No matter what the weather, no matter how tasty the Eid breakfast, no matter how well I felt my Ramadan went, for many years after I converted to Islam, I followed the same old Eid pattern.
Wake up. Pray fajr (morning prayer). Eat breakfast. Go to Eid Prayer.
Then I, my husband or both of us, would go to school or work. It was anti-climactic at best.
After a month of character building, spiritual highs and building a better relationship with the Quran, it was always right back to pre-Ramadan business as usual, hoping to keep the lessons and increased faith as we exited the month un-commemorated.
Until one year, I said enough! I put my foot down and didn’t go into work. I took the day off of school and insisted my husband do the same. Guess what happened?
No, the world didn’t fall apart. No, we didn’t fail our classes. We actually enjoyed ourselves.
We spent time to acknowledge what Ramadan meant to us and to celebrate our successes in it. And because of our celebration we felt more Muslim somehow. We felt closer to our community. We felt better prepared to move on and face the challenges of life outside of Ramadan.
In the Western world where few even know what Eid is, it is very difficult to get out of day to day commitments to celebrate the holiday or rather the holy day. It is even more difficult to have that holiday feeling when those around you are treating the day like any other ordinary day.
As converts, we have to give up a lot of our old holidays when we come into Islam. Giving up holidays where everyone is celebrating and everything is decorated can be difficult.
Many of us treasure our holiday memories and family traditions. But as Muslim we are not left with nothing in the place of our old tradition. As converts we can and must make new traditions and create a holiday feeling for ourselves.
Entering into my 15th [now 16th] Ramadan, I feel an excitement building. I am looking forward to the fast of Ramadan and all the amazing things that come with it: growing spiritually, strengthening community ties, coming nearer to Allah, and much more.
However, it wasn’t always this way. I converted during the month of Ramadan and jumped straight into fasting even before I knew how to pray correctly. I want to be honest here. Those first fasts were hard. Very hard. Coming from a Catholic and American background, I had never experienced real fasting. The most I knew about fasting was eating less to fit in a smaller size and not eating meat on Fridays during Lent.
So my first Ramadan was a shock to my system. And as my second Ramadan approached, I was very nervous about my ability to endure. I feared the pains of hunger, the thirst that left me dehydrated, and the fatigue that comes along with fasting. I felt like this was something no one ever talked about and for good reason. Complaining about hunger, thirst, and fatigue defeats the purpose of fasting.
I realized a couple things during my struggle to acclimate to fasting.
“Being Muslim: A Practical Guide is a new book written to help people learn how to live and practice the faith of Islam-to learn what Muslims believe, how to pray and fast, and how to perform the Islamic devotions appropriately.”
This is a book I really could have used in 2001 when I took my first shaky steps into Islam. As the author, Asad Tarsin, writes, when he was approached by a convert and asked for resources, he realized there really wasn’t much out there for the new adult Muslim.
When I reverted to Islam in March 2005, I have to admit I was afraid. Okay, perhaps nervous is a better choice of word, as I wasn’t scared or frightened. And I know I’m not alone in admitting this feeling, especially with female converts. The process of transitioning into Islam from a previous faith/belief system (because face it, even if you don’t believe in God, you believe there is no God) is daunting:
What will my friends think? How will I be received by the public? Does this mean I have to start dressing like an Arab or East Asian-er? Do I have to start my life over from the beginning, rethinking every choice I’ve ever made?
While all of those are valid concerns, and ones that I did contemplate at some point in time post-reversion, they weren’t what I was afraid of. My fear came from telling my father.
Not my family. Not my Mother.
Now, before you start thinking my dad is this overbearing and close-minded totalitarian who lives for controlling others’ lives, he’s NOT. In fact, he’s the polar opposite. He’s one of the most open-minded individuals I’ve ever known in my life. And if there is a perfect antonym for overbearing, that describes him, too. I mean, for Heaven’s sake, the man used to sit and logically discuss with me the reasons I should pick up my toys when I was 3 years old. If there’s anything my dad is not, it’s overbearing and close-minded.
So, why was I scared of telling my dad I had become Muslim?
My father has a strong head on his shoulders (don’t confuse strong with stubborn). His choice of worship was not made based on how he was brought up (Nazarene). He didn’t look to his parents to tell him how he should worship God or practice his religion (Christianity). Instead, he went to a Christian college, studied the history and lineage of the Bible and Christianity, and majored in Bible Studies. His goal: to become a preacher.
