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Talking in Memphis

I love Memphis
New Orleans is awesome, but Memphis is giving the “Big Easy” a run for her money.

Written by Theresa Corbin

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk inviting people to understand Islam and the Muslims in Memphis, TN. I had many fears before going to Tennessee. Having read about anti-Muslim sentiment in Murfreesboro, TN, I fully expected to be shot.

I went anyway. And instead of hostility, I found the Memphian community full of interfaith camaraderie. I found Muslims working hard to enrich their community and create an atmosphere that fosters understanding and cooperation. I found warm and welcoming non-Muslims who greeted their Muslim neighbours- and me!- with big smiles and kindness.

My experience in this amazing community has enriched my life (and my waistline. Their BBQ ain’t no joke) in so many ways I cannot even begin to explain.

In order to raise awareness about my talk, I had the opportunity to speak about my topic in interviews on TV and radio.

What follows are my interviews:

On TV: WREGClick me: WREG

On Radio:

* Hajar’s son’s name was Ishmael (Peace and blessings be upon him).

**please note that Sarah was not the one who made Abraham leave Hajar in the desert of Mecca. This was a directive from God. I just learned this and feel embarrassed that I let my former Christian understanding of the story — that can be very misogynistic (Eve responsible for the first sin. Not true in Islam)– shape my attitude toward Sarah. 😦

I hope to post the video of my talk “An Open Invitation to Understanding Islam and the Muslims” next week. So stay tuned!

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Memories from the Dorm: A Conversion Story

What follows is my old roommate’s response to I Bear Witness: How I Came to Islam Parts 1 and 2.

Written by Gracie Lawrence (the roommate)

You know it has been at least 16 years since we had those talks, and reading about it reminded me how I am still trying to “figure it all out”.

I remember it was a time of a lot of questioning, we were free from both conservative Christians AND Muslims – where we could just THINK and we had the time to do it.

Dorm Room conversations

I don’t recall thinking that it was strange to think those things- but I use to have the bad habit of thinking everyone must be the way I am (got screwed over a lot for it, lol).

I remember during that time your mother had passed away. That impacted me a lot. I think I remember that more than the details of our talks exactly (I was a bit of a chatterbox, I think you once referred to me as a puppy and you were the cat. And a lot of times you just needed some peace and to be left alone- and I didn’t understand that).

I know one thing I struggled with as I became Muslim was wondering if I could make that cultural leap/ sacrifice and I would take a few steps forwards, and then a few steps back- then I just dove in and became extreme- then balanced out, made more mistakes, etc.

Ultimately, I became Muslims to become a better Christian- I think you remember us speaking about that. I think even from a cultural viewpoint we both saw something lacking, even lonely in our modern North American existence and I saw Islam as the natural progression to fill that gap.

Nowadays, I see Christians and Jews as very close to me. Christians and Jews are easy to understand us, as we have the same background- are just like siblings that bicker.

Anyway, one things that is great about Islam, even if people are reluctant to believe in anything divine, is that it makes for a great play-book on earth i.e. you are much less likely to F-up your life than if left to your own whims or faulty logic. You are more likely to win the game if you are given the instructions of how to play. Ya know? I think that for something like this to exist- is, by itself, pretty awesome.

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I Bear Witness: How I came to Islam, