Friday, March 11, 2011

Reader/Searcher

I received a mammoth comment from a reader/searcher who had a lot to say and a lot to ask.  I considered answering her within the comments section but decided to place her thoughts and my thoughts together here.  More readers/searchers would benefit from what was said, inshahallah.



Reader/Searcher:  Alaykum Asalam Yosra!

Yosra:  Wa alaykom asalam wa rahtmatullahi wa barakatu!  Thank you for taking the time to write.

Reader/Searcher:  The wheels in my mind are hydroplaning!! I don't have time to sit and read your entire blog but your writing totally moves me. I've read bits and pieces here and there....this is a book, not a blog! You are a fantastic writer and really have a way of conveying your thoughts. Totally.

Yosra:  Wow!  Those are some fast wheels!  Don't worry about not reading the whole blog.  it's almost 400 entries so I doubt there are many who have read the whole thing.

I'm really glad you are drawn into what I've written.  It's been here the whole time you were feeling alone so I wish you'd found it earlier---but then, we find what we need when we are ready for it.

Reader/Searcher:  You're so knowledgeable about Islam, and I'm still so ignorant. When I became a Muslim back in 2007, I had an "Intro to Islam" class at my masjid back home, but nothing really since then. The books I've bought bore me to tears and I can't read on a computer for too long. I'm not growing, not learning, sometimes I don't even pray. OUCH! I can't believe I just told someone that. Allah knows where my heart and intentions are and I "talk" to Allah quite often, each and every day.

Yosra:  I love your honesty and applaud your straight-forwardness.  Alhumdulillah you found Islam which is very honoring of these traits (even if other Muslims might be less enthusiastic about them). 

It's funny you say that I'm knowledgable.  I don't feel that about myself yet others tell me I am.  I came to Islam in 2002, alhumdulillah.  So I've got five more years than you learning in  the Mosque of Hard Knocks.

I took "Intro to Islam" in my college (before Islam).  It was mostly about the history of Islam spreading; warfare and rulers.  It didn't have a thing to do with The Quran.  I got a "B".  I saw that grade again as I was preparing my paperwork for Egypt and burst out laughing!  I didn't get an "A".  Really?!

First thing I did, when contemplating Islam, was read the Ahmed Ali translation of The Holy Quran.  I also read Yahya Emerick's Idiot's Guide to Islam.  After that, I read everything I could.  I especially liked going to ww.islamonline.net and reading their Cyber Counselor section since real life modern day issues got brought up and discussed by knowledgable staff.  It's a fascinating read.

I also recommend Karen Armstrong's book on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).  She isn't Muslim so it makes the read easier.  She is not getting stuck in revering him to the point of sainthood (astragferalllah).  His story is indeed the story of a man.  Muhammad (pbuh) has the best documented life of any prophet (peace be upon them all) and we can learn a lot from his example.

As for your feelings of not growing, learning---that's good!  When we feel complacent and comfortable about our faith, we are no longer striving in our souls but rather stroking our egos.  I'd rather befriend a woman who fears she is loosing her faith than a woman who can only see that others are loosing theirs.  Fearing incompleteness is actually a blessed state.  We know that we need more of a relationship with God to be at peace.

Reader/Searcher:  I only know the shortest of Surahs, like a 3 year old child might. It's embarassing really, but even living in a Muslim country, I can't seem to find the right "English" connections that I need since my Arabic is so limited.

Yosra: You know three?  Alhumdulillah.  Each ayah (line) is a blessing.  Before Islam you didn't know any.  

What do you know? Al-Fatiha? Al-Iklas? An-Nas? Those are my guesses. Maybe Al-Kawthar? Each surah is precious and something which the early Muslims were willing to die---actually DIE to protect and pass on. If a person only had one surah, that would still be an incredible blessing. You have three! Alhumdulillah. Really---alhumdulillah.

One of the most amazing things I can think of in this world is the thought of containing the entire Quran in your heart. Subhanallah! I marvel at the Hafiz (the memorizer) who can do this. I knew a Pakistani-American girl who at age 11 was sent "back home" to learn from a sheik. She returned a year later, subhanallah, with every word.

Me? I know ten surahs, alhumdullillah. I've written a lot on this blog about my attempts to memorize and the steps I've taken. I consider it very important. There was a time when I wanted to learn a new surah every month. I got side tracked (and sucker punched) by life and that goal fell by the wayside. Maybe it's time to revisit that desire.

