Monday, April 23, 2012

Conversion Conversation

Marie Harmony and I have a nice connection.  I write and she comments and together we have built an understanding.  Through this understanding, I am able to ask her questions about her faith and she is able to answer. 

It is not my job to bring her to Islam.  It is only my job, as a Muslim, to inform her and invite her.

Yosra:  Asalamu Alaykom, Marie.  Thank you for agreeing to a dialogue. 

Do you believe in The Oneness of God?

Marie:  Yes I believe in the oneness of God.

Yosra:  Alhumdulillah.  Therefore, you really could say, "La illaha il Allah".  There is no other God than God. 

When you were raised with The Trinity, did it make sense to you? Does it make sense now?

Marie:  As a Christian I learnt about the Trinity, everybody said to me this is a mystery you can't understand but you have to accept. It did not make sense at the time, It does not make much sense now. I just lived years with it without thinking much about it.

Yosra:  I don't do well with accepting that which doesn't make sense.  I think, on some level, none of us are able to be authentic when we feel that we're signing off on a group belief that we don't personally hold. 

Do you pray to other entities? Saints? Statues? Jesus (peace be upon him)?  

Marie:  I used to pray a lot to statues and saints, to Jesus and Mary. I used to spend hours in church saying my prayers. As I started looking deeper in Christianity and learning about Islam, I realized this did not make sense. But I have to admit I talk to Mary quite often.

Yosra:  My mother has a strong affinity to Mary (blessings onto her) though she is not Catholic.  I gave my mom the translated chapter of  Mariam in the Quran but I think that the pamphlet has only gathered dust. 

I wonder if you feel interested to talk to God with the openess you speak to Mariam?  Actually, we know that it is God that hears you---whether you believe you are talking to Him or not.  What if you set your heart on having the conversation with Him?  Perhaps you feel comfortable talking to a mother but a mother is an earthly creator whereas The Heavenly Creator cares for you on a higher level.

Does your Egyptian husband provide you with information about Islam? What is it that you've gained from talking to him? From observing him?

Marie:  My husband does not teach me much about his religion, not that he does not want, I think he respects my beliefs and doesn't want to influence me too much. We did fast together for the Ramadan last year, it gave me a chance to know more about Islam. My husband is working on the sea and unfortunately does not have the freedom to really practice his religion.

Yosra:  I do think that he could step it up a bit, Allahu alim.  You are such a searcher and he holds many answers.  Maybe he's waiting for you to knock on the door before he opens it up.  However, if he truly believes that Islam is a way to live better then he could give you more chance to enter in and explore it together with him.

I think a great moment between a husband and wife is (no, not sex...well....yes, sex but better than that) praying together.  That union of spirt is so satisfying.  To have a husband lead a wife in prayer on the rug is really a synchronizing of bodies, minds and souls.  It's so nice and I hope you get a chance to join with him while he prays.  Follow him and his movements and even if you don't know all the words you will benefit from the time together in front of God inshahallah.

It's GREAT that you fasted this past Ramadan.  I can't imagine having a Muslim husband and not ever fasting.  How would his life-partner then know the extreme feelings a month-long fast brings about?  Mashahallah, may Allah accept your fasting.

When you came to Egypt, did part of your journey mean learning more about Islam?

Marie:  Not really. I looked around, witnessing life is regulated by the prayers and people live every minute according to their religion. It's quite interesting.

Yosra:  I'm so glad you got a chance to come here!  I only wish we could have met.

Life here is really regulated by observance of faith.  That's why it's harder in Non-Muslim countries to be in Islam because it's the opposite; worship of God is regulated by life.  For instance, when it's time to meet in a Muslim country, you say "after Magrib prayers".  However, in the U.S., you would set an appointment by the clock and then afterward figure out how to fit your prayers around it.  Life is easier, in some ways, if you only pray on Sundays but I've found the five prayers help me organize my life to be more fulfilling.

Have you read Quran?

Marie:  I read the Qu'ran, it was very interesting. I gained a better understanding of Islam and discovered it is very different that what the media are telling us.

Yosra:  Alhumdulillah that you read it.  There are so many different translations.  Some will speak to you more than others.  Personally, I don't like Pickthall's translation because it sounds too much like the King James Bible with all its arcaic "thee" and "thou".  Make sure that you try other versions to find the voice which speaks to you. I love the Mohammed Asad translation, the Ahmed Ali translation and the Al-Azhar translation. 

Have you studied about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)? Do you feel he was a prophet?

Marie:  I am sure Mohammed was a Prophet. I did not yet looked into his life, thought I would like. If you have any books / lectures to recommend, please do so.

Yosra:  Alhumdulillah.  You really could say the second part of the shahaddah then, "Muhammadar Rasullulah."  Muhammad is a Prophet. 

It doesn't mean that you negate everything you already loved about Jesus (peace be upon him).  You can still identify with Jesus and want to cling to him.  There were so many prophets (peace upon them all).  The reason that there were so many is that God kept sending different voices for different listeners.  If what you need is to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus, then you are free to do that AND be Muslim. 

The only thing you can't do is believe that Jesus is son of God (astragferallah).  We all are creations of God.  If you are able to see that Jesus was a man (and not a third of the trinity) then you aren't really Christian. 

Another part of the Christian faith is to believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) took away our sins when he died.  As Muslims, we don't believe he died and he certainly didn't die to give us life.  Each one of us has our own life and our own deeds.  None of us can give our good deeds to clear another's bad deeds.

I really like Karen Armstrong's biography on the Prophet (peace be upon him).  She is not Muslim but is very affirming of our faith.  What I like about her approach is that it's very sensible and straight-forward.  Anyone could read it and not feel like they were an outsider.

There is so much on the internet about the Prophet (peace be upon him).  I was searching just now for what I could recommend.  This biography starts with the whole lineage of the Arabs, which does give his life more framework.  I'm hesitant to recommend it, as I haven't read it entirely.  I could maybe only suggest it.

On my own blog, I have typed out the information from an Al-Azhar pamphlet, "Why the Prophet Muhammad Married More than One." This tells a lot about his character and his life.  It used to be one of the most read posts on my blog so I'd like some more readers to take a look at it (then maybe once again it would appear on the sidebar).

What would you say is the tie joining you to other religions?

Marie:  God's love.

Yosra:  Alhumdulillah.  The universal truths are found in every faith and that is a biggie.  You are, of course, one of the most loving people I've met on the 'net so you do embody what you say.

What would you gain if you came to Islam? What would you lose?

Marie:  As we say never say never, If I come to Islam one day I think I would gain directions for my life, a sense of belonging to a community, I would have the same religion as my children and maybe would be more able to guide them on the journey.

I think I would lose the way I see life - for me what is important is what is in the heart, you can do everything that your religion says is good to do, if there is no love in your heart, all these things are meaningless. I would be in constant research of what is good or bad. I don't think there is one religion better than the other, so I would be a bit lost. And I would miss this special connection with Jesus teachings and Mary.

Yosra:  I really do hear the positives---especially about sharing a new bond with your children.  It's hard not to share faith.  I have it going the other way with my older teens.  They were not allowed to chose Islam and so they've been raised in a nowhere land by a non-observant father.  They know about Islam but we don't share it together.  It's always been on the outskirts and not fully embraced.  With Mr. Boo, their younger brother, we have a closer bond from our ability to share Islam.

You would lose the way you view life but that isn't so much a negative as an eventuality.  We never really do stay stagnant; we keep evolving (hopefully). 

I know what you're saying about "heart".  I think that really is intentions.  Does that resonate with you?  Your intention is your everything?  In other words, if your intention isn't pure then it's meaningless.  Actually, that is a core belief of Islam.

It probably seems like Islam is all about halal and haram and that the list is long and tiring.  It is tiring for the first couple of years as there is a lot to learn.  Alhumdulillah we are not taken to task for anything we are unaware of.  So, as we learn what's right from wrong we adjust and it's a process; an unfolding.

I do feel that one religion is better than another for me.  It doesn't have to fact CAN' the religion for everyone.  Whatever gets you through this life and into the next is best.

Imagining yourself five years from would you hope your spirituality would have grown?

Marie:  In 5 years I would hope to be at peace with my choices of a religion or no religion.

Yosra:  Inshahallah.

Marie:  Thanks Yosra for giving me the chance to share my ideas. Stay blessed always.

Yosra:  Thank you for being so open and willing to share!  Love and light to you, Marie, now and always.


MarieHarmony said...

Thank you so much Yosra for sharing your thoughts, they are precious to me.
I will look at the readings you advised, I am always keen to know more, widen my knowledge.
Only God knows what the future hold, so to him I turn to guide me. I have to say I talk to him too, every minute of every day.

I asked myself many questions about converting or not before but these questions did not help me, I felt really lost. Unfortunately my husband is often far away, I don't see him more than 8 days a month, so I decided this is not the best time for me to think about this anymore. I need space and time. One day maybe I can start looking into it again and I know I have good friends around who will always be there for me and support my choices.

