Saturday, September 8, 2012

10 Memorable Moments in My 10 Years of Islam

Asalamu Alaykom,

September 9, 2012 marks 10 years of being in Islam.


All praises to Allah!

Lord of All the Worlds!

Most sincerely, I feel those 10 years.  I feel their importance in my life.  I feel how they have shaped me, challenged me, and invited me to more fully participate in my life and my destiny.  Subhanallah.

Egyptians here are wont to ask me the question, "You like Islam?"

It's a ridiculous question really.  It's akin to, "You like breathing?"

I can't like or dislike something which is such a part of the fabric of my being.  I am eternally grateful for all of it---the moments I wouldn't ever wish to relive and the moments I wish I could replay again and again.  Allah sees the entirety of our lives and constructs an amazing life for each one of us.

Originally, I entitled this post as "10 Best Moments" but realized that Allah alone knows which were the best.  I can only look back over a VERY eventful decade in Islam and remember.

1.  Taking shahaddah TWICE  

I love both the times I took shahaddah.

The first time was when I was alone in the U.S. without the Muslim man I had come to love.  He was in Egypt and I was a week away from traveling to him.  I had read both The Holy Quran and "Idiot's Guide to Islam" by Yahya Emerick.  I had looked in the mirror and told myself, "I'm Muslim".  Yet, I was waiting until I got to Egypt to take shahaddah in a beautiful masjid with my man beside me.

"God, I'll make a deal with you.  You get me to Egypt safely and I'll take my shahaddah."  That's what I said in my bed before I went to sleep---but then I couldn't sleep.

What if I never made it to Egypt?  What if the plane crashed?  What if I knew I was Muslim but the world didn't know?

It troubled my mind so much that I called around a couple of masjids.  This was a year after the 9-11 attacks and within days of the one year anniversary.  No one returned my messages.  I was unsure what to do.

I asked a Muslim man at my real estate office if he could help me get in contact with a sheik. Out came his cell.  He pushed the buttons.  Spoke quickly in Arabic.  Shut it off.  Turned to me and said, "You can meet him tonight.  Take a shower.  Wear something covering your arms and legs.  Put a scarf on your head to cover your hair."  He would meet me there.

Here's the thing:  Leading up to that phone call, I wasn't 100% sure I was TAKING shahaddah.  Originally, my plan was to ask some questions first.  You you're at a restaurant and you're hungry but after you look over the menu you've got some questions for the waiter.  Now?  I was headed to the masjid after work to become a Muslim.

I had been practicing the shahaddah.  I had hand written it on a little rectangle of scratch paper and placed it on my refrigerator.  Each time I passed by I would repeat it.

Yet, when I went to take the shahaddah, the sheik threw in an extra phrase.  It threw me off.  Shouldn't I find  out in English what I committing to BEFORE I actually said it?  I paused.  The Sheik's assistant translated that it was me renouncing Jesus (peace be upon him) as God's son but rather accepting him as a prophet.

Whew!  That was easy.  I had never in my life believed that tennet of Christianity---which, by the way, kind of nulls and voids your claim as a Christian.  Yes, if you are Christian you have to believe that God has a son and not that we are all God's children.  No, that out of the people who walked the earth that one man wasn't human (he was a third of God) yet he died.  It didn't make sense to me as a little girl in Sunday school and I remember telling my mom, the minister, that it wasn't what I believed.

So, I was Muslim.  In that moment I felt the relief of my sins getting washed away---and by that time there were a lot!  Alhumdulillah they were gone from my life.

The sheik's assistant, Yusuf, gave me a two-piece prayer outfit his wife had hand sewn.  It would be with me through all the times I was with Allah.  Subhanallah.  I still have it.  It's only been in the last year that I agreed to stop wearing it during my prayers.  I found a beautiful one to replace it alhumdulillah.

The sheik told the assistant and the assistant told me that when I took the shahaddah this was the first time in the U.S. that he felt that Islam was in my heart already.  Alhumdulillah.  It was a powerful moment.

