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Meet Aminah Assilmi: The True Truth Seeker (Part 1)

 

Little did I know that Islam would change my life.

When I first started to study Islam, I did not expect to find anything that I needed or wanted in my personal life. Little did I know that Islam would change my life.

This American lady, a former radical feminist and Southern Baptist from Oklahoma, studied the Qur’an, Sahih Muslim and fifteen other books on Islam in an attempt to convert the Arabs in her college class to Christianity and ‘save those poor ignorant heathens from the fires of hell’. But guess what happened!

The Introduction and Decision

I was completing a degree in Recreation, when I met my first Muslims. It was the first year that we had been able to pre-register by computer. I pre-registered and went to Oklahoma to take care of some family business. The business took longer than expected, so I returned to school two weeks into the semester (too late to drop a course).

I wasn’t worried about catching up my missed work. I was sitting at the top of my class, in my field. Even as a student, I was winning awards, in competition with professionals.

Now, you need to understand that while I was attending college and excelling, ran my own business, and had many close friends, I was extremely shy. My transcripts actually had me listed as severely reticent. I was very slow to get to know people and rarely spoke to anyone unless was forced to, or already knew them. The classes I was taking has to do administration and city planning, plus programming for children. Children were the only people I ever felt comfortable with.

Well, back to the story. The computer printout held one enormous surprise for me. I was registered for a Theatre class; a class where I would be required to perform in front of real live people. I was horrified! I could not even ask a question in class, how was I going to get on a stage in front of people? My husband was his usual very calm and sensible self. He suggested that I talk to the teacher, explain the problem, and arrange to paint scenery or sew costumes. The teacher agreed to try and find a way to help me out. So I went to class the following Tuesday.

When I entered the classroom, I received my second shock. The class was full of ‘Arabs’ and ‘camel jockeys’. Well, I had never seen one but I had heard of them.

There was no way I was going to sit in a room full of dirty heathens! After all, you could catch some dreadful disease from those people. Everyone knew they were dirty, not to be trusted either. I shut the door and went home. (Now, there is one little thing you should know. I had on a pair of leather hot pants, a halter top, and a glass of wine in my hands…but they were the bad ones in my mind.)

When I told my husband about the Arabs in the class and that there was no way I was going back, he responded in his usual calm way. He reminded that I was always claiming that God had a reason for everything and maybe I should spend some time thinking about it before I made my final decision. He also reminded me that I had a scholars’ award that was paying my tuition and if I wanted to keep it, I would have to maintain my G.P.A. Three credit hours or ‘F’ would have destroyed my chances. For the next two days, I prayed for guidance. On Thursday I went back to the class convinced that God had put me there to save those poor ignorant heathens from the fires of hell.

I proceeded to explain to them how they would burn in the fires of hell for all eternity, if they did not accept Jesus as their personal savior. They were very polite, but did not convert. Then, I explained how Jesus loved them and had died on the cross to save them from their sins. All they had to do was accept him into their hearts. They were very polite, but still did not convert. So, I decided to read their own book to show them that Islam was a false religion and Muhammad was a false God.

One of the students gave me a copy of the Qur’an and another book about Islam, and I proceeded with my research. I was sure I would find the evidence I needed very quickly. Well, I read the Qur’an and the other book. Then I read another 15 books, Sahih Muslim and returned to the Qur’an. I was determined I would convert them! My studies continued for the next one and half years.

During that time, I started having a few problems with my husband. I was changing, just in little ways but enough to bother him. We used to go to the bar every Friday and Saturday, or to a party, and I no longer wanted to go. I was quieter and more distant. He was sure I was having an affair, so he kicked me out. I moved into an apartment with my children and continued my determined efforts to convert the Muslims to Christianity.

The, one day, there was a knock on my door. I opened the door and saw a man in a long white night gown with a red and white checkered table cloth on his head. He was accompanied by three men in pajamas. (It was the first time I had ever seen their cultural dress.)

Well, I was more than a little offended by men showing up at my door in night clothes. What kind of a woman did they think I was? Had they no pride or dignity? Imagine my shock when the one wearing the table cloth said he understood I wanted to be a Muslim! I quickly informed him I did not want to be a Muslim. I was Christian. However, I did have a few questions. If he had the time!

His name was `Abdul-`Aziz Al-Shiekh and he made the time. He was very patient and discussed every question with me. He never made me feel silly or that a question was stupid. He asked me if I believed there was only one God and I said yes. Then he asked if I believed Muhammad was His Messenger. Again I said yes. He told me that I was already a Muslim!

I argued that I was Christian; I was just trying to understand Islam. (Inside I was thinking: I couldn’t be a Muslim! I was American and white! What would my husband say? If I am Muslim, I will have to divorce my husband. My family would die!)

We continued talking. Later, he explained that attaining knowledge and understanding of spirituality was a little like climbing a ladder. If you climb a ladder and try to skip a few rungs, there was danger of falling. The Shahadah (Testimony of Faith) was just the first step on the ladder. Still we had to talk some more.

Later that afternoon, May 21, 1977 at `Asr (afternoon), I took Shahadah. However, there were still some things I could not accept and it was my nature to be completely truthful so i added a disclaimer. I said: ‘I bear witness that there is no god but God and Mohammed is His Messenger’, ‘but, I will never cover my hair and if my husband takes another wife, I will castrate him’.

I heard gasps from the other men in the room, but `Abdul-`Aziz silenced them. Later I learned that he told the brothers never to discuss those two subjects with me. He was sure I would come to the correct understanding.

The Shahadah was indeed a solid footing on the ladder to spiritual knowledge and closeness to God. But it has been a slow climb. `Abdul-`Aziz continued to visit me and answer my questions. May Allah reward him for his patience and tolerance. He never admonished me or acted like a question was stupid or silly. He treated each question with dignity and told me that the only stupid question was the one never asked. Hmmm…my grandmother used to say that.