When he became a member of the Church of Christ denomination, he did so knowing full-well that it represented the beliefs he personally held based on his extensive studying. To him, it was correct.
Now there I was, his 23-year-old daughter, midway through my graduate school program, and I’d converted to Islam. And I had to tell my Father. The samefather who responded to my 16-year-old self’s idea of becoming Baptist with, “I’ve failed as a father!”
So, one day while my parents were in town for a wedding, my father and I drove over to the beach at Gulf Shores. We had lunch, talked about religion a little bit, and mostly discussed general life topics. (My father is also a severe introvert, like me, and idle conversation is not a forte of his.)
After lunch, we walked out on the beach. I’d planned my delivery. I asked him what it was exactly that he believed about life and death. He started out with the history of religion (he always starts with the history behind the pertinent question), and then he transitioned into his personal beliefs. Once he finished, I offered my part. I told him nobody had ever really asked me what I believe. It was always just assumed because I was part of a certain family or church that I shared the same beliefs. But, obviously, I didn’t.
Then came the time to deliver my blow. I told him I was thinking about becoming Muslim. (I couldn’t own up to it full-force yet; I needed time to let the idea sink in for him.) Surprisingly, he didn’t stop walking. He didn’t yell (not surprisingly). He just said one thing, and his response has stayed with me every day since. It has had my back when people were against me. It has given me conviction along my chosen path. And those words were:
As your father, it is my job to let you know that I think you’re wrong. But you’re an adult. And if you chose to believe something just because I told you so, that would be just as wrong.
It was all I needed. I didn’t need an “I support you” or a “That’s wonderful”. And I know he still doesn’t like my choice. And I know there have been many tears shed on his side on my behalf. But I also think both he and my mom have come to conclusion that after nearly a decade, a husband and a child, I’m not going through a phase.
And as each day goes by, I never lose hope that one day my family will join me in truly understanding the history, relevance and authority of our beautiful Islam, insha’Allah. Until that day comes, I will continue to enjoy the avid discussion my father and I have about our beliefs, and I will rest easy knowing that despite our differences, we still respect each others’ beliefs … and rights to have them.
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The late 19th century (probably before and most certainly until some point after) saw a Western cultural predominance of labeling people according to disorders. If you’ve ever taken a look at literature or societal psychology from this time period, you’re sure to be acquainted with ideas such as leeching or frontal lobotomies.
Of course, if you spent more than 3 seconds looking at the recipients of such pleasant treatments, you’ll notice they often have one thing in common: the “fairer” sex.
Ah, yes. Throughout history, women have continuously been dealt the bad reputation of being unpredictable and emotional. Therefore, we tend to be considered weaker and prone to act irrationally based on our feelings at any given time.
Unfortunately, though the West has (mostly) progressed past this deluded mindset, other nations are still far behind understanding how a woman’s body works for – or against – her.
Not only that, but when it comes to women’s rights and inclusion, many societies base their ideologies on misappropriated ayat (verses) from the Qur’an and/or ahadith in order to subjugate, dismiss and maintain the patriarchal status quo on the (irrational and idiotic) basis that:
Women are easily confused and should not be given full responsibility or choice due to their precarious emotional states.
Go with me now to the year 2012. . . . .
We are still in Saudi Arabia, but it is nearing the end of my contract. We will be moving soon, and as the end grew ever nearer, I realize I am happy to go. Our time has been pleasant, but it is finished.
My husband’s niece has gotten engaged, so we make a weekend-trip to Kuwait for her engagement party. Now, I’m no extrovert, and I hate parties – but, it is for family, so I have to go to show support.
On the way to the border, we stop and eat lunch at a Hungry Bunny (fast food burgers) with bathrooms so clean I would eat off the floors. We hit the road, and I grab a cup of ice to go (because I have pica, and I crave ice).
Once in Kuwait, we get settled in the hotel (apartment) with my sister-in-law, and then we head to my other sister-in-law’s (mother-of-the-bride) for dinner. I don’t feel too well, so I don’t eat much. I think I am just tired from traveling. It was a long week at work, and there are lots of people in the house. I nibble.
Change scenes. We’re at the mall. Everybody’s happy and laughing. I can barely walk. Once again, I attribute it to being tired, plus I have major back issues, so I thought, “Eh, figures.” I sit and watch them walk around, having a grand time. I’m labeled as unsociable.
