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Conversion Stories New Muslims

Islam Fastest-Growing Religion in Ireland

By: Maggie Armstrong

Islam Fastest-Growing Religion in Ireland

It is estimated that up to 500 Irish people convert to Islam every year.

Islam is Ireland’s fastest-growing religion, with the number of Muslims recorded in the 2011 Census – 48,130 – expected to reach 100,000 by 2020. In a country where only 34pc of approximately 3.8 million Catholics attend Mass, many people are drifting away from religion. But a small number are finding that Islamic beliefs and practices, which allow for a peaceful and community-oriented life, fit their spiritual needs.

Growing Community

It is estimated that up to 500 Irish people convert to Islam every year. There is no official register and no baptism – to convert you simply have to recite the Testimony of Faith (Shahadah) in front of two Muslim witnesses.

While more women convert than men, and most conversions are for marriage, people can have very personal reasons for converting – or reverting as it is known in the Islamic faith, in which it is believed that everyone was born Muslim.

Ireland has a thriving Muslim community. Building begins next year on what is set to be the biggest Islamic cultural center in the country, in Clongriffin on Dublin’s northside. There are mosques and dedicated primary schools in each of our cities. And unlike the situation in France, there is no policy against Muslim girls wearing the hijab (veil) to school.

Support for converts is offered by the Muslim Sisters of Eire, an organization run by Irish Muslim women, and at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, Dublin, where theologian Dr. Ali Salem teaches a course for new Muslims.

“When people revert, they can be very enthusiastic,” says Dr Salem. “We teach a moderate understanding of Islam, and we also teach them (converts) how to change their lives gradually.”

Aishah (formerly Liza) Caulfield (36, crèche worker)

I come from Irishtown in Dublin 4, born and bred Irish. I became interested in Islam around 12 years ago.

My lifestyle wasn’t typically Irish on the social level. I wasn’t going to nightclubs and I wasn’t into drinking. I always wondered if there was a group of people out there who had a quieter lifestyle, a faith that matched how I lived my life.

I was missing a piece of the puzzle, and I was always searching. I already fitted this religion – I just needed to find it.

Through research I kept coming across Islam. I wasn’t very outward about it at the beginning. When 9/11 happened I thought, “Right, maybe not now, but I’ll continue looking”. I took the Testimony of Faith (the Shahadah), three years ago and got married last year to a Muslim from Mauritius.

My dad said, “It’s about time”, when I took the Shahadah. My family bought me hijabs and my dad was like, “I’ll get you one of those Qur’ans.” He was very hands-on. He’s a staunch Catholic, goes to confession every month and Mass every Sunday. He’d be praying morning and night.

I’m definitely happier. Islam is a quieter, more peaceful way of life. There’s a great sense of unity – our prayer times change day-to-day as the sun rises and sets. Everybody who’s Muslim, a quarter of the inhabitants of the world, is facing Mecca and praying at the same time. That is a very powerful and sacred feeling, putting your face to the floor and submitting to God.

The one big change is wearing the hijab. I wear it because it’s a sign of my devotion to God. It shows humility with my husband and with the male members of my family. For me my beauty is my hair and my body, and that’s not for everyone.

I also wear it because one part of my faith is to discuss Islam with non-Muslims. If I’m in the supermarket and someone hears my Ringsend accent, they’ll ask, “Oh, how long are you here, love?” And I’ll reply, “Actually, I’m Irish”. It’s a way of sharing your faith with people, of saying: “Don’t be afraid of us – we’re all human, we all come and go the one way.”

I always dressed modestly. I was never comfortable with showing the figure off. We’re living in a society where people feel threatened because I choose to not show my body, whereas you have girls as young as 11 or 12 who take it to the extreme.

You should be valued for your soul and your personality, not because of how much of your body you show – that’s private, and that’s my beauty.

People often look at Muslim women and think we must feel oppressed. I, for example, when got married, I was given a dowry (mahr) which is a right of the woman in Islam.

You’re going to hear negative stuff in the media – “Oh, the poor Afghan women” and that – but I often say to people: “Please, don’t confuse culture with the faith itself.”

Bridget Darby (68, retired hotel manager)

I was born in Trim into a Catholic family. In the 1950s you were brought up in the fear of God and told, “You’ll be punished, you’ll go to hell”. It was the culture and you did what you were told.

When I was 18 I went to England to study nursing. I met an Englishman in the Royal Air Force. I was at a very vulnerable time and I fell in love with him and we got engaged. He wasn’t a Catholic, so he and I had to have some religious instruction.

One day I showed up by myself and the priest asked me, “Have you got your dress?” He went from the dress to say, “Have you got new underwear?” I tried to answer as best I could, cringing on the edge of the seat. I got out of that office immediately, shaking.

I made myself a promise: that after we married I wouldn’t walk into a Catholic church again, and I never did. We got married, had a child and were stationed in Cyprus and Australia. We got divorced after about 15 years, and in 1985 I went to America. I still had no religion, but I was a good person – I believed in God.

In 2006, I went to Cairo for a vacation. That’s where I was formally introduced to Islam. I had leased an apartment and the owner asked if I would like to visit her ranch outside the city. She picked me up – her husband was driving. She’d asked me to cover appropriately because her farm workers hadn’t seen a Western woman before.

I got in this car, scrunched into the back, and she asked me if I believed in God. “Yes, I do,” I said. Then she asked, “Do you believe in one God?” I said I did. She got really excited and started babbling in Arabic to her husband. She had me reciting, “Mohammad is the prophet and there is only one God”, by the time I got to her house. She was wonderful.

She explained to me about the five pillars (obligations) in Islam. She walked me around her farm and showed me the area where she prayed five times a day.

I walked over to the river and was bathing my feet in the Nile. I can’t describe the feeling, to see the peaceful, respectful way they went about their lives. I had this idea that it was a terrible religion, but by the end of the day I was so taken by it – and I don’t do things on the spur of the moment.

All the years that I’d not been recognizing any religion, trying to survive by myself, I used to feel that someone was guiding me. I realized when I accepted Islam that God was with me anyway.

I’ve been back in Ireland a short time and I haven’t gone around waving a banner that I’m a Muslim. I know that people are afraid of the religion. You don’t see peace, you see violence. The media tells you that al-Qaeda bombed America and brought down the towers, so you tend to stereotype.

A lot of the restrictions are cultural – some are not Islamic. I now have a purpose. I have a belief, I have faith, I have new friends. It’s a sense of security to believe in God. I pray five times a day, but sometimes I miss it. I have the Qur’an by my bed. Islam is very much in your heart. You don’t have to stand on the street and wave the Qur’an. What I have is beautiful for me.

_________________________

The article is taken from  Irish Independent with slight editorial modifications. 

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Conversion Stories New Muslims

My Path to Islam: It’s about Sincerity & Persistence

nature flowers

Religion is the only one stable you can have in life. So whenever you have any hardships and difficulty in life you should go to your God.

I converted to Islam in October 2007. I was raised a Catholic. I used to teach Catholicism, and I was not so much reactive in the church.

I started to have questions about life I went to the church for my answers and I was met with a lot of resistance. I decided to take my time in knowing about different religions. I started studying Judaism, Hinduism, Taoism , Jainism and, eventually, Islam.

My life has been very different after converting to Islam. It has been one of the most beautiful things that can ever happen to me but it has also brought its share of hardships. My family since I’ve accepted Islam doesn’t speak with me.

As a result, they have taken my daughter from me. I have suffered a lot, I’ve lost my job, I can’t attend school anymore because I’m not able to afford it financially though I was one of the top students in my school.

In life nothing is stable. You can have money, you can have family, you can have anything and all can go in the blink of an eye. But religion is the only one stable you can have. So whenever you have any hardships and difficulty in life you should go to your God.

And going to the church and being told ‘that’s the way it is’, ‘because God said so’, and ‘you shouldn’t question that’, was not acceptable for me.

If I need answers where am I going to find them then?

Being Catholic you believe that there’s the trinity in it (the religion), that Jesus is son of God and he is God, etc. It’s when you can take your mind out of it and look at it, it doesn’t make sense. But it is hard – when for so many years you have this as your faith; this is what you defend and what you’re dedicated to, to take this step back and kind of be open-minded about it.

For me, it took time. I started it for a long time, I had a lot of misconceptions about what Islam was. I even hated Muslims.

I thought all Muslims should die, and in my mind that anyone who is Muslim was they shouldn’t exist; why are they here? They should go back to their countries. You know I had the common American idea of what Islam and Muslims are. But that was my own ignorance following the media.

At this point I read often…

What happened to the sister? Why the change of Heart?

Learn more about what questions the sister had and what answers she have found and how? What did Islam gave here, and how have it contributed to all aspects of her life?

Watch the sister telling her touching and inspiring story her…

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Conversion Stories New Muslims

Ireland’s Muslims and the Quest for the Truth

By: Maggie Armstrong

Islam in Ireland

It was a search of something; a search for knowledge and a search for the way. It’s Islam that brought me here.

Philip Flood (60, community worker with drug addicts)

I’m from Ringsend in Dublin, and I’m a Muslim 12 years now. I was a Buddhist for five years before I started to learn about Islam. I had been on a 12-step programme for addictions – alcohol and drugs. I was single at that time and I was never well enough to have a family. I worked part-time on the docks.

The 11th step on the programme was to search “through prayer and meditation to improve your conscious contact with God“, and I started to look at all the different religions through that. I got a higher power into me there.

Most people go back to the religion they were brought up in, but I was never happy with that. I never felt right with the Catholic teachings. My mother and my father were Catholics. I made my ‘First Holy Communion’, Confirmation, went to Mass, was an altar boy. I had and have good friends, priests and nuns. But I didn’t believe, especially with Jesus on the cross. I never felt it was right. I believed in Jesus okay, but not in the cross.

I went for a walk one Friday evening on Sandymount Strand and I met a Muslim couple there, from Libya. I was with the Buddhists at the time and I was telling them about Buddha and his teachings, and they started telling me about Islam. They brought me home to their flat, and we were discussing the different things.

I used to visit them, have a cup of tea and that. They brought me to the mosque. A few weeks before that I had bought a Qur’an in a Pakistani shop in the city centre where I used to buy food, and I could understand the Qur’an more when I was discussing it with them.

When I heard the adhan (the call to prayer) I think my soul connected with that. There was something very spiritual about it, and there were no statues in the mosque.

When I came into Islam I started to study the life of `Isa (Jesus, peace be upon him). I found that made more sense than the Catholic teachings. `Isa was just a prophet; he wasn’t God.

My Life as a Muslim

My family was just happy. They saw the change in me. I married a Muslim woman and have two young children. Part of the Islamic life is to get married and to have children. I went to Morocco on a holiday and I met my wife. About a year after that we got married and she came here. Our two kids are Mohammad and Isa (after the baby Jesus).

I pray five times a day, so that keeps me spiritually well. I visit the mosque as often as I can on Friday for prayer. God has made it easy for me – I don’t have to work on a Friday. I have a television station at home, the Arabic station, and I watch Mecca and Medina, the two holy places in Islam. I get a lot of peace from watching that.

I listen to the Qur’an on a daily basis, even just a small piece, and I read a bit of Islamic literature. I learned a lot of meditation methods with the Buddhists, so I do that quite a bit. It’s the way I live now, and I have the responsibilities of being a husband and a father. I live as best I can on a spiritual basis.

Rasheed (formerly Olegs) Tucs (33, sterile processing technician)

I’m from Latvia. I converted to Islam in 2010. My generation was raised to a certain extent in the Soviet Union. It was a system with its own ideology, in which religion was marginalized. People were discouraged from taking part in any kind of religious services. We were raised in a very rational environment.

In 2006, I met a woman who I fell in love with and I proposed to her. She told me that she had a condition as she was Catholic. She said, “The only way I’m going to marry is in church”. And I said, “I love you, I will do it for you”. It was a bit complicated to become a Catholic, but it gave me a new perspective on the world. My world had been very materialistic, very scientifically oriented.

We got married and the love story continued. But my wife became quite seriously sick with malaria. I started to pray, not like a Catholic because I didn’t care much – it was just a perspective, not a faith. I started to ask someone, something, to make her live and to make us go on. Thank God, she got well. This was the first time I really prayed.

We were going on holidays to Latin America and we had to change flights in Istanbul. On the plane, I got a severe eye infection, conjunctivitis. In two hours I couldn’t see anything. In the middle of a flight, it’s a bit scary.

We had to disembark in Istanbul and go to the doctor. I woke up in the early morning and heard something nice, which was the call to prayer. My antibiotics had worked, my eyes were clear. Then you start thinking, ‘What is it?’ I did a bit of research into all the religions, because I had a whole new perspective for seeing things. During this time, Islam was the message which seemed to me without conflict.

My wife is still Catholic and I’m a Muslim – it doesn’t disturb us. She prays her way and I pray my way. But our prayers, they go to the same place.

Duplin Mosque

Dublin Mosque, Ireland

You have to conform to certain standards. In Islam, it’s said that the only purpose of humans is to worship God. At first you may think that worshipping God is praying five times a day. But actually, worshipping doesn’t mean only praying – it means being a good custodian of the planet. Recycling, buying local or fair-trade food is a way of worship because you are doing the right thing.

A very sensitive issue would be the prohibition of alcohol and all the mind-altering substances. In Islam, it’s said that God has given us a mind and an ability to think and an ability to make a decision, so if we deliberately impair that, we are denying the gift. I used to drink. Eventually, this wish to have a drink or a cigarette, it wore off.

I consider this time as being in search of something; a search for knowledge and a search for the way. It’s Islam that brought me here. I was an embryologist in IVF clinics in Nairobi, and the work was not compatible with the religion, so we had to look for something else.

In Ireland, there are a number of local mosques and cultural centres. In Latvia, there is only one mosque for the whole country. People are good here. Ireland is very friendly to outsiders. In Latvia, people from other societies are still looked at with great suspicion.

_________________________

Source: independent.ie.

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Conversion Stories New Muslims

From a Christian to a Houston Imam: Yahya Graff

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

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

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

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

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

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

From where did his journey begin, how and why?

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

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New Muslims Reflections

American New Muslims and the Challenges of Conversion

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Percept

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

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

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

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

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

The Impacts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why We Choose Islam?

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…                                                                                                                                     

_________________________

Source: Ummid.com.

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New Muslims Reflections

I Want to Be Muslim, But…

There’re many people who are interested in Islam; in learning about Islam, seeking deeper knowledge about its true teachings and principles, and contemplating converting. But there are many things, that is to say many obstacles or challenges, stand in their way.

What could be holding them back from entering the fold of Islam? What challenges do they face? What concerns and fears do they have?

Being a Muslim is no way an easy or small decision, but rather a life-changing one, which brings with it challenges and obstacles. When one is a convert it is undoubtedly frightening and overwhelming.

So, what do they need to know and learn before entering Islam? And how can we, Muslims, help them take the decision, feel easier about it and find their feet within Islam?

A sister talked with Nouman Ali Khan about her fears and concerns over converting to Islam. Watch him discussing this issue in the video below…

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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.

_________________________

Source: newamericamedia.org

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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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