Monthly Archives: September 2008

Establishing Five Daily Prayers

This post is an extension of the previous post “How to Start Your Prayers.”  Please note that I did not write this section myself – it is written by a member of ummah.com who calls herself “dhakiyya.”  She gives good advice as to how to start the prayers as a new muslim.

Continue reading

Advertisements

How to Start Your Prayers

Part Five of Seven in the “Am I Muslim?” series for New Muslims.

I remember when I first accepted into Islam.  One muslim that I knew handed me a simple prayer book with the words “Salah” sketched on top.  He explained to me that the prayer was THE most important aspect of Islam.  He stressed that I needed to learn to pray first and foremost, above all else.  He encouraged me to start that very same night. 

Five years would pass before I would take up his advice.  Five whole, entire years.  I wanted to pray – the desire was there – but I didn’t.  I still don’t know why I waited so long.  I remember feeling that I couldn’t do it, that I wouldn’t be able to keep them up, so I didn’t try.  I remember making feeble attempts but being too afraid to do them in public, or around my friends, so I stopped trying.  I made thousands of excuses, but that was all they were, excuses.  Continue reading

My Mother

I tried to come up with something to write about today – but I just don’t have it in me.  The one thing that is on my mind right now is my mother.  She fell yesterday and she broke her collarbone.

My mom has been sick for a good part of my life – she has Lyme Disease and was diagnosed when I was only five years old.  In those years, she was bed-ridden and the image I remember most was of me laying on the living room floor, coloring her get-well pictures out of my Care Bears coloring books while the visiting nurse gave her IVs.  I remember my mom smiling at me with only half of her face when she lost the nerves in her left side. 

You would never know what she went through if you met her today.  She is so strong and competent and driven.  Every season she has been out in the field beside my father, driving the plow, unloading the beet harvester, delivering seed to the plants.  She never slows down and she never stops, and they are a team.  Without each other, they would be lost.

Which is why this is so hard on her right now.  She deals with the pain of a broken bone – she won’t even fill her pain prescription.  It’s not the broken bone that is breaking her down; it is the fact that the injury occurred exactly one day before harvest season.  My dad is out there in the field alone, and she is at home, alone.  They are separated for the first time in the middle of the busiest time of the year, and she feels completely inept at not being able to help him, to carry out her duty of farming alongside her husband. 

And there’s not anything I can do to ease that for her.  I can offer her comfort, I can send flowers to cheer her, I can call to make funny jokes and try to make her laugh.  I try to tell her everything happens for a reason and a purpose.  But she doesn’t hear me.  I can see as I watch her eyes that her mind is going to be halfway in the field, feeling regret and remorse for her condition. 

Her whole life she has been strong.  She could have given up at any point in her struggle; I feel any normal person probably would have in the face of her obstacles.  But she will not give up and she hasn’t.  So although she can’t be where she wants to be – I just hope that she allows herself time to heal.  I will always admire her for her strength and determination.

Your First Visit to the Masjid

Note:  Part Four of Seven in the “Am I Muslim” series for new muslims.

My actual first trip to the masjid occurred while I was in college, doing research for a religion class.  I remember I was asked to wear a headscarf (and provided with one) and was guided into the women’s section of the masjid, which was behind a thick wall, blocking all view of the Imam.  I went into the masjid with an open mind, but seeing the separation (not to mention the very small area that the women were crammed into) was upsetting to me.  The woman who was guiding me through the masjid continued to make excuses for the situation, but I just wasn’t convinced.  I didn’t blame it on Islam – I already knew the religion stressed equality among the sexes – but I did feel that it was a situation that should be changed.

The second time I entered a masjid was as a muslim.  The masjid I went to was nothing like the first one I had attended.  I saw right away that the prayer area for the women was placed on a second floor, so that the women had full view of everything that was happening and a clear view of the Imam.  This seemed so much more appropriate and as a woman, I felt much more comfortable in this environment.  But this time was different, as I wasn’t just there to make observations and leave.  This time I was there as a Muslim, as a member of the community – or so I desired to be.

