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Conversion Stories New Muslims

From a Christian to a Houston Imam: Yahya Graff

From a Christian to not just a Muslim, but also a prominent imam and teacher in Huston, Texas, Yahya John Graff’s journey to Islam is an extraordinary and moving one.

Exposed to all kinds of Christian practices, dominations, walks, churches and schools, such seemingly religious upbringing, for John, was nowhere near truly religious.

More interestingly, his childhood dream was to be am orchestra musician. He studied to be a vocal music teacher and conductor. During his student internship and on a ski trip in Colorado the shift happened.

How did the shift towards Islam start? How was his first contact with Muslims? How did Islam enter his life?

How did he feel about the religion before meeting it in person? How did learning about Islam change his views and whole life?

Now a Muslim, how does he see misconceptions about Islam, anti-Islam rhetoric and alleged enmity between Islam and the West and between Islam and civilization?

From where did his journey begin, how and why?

In this episode of ‘Path to Guidance’ watch Imam Yahya John Graff give answers to all these questions as he thoroughly describes his journey to the truth; Islam…

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New Muslims Reflections

American New Muslims and the Challenges of Conversion

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 40% of Muslims in the U.S. were not raised with the faith, but joined it as adults.

Though Will Caldwell was born, raised and college educated in Georgia, he is uncomfortable praying there.

He has felt that way since a clear summer evening in 2007 at a nondescript gas station off a nondescript interstate somewhere between Savannah and Macon. He was on his way home to Saint Simons Island from Emory University, where he had just finished his junior year. Caldwell had pulled his red Mini Cooper into the rest stop because the sun was starting to set and, since he had converted to Islam one year earlier, this meant that it was time to pray.

In the empty field next to the gas station, he found a discrete corner, laid out his mat and began to recite the verses of the Qur’an, first standing, then bent forward, then on his knees with his head to the ground. He noticed two people looking at him, secretively peering out from behind their truck.

Uneasy, he rushed through the ritual, folded up his mat and got back in the car to leave. As he pulled away, he could see in his rear view mirror a cop car pulling into the parking lot. The people who had been staring were flagging down the police officer and pointing at Caldwell. He drove on at an intentionally moderate pace, and the cop did not follow, but he has not risked praying publicly in the South since.

Caldwell is soft spoken. He pauses thoughtfully before talking and sometimes between sentences. He wears a plaid button down shirt, slacks and small, round wire-framed glasses. His wide-set green eyes gaze out earnestly from his creamy white face. One quickly gets the sense that he is a kind and spiritual person. Perhaps this is his fatal flaw.

Political Percept

After growing up in the Episcopal Church, Caldwell rediscovered his spirituality in Islam and decided to convert. Now, less than a hundred miles from where he was raised, onlookers see Caldwell’s prayer as a potential threat. Why might this be?

“The political context we are in is so charged with anti-Muslim rhetoric that it’s almost impossible, I would say, for that conversion not to have some kind of political ramifications even if the convert in no way intends it,” says Brannon Ingram, a professor of religious studies at Northwestern University, who specializes in Islam and Sufism.

In July of 2013, Fox News correspondent Lauren Green interviewed religion scholar Reza Aslan about “Zealot“, a book he just had written about Jesus Christ. She repeatedly questioned his credentials and asked him to explain how a Muslim could write about Christianity. In 2013, a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press study found that 45 percent of Americans believe that Muslims face ”a lot“ of discrimination.

Negative sentiments about Muslims most often link to an association of Islam with radicalism and terrorism. A 2007 document by the New York Police Department entitled ”Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” says, ”Jihadist ideology is the driver that motivates young men and women, born or living in the West, to carry out an ‘autonomous jihad’ via acts of terrorism against their host countries.”

Because of these beliefs, the police instated surveillance over New York City’s mosques and Muslim communities using informants, neighborhood mapping, photos and video footage. When the American Civil Liberties Union caught wind of this policy in June of 2013, they sued the NYPD.

The Impacts

Muslim converts have received extensive media attention. Katherine Russell, the widow of one of the notorious Boston Marathon bombers, began practicing Islam after meeting her husband. Samantha Lewthwaite, known as the “White Widow“ after her husband’s 2005 suicide bombing in London public transit, is among the suspects implicated in the Nairobi mall massacre in September 2013.

She, too, is Muslim convert. Nicholas Brody, a main character of the popular television show “Homeland”, becomes a Muslim while he is imprisoned by Al-Qaeda in Damascus, Syria. Once back in the United States, he collaborates with his captors to plot and execute terror attacks.

Karen Danielson, Director of Outreach at the Chicago chapter of Muslim American Society, says that any event that brings Islam into the public consciousness – for negative or positive reasons – generates interest. ”After 9/11, for example, there was a large influx of converts. Sometimes people come forward hostile, but then even they end up converting because of what they discover,” she says.

“They investigated, they read the Qur’an, and it answered a lot of questions that they had before.”

Danielson herself found Islam in 1983 when she was a young adult. She has worked in community building for Muslims ever since and has interacted with hundreds of converts and support groups.

Despite their powers of attraction, these terror-infused portrayals are very problematic for converts, says Iqbal Akhtar, a professor of Islamic Studies at Florida International University. New Muslims are forced to view themselves as outsiders in their own culture and are not given the opportunity to reconcile the different parts of their identities.

“Even if in day-to-day interactions you can pass for being American or not being differentiated, you live in a society where the media is constantly defining the Muslim as an ‘other’”, says Akhtar. ”All these things fit into how you define yourself.”

Why We Choose Islam?

Converts to any faith seem increasingly abnormal as the United States gravitates farther away from religion. According to a Pew Research study, the number of Americans who do not affiliate with a religion has gone up by 5 percent in the past five years, from 15.3 percent in 2007 to 19.6 percent in 2012.

Yet the number of Muslims in the United States is increasing. In the seven years that followed the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the Muslim American population grew from 1,104,000 to 1,349,000, according to the 2012 census. And in a study of that same time frame, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 40 percent of Muslims in the United States were not raised with the faith, but joined it as adults.

