Category Archives: Series for New Muslims

Importance of Prayer

I went to the masjid on Friday to speak with my Imam.  I strongly encourage all new muslims to learn as much as they can through other muslims.  It is so difficult to be on your own while you are searching for answers – trying to seek out websites on the internet, trying to build up the courage to approach an intimidating-looking masjid for the first time.

Seek out your sisters in Islam.  Seek out your brothers in Islam.  It will make everything so much easier for you.  At least it has for me.

I spoke with the imam and he reminded me of the importance of the prayer.  But even that in itself can feel overwhelming when you first start to become familiar with Islam.  This particular Imam had guided me 4 years ago that even if I didn’t know the words in Arabic (which I didn’t at the time) that even just following the motions during the prayer and saying “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Greater”) in my head was something Allah would accept as prayer.  Nothing has to be perfect because “Allahu Alim” (“Allah knows best.”)

When I spoke with him recently he reminded me again of how important the prayer is.  So if you are struggling, please review my Series for New Muslims section on this.  And also, feel free to post a comment if you have any questions.  I am happy to answer anything I can about how to pray and how to get started.

Being a new muslim can feel overwhelming and scary.  And sometimes, it can feel very lonely.  But there are many, many sisters and brothers out there who are there to help, as I am discovering for myself right now.  Please try to reach out, and if you reach out and find no one to help, ask Allah for guidance and for a friend.  That’s what I did, and Allah hears all our prayers.

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.

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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

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.”

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.”

Common Phrases, Common Questions

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

Common Phrases

Here is a list of common phrases that are often used in Islam.  You will hear them from other Muslims, so it’s helpful to know what they mean, but it is also good to get in the habit of using these phrases in your own life.  Many of these phrases emulate certain aspects of Islam that are important to the religion – so the more you use them, the more you can remember Allah in your daily routine.

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I’ve Accepted Islam…Now What?

 

Each of us who have embraced Islam have our own stories.  Some of us easily embraced it, quickly and without hesitation.  Others ran towards it, only to cringe back in fear, then tried to ignore it for years before finally submitting themselves.  Still others struggled for many years in denial, not wanting to change, not wanting to accept what they had discovered.  Each person holds a unique story in their journey to Islam, but most all of us share one thing in common – internal struggle.

While my own personal story took me through many ups and downs, I remember that I had to experience most of it on my own.  There were few who could understand the deep emotions I was going through, vulnerable experiences mixed with tumultuous feelings with each step I took towards this new religion.  I didn’t want to face it – I wanted to turn away.  It was too much of a challenge at times.

While I cannot offer my readers much help through such a difficult period of their lives, I do want anyone who has finally accepted Islam to know that you are not alone and there are many, many others like you.  Finally acknowledging your beliefs in Islam is like removing a heavy burden from your shoulders.  The uncertainty will vanish and instead will come about your resolve.  You have taken that first step down the right path.  From this point on, you can be sure that Allah is with you – and many other Muslims are there to help you along the way.

This series is titled “Am I Muslim” because this was an issue I had struggled with for many years.  After accepting Islam, I still didn’t understand what made someone a Muslim.  What makes a Muslim a Muslim?  There are many things to learn about being Muslim.  Faith is not just in your words – it takes belief AND action to truly follow the path.  But Allah is patient with us.  Allah knows what is in our hearts.  So for now – in answer to the question “Am I Muslim” – if you believe, deep in the very depths of your heart, that there is only ONE God, if you believe that all of Allah’s prophets came to deliver the same singular message, and if you believe in the Qur’an as being the final one of those messages delivered to us straight from Allah Himself – then you are Muslim.  Believe in Islam and strive every day to be better than you were the day before.

