Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tzedakah Box

"Tzedakah Box"
S. E. Jihad Levine
Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved

Looks like this tzedakah box in the synagogue was decorated by the children.

We have a sadaqa box in our masjid that was also decorated by the children.  Last year, we donated half the money to the children's wing at our local hospital, and the other half to programs for children at our community's homeless shelter. 

These boxes are in masjids and synagogues so the people can give voluntary charity.

The Jews call them "tzedakah" boxes and the Muslims called them "sadaqa" boxes.

Most Jewish children have tzedakah boxes in their rooms at home.  When it is full, the parents help them to choose a good cause to donate to.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hebrew Class, originally uploaded by Shaalom2Salaam (Safiyyah).
Copyright 2011 S. E. Jihad Levine, All Rights Reserved
Was at the synagogue yesterday and took some great shots, Masha Allaah. Here's the first of them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Never Again" ???

Dr. Hajo Meyer, Auschwitz survivor, shares his thoughts about the current moral dilemma the Israeli government, and by extension, the Jewish people, find themselves in ...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Sometimes Solidarity Came in Silence"

I'm reading this terrific novel, Sweet Dates in Basra, by Jessica Jiji.

The book starts off in early 1941 Basra, Iraq.

It's written mainly from the point of view of three Iraqi children - Omar (Muslim), Shafiq (Jewish), and Kathmiya (Shia, Marsh Arab).

Omar and Shafiq live along side each other in a house separated only by a wall.  The two families are actually like one despite the differences in religion.

I"m not finished with the book yet to give a proper review, but I am so touched by two of the female characters, Salwa and Reema, that I wanted to share a little about them with you.

Salwa is Omar's mother, and Reema is Shafiq's mother. 

They both gave birth around the same time, so when Reema fell ill, her daughter, Leah, took little Shafiq to Salwa, and she nursed little Shafiq until Reema was well enough to care for him.  "It was one of those when-you-were-a-little-boy stories," Shafiq tells the reader, that he "never tired of hearing ... how he and Omar were christened brothers."

"You were such a part of me then," his mother explained years later.  "Like a little piece that broke off from my body.  All I cared about when I woke up was you.  I was calling out your name even though you were barely half a year old and could never have answered.  My throat was so sore.  I don't know if anyone could even hear me.  But then Leah came over, she put another wet towel on my head and she said, "We brought him to Salwa." 

Omar's mother, the neighbor.

"After I heard Salwa had you," his mother continued, "I could sleep.  I didn't wake up for five days.  The jinn was trying to kill me, trying to get both of us, but it couldn't."

His mother's milk had run dry, but Salwa, who was nursing her own little Omar, saved Shafiq's life.

When Leah first brought her Shafiq, Salwa famously told Omar, "Make some room for your brother."

Salwa never expected Shafiq's mother, without ever having heard those words, to mimic them when she picked him up after the fever broke.  But as soon as Reema scooped up her flowing, sated baby, she said, "Shafiq, you have to leave a little milk for your brother."

So it was that they were and ever would be related.
Subhan'Allah!  In these present days of Islamophobia, anti-semitism, Palestine, Israel, Zionism, and all that - how many Muslim women can make claim to have a CLOSE Jewish woman friend?  How many Jewish women can say they have a CLOSE Muslim woman friend?

How many Muslim or Jewish women can boast of having such solidarity as Reema and Salwa had?  How many Muslim women would so willingly and so selflessly give her breast to a Jewish child?

When Salwa's husband, Hajji Abdullah Abd El Hamid, passed away, it was Reema who was there for her.

For three days following the funeral, the living room in the Abd El Hamid home was transformed into a reception area where visitors streamed in to pay respects. Shafiq and his family joined in bowing their heads and hearing the prayers of the mullah. Roobain (Shafiq's father), who had been to the funerals of other Muslim friends and associates, had explained it all: the special sura they recited from the Koran, the way to bow your head, the chance to reach for the hands of the family. 'But they may not respond and you shouldn't expect them to,' he'd said. 'Sometimes solidarity is louder in silence.'

Reema proved that. Her head covered with a veil, she got up and went to the kitchen, where she stayed for sixteen hours. And returned the next day for longer. And the next. No salt or blue china (for luck and to ward off evil spirits). Just making coffee and cooking meat and chopping vegetables and baking bread and cleaning, cleaning and scrubbing and washing the house so that Salwa, all she had to do was cry.

