December 21, 2011 Leave a comment
My experiences of Islam started from a young age.
My mum’s brothers converted to Nation of Islam over thirty years ago, and steadily, other members of my family have embraced many different approaches and understandings of Islam.
My early years were spent in an Irish Catholic home. I was taught about Mary and Jesus (peace be upon them) and the many saints- St Francis, St Christopher, etc., but very little about God.
I remember one day, at around the age of 7 years old, telling one of my cousins that the Arabic word for God was ‘Allah’. My aunt was extremely cross with me and I got into a lot of trouble for it.
Later in my primary school age years, my best friends were a Morroccan boy and a Pakistani girl, then, throughout secondary school, my best friends were of Turkish heritage. I always felt very welcome and close to their families, which was a huge contrast to how I felt at home with my stepmother, and I spent a lot of time with them. The elders of the families always ‘salaamed’ me (said ‘AsSalaamun alaykum’ (*peace be upon you)) and taught me Arabic terms such as ‘InshaAllah’ (*if God wills), and ‘Alhamdulillah’ (*thanks and praise be to God). I also learnt a few Turkish terms- many that I can’t write here!
My dad didn’t raise us with religion. We were given a pretty free reign over most aspects of our lives, but he was very strict about certain other things- such as how we viewed and felt about ourselves, which was extremely important being mixed-race and British and growing up where we did. Education was also extremely important to him- that which we learned from books and at school, and from the ‘School of Life’- for which I will always respect him greatly and appreciate, even more so as I get older and raise my own children.
The Bible, the Quran, God, and religion in general, along with music and social issues- especially those affecting youth- have always been passions of mine. I found school very difficult around the age of 14, not because I wasn’t academic- I was very bright, according to my teachers- but it bored the life and soul out of me and I didn’t feel like I fit in at all. It was during this time that I started volunteering at youth clubs and elderly respite homes, and my passion for music was honed in on by my teachers in attempt to bring me back into school.
The rest of my life is full of ‘typical’ teenage and early-20′s ups and downs. Broken hearts, shattered dreams, changes of direction and ambitions, and then just before the start of Ramadan 2010, at 27 years old, after around 15 years of loving and believing what the Quran says, but not particularly liking the idea of being a Muslim, I took my shahada (*declaration that there is ONE God, and Muhammad (pbuh) is the messenger of God).
Nothing awful had happened in the time running up to me deciding to ‘practise’ Islam. No great tragedy. Nothing. In fact, I was really quite happy with my lot in life at that time.
I just really wanted to learn to read and pray in Arabic, so, I dropped in to the mosque at the end of my road.
The sisters there were really welcoming and it was really easy to settle in with them.
They were all so interested in hearing my story and helping me learn. I was introduced to a sister who is very active in the mosque and involved in working with reverts (*converts to Islam) in particular, and was invited to her home to learn how to make my salah (*prayer).
She was so warm and loving, the kind of person that on first meeting her, you feel as though you have always known her. She showed me how to make wudhu (*ritual washing) and ran through the basics of salah with me.
As I was leaving, her sister popped in for a visit. I was introduced to her and she immediately asked when I had taken my shahada and how I was finding things. On telling her that I hadn’t actually taken it, they were both shocked. They couldn’t understand how someone so ‘Muslim’ hadn’t taken it yet, and both insisted I say it right then and there. I was a little apprehensive, after all, didn’t God know what was in my heart? [*3:29] And it wasn’t like I was hiding the fact that I had chosen to make changes in my life. But, not wanting to offend my new sisters, I made my declaration before the two of them, and God. Then, they did one of the first things that was going to lead to me taking the path that I have chosen- they called their husbands to check if my shahada was ‘valid’, as it was made in front of female witnesses only. Their husbands said that it was ok, so I got ready to leave. I didn’t say anything about it, just hugged and kissed them both.
When I got home, I searched on Amazon for a prayer guide book. I decided to buy one written by Louis Farrakhan, just because it had the Arabic, English and transliteration side by side and came with a cd.
I took it with me the next time I visited the mosque. The sister whose home I had visited was rather alarmed that I had this book and proceeded to warn me about avoiding sects. I explained to her my reasoning behind purchasing this particular book and she finally accepted it, but I suppose it was to be expected knowing my families ties with NOI. (My uncles, however, are no longer involved with them and haven’t been for many years.)
After a very short while, I had made some very strong relationships with sisters at the mosque and was asked to be part of a ‘revert committee’ that would help other converts settle in and teach them to pray, etc. It was whilst researching to make a booklet on salah that I had another alarm go off in my head. Running up to this time though, I was also struggling with a lot things. I took my children to school 6 miles from my house. It was winter and the bus journey took over an hour, and I was finding it almost impossible to make my 5 prayers at the prescribed times and was feeling very stressed about it. I’d also been told that I could no longer ‘hang out’ with my step-brother and should always be in full hijab in front of him, which I found ridiculous and inconvenient. Eyebrows had also been raised at the fact that I spent a lot of time with my ex-partner, and father of my two children, without a mahram (*responsible male) present, and that he and my mum’s partner are both non-Muslim. My 9 year old son (who is autistic) was also made to feel unwelcome on the sisters floor of the mosque on numerous occassions.
