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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 Stories New Muslims

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.”

_________________________

Source: post-gazette.com.

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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.

_________________________

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.”

_________________________

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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Sonny Bill Williams: Islam Made Me the Man I Am Today

Sonny Bill Williams

“It’s made me become content as a man, and helped me to grow. I’ve just got faith in it and it has definitely helped me become the man I am today.”

It was in the cave of Hira’ that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received the first revelation of the Qur’an. For rugby’s original wild child Sonny Bill Williams, meeting a Tunisian family who lived with their five children in a one-bedroom flat in the south of France proved pivotal to his conversion to Islam.

The New Zealander’s unshakeable belief in the Almighty has proved to be the making of one of the island nation’s most gifted, and controversial, sports stars.

“I was real close with them, and I saw how happy and content they were. And to see how they lived their lives, it was just simple,” Sonny Bill Williams, a prodigious rugby talent, professional boxer and tattooed poster boy, tells CNN’s Human to Hero series.

“One thing I’ve learned over my career is that simplicity is the key. On the field, off as well.”

“I’ve become a true Muslim,” added Williams. “It’s giving me happiness. It’s made me become content as a man, and helped me to grow. I’ve just got faith in it and it has definitely helped me become the man I am today.”

The Williams of today does not visibly bear the scars of the 15-year-old who was thrust into the unrelenting drinking culture of one of Australia’s top rugby league clubs and shamed by national media after being caught in a compromising position with a model.

A man who quit that scene, walking out on his contract to take up a lucrative offer to switch codes and join a French rugby union club, requiring a substantial compensation payout.

A man who rejected a reported record $5 million deal to stay with Toulon and returned to Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud) to follow his dream of playing for the prestigious All Blacks, but found himself a fringe figure for 2011’s long-awaited World Cup triumph on home soil.

He’s been battered in a boxing ring, criticized for landing another big-money deal in Japan, and is now back in the sport where he’s most at home.

And still controversy follows him.

World Cup Mission

This weekend Williams will continue his bid to become the first player to win the World Cup in both union and league, as the Kiwis take on Australia in the final.

His mere presence in the squad caused a storm, as he only made himself available the day after it was named, reversing his earlier decision. It meant one unlucky player had to make way.

“I thought I was doing a good thing, you know, staying true to myself,” says the 28-year-old, who had just completed a triumphant return to Australia’s National Rugby League competition, winning his second title and subsequently deciding to extend what had initially been planned as a one-year stint with the Sydney Roosters club.

“Then obviously there was a bit of a falling out, because one of the players was taken out of the squad, one of the young boys, and I just got absolutely hammered.

“And it just made me think, you can’t please everyone, you know? If you go about trying to please everyone, there’s going to be endless struggles.

“As long as you are happy with the man you see in the mirror, it’s all that counts I guess.”

The Battle Within

When Williams, who stands at 6 foot 4 inches and weighs in at 17 stone (108 kg), looks at himself in the mirror, it is surprising to hear him admit to vulnerability.

“My toughest opponent is probably myself, I guess, mentally,” Williams says in his quiet voice, a gentle contrast to his powerful physique.

Stripped to his trunks in the boxing ring, you can see the rippling muscles and elaborate tattoos that have made him a pinup.

“Overcoming the mental struggles that you have out on the field, it’s been probably the biggest one for me. The reason I feel so mentally strong now is because of boxing and going through those tough times,” he adds.

“I’ve always had battles inside my head where I had to think where I was going to go.”

Fighting Fit

Williams is close friends with fellow Muslim Anthony Mundine, a former Australian rugby league star who became a boxing champion and has helped the Kiwi fulfill his ring ambitions.

Williams’ last fight, back in February, earned him the little-known WBA International Heavyweight title, and some punishing blows from South African journeyman Francois Botha in a reduced 10-round bout.

“Every sport has helped me excel in another. Boxing has given me the mental strength to know that I can face anything on the field, without a doubt,” he reflects.

That sixth fight is likely to be his last for a while, as he focuses on his rugby goals. Rugby is a de facto religion in New Zealand, a country where the gods play with an oval ball and where institutionalized faith is losing ground with its general populace – just over 50% said they were Christian at the last completed census.

He is back playing the sport that is perhaps closest to his heart; his dad played it, and his mum’s father was a renowned coach in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, where he grew up.

Family means everything to him. His parents are separated, but he brought his father to Sydney with him and sees his mum when he can. He has bought both of them houses.

“My mother and my father were really big on manners,” Williams recalls.

“Almost to the point, you know, that when I got a bit older it made me a bit too shy, I never said anything out of turn. But they’ve molded me to the person that I’ve become.”

He’s always been competitive – even if it meant finding a short cut to finally beat his older brother “the biggest influence on my sporting career”  in their regular childhood running races – and he had been pegged as a future athletics champion before choosing rugby league.