Sometimes solidarity came in silence. And sometimes in shaking rice in a pan to get all the little pebbles out. Shake, shake, a sound like a rattle, the pebbles separate and the rice is clean.

Shafiq thought of Salwa saving his life when his mother's milk ran dry. She was a widow now, but like Reema, he would never desert her.
I was so touched by that.  I think it's because of what I perceive as the sad and lost relationship between many Muslim and Jewish women today.

How many Jewish women would abandon their own households and families for days to care for their Muslim sister and her family in their time of desperate need? 

Reema did.  In silence.  No one asked her to.  She just knew what she had to do.  For her sister.

Reema and Salwa related to each other as women and friends.  It didn't matter that one was Jewish and the other was Muslim.  Even though the novel is a work of fiction, it wasn't easy for Muslim and Jewish woman in 1940s Iraq.  There was a constant fear that the Nazis would invade Iraq.  There were regular attacks on innocent Jews from certain segments of Iraqi society.  Jewish people were killed and hurt, their homes and businesses destroyed or looted.  Iraqi Jews were voraciously nationalistic and were proud to be Iraqis.  Sadly, as history played out, Iraq eventually did expell its Jewish population.  Today, very few Jews remain in Iraq.

I wonder how the Salwas and Reemas of Iraq dealt with that.  Like their solidarity sometimes came in silence, did it go in silence as well?  I wonder what will happen to Salwa and Reema by the end of this novel.

I read an article not too long ago about a group of Muslim and Jewish women in California who developed a "Cousin's Club."  They meet on a regular basis for sisterhood and solidarity.  During their get togethers, they talk about everything and anything.  They are very close and their relationships are very precious to them.

Our local rabbi is a woman.  This week, Insha Allaah, we are starting a local Cousin's Club.  So far, there's the rabbi, me, and one other Jewish woman.  I pitched the idea to some of the Muslim women at my masjid, and I think some of them may come in time.  But we need to start with just the few of us. 

Well, back to reading ... I'll let you know if the novel's worth the read when I'm finished with it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Nakba of Arabic Jews...من [جو] [أربيك] النكبة

As Salaamu Alaikum and Greetings of Peace:

I belong to a Face Book group for Jews and Muslims.  As you can imagine, there is a lot of conversation about Gaza, the creation of the State of Israel, etc. 

There is a lot of heated discussion about the perceived ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and their treatment under Israeli occupation, and justice.

One of the Jewish members posted the video below.  I can't stop thinking about it.

As we Muslims express outrage about the treatment of Palestinians in Israel, do we really understand the entire history of the region and the entire scope of the problem?

Are we only looking at the problem through the lens of Muslims?

For true peace to occur in the region, shouldn't we insist upon justice for Jews expelled from Arab lands?  Do these Jews have the "right of return" to Arab lands that we advocate for the Palestinians in the diaspora?

Where is the justice and restitution for BOTH Jews and Arabs in the Middle East?

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The American Revert's Bathroom!

One of the things that most intrigued me when I came to Islaam is the issue of the bathroom.

I learned that there is a du'a for entering the bathroom:

"[بِسْمِ اللهِ] اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْخُبُْثِ وَالْخَبَائِثِ".

[Bismillaahi] Allaahumma 'innee 'a'oothu bika minal-khubthi walkhabaa'ith.
(Before entering) [In the Name of Allah] . (Then) O Allah , I seek protection in You from the male and female unclean spirits.

Reference: Al-Bukhari 1/45, Muslim 1/283. The addition of Bismillah at its beginning was reported by Said bin Mansur. See Fathul-Bari 1/244

And a du'a for exiting the bathroom:


I seek Your forgiveness.

Reference: Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah and At-Tirmithi. An-Nasa'i recorded it in 'Amalul-Yawm wal-Laylah. Also see the checking of Ibn Al-Qayyim's Zadul-Ma'ad, 2/387.

(Above from "Fortress of the Muslim," Darussalam Publications, on

There are also rules (etiquettes) for the bathroom.  For example, a Muslim is not supposed to mention the name of Allaah t'ala in the bathroom.  And a Muslim is not supposed to greet another Muslims with "As Salaamu Alaikum" in the bathroom.  A Muslim is not supposed to use the right hand for cleaning the private parts after using the bathroom (and while you're at it, clean three times). And a Muslim is supposed to enter the bathroom with the left foot, and exit the bathroom with the right foot.

The etiquette of the bathroom can be overwhelming to the new Muslim!

In simple Islaamic terms, the bathroom is considered a dirty place.  So much so, that a lot of Muslims run in and out of the bathrooms like someone is chasing them!

