Islam, Love, and Obligation

Salaam all.

Just yesterday (as of writing this a week or two ago), I went to visit a friend of mine here in Algeria. Well, she is my husband’s cousin’s wife, so I guess she is kind family. At any rate, she is one of the very few women here in Algeria that I feel I can really relate to, and with whom I really enjoy spending time.

She and I are very much on the same page where is Islam is concerned, and we both have similar ways of practising and thinking about things, which makes her easy to get along with. I know that I can talk about Qur’an or hadith and she won’t get bored, but we can also talk about politics, kids, or our hot beverage preferences just as well. I truly do love her for the sake of Allah swt, and I am so glad to get the chance to visit her and the kids every now and again.

There has been something bothering me in the back of my mind since my last visit, though.

She and I can talk about hadith, seerah, Qur’an, fiqh or any many of other things all day long, and we can be in agreement on a great deal of topics. But when I reflect back on our conversations, there seems to be something so radically different about the way we approach Islam. When I think about it, there seems to be something missing.

At first I didn’t know what could possibly be causing me to think that way; she and I are so alike in many aspects, and we definitely agree on a great many issues. But then I realized what I felt was missing all this time: love.

The way she practices Islam, though outwardly looks just like the way I practice Islam, comes from such a fundamentally different place, it got me thinking and reflecting on my own ideas and feelings about this religion.

She does the things she does out of a sense of obligation. If I do X, I will go to heaven; if I do Y I will go to hell. I do Z because it is obligatory and I don’t do A,B, or C because they are haraam. For her, it is all very clear-cut. Obligatory, haraam. Heaven, hell.

Prayer is a five times daily to-do, but there is no sweetness in it. Jilbab is a modesty-must, but she would just as well wear a nice dress and be done with it. Actions don’t seem to have much meaning beyond “fard,” and staying away from certain things goes no farther than “haraam.”

And don’t get me wrong—I am not judging her or the way she practices Islam. She has what works for her and she seems plenty content with that, but it has made me reflect more on what works for me.

I don’t think I could ever learn to practice Islam that way. If someone had handed me the rulebook from day one, I would never have gotten where I am now. I had to learn to love first. To love Allah swt, to love His Messenger (saws), to love the perfect religion that He sent down. And I had to learn that Allah swt loves me. He loves me enough to have chosen me for this religion, He loves me enough to have sent down the Qur’an to show me how I need to live. He loves me enough to set boundaries for my life that, while they may seem restrictive to others, are actually in my best interest, just like a parent sets boundaries for their child.

Without this sense of love, I don’t think it would be at all possible for me to practice as I do. Yes, the ideas of heaven and hell are strong motivators for some, but I find for myself that they are just not quite tangible enough. There are just a bit too far beyond my scope of imagination; because my human mind can’t fully grasp them it can’t be fully motivated by them.

But love is so tangible; love is one of the strongest emotions the human heart is capable of, and the strongest bonds come from it.

For me, every single action I take in this religion comes from a place of love and understanding. I pray five times a day because Allah swt told me to, and I want to obey the One who created me, but also because that is five times built into every single day of mine to connect and communicate with my Creator. It calms my mind and refreshes my heart.

I wear jilbab because Muslims are commanded to practise modesty, but I wear it with a pride that makes it feel more like a shield and armor than some loose cloth. I understand now that my body is my own, a gift from my Creator, and that is no one’s business but who is worthy to see it.

Of course, in the middle of writing this I paused to look at an email, and while it illustrates part of what is on my mind, it completely de-railed all that I was just feeling as I wrote. It was a blog post from a sister I absolutely love and respect, re-blogged from another blog I had never heard of, so I stopped to have a read. And I swear reading this one post took all that emotion I was just writing about straight out of me, leaving me feeling just kind of empty.