I have comfort in The Quran. I play it almost non-stop in my home. I recite it---not just in prayers but at times when I need to feel that calm. I used to pass out at clinics having blood drawn until I tried closing my eyes and reciting verses. Mr. Boo, funny guy, never heard bedtime lullabies like his big brother and sister. He only responds to hearing me recite Quran; conks him out.

One night (I can't remember if I wrote about this or not---might be Dad's Alzheimers kicking in with me), when I was still in the U.S., front line winds came through our neighborhood. They are actually as dangerous as tornadoes.  That huge tree outside my apartment's picture window suddenly scared me. The electricity went out. I was alone in the dark with my little boy who was not yet two years old. We sat in the tiny space infront of the hallway's linen closet and I did the only thing I could do----I said Quran. I said Al Adiyat, which talks about a clamorous end. The storm passed. Still, here in Egypt, when I recite this verse, I can remember the two of us feeling very small amidst the power of The Creator.  And I can remember that the storm passed and we survived.

Over time these surahs have come to represent times and places, people and situations. God knows each detail and uses those surahs to speak to me in ways which often surprise me, comfort me and bring me to center. Allah knows all. If I didn't know those surahs, then the relationship with Allah would be weaker since I wouldn't have that line of communication open.

You know how friends or lovers create a special short-cut way of conversation? They have this history and this depth of understanding which almost doesn't need full sentences. A few words and an immediate recognition and connection is established. Knowing surahs is creating that kind of relationship with Allah.

As I mentioned, I once placed a goal in my life for me for learning more Quran. Your words to me help me to remember that goal and inshahallah I will revisit that. Thank you. 

What about you? What could be a goal for you? Is there a surah which you love? A meaning which you treasure? Maybe you have a beautifully written surah posted in your home which you could learn.

Reader/Seeker:  I've never even been to a Masjid here because I'm too shy and too afraid to make a mistake, not to mention the fact that I won't understand one single word. Sad thing is, we have one RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET from our house!

Yosra:  "I've never even been to a Masjid here,"  is something I could have said during my first visit to Egypt.  I felt very embarrassed about it.  I had just reverted/converted and I didn't press the issue.  I left that up to the new husband (AbuBoo). 

Upon my return (alone without any husband), I went to a masjid the first chance I got.  I worried too about being found out!  Would the ladies sense it with their super Muslimah skills?  Joke on me when I walked in and was immediately asked (in Arabic) when Ramadan was starting.  They had no idea that I had just arrived.  No one asked for my proof of shahaddah or my fingerprints or gave me a Rorschach test. 

I have been to many masjids here in Egypt and want to go to many more.  The revolution has stopped some of that ---I haven't felt safe to venture too far out.  Maybe I can make it a point to visit the ones in my area.  I don't have to feel sad about the ones in Cairo which were next on the list but now are temporarily off-limits.

"I'm too shy," is your explanation for not attending a masjid across the street.  I think being shy sucks.  We all get shy in certain situations but people who are routinely shy are missing out too much.  I don't actually accept this from children I teach and don't like this in friends. 

LIVE!  What are you waiting for?  I really wish I could kick you in the butt all the way across the street, but since I can't, can you please get your own self in gear?  That unfounded fear you have is getting the best of you.  Say, "oozabellahi min a shaytan regime; bismallah a rahman a raheem" and go!

Last Ramadan, I was up to start the fast with suhour.  When the azan started, I stood at the window to listen.  Along with the muzzein on the loudspeaker, I could hear a kind of scraping noise coming down the street.  "SCRRRRRRAPE!"  I wondered what that could be.  No one was out yet.  If it was a person, what were they doing to make that sound?  "SCRRRRRRAPE!" 

Turns out that the man coming around the corner was twisted up with palsy.  Half of his body was immobilized.  His right arm was bent and his right arm was hanging limp.  His left foot did all the work and his right foot dragged.  "SCRRRRRRAPE!"  "SCRRRRRRAPE!"  That was what he had to do in order to make it to the masjid at five in the morning.

Time to say, "Alhumdulillah."  Really!  Alhumdulillah we aren't afflicted with such an ailment.  Use that knowledge of another Muslim's challenges to help you to see your blessings.  You can cross the street without dragging half your body. 

What if I challenged you to actually leave your house dragging your body like this man in order to see how that feels.  Would you balk?  Would you say that you'd feel embarrassed?  Maybe you might feel like people were staring at you.  Plus, of course, crossing the street would be tougher---maybe deadly.  Climbing the stairs in that way would be very difficult.  You would probably try to get out of such a challenge. 

So, guess what?  I'll drop the challenge.  You don't have to go through all those difficulties to get to the masjid.  All you have to do is walk there normally.  Deal?