This anomalous increase in religious practice may be because conversion to Islam is quick and very simple.

“It really just requires reciting a formula called the Shahadah (Declaration of Faith) in front of a number of witnesses,” says Ingram. He translates the verse to mean, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger.”

And that’s it. There’s no training, no test. You just recite the creed. Ingram attributes the successful global spread of Islam to the ease of this process.

To be continued…                                                                                                                                     

_________________________

Source: Ummid.com.

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New Muslims Reflections

How These New Muslims Found Islam, Professed Faith

sunrise

Choosing Islam as your way of life is no way easy or effortless. It is a journey of challenges and perseverance.

The difficulty for many converts comes in the change of daily customs, rather than in the change of faith. In 2005, at the age of 36, Jennifer Gauthier converted from Catholicism to Islam in order to marry to a Muslim man. The pair has since moved to Alexandria, Egypt.

“I would say the greatest challenges I face are more related to Islamic cultural traditions rather than what I understand from the Qur’an,” she says.

“My dad and I have had many conversations about Islam and Catholicism and have found many overlaps.”

She says it made a big difference that she already felt comfortable with the idea of one god.

Saba Safder, Scholarship Manager at the national non-profit Islamic Society of North America and a Muslim convert from Methodism, speaks to the challenging cultural adjustments.

“In the beginning it was hard to fit in. Sometimes when I came to the mosque, my scarf may not have covered all my hair, or my sleeves may not have been as long as they should have been,” she said.

“There were many times that women would correct my praying or how I dressed.”

False Assumptions

Many converts also felt alienated because of their whiteness. In theory, explains Ingram, Islam is meant to be a race-free religion. But in practice, he says, this is not the case.

“In the popular imagination Islam is still very much,” – he makes air quotes with his fingers – “a brown person’s religion.”

And this belief, he continues, is somewhat valid.

American Muslim communities can be very closely knit in terms of some ethnic background,” he says.

“Not just immigrants from or descendants of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, but even specific regions in India.”

As a result, when Caldwell enters a Muslim center for the first time, he says he gets one of two reactions to his whiteness. The first is suspicion. In a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he recalls, he could feel everyone’s eyes on him.

Muslims sometimes suspect that he is an FBI agent, working for the aforementioned government surveillance, he says.

“I just try to deal with it because I understand it.” he says. Others place him on a pedestal. Immigrants trying to assimilate into white American society take his race as a sign of their success.

“Seeing a white person (practicing Islam)is sort of validates their own religious existence.”There are a lot of embedded racial assumptions about that,” he says. “I don’t think it’s a desirable situation for me or for them, but it is the case nonetheless.”

Small Communities

Some converts are forming their own groups, one of which is Ta’leef Collective. Founded as a resource for new Muslims and prospective converts, Ta’leef runs classes, discussions and support groups. Its headquarters are in Fremont, Calif., but it opened a Chicago chapter in 2012. Ta’leef stays away from the media for fear that it will portray them badly.

“Our concern is both one of how we are represented to the larger American population and how we are represented to other Muslim communities,” said Caldwell, who is a participant.

“A lot of what we do would be controversial to other Muslim communities in the sense that it’s not a mosque but it’s a Muslim community. That doesn’t fit so well into the parameters of what they expect.”

New Muslims often especially need this social outlet after distancing themselves from their former lives. “I very rarely associate myself with the community I was raised in. I have strong contacts with my family, but many times I just feel like it is hard to belong,” says Safder.

“There are too many media influences that give people a preconceived idea before seeing that I am still the same person.”

How Do Converts Find Islam?

If not at home, how do converts find Islam?

Danielson was in her first year at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa. She intended to lead missions targeting Muslims. To prepare, she studied the Quran and was deeply moved by it.

“It was through my personal reading of Quran that I had my own private conversion,” she says.

“I felt like my questions were answered. The deep bigger questions are about justice and life in general. What is the universe all about? What does everything mean?”

She says she never found this type of spiritual guidance in the Bible and converted to Islam one month after.

Caldwell’s story of coming to Islam is strikingly similar. An altar boy in his youth, Caldwell looked up to his Episcopal priest and wanted to follow in his footsteps. While an undergraduate at Emory University, he learned that seminary students studied Greek but not Hebrew.

In order to understand the Old Testament, he started taking Hebrew classes. These led him to Jewish studies classes. Judaism introduced him to the possibility of practicing other religions, but it was too connected to an ethnic and cultural history for him to fully embrace it, he says.

“I guess in a lot of ways Islam is a natural place to look at that point.”

He started reading the Qur’an and spent the summer and fall of his junior year in Jerusalem. He promised himself that he wouldn’t make any big decisions until he finished it. One month into his studies in Israel, he finished the Qur’an and converted to Islam.

True Islam

Ingram has noticed a trend in why people like Danielson or Caldwell may gravitate toward the religion.

“I’ve spoken to a few white converts over the years who said Christianity never made sense to me, the trinity never made sense to me, the idea of God being one and three at the same time never made sense to me,” he said.

Islam doesn’t have that problem. People are attracted to the comparative simplicity of Islam’s notion of God.”

Their strong connection to Islamic theology helps converts deal with stigma.

“We know that Islam does not preach terrorism. We know Islam does not preach extremist radical thought. Those things are not linked to Islam. They’re linked to Muslims,” says Danielson.

“Muslims are people. They have so many factors that motivate who they are. Yes, Islam influences them, but they have their economic condition and their political situation, too.”

Gauthier puts this idea concisely:“A saying I’ve heard often — and I think it applies to all religions — is ‘Don’t look to Muslims to understand Islam. Look to Islam itself,’” she says.

But, according to Danielson, converts need to change people’s preconceptions about Muslims.

“We have to get our voice heard better. Islam should be understood better, and that’s a difficult position to be in,” she says.

“First-hand knowledge of Islam and Muslims needs relationship building and a genuine commitment to long-term cooperation.”

Choosing Islam as your way of life is no way easy or effortless. It is a journey of challenges and perseverance through which we reach our goals and face hardships.

