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.

 

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”

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”

Love for the sake of Allah: The Beauty of Sisterhood

Ok, before you even read this post, you have to go read this love letter from a Muslimah, and this post on the sisterhood of Islam.

“Allah will ask on Day of Judgement: “Where are those who loved each other for the sake of My glory? Today, on a day when there is no shade but Mine, I will shade them with My shade.”

Hadith Qudsi narrated in Muslim

This whole “love for the sake of Allah” thing was not something I really understood or experienced, up until very, very recently. Now that I do know how beautiful it is, however, I am a little obsessed with how much I love my fellow Muslimahs and our community, just for the fact that we are supposed to love each other as sisters in religion. Which is why, when I read those two posts above, I couldn’t get them out of my head. Especially that love letter, made me smile all day long!

The whole notion of sisterhood and community was one of the things that actually really attracted me to Islam, once I started studying a little more in-depth. I think it was The Ideal Muslimah that really clued me in to what a beautiful community the Muslims must have, always treating each other so kindly, giving gifts just for the joy of it, lending a helping hand to any sister in need. Upon citing these things to my house-mate, who was not much of a fan of the transition I was going through, as reasons that I was seriously considering Islam, she promptly told me that I should just join a book club or a knitting group, and I could find community that way; I didn’t have to make such a drastic change.  Continue reading “Love for the sake of Allah: The Beauty of Sisterhood”

Don’t Let Them Dull Your Sparkle

Salaam!

I wrote a post way back in the first month or two of this blog, called To Give a Smile Away. I was looking through old posts to share again, and I lighted on that one; it was super short, just a thought I was having at the time, but the beautiful memory of that day when the girl so sincerely smiled at me in the mosque came flooding back to me so vividly when I re-read that post, that I thought I would not only re-share it, but actually re-write it to dig a little deeper into what exactly the situation was in my life at that time.

I then remembered another post I had written, on exactly the same topic, but a bit more long-form. This one never actually got shared with the world, it has been sitting as on Open Office document on my hard drive since August.

So I thought, with a little editing and updating, I would share it with you today. I know this is a theme that has been somewhat recurring in my writing lately (you can spot it here, here, and in some articles I’ve shared here), but for some reason it is something that is just present in my mind a lot lately: Continue reading “Don’t Let Them Dull Your Sparkle”

On Feeling Guilt

Salaam y’all.

So I am writing this on a Thursday afternoon, just as February is about to begin. I don’t know if it will get posted anytime soon, but I wanted to share some reflections that I have been having today.

As you all may or may not know, I try to make it a habit to fast every Monday and Thursday, as well as the “white days” of the month. Which means I should be fasting today; I am not travelling nor am I on my menstrual cycle, so according to me the only excuse is my own laziness.

To be a bit more fair, I started off the day fasting. I woke up around 5:30 AM, prayed a couple of extra rakat and made plenty of duas for help in these troubling political times. I ate a suhoor of some fruit and yogurt, but I was just feeling kind of off. I prodded my husband awake for fajr after I heard the athan, and while he stayed up to have breakfast and head out for a day of fishing, I got back in bed for a couple extra hours of sleep.

Upon re-waking up and trying to begin my day, I was feeling icky to begin with. And then, around 11 or so, I began to get one of the most dreaded feelings I can even describe: I was starting to get all of the warning signs that happen at the onset of my migraines. Continue reading “On Feeling Guilt”

Interfaith

I  received an email a couple weeks ago from the pastor of the church I used to attend, and it was such a beautiful thing that I couldn’t not share it here.

Firstly, he wanted to check up on me, to see how I was doing in these troubling political times. He was also asking after me on behalf of all of my old church members, who have had me on their minds lately. He just wanted to make sure I was OK, and let me know that I was in their thoughts.

This in and of itself was such a lovely email, that it would’ve been sufficient to brighten my day, but then he shared a story with me:

A few nights before (on the night of the awful shooting in Quebec, coincidentally), my old church had hosted a pot-luck dinner for the Muslim community a couple of towns over. The Muslims brought the main dishes to ensure halal meat, etc., and the church members brought the soft drinks, tea, sweets, and desserts.

The Muslims got a tour of the church, and at the time for isha prayer, the imam’s son called the athaan for all of the church members to hear.

He sent me some pictures from the event, and it actually brought tears to my eyes to see all of my Muslim brothers and sisters sitting and eating together in the very hall and with the very people I had grown up with. That my former church was taking these kinds of steps towards love and understanding in a small town and in such troubled times, really brought a smile to my very heart. Continue reading “Interfaith”

Easing into Iman

Salaam! Today I also wanted to share a little story about Valentine’s Day. And when everybody else is talking about the haraam-ness of it, you can bet that’s not going to be the moral of my story.

In my very first year as a Muslim, Valentine’s Day fell literally three months after my shahada.

I remember having a conversation on Skype with my husband (then fiance), and asking if we were going to do something special for Valentine’s Day. He gently explained to me that because we are Muslims we don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day, and he personally doesn’t believe in it because, as he puts it, “he loves me every day.” Continue reading “Easing into Iman”

Comfort is Relative: Reflections from my Journey to the U.K.

Salaam all.

So, you may have noticed that I have not been so active the past week or so, and this is even my second late blog post this week. And it’s not even the right post for a Friday…

It is because I was on a short little trip back to London, U.K. where I was living and studying before I came over here to Algeria to wait with my husband for the rest of his U.S. visa case processing time.

The minute my plane’s wheels touched the ground in Gatwick, a huge smile began to spread over my face. I turned my phone on- internet, good service, I could call my mom or write a blog post, consult a map or do whatever I needed to do.

I get to my hotel: hot shower, running water, a soft, fluffy bed, carpet on the floor and a clean space in the kitchen. Heating quietly working in the background, a nice view of north-west London houses from my window.

As I travel around the city, everywhere I look I can see God’s blessings that I have taken for granted my entire life, but that I had been missing for the past six months in Northern Africa; cars that drive safely, sidewalks that you can actually walk on without falling into a pit or running into a parked car, people who don’t stare at you, men who don’t approach you even when you are dressed in a jilbab out with your husband.

Beauty, diversity, creativity, excitement, life. Continue reading “Comfort is Relative: Reflections from my Journey to the U.K.”

purple flowers on white background, text "Dealing with Illness An often untold detail of my convert story"

Dealing with Illness: An often untold detail of my Convert Story

Salaam everyone! Today I want to write about something that is actually a big part of my journey to Islam, but not actually something I talk about a lot.

Around a month after I got home from London, had already  (Skype) met my fiance, and begun to study Islam, I got very sick.

It started with about a week of nick and head pain, that I just chalked up to my system being a bit out of whack from travelling, and perhaps sleeping in an odd position.

Then I began to get migraines. I’ve always had migraines, every since I was young, but these were particularly bad, and lasted for days at a time. One day, I got one that was so bad I couldn’t even speak, and my mom finally caved in and took uninsured-me to the emergency room. Crying and shaking uncontrollably, my mom had to hold my hand to help me sign the papers to be admitted.

They gave me an IV of morphine, and laying in that dark, quiet room, for the first time in weeks I felt some relief. They kept me in for a few more hours and another round of morphine just to make sure I was doing better, and then they sent me home. Continue reading “Dealing with Illness: An often untold detail of my Convert Story”