He explained that Allah told us to seek knowledge and questions were one of the ways to accomplish that. When he explained something, it was like watching a rose open – petal by petal, until it reached its full glory. When I told him that I did not agree with something and why, he always said I was correct up to a point. The he would show me how to look deeper and from different directions to reach a fuller understanding. Al-hamdu lillah!

Over the years, I had many teachers; each one special, each one different. I am thankful for each one of them and the knowledge they gave. Each teacher helped me to grow and to love Islam more. As my knowledge increased, the changes in me became more apparent.

Within the first year, I was wearing hijab. I have no idea when I started. It came naturally, with increased knowledge and understanding. In time I even came to a proponent of polygamy. I knew that if Allah had allowed it, there had to be something good in it.

Glorify the name of thy Guardian – Lord Most High, Who hascreated, and further, given order and proportion; Who has measured, and granted guidance; and Who brings out the (green and lush) pasture, and does make it (but) swarthy stubble, By degrees shall We teach you (the Message), so you shall not forget, except as Allah wills: for He knows what is manifest and what is hidden. And We will make it easy for you (to follow) the simple (path). (Al-A`la 87:1-8)

When I first started to study Islam, I did not expect to find anything that I needed or wanted in my personal life. Little did I know that Islam would change my life. No human could have ever convinced me that I would finally be at peace and overflowing with love and joy because of Islam.

This book spoke of the One God, the Creator of the universe. It described the beautiful way in which He had organized the world. This wondrous Qur’an had all the answers. Allah is the Loving! Allah is the source of peace! Allah is the Protector! Allah is the Forgiver! Allah is the Provider! Allah is the Maintainer! Allah is the Generous One! Allah is the Responsive! Allah is the Protecting Friend! Allah is the Expander!

Have we not expanded you your breast? And removed from you your burden, which did gall your back? And raised high the esteem (in which) though (art held)? So, verily, with every difficulty, there is relief: Verily, with every difficulty there is relief! (Al-Inshirah 94:1-6)

The Qur’an addressed all the issues of existence and showed a clear path to success. It was like a map forgiving, an owner manual for life!

                                                                               To be continued

_________________________

Source: whyislam.org.

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Conversion Stories New Muslims

Aminah Assilmi: Without Islam I’m Nothing (Part 2)

I am so very glad that I am a Muslim.

Islam is my life. Islam is the beat of my heart. Islam is the blood that courses through my veins. Islam is my strength.

 

How Islam changed my Life?

‘How much more we love the light…if once we lived in darkness.’

When I first embraced Islam, I really did not think it was going to affect my life very much. Islam did not just affect my life. It totally changed it.

Family life

My husband and I loved each other very deeply. That love for each other still exists. Still, when I started studying Islam, we started having some difficulties. He saw me changing and did not understand what was happening. Neither did I. But then, I did not even realize I was changing. He decided that the only thing that could make me change was another man. There was no way to make him understand what was changing me because I did not know.

After I realized that I was a Muslim, it did not help matters. After all, the only reason a woman changes something as fundamental as her religion is another man. He could not find evidence of this other man, but he had to exist. We ended up in a very ugly divorce. The courts determined that the unorthodox religion would be detrimental to the development of my children. So they were removed from my custody.

During the divorce, there was a time when I was told I could make a choice. I could renounce this religion and leave with my children, or renounce my children and leave with my religion. I was in shock.

To me this was not a possible choice. If I renounce my Islam, I would be teaching my children how to be deceptive, for there was no way to deny what was in my heart. I could not deny Allah, not then, not ever. I prayed like I had never prayed before.

After the thirty minutes was up, I knew that there was no safer place for my children to be than in the hands of Allah. If I denied him, there would be no way in the future to show my children the wonders of being with Allah. The courts were told that I would leave my children in the hands of Allah. This was not a rejection of my children!

I left the courts knowing that life without my babies would be very difficult. My heart bled, even though I knew, inside, I had done the right thing. I found solace in Ayat Al-Kursi (verse of the throne):

Allah! There is no god but He – the Living, the Self-subsisting, Supporter of all. No slumber can seize him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permits? He knows what (appears to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He wills. His throne does extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is Most High, the Supreme (in glory). (Al-Baqarah 2:255)

This also got me started looking at all the attributes of Allah and discovering the beauty of each one.

Child custody and divorce were not the only problems I was to face. The rest of my family was not very accepting of my choice either. Most of the family refused to have anything to do with me. My mother was of the belief that it was just a phase and I would grow out of it. My sister, the ‘mental health expert’, was sure I had simply lost my mind and should be institutionalized. My father believed I should be killed before placed myself deeper in Hell. Suddenly I found myself with no husband and no family. What would be next?

Friends

Most of my friends drifted away during that first year. I was no fun anymore. I did not want to go to parties or bars. I was not interested in finding a boyfriend. All I ever did was read that ‘stupid’ book (the Qur’an) and talk about Islam. What a bore. I still did not have enough knowledge to help them understand why Islam was so beautiful.

Employment

My job was next to go. While I had won just about every award there was in my field and was recognized as a serious trend setter and money maker, the day I put on hijab, was the end of my job. Now I was without a family, without friends and without a job.

In all this, the first light was my grandmother. She approved of my choice and joined me. What a surprise! I always knew she had a lot of wisdom, but this! She died soon after that. When I stop to think about it, I almost get jealous. The day she pronounced Shahadah, all her misdeeds had been erased, while her good deeds were preserved. She died so soon after accepting Islam that I knew her ‘book’ was bound to be heavy on the good side. It fills me with such joy!

As my knowledge grew and I was better able to answer questions, many things changed. But, it was the changes made in me as a person that had the greatest impact. A few years after I went public with my Islam, my mother called me and said she did not know what this ‘Islam thing’ was, but she hoped I would stay with it. She liked what it was doing for me.