It’s the night of the party. I get all dolled up, and I even do my hair (it was just for women at the beginning). Get to the party. Start to get a migraine. I’m thinking, “Great….perfect timing.” By the middle of the party, I have to leave and go sit in the car. I’m dizzy, my head is throbbing and I’m pouring sweat.
The next day, we go to the movies. I’m still feeling queasy, but I warrior through. Afterward, all the family wants to go out to do something (I can’t even remember, I was so sick). I said I couldn’t, and I asked my hubby to take me back to the hotel. I barely got back to the room before I was choking and throwing up. He said, “I feel sorry for you, but I’m happy because now I can tell them there’s really something wrong!” (It sounds insensitive, but I understood what he meant.)
We finally get back to Saudi, and I start feeling better. I thought it was just a stomach bug. Then, Laila gets sick. And mine returns.
So, we head to the doctor. While Hubby takes Laila downstairs to the pediatrician, I wait to be seen by the doctor upstairs.
Now, you must understand this: I have a laundry list of medical issues that puts me at the doctor quite often. I have several chronic conditions that require treatment and stabilization — and they have been. At one point in the past, however, I had some chest pain. I knew there was nothing seriously wrong, but when you present with chest pain, they do the heart tests and make you see the heart doctor for a follow-up.
While I’m waiting to see the doctor, the heart doctor is sitting nearby talking to a nurse. . .about me. They’re speaking in Arabic, but he keeps motioning toward me. She keeps looking. Then the nurse of the doctor I’m waiting to see comes by and joins in the conversation. They continue talking about me. The gist: I’m there all the time. . .or, I’m a hypochondriac.
When it’s finally my turn, I go in to see the doctor (whom I’ve seen before). I run down my list of symptoms: sweating, fever, nausea, diarrhea, pain, etc.
Again, please note: The nurse did not take my temperature, and even though my blood pressure was high, it wasn’t seen as important.
The doctor asks about my husband. Yes, that’s right. My husband should be there to verify my problem.
“He’s downstairs with my daughter,” I say.
“Oh, is your daughter sick?” he asks.
“Yes. She’s got like the same thing, but not as bad.”
It’s like a light bulb goes off in his gray-haired head. “Are you worried about your daughter?”
I’m confused. “No, I’m not worried about her. I mean, of course I’m concerned for her health, but I know she’ll be okay. . .”
“I think you’re a little anxious. You’re probably upset because your daughter is sick.”
“No, that’s not what’s wrong. . .” To prove his point, I start tearing up.
“I’m going to give you a shot of _________” (I don’t remember the name, but it was an anti-anxiety medicine….Xanax, maybe?)
“I don’t need a shot. . .”
He sends me out of the office to wait for the nurse.
In the meantime, my husband comes up to check on me. He finds me crying.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
“He won’t listen. I told him what’s wrong, and he thinks I’m just worried about Laila.”
“What?” He goes inside and speaks with the doctor. “Honey, come inside. . .”
I go back inside the office, and the doctor breaks down and checks my temp (imagine the concept!). It’s very high. Suddenly, he realizes I am sick, and he hands out a list of various medicines to collect from the pharmacy downstairs.
Royally pissed, we go to get them and leave for home.
That night, I can’t sleep, and I end up in the bathroom for hours. Anything that goes in comes out five minutes later. I can’t eat, and all liquid makes me nauseous.
We go to the emergency room, where the resident runs a bunch of blood tests.
“I have an idea of what’s wrong,” he says, standing beside my bed. “But I’m waiting for the tests to confirm it. I’ve ordered a Widal test.”
“What’s that?” I ask, completely out of energy.
“It tests for typhoid fever.” He leaves the room.
“Oh, my God!” I’m terrified. I don’t know exactly what typhoid fever is, but I’ve heard of it. And I know it doesn’t sound pretty.
The doctor comes back and confirms the test is positive. I have to be admitted. And I can’t have any human contact except for those whom I’ve already been around.
What is typhoid fever? It’s untreated salmonella poisoning which, if left untreated, can result in death. It takes months to recover from completely, and it took me nearly ten days in hospital to reach a level of being able to be around people again.
I had a “Do NOT Enter Without PROTECTIVE GEAR” sign on my hospital door!!!!
That’s right. I came *this close* to death, and I was labeled “emotionally unbalanced”. . . a hysterical woman.