It always appalled me to see the condition of some of the bathrooms in our masjids, and in the bathrooms of some of our Muslim businesses: water all over the place, dirty toilets, paper towels (if they have them at all) on the floor, no hand soap, etc. 

And many Muslim homes are no better.  One thing I've noticed is that the bathrooms of most Muslim homes are very simple and inornate.

Sometimes this is a dilemna for the American Muslim because we Americans love our bathrooms!

The average American bathroom is not only a place for relieving yourself and showering; they can serve other purposes.

We Americans like to read in our bathrooms.  Many of us keep books in our bathrooms:

My personal favorite :)

Some Americans like to have plants and pretty things in the bathroom:

Some Americans love fancy handsoaps & handcremes and flowers in their bathrooms:

Last but not least, a lot of us Americans love to take long bubble bath soaks, sometimes with candlelight:

How does a person dash in and out of the American bathroom, lol.  What do you think?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Childhood Sexual Abuse and Thoughts on Healing

                                                                    Istanbul, 2010

I was reading an article in the December 2010 issue of SISTERS magazine written by Sister Sadaf Farooqi entitled, Swept Under the Carpet.  Sister Sadaf, a homeschooling mom of two "based" in Pakistan, was inspired to write on the topic of sexual abuse of children after hearing about the experiences of some of her close friends.

Like the topic of domestic violence, the topic of sexual abuse of children is difficult for a lot of Muslims to talk about.  After all, we are members of a religion that highly values and respects women and children.  Realistically though ... that's not always the case.

Statistics on sexual abuse among Muslim children are difficult to come by.  Shame, privacy, and secrecy are just a few factors that contribute to the silence.  In some Islaamic cultures, a young Muslim woman's future and marriage prospects are ruined as a result of childhood sexual abuse even though she is a victim and the abuse was not her fault.  After all, Muslims value virginity. 

I congratulate Sister Sadaf for writing this important article, but a few things about it made my blood boil.

If you are a reader of this site, you know that I often disclose that I was sexually abused as a little girl.  I haven't written about it in specific detail, but I have shared the fact that I was abused with you.

I was sexually abused by five different male family members from around age 3 or so until about age 16 or so.  And then there were those family members who were complicit in the abuse because it was right under their noses and they didn't want to know.

The damage done resulted in a very difficult life for me.  I learned real early not to trust adults.  I got the message loud and clear that adults would not help or protect me.  I also learned not to trust men.  I was well into my 40s before I knew how to have a healthy relationship with a man.  Sexual intimacy for me involving taking risks that were terrifying.  Alhamdulillah, I achieved healing from the help of Allaah t'ala and a wonderful therapist that He put in my life. 

In my work as a substance abuse counselor and also in my chaplaincy work, I have counseled many women who have been sexually abused as children.  (Not purposely leaving out little boys here - because they are abused, too, but for purposes of this writing, I am focusing on girls)  As a result, I know a little bit about how to help women through the healing process.  That's why I felt anger when I read the last part of Sister Sadaf's article.

At the end of her wonderful article about how to empower moms to protect their children, she gives "tips" for adults abused as children to try as a "remedy" when they find their past coming back to haunt them:

1.  Talk to a trusted confidante who will keep it secret, perhaps a parent or spouse.

2.  Strive to think about worse things that have happened to other people in this world, as this will develop gratitude for Allah in the heart, instead of rebellion and displeasure with His decree.

3.  Make tremendous du'a to Allah to enable you to forget the incident and also consciously try to forgive the perpetrator.  The power of positive thinking is amazing!

4.  If you can afford to, consult a counselor or therapist.

Okay **taking a deep breath**

First of all, before you leave me a bunch of livid comments, I know that each woman's healing process is different; some women may find Sister Sadaf's "remedies" helpful.  But as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse myself, they provoked an extreme reaction in me.  And I found them over simplistic.

1.  The title of the sister's article suggests that sexual abuse is often the HUGE secret that ruins lives.  So, why would I want to maintain the secrecy and protect the perpetrator after I've finally gotten up the courage to tell someone or once I'm ready to tell someone?  Perhaps I am in the beginning of my healing, and sharing with someone is a start in the process, an exercise in trust, thereby the need to ask the person I tell to keep it a secret.  And we all know that secrets like this can be spread like wildfire in the masjid much to our horror.  But what if the perpetrator is still around?  Worse yet, what if he is a family member?  What if he has small children himself?  Is secrecy wise in this case?  At any rate, do I have to continue to live with the big secret?