A couple of years after that she called again and asked what a person had to do to be a Muslim. I told her that all person had to do was know that there was only One God and Mohammed was His Messenger. Her response was: ’Any fool knows that. But what do you have to do?’ I repeated the same information and she said: ’Well…OK. But let’s not tell your father just yet’.

Little did she know that he had gone through the same conversation a few weeks before that. My real father (the one who thought I should be killed) had done it almost two months earlier. Then, my sister, the mental health person, she told me that I was the most ‘liberated’ person she knew. Coming from her that was the greatest compliment I could have received.

Rather than try to tell you about how each person came to accept Islam, let me simply say that more members of my family continue to find Islam every year. I was especially happy when a dear friend, Brother Qaiser Imam, told me that my ex-husband took Shahadah. When Brother Qaiser asked him why, he said it was because he had been watching me for 16 years and he wanted his daughter to have what I had. He came and asked me to forgive him for all he had done. I had forgiven him long before that.

Now my oldest son, Whitney, has called, as I am writing this book, and announced that he also wants to become Muslim. He plans on taking the Shahadah as the ISNA Convention in a couple of weeks. For now, he is learning as much as he can. Allah is the Most Merciful.

Over the years, I have come to be known for my talks on Islam, and many listeners have chosen to be Muslim. My inner peace has continued to increase with my knowledge and confidence in the wisdom of Allah. I know that Allah is not only my Creator but, my dearest friend. I know that Allah will always be there and will never reject me. For every step I take toward Allah, He takes 10 toward me. What a wonderful knowledge.

True, Allah has tested me, as was promised, and rewarded me far beyond what I could ever have hoped for. A few years ago, the doctors told me I had cancer and it was terminal. They explained that there was no cure, it was too far advanced, and proceeded to help prepare me for my death by explaining how the disease would progress. I had maybe one year left to live. I was concerned about my children, especially my youngest. Who would take care of him? Still I was not depressed. We must all die. I was confident that the pain I was experiencing contained blessings.

I remembered a good friend, Kareem Al-Misawi, who died of cancer when he was still in his 20′s. Shortly before he died, he told me that Allah was truly Merciful. This man was in unbelievable anguish and radiating with Allah’s love. He said: ‘Allah intends that I should enter heaven with a clean book’. His death experience gave me something to think about. He taught me of Allah’s love and mercy. This was something no one else had ever really discussed. Allah’s love!

I did not take me long to start being aware of His blessings. Friends who loved me came out of nowhere. I was given the gift of making Hajj. Even more importantly, I learned how very important it was for me to share the truth of Islam with everyone.

It did not matter if people, Muslim or not, agreed with me or even liked me. The only approval I needed was from Allah. The only love I needed was from Allah. Yet, I discovered more and more people, who, for no apparent reason, loved me. I rejoiced, for I remembered reading that if Allah loves you, He causes others to love you. I am not worthy of all the love. That means it must be another gift from Allah. Allah is the Greatest!

There is no way to fully explain how my life changed. Alhamdulillah! I am so very glad that I am a Muslim. Islam is my life. Islam is the beat of my heart. Islam is the blood that courses through my veins. Islam is my strength. With Islam my life is so wonderful and beautiful. Without Islam, I am nothing and should Allah ever turn His magnificent face from me I could not survive.

“O Allah! let my heart have light, and my sight have light, and my hearing (senses) have light, and let me have light on my right, and let me have light on my left, and let me have light above me, and have light under me, and have light in front of me, and have light behind me; and let me have light.” (Al-Bukhari)

“Oh my Lord! Forgive my sins and my ignorance and my exceeding the limits (boundaries of righteousness) in all my deeds and what you know better than I. O Allah! Forgive my mistakes, those done intentionally or out of my ignorance or (without) or with seriousness, and I confess that all such mistakes are done by me. Oh Allah! Forgive my sins of the past and of the future which I did openly or secretly. You are the One who makes the things go before, and You are the One who delays them, and You are the Omnipotent.” (Al-Bukhari)

_________________________

Source: whyislam.org.

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New Muslims Reflections

Experience Lessons from Converting to Islam

prayer beads, Islam

Some people may continue to cut you off, but even those hurts will heal as so many more people continue to love and accept you.

1- It Gets Easier

The beginning is always the hardest. You’ve found the truth, fulfillment, and a sense of peace you never imagined possible. A handful of people can’t wait to share Islam with their families, but for most of us, breaking the news to parents, grandparents, relatives, and sometimes kids, brings a sense of dread.

This sense of dread has been even more heightened since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Many people perceive being a Muslim as the antithesis of being an American for example, even though Islam teaches us to uphold religious freedom. To most people, Islamic practice embodies the opposite of American or Western values and lifestyles.

Family members may be shocked or even mildly okay at first, but after it has sunk in, they may be angry, devastated, or cut themselves off from you. You may never again experience the kind of emotional hurts that you will when you first tell your family that you’ve accepted Islam. The reality is they are hurting too, and their hurts are justified in their minds, even if they aren’t in yours.

In the beginning many family members will act their worst, making threats and saying hurtful things, but the more you stay calm and continue to be yourself despite your new faith, the more they will cool down and eventually realize they overreacted.  Some people may continue to cut you off, but even those hurts will heal as so many more people continue to love and accept you.  Hang in there, it does get better.

2- No Matter How Much You Explain, They Still May Not Get It

Sometimes we think that if we just explained to our family members what Islam is and why it is right or why it doesn’t oppress women and why it isn’t about terrorism, our family members will suddenly have a light bulb moment and say “You know what, that does make perfect sense! I’m not upset anymore!”

Don’t be surprised if it seems to go through one ear and out the other. The truth is they are hearing what you’re saying and cataloging it, but they are too emotional to focus on it right now.

Over time you will begin to have thoughtful, rational conversations with family and friends, but it’s not something that’s going to happen right away in many cases. Even if your family doesn’t have a problem with Islam, or Muslims, they have a problem with you becoming one. You were as American as apple pie; they watched you unwrap Christmas presents under the tree every year, and dreamed of your white wedding. There is a sense of loss that they are trying to cope with.