“I’ve always loved sport. It’s funny, it’s all I ever thought I was good at. Whatever sport was there, whatever ball I could pick up, whatever bat I could try, I’d give it a crack.”

Finding the Key

Williams became the youngest player to be signed by an NRL team, winning his first Grand Final as an 18-year-old with the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2004, and was the youngest to represent New Zealand’s Kiwis league side.

“I grew up as a Christian, like many Polynesians do, and moving to Australia suddenly when I was 15, I learned a lot about Muslim faith,” he says.

It was in Toulon where, having fled Australia under threats of lawsuits from his jilted employer, his conversion to Islam was realized.

Having to adhere to the rule of Ramadan fasting has given him a new perspective on some of the things we take for granted.

“When you do Ramadan and you go for the whole month, you’re that much more appreciative of being able to eat food and drink water – that’s what it’s designed to do,” he says.

But faith in the divine can only do so much, he says, the rest is up to you.

“To be the best you definitely have to have some God-given talents, but you also have to have the drive and the will and the dedication,” Williams explains.

Simplicity is the key and I just try to keep things as simple as I can. But I never lose that one thing that’s got me there; that’s drive, working hard, doing all the little things, ticking all the boxes.”

“Blessed and forever grateful to the Most High”, Sonny Bill Williams said on his Twitter account (@SonnyBWilliams).

The Next Challenge

Having switched allegiances so often, Williams finds himself having to work hard to earn acceptance, which means trying to break some of his own habits.

“I’d like to be a bit more trusting, letting my guard down a little bit more. I’m too serious sometimes, bro, as you can tell,” he acknowledges, before breaking into a big grin.

“And in a team environment sometimes I’m too intense, you know, sometimes I’ve got to sit back and just relax. Just chill out. But it’s just how I’m made. I’ve always been competitive.”

Williams admits he would be tempted to try another of rugby’s formats, Sevens, which will make its Olympic debut at Rio 2016.

“That would be a dream come true. If I had the opportunity to give it a crack, I definitely would,” he says.

“But there’s so much talent in New Zealand that it’s probably almost a distant dream at this stage.”

Whatever he decides to do after his new Roosters deal ends next year – he has hinted he will return to union ahead of the 2015 World Cup – it’s a fair bet that Williams will succeed.

He has won titles almost everywhere he has been, and that has been driven by something deep inside him.

“I just don’t want to fail, to be honest. I don’t want to let my family down, I don’t want to let myself down,” Williams admits, falling back into his earnest, serious tone.

“That’s probably the biggest thing I fear. I’m confident as a man, these days, and I know what I can achieve if I put my mind to it.”

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Source: Cnn.com

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Brother Paul: It Takes Time to Learn What Islam Is about

Brother Paul

I didn’t realize what Islam was, and even confused it with the turbans from other religion.

My name is Paul, which is my given name, but my Muslim name is Farouq. I grew up in the city before I moved up to Austin. I went to a normal high school with a normal youth and normal people.

The first time I heard about Islam, or more correctly about Muslims, was from 9/11. I didn’t know what that meant, and I didn’t know it was related to Islam.  So I decided to conduct a research on it. I didn’t realize what Islam was, and even confused it with the turbans from other religion. It all mingled and seemed the same to me.

I was searching for the truth through different avenues, looking for what was right and what was wrong, what is the meaning of the wobbly wars around the world, why religion usually is at the base of wars, etc.

And I was trying to find the truth; the true cause of these wars. And then brother Martin said have a look at this Qur’an; there’s a lot of truth in it. And the why I was trying to find the truth was to disprove what was presented to me; to try to say ‘No, this is actually wrong’. I couldn’t do that with the Qur’an. I couldn’t find anything wrong in it. And Martin said: ‘look, there’s actually a lot of depth in this. He says, as I was in the Hebrew industrial metropolitan, ‘look deeper into it, there’s a meaning in that miracle.’

I took Shahadah (Testimony of Faith) in the mosque and shake hand with the imam at time. And I remember there were about four hundred people in the mosque. It was a very humbling moment.

At the time there was someone of the brothers behind me was crying. And I said, like a kid: ‘Well, why are you crying? It is a good thing that I’m converting to Islam.’ It was until too later that I could’ve fully understood what Islam is about. And to understand why they were crying helped me see that one-way myth.

Family Reactions

At first when I was waking up for Fajr Prayer I feared my mad could hear the recitation of the Qur’an, and I kept saying ‘keep quite.’ He didn’t know at that time.

My dad was in the Vietnam War. He was very western and almost racist. So, for me to tell him I was Muslim I was just scared. So, I needed to prepare myself for it. I was leaving my dad’s house at that time.

It was for about two months until I told him. I embraced Islam in December and I wasn’t assure than about telling him I was a Muslim. Now, …

Watch brother Paul telling his conversion story here…

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Latino Americans Are Eagerly Absorbing Islam

Latino Americans_Texas

“Islam brings about a clear sense of asking for forgiveness or repentance directly to God, without having an intermediary.”

