Sunday, December 30, 2012

Should Muslims Celebrate Christmas, New Year's, and Other Non-Muslim Holidays?

Narrated Anas bin Malik (ro):  The Prophet (saw) came to Medina with two days they played in.  The Prophet (saw) said, "What are these two days?"  They said, "These are two days we used to play in, in our Jahiliyah."  The Prophet (saw) said, "Allaah has replaced them with two better days:  Eid al Adhaa and Eid Al Fitr." (Abu Dawood #1134, 1/675)

This is a picture of me taken with a Santa Claus at one of the department stores in New York City.  I was about 3 and 1/2 years old at the time.  My Christian mother used to take me for pictures with Santa during the holiday season. 

Oddly, no pictures of my little brother and Santa exist in the huge collection of family photos that I inherited from my mother.  Not sure why.  There is a 4-year age difference between my brother and me.

Although my mother was a Catholic when she married my Jewish father, she never converted to Judaism, and she always practiced her faith.

But my brother and I were not raised as Christian children: we were raised Jewish (until my parents divorced when I was around 12 years old, and she converted us to Catholicism - story for another time!).  Occasionally, my mother took us to a Catholic mass when we visited her family in another state.  We always had a Christmas tree, and got Easter baskets.  Likewise, we celebrated Passover, Hannakuh, Rosh Hashana, and other Jewish observations.  Our identity was Jewish, but there was always that pesky issue of my mom's Christianity and the traditions she introduced into our home.

I remember asking my Jewish grandmother once why Jews didn't observe Christmas.  Her answer was simple in a manner that satisfied me.  She said something to the effect of, "We're Jewish.  That's what 'they' do.  We have our own holidays and celebrations."  She continued to explain that we only had Christmas trees and Easter baskets out of respect for my mother's religion.  She also explained to me how our beliefs were different from those of Christians.

My Jewish family tried real hard to respect my mother and make our interfaith family successful.

This year, I noticed that there seems to be a switch in the way many Muslims perceive Christmas and the like.

"Merry Christmas" wishes, pictures of Muslims in Christmas wear, and pictures of Muslim children with Ginger Bread men cookies were abundant in places like FaceBook.

There was a story online about a group of Muslims who held a Christmas party for their Christian neighbors.

Br. Suhaib Webb shared that the European Fatwa Council, made up of 20 of the world's great Muslim Jurists, stated that it is permissible to greet people on these days (exchange gifts even) as long as it does not involve approving any creedal differences between us, or open evil and shirk.  The rationale for the permission is that the fatwa against Muslims "celebrating" are rooted in an age of empire and war (Crusades) and that the social reality does not fit ours in the current day and in the West.

Sh. Ali Gomaa from Egypt, on his website, also issued a similar fatwa.

But, MuslimMatters posted an awesome khutbah by Sh. Mustafa Umar (Islamic Institute of Orange County), Living as a Muslim in a Christmas World, that gives a different perspective, one like my Jewish grandmother's, and one I believe is more in line with Islaam.  The sheikh talked about evaluating the way we make our own Muslim holidays meaningful for our Muslim children and family, and questions how we raise our children concerning their Muslim identities.  Our answers and responses to these issues will help our kids not to be confused about their identities.  They will reduce the pressure on our children to fit in, and will restore balance.

In the long run, my exposure to Christianity, Jesus (as), and non-Jewish celebrations like Christmas, had an effect on me that the efforts and intentions of my family didn't foresee: it introduced me, a Jewish child, to Jesus (as). Judaism was never to be the same for me again.

It led to a lot of questions and a life-long search for G-d which eventually ended up in me saying the Shahadah and becoming a Muslim, Alhamdulillah.

Judaism doesn't hold Jesus (as) to be a great prophet.  So, it's understandable that an introduction to him (as) could be fascinating for a Jewish child.  But for a Muslim child, the exposure to him (as) in a way that is inconsistent with Islaam can lead to confusion.

And it can lead to a lot of questions and a life-long search for G-d in a way that Muslims parents don't intend.

So, let us think about these things as we raise our children. 

May Allaah t'ala make you successful in raising your children as righteous Muslims, and ones who will assure a seat for you in Jannah.  Ameen!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sadaqa Jariah

                  Sunday School, Copyright 2012, S. E. Jihad Levine, All Rights Reserved

"Sadaqa jariah" is often defined as "continuous charity."  It is based on the following hadith:

"If a 
human dies, then his good deeds stop except for three: a Sadaqa Jariah (continuous charity), a beneficial knowledge, or a righteous child who prays for him.” – Sahih Muslim

I'm now in my 60s, and as I get older, I often think of my legacy.  What mark have I left on the world?  Will anyone remember me after my death?  Will the world be just a wee bit better because I was here?  Insha Allaah, it will be.