Don’t expect to rationalize with them much at first (unless they ask questions—and even then, don’t expect too much) and don’t be disheartened.

3- Goodness Is Not Just about Religion

You will find that some of the best people you know are still people of other faiths, and by ‘best people’ I mean people who are ethical, caring, and altruistic; people who are civil and well-mannered. You will find that some Muslims act as third-world and corrupt as the dictators that preside over their homelands.

Do not assume that all Muslims will be exemplary human beings (and the organizations that many of them run are even worse). Expect to be gravely disappointed in the way many mosques are run and how unkempt they are, in how rude and ill-mannered some of your brothers and sisters in faith are, and at how dysfunctional Islamic schools and their students seem to be.

Be ready to feel a pang of disappointment when you find Thanksgiving with your family was more pleasant than iftar (meal to break the fast) at the masjid with your brothers and sisters in faith. Don’t, however, let this disenchant you from the deen or become harsh with them. You may have been privileged to grow up in a first world country and raised on its high standards. No one chooses the family and country into which they were born. Hone in on your strengths as a citizen and what positive things you can bring to the community, rather than letting it make you arrogant.

4- Be Merciful

Converts are surrounded on all sides by frustrating experiences. They have to deal with ignorance and intolerance from other faith based family and friends, and often have to deal with the same thing from the Muslim community. Add a few bad relationships or failed love stories in and you have a recipe for some serious bitterness.

Many times we get blind-sided by our negative emotions: fear, disappointment, anger, resentment, etc. We become intolerant of the shortcomings we see in others that we don’t find in ourselves.

As converts we are in a unique position of having a blended identity that gives us different perspectives, but whatever shortcomings we see in others we should remember that we have our own as well.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) truly had no shortcomings, and his trademark in dealing with ignorance was mercy. Instead of looking at others with distaste and judging them, we should feel sorry for them if they really have a problem and resolve to be good friends.

At no point should any person look at us, Muslim or not, and get the impression that we have our noses in the air. We should focus on keeping a soft heart towards everyone, because the real enemies of Islam are few and far between (though they may get the most traction) and we should always maintain a soft heart towards our Muslim brothers and sisters.

5- Being a Muslim Is Awesome, Becoming a Minority Is Difficult

Welcome to a world you may have never experienced before, the world of ‘the other’. This is the place of those who don’t hold an ‘entitlement’ card by virtue of their birth, a world of strange looks and racial slurs. This can be hard to grapple with initially since some of us were never raised to deal with it.

When you wear hijab you may notice that people aren’t as friendly to you as they once were; you see the change in demeanor that is provoked by your religious identity. It is not fair, and being raised on certain values that preach fairness and equality but never having really experienced racism yourself, you are in for a frustrating experience.

You will see the latent hypocrisy that exists in many aspects of our society, you will have a perfect image of our great nation shattered, you will experience double standards and security checks and anti-Muslim bigotry, but take heart in the fact that you will also experience the greatness of the human spirit and the people of your country. You will see that for every negative experience you have, you will have many more positive ones.

On the other hand, you will meet people who go out of their way to compliment you on your hijab, people will politely ask you questions and make it a point to tell you how much they respect what you’re doing. You will find that most people strive toward fairness, justice, and morality. The bumps in the road are just going to make the smoother patches seem all the more smooth. Don’t focus on the negative or take it personally, just enjoy the positive.

6- Don’t Be a Groupie

Never subscribe to any single imam, scholar, or organization as the ultimate authority and source of knowledge, and stay away from people who tell you to do so. There are kooks and cults within the Muslim community, and your innocent, convert face makes you a perfect follower.

Even within conservative Islam, there are varying opinions on many subjects, and the best scholars and imams are those who acknowledge those differences respectfully. Be wary of imams and scholars who are quick to put down others, who insult, and who promote their teachings and opinions as ‘correct’ with a disdain for those who are ‘incorrect’. What most people don’t realize is that these types of people are everywhere, not just in the Salafi community. They are Ṣufis, Ḥanafis, and progressives too. Every sect within Islam has its extremists. Stay away from all of them.

Also, keep in mind that if you have a question you want answered, talk to a sheikh or imam who understands your particular scenario, preferably one who has a great deal of experience with domestic issues and converts. In such cases avoid Google if you can. A good rule of thumb is to seek religious advice or rulings only from someone who is very familiar with your society and circumstances.

7- You Are the Trophy Muslim

“How long have you been Muslim? How did you convert?” These are two questions you are going to hear for the rest of your life, so have the edited monologue ready. Every time people ask you these questions, their eyes light up. (I know, it’s annoying.) They want you to move them and give them their daily iman-boost with your magical story, and suddenly you feel some pressure to perform. You don’t have to.

While I encourage you to be polite, understand that you aren’t putting on a show to make others else feel good about themselves or Islam. Keep it short and simple. Other people will patronize you in the beginning when they hear you’ve been Muslim for a few years, and may ask you basic questions, assuming you know nothing. They are well intentioned, but have a response ready, that is polite but also ends the conversation. You don’t have to stand there and smile and endure this time and again.

Be nice but brief, and know that you don’t have to share any details of your life or conversion that you don’t want to.

8- Be Careful of Whom You Marry

There are plenty of examples of successful interracial and intercultural marriages, and most converts will marry someone who is not of the same ethnic background. However, I will say this: you are more devoted citizen than you probably realize, and even if a man or woman has been living in this country for decades, if they grew up in a Muslim country, you are going to have some major differences in terms of expectations, mannerisms, and how you think and process things.

While racism is completely prohibited in Islam, a person who marries a Muslim from another country will face challenges directly related to race and/or culture. If you’re a woman, you may be especially vulnerable to being put in a position where you are expected to sacrifice aspects of your identity, especially because you are the one coming from a non-Muslim background. This is not to say that this is always the case, but it is a common problem that converts face when marrying, so it’s something to keep in mind.

