Africa contains poetry contributions from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It also contains awesome photography!

Voices for Africa gives voice to people who in many cases cannot speak out for themselves.

For a FREE download of the booklet, click on the link below the picture above. You are encouraged to put Voices of Africa on your website or blog. You can distribute it to anyone you want. The only thing asked is that Voices of Africa is distributed WITHOUT CHARGE to others. Why? Because Voices of Africa is a gift. It is a gift to Africa and to you. Enjoy! It is absolutely breathtaking!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Left to Tell



I just finished finished reading this wonderful book. When I saw it in my book club catalogue, it caught my eye because of the powerful effect that the film Hotel Rwanda had on me. After finishing Left To Tell, I watched Hotel Rwanda a second time. I thought that the film packed an emotional punch the first time I saw it, but I was not prepared for the feelings I experienced when I viewed it again. Left to Tell is Immaculee Ilibagiza's personal story of survival during the genocide of over 1 million Tutsi by the Hutu Interahamwe in 1994. Over 1 million people ... slaughtered in roughly 3 months.

It left me asking myself a simple question: "Why?" After the Holocaust of World War II, the world promised, "Never Again."

But it did happen again after the World War II Holocaust - and not only in Rwanda ...

In 1988, in Halabja, Iraq - on Bloody Friday when Saddam Hussein murdered innocent Kurds ...

And again in 1995, in Bosnia - when Slobodan Milosevic ordered an ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica ...

And again in 2004, in Qamisho - when the Syrian government ordered the massacre of Kurds ...

And present day, in the Sudan, in Darfur - the Janjaweed killers are murdering and raping under the protection and blessing of Omar Hasan Ahmad Al-Bashir.

Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor said, "We have a moral obligation to intervene where evil is in control."

When will the world keep its promise?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Poem To My Aunt

(My Aunt and I)
I forgave you for not telling me
When my father died,
I never let you know
How many tears I cried

By my own blood family
I was cruelly betrayed,
Even my husband and friends
Were thoroughly dismayed

You claimed you were respecting
The wishes of his wife,
By not letting me know he
Was at the end of his life

You admitted you were wrong,
And said you were confused,
The right to attend his funeral
I was refused

Now your daughter, my cousin
Has gotten engaged,
My desire to come to the
Wedding has you enraged

The thought of your Muslim niece
Coming to the Jewish service
Dressed in garb, wearing hijab
Has gotten you nervous

How would you explain it
To all of your friends?
If it offended them,
How could you make amends?

Concerned with appearances
and how it might look,
You removed my picture
From the family scrapbook

My conversion to Islam
You cannot accept
Far from the family fold
I have been kept

L’chaim to my cousin
On her wedding day
To keep the family peace,
I will stay away

Friday, September 29, 2006

Musa's Ramadan Diary


Alhamdulillah, read the story of a 15 year old boy who re-verted to Islam, and who is struggling with his Ramadan challenge:

http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1158658383946&pagename=Zone-English-Discover_Islam%2FDIELayout

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ramadan Mubarak and L'Shanah Tovah!





As Salaamu Alaikum!

Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah fall together at the same time this year. This is the first time it has happened this way since I reverted to Islam!

When I was Jewish, I used to love the month of September. Fall is my favorite season, and it came in with the excitement of the Jewish High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs in the Hebrew month of Tishri, and heralds in the High Holidays. They end with Yom Kippur, which is the "day of atonement". Yom Kippur is observed on the 10th day of Tishri. It is a day for introspection, reflection, repentence, and forgiveness. Jews observe the fast on Yom Kippur.

The blessed month of Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. It is the month that our Holy Qu'ran was sent as a mercy to mankind. The entire month is observed with fasting, worship, and contemplation.

To all my Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters: Ramadan Mubarak and L'Shanah Tovah!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Brother Abdul Malik Mujahid's (Sound Vision) Comment on Pope Comments

Assalamu Alaikum:

Pope Benedict XVI certainly parted ways with his predecessor in his recent remarks about Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. The quotation, delivered by a person of no greater stature than Catholicism's highest authority, stung Muslims worldwide and caused angry responses the world over. Response to bad words with strong words was enough. But sadly, a few churches in the West Bank were bombed and an Italian nun in Somalia killed in response as well. This is no way for Muslims to react out of love for our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Those who did this cannot be friends of Muslims or peace and justice.The Prophet was, and continues to be, insulted in worse ways than this. But his response in his lifetime was to ignore the ignorance and instead, continue to relate to all through mercy, forgiveness and respect. As he knew, what matters is winning hearts, not avenging misinformation. The Prophet said: He who wrongs a Jew or a Christian will have me as his accuser on the Day of Judgment. We must all commit to better understanding, respect for all faiths and great care in how we speak about others' faith, especially in the context of today's volatile situation worldwide. On a brighter note, Ramadan is less than one week away! The month of mercy, forgiveness and freedom from Hellfire can't be spent in a blizzard of busyness and Iftar parties. If we really want to benefit through prayer, reflection and connection to Allah, then we have got to plan for it. This week at SoundVision.com, find out how, with our tips and planning guide.