As I don't have any children, yet alone a "righteous child" to pray for me, like many other barren Muslim women, Allaah t'ala, in His infinite Mercy, has given me other opportunities for good deeds that will not stop after my death.

Since I don't have any money so far in life to dig wells or build mosques, I try to focus on two areas:  writing and teaching.

When I wrote a booklet for Muslim inmates coping with grief and bereavement, Out From Darkness ... Into Light for use in prisons and jails, I never dreamed the booklet would find its way to North Carolina, and into the hands of Alexis Smith, hospital chaplain in the Moses Cone Health System.  She contacted me and described the need for such a resource for Muslims trying to cope with grief and bereavement in a hospital setting.  Together, she and I adapated my original booklet for use in hospitals and healthcare settings, and the result is He Brings Them Out From Darkness Into Light. 

May Allaah t'ala makes these booklets sadaqa jariah for me.  May these booklets continue to help Muslims long after my death.  Ameen.

As a Muslim prison chaplain in a state prison for women, I had a need for an Arabic teacher for the Muslim inmates I serve.  It took me about four years to find a Muslim sister on the outside willing to navigate all the correctional system's bureacracy before she could actually come in and teach our inmates. 

Prior to her coming to us, I, being a revert who never mastered the Arabic language, was forced out of dire need to buckle down and learn the language myself so I could teach in the prison.  With the Help of Allaah t'ala, I was able to master Gateway to Arabic, Book 1, and teach it to our women (a few who are now better than me, Alhamdulillah!).  All the while, I was making dua to Allaah t'ala to send us an Arabic teacher.  Subhan'Allaah!  He sent one!  A beautiful Palestinian sister who teaches us Tajweed and Qur'aan! 

So now, I teach our sisters the Gateway book, and when they complete it, they "graduate" to the Arab sister's class to learn Tajweed and Qur'aan.  I'm even teaching this book to our mosque weekend school students!

May Allaah t'ala make this effort a sadaqa jariah for me long after my death as the women and children I teach go on to learn Qur'aan and teach others.  Ameen. 

I've described a few ways that anyone can obtain sadaqa jariah for him/her self. 

What do you do?  If you share and someone reads about it and implements it into their deen, Insha Allaah t'ala you will receive some of the reward, too :) 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Heera's Hand

Heera's Hand, originally uploaded by Shaalom2Salaam (Safiyyah).
Eid Mubarak!

(Copyright 2012, S. E. Jihad Levine, All Rights Reserved)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fractal Footsteps

Go to following Flickr link to see better!
Fractal Footsteps, originally uploaded by Shaalom2Salaam (Safiyyah).

"O you who have believed, do not follow the footsteps of Satan. And whoever follows the footsteps of Satan - indeed, he enjoins immorality and wrongdoing." (Qur'aan 24:21)

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

SpinArt Fractal

SpinArt Fractal, originally uploaded by Shaalom2Salaam (Safiyyah).
New digital art toy!

The background of this fractal was made from iPhone app, "SpinArt." It was then iterated in iPad app program, "fractalPhoto."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Al-Ankabut:41 (The Spider)

“The example of those who take allies other than Allah is like that of the spider who takes a home. And indeed, the flimsiest of homes is the home of the spider, if they only knew.”

Copyright 2012, S. E. Jihad Levine, All Rights Reserved

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Internet Cafe on Front Line of Culture War – The Jewish Daily Forward

It's not like these righteous pious Jewish men (or Muslim men) would access at home, would they?!

It's a problem when religious "authorities" tell grown people what to read.

Accountability is with Allaah.

Also, there is another Salafi "hit list" circulating telling Muslims which authors not to read.

U think this stuff goes beyond the pale of Judaism and Islaam?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Do You Think You'll Change My Mind?

      Gaza Demonstration, Harrisburg, PA - by S. E. Jihad Levine, Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved
The image above is from a demonstration I photographed a few years ago.  I can't remember exactly when it was, but I believe it was in response to the Israeli Operation Cast Lead offensive in Gaza.

I am really involved in justice for the Holy Land.