We cannot ignore that, but here lies the true challenges.

If you have or know about similar stories and experiences share them with us.

_________________________

Source: ummid.com

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New Muslims Reflections

New Muslims… After Finding What They Were Looking for

road-nature

The difficulty for many converts comes in the change of daily customs, rather than in the change of faith.

The difficulty for many converts comes in the change of daily customs, rather than in the change of faith. In 2005, at the age of 36, Jennifer Gauthier converted from Catholicism to Islam in order to marry to a Muslim man. The pair has since moved to Alexandria, Egypt.

“I would say the greatest challenges I face are more related to Islamic cultural traditions rather than what I understand from the Qur’an,” she says.

“My dad and I have had many conversations about Islam and Catholicism and have found many overlaps.”

She says it made a big difference that she already felt comfortable with the idea of one god.

Saba Safder, Scholarship Manager at the national non-profit Islamic Society of North America and a Muslim convert from Methodism, speaks to the challenging cultural adjustments:

“In the beginning it was hard to fit in. Sometimes when I came to the mosque, my scarf may not have covered all my hair, or my sleeves may not have been as long as they should have been,” she said.

“There were many times that women would correct my praying or how I dressed.”

Misinterpreted

Many converts also felt alienated because of their whiteness. In theory, explains Ingram, Islam is meant to be a race-free religion. But in practice, he says, this is not the case.

“In the popular imagination Islam is still very much,” – he makes air quotes with his fingers – “a brown person’s religion.” And this belief, he continues, is somewhat valid.

American Muslim communities can be very closely knit in terms of some ethnic background,” he says. “Not just immigrants from or descendants of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, but even specific regions in India.”

As a result, when Caldwell enters a Muslim center for the first time, he says he gets one of two reactions to his whiteness. The first is suspicion. In a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he recalls, he could feel everyone’s eyes on him. Muslims sometimes suspect that he is an FBI agent, working for the aforementioned government surveillance, he says.

“I just try to deal with it because I understand it.” he says. Others place him on a pedestal. Immigrants trying to assimilate into white American society take his race as a sign of their success. “Seeing a white person (practicing Islam) sort of validates their own religious existence. There’s a lot of embedded racial assumptions about that,” he says.

“I don’t think it’s a desirable situation for me or for them, but it is the case nonetheless.”

Some converts are forming their own groups. Though it often doesn’t fit so well into the parameters of what they expect, new Muslims often especially need this social outlet after distancing themselves from their former lives.

“I very rarely associate myself with the community I was raised in. I have strong contacts with my family, but many times I just feel like it is hard to belong,” says Safder.

“There are too many media influences that give people a preconceived idea before seeing that I am still the same person.”

Deep Search

If not at home, how do converts find Islam?

reading Qur'an

“After reading the Qur’an I felt like my questions were answered; the deep bigger questions about justice and life in general.”

Danielson was in her first year at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa. She intended to lead missions targeting Muslims. To prepare, she studied the Qur’an and was deeply moved by it.

“It was through my personal reading of Qur’an that I had my own private conversion,” she says.

“I felt like my questions were answered. The deep bigger questions about justice and life in general. What is the universe all about? What does everything mean?”

She says she never found this type of spiritual guidance in the Bible and converted to Islam one month after.

Caldwell’s story of coming to Islam is strikingly similar. An altar boy in his youth, Caldwell looked up to his Episcopal priest and wanted to follow in his footsteps. While an undergraduate at Emory University, he learned that seminary students studied Greek but not Hebrew.

In order to understand the Old Testament, he started taking Hebrew classes. These led him to Jewish studies classes. Judaism introduced him to the possibility of practicing other religions, but it was too connected to an ethnic and cultural history for him to fully embrace it, he says. “I guess in a lot of ways Islam is a natural place to look at that point.”

He started reading the Qur’an and spent the summer and fall of his junior year in Jerusalem. He promised himself that he wouldn’t make any big decisions until he finished it. One month into his studies in Israel, he finished the Qur’an and converted to Islam.

Finding the Truth

Ingram has noticed a trend in why people like Danielson or Caldwell may gravitate toward the religion. “I’ve spoken to a few white converts over the years who said Christianity never made sense to me, the trinity never made sense to me, the idea of God being one and three at the same time never made sense to me,” he said.

“Islam doesn’t have that problem. People are attracted to the comparative simplicity of Islam’s notion of God.”

Their strong connection to Islamic theology helps converts deal with stigma. “We know that Islam does not preach terrorism. We know Islam does not preach extremist radical thought. Those things are not linked to Islam.

“They’re linked to Muslims,” says Danielson.

“Muslims are people. They have so many factors that motivate who they are. Yes, Islam influences them, but they have their economic condition and their political situation, too.”

Gauthier puts this idea concisely. “A saying I’ve heard often — and I think it applies to all religions – is ‘Don’t look to Muslims to understand Islam. Look to Islam itself,’” she says.

But, according to Danielson, converts need to change people’s preconceptions about Muslims.

“We have to get our voice heard better. Islam should be understood better, and that’s a difficult position to be in,” she says.

“First-hand knowledge of Islam and Muslims needs relationship building and a genuine commitment to long-term cooperation.”

_________________________

Source: ummid.com

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New Muslims Reflections

American Muslims…How to Reclaim Faith, Affirm Love of the Prophet

By Mohammed Zaher Sahloul

American Muslims praying

Muslims love Muhammad, as they love other prophets, and cannot help but feel hurt when he is insulted or slandered.

A quiet debate is underway among American Muslims about how to reclaim our faith and affirm our love of the Prophet (peace be upon him). “Je suis Charlie” may have spread across social media following the massacre at the offices of the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo. But to many Muslims, “Je suis Muhammad” was the truer response.