It was about TV, and while I agree with the main premise of the article (TV isn’t great for you and there are more productive things to be doing, essentially), it was presented in such a way that made me just feel horrible—about myself, about my worth as a Muslim, about my “goodness” as a human being.

The whole article sounded like if you are a “good” Muslim you will take the TV out of your house. The reasons? Haraam this, haraam that, no benefit from it whatsoever. And apparently if you take it out of your house that will increase your tawheed. It didn’t mention how, just dropped it like a fact.

And again, I am not judging the sister who wrote the post; this post is literally the only thing I know about her and I know nothing of her journey and circumstances. It was just so in-the-moment, and I want to share the feelings and reflections it brings up for me.

I agree, many things that you can see on TV are not great for you and are not at all aligned with Islamic values. There is immodesty, drinking, drugs, gambling, and whatever else all out there on the TV. But there are also Islamic channels (at least in some countries), there are channels that are educational. If you have some amount of self control some TV programs can be used to benefit, and you can leave off the rest.

It is just this kind of black and white, yes or no, haraam or fard (obligatory) dichotomy that, for me, takes all of the spirituality, all of the heart, and all of the life out of Islam. As I was writing about the love I learned from Islam when I began studying it, I could literally feel that, and peace, and happiness, and a desire to continually learn and improve myself running through my soul.

But then I get online and I seem to see a thousand things every day that tell me that the only way to be a good Muslim is self-denial, whatever you are doing now it is not enough, you are not working hard enough, you are too happy where you are. Leave your disbeliever family, take those pink Converse off your feet, do more housework and shut that outspoken mouth.

You must, you must, you must. You must not, must not, must not.

This is how some people choose to see and practice Islam. And though it personally makes me sad ,  that’s really OK—it’s what works for you. But for me, it feels constricting, it feels so lifeless.

I want to practice the Islam that comes from my heart, to feel the love for Allah swt fuelling my desire to be a better person, to learn the “whys” and the wisdoms behind the rules and actions, to feel the impact they make in my life.

And I want to believe in an Islam that is merciful, that takes into account situations and circumstances and individuality. Maybe for some, if you have a TV in your house it will be a waste of time, a temptation, or a fitnah. Chuck it! But for me, when I turn on the animal channel with my husband for a few minutes at night, we learn new things, we remember the glory and the wonder of the world that Allah swt has created, and it sparks interesting discussions between us about our life and religion.

I have to believe that there is more to this religion and more to this life than obligation and haraam.

Don’t get me wrong, distinctions between what is permissible and forbidden, what is obligatory and voluntary, are all necessary to our religion, our complete way of life. But there is a place for those just like there is a place for experiencing the joy and serenity of Islam. You can enjoy this life within its limits, while working for the next. It is all about the balance, something I have been feeling lately that we are missing out on so dearly as a community.

“The Prophet saws said, ‘The deeds of anyone of you will not save you (from the hell fire).’ They said, ‘Even you, O Allah’s Messenger?’ He said, ‘No, even I (will not be saved) unless and until Allah bestows his mercy on me. Therefore, do good deeds properly, sincerely, and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (paradise).’” Narrated in Bukhari

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Note: I do hope no one will be offended by this post. I truly do love my sisters in Islam for the sake of Allah swt, and wish them all the best in this world and the next. When I wrote this post, I was merely giving vent to some really strong emotions that have been cropping up for me as to a certain way that Islam is being presented within our communities.

 

Incorporating More Qur’an into your Life

Salaam all.

So, the countdown to Ramadan continues, and on the blog-schedule we’ve only got two posts left until it begins, in shaa Allah! Anyone else as excited as me?!

To honor the upcoming “month of the Qur’an,” I wanted to share with you a little bit about my personal journey with Allah’s swt book, and some practical tips to kick-start your relationship with the Qur’an as Ramadan is about to kick off.