Peace
Abdul Malik Mujahid

It is important to read Prof. Martin Martys opinion of the Popes comments. Prof. Marty is considered the most significant Protestant theologian of this time.
http://marty-center.uchicago.edu/sightings/archive_2006/0918.shtml

Also read what Karen Armstrong has to say about the Popes comments:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1874653,00.html

*** A HISTORY OF MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN RELATIONS
http://soundvision.com/info/jesus/muslimchristianrelations.asp

Monday, September 11, 2006

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lebanon Shocking Documentary

As Salaamu Alaikum ... no words of introduction can do this video justice, Ya Allah.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

MY NEW NAME



I nearly gave up when a man picked up the phone. He said 'Salaamu alleikum' but spoke with a London accent. Was she married to a convert then? I was curious...

I said to Anwar, 'It's interesting about converts isn't it? What would make a Westerner become a Muslim?...I think they're brave.' (Leila Aboulela, "Minaret")

Like many new Muslims, I decided to choose a Muslim name. Although choosing a Muslim name is not a requirement for new Muslims, it is certainly an option. I began to read Islamic books so I could carefully choose a name. Since I was re-verting to Islam from Judaism, I was happy to read that our Prophet (saw) had two wives who came from Judaism: Juwariyyah and Safiyyah (ra). I decided to call myself Juwariyyah, but Alhamdulillah, I could not even pronounce my own new name! So I told all my new Muslim sisters that I was changing my name to Safiyyah. Although I can now pronounce the name Juwariyyah, I remain Safiyyah, Alhamdulillah!

SHAHADAH



My husband and I had gone to the masjid for a speaker’s program. It was the first time that he had invited me to the masjid since our marriage a year or so earlier. We had met and married while we were both working as substance abuser counselors in a rehabilitation center. We couldn’t have been more different in the beginning, as we are from entirely different backgrounds – he is black and I am white, he is Muslim and I was Jewish. Although he hadn’t asked me to become a Muslim prior to our marriage, he did give me silent dawah by his excellent example. He had an extensive Islamic library, and because I was an avid reader, I naturally read a lot of his books. I also observed his modest behavior, watched as he made salat five times a day, went to Jumah prayer on Fridays, and fasted during the month of Ramadan. So, it was natural that I would develop an interest in his religion.

When we arrived at the masjid, he pointed out the entrance to the women's section - downstairs in the basement. We agreed to meet in the parking lot after the program was over. OK, I can do this, I thought to myself as I entered the dark dank hallway and walked down the steep steps, I’ve never had trouble making friends before. I had always enjoyed “multi-cultural” situations and looked forward to the evening. My husband had suggested that I wear something “modest” for the occasion. I ran my hands down over my long-sleeved dress, straightening and smoothing it out. I felt confident that the women at the masjid would approve of my appearance. However, when I arrived at the bottom of the stairs and walked through the door marked “Sisters”, I could immediately feel it in the air: thick tension, suspicion, estrangement, confusion … every veiled head turned in my direction and the Muslim women stared at me as if I had two heads. I stood frozen in place in the entrance way, staring back at them. I had never seen so many Muslim women together in one place. Most of them wore the traditional hijab, but two women peered out at me through head coverings that revealed only their eyes. A few others sat with their scarves draped over their shoulders. When they saw me, they pulled them up over their heads. But then one of them got up from where she was sitting, approached me, and introduced herself as Sister Basimah. At least this one has a welcoming look on her face.

“Hi,” I said. “My name is Sharon. I’m here for the speaker’s program.”

“Is anyone with you?” she asked.

“My husband is upstairs,” I replied.

“Oh! Your husband is Muslim?” she asked.

“Yes. Yes, he is,” I said.

“Alhamdulillah,” she said. “Come over here and sit with us.”

She led me to a table where three other women were seated. They were the most beautiful exotic women I had ever seen. Right after she made introductions, I forgot each one of their names, which were equally exotic. Sister Basimah then got up and went to greet more people that had arrived.

“Where are you from?” one of the women asked me.

I replied that I was an American of Eastern European heritage, born in New York City.

“Where’s your husband from?” was the next question.

“He’s from America.”

“But, where is he from?

“Philadelphia,” I replied.

“No, I mean, what country is he from?”

“He’s American, born in the United States, he’s African-American, from Philadelphia,” I replied, thinking that there was a language barrier. I would later learn that most of the Caucasian women in the masjid were married to Arab men.

“Hmmm,” they all said in unison and they cast their lovely gazes downward.

“Are you thinking of becoming a Muslim?” another one asked, looking up at me with a beaming expression on her face.

“No,” I replied, “I’m Jewish.” Well, I wish you could have seen the look on their faces. As soon as it was politely possible, the topic was switched.

“Are your children Muslims?” one of them asked, returning to the interrogation.

“No.” I replied, “I don’t have any children.” That was it; their attempts to find a common ground with me had failed. They smiled at me and then something incredible happened for which I was not prepared: the conversation turned to Arabic.