2.  Thinking about "worse" things that have happened to other people in the world does not increase my gratitude to Allaah t'ala in this case.  There is nothing more painful for an abused person to endure than to have someone else "minimize" what happened to them by suggesting that they think of other people who have/had it worse.  Your experience is valid.  It was "worse" enough for you!  Acknowledging what happened to you and feeling your emotions does not mean that you need more gratitude in your heart.  Thinking about your abuse does not mean that you are ungrateful to Allaah t'ala.  After all, most abused people have had a lot of experience  thinking of others first before they think of themselves.  That is one way in which a lot of us confuse boundaries.

Giving yourself permission to think about what has happened to you, and focusing on your healing is not rebellious and does not indicate "displeasure" with the decree of Allaah t'ala.  If your past is "coming back to haunt" you, you may be experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  For that reason, the article should have suggested consulting a professional as the first "remedy."  In a lot of western countries, especially in the United States, there are sometimes programs that a woman can take advantage of that utilize sliding fee scales.  Do not let lack of financial resources keep you back from seeking help.  There are also online help forums, and free help lines in the community that you can explore.  You can also start an anonymous blog and you'll be amazed at the help you'll get from your Muslim sisters.  Online anonymity is a gift.  Ask for help.  Pray for help.  But, get help!

3.  Sister Sadaf suggests that you "make tremendous du'a to Allaah to enable you to forget the incident ... sorry sis.  It doesn't work this way.  Having your innocence stolen is not something you will ever forget.  Having your breasts squeezed and sucked, or if you have no breasts having your nipples rubbed and licked, your private parts probed, your mouth filled with someone's private parts, or your vagina brutally ripped open  are experiences you do not forget.  Having your uncle watch you undress or having your brother grind on you cannot be forgotten.  Giving birth to your father's baby or aborting your teacher's baby ... well, you get the picture.  You can forget your keys, or you can forget an appointment, but it is impossible to forget being sexually molested or raped when you were a child.

4.  She also suggests that you, "consciously try to forgive the perpetrator" with the "power of positive thinking."

In the Qur'an, Allaah t'ala tells us,

"Let them pardon and forgive.  Do you not love that Allaah should forgive you?"  (24:22)

"And verily, whosoever shows patience and forgives, that would truly be from the things recommended by Allaah."  (42:43)

On the surface, you may be thinking that this suggests that you should just "forgive and forget" as the saying goes and as the author of the article appears to be recommending.

But Islaam is also a religion of justice and this deen does not require you to be a doormat for criminals.  Also, your perpetrator has obligation to make tauba, and part of repentance is making restitution to a victim.  So, you are owed.

This is where the patience Allaah t'ala speaks of comes into play.

For you see, there are two kinds of forgiveness in the clinical sense.

a.  You did something to me.  I forgive you.  It's okay.  Let's just forget about it.

b.  You did something to me.  It's not okay.  It's never going to be okay.  I'm never going to forget about it.  But, I'm going to move on.  I'm not letting what you did have any more power over me.  I'm not going to let you continue to abuse me by constantly letting the memory of what you did to me haunt me.  I'm going to heal.

The second item (b) is also forgiveness.  It's a type of commutation.  Kind of like a pardon.  The crime doesn't go away, but the sentence ends.  Part of tauba is for the perpetrator to ask Allaah t'ala for forgiveness.  But when a crime is committed against someone's human rights, the perpetrator must also seek the pardon of the one who he has wronged.  If he does not or cannot get the forgiveness of his victim, Allaah t'ala decides between the two of them on the Judgment Day.

Don't get me wrong:  Allaah t'ala is the Disposer of all affairs.  That is part of Tawheed ar-Rooboobiyah.

If you have been abused, I am suggesting that perhaps once you move through the process of healing you may find yourself in a beautiful spiritual place!  Some women don't totally heal, but some do!

When I started the work of sexual abuse therapy, my counselor told me something that gave me hope and courage to do the work I needed to do.

She told me that the grief, pain, anger, depression, and madness I was feeling then would get better.  She said that I would never forget.  But she promised that one day I would get to a place where my childhood had no power over me.  She said it was like walking through fire.  That it would get worse before it would get better.  She promised me that God would see me through it if I asked Him to help me.  She told me that I'd have to re-live the experience in order to feel all the emotions that I had been stuffing since childhood.  She suggested that this was the language of letting go.

I held on to her promise.