Growing up was rough for Jaime Fletcher in Houston. He moved from Colombia to Texas when he was 8. In high school, kids splintered off into ethnic gangs. One day, he says an African-American gang leader attacked him.

“And so I just fought back, and because I beat him, beat up the gang leader, by default, they thought it was another gang. And I was the leader,” Fletcher recalls.

Fletcher says being in a gang became a matter of survival. He saw friends get shot and thrown in jail.  He says when he got a little older, he got caught up chasing women, driving fast cars and drinking too much.

“One night that I was with a friend of mine who I’d grown up with, after leaving a club and drinking, we were sitting outside of his house. He looked at the liquor that he had in his hands and he said, ‘I can’t believe I’m still doing this.’

“And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘I can’t believe I’m still doing this after having gone to Makkah.’ And I asked him, ‘What is Makkah?’ And he said, ‘It’s where the House of God is.’

“And that was strange for me. He said, ‘Islam is the true religion of God.’ And I said, ‘Well everybody says their religion is the truth.’”

Like most Latinos, Fletcher was raised in a Catholic family, but he says his parents also encouraged him to find his own truth. After briefly studying Christianity, Judaism, Taoism and Buddhism, Fletcher came to believe Islam was, in fact, the true religion of God.

Between Islam and Christianity

He converted and now goes by the name Mujahid Fletcher. He says Islam incorporated the family values he liked from Catholicism, while getting rid of one big disadvantage: confession to a priest.

“Islam brings about a clear sense of asking for forgiveness or repentance directly to God, without having an intermediary,” Fletcher says.

That holds great appeal for many Muslim converts, says Katherine Ewing, a professor of religion at Columbia University.

“There are frustrations with the structure of the Catholic Church, the hierarchy. A number (of Catholics) say that they’re kind of bored with the mass, that it doesn’t seem related to their everyday needs,” she adds.

Ewing says Islam and Protestantism are addressing those voids for many Latino Catholics.

Upward Trend

It’s difficult to estimate how many Latinos in the US have converted to Islam. Ewing puts the figure somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000. Still modest numbers, but Ewing says there’s a clear upward trend.

Latinos aren’t simply being pushed away by the Catholic Church, many Latinos have been pulled toward Islam, especially since September 11th, says Ewing. She says after the hijackings – and the immediate backlash against Muslims – Muslims began to reach out to outside communities to explain who they were. And many non-Muslims grew more curious about Islam.

“Maybe they saw it (Islam) as this terrorist organization and wanted to find out more about why Muslims would become terrorists,” says Ewing.

“They started to do Internet research, or to read the Qur’an to find out if it really advocated violence. And many, as they did that, actually saw Islam as a peaceful religion, as something that had more familiarity than they expected. They also found some of the beauty of the tradition as they explored further.”

Maryam Masjid, Texas

Maryam Masjid community in Sugar Land, Texas

That’s what Mujahid Fletcher found, and he wanted other Latinos to find this too. Problem though: Islamic texts aren’t easily accessible in Spanish. So, Fletcher began doing translations and making audio recordings of the verses.

Eagerness to Learn

Fletcher now runs a company called Islam in Spanish. He and his father, who also converted to Islam, have recorded more than 500 CDs and 200 cable access TV shows about Islam.

“The end goal with Islam in Spanish is to educate Latinos about Islam worldwide,” he says.

I visited Fletcher at the Maryam Islamic Center, his mosque in Sugar Land, an affluent suburb of Houston. The large mosque looked like something you’d find in the Middle East or Turkey – an attractive building with high, arched entrances, pillars and two minarets. There are reminders you’re in Texas though: Young boys were playing basketball on a court in front near the parking lot.

There were about 100 people at the evening prayer the night I went. Fletcher counted himself as the only Latino. Fletcher says Latino Muslims are spread out in small pockets in big cities like Houston.

I also met Daniel Abdullah Hernandez, an imam at a mosque about 30 minutes away in the city of Pearland. Hernandez, a Puerto Rican-American who was raised Catholic, was also a gang member. He says he got drunk a lot and spent a lot of times at clubs. He says Islam helped turn him into a responsible husband and father.

“In the beginning, people think it’s a phase. My mother, after two years of seeing my transformation, she became a Muslim,” Hernandez says. His father and brother converted as well.

Together, the family visited Egypt to study Islam, a trip that cleared up any doubts they had about becoming Latino Muslims.

“Me and my family were feeling that we were going to be lonely during the holidays,” he says. “And that first year, we’re sitting with other Hispanics breaking bread and eating, and we were all amazed.”

For most Latinos though, Catholicism is more than just a religion, it can be about cultural identity. Even non-devout Latinos can have Virgin of Guadalupe altars set up in their homes. So while Islam, or other religions, may be replacing the Catholic religion for some Latinos, replacing the cultural connection to the Catholic Church, could be much harder.

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Source: pri.org

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