Mostly, I am a cyber activist.  I involve myself in activities like interfaith dialogue and social media awareness.

Why do I care so much?  Because I was raised Jewish, was converted to Christianity around the age of 12 by my mother after her divorce from my father, and am now a Muslim.  Until my reversion to Islaam, I, myself, was a Zionist.  I used to write poems about Israel.  The Holy Land is in my blood. 

I now believe the Holy Land belongs to all three faiths.  And I detest Zionism as it is manifested in current-day Israel.  I'm not a violent person and don't support terrorism against the Palestinian or Israeli people.  I just wish the two can find a way to make peace.

I commented on a Zionist's blog the other day, and to make a long story short, he said something that really got me to thinking.  He basically said (in my words) that I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to Israel or Palestine because I don't live there and don't know the daily experience of people there. 

Okay, granted, I don't live there, but I do intimately know numerous Palestinians living in the diaspora, and I have listened to their stories.  Palestinian people were the first Muslims I knew.  They brought me to Islaam.  All of them still have family there who DO live the daily experience.  I also read about five English language online Israeli sites, and am on listservs of numerous Zionist groups.  I also read Ma'an, a Palestinian news service.  I don't claim to be an expert, but I think I have an informed idea of what is going on there when it comes to the Occupation of the Palestinian people.  I read, reflect, and try to make up my own mind as a result of what I've learned.   

I could agree with what he said if I was totally clueless about the issue and was just commenting on people's blogs to pass time.  But I'm not clueless, and I have a right to advocate for the Holy Land.  And saying things like he said is another way of shutting people out and shutting them up. 

So, he basically said (my words) that he was weary of my constant negativity concerning Zionism and Israel.  He asked me if I REALLY thought I was going to change his mind with my constant "negativity."  (translation: speaking out against Zionism)

Well, probably not ... because he lives there and is married to an Israeli.  He's personally invested in Zionism.

But I was thinking about the concept of changing people's minds.  How do people change their mind about anything when they refuse to be receptive to "the other side?"

I remember something I learned in a 12-step group that basically goes "You can't write anything new on a closed mind."

Talking to Muslims and opening my mind lead me to the decision to re-vert to Islaam.  I listened to Muslims and seriously thought about the things they said to me.  So I know that minds can be changed. 

I realize there are two sides to every story.  But the truth of one side is not negativity, despite who narrates it. 

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Economics of Making Jewelry

As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatu and Hello!

Yesterday, my husband and I went to Philadelphia.

We had a great time: went to an Islaamic book store, ate lunch at a terrific Turkish restaurant we discovered, and also had the opportunity to visit a bead shop there.

Man, did I get sticker shock looking at the beads in that store!

It's not important to name the store, because I am pretty sure that most small, independent, brick-and-mortar bead stores, especially those in large cities like Philly and New York City, experience the same struggle - rising costs and high overhead.  Can't imagine what it costs to rent a storefront in South Philly, an area which is gentrified and quickly being taken over by the yuppies, their baby strollers, and their little dogs.

The strand of opal glass in the crappy image above is about the cheapest strand of nice beads I could find in this particular shop.  At $14.00 a strand, 33 beads to the strand, these beads cost approximately 42 cents a piece.  Not "too" bad.

She had a FABULOUS strand of rough black diamonds which I was really, really, really tempted to buy - at an eye-popping cost of $95.00 for the strand.  I was proud of myself that I could muster the discipline to walk away ...

I don't know how these little bead stores stay in business.  Some of them can't.  The independent bead store I frequent in Lewisburg, PA, is going out of business at the beginning of this summer.  They just can't make it in this economic environment.

There is nothing like a personal visit to a bead store where you can look at the beads, feel them, etc.  It's a whole different ballgame from internet bead shopping.

But it is becoming necessary to buy beads from internet wholesalers or others who offer beads and supplies at very affordable rates. 

I also buy beads and sterling silver supplies at Michaels, which is a craft store.  If you spend enough money in Michaels, they offer great discounts.  And they always have sales. 

I've become a pretty fussy shopper.  I compare bead prices, and won't buy something expensive unless it is really, really unique.

Like I wrote before, Insha Allaah, I intend to start selling my jewelry soon. 

A few things I do to save money and keep track of jewelry finances are:

1.  I save all receipts for what I buy.
2.  When I cut the strand and dump the beads into my boxes, I also put a little slip of paper in there with the individual bead price.  This strategy helps to price an item after I complete it.
3.  I buy practically nothing at regular retail price.
4.  I wait for 40% and 50% off sales at Michaels.
5.  I wait for 30-50% off your total order.
6.  I patronize web sites that offer free shipping.