9- Stick to Your Nationality

Some Western policies are at a low when it comes to how this country treats Muslims both at home and abroad, and unfortunately anti-Muslim bigotry is shockingly rampant. Many You are not a drone program or a war or a policy. You are not anti-Muslim or anti-Western bigotry. You are a person who was born in a country that has so much more positivity going for it than it does negativity, a country that has provided you with an experience that has made you into the person you are today: the person who chose Islam as their faith.

You may be outspoken, educated, independent, proactive, charismatic, caring, brave, and filled with dreams that you are determined to make come true for the better of the Muslim community and the world. You didn’t become all that the day you became a Muslim, you became all that the years you were raised as a can-do American or British for example.

Don’t let anyone else tell you what it means to be a true or a real patriot. Don’t let anyone make you feel that as a Muslim you are less entitled to being the person you have been your entire life. You have the unique opportunity to redefine your citizenship, so get out there and do it.

_________________________

Source: muslimmatters

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New Muslims Reflections

Don’t Let Her Leave Islam!

 

“She is a Muslim now.” “Don’t let her leave Islam.” “Would you??”

Missing something in their lives – a great one indeed – so many people revert to Islam? But, what happens after that? The truth is many of them leave it?

So, why do so many of them leave Islam? Why do these many formerly lost hearts let go of the solace they have found?

Based on a true story, the video below tells the bitter facts …

httpv://youtu.be/vlvHjbbKX-4

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Conversion to Islam Fills a Religious Void

By Marina Bolotnikova

Pittsburgh's Muslim Movement

Converting to Islam is almost like a coming home feeling. It gave me a great sense of tranquility and peace, and helped stabilizing my life.

Converts come from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds, and most say Islam agreed with them on a deep, intuitive level.

Philip and Sherry Snow grew up Catholic in predominantly Christian towns on opposite sides of the country. Today, Philip and Sherry go by Ibrahim and Safiye, live on the North Side with their four children, and are devout adherents to Islam.

When Sherry met Philip, a convert to Islam, online in 1996, she had been questioning her Catholic faith but had no interest in learning about his religion.

“I went through the whole gamut of stereotypes that I had heard about Muslims,” she said. But as she learned about Islam from Philip, she realized not just that her preconceptions about the religion were wrong, but also that Islam filled the gaps she perceived in Christianity.

Mr. Snow, who works as an arborist, and Ms. Snow, a graphic designer, are two of a large and diverse community of Muslim converts in Pittsburgh. This week, the Holy Islamic Month of Ramadan will draw close, calling for increased piety from Muslims around the world.

Muslims believe that God revealed the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad on one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan. For many converts, successful completion of the obligation to fast during Ramadan is one of the most tangible changes in their transition to Islam.

“I officially converted when I completed Ramadan correctly,” said Julie Webb, outreach coordinator at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.

Though it is difficult to track precise rates of conversion to Islam, about 20 percent of American Muslims are converts. Converts come from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds, and most report that Islam agreed with them on a deep, intuitive level.

“It didn’t take me long to realize that Islam was nothing that I thought it was. As I started learning more, I realized Islam appealed more to what I already believe about God,” Ms. Snow said.

“Being raised Catholic, they teach about the Trinity, and the Trinity never resonated with me. It never made sense. When I found out Muslims believe that God is just one, this made more sense to me.”

After three years learning about Islam from Mr. Snow, reading the Qur’an and learning about other belief systems, Ms. Snow knew that Islam was the one that agreed with her understanding of the world.

She recited the Shahadah (a declaration of belief in the oneness of God –Allah- and acceptance of the Prophet Muhammad as His Messenger) on Halloween 1999. For non-Muslims, public profession of the Shahadah signals one’s conversion to the faith, and many take an Islamic name at the time of their conversion. Ms. Snow used the name Safiye along with her given name.

After her conversion, Ms. Snow flew from New Jersey to California to meet him for the first time. Within a week, they were married.

Mr. Snow, who converted to Islam six years before his wife, had been learning about the faith for more than a decade from Muslim friends and Qur’an study. The first time he learned about Islamic beliefs, from a Libyan friend, the religion immediately resonated with him.

“We were driving through Utah at around 1 in the morning, and when I asked him what was the dominant faith in Libya, he started talking about Islam. It was that night that my heart embraced Islam. I was so thrilled at what he was telling me. I let out a laugh of release. I laughed out of comfort and joy at what he described to me,” he said.

Like his wife, Mr. Snow found in Islam answers to questions that Christianity could not provide to him. “Whenever I asked questions (about Christianity), I noticed there was an agitation, a frustration. Oftentimes they would get angry at me for posing a question. Muslims were never irritated by questions,” he said.

Pittsburgh’s Muslim Movement

Historically, Pittsburgh has been no stranger to Islamic conversion. In the 1930s, Muslim converts established the First Muslim Mosque of Pittsburgh, one of the first mosques in the United States to be founded by converts.

“Pittsburgh has a great history of conversion to Islam,” said Patrick Bowen, who specializes in Islam in the United States at the University of Denver. “African-American Sunni mosques mushroomed in the middle of the 20th century, and Pittsburgh was the main center. The largest concentration (of Muslim converts) was in the Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio region.”

The majority of American Muslim converts are African-American. Today, the First Muslim Mosque of Pittsburgh is one of many mosques in the Pittsburgh area that serve predominantly African-American converts, said Salaah Brooks, who has served as the mosque’s imam, or religious leader, since 1999. The mosque adheres to Salafism, an orthodox strain of Islam.

“I was 14 or 15 when I converted. I felt a spiritual void, and I began learning as much as I could about God. … After speaking with Muslims, it became clear to me that it was the void I was trying to fill,” Imam Brooks said.

“We believe that every person is born with an innate knowledge that Allah is their creator. Hence, He has exclusive right to be worshipped Alone. So converting to Islam is almost like a coming home feeling. … It gave me a great sense of tranquility and peace and helped stabilize my life,” he said.