Luckily my experience was wonderful.  I was welcomed into the masjid so easily – there was a meeting organized just for people like me – new muslims who were unfamiliar with the masjid or perhaps with the religion of Islam itself.  We discussed all kinds of things openly and freely, the Imam came to meet with us to welcome us and answer questions, and we were placed on an email list for further communications. 

But not everyone has a similar experience.  Some who visit the masjid may feel alienated or distant from others.  Some may be too scared or nervous to even attempt a visit.  It can take some time before you are ready to make that the first step outside of your comfort zone.

I’d like to help you on your journey with knowing what to expect from your first visit, and how to have the best experience possible in order for the masjid to become a comfortable place of worship.  It seems that every masjid has a different “feel” to it.  Some are more family-oriented, with programs for kids, outdoor community gatherings, and after-school activities.  Others are more individual-centered, with less discussions and more educational activities, avenues for gaining more knowledge about Islam.  So if one masjid doesn’t seem to fit with your personality, keep looking and perhaps you will find one that is more suitable for your lifestyle. 

But all masjids are there for a place to worship, so the prayer hall is probably the most important area of the masjid.  It can help if you have a guide, someone to help you through on your first trip.  All you would have to do to arrange this is to call the masjid, introduce yourself, and ask them for help.  This way you will know exactly where you will be going when you first enter, and you won’t be like me who wandered around for 5 minutes before getting up the gall to ask someone where the meeting was!  If you want to go there just to pray, it won’t be difficult to find your way around, as this is usually the central “hub” of the masjid. 

Another bit of advice is to get to know your Imam.  The Imam has alot of connections and knowledge about the activities and schedules of the masjid, so he can be your number one resource for answering any questions you may have.  They usually have time periods set aside for things like this, so you can call just to ask when the Imam is available to meet with you.  This can be a great way to introduce yourself to the masjid.

There is a great list of masjid etiquette and customs written by a fellow blogger.  These posts on Masjid Etiquette are so concise and well-written that I refer you to them now, as there is no better way to guide you on this issue than to direct you to this site and helpful posts.  (Click here for the follow-up post regarding masjid etiquette.)

One more thing I want to point out is this:  It’s okay if you make mistakes.  There were a couple of things that I completely overlooked when I first visited – I forgot to take off my shoes in the prayer area.  I passed in front of someone praying.  I left too much space between myself and the next person praying.  I entered the prayer at an inappropriate time.  I made all kinds of mistakes.  But the best part was that I learned as I went, and others helped me along the way.  It’s okay if you don’t know everything there is to know about Islam.  It’s alright if you don’t know all the proper things to do or say.  You will learn and then someday it will be you teaching another who may not be aware.

The best benefit I have found of being at the masjid is praying in congregation.  There is nothing like being a member of a community of people who believe in exactly the same things you do, who believe in the oneness of Allah and believe in the Qur’an as a message from Allah.  To pray alongside another who prays the same as you, to be a part of such an environment does wonders for your soul.  For years I stayed away from the masjid because I was too afraid to step outside of my comfort zone.  But since I started regularly attending the masjid and praying in congregation, my imaan (faith) has improved beyond anything I could have expected, and in such a short amount of time.  Knowing other muslims and reconnecting with a religious community has helped me to strengthen my faith as I have wanted for the past several years. 

So I wish you luck and I encourage you to try going to the masjid.  Ask Allah for help if you are nervous and know that Allah is with you always.

 

This concludes Part Four of the “Am I Muslim” series.  Look here next week on Monday for some guidance on “How to Start Your Prayers.”