I bought my first English translation of the Qur’an at age 13 or so. I was at Barnes and Noble looking for some interesting reads after our youth group leader had taken us on interfaith trips to a mosque and a synagogue, and there it was, sitting on the religion shelf. I looked at it and wasn’t actually all that interested, but I did think, “well, that’ll irritate my step father to no end.” So I bought it.

It sat on my shelf for a while. We had a 20 minute reading period every morning at my high school, so when I turned 14 I began to carry it around with me to show off my “devil may care what you think of me” attitude. That didn’t last long though, and my who-knows-how-accurate English translation was doomed to sit on the shelf for the next 6 or so years.  Continue reading “Incorporating More Qur’an into your Life”

5 Everyday Ways to Give in Charity

Salaam!

In honor of the upcoming month of Ramadan, where we should be striving to increase all of our good deeds and earn multiplied reward, I thought I would share some of my favorite ways to spend in the way of Allah swt. Charity doesn’t only have to be money, there is so much more to it than that!

1.Buy food for the next homeless person you find, whether a small coffee or a full meal, whatever you can afford. In this day and age, you never know where your money is going to go, but you can know you are doing good by helping someone hungry to get some hot food into their body.

2.Lend a helping hand to someone you see struggling with something. Help that old woman carry her groceries, help that kid fix his bike, help the disabled person access the building you are going into. Help your wife with the housework, help your kids with their school work. Even just holding a door open with a smile can be a great way to brighten someone’s day.

3.Smile at your brothers in Islam, stop for a conversation. I’ve talked about it before, but a smile can go a long way! And if you have time, why not actually stop to say salaam to that sister in the queue at the post office with you, ask how she is, have a little human connection? During Ramadan hosting iftar can also be a great way to connect and get the blessing of feeding other fasting people.

4.Pick up trash or other debris from walkways and roads; especially try to pick things up from natural places like beaches or meadows. You will be doing something good for the earth, and in shaa Allah being rewarded at the same time!

5.Feed the animals! I can’t tell you how many cats we have hanging around our house because they know my husband and I are the suckers that will always give them some food, even if it is off of our own plates, but kindness to animals is almost as important as kindness to humans in Islam. We have a responsibility to take care of Allah’s swt creations that are less capable than us, so what harm will it do if you leave some of your iftar leftovers outside for the stray cats or dogs? Maybe don’t put food out if you live somewhere where it will bring bears or mountain lions…but cats, dogs, birds, and small animals will all sure appreciate the meal!

On Trials

Salaam everyone.

I usually try to keep as much of my personal issues off of my blog as possible, but today I seem to be having an unusually hard time of things.

I feel like we have hit every roadblock and delay physically possible on this visa application, I am feeling homesick, missing family, and feeling trapped in a country with no infrastructure upon which to build any semblance of a life. The simplest things feel impossible to me; I can’t even keep up with one of my favorite hobbies—writing good ol’ snail mail—because the postal system here is so dysfunctional.

So yeah, I’m feeling a bit down.

Lately I have been just trying to remind myself that this is life. Allah swt tells us multiple times in the Qur’an that the believers will be tested with losses and hard times, and how often do we hear that the more Allah swt tests a servant, the more He loves him? The prophets, the most beloved people to Allah swt, went through unimaginable trials and tribulations.

But it feels so hard when you are in it. It feels like this one day is never going to end, let alone this whole life. Continue reading “On Trials”

Blue Sky Tag

Salaam everyone!

So I am doing something a little out of the ordinary…usually I have to say I am not that much of a fan of blogging awards and tag posts and all that jazz, but this one did make me smile. I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from my blog lately; my posts are all scheduled out, and while I still love writing about what inspires me, I have been feeling very lazy about getting on and actually connecting with others, whether here or on my social media.

But seeing that I had been tagged by the lovely Shukrallahblog, I decided to participate with the hope that it will help me re-engage with the community I love so much in shaa Allah!! If you don’t follow her blog, I highly recommend it. Hers is one of my absolute favorites, because while she and I don’t necessarily agree on some things, I truly admire how much heart she puts into her writing, and how strongly she stands by her convictions. It is so inspiring, ma shaa Allah!