Reader/Seeker:  I hear the Athan and sometimes it moves me to tears, while other times it goes too slowly and I just wish it would finish.

Yosra:  I understand.  It is not going to move us all the time.  It is going to be something we take for granted, astragferallah.  I used to have a beautiful view of tropical islands from my deck and some mornings I forgot to look.  Didn't mean that the islands were any less beautiful.  I simply got busy with my List of Things to Do.

One of the things I loved the most on my first visit to Egypt in 2002 was hearing the azan.  It is something which I already miss when I contemplate taking off for the U.S.this summer on vacation.  For me, it is a constancy which I haven't always had in my life; a reminder that time ticks by.  The azan helps me section off my life into doable chunks.  "I want to finish before magrib," for example.  During the revolution it was extremely comforting to know that no matter what the azans kept coming right on time.

My husband taught me how to say a du'a when the azan starts.  It is a nice practice to stop and acknowledge the moment.  In our house, we shut off the TV or music.  It's best to stop talking too.  Make the moment more special in order to feel that it is an opportunity to talk to God.

Because, of course, that is the reason for the azan:  it's the reminder for us to pray.  If you aren't praying, then it doesn't tell you that it's time to pray.  It tells, you, "Hey, you are about ready to neglect another prayer."  Is that the problem?  My thought is that you are putting the negative feelings outward towards the muezzin and the azan which you really feel about yourself inwardly.  Allahu alim (God knows).

Reader/Seeker:  This is totally horrible, I guess I just feel guilty and needed to start pouring it out. I'm a "bad Muslim"

Yosra:  I want you to ammend that. You are Muslim who does bad things. Not all the time! Sometimes you do bad things. So do I ---so does everyone. Don't let anyone fool you!  The only perfect beings are angels.

Allah had the opportunity to make this world populated entirely of angels AND HE DIDN'T. He wanted us (with all our faults) to have free choice, to make mistakes AND to have the free choice whether or not we went back to Him to ask forgiveness.

By the way, you probably act better now in Islam than before Islam. You are just more cogniscent of what you are doing which you'd like to ammend. Dr. Wayne Dwyer, in his book, The Power of Intention says that we feel our worst when the gap between our intentions and our actions enlarges. To feel better, you have to close the gap; examine which are your true core beliefs (not those from your family of origin, or spouse, or society) and then follow-up those beliefs with actions.

Reader/Seeker:  I wear pants and HATE wearing abayas and galabeyas. I can't walk in flip-flops without tripping and falling and ohhh, the list goes on and on.

Yosra:  When you signed up for Islam, you didn't have to stop having your own personal style.  I used to do theatre and I am fine with wearing different styles of clothes---from sari to kimono to galabiya.  I own a lot of beautiful galabiyas---no abayas.  For those unsure, galabiyas are more like long gowns (think Egypt) whereas abayas are more like robes which close over underclothes (think Saudi).  I am picky as hell about what I buy.  When I find something which suits me, I grab it immediately but I pass by lots of things as not being "me".  At this point, I do feel that my style of dress is "me".  I've adjusted to a more polished way of dressing in Egypt. 

When we think of hejab, we think the scarf but my hejab is the clothes I wear as well; it's the way I cover my body.  Some days I am more successful in this attempt than others.  Some days I see myself in the mirror and I wish more people could see my beauty which I hide---not necessarily men.  It is hard to see others showing their shape and yet cover yours. 

Pants are allowable if they are not tight and if the shirt covering them reaches your fingertips (to cover your crotch and behind even when bending as in prayer).  Bascially, while out of the house, there should not be one person who could see you and give your measurements. 

Reader/Seeker:  Right now I'm comfortable with this part of me (especially in comparision to what is around me, lol...even though I know I shouldn't compare).

Yosra:   I know that you're seeing a lot of hypocrisy in a Muslim country.  Egypt has it for sure.  I once saw a Muslim lady in a hejab AND a laced-up bustier ---I kid you not.  Sure, she had on a "body" which is what Egyptian ladies call the skin-tight lycra shirts they wear under skimpy outfits to pretend they are covered.  NOT!  Not halal, honey sweety from the airport.  Since I gave up my "Haram Police" badge, I'm going to let it go.  Let it gooooooo.  She will get a lot of looks (both approving and disapproving).  I'm after different things in life now.  I think we both are.  So, let's not run our race against this lady.  Let's run our race against our previous personal best.  Let's try to be better people today than we were yesterday.

Me?  I'm not comfortable.  I always feel I could improve.  At first, this feeling upset me.  I had thought I'd reach a plateau in my Islam and be able to relax.  After many years, I've come to see that we can always improve and always learn more and practice more.  

