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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…                                                                                                                                     

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Source: Ummid.com.

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New Muslims Reflections

New Muslims: How to Find Support and Strength

tree nature

Muslims are brothers and sisters to one another in the global sense.

The true religion of Islam is more than polemical rhetoric, or wearing a thobe, a hijab, or short pants. It’s about submitting to Allah, obeying Him, and establishing a lineage of belief, worship, family, brotherhood (love for the sake of Allah), prophetic tradition (Sunnah), honor, and akhlaq (morality), which is passed down from one generation, to the next, and to the next.

It is tragic when people enter into this faith and fail to pass it down to their children, or sometimes not even fully embrace it themselves, or try to live it through someone else’s reality without never having experienced its beauty.

In order to fully engage your Islam so that it becomes more than a bevy of regurgitated slogans, and faddish adaptations that you pick up and then discard later, you have to believe in, it in its totality, and practice it as a lifestyle.

To a true Muslim, Islam is not part of your life; it is your life:

Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds. (Al-An`am 6:162)

Islam is a lifestyle that you, yourself, must establish for yourself and your family. No one can do it for you; no imam, no sheikh, no scholar, and no saint. It is up to you to believe in it, embrace it, and practice it, or you can play with it. If you play with it, you are bound to lose it.

Priceless Gift

The reality is that many people who convert to Islam, are losing their religion, and fail to pass it down to their children and the next generations. Our faith is amongst the most valuable of gifts, and we need to do everything that we can to preserve and pass it down to our loved ones.

I was talking to my father, Sheikh Abdulkarim, about the issue of people leaving the religion and he reminded me of the verse: “It is He Who brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers when ye knew nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affections: that ye may give thanks (to Allah).” (An-Nahl 16:78)

We have to value our Islam and realize that we came into this world with nothing, yet, now we are Muslims and have the guidance of Islam. This is a tremendous gift and there is nothing more beneficial than you can embrace for yourself, and pass down to your children, than Islam.

Success as a Muslim, without a doubt is a matter of tawfiq (divine enablement), and divine grace). Guidance is up to Allah; Verily Allah guides and leads astray who He pleases:

If Allah so willed, He could make you all one people: But He leaves straying whom He pleases, and He guides whom He pleases: but ye shall certainly be called to account for all your actions. (An-Nahl 16:93)

However, there is the matter of whether or not we engage causative factors which are determinants to the type of outcome that will occur. We cannot blame Allah for the condition of our religious practice and the loss of our children to the ways of the world. Parents have to take responsibility for how, when and to what degree we practice our faith.

Community Engagement

It is arguable that the biggest problem to beset African American Muslim communities by far is that most of them are not part of communities. This is a dangerous state; especially for someone new to Islam.

The basis of success for a community is enjoining upon each other truth and patience. This is best done with jama`ah (congregation). When there is no jama`ah, there is no leadership, when there is no leadership then there is no cohesion, and when there is no cohesion, people are left to their own individual machinations and when they are left to their own machinations, there is no religious order, and when there is no religious order, chaos almost always ensues. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever among you wants to be in the middle of Paradise, let him cling to the congregation.” (At-Tirmithi)

Americans have been converting to Islam in large number since the 1960’s, and some say that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States. I have no reason to dispute that claim, Yet despite the phenomena of mass conversion to Islam spanning half a century, it seems that for many converts to Islam, the religion is not passed down to subsequent generations of Muslims.

So if Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States, it can be argued that amongst converts to Islam, it is the religion with the fastest turnover rate. Many converts today are without community and end up being stray sheep, and the Shaytan (Satan) is picking them off, one by one, family by family, household by household.

Why is this important?

Well, it matters because as each subsequent generation of practicing Muslims evolve within the family, the moral and religious values of Islam takes hold and are reinforced within the family unit, the extended family, and then it impacts the society at large.

When Islam is not sufficiently passed down to the next generation, our children are left at a great spiritual disadvantage. More often than not, a person converts to Islam, has children, and the children grow up not to practice it, and take on social ills like teenage pregnancy, incarceration, social dysfunction and blatant immorality as if they have no guidance at all.