Jazakum Allahu khairan to Larissa for the nomination =)

So without further ado, here are the rules of the tag:

-Answer the 11 questions given to you

-Nominate and Tag 11 people

-Give 11 questions for your nominees

 

Here are my answers to her questions:

 

1.Who inspires you?

I think I am most inspired by all of the amazing women around the Prophet (saws). The more I learn about his wives and female companions (radiAllahu anhum) the more amazed I am. There is such a diversity of characters and personalities that I can always find something to relate to in one or the other, and they give me such a beautiful example to look up to!

 

2.How do you feel about Ramadan approaching?

Super excited! I’m not in an ideal environment, but in shaa Allah I am hoping to try to make the best of it! I plan to be staying at home quite a bit, getting off social media, and really focusing on what is important during the month in shaa Allah =)

 

3.Where is your favorite place to go on a weekday afternoon when you have no plans or obligations?

Lately, my own house! Haha. These days I can’t be bothered to get all dressed, go out in the heat, and deal with people in this city. But if I was back in the States I would say going for a nature walk, or getting in some good writing time at a local, family owned cafe. I love things like that!

 

4.What is your talent?

Oh goodness, I don’t know. This is why I don’t have a job-I’m super bad at “selling” myself! People tell me I’m good at writing, and I am just starting to really hone my needle-crafting skills with embroidery and cross stitch. That’s about all I can think about right now…

 

5.Choose an inspiration quote that always picks you up.

“… Allah is the Best of planners.” Qur’an 3:54

 

6.Which would be harder to give up, tea or coffee?

Tea for sure! I don’t drink coffee, but I usually end up with a good 2-4 cups of tea a day!

 

7.Is there a book or documentary that really changed the way you thought about something?

Nothing specific comes to mind right now…there are so many things that I have read or heard throughout the course of my journey with Islam that have given me these huge “ah ha!” moments, and really clarified something I had not understood before, especially where women’s issues are concerned.

 

8.What’s more important to you, your home or your career?

Never thought I would say this, but my home. That is what is always there, that is what you have to put the effort into. Careers can change, can come and go, you can get different education and training and take new jobs, but the place and the people you come home to everyday after work should be a constant, a sense of stability, if that makes any sense.

 

9.How long have you been blogging for?

I had a small blog back in the day when I first converted, in 2014, but that didn’t last long. This current blog has been up and running since July 2016, so not even a year yet. But in shaa Allah there will be many more to come!

 

10.Which country are you from?

The United States of America. I used to be a little ashamed of that…awful foreign policies, racism, stereotypes that all Americans are fat and stupid, and whatnot. I used to just say “yeah” when people abroad asked if I was from Canada! But lately seeing how people have truly come together to fight back against the awful things that are going on in the government, plus living in a country where I don’t have half the privilege that I did back home, has really made me feel grateful to be American.

 

11.What du’a do you seem to make the most?

Right now it is dua to see my family. I haven’t seen my family in person for around two years now, and I am really feeling the home-sickness starting to set in. That, and actually duas of gratitude, for good friends, for creative outlets like this, for my husband, and for yummy summer fruits to name a few =)

 

And my nominees are:

 

My Sandbox Journey

Scottish Muslimah

Voice of Salam

Life of a Muslim Revert

Stylebyfj

Mariam Poppins

Genuine Gems Writing

Mina’s Memoir

(I know that a few of these were already nominated in Shukrallahblog’s post, so you don’t have to participate twice if you don’t want to! I think she and I follow a lot of the same people, but I love all of these blogs so much I at least had to give a shout out! Also, anyone else who doesn’t want to of course doesn’t have to participate, but I wanted to at least give y’all a mention =))

 

And my questions for y’all:

 

1.Favorite breakfast food?