The Crappy Twenty

While packing up my cluttered room during our move, I had stumbled upon the neat, clean boxes of old board games that my sisters and I used to play.  I had some of the best from our collection:  Sorry, Husker Du, Guess Who, Trivial Pursuit, along with some uncommon ones:  Girl Talk, M.A.S.H., and Mother’s Helper.  Still shelved at my parents’ house were the classics:  Monopoly, Hungry, Hungy Hippos, and CLUE. 

I remember when I had brought them back to my house, only to find that forcing my husband to play wasn’t nearly as fun as having my older sisters together again to reminisce with me.  The games were slow and monotonous compared to board games of today such as Cranium or Apples to Apples (our new favorites.)  My husband whined and complained the whole time, and while I tried to feign excitement and suspense, I too, was bored of these boring board games.

So again they were boxed up and put back into storage, where they would collect more cobwebs and dust than they had when I first pulled them out from the basement closet at my parents’ house. 

All the memories these board games ignited in my mind led me to one in particular – a somewhat recent memory between my husband and I.  A few years ago we had been cleaning out his closet at his parents’ house when we discovered his old Monopoly set.  It was in impeccable condition – all of the perfect green and red houses were still enclosed in their tiny plastic zip-loc bags, red-orange chance cards and bright-yellow community chest cards still in his possession.  The money was neatly lined up in its carrier, perfectly aligned for the “bank teller” to conveniently resume their position.  And even all the original metal pieces – the dog, the hat, the thimble, iron, ship, horse with rider, shoe, car, wheelbarrow and cannon – all still tagged and bagged in their original plastic bags. 

I couldn’t believe the memories that lay across that big, bright board, all the memories contained in those tiny, silver pieces.  If I were to play the game with my sisters today, I knew immediately the pieces they would chose.  I knew who would inevitably obtain the Boardwalk/Park Place combo, and which one would proudly acquire a humble hotel on Baltic Avenue.  The day my husband and I retrieved his Monopoly game from the closet, I dragged him away from his Need for Speed video games and forced him to play with me.  And with his acceptance, I introduced him to the strange tradition of my sister and I:  The Crappy Twenty. 

Always in my family’s collection of games there existed a less-than-desirable playing piece, card, or item that was damaged in some way, shape or form.  Whether it was a “Number Two” Sorry card that was stained green from spilled kool-aid, or a favorite Chutes and Ladders player that (in an act of revenge) had had its eyes poked out with a pencil, there was always one particular piece in a set that no one wanted.  In the cherished Monopoly set at my parents house, the defect could be found in a single, green $20 bill.  Somehow this bill had become so disfigured and discolored that it was now barely recognizable as such.  The game inside the game was to continue to pass this bill to the other players (either secretly or openly) and basically not be the one who has it in their possession – as this person was the player of ridicule throughout their duration of ownership of the appropriately named “Crappy Twenty.” 

When we broke open my husband’s set and I deliciously tore open every perfectly unopened package and untouched piece, I knew I had to introduce a crappy twenty.  While usually the despicable items would develop of their own accord, the perfection of this set wasn’t going to allow for that, especially since I knew that my husband was not about to rack up the years of game-playing that this set deserved.  So to fast-forward to the desirable outcome, I turned my back on him in the middle of our game, and unknown to him proceeded to destroy one crisp, new $20 monopoly bill.  I crumbled it up in my hands, I sprinkled water on it, I tore pieces out of it. 

Perhaps I took it one step too far.  In my excitement, I grabbed a lighter off of his dresser.  I intended only to “slightly char” or brown the tips of it.  But in my attempt I accidently lit the twenty on fire.  I immediately panicked and turned around to face him, waving this bill and sending sparks floating all over the room. 

He immediately grabbed it to put it out, but not before the crappy twenty had officially become what it was intended to become – a charred, discolored, disfigured mess.  My husband thought I was crazy – not only did I purposely destroy something of out of his flawless set, but I also almost started a fire in his house!!  But it created a memory.  As soon as we were finished and I had placed that twenty back in the pile, I had re-created a tradition and introduced a memory of our own.
What memories do you have of old board games?

Unsettled

 

I have been feeling very unsettled lately.  This comes in waves, so I’m sure it will pass, but knowing that doesn’t ever seem to alleviate it.  This morning I had a dream that I delivered the baby – only to find that it wasn’t crying or anything as I held it.  No one was around and I felt like there was something that needed to be done, but I didn’t know what it was.  A nurse came in at that point and slapped him on the bottom and that sent him crying (and breathing).

I seem to have lost all the motivation that I originally had when Ramadan started.  I don’t know what happened.  They say that the shaitan and all his army are locked away from us during Ramadan, but I don’t understand how that can be true because I still feel as though he were right next to me half the time, distracting me from my prayers, keeping me from the masjid, pushing me to go to bed when I could have read Qur’an.  I feel as though I am losing a battle with myself.

We are moving into our new home and so I have been busy packing and trying to organize everything.  There is so much to do and the tasks seem overwhelming.  Even more overwhelming is our financial situation, which is destined for doom in the coming months.  We are searching desperately for a new job for my husband.  I have had such a difficult time sleeping – I’m not sure whether that is because of the uncomfortableness of pregnancy or the fears whirring around in my head.

Alhumdulilla – things are just changing and I have to learn to deal with that.  I still feel better when I pray, even though I have been missing them left and right, astagfirallah.  Insha’allah this chaos will wind down soon enough and we can return to some kind of normalcy.  For now, though, my posts may be few and far between, although I am still going to make my best effort. 

Please keep me in your prayers.  Alhumdulilla – tomorrow is yet another day.

How to Tell Your Family You’re Muslim

Note:  Part Three of Seven – “Am I Muslim?” Series for New Muslims

This can be one of the most challenging things you will face as a new Muslim.  It will probably take a long time before your family is able to fully accept your decision.  This takes alot of patience from you to allow this time period of adjustment to pass and for them to adjust to the new change in you.  Their feelings will vary – they may feel angry.  They may feel hurt.  They might feel happy for you but also confused about your decision.  They might be worried about you, afraid you made a wrong choice.  Whatever their emotions, it will take time for them to process your decision.

So, how do you tell them?  Well, my first advice is to be prepared emotionally.  If you are fairly new to Islam and you are still learning the basics of the religion, or perhaps if you are still not 100% sure that you are ready for Islam in your life, then wait until you are ready before you tell them.  This is important because you want to be secure and strong before you tell them, that way they will know that you are serious, and also so that you will be able to have the knowledge in case they want to ask you questions about Islam. 

Take time to express yourself before you tell them.  Do it the best way you know, whether that means sitting down to write a letter or talking to a trusted friend (who already knows of your journey to Islam).  Doing these things will help you to get familiar with what you are feeling about this obstacle.   Figure out how and what you want to share with them.

When you are ready, ask your family (or do it one-on-one with each member) to sit down with you.  Tell them how you feel.  Be open and honest in sharing your feelings with them.  Tell them you want them to understand how you’ve changed, but that you are still the same person you always were, just that your beliefs and lifestyle have changed.

Try to be patient with their reactions.  Allow them to have time to let your decision “sink in.”  They may have questions for you, or they may not be ready to ask questions.  This will be different for every family.  If they are angry at your decision, it is best to let them be alone – it is not necessary to push them to talk about it.  Wait until they are ready to come to you.  Also, you don’t need to tell them every detail of the religion.  Instead focus on the positive changes Islam has enabled you to make in your life.

Know that whatever happens, Allah is with you.  Ask Allah for help during this time.  Turn to others for support.  It can be a very scary time, but know that it gets easier as each day goes by.  Be strong and be proud of yourself for taking this difficult step in the path to Islam.

This concludes Part Three of the “Am I Muslim” series.  Look here next week on Monday when I will be covering “Your First VIsit to the Masjid.”