After taking shahada, often new muslims are eager (and encouraged) to dive head-first into Islam and learn all there is to know.  This is important, but still, you are ultimately going through a very deep and meaningful change in your life.  Each step down the path to Islam should be taken carefully with much understanding.  It is not necessary for you to run full-throttle, as you could trip and fall and not want to continue.  Take your time, get to know your new faith.  There is no hurry, as this can be an overwhelming time in your life, and Allah is patient with us.

Khurram Murad reminds us in “Making the Most Out of Ramadan” that Allah “says that if you walk to Him a foot, He will walk to you two feet; if you move towards Him walking, He will come to you running.”  Another well-known description of the process in which we learn our Islam is as follows, taken from Advice to a New Muslim from the islamdoor.com website: 

“Islam is not something that you just gulp down in one swallow. It is a lifetime of daily meals to be enjoyed, savoured, tasted, digested. If you eat too fast and try to take it all in in one huge bite, you will get indigestion and probably it will come right back up again and make you sick so you don’t want to try another taste. If you eat too slowly and in tiny portions, you will always feel hungry and never be satisfied and if someone comes along offering you sweets and junk food (el shaitan does this) you will perhaps be tempted by that, so you won’t feel like eating any more of the good meal. But if you have a well-balanced meal (studying the Holy Writings, association with fellow believers, putting into practice what you learn) you will feel satisfied and healthy and in peak condition of life.”

However, from my own experience and after speaking with many other new muslims – the prayer is very important.  Learning your prayers can be one of the most important things you do as a muslim, which is why most encourage it to be done immediately after you take shahada. 

With myself and my own experience, it took years for me to finally begin my prayers (which I have started this past month – alhumdulilla.)  The whole time I had a strong desire to learn the prayer, and I would study it online, but I would never take the step to finally perform my prayers.  I constantly feared that I would fail, that I wouldn’t do them right, that I would not be strong enough to do all five at the proper times.  It wasn’t lack of knowledge; it was lack of strength, lack of confidence that held me back.

It wasn’t until I visited the masjid that I finally started to pray.  Praying in congregation is what gave me the strength to finally take the first step.  Feeling the power of other muslims beside me performing the prayer made me feel I could have the strength to do them, too.  Having someone show me, step by step, the postures, the words – helped me to understand and appreciate the prayer.  Getting to know other Muslims from the masjid, them approaching me, greeting me, offering to answer questions, inviting me into their homes – all of these things gave me the sense of community that I so desired and helped me to build the confidence in myself to fully embrace Islam and the prayer as I’d wanted to for so many years.

So this is why my first encouragement to any new muslim is to find their means of support, from wherever they can.  Meeting other muslims, surrounding yourself with people who share your beliefs in islam, can help you to be a better muslim and to follow the pillars of Islam.  Sure, you can do it on your own.  But for my own experience, the process went much smoother and faster when I had others around me.  In my path to Islam, after many long years of deep internal struggling, finding support from others like me was what ultimately helped me to take my next step down the right path.

Help!  I Need Support! 
1.  Online discussion forums: 
Try the discussion groups offered through modernmuslima.com for a list of online forums, discussion groups, and email connections with other muslims just like you. 
2.  Read about Others’ Stories:  Personal testimonies of converts to Islam.  New muslims tell their stories.  New converts stories, includes some videos. 
3.  Contact other muslims through blogging:  here are some other muslims who blog.  Search their blogs for lists of other muslim bloggers.
Daughter of Guidance
Ilmseeker
MuslimsMatter.org
Cool Guy Muslim
Writeous Sister Speaks
Muslim Musings
Naeem’s Blog
4.  Find a Masjid in your area:  http://www.islamicity.com/orgs/
And visit their website (if they have one) to find out if there are any groups or meetings for new muslims.  Masjids often have lots of activities, and if you speak with the Imam, he can help you to set up someone to meet there who can welcome you.

So while the path to Islam may be difficult, know that there is help and support out there for a new muslim who may be struggling with their new identity.  Other muslims are out there who are going through the same things, same emotions and struggles – and finding a connection with them through Islam is one way to help you through this time.