While in Egypt however I really understand the difficulty to be Muslim in a non-Muslim country and I keep every women and men lives in my prayers and heart.

Stay blessed my dear Yosra. Next time we come to Egypt, we'll meet Insh'allah.

Dana said...

Assalamu Alaykum waRahmatullahi waBarakatuh :) I was just thinking about how Marie is...this is such a great conversation...Thanks for sharing! :)

New Wife said...

I remember thinking when I converted to Islam that I was never a better Christian than when I became Muslim.

I spent exponentially more time reading the bible and thinking about the teaching of Jesus and actually following his teachings, seeing how they apply to my life.

When I was young there was a sort of "fad" called WWJD, what would Jesus do? They had these bracelets and posters and stuff and you needed a WWJD bracelet to be cool. Anyway, I realized that I wore the bracelet but I never thought about what it meant to follow the teachings... What would Jesus do??

He didn't eat pork, he fasted, he prayed regularly, he asked for the protection of his Lord, he acknowledged God's greatness above all, he encouraged giving charity, he encouraged common kindnesses, he said there is only one God and to him belongs the praise. He lived as a Muslim.

So if I will do what Jesus did, I will live as he did inshaAllah. My connection with Jesus is infinitely deeper now because I have realized that we are brother in sister in the religion of God. May Allah have peace and mercy on his chosen prophets and their followers ameen.


Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Marie,

First of all: Didn't you love the mosaic at the start of the post? I adored it! Mashallah :)

Yaay for us! Alhumdulillah we have added to the public discourse about our private journeys of faith. Really, we are more simmilar than disimmilar. Inshahallah more readers will identify with you, feel less alone and lost. None of us are really lost. We're all where we are supposed to be :)

Timing is everything. I'm in kind of a limbo time in my mind. I'm not sure what this next time coming has in store for me. I stay open and stay connected to God. With that initial effort on my part, inshahallah the outcome will be the best it can be. I'm sure the same is true for you, Marie. You will get the best when it's the best time.

I'm totally not saying I know what that is...but God knows!

Thank you for your prayers for your sisters. I have felt them!

And YES you do HAVE TO see me next time inshahallah. I'll have them stamp it on your passport as you come through the airport. "Not allowed to leave the country without seeing Yosra".

Asalamu Alaykom Dana,

Marie is great person, isn't she?! Thanks for coming by and seeing what we were up to. It's always nice to share good thoughts...and I appreciate yours :)

Asalamu Alaykom New Wife,

Good comments from your unique perspective. Seriously, your one comment might help someone come to Islam who otherwise felt scared to lose their ability to love Jesus (peace be upon him).

I do remember the WWJD bracelets and such. I kind of liked the idea. We, as Muslims, do ask ourselves a LOT, "hat would the Prophet do?" That's what hadith and sunnah are all about actually. I hate it when Muslims take the easy way out and say, "But I'm not the prophet," so they can keep doing all the bad they can muster.

Did you ever watch "Muslim in Texas"? If you haven't, it's a MUST WATCH. I might have to post it here. It's a BBC produced show about...well...Muslims in Texas. Mostly, it's following white reverts who are in the "Bible Belt" but with their Quran. How does that work?! Surprisingly, each of the people is a good mix of American culture and Islamic identity.

What made me think of it is how you voiced that Islam made you a better Christian. There is a man in the documentary who states, "Islam is everything I wanted Christianity to be."

Ameen to your du'a.

Love and Light to all!

Karima said...

What a really interesting post - I really enjoyed reading the questions and answers - I agree with you that Marie is a lovely woman. I have never met her but she and I communicate the same as you - we both comment on each others blog and she has also kindly offered to post to me free of charge one of her magazines she no longer needs - she is a very sweet lady and I wish the best for her.

MarieHarmony said...

Oh Yes I forgot to say your image was so well chosen, I looked at it and thought you read my mind.
Thank you so much for deciding to open our dialogue to the public, it is precious.

As I read all these messages of love I am amazed, I wish I could meet you all and hug you.
I am surely on a journey, I pray God to show me the way.

To all, thank you so much for your testimonies, your words of support, your kindness - every mark of affection is a light in the darkness. Yes sometime thinking about all these things push me into dark places. But You show me we can all see the sun.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you my dears.
Stay blessed for the amount of love your share every day.

Inspiring Always said...

Thank you for posting this enlightening conversation, Yosra. You are doing a very great deed. May Allah show Marie the right path.