There is a conspicuous malfunction in the methodology of religious practice and thinking for much of the convert community, which resulted in impeding the generational flow of the religion to many of our children.

The number of children of converts to Islam who have either left the religion, are dead because of wanton gang or drug related violence, or are incarcerated, ex-felons, or non high school graduates, or single unwed mothers, are staggering.

The question that we have to ask ourselves is; now that we are aware of our circumstances and the consequences of our actions and inaction, what is it that works, and what is it that doesn’t work for us?

If we examine our history as Muslim Americans for the last forty years, we will get a firsthand snapshot of where we have been successful and where we have made mistakes with respect to passing down Islam to our children.

When people do not know the critical mistakes of their history, they are doomed to repeat them, and by all accounts, we as indigenous American Muslims, are making the very same mistakes, over and over again. One of the greatest errors during the last half a century is when people become detached from the masajid (mosques) which are the houses of Allah, from the congregations of Muslims, and from the salah.

Building Unity

Muslims are required to practice their religion in a local sense in order to preserve its practice within the individual and family.

Muslims are required to practice their religion in a local sense in order to preserve its practice within the individual and family.

Muslims are brothers and sisters to one another in the global sense. However, in the fragmented world that we live in, Muslims are required to practice their religion in a local sense in order to preserve its practice within the individual and family.

There is no single determinant which ensures that a convert to Islam, stays in the faith, practices in and successfully passes it down to their offspring, but there is a methodology based upon the Qur’an and Sunnah, which has proved to be most successful for converts to Islam over the last 40 to 50 years or so, and that is the establishment of jama`ah (congregations).

American Muslim congregations are one of the few places where you will find, two, three, and four generations of Muslim family, still in the practice of deen.  People who are attached to the masajid, and are part of religious congregations are much more likely to keep their Islam, and practice it, than those who aren’t.

Congregational communities, centered within a masjid, with an imam, and a community of people who establish the salah, have specific loyalty, commitment, and accountability to and with each other, and who have a communal focus, is a formula that works for American Muslims.

I didn’t say that it works perfectly; however, it does work and it does offer some sense of order, communal routine and stability. Such communities offer prayerful consistency, fraternity, cooperative spirit and effort, religious teachings, and spiritual support, which are all healthy and contributive factors to the good practice of Islam and being a Muslim in America.

Such an environment is critical for the convert to Islam. It doesn’t produce a perfect Muslim, for there is no such thing. However, it does create an environment of measured and consistent growth, as well as singularity of focus and religious message.

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Source: imamluqman.wordpress.com

 

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New Muslims Reflections

Young Muslims Embracing Their True Identity

San Jose, California

Bay Area Muslims

About a quarter million Muslims live in the Bay Area, and close to half are under the age of 35.

Salmon Hussein, an Afghan-American Muslim working on a joint law and public policy degree at UC Berkeley and Harvard, says that his own family hates that he has a beard. The outward sign of his Muslim faith, he says, makes his family worry about his future.

“They say, ‘How are you going to get a job? How are you going to be successful?’”

He knows that they’re just looking out for him, he says. But he intends to keep his beard; it provides him with a connection to his spiritual journey.

Hussein, who spoke on a recent panel of young Bay Area Muslims in San Jose organized by New America Media in partnership with the One Nation Bay Area Project, is among a generation of young Muslims who grew up in the shadow of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the rise of Islamophobia in America.

Some have personal experience with hurtful speech and ignorant comments about their faith. Yet many still choose to show their faith through practices like prayer and fasting, wearing a hijab (head covering), or growing a beard.

Soul-Searching

For these young people, finding the personal meaning in these practices is part of the path toward finding their own identity within the faith.

“Your practice is what identifies you as a Muslim,” says Rasheeda Plenty, an African-American student of Islamic theology at Zaytuna College in Berkeley, the first liberal arts Muslim college in the United States.