The second time was once I was at Al-Azhar (which wasn't beautiful) in Cairo. The reason I needed to take the shaddah in Egypt was to prove my religion in order to marry my man.  He wasn't next to me though as that was the place for the sheik.  I repeated the words I had said back in the U.S.  This time I could see my man watching me and finally believing that I was indeed a real Muslim.  He said at the time that it was the best moment of his life---but of course he said a lot of things (including that he'd never leave me) so it's hard to know what's real.

For me, I tend to blot him out of the memory now.  I remember more the feeling between the sheik and I.  He had just taken the shahaddahs of a whole room of foreigners.  They had crowded the room.  He asked them their nationalities before he began.  There were Germans and English and French.  When they left, it was my turn.  Very much in tune with my life, I would be alone to take my shahaddah.  It was quiet.  It was peaceful.  I knew better what I was going to say and how it felt.  I was comfortable with just acknowledging who I already was.


The sheik had some words for me to, "be an ambassador of Islam," when I went back to America.  I took those words to heart and tried to be the person who could make a positive difference.  Allahu alim whether or not I succeeded.

When I went back for an update on my paperwork in December 2010, I asked about the man who had helped me take shaddah.  "Did you forget me?  I didn't forget you," was the sheik's reply.  It had been over seven years.  Subhanallah.  Was it true that he remembered me?  Allahu alim but I hope it's true.

2.  Hearing the Azan in Egypt

The meodious harmonizing of mazans giving their call to prayer is one of the most beautiful sounds you can ever hear. I felt that strongly as a new Muslim in 2002.  This voice and that voice drift in and out and blend into a duet and then waft away from togetherness into solos.  They are the same exact words yet the azan is never the same.  Subhanallah I missed the azan so much when I would leave Egypt.  It is perhaps what I miss most apart from people.  It becomes such a part of your everyday.  It becomes like a friend or a comrade in the struggle through life.  Subhanallah.

During the revolution to hear the azan again was to give me hope.  If the azan kept going then we could keep going.  After the horrible night of the January 28, the fajr azan brought tears to my eyes.  The man who rose to tell us the dawn would soon break was just like us and had suffered just like us but he believed in Allah.  It made me believe deeper in Allah too.  Alhumdulillah.

In times of hardship, the azan helps me remember that Allah promised hardship AND promised ease.  I need the azan and never want to be without it again.  Ya rab!

3.  Appearing Before a Judge 

Of course The Ultimate Judge is Allah Subhana Wa Tallah.  Yet, on this earth, we have elected and appointed men and women to help bring justice.  When I was fired for wearing hijab, I sued the company.  It went on to federal court.  The day I appeared before the judge I was nervous.

There had already been fact-finding and depositions.  I had already heard the strange belief that I was, "planning a mutiny" by inviting out support staff to a luncheon.  I had been shown printed out emails and been asked about them---including who Zuzu was (she was the family pet who had been put to sleep).  The lead up was unsettling.  How would court be?

My lawyer spoke and then the company lawyer spoke.  The judge had not said anything during my attorney's opening remarks.  When the company lawyer made the comment that the harrassment towards me had lessened, the judge interjected, "Yes, but it didn't stop."

This surprised the company lawyer and caught him off guard.  He asked for the judge to repeat his remark and the judge did.

"You say the harrassment lessened but it never fully stopped did it?"

"No, your Honor".

That moment and that admission was a prize of sorts.  It was proof that I'd been harrassed for my religion.  It was proof that we all knew it and that I would be able to win some kind of judgement if I kept going.  Even though I settled out of court, I don't feel that those two years didn't result in a win.  Yes, they did.  I did win because that case remains on the law books today.  It sets a precedent in my state.  No one will be able to ignore what I did and I'm proud of my efforts in that regard.  Alhumdulillah.

4.  Teaching Muslims

Alhumdulillah, I have taught hundreds of Muslims.

I have taught little boys and girls.

I have taught grandmas who needed to pass their citizenship tests.

I have taught those hard-headed Somalis who loved worksheets and hated using English in speeches and diaglogues.  Eventually, we would produce a school newspaper together.  I love the moments with them during Ramadan when they would bring food for their teacher and we would eat iftar together and pray together.