I had my husband go down to the doctor’s office who had written me off with a diagnosis of hysterics.
His response? “Oh, really?” No apology. No realization of what could have happened. Just an, “Oops.”
Alhumdulillah rab-il al-ameen! Thank you, God, for your unending protection! It was a long road, and I recovered.
And I’d like to say this was a one-off. I’d like to blame it on Saudi Arabia.
Unfortunately, I can’t.
The moral of this story?
When women are quickly labeled as emotional and, thus, not even able to appropriately gauge whether their OWN BODIES are acting erratically, it can be more than just a simple “oops” that results. To allow the diagnosis of hysteria to persist as a cultural norm only risks further maltreatment for women in those locations. To be frank, it puts them at a clear risk for death.
This is why careful study and interpretation of religious doctrine is necessary and why biased and flippant prose that condescendingly discounts a gender is dangerous. When such verses are misappropriated to serve a specific purpose, they propagate the stereotype that women carry too much emotional baggage to think clearly.
Of course, by saying that women are the “weaker” sex and inclined to hysterics, what’s really being said is that men are the opposite. That they’re not prone to emotions because they’re “stronger”. That their judgment is solid and unwavering. That they think with their heads, and not with anything else (like their HEARTS). That they’re not easily swayed by gossip and don’t make rash decisions.
Yet, in this story (as well as many, many others), we can see this isn’t always the case. At times, we are all led by emotions instead of logic and clarity. This doesn’t make us “weaker” or “stronger” than the other. It makes us human. And, as humans, we must respect each other to create a stronger, united ummah (brotherhood) and present a positive image of Islam to the world.
But unfortunately for me, it didn’t end in Saudi Arabia.
So, join me next time, when we travel to Oman, and I continue the story of The Hysterical Woman Phenomena.
Oh, and PS. . .wondering what caused the salmonella? I suppose those bathroom floors weren’t as clean as they looked. Never eat ice from a border-town fast food restaurant.
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Here I am in my early 30s and a few times a week at least I hear heart wrenching stories about our youth. I understand that this newer generation of Muslims live in a more connected world and have difficulties that were unknown to me in my time. However, it seems for the most part they are falling into some of the same traps over and over. Maybe you are the first generation born in the West, maybe you are a convert whose parents have been here for generations, or maybe you just recently moved here from overseas.
I think that one more list on how to not mess up your life can only help, and this list is for you. You might not have problems with all these issues, but if we can spare you just one, we will celebrate.
So here we go, world. What follows is from the experiences and tales of many a young person, now old, all collected and combined to help you, if you will only listen.
The Top 5 Regrets of Our Youth
#5 Falling for Mainstream Media
It is all about making you into a good little consumer. Yes, maybe that is good for business and the economy, but in all honesty- most of what you see in TV dramas and commercials do not matter –ask any mature adult. Things that you need do not need advertising.
No one needs to convince me to buy bread. That is something I would do on my own without a reminder, diamonds however need constant advertising because no one really needs that. Use your brain, don’t fall for it and don’t fall for people who do- they will make you miserable.
Young people, we understand that you are in the stage of building an identity and the fact that you are young probably means you really haven’t done much to make you feel like you have one.
Dressing in name brand clothes, just makes you a walking billboard, and looking towards movie or tv created characters to give you some guidance is just as unoriginal. Instead, try focusing your identity building energies into doing some really creative or helpful activities.
Organize or be a part of community volunteer activities, or try mastering something- it could be a new language, website building, sewing or an art…something …anything. Throwing on a pair of expensive sunglasses is just LAZY. W
hen you get older it will not make you interesting. Cool guys and gals looking to marry will be more impressed with a bit of French, that you are a chess master, or created your own comic book line rather than the fact that you own a bunch of expensive shoes.
Need more guidance than that and emulating is your thing- I have the perfect solution for that! Look at the prophet (peace be upon him) to help build a healthy Muslim identity. There is more to him than what your parents have told you. You might be surprised. Go read something.
#4 Dabbling in Drugs/Alcohol
Not everyone is into this, but it needs to be mentioned because this is actually a problem that exists in our communities. Interestingly enough, it is not just consuming these things, but selling them, because there is a whole lot of money in it.
Guys like money, because it makes them feel strong with all that spending power and they notice the girls watching them. Girls, help out by not being so obsessed by what a brother can buy you, and brothers- please- you know it isn’t right, even if you plan on repenting later (if you get a “later”)…what kind of plan is that??