“Do this, don’t do this, fast, or hijab – you’re in this Muslim community. Everyone’s doing that, everyone expects you to do that. But (growing up), there wasn’t a conversation of the why … How is this connecting me to my creator? What is this doing for my heart?”

About a quarter million Muslims live in the Bay Area, and close to half are under the age of 35, according to the first-ever study of the Bay Area Muslim community. The study was co-authored by Dr. Farid Senzai, a political science professor at Santa Clara University, and Dr. Hatem Bazian, an ethnic studies professor at UC Berkeley and co-founder of Zaytuna College.

Islamophobic Trend

Hussein, who grew up in Alameda County and Southern California, was in eighth grade at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks. It was his second day at a new school in Los Angeles.

He remembers that in his homeroom, his teacher asked him if he was from Afghanistan, and followed with the question, “Do you know anything about what’s going on?”

Some of his classmates went on to refer to him as “Afghanistan” throughout his time in school.

He recalls going to his family dentist a few years ago when he first grew his beard; someone in the office whom he’d known since he was a child laughed when she saw him and said, “Oh my God, you look just like the terrorists.” She said it “almost lovingly,” and Hossein says it was hard to be mad at her.

It wasn’t the only time he got that reaction. A law student classmate of his recently said, “You’re starting to look like the Taliban.”

But Hussein says these attitudes have only made him more determined to keep his beard, a physical connection to his faith and his very identity.

Sadia Saifuddin, a student at UC Berkeley, is Pakistani American and grew up in Fremont and Stockton, Calif. She is the first Muslim student to serve on the UC Board of Regents.

Like Hussein, Saifuddin remembers facing scrutiny at school at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She recalls that she chose to start wearing a hijab – a “public and external symbol of (her) faith” – just a few months before Sept. 11, 2001. After the attacks, she says, she faced a “barrage of questions” at school, though she was only in the fourth grade.

My Hijab, My Identity

Those questions have persisted into her adulthood. But despite much of the criticism she hears about wearing a hijab, including the assumption that women who wear it must be “oppressed,” she says that wearing it has been liberating for her – and that being able to choose whether or not she wears it is what’s important.

“I get to talk to people and the first thing I worry about isn’t how good my hair looks or whether I gain a couple of inches, because a lot of that is covered up and it’s really more about what I have to say,” she says.

And for many women, she says, it’s a way of feeling closer to God.

These practices can also connect some young Muslims to their larger communities in very personal ways.

RoSeanna Shavers, who is African-American and grew up in the Nation of Islam, says that when she was very young, she told her mother that she wanted to be white. “Next thing you know, I was in Muslim school,” says Shavers.

She says that going to an Islamic school helped with what she called her “color sickness,” and gave her something to hold onto, connecting her with her African-American identity. While she is now non-practicing, she says, “(Islam) is in me.”

The One Nation Bay Area Project – a collaboration between the Marin Community Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy – works to strengthen relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Visit their website to learn more about the project.

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Source: newamericamedia.org

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New Muslims Reflections

New Muslims: Where to Find and Preserve Strength

strength-nature

When people are in communities, they develop familiarity with each other, understand each other’s nuances, become more inclined to cooperate.

For many Muslims, to them, Islam is simply a fad, and not an actual way of life and practicing it is optional for them; not mandatory.

For others, Islam is something to argue about more than to practice, they will argue about the Qur’an and the Sunnah while ignoring the actual principles and teachings of the religion. There are others who will only practice Islam as long as it does not require any sacrifice, or require them to go out of their way.

These are the types of people who end up losing their religion all together. However, there are those who sincerely believe that Islam is the guided way to live your life and can be applied to everything you do, and they are willing to submit to it all. These are the true Muslims, and they are the ones who will find their way by Allah’s permission through the madness, the fitnah (temptation), the sectarianism, and the turmoil of our times.

These are the people who will in sha’ Allah benefit the most from congregation, and being in communities. To these people, I am saying to you that until there is a caliphate that is for all Muslims, and until the return of Jesus the Christ, the son of Mary (peace be upon him), the awaited Messiah, the best places to be are with a congregation of practicing Muslims, with a just imam.