Imam Brooks’ family was supportive of his transition to Islam, mostly due to the positive effects his faith had on his life. Eventually, his mother converted, too.

“Islam is not a strange faith in the African-American community,” said Imam Brooks. “A person who converts often has an uncle, a cousin or someone in their family who has converted.”

“Islam has a very strong social justice message that many African-American converts are attracted to.”

Other converts have chosen to attend mosques that serve primarily immigrant and non-convert communities, including the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, the largest mosque in the region.

“The international component of Muslims in Pittsburgh is unmatched,” said Ms. Webb. Many larger cities have Muslim communities large enough for particular ethnic groups to form their own mosques, Ms. Webb said, but Pittsburgh is just small enough that mosques like ICP draw people from a wide spectrum of nationalities. And because Islam is one of the largest and most diverse religions in the world, integration has proven both rewarding and confusing for new converts.

“Because there are so many different cultures in Islam, there are so many beautiful rituals that come out of them, you have to be confident enough to ask the imam if it’s something you really have to do. It takes time to navigate through all the different cultures. … A convert needs to understand what it means to be involved with an international community of believers,” Ms. Webb said. “You have to have an anthropological heart.”

Converts have strived not just to integrate with native-born Muslims, but also to gain acceptance from friends, family and strangers.

“I noticed when I became Muslim, my friends started a kind of distancing themselves from me,” Ms. Snow said. “I was sad and figured if they were uncomfortable with that, they didn’t really know me. When I put on the head scarf to show my devotion, other people revealed their true selves.

“When 9/11 happened, it was scary for a little while. People were reacting explosively. One time when I was driving two guys pulled over next to me and made an exploding sound in my window. I had to modify my dress so that I just wore a hoodie and it was not obvious that I was a Muslim woman on the road,” she said.

“I went into an interview with one employer who at the end said, ‘Will you wear that thing on your head every day?’ But honestly, I do not want to work for those kinds of people. I was glad I had my scarf on. He obviously was not judging me on my ability,” she said.

But asked whether the events of 9/11 and the prejudices of others affected their devotion, converts said emphatically that they did not. “I did not see the geopolitical concern in any way having to do with my faith. It’s disturbing to all Muslims I know to hear of the acts done in the name of Islam,” Ms. Webb said.

“I haven’t found anything to waver my faith once I realized what Islam had,” Ms. Snow said. “It’s not that I’m not learning about what other people believe, but I’ve never found anything stronger.”

“There is plenty of times I don’t feel like an outstanding Muslim. I feel I probably don’t worship as much as I could, am not as patient as I could be,” she said. “Islam is perfect but Muslims are not.”

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Source: post-gazette.com.

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Without Islam My Life Would Have Been a Lie

By Muhammad Schieber

islam myWhen I was 23 years old I had just graduated from community college and I entered the University. During this period of my life, I was at a bit of a personal crossroads.

During my teenage years I had been a bit rebellious, experimenting with drinking and drugs, a typical American teenage rebellion. All this stopped during the summer of my 20th year when I nearly drowned in an alcohol fueled canoe trip.

However, simply staying away from life’s evils wasn’t providing the meaning and the understanding of life that I required. I had been raised Roman Catholic, but the Trinitarian doctrine and the concept of somebody needing to die for my sins never really made sense to me. I had dabbled in some new age stuff, some Buddhism and Hinduism as well.

As part of my Asian Studies minor, I enrolled in a course entitled “Islamic Fundamentalism.” The course was a graduate level seminar that was focused on whether or not the term “fundamentalist” was useful or applicable to Muslims. I had had a very general idea about Islam at that point.

After that course I was hooked, I switched my major to Comparative Religion and took every course I could about Islam. I pride myself on being a very critical thinker. I struggled over the next couple of years to find a way to discredit Islam or disprove it, but in the end I couldn’t. It became a truth I could no longer deny. For me to live any other way would be to live a lie. That was 19 and a half long years ago, Alhamdulillah.

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How Becoming a Muslim Is an Ongoing Process

conversion

After all, as a convert, I now carry the burden of raising an educated, observant young Muslim man without the same reassuring sense of community my parents enjoyed.

“Noni, Mami has a prayer shirt, and I have a prayer hat. Don’t you have one?” That’s how my mother discovered I had converted to Islam. I had been praying the five daily prayers for three months, and my four-year-old finally found a way to communicate my new habit. Certainly not my planned reveal, but it was fitting that he, an innocent child, had shared the news, perhaps softening the blow.

At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder if my son would tell his father – a discussion I have been envisaging in my mind since my conversion. As a Muslim woman divorced from a Christian man and preparing to marry an Arab Muslim, I have opened quite the “can of worms”. It seems somewhat cowardly, but I shied away from flatly telling my family that I had embraced Islam.

I delayed the inevitable conversation, determined to find just the right grouping of words to explain my conversion, and although I mentally wrote and rewrote the script endlessly, they never appeared. I spent so much time coming up with ways to justify my acceptance of Islam and to condense a one-year journey into a half-hour conversation that I forgot the most logical and likely of questions. My mother looked at me and simply asked, “Why do you not want to be a Christian anymore?” It’s a fair question, and for all my preparation, I had no satisfactory answer in that moment.

What came out was incoherent babble that completely dodged the question, “Well, it’s actually more of a prayer dress … “ It didn’t exactly clear up the issue, but I felt some comfort in knowing that I had explained something; a totally irrelevant something, but still something.

My reveal to my family is probably not too different from those of the 23 percent of American Muslims who are converts (Pew Research Center, 2007). It is a coming out of sorts to explain to our families the conversion experience. There is an awkward limbo for many people who leave Christianity (or any faith, for that matter) and enter into Islam; the period between leaving one’s familiar, childhood religion and sitting down to make the official Testimony of Faith, the Shahadah, can be exhausting and riddled with anxiety. Each person faces her own idiosyncratic difficulties as each religion and sect deals with conversion differently.