I have taught Muslim school children not to hate the Jews and not to laugh at the Chinese.  I've had them grow their compassion and expand their knowledge (since the Jews are People of the Book and the Chinese have 10 million Muslims).  I've gotten them to discuss and act out, to debate and write poetry.  We did a lot together in a short time mashahallah.

Using my teaching abilities is a good way to give back to others a fraction of what's been given to me.

5.  Helping My Friends

Subhanallah, I quit a teaching job that was no longer viable for me.  I quit without any other job offer in the works.  I quit without money saved up and without any plan.  I quit because I had to in order to save my sanity and my faith.  It was the only time I ever quit in the middle of a school year.  It scared me to leave but it scared me more to stay.  Once home, I wondered if I had done the right thing.

I picked up the phone and called one of my best friends.  Guess what?  Her mother had died that morning.  Because I no longer had a job, I could rush right over and comfort her.  Subhanallah.  It was much needed and appreciated.  Alhumdulillah.

Two weeks later, my other good friend's six-year-old tragically passed away in front of her eyes.  I could fly down immediately and be with her through her grief.  I could encourage her to make wudu and pray with us. I could hold her and help her.  When it was time to leave the cemetary, I could be strong for her and pull her away from the place.

Very seldom in my life have I felt such powerful goodness come out of me and my efforts.  Subhanallah.  I had started the day with a fast and ended it on the airplane going down.  In between, I had handled my surprise and grief, the plane tickets, washing and packing and travel arrangements.  Subhanallah.  Once there, I never stopped assisting others through the days.  Alhumdulillah for being useful.

6.  Giving Birth as a Muslim

I had given birth twice before Islam.  This time was going to be different---okay, I know that every baby's birth is different but this felt like a beautiful start.  That's how I felt leading up to the event.   I was going to start my newborn's life perfectly.  I was really so excited about the baby hearing the azan in his right ear.  While I liked the idea of the date being rubbed in his mouth, I knew in actuality I would opt out of that.  I would breastfeed as I had with the other two.

Then I heard a new aspect to get excited about.  While in labor I could make some of the most powerful du'as.  A du'a is a supplication; it's a prayer spoken any time you wish (rather than our scheduled prayers).  While you are giving birth it's a time of great hardship so Allah rewards those women who remember Him at that time.  I thought good and hard about what I would ask for from Allah.

I knew that I could ask Allah to stop my baby's daddy from divorcing me (as was his plan) so that he could re-marry his first wife.  I knew that I could wish for bad on her and her kids.  Or I could plead with Allah to fix what I could not seem to figure out.

I thought about all the mess and decided not to bring it into the delivery room with me.  Frankly there was such a HUGE COLLOSIAL mess that there wouldn't be any place for it at the hospital.  So, I focused on what was good and true and pure.  I thought of my parents and thought how I'd like them to come to Islam.  I thought of my other two children and knew that I could use the time birthing their brother to set them free from their indecision.

Yet, I wondered if I actually would go through with making du'a.  I mean....I'd be busy!  I'd be in pain.  I'd never tried being anything other than primal while in labor.  How could I be some kind of a Zen Master  Whirling Sufi in my hospital gown?  I hoped that I could.

When my labor pains sent me to the hospital, I kind of forgot about making du'a.  I was picturing me surfing the waves of contractions.  It was beautiful to stay afloat and not succomb to the overtow.  I loved being in control of my reaction to the pain.  I was having fun!  That was how I felt in the chair.

When they moved me onto the bed, I was not able to cope as before.  I no longer needed a surfboard from my imagination.  I declined medication.  I needed Allah.  I really sought Him.  In that moment, I remembered to make du'a for my family.  That time of being so prone and subservient to my destiny yet at the same time asking for my dearest desires was a very blessed moment.  Very few times have connected me so much to who I am, who I love, what this world is, and where my faith lies.  Subhanallah.

The baby, known to you as, "Mr. Boo", did arrive mashahallah.  He did get his azan alhumdulillah.  He got his milk from that moment through to 26 months alhumdulillah.  He had to wait for the dates.

Did Mr. Boo's birth help me bring his grandparents and siblings to Islam?  I really don't know.  Inshahallah.  Inshahallah.