And it worked for me!  My childhood no longer haunts me.  I can talk about what happened to me without emotionally collapsing.  I can share without crying, but the absence of tears does not mean that I am emotionally numb like I once was.  I no longer engage in self-destructive behavior to punish myself.  I can write about it like I'm doing now.  I can try to help other women. 

Most of all, I have the gratitude for Allaah in my heart the the article's author spoke of.

"A woman's psyche may have found its way to the desert out of resonance, or because of past cruelties, or because she was not allowed a larger life above ground.  So often a woman feels then that she lives in an empty place where there is maybe just one cactus with one brilliant red flower on it, and then in every direction, 500 miles of nothing.  But for the woman who will go 501 miles, there is something more.  A small brave house.  An old one.  She has been waiting for you.  (Clarissa Pinkola Estes) 

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Shalom to Salam

(I wrote this story years ago for Islam Online.  The site has since folded as a result of the controversy when it was taken over in Egypt.  I thought I had posted this to my own blog, but couldn't find it anywhere.  Maybe it is here, but I didn't see it.  Anyhow, I searched the internet and for once was happy about copyright violation!  I tweaked the piece a bit, and Alhamdulillah, I am bringing my Shahadah story home to my own site.)
Shalom to Salam
By S. E. Jihad Levine
(originally at:  http://www.islamonl/ Satellite? c=Article_ C&cid=%20115607769319 2&pagename=Zone- English-Discover _Islam/DIELayout)

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 da`wah 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 salah five times a day, went to Jumu`ah 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.

Since I never had trouble making friends and always enjoyed multicultural situations, I 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, and 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.  I was perceived as a stranger.

But then one of them got up from where she was sitting, approached me, and introduced herself as Sister Basimah.  At least this one had 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.

"Al-hamdu lillah," 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 who 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 this 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 of hope 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.  Just like that - I was locked out.

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.

Then 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 that 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 turned their look on 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 she had been a Muslim, whether she was married to a Muslim, etc. Then she dropped the bomb.

"Why did you kill Jesus?" she blurted out.

"What?" I replied. My face must have betrayed 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 as it trailed off while she quickly escaped from our table.

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. Over the days and weeks that followed, she told me all about Islam and Allah. It was from her that I learned that Muslims believe that no one killed Jesus! I learned that Allah took him up unto Himself.

She sensed that even though I was Jewish, 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, as if 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 (congratulations) ! You're now a Muslim!" (a line I use to this day when I help sisters say Shahadah).

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.  When we returned home, my husband gave me a gift of my very own Qur'an and a summarized Sahih al-Bukhari.

I have worn hijab since that day, al-hamdu lillah. I have never taken it off, even after the dreadful days following September 11, 2001.

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 11, 2001, 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 11. 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 Muslim 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, Turkish, or Palestinian. It shouldn't matter whether he or she is black, white, red, or yellow. It shouldn't matter whether he or she speaks Arabic, English, Spanish, Turkish, or Urdu. Our cultural diversity should not divide our Ummah. Allah tells us in the Qur'an that (Al-Hujurat 49:13).

"O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another ..."


(Update, 2014)  Alhamdulillah, despite all the challenges of cultural differences and family, I am still a Muslim.  I am blessed that my step-mom (Jewish) and brother (Bah'ai) accept me as a Muslim.

I remember visiting my step mom for the first time as a Muslim.  Everywhere we went, she introduced me to her Jewish lady friends with, "This is my daughter, Sharon," or "You remember my daughter, Sharon, don't you?"  Me with my Arabic style jilbab and hijab.  Can you picture it!  She told me she didn't care what religion I was, as long as I loved God and was happy.

I haven't really discussed it too much with my sister (Jewish).  I do remember her asking me if her children, at the time little kids, would be frightened if they saw me in Islamic covering.  I haven't seen my sister in years, and her children are now college age, but I suppose we are at least at the tolerance level. 

My mother (Christian) was deceased by the time I came to Islam.  But, when I would go to Pittsburgh to visit her sister, my aunt (Christian), I am ashamed to say that I took my hijab off before entering her home.  Although this is permissible Islamically because there are no men in her house, I did it for the wrong reasons.  I just didn't want to explain.  I did have on modest clothing with the hijab down around my shoulders and she never asked.  She probably thought it was a fashion accessory as she was always used to me dressing modestly anyhow. 

Finally, I still consider myself an ethnic Jew.  My religion is Islam.  But no one can ever take my ethnic identity away from me.  Most Jews and Muslims don't agree and don't understand, but some do.  What's important is that I do.