I lost everyone around me. Upon conversion, I immediately became a loner in a world full of communities, a puzzle piece that didn’t fit. I imagine most converts are stung by this same frightening loneliness; it is born, not out of a dissatisfaction with our new faith, but from a realization that our lifelong social and spiritual networks have thinned out, and we have yet to become fully integrated into the local Muslim community. Add to this the fact that some of us are single parents, and the anxiety doubles. After all, as a convert, I now carry the burden of raising an educated, observant young Muslim man without the same reassuring sense of community my parents enjoyed.

After so much deep reflection on whether or not to embrace Islam, I felt relieved that the most difficult part of the journey lay behind me. Little did I know that dealing with the reactions of family and friends to my conversion would be just as, if not more, draining and conflicting than coming to terms with my spiritual evolution myself!

After a bitter, traumatic divorce, I, perhaps naively, felt I finally had good news to share. But I was alone in my excitement; no one else interpreted it this way. In their minds, my acceptance of Islam represented a misguided reaction against God for the dissolution of my marriage that I had rejected Christianity out of anger and rebelliousness, and now was on a path to hell.

I quickly realized that although I had embraced Islam after much soul searching, my work was not done. I would now find myself defending my decision at every turn, and potentially placing a barrier between myself and the people I needed most. How had all this boiled down to talking about a prayer shirt? I would like my family to accept my decision. I need my son’s father to at least tolerate it. Neither of these might happen, but these are the unique set of challenges I have been dealt as a Muslim convert.

Yesterday, my son proudly brought his prayer hat to show my mother. She laughed as he modeled it for her. She may not understand why I chose Islam, but, in a serendipitous way, it is a four-year-old who can bypass the hurt and the fears and teach my parents that Islam is not about hate; it is about worship of One God. That is my solace.

I’m happy to have it, because there are plenty of reminders that I am now a foreigner in the community to which I once belonged. Just today I scrolled through Facebook photos of my former church; it’s a curious experience to become an outsider.

After the less than grand reveal, I agonized, how will I politely and gently explain to my mother that I do not want her to tell my son that Jesus lives in his heart? Will I allow him to continue to attend church with his grandparents? My decision came after reading a portion in the Quran: “(But those firm in knowledge say) ‘Our Lord, let not our hearts deviate after You have guided us and grant us from Yourself mercy. Indeed, You are the Bestower’”. (Aal `Imran 3:8)

So, the environment still plays a part in educating my son, and his father will continue to teach him about his own customs and religious doctrine. At some point, my son will decide for himself.

In such cases the mother will equip her son to be a thinker, to allow Allah to guide his heart and always search for the clear signs He has left for our benefit. For now, I’ll wear my prayer shirt, bow in worship and trust the rest will come as Allah has already written.

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Source: patheos.com.

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I Was Looking for a Better Life and I Found Islam

sky_nature_purity

I was looking for something better for me and for my kids

How did a daughter of a drug cartel find Islam? How was the beginning; how did she get started searching for a meaning in her life?

What did she find? How did Islam change her life? What have it made of her? How does she live now as a Muslim?

Here’s here story in her own words…

Where did your journey to Islam begin?

My journey to Islam started when a couple of friends of mine wanted to take me to mosque. I was hanging up with Muslim friends, and Alhamdulillah I met I sister who is very dear and near to me. It was here who took me to the masjid.

But me wanting to go to the masjid came from looking for something better for my kids, because my life was very disorganized. I came from a household where my mother was a drug addict, and my father was in the Colombian cartel. He got thirty years in jail. My mother died from a heroin overdose.

So, my lifestyle was similar to them as I was going down that path. I didn’t want to leave my kids the way my mother left us. So the more I reflected on that the more it pushed me to look for something different. One of Muslim friends told me then that being Muslim is about believing in One God, and that was appeasing to me; worshipping only One God, there’s no statues. And I got curious. That’s how it started.

How did your family react to your change?

My family didn’t react in a positive way to me being Muslim. It was me saying La ilaha illa Allah (There’s no god but Allah) that bothered them. Because they are catholic to the sense that …

Watch the new Muslim sister answer these questions presenting her amazing journey into Islam:

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Why Do So Many US Latinos Choose Islam?

By Tim Padgett

Latino Muslims

In religious terms, Latinos, like Gonzalez, say Islam provides a simpler, more direct form of worship than Catholicism does.

Just as the U.S. Latino population is on the rise, Hispanics are now the nation’s largest minority, so is the number of Latino Muslims. And it’s not just a result of Arab Latin Americans emigrating to the United States.

According to organizations like WhyIslam.org, Latinos are one of the fastest growing segments of the Muslim community. About six percent of U.S. Muslims are now Latino, and as many as a fifth of new converts to Islam nationwide are Latino.

The American Muslim Association of North America (A.M.A.N.A.), based in North Miami, says heavily Hispanic South Florida in particular is home to a rising number of Latino Muslims.

Not that conversion to Islam is easy in Latino society, as Marina Gonzalez knows. A Nicaraguan-American nurse in Miami, Gonzalez converted five years ago and wears the hijab, the Muslim women’s head garb. At first her family stopped talking to her.

“They (were) calling me Talibana,” Gonzalez recalls. “My mother, she didn’t like to go (out) with me because I wear the hijab.”

But now her mother “understands. When I go to my parents’ house they turn off the TV when I have to pray. I’m so happy.”

Najib Sowma’s first name was Dario before he converted six years ago. Today he’s a leading member of the Al-Ihsaan mosque in South Miami-Dade. But his Cuban mother was initially shocked.

“Now her views have changed,” says Sowma.

“Prior to me being Muslim to who I am now, she sees a big difference in my character.”

Spain’s Islam

If it’s a surprise that many Latinos are moving from a predominantly Roman Catholic culture to an originally Arab faith, perhaps it shouldn’t be. For one thing, like African-Americans in the 1960s, Latinos are discovering their own historical and cultural ties to Islam and the Arab world. And that starts with what most defines Latinos: Spanish.