A husband and wife praying together and if they have children, too praying together, is one of the most satisfying union of spirits. It is the wife acknowledging the husband as the leader and the husband being the head of the family leading his family in prayer, prostrating to the one and only God, Allah.

Salma @ Chasing Rainbow said...

What a beautiful and inspiring interview. I see so much of what you say Marie as a part of my journey years ago.

New Wife's comment hit the nail right on the head for me. I think sometimes people think we left Christianity because we weren't "practicing", and that we just needed to replace that with something else. But for me, it was attaining higher knowledge...ultimately seeking to be closer to God, and that doesn't (and ) didn't erase my upbringing as a Christian, it added to it, and made me more aware and devoted.

Thanks so much for sharing ladies & salam alaikum.

Shell said...

Assalamu Aleikom! :)

Two things really jumped out at me and pretty much summed up what I have been struggling with these past few years....

1. Yosra - "I don't do well with accepting that which doesn't make sense. I think, on some level, none of us are able to be authentic when we feel that we're signing off on a group belief that we don't personally hold."

Most days I feel like this. I feel like I didn't sign on to follow the crowd of sheep to and fro. I am a thinker. A reader. A dreamer. Did I mention thinker? I thrive on knowledge. I need it to sustain me and often I feel that this is my problem. I am too philosophical. I always question common sense and sometimes, most times, common sense wins for me and no matter how hard I try to force my brain and heart to accept something, it just cannot! It leaves me feeling like a fraud and questioning why the events in my life lead me to here in the first place, there must be a reason. While I do know myself well and know that I've been known to stand in one place contemplating whether I should get the red one, or the blue one--changing my mind constantly--until I resolve to just walk away. I know in Islam we are encouraged to learn and seek and question. I love that part!!! I often feel born Muslims get so content and just go with whatever they've been taught without ever really understanding why or how. I don't have a problem with the core of Islam. The irony is that, while I refuse to accept that which makes no sense, and that which I cannot see or make sense of FOR ME, in the end, I submit to all that is unseen. And the cycle continues. I have lately been calling myself a floater. I am neither here, nor there. I get my britches all wadded up and think I am too good, too kind, to forgiving to walk amongst this herd...then other days I seem to have lost my britches and wish I hadn't so I could join the herd--cuz that's obviously a requirement right? Like, who wants to walk with somebody who has no underwear on?

2. Marie-- "I would be in constant research of what is good or bad." I totally feel this way. I am constantly at war with myself. I am constantly checking is this good or bad. Am I good or bad. I don't recall ever doing this prior to my conversion. My Mamma and Daddy raised me good. I was a good girl. In fact, I was better and more innocent prior to converting to Islam than I am now. I mean, if I were to be so brave and open and break it down for people with all the facts, anybody on the street would say "leave that religion because obviously it has turned you into a wayward, hateful, holier than though, confused sinner." I can see them making the sign of the cross now. HOWEVER, having said all that, let me be clear and say I DO NOT BLAME ISLAM FOR THIS!!!! Because IT IS NOT ISLAM that has done this to me. It is I. I, the floater...the sinner... the dreamer.

I am learning a lot about myself with your blog. I am questioning myself and asking myself can I just let go. Let go of all the disappointment, the hurt, the anger, the confusion and just bow down and submit? Like I am supposed to. Or will I continue to second guess myself and certain aspects of the religion until the day comes when I just implode and they cart me away to a mental institution saying "tsk tsk tsk...such a lovely girl. Too bad she went and lost her mind"

I suppose in the end, aside from ALLLLLL of that, the floater in me still can without a doubt in my crazy mind.... THERE IS NO GOD BUT GOD! I believe God has plans for me, whether to use me as an example, or to cement my faith in Him by His continuous show of Mercy towards me--because He has been ever so merciful and forgiving to me and I do not deserve it in the least. Alhamdulilah! Thank you God!

Oh well, just felt the need to comment about these two things.

All my best! Peace and Blessings!
p.s. sorry for typos. You'd think I'd go back and do a check.(and the grammar too. and commas, man! I love me some commas)

Yosra said...

Wa Alaykom Asalam Shell,

It's good that you keep plowing through. All that tilling has to result in some fertile ground, right?

I think you need new metaphors. Floater? Is that a positive image for yourself? It doesn't sound that way, but maybe I read you wrong. You have the power to image yourself as you wish.

I hate the good girl/bad girl dichotomy. Islam is not black or white but gray. I am very gray. Everyone is actually but many, many, MANY people pretend otherwise. When we pretend, we get away from truth. Keep it real; keep it gray.

