Categories
Fasting New Muslims

The Four Sacred Months: What Do You Know about Them?

From the twelve lunar months of the Islamic calendar there are four sacred, concerning them Allah says:

Verily, the number of months with Allah is twelve months (in a year), so it was ordained by Allah on the Day when He created the heavens and the earth; of them, four are sacred. That is the right religion, so wrong not yourselves therein. (At-Tawbah 9:36)

Four Months Are Sacred

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also said about them:

“The division of time has turned to its original form which was current when Allah created the Heavens and the Earth. The year is of twelve months, out of which four months are sacred. Three are in succession: Dhul-Qi`dah, Dhul-Hijjah, and Muharram, and (the fourth is) Rajab of (the tribe of) Mudar which comes between Jumada Thani and Sha`ban.” (Al-Bukhari)

So what characterizes these four months, and what should we do in them?

Sheikh Muhammad Salah answers in this video…

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Categories
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.

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Source: muslimmatters

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Categories
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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Categories
New Muslims Pilgrimage

My Lifetime Journey

Ka`bah-Makkah

Not even the hardest of hearts could be left unmoved by the grace, simplicity, and majesty of the Ka`bah, which has been on this spot since the beginning of time itself.

 

When Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him), the intimate friend of Allah, was commanded all those years ago to proclaim the pilgrimage to Makkah, he did so in faith. Standing in what was little more than a barren, inhospitable desert, he called out for men and women to come on pilgrimage to the holy Ka`bah at Allah’s command.

He was astonished at the response. From the north, south, east, and west, he heard voices calling out, “I respond to Your call, O Allah! I respond to Your call,” and people began to come from all the corners of the earth in praise of Almighty Allah.

Thousands of years later, people are still coming from every corner of the globe to worship at Allah’s command. I have just returned from performing `Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage for the first time, and I share these thoughts with my Muslim brothers and sisters to encourage their faith and that Allah’s name be glorified even more.

But what can I say? How can I describe an experience so profound and so beautiful? Shall I say that it was the most blessed experience of my life? Shall I say that Almighty Allah touched my heart and gave me a feeling of peace I had not known before?

Shall I describe the tears that flowed freely from my eyes, affirming my Muslim faith, as I walked around the holy Ka`bah with thousands of others, begging Allah’s blessings for myself and for those I love? Perhaps the best way is just to start at the beginning, and to allow Almighty Allah to use my poor words as He wants.

Preparing for any journey is, in many ways, almost as important as the journey itself. As I prepared for my journey to Makkah, my heart already began to stir at the enormity of what I was about to do.

I had read all the books and consulted all the manuals so that my `Umrah, in sha’ Allah, would be accepted. I learned the prayers in Arabic that I would need to say at different parts of the pilgrimage.

Good Muslim brothers had told me not to worry too much about all this, because it would be my heart that would speak when I reached the holy Ka`bah. I know that Almighty Allah has placed within the heart of every Muslim a deep longing to visit Makkah, to return home to where we belong, to that first house built on Earth in worship of Allah.

Some say that it was Prophet Adam (peace and blessings be upon him) who first built the Ka`bah. Others suggest it was first built by angels beneath the throne of Allah in heaven. Others still attribute the first building of the Ka`bah to Prophet Idris (peace be upon him). Whatever its origins, we know that over time this first building fell into disrepair and ruin and that by the time of Prophet Ibrahim, there was nothing left of it except a small mound of earth. Allah commanded Prophet Ibrahim and his first-born son Ismail (peace be upon them both) to rebuild the Ka`bah.

I had written all these things before and had a good knowledge of the history of the Sacred House, but now it was real to me. This time I was leaving my home in Cairo, wearing the simple white garments of Ihram.

Upon leaving, I was showered with good wishes and prayers by family and friends who so happy for me as I prepared for the journey of a lifetime. Even during the drive to the airport and the arrival at the airport itself, many Muslims showed on their faces the delight they felt at seeing a brother setting off to perform `Umrah.

What a blessed religion is ours, that brothers and sisters we don’t even know should care for us so much! Throughout the journey, I was repeating in Arabic those sweet words which Prophet Ibrahim, first heard all those years ago as follows:

“I respond to Your call, O Allah!

I respond to Your call and I am obedient to Your orders.

You have no partner.

I respond to Your call.

All the praises and the blessings are for You.

All the sovereignty is for You.

And You have no partners with You.”

As the plane took off, I said these words. As we flew across the Red Sea and landed in Jeddah, I continued to say them. As I said them, my heart filled with excitement as I traveled by car through the Makkan hills and approached the city. More tears came as I arrived in Makkah and saw the sanctuary for the first time from a distance.

But nothing can describe the feeling of entering the sacred mosque and seeing the holy Ka`bah. I was choking with tears, the mosque left me breathless and filled me with an immense joy. Not even the hardest of hearts could be left unmoved by the grace, simplicity, and majesty of the Ka`bah, which has been on this spot since the beginning of time itself.

I kept telling myself that in this very place our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) walked and prayed, as well as countless millions of other good Muslims through the centuries.

And so I performed the rituals of `Umrah, my heart beating with joy and tears running down my cheeks. For something so profound, the rituals were really very simple. They basically involved walking around the Ka`bah seven times and then running or walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, in imitation of that desperate search for water made by Hagar, which culminated in the spring of Zamzam gushing from the ground. Our beloved Prophet taught us to say just one prayer as we encircle the Ka`bah as follows:

“May Our Lord grant us blessings in this life,

Blessings in the life to come,

And save us from the torment of the hell-fire.”

All of this seemed like a dream. While my lips were saying what I had learned to say, my mind was racing with thoughts and my heart was pouring out everything within it. I had come to the very center of the world in response to the call of Allah. What love He shows to us, and yet how ungrateful we are. What blessings He showers upon us each day, and yet how slow we are to respond to the call of the adhan and to utter His praises.

We can gladly spend hours sitting in front of a television set or talking idly on a mobile phone, and yet we hardly find the time to spend a few minutes in prayer, even though our life in the hereafter depends on it.

The experience of `Umrah or Hajj is like a piercing sword. It cuts through all the rubbish we surround ourselves with and it shows us our lives in their real perspective – we come from Allah and it is to Allah that we will return. The experience of `Umrah is also like being soaked in love. Our heartfelt response is one of thanks.

In Madinah

As if all this were not enough, most pilgrims usually finish their pilgrimage to Makkah by spending a few days in Madinah, the city of our beloved Prophet and the first Muslim state ever. In Madinah, the mosque was at the center of the city and Allah was at the center of every Muslim’s life.

I finished my own pilgrimage in the same way, walking the very paths trod by Allah’s Messenger and falling in prostration on the ground in the same places where he prayed. I met Muslims from almost every nation on earth and was welcomed to the city by Muslims for whom Islam is everything.

If Makkah, then, is the place of powerful emotions that shake a person to the core, Madinah is truly the city of peace. The Prophet’s Mosque is a place of calm and quiet. With its salmon-colored walls, grey and cream Moorish arches, and its floors and pillars of white, polished marble, the mosque is breathtakingly beautiful.

Although it is immense and holds thousands at a time for prayer, the Prophet’s Mosque is a place of peace. The gentle personality and the presence of our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is everywhere. Madinah is such a privileged place to end one’s journey of a lifetime.

Now that I am home, the real challenge of living out my `Umrah begins. It is not difficult to pray for long periods of time and to focus all your thoughts on Islam when you are looking at the Ka`bah or are near the final resting place of Allah’s final messenger to mankind. The routine of daily life, though, with all its distractions, is less easy.

I cherish the memories of those days in Saudi Arabia in my heart, and I say al-hamdu lillah (praise be to God). I pray that Almighty Allah will give me the strength to be a good Muslim. I pray that I will always be prompt and faithful to prayer. I pray that I will now learn and recite more of the Qur’an every day.

And, after the experience of a lifetime, I pray that I will always give good examples to my Muslim brothers and sisters, and that I can show to non-Muslims how sweet and beautiful the message of Islam is. Ameen.

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Source: idristawfiq.

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New Muslims Pilgrimage

Hajj: Its Meaning and Position from the Qur’an

ka`bah_Makkah

The House, itself, is not to be taken as an object of worship: it is simply a place for worshipping the One.

Behold! We gave the site, to Abraham, of the (Sacred) House, (saying): “Associate not anything (in worship) with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer). And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men: they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways; that they may witness the benefits (provided) for them, and celebrate the name of Allah, through the days appointed, over the cattle which He has provided for them (for sacrifice): then eat ye thereof and feed the distressed ones in want. Then let them complete the rites prescribed for them, perform their vows, and (again) circumambulate the Ancient House”. (Al-Hajj 22:26-29)

Perform the pilgrimage and the visit (to Makkah) for Allah. And if you are prevented, then send such gifts as can be obtained with ease, and shave not your heads until the gifts have reached their destination. And whoever among you is sick or has an ailment of the head must pay a ransom of fasting or almsgiving or offering. And if you are in safety, then whosoever contents himself with the visit for the pilgrimage (shall give) such gifts as can be had with ease. And whosoever cannot find (such gifts), then a fast of three days while on the pilgrimage, and of seven when you have returned; that is, ten in all. That is for him whoso folk are not present at the inviolable place of worship. Observe your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is severe in punishment.

The pilgrimage is (in) the well-known months, and whoever is minded to perform the pilgrimage therein (let him remember that) there is (to be) no lewdness nor abuse nor angry conversation on the pilgrimage. And whatsoever good you do Allah knows it. So make provision for yourselves (Hereafter); for the best provision is to ward off evil. Therefore keep your duty unto Me, O men of understanding.

It is no sin for you that you seek the bounty of your Lord (by trading). But, when you press on in the multitude from `Arafat, remember Allah by the sacred monument. Remember Him as He hath guided you, although before you were of those astray.

Then hasten onward from the place whence the multitude hastens onward, and ask forgiveness of Allah. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

And when you have completed your devotions, then remember Allah as you remember your fathers or with a more lively remembrance. But of mankind is he who says: “Our Lord! Give unto us in the world,” and he has no portion in the Hereafter.

Remember Allah through the appointed days. Then whoso hastens (his departure) by two days, it is no sin for him, and whoso delays, it is no sin for him; that is for him who wards off (evil). Be careful of your duty to Allah, and know that unto Him ye will be gathered. (Al-Baqarah 2:203)

Pilgrimage, an important religious duty in Islam, is described at length in the Qur’an, as is evident from the two passages quoted above. Some of the points addressed include: the House of Allah (the Ka`bah) and its credentials, how the Prophet Abraham (peace and blessings be upon him) proclaimed Pilgrimage and the response to it down the ages, the benefits of pilgrimage, and how it represents the essence of all other acts of devotional worship in Islam, especially the spirit of piety and surrender to Allah pervading every aspect of pilgrimage.

The Qur’anic passage opens with placing pilgrimage in its historical context. At Allah’s directive and at the site identified by Him, the Prophet Abraham constructed the Ka`bah, the House of Allah, and hence its special, hallowed status.

Nonetheless, this account is immediately followed by a condemnation of polytheism in any form. It appears that the above note is intended to clarify beyond any shadow of doubt that the Ka`bah owes its exalted position only in view of its close association with Allah.

The structure of the Ka‘bah itself has no sanctity of its own. It is Allah the One True God, not the Ka`bah, which is to be worshipped. As for keeping it clean and pure, the directive has both a literal and a figurative sense, clear of all material and spiritual filth – for all true worshippers of the One Universal God.

Furthermore, the House, itself, is not to be taken as an object of worship: it is simply a place for worshipping the One.

After the Prophet Abraham had constructed the Ka`bah and ensured that only the One True God would be worshipped there, Allah directed him to issue a general proclamation, asking people to visit the Ka`bah.

In his “The Glorious Qur’anDaryabadi, a famous Indian Muslim writer and exegete of the Qur’an, pertinently draws attention to the fact that this proclamation was made thousands of years ago, before the era of the press, the post, the telegraph, the wireless, the radio, television and other such paraphernalia of modern publicity and propaganda that mankind has been responding to during all these centuries, by performing the pilgrimage in their tens and hundreds of thousands every year!

Amid the various acts of worship prescribed in Islam, Hajj stands out above others in many respects. That the performance of Hajj provides an opportunity to pilgrims “to witness the benefits to them” is a special feature of Hajj. The above point is made in Allah’s directive, asking mankind to perform Hajj:

And proclaim unto mankind the pilgrimage. They will come unto you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every deep ravine, that they may witness things that are of benefit to them, and mention the name of Allah on appointed days over the beast of cattle that He has bestowed upon them. Then eat thereof and feed therewith the poor unfortunate. (Al-Hajj 22:27, 28)

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The article is an excerpt from Abdur Raheem Kidwai’s book “The Qur’an: Essential Teachings”, published by the Islamic Foundation, 2005/1426 H.

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Categories
New Muslims Pilgrimage

Hajj: For Every Act There Is a Benefit

 

Tawaf_Makkah

The sense of liberation and purgation is enhanced by the immediate environment and constant mention of Allah which form part of Hajj.

The benefits accruing to pilgrims are numerous and varied; religious, financial, social, political and intellectual. Down the millennia pilgrims have witnessed these benefits. This truth comes out at its sharpest in their numerous narratives and travelogues.

There is hardly a pilgrim who returns home without experiencing some of these benefits. It is commonplace that each act of worship has its own benefits. However, the benefits gained from Hajj are, relatively speaking, much more palpable and pronounced, observable to both pilgrims and non-pilgrims.

Winning Allah’s pleasure is, of course, its greatest benefit, which cannot be matched by any other gain imaginable. Accordingly, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) clarified that on accomplishing Hajj a pilgrim is akin to a new-born baby in being pure and sinless.

Amazingly enough, the moment one intends to perform Hajj, a sea change sets in one’s mindset, psychological make-up; in sum, on one’s entire outlook on life and benefits start pouring in immediately. For Hajj represents, so to speak, the pervading spirit of all the prescribed acts of worship in Islam.

The constant mention and remembrance of Allah and chanting certain formulae during Hajj are the unmistakable hallmarks of dhikr (remembrance of Allah) which permeate Hajj. This mention of Allah at appointed times during the course of Hajj also captures the spirit of salah, which is incorporated into Hajj.

A set of certain restrictions, forbidding pilgrims the use of otherwise perfectly lawful and wholesome things during the state of ihram (consecration), reminds one readily of the prohibitions placed on one during the month-long fasting during Ramadan.

Taken in this sense, Hajj incorporates features which are special to fasting. The journey undertaken to perform Hajj, often entailing inconvenience and suffering, re-enacts the essential component of the Hijrah (migrating in the cause of Allah). For in both of these acts of worship one willingly undergoes discomfort and emotional, material and monetary loss for the sake of Allah.

By the same token, some features specific to Jihad (striving in Allah’s cause) also characterize Hajj as the pilgrim makes sacrifices related to both his body and belongings. It goes without saying that to perform Hajj the pilgrim incurs expenses. This reinforces the spirit underlying zakah that man is only a trustee over the material resources endowed on him by Allah and that he should spend in consonance with Allah’s directives. Animal sacrifice, another prescribed act of worship in Islam, happens to be one of the major rites of Hajj itself.

Viewed thus, Hajj displays the quintessence of all the main acts of worship in Islam; prayer, fasting, zakah, hijrah, jihad and dhikr. One may therefore, maintain that this single act of worship, Hajj, renews in one the spirit pervading several acts of worship which is a benefit beyond all measure.

Furthermore, each rite of Hajj is characterized by many benefits which have both functional and catalytic value. The donning of ihram makes one realize paradoxically both the importance and worthlessness of clothes, of which one is habitual since birth. Clothes invest one with identity; individual, social and ethnic. Cloth is doubtless one of Allah’s major bounties bestowed on man.

At Allah’s command however, one stops using one’s traditional clothes during the state of ihram. This amounts, in a sense, to removing an artificial barrier to the unity of mankind. Pilgrims dressed in frugal ihram display the essential sameness of mankind, cutting across distinctions of social class, financial status and ethnic origin.

The strong individuality exhibited, rather reinforced by one’s preferential clothes, is instantly replaced by the awe-inspiring unity of mankind, with each one of the millions of pilgrims, assembled every year during the Hajj period, represented only as an obedient servant of Allah. Ihram thus instructs one in the ideal of mankind’s unity, which has assumed greater importance and relevance in today’s conflict-riven and disunited world.

More importantly, the donning of ihram places certain restrictions on one, ranging from refraining from sexual relations with one’s wife to hunting or wearing perfume, etc. This further infuses and strengthens a spirit of self-restraint. A pilgrim in ihram is not allowed to kill even an insect. He is not to indulge in fighting, obscenity or evil. Avoiding aggression and controlling animal instincts are thus the benefits arising out of donning ihram.

Talbiyah (chanting during Hajj) is of immense benefit for the pilgrim. At one level, it facilitates the bonding between man and Allah, between the creature and the Creator. At another, it helps one discover one’s true self – of wholesale surrender to the Supreme Lord.

One’s sense of proximity with Allah is further heightened by the sacred locale of Hajj sites. The House of Allah and other structures and places with thousands of years of rich history and their association with such august figures as Allah’s Messengers, from the Prophets Abraham and Muhammad (peace be upon them) to the latter’s Companions, make one inhale and imbibe the sense of the sacred and sublimate one spiritually and emotionally.

At the same time, this grand setting humbles one, making one all the more conscious of one’s failings and lapses in being true and faithful to one’s covenant with one’s Lord. Psychologically and morally it brings such benefits which a pilgrim treasures throughout his life.

The talbiyah and Hajj-setting help a pilgrim release and ennoble his feelings, especially towards his Creator and Lord. The sense of liberation and purgation is enhanced by the immediate environment and constant mention of Allah which form part of Hajj.

The visit to Haram (the Sacred Mosque) further heightens the sense of the hallowed and the sacred. It is innate in human nature to exteriorize, objectify and perceive the sacred with sense perception.

In Islam the sacred is abstract and rightly belongs to the domain of al-ghayb (the unseen which is beyond the realm of human sense perception). This natural desire on man’s part is, nonetheless gratified, to a certain degree, on seeing and going round the House of Allah, a concrete object yet enjoying such a close association with the sacred and the divine. The visit thus has a sublimating and exhilarating effect on the pilgrim’s spirit. Needless to add, this benefit is not obtainable anywhere else.

Furthermore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is on record as saying that a prayer offered within the precincts of the Sacred Mosque is equivalent to one thousand prayers offered in any other mosque. This benefit of Hajj is too great to be disregarded by any Muslim.

Tawaf (circumambulation of the Ka`bah) broadens and reinforces one’s spiritual benefits. This rite draws the pilgrim into the proximity of the sanctum sanctorum. Standing near the Ka`bah, praying at the spot on which the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) had once stood, visiting the Zamzam well and drinking its water, and performing Sa`i between Safa and Marwah all being part of the rites of Hajj, help the pilgrim re-enact sacred history.

This benefit, once again, is special to Hajj. While regarding himself as part of the grand tradition, the pilgrim gains firm religious conviction. In other words, revivification of faith is one of the great benefits of Hajj.

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The article is an excerpt from Abdur Raheem Kidwai’s book “The Qur’an: Essential Teachings”, published by the Islamic Foundation, 2005/1426 H.

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New Muslims Pilgrimage

Sunnah Acts in Hajj

By Dr. Ali Gomaa

Tawaf_Makkah

After a pilgrim completes Tawaf Al-Ifadah at Makkah, he returns to Mina on Yawm An-Nahr where it is recommended for him to stay until he finishes stoning on the last day of Tashriq.

In efforts to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet, our exemplar; his sayings and deeds, it is worth to note and follow some particular acts he (peace be upon him) performed during Hajj.

So what are these sunnahs (the specific Prophetic acts of worship) related to Hajj?

1 & 2: Bathing and Using Perfume before Assuming Ihram

Before assuming ihram, it is recommended for a person who intends to perform Hajj or `Umrah to pare his nails, trim his moustache, comb his hair, and shave his armpits and pubic hair and the like.

When a pilgrim wishes to enter ihram, it is recommended (even for a woman in a state of menstruation or postnatal bleeding) to bathe, intending to bathe for ihram. The period between bathing and assuming ihram must be brief and its duration is determined by convention; at present it is 12 hours.

3- The Talbiyah

The Talbiyah (saying labbayka Allahumma labbayk) is a sunnah without which a pilgrim’s hajj or `Umrah is still valid and omitting it does not entail any consequences. However, a pilgrim misses a great virtue by neglecting it.

4- Tawaf Al-Qudum

It is desirable to perform Tawaf Al-Qudum for anyone who enters Makkah for Hajj, `Umrah or any other reason, for someone who has assumed ihram from al-hill (non-sacred place i.e. any place outside the Makkan Precinct) or even for someone who is not in a state of ihram.

It is likewise recommended for a pilgrim who does not fear missing standing at `Arafat due to time constraints, as for instance one who enters Mecca some time before dawn of Yawm An-Nahr (Day of Sacrifice) or a pilgrim who does not perform `Umrah before Hajj while in Al-Haram (Sacred Sanctuary). It is recommended for such a person who has performed `Umrah before Hajj and then exited Al-Haram to repeat Tawaf Al-Qudum.

5- Spending the Eve of `Arafat at Mina

After arriving at Mina on the afternoon of the Day of Tarwiyah (8th of Dhul-Hijjah), a pilgrim is to spend the rest of the day there. It is recommended that he spend the eve of 9th of Dhul-Hijjah there until he prays Fajr. He is then to leave Mina on the 9th  of Dhul-Hijjah after sunrise and proceed to `Arafat.

6- Spending the Night at Muzdalifah

After standing at `Arafat in the recommended manner until sunset, he is to proceed to Muzdalifah. It is recommended for him to stay there for at least the time it takes him to deposit his luggage and then join the Maghreb and `Isha’ Prayers at the time of `Isha’.

It is recommended for him to have something to eat and drink and spend the eve of 10th of Dhul-Hijjah there. It is likewise recommended that he pick seven pebbles from Muzdalifah to stone Jamrat Al-`Aqabah, also called Al-Jamrah Al-Kubra (the last and largest stone pillar) after he leaves for Mina.

7- Supplicating at Al-Mash`ar Al-Haram

It is recommended for a pilgrim to spend the rest of the night of 10th of Dhul-Hijjah at Muzdalifah and then leave for Al-Mash`ar Al-Haram after Fajr Prayer to make supplications and invocations until the day lightens considerably.

8- Spending the Nights of the Days of Tashriq at Mina

After a pilgrim completes Tawaf Al-Ifadah at Makkah, he returns to Mina on Yawm An-Nahr where it is recommended for him to stay until he finishes stoning on the last day of Tashriq (13th of Dhul-Hijjah).

It is well noted that Tawaf Al-Ifadah, which is also called Tawaf Az-Ziyarah (Tawaf of visiting), takes place after the standing in `Arafat, on the day of Al-Adha or after it. It is one of the pillars or essential parts of the Hajj.

If he is in a hurry to leave, he spends two nights at Mina and then goes to Mecca before sunset of the second day of Tashriq (12th Dhul-Hijjah). If he is not in a hurry, it is recommended that he spends three nights at Mina.

The opinion stating that spending the days of Tashriq at Mina is a sunnah, is the one maintained by Hanafi scholars and is likewise the opinion implemented for fatwa.

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Source: ali-gomaa.

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New Muslims Pilgrimage

Murad Hofmann’s Journey to Makkah

 

Ka`bah_Makkah

The Ka`bah appears like the motionless center of a giant disc in a slow and silent counter clockwise revolution.

We stopped briefly in Makkah in order to circumambulate the Ka`bah one more time (Tawaf Al-Qudum), this time under the scorching sun.

Just like many other pilgrims, I tried to protect myself with an umbrella, but this proved utterly impossible lest you risk gouging out someone’s eye, or losing your own.

In the yard of the huge mosque, on the level of the Ka`bah, everything became completely grid-locked, so I escaped up to the first storey of the shaded gallery. In return I had to put up with a wider radius.

Circling the Ka`bah seven times up there meant covering a distance of 3.5 miles, and that in 110ºF heat. If his focus is right, to a pilgrim everything comes easy. Someone who was walking by my side even covered the entire distance with his little son on his shoulders!

The view from the first storey was absolutely mesmerizing and of striking aesthetic power. The Ka`bah appears like the motionless center of a giant disc in a slow and silent counter clockwise revolution.

The scene changes only at prayer times: At this point, the Ka`bah becomes the center of concentric circles made up of 40,000 or more shining white bodies who want the same, seek the same, do the same – and thus comes to symbolize total submission on a global scale. Multi-storeyed structures circumscribe the inner court of the mosque, with the Ka`bah at dead center.

Everything is dominated by sumptuous, sometimes green marble. Seven gigantic minarets in Indo-Islamic style are the connecting elements that hold the Ka`bah in its setting like a precious gem. I had to tear myself away – or miss the bus altogether.

After 45 minutes on the bus we finally arrived in the valley of Mina, which is only a little more than 3 miles from Makkah. Mina was going to be our jumping-off point for the Day of `Arafah. And what lets us know what the Day of `Arafah is all about?

“Hajj is `Arafah”, so says the Prophet, and `Arafah is Hajj. There are only a few parallel roadways connecting Mina or Makkah to `Arafah, and more than two million pilgrims are transported over a distance of about 6 to 10 miles on as many as 50,000 buses. They both cause and suffer a truly awesome, unprecedented traffic chaos that could easily qualify for the Guinness Book of Records.

When we finally arrived in the tent city erected around the Mount of `Arafah, the air was glimmering with heat – 120ºF in the shade, which makes it considerably more than 130ºF in the sun! And not a whiff of a breeze in the air.

The neighboring tent belonged to none other than Sheikh Mahfoud Nahnah from Algiers. It became a long and wonderful day of contemplation, reflection, of prayers, and invaluable conversations. Never since my boyhood days, during Jesuit retreat exercises had I possessed this inner certainty of a clear spiritual focus on God.

The Best Day of the Year

The Day of `Arafah is nothing but dialogue with Him. Such is the embodiment of our constant cry: “Here I stand before you, our God!” – Labbayka, Allahuma, labbayk! This, therefore, is the meaning of “tarrying” (wuquf) before God on the plane of `Arafah.

Millions of people, wrapped in burial shrouds, leave everything behind on this day, exist only for God, embrace their mortality, and go on pleading and praying with a degree of fervor and confidence never achieved before – and hardly ever after.

It is the custom to stay in `Arafah until just after sunset, only to hurry off down the 4.5 mile stretch toward Muzdalifah. There was such a rush and confusion that the professor and I had lost our bus. Wandering around among hundreds of buses, we were looking for seats.

Suddenly, I noticed somebody waving me to approach him. It was a friend of mine, Muhammad Azmani, Morocco’s Minister of Industry and Trade. To run into him, in a crowd of two million people! That is how, at a time of crisis, I became a temporary, unofficial member of the official Moroccan Hajj delegation. First this tremendous rush, and now we found ourselves sitting on the stranded bus for a total of three hours, drenched in sweat, before it was able to crawl forward for all but three yards.

As usual, all the pilgrims must try to get to the same place at the same time. The traffic police attempted to intervene, but only succeeded in worsening the chaos. A few pilgrims were trying to take the direct route on foot, across the dark volcanic mountains, their forms contrasting off of the black rocks like lost and lonely white ghosts. Caught in stop and go traffic, we did not reach Muzdalifah – close but yet so far – until 11pm.

Led by an imam from Rabat, we were holding our evening and night prayers together, our sore knees resting on just those tiny but sharp pieces of gravel, the size of chick peas, from which we were to pick up 49 pebbles in order to be appropriately supplied for the rites of stoning (rajm), that were to take place on the following days. At about two o’clock in the morning our bus returned to Mina and stopped near one of the three pillars that were to be stoned.

The intention was to symbolize the final rejection of evil in oneself and also in the world around us. I pushed my way in close enough to hit the pillar with my pebbles, yet also maintained a safe distance to avoid getting caught in a hail of stones from behind. A group of little boys armed with scissors waited in front of our bus. Didn’t I say so?

Since we did not opt for shaving our heads, they at least wanted to cut off a lock for the sum of three riyals, as finally happened. After that, having fulfilled all our Hajj obligations, we could have left the status of ihram and with it stopped wearing our pilgrim’s attire. Instead, we found ourselves so elated that we were swept along in a kind of pious rapture. So before dawn we decided to hurry on to Makkah.

Now we had to walk around the Ka`bah another time, this time in the cover of night (Tawaf Al-Ifadah). At least 200,000 other pilgrims seemed, however, to have had the same brilliant idea and unaccountable energy reserves. Thus the pushing and shoving was even worse than last time.

As a result, the seven-fold circumambulation of “The House”, followed by the jogging and walking back and forth between al Safa and al Marwah, also for seven times, altogether took me a total of two exhausting hours.

It was 4:30 in the morning on the Day of Sacrifice, the 10th day of the month of pilgrimage, and we had to muster our last ounce of strength and composure in order to join 800,000 other believers for the Morning Prayer in the Great Mosque of Makkah, almost in a trance.

The quality of their voices, together with the perfection of their recitation distinguish the muezzins and the imams in the Haram of Makkah as the “crème de la crème”. Their chanting builds into a magnificent incantation of sublime artistic quality. In fact, their recitation of the Qur’an reaches the level of acoustic meditation. Shortly after six am, we had finally made it back to our guest house in Mina.

Homesick for Makkah

After being up and about for 26 hours, we felt emotionally and physically drained. My fellow pilgrims and I embraced each other, exclaiming “Hajj Mubarak! Hajj Maqbul!” (May your hajj be blessed and accepted).

Sheikh Nahnah was sobbing, delighted with my new status. On the third (and last) day, I went right after the Morning Prayer and all by myself, to discharge my duty of ritual stoning, for myself as well as my neighbor. In the streets, the first pilgrims were just beginning to rise from their makeshift beds. Even some street vendors were already up and about.

Combining Hajj with commerce has always been permissible. Many pilgrims are earning their trip back home by selling off whatever they brought from their native countries: ivory trinkets, silver jewelry, or fabrics. An Anatolian farmer crossed my path and asked rather casually: “Seytan nerede?” (Where is the devil?), as if he expected everybody to know this and speak Turkish to boot.

With a deadpan face I gave the correct directions – in Turkish – for him to find the pillar scheduled for stoning that day. Never before had I been able to locate the devil with such a degree of precision.

The next day we returned to Jeddah by way of Makkah where we performed the farewell Tawaf (Tawaf Al-Wada`). Since we arrived in time for the Afternoon Prayer, the mosque was bursting at the seams.

I decided to sit on the gallery for quite some time, eagerly soaking up the view of this incredibly beautiful mosque so that it would stay with me for a long time. I felt homesick for Makkah even before having left.

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Source: onislam.net.

The article is an excerpt from the author’s book “Journey to Makkah”.

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New Muslims Pilgrimage

Hajj: A Different Level of Existence

 

Ka`bah_Hajj

It brings to mind immediately the grand assembly before Allah at the end of time when each and every human being will be recompensed…

During Hajj the pilgrim imbibes the spiritual experience flowing from the role models of the Prophets Abraham, Ishmael and Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon them) and of Hager. Each of them represents an illuminating model of wholesale surrender to Allah’s will, and of steadfastness, characterized by unflinching resolve and undoubting courage, in following the path prescribed by Him.

As the pilgrim observes the places associated with them, he discovers a new level of existence; of surrender to Allah’s commands. Taken in this sense, Hajj stands out as a salvific journey, facilitating the pilgrim’s quest for deliverance.