Reader/Searcher:  Having said that, I also have to say this. I have a baby now, and if for no other reason, I need to get into gear for HER. I need to be a good Muslim role model for her (minus the abaya, lol). She needs to see me praying like she sees her daddy praying. But before I can be a role model for her, I need to learn more for myself.

Yosra:  It's the advice we hear on the airplane every time we fly, "Parents, you need to take your oxygen first before administering to children".  You have to take care of yourself.

And it's not about having her see you; it's about having her feel  you.  A mom who finds herself emptied will not be a happy, loving mom.  Sure, if she has one child, maybe she can get refilled by her husband's love or maybe from friends; maybe even from watching a funny TV show or eating some chocolate. I found after I was pregnant with my second child that, as an in-demand mom,  I simply couldn't get what I needed from a person or a thing.  I had to get it spiritually.

When I tell my son that, "Mommy hasn't prayed yet," it means that I am out of patience and I need to go to Allah to ask for more.  It's true!  I ask Allah for all kinds of things in prayer which I can't ask for from a husband or a friend. 

The ritual of the Muslim prayer is seemingly mindless movements until you submit to them and really give in to the moment.  Then, when you are at your most humble (placing your head below your heart) you have a moment which is golden.  You can talk to God in your own language and say anything you wish for as long as you wish.  After a few minutes, you'll feel the blood rush to your head and you know you have to stop and rise up and state, "Allahu Akbar"  God is the Greatest. 

I made a commitment to myself and to God that I would never miss a prayer.  This was 11 months into my reversion/conversion to Islam.  I was going to do all five prayers NO MATTER WHAT.  If my Egyptian husband wanted to watch TV---that's OK.  Alhumdulillah, each one of us is accountable for our own actions.  I was going to say the prayer alone (while holding a piece a paper with the words).  If my head hurt from an unbelievable migraine---alhumdulillah, Allah knew that I suffered yet prayed (and miraculously the pain subsided). 

In the beginning, I wouldn't budget my time; I wouldn't stop my day and pray.  I was praying all five prayers at the end of the day!  Can you imagine me remembering all of them at bedtime?!  But I did them.  I did them late.  I did them tired.  But I did them. 

It was not giving me the feeling I needed.  I felt the calm after all the issues of the day had come and gone.  I knew that I needed the prayer throughout my day and not just at the end.  I knew I needed to structure my life around prayer and not stuff prayer into my life as an after thought. 

I swear to you that I ended up with more time and not less.  Allahu akbar!  You will feel like you are more able to cope with work, stress, family and baby.  It is only about three minutes for the two rakhas at fajr (I also strive to read a little Quran in the morning so it's maybe five mintues total when I do that).  It's about six and a half minutes for the four rakhas and five minutes for the three rakhas.  But don't add up all the numbers to come up with almost a half an hour which you'll lose from your life.  Subhallah, it doesn't work that way.  Praying the five prayers is like the best managerial strategy ---better than Stephen Covey!

I would also like to state something about your husband, if you don't mind.  He is the spiritual leader of your household.  On Judgement Day, he will be asked about your actions as a Muslimah.  You will not be asked about his actions.  Did he guide and protect you?  Why is he praying and you're not?  Why didn't he ask you to pray with him?  Both of you get extra blessings for praying together.  He gets more since he's the leader.  Make a point of joining with him spiritually and see how amazing that moment is.

Your daughter can learn how to pray with both of you---not just watch.  My son began (in earnest) to pray with me around age two.  Children can learn Quran very quickly at this age since they are not blocking out any sounds.  Start teaching her the three you know!  You'll get blessings from that. 

Reader/Searcher:  HOW did you come to know so much about Islam??? I know the obvious answer that the knowledge came from Allah, but seriously...books? People? Classes? Sometimes I get so hungry for knowledge but I just don't know where to begin. I like things simplified. I was not raised with religion, have never been a Christian, so my knowledge base with the history and the stories kids hear growing up is, well, pretty blank.

Yosra:  I circled "D:  All of the above."  I learned more about Islam by allowing myself to be stupid, clueless and hungry for knowledge.  I learned more by being scared I was hearing the wrong information and wanting to learn The Truth from Quran, hadith, and from Muslim scholars.  I did read booklets.  I used the internet a lot.  I watched youtube videos.  I watched satellite shows on ART.  I actually didn't learn too much by talking to people because I didn't trust them.  I didn't want cultural Islam.  I wanted the pure Islam.

Reader/Searcher:  I like things simplified. Too much too soon and I shut down.