“Our language is nurtured by more than 4,000 words that come from Arabic,” says Wilfredo Ruiz, a Puerto Rican-born Muslim who converted a decade ago and is a lawyer for the South Florida chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.

“Every word in Spanish that starts with ‘al,’ for example, like alcalde, alcantarilla, almohada.”

That’s because Arab Muslims ruled Spain for some 800 years during the Middle Ages, and made the Iberian Peninsula one of the most advanced civilizations of its time. A millennium later, Ruiz says that past is an inescapable part of the Hispanic DNA.

“What most Latinos who have embraced Islam find most amazing is their cultural affinity to the Muslim culture,” says Ruiz.

“It’s like rediscovering your past. That area of our past has been hidden from us.”

Ruiz points out that both Latinos and Arabs highly value the extended family and traditions like offering hospitality to strangers. In religious terms, Latinos, like Gonzalez, say Islam provides a simpler, more direct form of worship than Catholicism does. They also feel more structure than they see in the evangelical churches so many Latinos join today.

“The connection I have with God now is better than before,” says Gonzalez.

Yet many take comfort in the overlap between Catholicism and Islam. Muslims, for example, venerate the Virgin Mary as well as Jesus, at least as a prophet.

“At the beginning when I was reading the Qur’an I said, “Oh, (Muslims) believe in the hereafter, in angels,’” says Liliana Parodi, a Peruvian-American surgical technician in Miami who converted 24 years ago.

“You know, it’s not so much difference.”

Women Converts

More Latina women convert to Islam than Latino men do. Islam is admittedly questioned for its segregation of women. But Latinas like Parodi say it’s hypocritical for a male-dominated Catholic Church – which forbids women priests, birth control and divorce – and an ultra-macho Latino society, whose Spanish-language television networks still portray women as spitfire sexpots, to criticize their new faith in that regard.

“I tell them, ‘Look at yourself,’” says Parodi. “The sad part is (when they) see women as objects.”

A decade ago, the nation’s image of a Latino Muslim was unfortunately Jose Padilla, the so-called “Dirty Bomber” who was convicted for aiding terrorists. But for Ruiz, who was also a Navy chaplain, much has changed since then, and Latinos are less fearful now of converting.

“They soon come to learn that (Muslims) abhor violence,” Ruiz says.

“We have the same aspirations for social justice as a Christian or a Jew does.”

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Source: wlrn.org

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Blake Ferguson Converts to Islam

NRL Bad Boy Blake Ferguson prays at Zetland Mosque

“He’s got the colour back in his face. He wants to be a better person but he’ll still have his faults, like we all do.” (Mundine)

NRL Bad Boy Blake Ferguson Converts to Islam En Route to a New Life

Professional and once unsettled rugby player, Blake Ferguson, has apparently found the road.

After a life full of thorns, setbacks and anxiety, troubled rugby league star has found his road to rehabilitation, true salvation, peace and tranquility via Islam.

At Zetland Mosque, Sydney, on Friday the National Rugby League (NRL) bad boy have taken the Shahadah (Declaration of Faith), hoping it will help him put his career and whole life back on track.

He converted to Islam by the help of his fellow Muslim boxer Anthony Mundine.

The State of Origin star was photographed praying beside Mundine, who also helped rugby league superstar Sonny Bill Williams convert to the Muslim religion five years ago when Williams was going through a difficult period in his life.

For all his showmanship and madness, Mundine is a deeply religious person who genuinely cares for Ferguson and wants to help him realize his enormous potential in the NRL.

Ferguson declined to comment on Friday saying: “It’s private. I can’t talk about it, I’m sorry.”

Ferguson has previously made many failed attempts to give up alcohol – which is prohibited for a Muslim to drink.

Mundine revealed that the sacked and now unemployed Canberra Raiders star had been asking him about converting for almost six weeks.

“He’s thought about it and it’s a commitment he wants to make,” Mundine said. “But it’s up to Blake to speak about it when he’s ready.

“He’s just looking forward to changing his direction in life. At the moment he’s in good space – no drinking, no drugs, no parties.

“He’s got the colour back in his face. He wants to be a better person but he’ll still have his faults, like we all do.”

A New Start

Blake Ferguson and Anthony Mundine (on the right) praying at a Sydney mosque.

After a life full of thorns, setbacks and anxiety, troubled rugby league star has found his road to rehabilitation, true salvation.

Ferguson’s rugby league career has been in limbo for several months after he was dumped by the Raiders over a number of off-field incidents.

Another prominent Islamic sportsperson, boxer Billy Dib, congratulated Ferguson on Twitter on Saturday, writing on: “Proud of you my brother, so happy to see you taking the right steps to resurrect your footy career.”

Ferguson replied: “Thanks brother.. very hapoy with where im heading.. hooe your well.”

Dib then tweeted “all is well my bro, getting ready for the big fight inshallah.” to which Ferguson responded with “yeah my brother goodluck inshallah”.

Ferguson has had a troubled year in the NRL and is currently facing charges over the alleged indecent assault of a woman at a Cronulla nightspot. That matter is still before the courts.

Many of Ferguson’s misdemeanors have been alcohol-related, which makes his religious conversion such a significant step.

The Roosters’ Kiwi superstar Sonny Bill Williams, another close friend of Mundine’s, has said his Muslim faith has made him a better footballer. Ferguson will be hoping for a similar result.

Ferguson worked as a laborer after leaving Canberra but still hopes to return to the NRL. He was supposed to have had his first professional fight on the undercard for Mundine’s aborted fight against Mosley on October 23. He will enter the ring as one of the curtain-raisers for the fight night at All Phones Arena on November 27.

The player, who was once earning $400,000-a-year, is living at Mundine’s Hurstville home with the boxer and his mum.

He is now a $1 million-a-year superstar in NRL and rugby union.

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Source: The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald

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