I’d also been told that the Quran did not stand alone, and in order to be a true muslim and practise properly, I also had to accept hadith (*narrations about Muhammad (pbuh)), Sunnah (*ways of Muhammad (pbuh)), established from the study of the hadith, and the rulings of particular scholars. I felt totally overwhelmed by all of it, and in the meantime, the connection that I had always had with God, was growing weaker.
I started researching hadith and Quran verses for the salah booklet, and it was becoming more and more apparent that the way I was praying was not found in a comprehensive format in either of these two sources, without the consensus of one scholar or another, and within the hadith literature and writings of scholars, I was coming across things that I was really uncomfortable with.
The book was put together in the end by another sister and the revert classes began. And more and more my light was going out. I was told that my prayers were invalid if I was not correctly dressed- body completely covered, including feet- with loose fitting clothes. I often prayed Fajr (*early morning prayer) without socks and in three-quarter length pyjama trousers, so, did this mean that all the morning prayers I had made for the last 6 months were invalid? I was also told that only Arabic was to be recited. I was still learning Arabic, so often made some of my prayers in English, after all, didn’t God make all languages [*30:22], and wasn’t I supposed to know what I was reciting? [*4:43]
During the Christmas school holidays I got seriously ill with flu. It also snowed very heavily, making access to my home almost impossible. Caring for two young children in the state I was in was impossible (one night I was so bad that an ambulance had to be called, but it was difficult for them to get to me, and I refused to leave my children because of the difficulties it would cause my disabled son), so my ex moved in with us. Apart from a very kind neighbour and a sister who brought us dinner on Christmas day, I had no contact with anyone outside of our home for over 3 weeks.
During this time, my ex walked 3 miles in the snow on numerous occassions to get us groceries and medicines for myself. He watched hours of Peace TV, Human Planet and Life with me and cared for me and the children the best that he could. Even on Christmas day, when he was invited to spend time with his own family, he wouldn’t leave me. But in the back of my mind, it niggled away at me that he wasn’t ‘allowed’ to be here, but he, and my very kind non-Muslim neighbour were the only people who were there for us during this difficult time.
I found it very hard to settle back in to life at the mosque with the sisters once I had recovered, and had a great deal going on in my personal life. I became very depressed, and not knowing who to turn to, for fear of being judged and shunned, I went to visit one of my aunts. Whilst I was there, my uncle also came to visit, and he gave me a book called A Study of the Quran by M.A. Malek http://www.astudyofquran.org/web/index.php. I hadn’t told him about the internal struggles I was going through, but this book gave me all the answers I had been looking for and reignited the spark in me that had gone out over the last few months. The book discussed the many issues I had found where some sahih (*authentic) hadiths contradicted my understanding of Quran verses.
I felt a huge weight lift from me and began to look for others on the internet and Facebook, that shared similar beliefs to my own.
This, however, created new problems. I kept coming across groups that believed in the number 19 having some bearing on the understanding of the Quran and removed verses from it, others who believed that there were messengers after Muhammad (pbuh) who were to be followed. I didn’t agree with their views, but respected that they were entitled to hold them, and then, when I was just about to give up, I was invited to a Facebook group- Quranology Discussions. The discussions there blew my mind! Once again, I didn’t agree with a lot of views, but I appreciated the fact this was a safe place to discuss a wide range of beliefs and I was comforted by knowing that there are many others who have faced similar struggles to my own.
Over the last year, I have made new friends that are as dear to me as my own family. Some consider themselves muslim, others don’t. And I have a whole new way of viewing myself.
Al Haqq: The Truth
Ar Rahman: The Compassionate
Ar Raheem: The Merciful
Al Khaliq: The Creator
As Salaam: The Source of Peace
Al Wadud: The Loving
These are some of the many names of God in Arabic. Many of us, regardless of religion, believe in some of these qualities, and in striving for them.
Verse 5:69 in the Quran tells us that followers of other religions will not grieve on the Day of Judgement. Verse 18:30, and many others, tell us that the deeds of those who believe and work hard will not be wasted.
I choose to interpret God’s final message to us using the Quran, and His Signs in my environment, and within myself. This approach is commonly known as quranism, or the quranist approach. It does not mean that I am in a sect. I firmly belive that I am not to separate myself from any people, be they muslim or not [*6:159, *30:23] as God created us as one community [*2:213]. This is the approach that I feel most comfortable with.
[14:12] “Why should we not place our trust in God, when He has guided us to our paths. We will be resolute against the harm you inflict upon us. In God those who trust should put their trust.”
I have recently started working with youth again, something that I did not feel I was able to do when I followed Traditional Islam.
And I no longer feel so bad about listening to and promoting music that raises awareness of issues affecting humanity- e.g. Lowkey, Logic, etc.- something I was made to believe was not allowed.
And most of all, I feel blessed to be a woman and to know that I don’t have as many restrictions on me that I once believed I did.
These are my thoughts as of December 21 2011. Anything that is not growing and changing is dead, and so, my beliefs are subject change as I do.
[84:16-19] I swear by the glow of sunset, by the night and what it covers, by the full moon, you will progress from stage to stage.
May the peace and blessings of God be on all of His messengers, and all of us who strive for His Causes, along the many Paths He has placed us on.