Yosra:  I used the term "pure" you used "simplified" but I think we're talking about the same thing. 

It's always good to remember that if Allah had wanted to, He could have sent the entire Quran down to the people at once. 

BAM!  YOU GOT IT?  GOOD!  NOW LIVE IT! 

Allah, Al Raheem (The Merciful) didn't do that.  Allah sent down The Quran in manageable portions. 

You don't have to learn and change everything in your life at this exact moment. Do one simple action to make your life better.  I've done this over time to improve my life and it has gotten easier to be this "me" who is Muslim. 

Let others encourage you but only you can push yourself.  It's a personal relationship you have with God.  Only you know what is that wall you've built which you must crash down in order to feel God  more in your life.  No one knows better than you.

Reader/Searcher:  I was not raised with religion, have never been a Christian, so my knowledge base with the history and the stories kids hear growing up is, well, pretty blank.

Yosra:  So, you're not, "Islam as a second religion." You're really "Islam as your first religion."

It's different for me.  My mom is a Christian minister who was attending seminary as I was attending grade school.  I know the church from a very unique perspective.  Alhumdulillah.  I love many aspects to Christians and to the church.  It is not, however, for me.

For you, I bet you were having your first real understanding of religion and spirtuality.  That is a rush of feeling and thoughts and emotions; a tsunami jumbled inside you.  It's a bit of a shock to the system.  I had that, even though coming to Islam was really my second religious home. 

So, here you are!  I'm writing this to you, Reader/Seeker, and also to anyone else who sees themselves in you---and in me.  Here we are!  We are sisters on this journey.  I'm glad you reached out to me.  I'm glad you trusted me with your truth.  I hope that I have said what you needed to hear and inshahallah what I needed to say.

The good is from Allah.

The bad is from me.

Take the good and leave the bad.

May Allah be with you now and always.

5 comments:

Mai to the Extreme said...

Beautiful da'wah Yosra.

Barak Allahu feeki and may your mild, honest, and positive approach reap many benefits - ameen!

I've been Muslim 23 years. I heard so much conflicting information in the first year, that I literally ignored everyone and just read books. Once I finished Sahih al Bukhari and Muslim, I was totally in love with the Prophet, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, had a clear idea about his message, his life, and established my fard, sunnah, and nawafil prayers, fasts, etc. based on that. All these years later, it is easy as pie to figure out whether some information is genuine, because that base gave me such a clear picture, mashaa'Allah.

I'll try to find your post on memorizing Quran and comment. I'm just finishing juz amma, after all these years, and I only found the key that opened everything up this past few months.

Reader/Seeker - Dua' is the strongest and most power ally of the believer. Have sincere intention in your heart and pray like mad! Allah will open up those doors for you miraculously!

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Mai and Ameen to your dua.

Twenty-three years in Islam!

Takbir!

Subhanallah sis, you are a pioneer! Mashahallah, I'm proud to have you reading and commenting. Alhumdulillah for real. You have seen some serious changes in the world with regards to Islam. I've seen a lot in eight years---but you? Wow. Unbelievable change.

I love what you said. Go to the source---absolutely. Don't use any person as a your fount of knowledge. Each one of us has to take charge of our own understanding of Islam. Alhumdulillah for that base of understanding you created that first year, Mai.

I've posted a number of times about my attempts to learn surahs. I would also love to learn the 99 Names. Inshahallah.

Mashahallah, what you say about du'a is so true. Be open about your needs and Allah will open the doors for you.

Love to you, Mai, and thanks for coming by and commenting.

ellen557 said...

This is a beautiful post, Yosra. I see a lot of myself in both the questions and the answers and mashaAllah to you both!

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Ellen,

Nice to see your pretty lilies here again :)

Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, alhudulillah, I'm pleased with what appears here. I re-read it again just now and it's one of those entries that makes me feel good; hopefully we contributed something benefical to this world. Inshahallah, it's something pleasing to Allah.

I think it's important to show the shaky ground we often stand on as Muslimahs. We are not always feeling firm foundation. If you watch Islamic shows on TV it's all about being these strong Muslims who are two inches from perfection. Here? Ahhhhh we say more of the actuality of our faith.

Keep coming back! You're always welcome here :)

Salma @ Chasing Rainbow said...

SubhanAllah, finding out what Islam is all about is a new lesson every single day. This is a great post Yosra.

One of the hardest questions that I am often forced to answer is how did you become a Muslim. The question itself is not a problem, but often people want a short beautiful story, and life is more than that, it's a journey.

I bet if you got a lot of converts together the stories would be so amazing.