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.

 

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”

Some Famous Reverts

Salaam alaikum y’all.

Today I want to talk about some of the most famous reverts out there.

And no, I’m not talking about celebrity reverts to Islam. Although, can we talk about that for a second? Why does everyone lose their mind every time a celebrity even looks like they are coming near Islam? I mean, alhamdulillah for anyone who is guided to the truth. Me, you, the old man down the street, Shania Twain….What I’m getting at is it should all be the same. Shania Twain shouldn’t be any more important than me when it comes to celebrating someone embracing Islam. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is super important for celebrities who do come to Islam to then use their immense influence to spread truth and goodness, but I don’t really think that we need celebrity converts to validate our religion. Continue reading “Some Famous Reverts”

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”

“Imitating the Kuffar”

Salaam everyone.

This post has been a long time in the making, basically ever since I wrote my slightly rant-y post on divisive (and super offensive) language in the Muslim community. I mentioned a certain aspect of this rhetoric, namely calling everything haraam just to try to make everyone’s life as ascetic as your own, and I want to delve a little deeper into one facet of that: the idea of something being haraam on the basis of “imitating the kuffar (non-Muslims).”

For me, and for many converts, this is something that hugely impacts my life and the way I practice Islam, because my culture, the culture I was born into, and the culture I lived with for the first 21 years of my life before Islam, is a “non-Muslim culture.”

In my case this is growing up in the United States of America, for some it may be growing up in other non-Muslim majority countries such as a European country, China, India, or various African nations. At any rate, there is another predominant religion in the country, and many aspects of the culture you come from may not match up with principles of Islam.

The example I gave in my other post to illustrate this was about my wedding ring: it is haraam because in “Islamic culture” we don’t wear wedding rings, and therefore you are imitating the kuffar.

So, I want to stick with this example and take it from a few different sides, and hopefully show why I often find this argument to be problematic. Continue reading ““Imitating the Kuffar””

Watch Your Mouth: On the divisive vocabulary of the Muslim community

Ok, I am going to warn you straight up right now, this post is going to be a bit of a rant. So if you don’t want to hear a rant, I suggest you go read a happier post or just come back tomorrow.

What I am going to rant about today is how people in our communities seem to throw very strong words at others like they are tossing candy to spectators at a small-town parade. And the three words that tend to get my metaphorical goat the most are: kafir, munafiq, and haram.

Don’t get me wrong, all of these words are necessary, and distinctions that need to be made in our faith. But when they are used all day, every day, by anyone to describe any random person, they really start to grate on my nerves.  Continue reading “Watch Your Mouth: On the divisive vocabulary of the Muslim community”

Where do we go from here: Processing Out Loud

Salaam everyone. So today I just have a lot of things running through my mind, and I thought maybe doing some processing in writing could not only be good for my own self, but if I posted it that perhaps someone else could find benefit in my thoughts.

Even here in Algeria where the news tends to get here a day or two late, it has been a rough week for me. It started off with me worrying about my single working mother and what would happen to her health care as Republicans vehemently cut Obamacare with no viable alternative in mind, and only got worse from there.

Around mid-week I woke up to the news of a possible Muslim ban, and the beginning of “The Wall.” I had hoped that maybe the big, beautiful wall would keep the new president occupied for a bit longer and that his immigration plans would have to wait, but by the end of the week I got the news that the order had been signed.

Normally, I would only be outraged about this on an empathetic level. I would be angry about the human rights violations that are involved in sending thousands of people back to their war-torn countries, back into the hands of the very terrorists you are scared of. About the unfairness of it, about the inhumanity of it.

I would be depressed to see the dangerous direction my home country is heading in, turning away legal visa holders and legal residents from their studies, jobs, and families, all because of the country they are from, the religion they profess, or worst yet, a mere “suspicion.”

But being in the situation I am now in life, I am also deeply worried on a personal level. Continue reading “Where do we go from here: Processing Out Loud”

white flower in vase in front of event chairs and strings of lights, text "I Went to a Wedding and it was Kinda Traumatic"

I Went to a Wedding and it was Kinda Traumatic

Ok y’all, today I want to talk about something that goes on in the Muslim community, both in the US and the “East,” that I really just can’t wrap my brain around: weddings.

When I was getting married to my husband, I did all the research and prepared—witnesses, check; simple yet pretty dress that I can wear with hijab, check; some small halal cakes and juice for those who are there, check. It was the simplest affair you can imagine: nikkah at the mosque with some friends as witnesses, dinner with family later.

So when I got invited to a couple weddings here by friends of my mother-in-law’s, I thought it would be great to see a more traditional wedding in an actual Muslim country.

As you have probably read, I ranted about the covering and the mixing of men and women at weddings in another post, but I was silly enough to go to another wedding after that incident (wearing a pink jilbab set this time, at least!) and what I would really like to write about today are the shocking, extravagant ends that people go to for their weddings, while they are doing exactly the opposite of what is recommended by Islam.

My experience here is with Algerian weddings so that is what I will be writing about, but I have heard just many stories from other Arabic countries as well as many Muslim communities back home in the United States and the United Kingdom.

There are so many things that happen at these weddings that are so far beyond the bounds of what is normal/necessary, and especially the trend here in Algeria seems to be “who can do the MOST” of anything. Continue reading “I Went to a Wedding and it was Kinda Traumatic”

East and West

I am writing this towards the end of September, as I sit on the beach with my mother-in-law, watching my husband cast his fishing line out into the sea. The lights from the city are reflected in the water, and a soft breeze carries the ‘isha athaan into my ears. There are a couple of drops of rain falling on my page as I write, but it is a warm, end of summer kind of rain.

I am truly blessed to be where I am right now.

I hear the athaan five times a day, I don’t have to worry about finding a “halal” shop for food, I am not persecuted for wearing my hijab. I don’t have to explain myself when someone catches me sicking my feet in the sink, I don’t have to find somewhere to celebrate Eid with other Muslims, when I tell people I am fasting I am met with “mashaaAllah” instead of barely concealed horror.

When I first converted I was always a little bit jealous of those who had grown up in Muslim families and Muslim countries.

And now here I am, living in a beautiful city that is by all appearances in a Muslim country.

So I can’t help but be a bit sad as I begin to wonder, where is all the Islam? Continue reading “East and West”

Happy Holidays

Oh my goodness, I am writing this in early November and I can already feel the drama welling up from here.

But it is getting to be that time of the year again…

Time for the Christmas Controversy.

But seriously, I have found there to be such a vehement divide in the community on the topic of celebrating Christmas, and for me as a convert with an American Christian background, it has been a particularly tricky thing to navigate. Continue reading “Happy Holidays”