Answers can be found in the teachings of our Prophet. Muslims strive to model their lives after the man they consider “mercy to mankind.” Muslims love Muhammad (peace be upon him), as they love other prophets, and cannot help but feel hurt when he is insulted or slandered.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there has been a steady increase in the negative perception of Muslims. A Pew poll last year concluded that Muslims were perceived more “coldly” by the general public than any other religious group. Notably, however, the poll also showed that people who know Muslims tended to have a “warmer” attitude toward them.

That is why it’s such a problem whenever American Muslims are portrayed by the media and pop culture as “others,” not unlike how Catholic, Jewish or Japanese Americans have been viewed at points of our history.

Challenging Mission

Today, this attitude is particularly dangerous because it coincides with an increase in threats and attacks against Muslims and Islamic places of worship in both the United States and Europe. We don’t yet have a full understanding of why three young Muslims were murdered in Chapel Hill, N.C., this week, but it is understandable why so many fear this terrible crime was at least partly motivated by anti-Muslim feeling.

Fortunately, to address such views we only have to talk more openly about what our faith teaches us.

In her book “Muhammad, A Prophet for Our Time,” the British scholar Karen Armstrong explained the shallow Western understanding of the Muslim Prophet, and his followers, and presented a counter-narrative based on his biography:

“Muhammad was not a man of violence,” she wrote.

“Muhammad had been distinguished in his selfless treatment of the people around him.”

Muhammad is the most beloved name among Muslims. I carry his name and so do my two sons. In Arabic culture, people are expected to reflect the attributes of the names they carry. The boxer Cassius Clay chose the name Muhammad when he became Muslim, and so did Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam. The civil rights leader Malcolm X went on a spiritual journey, tracing the steps of the prophet Muhammad in the holy city of Mecca, that he said transformed his life and removed hatred and racism from his heart.

The image of Muhammad in the minds of Muslims is of a pious, simple man who understood people’s limitations. He was gentle, humble, loving, witty and accommodating. He asked his followers to respect every life– even the lives of animals and plants.

He said that the life of one person is more sacred than the holiest place on earth. He forgave his enemies, even those who killed and desecrated the dead body of his uncle. He savored the company of slaves and the disenfranchised. He denounced racism and championed social justice. He told men to honor women and not to hurt them.

Needless to say, the barbaric, criminal acts of the Islamic State and the Paris murderers do not represent the teachings of Muhammad .

President Obama said recently, “Our biggest advantage . . . is that our Muslim populations . . . feel themselves to be Americans. And there is this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition that is probably our greatest strength.” From all accounts, the three students killed in Chapel Hill — Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha — were ideal citizens who sought to help the less fortunate and believed in serving their community. They also followed the model of the prophet.

Civil Life of Muslims

More Americans need to get to know their Muslim neighbors and to see their contributions to our civic life. In Chicago, where I live, there are Muslims in all walks of life, making a particularly large contribution to my own profession, medicine. The Willis and the John Hancock towers were designed by a Muslim architect.

Organizations such as the Inner-City Muslim Action Network are at the forefront of social “entrepreneurship”, working to combat violence and provide opportunities for inner-city youth. Thousands of Muslim-owned businesses and restaurants are the opposite of supposed “no-go zones” — they are welcoming zones to all that add global favor to the city of big shoulders. This is the reality in cities and towns across America.

During his life, and not unlike Jesus and Moses, the prophet Muhammad had to deal with relentless campaigns to tear down his character and discredit his message. The best response, the Qur’an tells us, is to “return an insult with a good deed.”

That is the faith I know, and that is the man Muslims love.

_________________________

Source: Washingtonpost.com

 

Mohammed Zaher Sahloul is the past president of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

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Conversion Stories New Muslims

From Christianity, to Atheism to Islam: An American Journey

By Ali Camarata

 

Ali Camarata

Ali Camarata

Growing up in America there are subtle and inherited aspects of Christianity in society but religion is not a major factor in many people’s daily life.

Since I was very young my grandmother would bring me to church on the weekends and there would be the regular Bible studies as well as summer camps.

As I got older I was less involved in church and spent more time with school, sports and so on. I was always in advanced math and sciences courses throughout my school year and had a high interest in them.

During high school I left religion altogether and became an Atheist, especially after discussing some matters with a particular teacher who was a staunch Atheist. I later joined the military when I turned 17 and was still in high school. It was around this time that I renewed my faith and became a born-again Christian.

Through reviewing the actual arguments of the Atheists one can see that the argument against belief in God is shallow and while the claim that belief is illogical one sees that it is the only true conclusion for one who reflects on science, nature and reality. It was after this experience that I began reading the Bible daily, praying actively and really being religious.

Then after that summer 9/11 happened. Everywhere in the news and at every social gathering people were discussing how Muslims believe that the more disbelievers they kill the better their place in Heaven will be and other beliefs that would make one never even want to take an interest in knowing such a “savage” religion.

Many people stop there and develop a blind hate for Islam and I did as well. I was your average white American in the military who had a strong hate against Islam and Muslims. For many months this only became further hardened by the non-stop media coverage of everything evil about Islam.

Contact with Islam

It was three months later that one of my teachers made a proposition that if any of us made our project something original and unique that we would get an automatic passing grade for the class, to encourage creativity. With the recent events I decided to make a game based on finding and killing Osama bin Laden and finished the project early.

Since the project was due after our week long Christmas break, I decided to bring it home and add more detail to the game in my free time. I wanted to make a game event where you lit Osama’s turban on fire so I went to Google to search for some pictures and that’s when I came across some actual articles about Islam that opened my eyes.

I remember reading the headline for one article that explained how Muslims believe in Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets that I had grown up knowing as a Christian and that I read about daily when I read and studied the Bible. As a practicing Christian this really intrigued me, how could they believe in these prophets but not be Christian?

I put the game aside and ended up not touching it again because I focused on reading actual articles and books, rather than news aimed at sensationalizing our hate towards what one or two Muslims did. I would literally wake up and read about religion and then fall asleep while in the middle of reading more, all day long during my break.

During this reading I reflected that when someone desires to be religious and have a relationship with God they turn to what they know and were raised with- not necessarily what is the truth.

I decided that in order to be a true Christian I would have to look at Islam and other religions and choose Christianity, not just have it because it was a default. It was after studying early Christian history and seeing that the original message of Jesus was not what was followed by the Church who then standardized dogma and burned anything (and anyone) who went against them that I found God did what he had always done and revived His religion and the true message via sending a prophet, which was Muhammad who was born in 571 – after hundreds of years of councils starting with Nicaea in 325 to create what is now known as Christianity.

I also studied the Qur’an and read about the fact that it had never been changed, even a single letter.

As a Christian this was a big factor since we’re always told that the “Holy Spirit” guided those who wrote and compiled the Bible but then history shows us that it has been tampered with and we have no originals to confirm anything.

path-light

…God did what he had always done and revived His religion and the true message via sending a prophet, Muhammad.

You also see, when you read the Qur’an, that it is the direct and literal Word of God in the first person – not someone who saw someone else do something and then told it to another person who wrote a letter to another person and then a book compiled off those letters (which the originals are lost) and read as a narrative story – the Qur’an was God’s Word and He was talking to me. Additionally I read of fulfilled miracles and prophecies of Muhammad and the Qur’an.

…and with Muslims

Through this research and study I wanted to meet a Muslim and discuss the religion. I had never met a Muslim before so I set out to find a local masjid (mosque) but could not find one anywhere near my house so I turned to the internet and chatted with Muslims via IRC chat rooms and had a dialogue with people from Asia, Europe and even a spanish convert in America. Through dialoging with them about the details of these beliefs I could no longer deny the truth that was so obvious.

Before becoming Muslim I had the doubts that would whisper in my ear “but you’re not an Arab, Islam is only for Arabs” or “what will your friends and family say, especially after 9/11″ and so on.

These were simple doubts and had nothing to do with being sincere to follow God in truth so they were minor and short lived. I became Muslim by testifying in my own bedroom alone that “There is no god except God (Allah) and Muhammad is His Messenger” and began to learn through the internet (and chatting online to Muslims).

When I met a couple Muslims online and one was named Joseph, who was also a White American retired after 20 years in the Navy, he was shocked I never met a Muslim so he drove 7 hours to come see me, eat lunch and give me a couple books. He had to go to work the next day and drive 7 hours back. The instant brotherhood that exists between two people who follow God’s truth is something that is unique to Islam in a way no one on the outside can understand, all praise to God (alhamdulillah).

When I eventually told friends and family about my decision it went as expected. Most wanted nothing to do with me and even my own family had called me a terrorist and worse – but this was all from the misunderstanding they got through what the media teaches us.

Through Joseph and another Muslim I had met I decided to take a bus to Virginia and visit a city that had a larger Muslim community and some large masjids.

Through Knowledge

Soon after this I had to go for basic training for four months and being the first summer after 9/11 it was filled with many who joined because of their hatred of Muslims, which gave a “unique” experience to me being the only Muslim in our company for training that year. The stories are many but everything that we go through for the sake of God with patience only increases our faith.

I returned home after basic training and many of my family had hoped that the military would have “fixed” me and were disappointed that I was still Muslim. I had found a very small masjid in my town but it only had a couple members.

I ended up sleeping in my car a couple days before a brother I knew from Virginia invited me to move in with him. I moved to Virginia and was able to attend classes and be apart of a community and study in depth.

Since then I have studied formally and traditionally from many Islamic scholars as well as studying comparative religion as well. Unlike when I learned deep parts of Christianity and my faith became weaker, with Islam the more I have learned it has only ever increased my faith and continued to show the perfection of God’s true religion in every aspect.

While many misunderstand things when they look at them in isolation, Islam is a perfect and complete system or way of life. It offers perfect guidance in morality, manners, spirituality, and social laws.

May God guide all of us to follow His path with sincerity, ameen.

_________________________

Source: faithchat.com

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New Muslims Society

New Muslims and the Valentine’s Day Traps

Shannon Abulnasr 

Valentine’s Day… the day of “love”! I’m not going to jump into the evolution of Valentine’s day to what it is today, nor the innovation it is to practice in Islam.

happy Valentine’s Day

Many become depressed because they still don’t know how to find a spouse, or to find one they are compatible with.

Valentine’s Day & Satan’s Tricks

Instead of a history lesson, or barking rules, I would rather give warnings to Muslims and new Muslims about the traps we can fall into, and how we should feel about the intended methods of expressing love in Islam.

New Muslims usually learn very quickly that in Islam love has a different approach than it did before accepting Islam. Since in Islam, we do not “date” and intermingle with the opposite sex, it can cause a new Muslim to feel lost in their “journey of love”.

While learning about the tricks of Shaytan (Satan), which are well hidden behind the mask of red roses, and boxes of chocolate, we can be more on guard and prevent ourselves from falling into such traps.

The “Single” New Muslim Traps

Single new Muslims, still having the lingering emotional attachment that comes with Valentine’s Day, can really play a number on them. Many become depressed because they still don’t know how to find a spouse, or to find one they are compatible with, leaving them to feel they will forever be alone. This is most prevalent amongst the new Muslim brothers, more so than the sisters.

I’ve had numerous new Muslim brothers telling me that they are fed up with their search for a spouse, and have considered looking for a non-Muslim spouse instead. This shows me that there is a big problem for new Muslim brothers when it comes to finding a mate.

Although they are permitted to marry from the People of the Book (Jews & Christians), the approach is what makes it difficult because they don’t want to approach marriage in the same regards a Muslim is required to do so. As a result, the brothers tend to resort back to their “pre-Islam” way of interacting with the opposite sex when they feel they can’t find a Muslim to marry– but not always of course.

Non-Muslims in the West will not agree to be in a relationship without touching and kissing, and even without intercourse. Many do not respect the sanctity of marriage and chastity in these days and times. It is difficult to find a non-Muslim in the West that would accept such a “cold” seeming relationship. This is a jihad for the new Muslim brothers.

So, what should they do to overcome these feelings during the time period leading up to and including Valentine’s Day that has engulfed the non-Muslim mindset?