As an aside, Marie went through a very hard time in her life after this interview. Her marriage to an Egypt Muslim man ended and she became a single mom. Faith brought her through those times, alhumdulillah.

She doesn't have to be Muslim. You don't have to be Muslim either. Choice enables us to be who we want to be. Having said that, be the best YOU that you can be. If you're going to be in the Muslim lane, then drive your car with confidence. Ya know? Don't worry what anyone else is doing unless their actions get in your way.

Most of what other people do and say doesn't affect us in the least.

Dump the uselessness of the past. Pick the best and keep moving on. In this way, you can stop the torment of the blah blah blahs which seem to trouble women more than men and intelligent people more than the oblivious.

Love and light to you!

Shell said...

Assalamu Aleikom Yosra! :)

I write to you this morning with a lighter heart. I am truly grateful for your advice, I have taken note.
I think that I have indeed tasted the fruits of my labor-- that being all that reading. I sort of delegated my normal tasks at home to my older ones because I just couldn't break away from my computer and your words. Today I cannot, but I feel that I have gained so much alhamdulilah

Yesterday I made ghusl-- just because I wanted to feel spiritually clean-- and I prayed for the first time in months. It truly was comforting. It truly was a test to myself and I really did feel I was still there-- that I was not as lost as I thought.
To this I owe my gratitude to not only God, but you. I even kept making dua and asking God to protect you and your family from anything on my part-- like evil eye. I never once felt jealousy or envy in a bad way, but I did and still do feel admiration and good envy and in no way want any of that to harm you or your family. My intentions are good and I feel good about all that I have gained from you MashaAllah. Your blog about the toyota kept popping in my mind though so i wanted to pray about that and say MashaAllah alot just in case.

Thank you!!! Thank you!!! Thank You!!!

P.s. I got what you were saying about gray...but somehow I felt that it was a personal insult to yourself. Of course I dont know you personally, and my perception of you is only from your words, but I feel you are far too intelligent to call yourself gray. I feel you are far too strong willed to dance on the side of the road. My thinking puts you on it, cruising, yours has you dilly dallying somewhere in the middle. I think that is what I meant about myself and the floater comment. Perhaps I have misunderstood, but that is just my thoughts. Your advice about hopping in the lane and driving is exactly what I need to do. There is black and white in that, no gray. You either drive or get off and let others pass-- again, to me, I see you there. This is such a profound way of thinking about it and touched me in a way that I really needed to hear. Alhamdulilah.

And another side note, sorry, I didnt mean for this to be long...but sometimes I am so down on myself and fear that I am not raising my kids accordingly because I am too busy trying to figure out my own issues, when God sends me a sign at the very moment when I need it. A sign to confirm. Yesterday brought frightening thunder and lightening along with a down pour. My 7 yr old ran to me and asked if our house would get struck. I said I hope not, inshaAllah we will be fine and before I could get the words out, he was circling and mumbling to himself. Then after a minute said There! Now we will all be safe. He made dua and as fast as his fear approached, it left and he was off to play again. I dont why it is so hard for me to see the signs sometimes? Theyre right there for me!!! Maybe all your words opened up that window in my heart and is allowing me to see them for the first time in a long time...yes, this is what I will believe. Alhamdulilah.

Sent from my phone

Yosra said...

Wa Alaykom Asalam Shell,

So nice to hear that you made ghusl and prayed. Really, that's a long jump in the right direction! Alhumdulillah.

Sometimes, I hear how believers are waiting until they are better until they pray---as if! We need to pray when we are who we are right now. For me, the way I say that is "gray". I am not pure evil or pure goodness; I'm neither black nor white. I'm stuck in the middle between the two and I'm at peace with being human. Humans are gray.

It doesn't mean that I bashfully hide my coolness. Naw! I'm a cool chick ;) I know it. It's been many years in the making and I've honed a meaningful existence BUT it is not a perfect life AND it's never going to be. Maybe we are all in that peaceful place as little children but we lose it.

Think of that beautiful moment when your child made du'a. How awesome is THAT mashallah :)

Reminds me of El-Kid crossing the busy, busy street in Egypt and, once safely across, stopping to make the du'a, "Oh, Allah, please bring stoplights to Egypt." We do have those stoplights now too!

May God bless you and your family. Pray together if you can. Let your husband lead you as much as you can. Join together as husband and wife on the prayer mat and feel that groovy united vibe. The kids will feel it too inshahallah.

You're welcome for any part I played in this good moment. I wish you...

Love and Light from Egypt!