7.  Making Hijrah

Even though I had gone to Egypt before that was only a trip.  It was a BIG trip (not only because it was going overseas but because I'd met AbuBoo's family and gotten married).  In August, 2009 it was going to be even bigger.  I was going and not coming back to America until I had established my new life.  Yes, I was going to live in Egypt and I was doing it for the pleasure of Allah.

It wasn't always easy.  I felt overwhelmed often with the task.  However, there were so many times when I felt Allah was with me along the way.  Those times comforted me in a really profound way, calmed me and strengthened my resolve.

When I first applied for the job in Giza, I wrote that I would rather be teaching in Egypt than anywhere else.  Having written that, I double-checked myself by centering my mind with Allah and praying over that statement.  Was it true?  Was this my heart's desire?  I really made du'a and added to my previous statement, "Wallahi".  I was now swearing this to God.  Two days later I got the response back that I was hired.  Right now, I went back through my gmail to verify that it's true.  Two days is an incredibly fast response!  I had been applying for jobs in my own state, in other states and all over the world and NOBODY had ever responded to me so quickly with an offer.  Subhanallah.

When the application process got tough---seemingly impossible---I wrote again to the principal and told her that I simply couldn't get my paperwork through the bureaucracy.  I was actually scared that this plan was falling through and prayed istakkarah again.  The prinipal sent me the number for another teacher coming and the young lady was from my own city!  Subhanallah.  We could talk and within days I had all the paperwork done.  Subhanallah.

When I was told that I would no longer have someone picking me up from the airport, I was dismayed.  Yet, I put my trust in Allah.  Within 10 minutes, I was gifted with $50 which was the exact amount I had just been told I'd need for the taxi.  Subhanallah.

When I was alone in the coastal city of Mr. Boo's father's family, I went searching for what I needed.  I didn't know where I was going exactly.  I put my trust in Allah.  Subhanallah if I didn't walk into the barber shop where his father's friend had just gotten his hair cut.

There were other times when I really felt Allah nudging me and making me aware of His presence.  You can hear more about them by reading my 40-part series, "Making Hijrah."

Making hijrah and taking that leap of faith took a lot and gave me a lot.  Alhumdulillah for that moment of leaping and for trusting that wherever I landed would be through the Grace of God.

8.  Calling Out to Allah

There have been many times of personal anguish in these past 10 years.  Times of turmoil, fear, grief, sadness and deep loneliness.  I don't want to relive those!  They are hard times to remember.  However, in those times I have given up the negative feelings when I remembered Allah and called out for His Mercy.  Subhanallah!

I had my one (and hopefully only) car accident during an ice storm.  The bottom of a hill had become too slick and my car picked up speed.  As I was in the realization that I'd lost control of the car, I swore.  Yep, I said, "OH SHIT!" And then I thought how I might really die in this moment and didn't want those to be my last words.  I called out to Allah.  The car spun 'round and crashed into the meridian.  The airbag deployed.  I was in shock.  I got out of my car.  I was now in danger of being hit by oncoming cars.  Alhumdulillah someone passing by told me to get back in my car.  The firefighters came and directed me off the freeway.

Throughout all of this I was thinking of the baby growing inside me.  Was the baby OK?  We had just heard the heartbeat a week ago.  Instead of heading into school to teach, I was now heading to the doctor's to be checked out.  At first they couldn't find the heartbeat.  I was alone.  The baby's daddy had dropped me off and gone to open the store.  I gripped the nurse's arm and told her that I couldn't handle this any more.  She moved me to another room.  I prayed because there is no one and nothing that can save a baby except Allah.  She performed an ultrasound instead.  There was my Boo!  Alhumdulillah.

I often think of the time when we were having straight line winds pushing through our city in The States.  These damaging winds can be as dangerous as a tornado.  I was now a single mom with a toddler.  We were living in an apartment with a huge picture window and directly outside stood a gigantic tree.  In the daylight, that tree brought me so much pleasure mashahallah; I would sit back in my comfy chair and gaze up at the sun coming through its branches.  In the stormy night, I began to fear it crashing through our little home.