2.Which ayah/surah of the Qur’an really goes to your heart?

3.Most interesting place you’ve ever visited?

4.What are your hobbies?

5.What word/phrase drives you bananas when people use it?

6.When do you do your best writing for your blog?

7.Which of the five daily prayers is your favorite?

8.Where would you rather live, city or small, rural town?

9.Your favorite summer fruit?

10.What are you currently reading?

11.What was you “dream job” as a kid?

Marriage Matters

Salaam and jummah mubarak!

I am finding myself this Friday in a bit of a writer’s block, not really feeling any inspiration one way or the other on what to write about. So naturally, I’m just going to share my two-cents about one of those topics that is sensational no matter when you bring it up!

I once heard a speaker at a packed talk on marriage say something to the effect of, “if you want to sell out your class, either talk about marriage or jinn.” And it’s true, the most well-attended classes and seminars I have been to have all been on marriage (I have yet to attend something exclusively about jinn; it’s on my bucket list!)

I understand why people are obsessed with jinn—there is always a degree of fascination around the “supernatural” or the world of the unseen. We can’t see it except on rare, freaky occasions, and we want to know more about what is going on around us. That makes sense.

But I have always found it odd how, in the Muslim community, there is the same degree of fascination around marriage as there is around possession and unseen spirits.

I suppose this is a good time to make the disclaimer though: I actually had no interest in marriage until I was married. Since childhood I would cut out pictures from wedding magazines of pretty dresses and tiaras, but I think that had more to do with my latent desire to be the ruler of the world and have as many pretty dresses as I want than it did with any sort of notion of actually getting married some day.

Anyhow. Obviously I grew up, and much to my own surprise, got married. And I actually quite enjoy it. But that is beside the point—what I am getting at is even from a young age I had no fascination with the big wedding and the perfect husband, so perhaps that is part of the reason that I can’t understand the Muslim (or any other) community’s obsession with the topic.

In Islam getting married is something good. It is encouraged if you have the means and capacity to marry someone, you should do it as early as possible, and not delay for no reason. Marriage is encouraged not only for chastity, but for companionship, for learning and growing together, support, and creating family bonds.

I do not think, however, that marriage is the be-all end-all that much of our community makes it out to be. Continue reading “Marriage Matters”

Reflections on Change

Salaam everyone!

Change has been something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately, as I have been thinking back on the past few years of my life, and look ahead to what the future may bring.

Specifically I am thinking about getting my husband’s visa to the USA, in shaa Allah. Change tends to be one of those things that you either love or hate; I know people who can’t deal with change and need strict stability and “sameness,” and I know people who thrive on change and get antsy sticking around in one place or doing one thing for too long. I definitely fall into the latter group.

Just to take the example of location: looking back on my life since I turned 18 and began studying at university, I have moved back and forth between cities and even continents almost continually. From my home-town to Santa Cruz then back again in the summer. London my third year, back home, back to Santa Cruz. Back home for the summer, London again in the fall. A year and some months later I am living in Algeria.

And alhamdulillah it has been good. There is a steep learning curve when you travel and live abroad, and I have learned so much about myself and the world around me. Heck, travel is what introduced me to Islam. But in thinking about my future, and especially when we have this visa in-hand (in shaa Allah!!!) I’m beginning to feel that all I want to do is go to my grandpa’s house, roll myself up in a blanket next to the fireplace and hibernate and recuperate there for around a year. And then I want to find my own place and “set up housekeeping” as Louisa May Alcott would put it.

Just writing that, however, makes my brain say, “whoah there, cool it! Sedentary life isn’t what you do; you have always loved travelling so you best stick with it! That’s your thing. You never wanted anything to do with any housekeeping nonsense, so don’t start now.”

Where I run into a wall with change isn’t in the transience of all things in this life or changes in time, season, location, people, possessions, or worldly concerns, but where it comes to changing my own mind Continue reading “Reflections on Change”

Book Review: Ramadan Reflections: The 10 Minute Journal

Salaam everyone!