Insha Allaah you can find some benefit from this if you make jewelry.  I am learning slowly what works and what doesn't.

I am also going to start storing beads in containers by colors.  This helps in the designing phase, and you don't have to schlep out all of your containers when you begin to design.

I am also investigating how to make this venture a real business.  I'm researching "hobby tax" and small business tax.  Will let you know, Insha Allaah, when I process and understand it all :)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Jewelry Making ... And Other Things

Crazy Jasper and Magnetic Hematite Bracelet, originally uploaded by Shaalom2Salaam (Safiyyah).

As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatu!

Wow, it's been a few month's since I've written something here.  Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, and so on ...

What have I been doing?

Well, things are starting to settle down here some after all the initial buzz from the launch of the "Love InshAllah" anthology.  I'll be contributing a blog post, Insha Allaah, later this month, so look for it!

I'm still taking pictures.  The camera on The New iPad is fabulous!  As a matter of fact, the image above was taken with it.  I still have to get used to it, and get better with the photo editing, but I'm happy with it.

I also turned my garden over.  Everything is ready for planting in May.  The challenge now is to keep it weed free until then :)

The biggest news is that I've returned to making jewelry after many years away from it.  It's been a real yin and yang for me.  I've written before here than I have a host of physical problems, including Arthritis and MS, Alhamdulillah.  I put a lot of things on hold after the initial MS diagnosis, trying to get used to living with MS instead of giving in to it.  Making jewelry is a bit difficult because fine motor control is a challenge for me, and then my hands occasionally shake.  And don't forget the arthritis!

Earrings are the biggest challenge of all due to all the fine motor control work, but I'm practicing.  I've made a slew of bracelets, nothing intricate, but simply bead design/stringing.  I think I'm ready to get more creative with the bracelets, and perhaps venture into necklaces.

But, Alhamdulillah, I've been doing it!  Above is an image of a bracelet I recently made.  What do you think?

Insha Allaah, I'm going to set up an Etsy store soon.  And perhaps Zibbett, too.  I plan to sell the better stuff (sterling silver and gemstone) online, and sell another line, less expensive (silver prices are through the roof!).  My friends and my sisters at the mosque can also go to my Etsy store if they want to buy some of my better stuff, but I'll have other stuff available for local flea markets, etc.

So, that's what's been up with me.  Stayed tuned for more jewelry images!  Insha Allaah!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Guess Who Is In The New York Times "Books" Section?!!!

You guessed it:  Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women!

I mentioned before that I am a contributor to this collection, Masha Allaah t'ala!  We are a few weeks away from the publication date, February 14th, and the publisher has notified our editors that we will go into a second printing!  I'm still peeing myself with joy!

Here's a little excerpt from the NY Times review:

"Zahra Noorbakhsh was 14 when her Iranian immigrant mother discovered that Zahra was defying the family ban on mingling with boys: one was among her four friends heading to the movies together.

So the sex education talk that in a different life, back in the holy city of Qom, would have waited for her bridal night was instead delivered in the parking lot of  a mall in Danville, Calif." ...

Read the rest of the review here.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women - THREE Weeks Until Release!!!

Hello Friends and Family!

As I posted here before, the book I contributed to, edited by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi--Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women-- is being released in three weeks!!

It's a moving and provocative non-fiction anthology featuring 25 American Muslim women speaking openly for the first time about their search for love.

Want to know how you can help?

Here are the top five ways you can help amplify Muslim women's voices right now:

Order the book on Amazon today!
  • Re-Post this on your blogs and website.
  • Tell your family, friends, and networks, and ask them to support Muslim women writers by ordering this book
  • Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, etc.,
  • Select Love, InshAllah for your book club--we've included discussion questions at the back of the book.
  • Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter - and then ask your networks to do the same!
  • Connect us to your university or a community organization (e.g., place of worship, student association, non-profit org, etc.) to organize a reading/panel discussion.
Please contact me at if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.

More information about the book (including rave early reviews and contributors bios/photos) is available on our website:

Love, InshaAllah wouldn't 
have been possible without our wonderful writers, families and friends. Thank you for supporting Muslim women in telling their own stories and sharing their perspectives!

Oh! I almost forgot!  Did you know that Muslim women find Jon Stewart irresistible?  Go on over to HuffPo comedy and see why!