How can they attempt a halal relationship that would lead to marriage with a non-Muslim, especially when there are obstacles like Valentine’s Day in their midst?

Valentine’s Day

Tricks of Satan are well hidden behind the mask of red roses, and boxes of chocolate

There is no cookie cutter answer that will suite everyone. I would suggest that they avoid trying to find a partner that would cause them distress in their religion in this regards. There are pious non-Muslims out there, but they are just really difficult to find these days.

It will be tough to get over such obstacles the first few years of being a Muslim, especially in regards to these sorts of holidays and feeling lonely, but it will fade over time, I promise. Just remember to pray to Allah regularly to help you find ease in overcoming the emotional attachment to such holidays. Sometimes being single is a blessing in disguise. Don’t lose hope!

The “In a Relationship” New Muslim Traps

Some new Muslims may actually still be in a relationship with a non-Muslim, or even a Muslim that they were dating from before they accepted Islam. It is complicated, especially when holidays that revolve around “love and intimacy” come around. It all boils down to avoiding haram situations.

We can’t even think about Valentine’s Day, when the bigger issue we face is that we are in a haram relationship to begin with. New Muslims in this situation are stuck in a state of limbo. They “love” their boyfriend/girlfriend, and don’t want to break up simply because they accepted a new religion. Some feel they should stay in it for the sake of da`wah too. So, what should they do?

No one will ever like to hear the typical advice for this situation, which I agree with, which is to end such relationships. More harm can come from staying in these relationships than leaving them. We need to worry more about pleasing Allah instead of people. If they truly care about your relationship with God, they will understand and accept, and if they don’t, then that is a clear indicator that they are not a good match for you in regards to protecting your religion.

You have to just put your trust in Allah, and pray for it to be easy on you.

It really isn’t worth all the sins that you would accumulate to stay in such relationships. It may in fact cause that person to have respect for you in the end, because they will see your dedication to being a good Muslim, and may cause them to be interested in learning more about Islam since they saw you do something so big for the sake of Allah!

Let’s be realistic, and face it… How many sins are you accumulating by staying in this relationship? If we review just the basics, you will have sins for: 1- touching, kissing, etc. 2- being alone without mahrams (husband or close male relative forbidden in marriage) 3- inappropriate speech between one another 4- lusting after the other 5- exposing `awrah (parts of the body that must be covered) 6- intercourse outside of marriage (be realistic, it is more likely than not… going to happen) 7- lying to others to hide it 8- repeating all the previous seven things daily. Is it really worth all that?

Satan is very active in relationships outside marriage, so remember what Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told us about how that when a man and a woman are together alone, the Satan is the third wheel.

For those born and raised in Islam, that are involved in such relationships, you are spreading the wrong impression about Islam and how the status of women is raised in Islam.  How can you honestly feel good about having a haram relationship with a woman outside of marriage?

Even if, and when they convert to Islam and learn all this, you can probably expect them to not have respect for you knowing that you were willing to do such a thing! More likely than not, once they learn this about Islam, they will leave you, so it would be all for nothing! Be responsible and give non-Muslims and new Muslims the correct image of Islam about love and marriage from the beginning, because you are not ‘helping’ anyone by doing this.

All of these things are considered cooperating in sin and transgression and disobedience to Allah, who tells us:

Help you one another in Al-Birr and Taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety); but do not help one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is severe in punishment. (Al-Ma’idah 5:2)

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Source: aboutislam.net

 

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New Muslims Reflections

Converts: We Want To Be Good Muslims, But..

BY Theresa Corbin

Our Ummah is seeing a huge surge in newcomers to Islam. It is perhaps a surge in conversion that has not been seen since Islam spread from China to Spain. According to the 2003 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion by number of conversions each year. And with most things that grow so rapidly, we are experiencing growing pains. But what do we know about the journey of the converts?

Converts, sun rays

“We (converts) aren’t one-dimensional characters who fell into a religion.”

I myself was once a newcomer to Islam. In 2001, I took the Shahadah and my life changed drastically for the better even though some parts have been challenging. I learned to truly love Allah. And I have encountered fellow Muslims that conflate their ethnic and cultural background with their Muslim identity. I learned to find peace in my heart and peace of mind in worship.

I was, however, introduced to an interpretation of Islam in which people’s outward devotion was all that mattered. Learning to live Islam has saved me a lot of heartache, even though I have on several occasions been read the riot act about aspects of Islam that I had not had the privilege of learning yet, much less neglecting.

Over the past three years, I have spent much of my time counseling new Muslims as they were incorporating Islam into their lives and had to face some of the same issues I have been through.

What I have learned is that we, as an Ummah, don’t know exactly how to welcome new Muslims into Islam. And here is what converts wish Muslims raised in Muslim families and societies knew about their journey.

We Love Allah, But Don’t Want to Change Our Identity

vAnd We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient. (Al-Baqarah 2:155)

Becoming a Muslim is a scary undertaking. With so much unknown that lies ahead, converting to Islam is like being a kid all over again, not knowing who you will grow up to be or how hard it will be to become that person. Converts struggle to find their way as Muslims. And the last thing they want to do is lose their identity from a life that has lead them to Islam.

But all too often converts are made to feel like everything about them is haram (prohibited) and they have to be reprogrammed, often being told that being who they are is an imitation of the kuffar (disbelievers).

Imagine how far Islam would not have spread if this same line of thinking was applied to Southeast Asians, Africans, Persians, etc., who at some point in history did in fact also come from non-Muslim cultures. Islam is for all people of all cultures at all times, and it would make a huge difference to a new Muslim to know this and that their very being is not haram.

Islam teaches us how to perfect our character and how to live in a way that pleases Allah. This does not mean that everything must be erased. Allah has guided the new Muslim to Islam not to toss out their identity, but to refine it.

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (Al-Ḥujurat 49:13)

One of the most amazing things about Islam is that there is room for every different kind of person. Yet still many new Muslims feel pressure to incorporate a different culture into their identity.