I continued to sit with them at the table. They mostly spoke to each other in Arabic, and I mostly smiled. As more women would join the table, they would introduce me in English, “This is Sharon. She’s Jewish.” Then they resumed speaking in Arabic. When the program began, the women gathered in the prayer room and everyone sat down on the plush carpeted floor. But after about five minutes, the women started chatting to one another, all but drowning out the sound of the program which was being delivered over a stereo speaker from upstairs. After the program was over, the women went into the kitchen to prepare food. Sister Basimah came over and told me to sit and make myself comfortable until it was time to eat.

“But, let me help you,” I offered.

“No! You are our guest. Some American sisters have arrived. I’ll introduce you,” she replied.

Sister Basimah motioned to one of the women on the other side of the room. She came over and the two women kissed each other on the cheeks and greeted each other with a cheerful Arabic expression. Then they both turned to look at me.

“This is Sharon. She’s Jewish. Will you keep her company until we eat?” Sister Basimah said to the other woman.

“Oh, yes!” she replied. “Hi Sharon, I’m Sister Arwa!”

Sister Arwa and I sat down and began to get acquainted. I asked her questions such as how long had she been a Muslim, was she married to a Muslim, etc. Then she dropped the bomb.

“Why did you kill Jesus?” she asked me.

“What?” I replied. My face must have shown my shock and disbelief.

“I mean” she inquired again, this time softening her question, “why did the Jews kill Jesus?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I was astonished and rankled by the question. I could tell by the innocent look on her face that she really wanted to know. Maybe she never met a Jewish woman before, and this was her first real opportunity to get an answer to her burning question. When I was first introduced to her, I welcomed her company; after all, she was the first American I had seen that evening. Now, I wanted to get up and run from the table. Then the anger set in.

Giving her a baleful look, I replied through clenched teeth, “We did not kill Jesus. The Romans did!”

She returned the look of a wounded animal. Her lips opened to say something, but before she could reply someone called to her.

“Excuse me,” she said, “I’ll be back.” I could hear the relief in her voice.

A group of African-American sisters arrived at the masjid and I spent the remainder of the evening in their company. Before I left to meet my husband, Sister Basimah gave me her telephone number and encouraged me to call and arrange a time to visit with her.

I did call her, and we developed a beautiful relationship. She told me all about Islam and Allah. It was from her that I learned that no one killed Jesus! I learned that Allah raised him up unto Himself. She knew I was interested in Islam, and could sense that my heart was searching and yearning for spiritual peace. One evening while my husband and I were visiting her home, she came right out and invited me to Islam. The turning point occurred when she explained that all my sins would be forgiven when I came to Islam. She said that I would be reborn, like a newborn baby, with no sins, with another chance. I broke down and cried. I wanted another chance to get right with Allah. You see, I had a very checkered past. I always loved God, but I got lost in life. We asked her husband to help me say the Shahadah. When I told my husband what I was about to do, he was shocked and happy at the same time. He asked me if I was really sure about my decision, like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. I responded that I was never surer about anything in my entire life. There was no internal battle, no fears or doubts. After I said the Shahadah, Sister Basimah’s husband said, “Mabrook! You’re now a Muslim!”

When we returned home, my husband gave me a gift of my very own Qu’ran and a summarized Sahih Al-Bukhari. Before I left Sister Basimah’s home that special evening, she gave me a gift of a booklet about modesty for Muslim women. She also gave me a prayer rug, a prayer dress, and a hijab. I have worn hijab since that day, Alhamdulillah. I have never taken it off, even after the dreadful days following September 11th.

When I became a Muslim in July of 1998, my father denounced me once and for all. He had been very upset with me anyhow for marrying a Muslim, and refused to recognize my husband as his son-in-law.

“But Sharon, those people hate us!” he cried.

All efforts to explain the difference between the peaceful religion of Islam and the political struggle between the Palestinians and Israelis fell on deaf ears. Never mind that my father was the first one in his family to marry outside of Judaism. My mother had been a practicing Catholic when they married. To add “insult to injury” in my father’s eyes, my husband was also African-American. Prior to September 11th, most Americans thought of Malcolm X whenever Islam was mentioned. Many other family members also made it known how disappointed and frustrated they were with my decision to marry a “Black Muslim”. My father died in August of 2001, one month before the events of September 11th. At the request of my father’s wife, my family did not tell me that he had died until after his funeral was over. Did they fear that I would show up in the synagogue dressed in garb accompanied by my black husband!

We are taught that the religion of Islam is for all people and for all time. It shouldn’t matter whether a Muslim is Egyptian, Pakistani, American, Saudi, Indonesian, or Palestinian. It shouldn’t matter whether he is black, white, red, or yellow. It shouldn’t matter whether he speaks Arabic, English, Spanish, or Urdu. Our cultural diversity should not divide our ummah. Allah tells us in the Qu’ran that, “We created you in nations and tribes so that you may know one another” (49:13).