For those that experiment and consume these substances, I don’t need to tell you it is haram. Just remember you are taking a huge risk of becoming an addict. Some people automatically become addicts, and for others it takes time- which one will you be?
Who knows, just don’t do it. I’ve never met anyone that regretted not dabbling in some drugs or getting drunk. Spend your money on something else; entertain yourself with more worthwhile people (see #5 above). Memories (or lack of) an activity you fell into while under the influence is most likely not going to have a happy ending.
#3 Not Focused on Future Employment
People say “go to university so you can get a job”, not so true in the West anymore- not everyone wants to or can go to University anyway.
I am just saying:
#1 figure out what kind of employment you are going to be chasing (we all need to pay bills and eat in the real world)
#2 figure out what it is going to take to get there (is it a degree, an apprenticeship, work experience?)
#3 hustle, young blood
20s aren’t the new 30s- you need direction and good plan. If you realize that you don’t really have one- it is okay to ask for help (you’re actually smarter for it). Poor and confused at 30 is no fun. Before you know it, you are going to be partnering up and maybe even having a baby or 5.
Knock this stuff out NOW. If motherhood is a career path you choose, having something to fall back on in case disaster strikes doesn’t hurt. It is nice to be in the position to help others and not having to ask for sadaqa (charity) from others.
#2 Being Asinine About Your Parents
I know, they seem boring and aggravating now. It is strange to think that someone who has lived much, much, much longer than you can actually know more than you. Maybe you look at their life and think “why should I listen to them, look at their own life,”- as if people do not learn from their mistakes and then have valuable guidance to give you.
Maybe they have not even been super nice to you. Young people, as a general life rule -unless you have gone through what someone else has gone through – you really have no right to judge. That means, until you have kids that you have raised from baby to teens you really need to keep your “critical analyze” to yourself.
There is a reason being good to your parents is so important in Islam. You owe EVERYTHING you are and have first to Allah, and then to them. Go ahead and disagree with me now- we’ll talk again in 10+ years (extreme cases exempt from this- seek professional help). Another thing, parents die, and when they do -it is horrible. Even if you are so emotionally harden that their passing means nothing to you, just realize that at the most basic level, that means you have just moves up in the ol’ mortality line.
For those of you that have a heart, you’re going to feel like a selfish bucket of ^$&* every time you think of the time you were too busy to spend time with them or just make them a cup of coffee.
#1 Pre-marital Sex
There was a huge sermon about this at the masjid I go to. Turns out parents are sending young men and women to university or into the world expecting them to suppress their natural biological desires until the best possible marriage possibility comes along. That means for some guys- into their 30s. Good grief, even the religious amongst us are falling into zina, because it goes against nature for goodness sakes.
Parents- you are being unrealistic. If you are lucky and your kid isn’t out there fornicating, there is a possibility your kid might just bring home a wife/husband you don’t like, hook them up (to be clear- help, not force) before this happens if a nice daughter/son-in-law matters to you.
Young, people, maybe you just plan on being friends with that cute guy/girl. Nothing is going to happen, because you are both in the MSA, right? WRONG!!!!!! I have heard so many stories of this happening, both parties being so tempted that they find themselves going down a trail of ridiculous justifications and excuses, until bam zina has been committed.
Zina has regret stamped all over it, not like a bad dream you can just forget. This should not be happening in our communities. Our country is stable, not chaotic, and relatively wealthy compared to the rest of the world. Just get married people! If he/she is delaying it- you are being played…sorry…truth hurts…find another guy/girl- there are so many.
As for the guys thinking they are just going to mess around and not marry the girl they are playing: realize that many guys end up marrying girls they never ever, ever, EVER thought they would because of this. Also many a baby and STD have been made/spread by failed contraceptives and with 110 million STDs among men and women in the USA- good luck figuring out who is who.
Being young is not easy. I estimate about half of you will fight me on every topic here (because you know better; and this won’t happen to you-sure, good luck with that). The other 49% will agree with me, but will not follow the advice here (you are a special snowflakes, which means the average pattern of life doesn’t apply to you *massive eye roll*).
But to the 1% who does … you guys are awesome and will have plenty of room in your closets- instead of the bunch of skeletons your cocky peers will acquire through the next 10 years.
Go forth and prosper!!
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