When asked what she wished she had been taught when she first entered Islam, Elizabeth Mais, a Muslim since 2005 who currently lives in the Middle East, responded that she wished she had known that “being Muslim is not synonymous with being Arab”.

Mais continued to explain, “I’ve felt pressured to abandon my identity and culture since I married an Arab. I was at first expected to adapt to his culture. After nearly ten years, I think he’s finally realized I’m not going to become an Arab. It still baffles him how I don’t think everything about his culture is amazing and correct!”

Many new Muslims, especially women who get married soon after converting have similar experiences. But even without getting married to someone from another culture, the pressure to change who you are is still felt by converts who try to integrate into the Muslim community.

The New “Name”

One way in which converts face an erasure of self is through the insistence on having them change their name. More often than not, the first question a new Muslim is asked after converting is what “Muslim” name they will choose, meaning what Arabic name will they choose. It is often presented as something mandatory, when in fact a change of name is something that was not the norm even for the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

I felt significant peer pressure to change my name when I accepted Islam. I briefly tried to change my name to Mariam. It didn’t stick. I realized I had a duty to avoid seeming more foreign to the non-Muslims around me, and to avoid alienating myself from my family. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need an Arabic name when I came to Islam. I am a Muslim so when I became a Muslim, my name became a Muslim name.

Jessica Smith, who converted in 2012, echoes these sentiments. She says, “My name does not have a bad meaning. It’s the one my parents gave me. It reminds me of where I come from and the love my parents had for me even before I was born.”

Converts & True Modesty

Another way in which new Muslims are expected to adopt another identity is through clothing. Every culture has interpreted modesty in its unique way, from the caftan to the kebaya to the shalwar khameez and the cabaya and thobe. While some converts enjoy wearing these types of cultural dress, others wish to reinterpret modesty through their own cultural lens.

Depending on the predominant culture of their local community, the new Muslim will generally be taught that there is only one mode of modesty that is the right kind of modesty, and that mode reflects the predominant immigrant culture.

This imposition of cultural expression onto the new Muslim is a denial of their uniqueness, a forced repression of the self. This can be very damaging both to the spread of Islam and to the individual convert.

Mais says that she wants raised Muslims to understand that “we (converts) aren’t one-dimensional characters who fell into a religion. We have pasts, ideas, dreams, families, and friends. And we have a lot of conviction about what we believe. It’s why we’ve searched so hard. So, Muslims raised in Muslim families, you should not get your feathers rustled if we don’t agree with you right away. We’re used to researching and reconciling our thoughts and beliefs. Don’t pressure us to adopt your culture. We are valid beings.”

To be continued….

 

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Source: aljumuah.com

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New Muslims Reflections

New Muslim Converts: We Love Islam, But..

By Theresa Corbin

In addition to trying to reconcile their identity with a new faith, Muslim converts often face rejection from families, friends, and society at large. Some converts even lose their jobs and their standing in their community and end up feeling as if they don’t fit in anywhere. In more extreme cases, Muslims dependent on family are even thrown out of their homes when they convert.

New Muslim Converts

New Muslims end up feeling intense loneliness as they find their way in the religion alone.

We Love Worship, But Feel Awkward in the Masjid

No longer welcomed at old haunts because of their new faith, the new Muslim turns toward the masjid for a feeling of belonging, community, and brother/sisterhood. But many are met with judgment, isolation, and tokenism in their new place of worship.

Noor Aslam, a convert since September of this year, says about her experiences in the masjid that “People are kind of in their own bubble and stay around the sisters they already know so when I first started going to the masjid, I kind of felt awkward.”

Understanding that the new convert to Islam experiences isolation, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave special attention to new Muslims, teaching them in Makkah and sending a special teacher to those new Muslims in Madinah before he migrated there.

But new Muslims today who feel isolated by their society also face isolation in the masjid and find that few people are filling the role of new Muslim advocate. Muslim converts often feel like the odd man out when people in the masjid form cliques in which they are not welcome.

New Muslims end up feeling intense loneliness as they find their way in the religion alone. And this loneliness is most acutely felt when they are opening and closing their fast alone during Ramadan, and when they have left behind their old holidays only to have no one to celebrate the two `Eids with.

Those new Muslims who manage to break through the isolation they find in the masjid then face judgment and suspicion. Smith, speaking about attending the masjid, said:

“I feel like I am constantly being picked apart. Being in the masjid is very uncomfortable for me. It’s like being the weird kid, eating lunch alone when everyone else is sitting with a ton of friends whispering about how weird you are.”

She is not alone in her feelings of being judged at the masjid.

The convert trying to accomplish the incredibly awkward task of becoming a part of a new community understands that their fellow Muslims view them with suspicion. Raised Muslims regularly voice concerns that new congregates, especially those who are white, may be spies or are just apostates in the making.

“Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the most false of speech. Do not seek out faults, do not spy on each other, do not contend with each other, do not envy each other, do not hate each other, and do not turn away from each other. Rather, be servants of Allah as brothers.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

John White who converted in 2001, says, “It is so disheartening when Muslims who were raised in Muslim families treat you like you have one foot in Islam and one foot out, especially when you have sacrificed everything to worship Allah and you just want to be with others who love Allah.”

Adding insult to injury, Samana Siddiqui, in her article entitled Prejudice in the Muslim Community, quotes a sister as having said, “I never considered a non-Arab equal to me. I know it’s wrong, but in the place I grew up in, that was how we grew up thinking.” This attitude is intensely felt by new Muslims.

The feeling of loneliness and isolation in the Muslim community is especially bad for American Muslim converts of African descent in communities that are divided along cultural lines.

According to Al Jazeera America, “Black Muslims (…) are often left out and ignored by their co-religionists. African-American Muslims in particular are segregated out of mosques dominated by South Asian– and Arab-American Muslims. Referring to black Muslims as abed, or “slave,” is commonplace among some Muslim communities, and many South Asian– and Arab-American families discourage–if not outright forbid–their children to marry them.”