So, in the next couple of weeks leading up to Ramadan in shaa Allah, I am planning to share a few posts with you with tips and ideas that could be useful during that wonderful month.

Today I have something that I am super excited about, a book review! These have been few and far between lately, mainly because of the lack of English-language book stores here in Algeria. This one, though, was sent over to me from Samira at The Muslimah Guide.

You can read her post all about the story behind this book here , so I’m just going to get straight into my review!

The book is called Ramadan Reflections: The 10 Minute Journal.

I’m sure you’re thinking, well it’s not Ramadan so you couldn’t have possibly used this journal yet, how do you have any opinion on it?!

Yeah, well, no, I haven’t used it yet. But I had a look through and it is something that I think will be very helpful in shaa Allah to keeping my Ramadan on track. And I think it is something that others could find beneficial as well!  Continue reading “Book Review: Ramadan Reflections: The 10 Minute Journal”

No Compulsion in Religion

Salaam alaikum =D

“There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower.” (Qur’an 2:256)

We all know this verse. Much of the time it is (rightly) used to prove to non-Muslims that it is un-Islamic to force someone to accept Islam, which is indeed a very important point to be made in today’s culture of Islamophobia. As the verse clearly states, the right way is distinct from the wrong way, and the choice is up to us.

But lately I have been thinking of it from another perspective: there should be no compulsion within the religion.

The Muslim community is by no means homogeneous, and the rich variety of cultures and people who make it up is one of the beauties of Islam. Lately, however, I feel like there is a lot of pressure to all manifest our Islam exactly the same way. This could be pressure on converts to assimilate into a particular cultural group, pressure to follow the “right” madhhab (school of thought), or this could be general pressure to follow some very strict doctrine coming out of Saudi Arabia, for the sole reason that it comes from Saudi Arabia and therefore must be closest to the truth.

I understand that some of these societal pressures often stem from the time of colonialism and have deep sociopolitical roots, but I think on a more personal level they are worth being brought to awareness.

Just like we cannot force others to become Muslim if their hearts do not believe, we should not try to force Muslims into practising a certain way, just because it is the way that we believe is right.  Continue reading “No Compulsion in Religion”

Interview: Life of a Muslim Revert

Salaam y’all!

Today I have something for you that I am pretty excited about…an interview!! It is the first one I have done for this blog, but I have to say I really enjoyed making up the questions and seeing what kinds of answers I got, so in shaa Allah there may be more coming (wink, wink). It also felt like a really lovely way to connect with a fellow sister and blogger, and if you keep your eye out you may just see a reciprocal interview from yours truly pop up on her site soon =)

For our interview today I have Lili from Life of a Muslim Revert . I don’t remember how I stumbled upon her blog, but I was immediately won over by her sweet disposition, heartfelt writing, and her fresh perspective on things. It was just that—her different perspective—that made me want to have her around for an interview!

So here it is, and if you enjoy hearing from her I cannot encourage you enough to go check our her blog!

Salaam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh! Thank you so much for agreeing to come on for an interview; I love reading your blog, and I hope my readers will enjoy your writing as much as I do. I find your perspective so interesting and can’t wait to learn a bit more!

Waalaikumussalam sister Ashley! I really love reading your blog and I hope, inshallah, you’d like it as much as I liked reading your stories  thank you for giving me this opportunity to answer your questions, it is such an honour.

1.To get things started, could you tell us a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old are you and what do you do (if you are comfortable sharing)? When did you decide to convert to Islam?

My name is Lili, and I’m currently in my early 20s. I’m Chinese, and a university student doing a degree in Psychology, alhamdulilah. Inshallah, in the future I am able to help and work with autistic children. I am very grateful, to be a part of this sisterhood in our blogging community. Mashallah the support is truly amazing! Continue reading “Interview: Life of a Muslim Revert”