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

post-signature

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”

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”

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”

For the Sisters: Staying Connected When you can’t Pray or Fast

Salaam alaikum y’all!

So, we are coming up on Ramadan fast. Like, quite fast. As of posting we only have a month and some days left. For some of us that is pretty exciting, but for some of us (new reverts, first time fasters anyone?) that can be pretty daunting.

I remember my very first Ramadan, being on such a spiritual high, a productive kick at work, I seemed to be seeing everything through pink, sparkly glasses. But then, a week and a half or so in, disaster struck: the dreaded menstrual cycle.

(Men who are reading this can feel free to duck out at this point if this isn’t a topic that you care to know much about…it’s only going to get worse from here!)

Up until this month, I had been pretty lazy where my period was concerned, but this was different. It was Ramadan, and I didn’t want to lose my momentum in such a sacred month. As a new Muslimah, however, I was a bit confused as to what I could and could not do during this week.

I asked around some of my friends, and actually managed to come up with a plan that kept me spiritually connected and productive during the eight days that I couldn’t fast with everyone else, and today, I want to share some of those things that I did. In shaa Allah you can implement these things in your own life not only during the month of Ramadan, but all year round in order to keep yourself spiritually “plugged in” even when you can’t perform ritual prayer or fasting. Continue reading “For the Sisters: Staying Connected When you can’t Pray or Fast”

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”

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”

No Room for Superstition in Islam

Salaam!

A sister in one of my Whatsapp groups just sent a photo to us with the caption “SubhanAllah, someone actually did sihr [black magic] to this sister’s baby.” It was a picture of an old photo of a baby, with the face scratched out in red, safety pins stuck through it, a padlock clamped onto one side, and a bunch of writing in Arabic scribbled all over it.

To her, and to many Muslims living in America or Europe, this isn’t something they encounter everyday, and can be quite shocking. I myself didn’t even understand the relevant of all of the different hadith on superstition, black magic, and issues with jinn until I came to stay in the Muslim world a bit.

If you walk down to the beach, not even ten minutes from my house, you will find plenty of rocky, cliff kinds of areas. They are great for sitting and fishing, or just enjoying the view, but the things you find there can be startling. Photos just like the ones of the baby: women, babies, couples, men, all with faces scratched out and writing scribbled all over. Safety pins, padlocks, rips and tears, hair, blood, candles, even a dead chicken are all things I have seen hiding in the rocks. Continue reading “No Room for Superstition in Islam”

Guest Post: Through My Sister’s Eyes

Salaam y’all. Today I’ve got something a weeeeee bit different for you guys…a guest post from my sister!

I read a book ages ago, when I first converted, called Daughters of Another Path. It was all about the experiences of mothers as their daughters came to choose Islam and begin practising a different way of life. I would definitely recommend you go have a read, even if you are not a convert, it is so interesting to read the story from another point of view.

That is why I thought it would be cool to have my own sister write a little something for me about her experiences and feelings when I decided to convert. She likes to write, and it was interesting for me to see things from the other side.

So, I hope you will enjoy reading it! And if you like it, do leave her some love in the comments; she is a teenager and needs all she can get =)

blog-divider

Being the sister of a convert to Islam is not as difficult as many people think.

I thought it was a phase for the longest time. Ashley has always been very interested in different cultures and religion. I knew she was exploring, I just did not know she was stopping here. I always want to ask her, “ You could choose any religion, and you had to pick the most despised and misunderstood religion there is?” I would ask her this more as a joke than a serious question, because I know she is smart and knows what is best for her.

Many people ask, “How hard is it dealing with the conversion of your sister?” and I always think to myself: what conversion? My sister is still my sister. She may have developed different beliefs, started eating differently, started praying more, and wearing more clothes, but she is still the same person I have always loved and admired.

There is nothing I would change about Ashley, I am glad she is finally happy and has come to realize who she is and what she believes. Although there is nothing I would change, there are still some minor challenges I face in result of her decision to convert.

One particular change she made that impacted my life is her diet. She and I shared many memories through food. We used to eat at this local place in our hometown, Placerville, called Z Pie. This is a meat pie place, that is, unfortunately, not halal. Even though we used to love to eat here, we cannot anymore. This is only one of the many places that I had enjoyed with her that we can no longer go to. It is not a huge deal though! We always find other places, some of them are new, and some of them are not, but it is always fun!

Not only are there problems with food when eating out, but we even have problems at home. Our mom LOVES to cook and she always provides us with amazing meals at home, with a lot of meat, (we are huge meat eaters in this family). Anyway, where we live, it is pretty hard to come by halal meat. The closest store I have seen to sell halal is about an hour away from where we live.

Another challenge I face is when we go shopping together, or go out together at all really. Where we come from, there are not a lot of Muslims at all; therefore, when we go out we receive many stares. These looks from people are typically judgemental, but not always. I feel the staring the most when Ashley needs to pray in public.

Some people probably assume she has kidnapped me. The looks people give her always make me feel concerned for her safety. I hear news all of the time of Muslims falling victim to hate crimes, even violent hate crimes. This makes me fear for her safety because about these crimes, I think about how that could be Ashley, and that is the hardest part about her conversion.

All in all, I would not change who my sister has become and I am very proud of all she has overcome and her choices.

Peace,

Kaitlyn Divine

blog-divider

Note from the big sister: Z Pie is not just a meat pie place; they totally have vegetarian pies that I can and have eaten since I converted! Also, I can’t imagine how the home cooking thing affects her; my mom literally tells me what she wants to make that night and I make the drive down to the halal shop to buy the meat! =P