This should horrify a believer of a Prophet who stated in his last sermon:

All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white; (none have superiority over another) except by piety and good action. (Al-Bukhari)

But more than feeling isolated or judged, many new Muslims say they only feel accepted when they are being treated like a token Muslim. Muslim converts sometimes feel as if there is only a tacit acceptance of them when raised Muslim want them to be their spokesperson for Islam, or to retell their already oft-requested convert story.

Jason Miller, a convert since 1999, says, “I always felt the people at the masjid viewed me as good entertainment or someone who would promote all their ideals to the world at large. People asked if I have “converted” my family yet, as if I give guidance to whom I will. Even Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) wasn’t able to work that miracle, so why is it assumed that if my family has not accepted Islam that I have failed in delivering the message to them?”

Indeed, (O Muhammad), you do not guide whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills. And He is most knowing of the (rightly) guided. (Al-Qaṣaṣ 28:56)

The masjid should be a place where converts and raised Muslims can get together and get to know and benefit from one another. But unfortunately this rarely happens.

We Love Islam, But Must Crawl Before We Can Run

“Make things easier; do not make things more difficult. Spread the glad tidings. Do not hate.” (Al-Bukhari)

New Muslims usually experience an overload of information, burn out, and a huge learning curve when they delve into the deep pool of knowledge that is Islam. This overload usually happens when raised Muslims, with the best intentions at heart, are trying to get new Muslims up to speed in 0.4 seconds. In reaction to this amount of information, new Muslims shut down.

Islam was revealed over a period of 23 years to some of the best of people ever created–the companions of the Prophet œ. It takes time to incorporate Islam into someone’s life. And new Muslims need patience, attention, and care from their brothers and sisters in Islam in order to achieve this.

Tarek Ezzat, Managing Editor of OnIslam.net, writes in an article entitled How the Prophet Treated New Muslims:

People might accept the idea of submitting to the one God, but they might have problems in some of the commandments (such as hijab, fasting the long days of Ramadan, etc…).

The tribe of Thaqif agreed to embrace Islam but told the Prophet (peace be upon him): “We will not give out any charity (zakah), and we will not fight in the way of Allah (jihad).” The Prophet accepted that from them, and he told his Companion: “They will (willingly) pay charity and perform jihad once they have embraced Islam”. (Abu Dawud and authenticated by Al-Albani)

Again, we note his wisdom in recognizing the weaknesses in people and dealing with them based on that.

It is really important here to note that the Prophet did not “customize” the religious teachings for those individuals; he rather considered that to be an introductory stage that was given to a particular person in their new journey in Islam. Sometimes and in certain situations with certain people, raising the bar and challenging people will produce the best out of them.

In other occasions, we have to understand the human weaknesses and give people a gradual plan while they get up to speed, of course without compromising the basics and essentials of our religion.

Just as converts in the time of the Prophet needed the Messenger to foster them, Muslim converts today need their brothers and sisters in faith to help them change their hearts before they are expected to change their outward actions.

But many new Muslims are immediately met with critique about every aspect of their life that can be construed as haram (not permitted). Bringing up relatively smaller issues like wearing nail polish or eating with the left hand is inappropriate when a new Muslim is still not familiar with all the aspects of Tawḥîd.

Speaking about what she wished she had learned first when she came to Islam, Regina Carlyle, who converted in 1997, recalls when she was first introduced to Islamic knowledge. She says,

“The sisters tried to be helpful and did what they thought was best. But all they ended up doing was dictating a list of all that is haram to me. I wish I had learned to strengthen my love for Allah before being subjected to so much of what seemed like rigidity at the time. It would have made it easier to incorporate rules and regulations into my life if I had known that I should do it for the sake of Allah and not just because it is what Muslims do.”

Carlyle’s thoughts are reflected in `Aishah’s statement about the order of revelation of the Qur’an and the wisdom of it. She said,

“If the first ayah revealed in the Qur’an was telling people do not drink, they would have rejected that order. If the first verse revealed was telling people not to commit fornication, they would have rejected that order, too. But the first verses revealed were about Paradise and Hell-Fire until the hearts became attached to Allah; then the orders of haram and halal were given.”

Allah’s method of revelation and Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) method of teaching Islam to people are the most perfect ways of introducing Islam to new Muslims. New Muslims today need guidance in this same way. Muslim converts need the support of their brothers and sisters in faith as they learn and incorporate Islam gradually. They are not in need of the aram police.

Real Support for Muslim Converts

Aslam says, “their (raised Muslims’) support is crucial. By support I’m not just saying teach the new Muslim what they need to know, but I’m talking about being gentle to their journey and understand that their progress may be fast but it also may be very slow. I would also tell them never to judge them or even to ask about their past; and when dealing with non-Muslims, never to give up on anyone because Allah can change anyone’s heart.”

As the number of Muslim converts continues to increase, our Ummah has an opportunity to foster love for Allah and for Islam in these new Muslims. New Muslim converts face a lot of hardship for simply saying that they believe. And many converts lose everything for the sake of Allah. It is up to us who have been around in Islam for a while to aid new Muslims as they take their first shaky steps into Islam–with open arms, understanding, and gentleness.

We can look to programs like New Muslim Care in the U.K. (newmuslimcare.org) and groups like (ifoundislam.net) as examples of how to foster new Muslims and help them flourish in their new faith. Much work needs to be done in the masjids, in our approach to identity, culture and teaching New Muslims their new faith, but it is not an impossible feat.

Every raised Muslim is indebted to someone in their family’s past who fostered– in that one person who first converted in their family–love for Allah and Islam. And each of us has the opportunity to be that person to someone else’s family.

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Source: aljumuah.com

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Conversion Stories New Muslims

A Missionary Woman Becomes Muslim

She started looking at different churches and going to different places until she came across a very conservative church with very conservative doctrines and lifestyle. Then she went to a Bible college to study and become a missionary.

Then and in this very missionary college she found the Qur’an

In a very touching interview  with Shaikh Fahad Al-Kandari,  the new Muslim sister tells her incredible conversion story to Islam …

 

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Source: www.facebook.com/Convincemeteam/

 

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