I took my boy and sat in the small hallway space between the bedroom and the bathroom.  It was pitch dark.  I could hear the wind whistling.  I held him close and recited Quran.  I started to choke up while saying, "Al Adiyat".  I felt in that moment the power of Allah Subhana Wa Tallah.  I felt my smallness.  I clung to the words of the Quran that night as much as I knew I will inshahallah cling to them in the grave.

The storm passed as all storms do.  Alhumdulillah.  The next day we could go out and survey the incredible destruction.  So many enormous trees were uprooted.  Our beautiful tree (and our window) were saved.  Alhumdulillah.

There's been so many times.  I can't list them all.  I don't need to. You've had them too (even if the precise details are different).  In those moments, I have released the terrifying grip on me by calling out to Ar Rahman Ar Raheem.  I've always been heard subhanallah.

9. Making dawah

Islam is too good a deal to keep to yourself.  You do want to share it.  The problem with "Born Muslims" who give dawah; the spread of Islam, is that they don't know how they are being (mis)perceived.  Very seldom does someone learning about Islam want a hellfire speech.  Mostly, it's best to listen to what the person needs to hear and then letting God speak to them through you.  It's beautiful really.  It's not about duh-duh-DUH MAKING A MUSLIM!  It's about being connected to another soul and loving and caring about them enough to take a moment and share with them.

It's the woman on an Orlando street asking me about the scarf I wear.  I could tell her that I dress exactly like she does at home but that I save that for my man's eyes only.  Because really?  Not everybody deserves me.  She got that.

I didn't shove "shoulds" down her throat or chastise her for showing skin.  Not my job!  Besides, those who aren't signed up for Islam don't need to follow it.  "To me my religion and to you yours."

I'm proud of what I've written.  There was an article I wrote for a local neighborhood paper.  I remember the day it came out.  I drove my car down a road and saw the newspaper tucked next to every mailbox.  I smiled knowing that I was sharing Islam with all those people.  Subhanallah.

This blog has brought me some clarity and others have said it's helped them. At least a couple Non-Muslims have taken shahaddah in part because of what I've written.  Many Non-practising Muslims have come back to Islam from my approach of imperfection.

That's truly what I preach.  I preach that Islam is the perfect religion but Muslims are imperfect.  We don't come to Islam fully formed but rather we need to ask Allah to help us become better each day.  Inshahallah.

If I've ever said something which repels people from Islam then may Allah forgive me.  My aim has always been to offer a way to stay fully alive and present as a God-fearing follower and a ardent believer.

10.  My Bike Ride

This is the last moment I'm going to leave you with.

There was a time when I was starting to embrace Islam and I felt a kind of exultation with each deepening of my understanding.  I took my bike ride down to the lake that late summer day.  As I rode a freedom begain to rise up in me and caused me to say aloud in the open air, "Allahu Akbar".  The sun was shining on my face and the fresh air was rushing past me.  All around me on the path with sunflowers.  I saw them and said even louder,


It was new and exciting to feel this joy.  I didn't care who heard me.  I knew that I was in tune with something powerful and that I was fully alive in that moment.  Alhumdulillah.

There are times since then that I have needed to revisit that moment on the bike path by the lake.  It isn't that I've needed that place in the world but that I've needed that place in my heart.  My love for Allah was so overflowing at that point.  I couldn't keep it inside one moment longer.  I let it out with a shout!  Subhanallah.

Allahu Akbar.

May you find moments in your life which you want to remember too.


Thankful Slave said...

Sis Yosra,

Sincere congratulations for this blessed anniversary! may Allah Make others Benefit from your seem to have achieved so much in such short time, masha Allah, may Allah Keep us and you in the Straight direction always, Salaam,


egyptchick7 said...

Well it's a very VERY good thing SOMEONE is teaching these children not to hate Jews...The thing I find most disconcerting when I am in Egypt or when I even speak to Egyptian-born immigrants here is their vile hatred of Jews, Israel etc. It seems they are raised that way...My American born cousin who went to Egypt with his parents when he was 10 years old came back with this horrible hatred for Jews and Israel...Yea, I don't like Israeli policy either...lemme just stop now..

Anyways again, Thank You Yosra for shedding some light to the ignorance...

jnana said...

I love all of these moments that you've described so beautifully