This will aid you in the preservation of your religion, and your children’s religion. Here are just a few of its benefits…

Prayer in Congregation

Congregational prayer is the primary institution of a worshipful family and community, worship itself is the purpose of our creation; and it is the first extension of Islam’s value system:

I have only created jinns and men, that they may serve Me. (Adh-Dhariyat 51:56)

During my sixteen years as Imam of the Masjid, I have seen many brothers come into Islam and stay within the faith and practice it, teach it to their children, who grow into adults as Muslim.

At the same time, I have seen many of them convert to Islam, and go for years without engagement in the masjids and with communities all the while their children grow up without  the knowledge of the practice of Islam, and as adults are alien to the teachings of Islam.

Of course there are a lot of reasons for this but almost in every case, the ones who left Islam, and whose children were alien to the deen (religion) were people who did not attend the masjid, were not  part of communities, and did not attend Jumu`ah (Friday Prayer) with regularity. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“If there are three men in a village or desert and salah is not established among them, then the Satan takes mastery over them. So be with the congregation since the wolf devours the remote (stray) sheep.” (Abu Dawud)

Anytime there are Muslims living in any vicinity, it is incumbent for them to establish the salah. When this does not happen, it is inevitable that the Satan will overpower them:

(They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs. (Al-Hajj 22:41)

Establishing the salah is perhaps the single most significant factor that ensures that a person stays Muslim, and that there is trans-generational Islam. When people pray, they tend to stay in Islam, when they pray together; they tend to stay in Islam together.

This seems to have been the pattern over the years; those who pray, stay, and those who don’t pray, leave the religion. Leaving the salah and abandoning the masjids is one of the principal reasons that people leave the religion; the Prophet said, “Between man and polytheism and unbelief is the abandonment of salah.” (Muslim)

It is important that every Muslim child sees their parents, or step-parents going to the masjid for prayer, getting up for Fajr, calling the Adhan in the home, experiencing that precious family moment which occurs after they have finished the congregational prayer.

There is nothing that can replace that. Children need a distinct, moral and spiritual foundation, in order to thrive as practicing Muslim adults in America, and there is no better foundation than the salah. When there is not a strong foundation, the dunya will tear them apart.

Cooperation and Familiarity

Congregational life and lifestyle plant the seeds of cooperation in righteousness and piety;

And cooperate with one another in righteousness and piety, and do not cooperate with each other in sin and transgression.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:2)

Cooperation in righteousness and piety is fundamental to our faith is the methodology which engages group action for good. Allah has created people to depend upon one another in the handling of their affairs, both religious and temporal.

When people are in communities, they develop familiarity with each other, understand each other’s nuances, become more inclined to cooperate with one another, establish shared goals and aspirations, as well as develop a sense of belonging and accomplishment when they achieve these goals, whether it is building a masjid or a school, upgrading their facilities, feeding the poor, or engaging in religious projects to help people.

Thus, their children get to know and befriend each other, and they see each other’s children grow, and thrive. Cooperation and building upon successes breeds more cooperation.

These things are easier facilitated through congregation than through unanchored individuals, going it alone. This union develops to trust, willingness to support and do business with, and a better resolve to solve problems that arise amongst each other, because they have invested in the relationship.

These things are essential for our children to witness. When there is no cooperation, perseverance, spiritual bond, and loyalty in the religious group, it sends a message to our children that there is no stable future for them being amongst the Muslims.

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Source: imamluqman.wordpress.com

Read Also:

New Muslims: How to Find Support and Strength

Young Muslims Embracing Their True Identity

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New Muslims Reflections

New Muslim: Being Part of the Whole

prayer beads

Within the jama`ah (congregation) there is a certain degree of shared accountability that is not present outside of it.