For as the pilgrim moves away from his mundane, worldly surroundings and moves on to the open and sacred center and witnesses first-hand the religious sacra, the doors of his/her perception are cleansed. Hajj thus has a tremendous transformative effect on the pilgrim, giving a marked measure of coherence, direction and meaning to life.

The standing at ‘Arafat in the company of millions of pilgrims displays the homogenization of the purpose of the journey and of status.

It brings to mind immediately the grand assembly before Allah at the end of time when each and every human being will be recompensed in proportion to the record of his/her deeds.

At another level, this grand gathering has effectual benefits. For this infuses a strong sense of brotherhood among all the pilgrims. This spectacle of Muslim fraternity cutting across ethnicities, polities, cultures and societies, brings into sharper relief the truth underlying the Qur’anic assertion about Hajj.

And recall when We appointed the House (the Ka`bah) a resort to mankind and a place of security… (Al-Baqarah 2:125)

Hajj embodies the virtuous inclination of the pilgrim’s will. It thus serves as an excellent opportunity for ennobling and sublimating one’s emotions and responses. As already hinted, Hajj trains pilgrims in exercising and developing self-restraint.

On the way to Hajj, the pilgrim may be afflicted with troubles which are sent by Allah to test his/her moral mettle. Apart from this, the restrictions flowing from donning ihram aim at imbuing the pilgrim with a whole array of moral values. Of these, the avoidance of aggression or controlling one’s animal instincts is to the fore.

The Qur’anic directives of Hajj are, significantly enough, tempered with exhortations for self-restraint, something which is pivotal to leading an excellent moral life. Take the following as an instance in point:

For Hajj are the months well known. So whoever undertakes that duty, let there be no obscenity, wickedness or wrangling during Hajj. And whatever good you do, Allah surely knows it. And take provision for the journey. Surely the best provision is piety. (Al-Baqarah 2:197)

Likewise, the command for animal sacrifice is followed by the precept denoting charity and fellow feeling … “Eat some of it and feed the needy and the poor,” (Al-Hajj 22:28). All lewdness in word and deed is forbidden.

Islam introduced this moral strain at a time when the visit to the Ka`bah during the pre-Islamic period was vitiated by obscenity. The above moral precepts are part of the Islamic code of conduct. These are nonetheless emphasized during Hajj as part of the pilgrim’s moral training.

The union of the separate but similar emotional and moral dispositions of pilgrims facilitates this effectual benefit. Through the strong sense of brotherhood and the common bonding of devotion to the same goal as also the moral tenor leaves an indelible imprint on the mind and soul of the pilgrim.

The convergence of pilgrims from all parts of the world, representative of a vast socio-economic catchment area, provides pilgrims with many associational benefits. Acquaintance and social contact with fellow believers revitalizes the sense of community and solidarity and opens up avenues for trade and commerce.

Furthermore, the exchange of views on a wide range of issues may be likened to a fresh blood supply in the Muslim polity. More rewarding is the interaction among the `ulamaa’ (scholars) and jurisprudents from different parts of the world. Hajj serves as an international gathering of members of various strata of society. It provides an excellent platform for da‘wah, its strategies, challenges and prospects.

Above all, it helps raise the morale of pilgrims as believers.

The benefits of Hajj are staggering, especially the salvific, associational and effectual ones. Little wonder then that the Qur’an makes a point of mentioning that Muslims should perform Hajj so as to witness the benefits accruing to them” (Al-Hajj 22:28).

Some of these benefits are recorded graphically in the travelogues of pilgrims of all times and places, especially of new Muslims. Even Orientalists, inimical to Islam, feel compelled to pay a glowing tribute to some of the benefits of Hajj, as is evident from the following extracts:

This great international gathering … is an impressive manifestation of the unity of the Muslim world, and serves to keep alive the feeling of brotherhood in Islam. The same thought is impressed upon those Muslims who have been unable themselves to make the pilgrimage in that on the very same day in which the sacrifices are being offered outside the city of Mecca, the faithful … are linked by bonds of sympathy with their more fortunate brethren in the sacred city.

In the same vein is the observation of a distinguished Western historian of Arabia:

Down through the ages this institution (Hajj) has continued to serve as the major unifying influence in Islam and the most effective common bond among the diverse believers. It rendered almost every capable Muslim perforce a traveler for once in his lifetime.

This socializing influence of such a gathering of the brotherhood of believers from the four quarters of the earth is hard to overestimate. It affords opportunity for Negroes, Berbers, Chinese, Persians, Syrians, Turks, Arabs – rich and poor, high and low, to fraternize and meet together on the common ground of faith.

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The article is an excerpt from Abdur Raheem Kidwai’s book “The Qur’an: Essential Teachings”, published by the Islamic Foundation, 2005/1426 H.

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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.”

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Source: post-gazette.com.

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