Support: Spiritual & Moral

Being a committed part of a Muslim community fosters an atmosphere of support for one another through many means; social, financial, moral, and intra-personal. The strongest method of support is to enjoin upon each other truth, and patience:

Verily Man is in loss, except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy. (Al-`Asr 103:2-3)

Without spiritual support and righteous actions mankind suffers a devastating spiritual loss. Personal interaction and moral support that is found in congregation, eases the burden of isolation.

In today’s world, it is difficult to know who you can trust, and who you cannot, who is sincere and who isn’t. When people are engaged in a masjid, participating in the salah, in reminding, in fellowship, and doing good acts, they naturally begin to support each other morally over time.

Collective Accountability

Within the jama`ah (congregation) there is a certain degree of shared accountability that is not present outside of it. When brothers and sisters in Islam hold each other accountable, transgression is lessened. Spousal abuse is widespread in our communities, but when sisters are a part of a congregation, there is more recourse and direct help from within the community.

When Muslim children see that their parents are true to their religious and communal obligations, and have spiritual focus and goals in life, it is easier for them to do the same as adults because such experiences, and rearing serves as their foundation in life.

When our children see that their parents have no real commitment to our faith, to our institutions, to our communities, or to each other, it sends them a message that there is no real future for them as Muslims, and that it’s not worth the effort. We are seeing this occur time and time again.

Leadership

Having communities with imams is part of the tradition of Islam that has helped preserve our religion in America, dating back to the late 1800’s Being under some sort of religious leadership, whether it be an imam, an amir (ruler), a khalifah, or a sultan, is the Sunnah of our Prophet; The Prophet said:

“Whoever notices something which he dislikes done by his ruler, then he should be patient, for whoever becomes separate from the company of the Muslims even for a span and then dies, he will die as those who died in the Pre-Islamic period of Ignorance (as rebellious sinners).” (Al-Bukhari)

The ideal communities are those who have leaders who are fair, just, and knowledgeable of the religion so that can correctly teach people what is right and guide them according to the Qur’an and Sunnah. However, any leader is better than no leader at all.

When Muslim people do not have religious leaders, there is chaos. Brothers who have imams and are under some direct Islamic leadership tend to be more focused upon their religious priorities than those who aren’t. Imams are of varying qualities; some more knowledgeable, and more pious than others.

Still this should not prevent someone from the benefit of praying behind an imam in the congregational prayer. The Prophet said: “If the imam leads the prayer correctly then he and you will receive the rewards but if he makes a mistake (in the prayer) then you will receive the reward for the prayer and the sin will be his.” (Al-Bukhari)

prayer in masjid

When Muslim children see that their parents are true to their religious and communal obligations, it is easier for them to do the same.

We are living in the last days, and many of the major signs of the hour have passed. In the hadith of Hudhaifah, he was asking the Prophet about the trials of latter-day times; “What do you order me to do if such a state should take place in my life?” He said, “Stick to the group of Muslims and their imam (ruler).” I said, “If there is neither a group of Muslims nor an Imam (ruler)?” He said, “Then turn away from all those sects even if you were to bite (eat) the roots of a tree till death overtakes you while you are in that state.” (Al-Bukhari)

Ibn Taymiyah said, “It is better to endure under a tyrannical leader for 100 years than to go one night without one.”

Granted, we are all American Muslims, and brothers and sisters in Islam. However, if we take a closer look, it is evident that there are clearly two, distinctly different, Muslim Americas. One comprised primarily by immigrants from Muslim countries, and their children, and the other from American Muslim converts.

As immigrant communities are growing, thriving, and blanketing the landscape with multi-million dollar masajid, schools, and cultural institutions. African-American Muslim communities are struggling, lack physical resources, lack influence, and are very small in comparison.

The future looks very bleak for the Muslim converts unless we re-establish congregation with just and knowledgeable imams. Religious congregations are not perfect, but it is a lot better than chaos. For many Muslim converts, there is hardly any religious order in their lives. Imperfect institutions that teach, regulate, and fulfill the order of the deen of Islam, are better than no institutions at all.

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Source: imamluqman.wordpress.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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Categories
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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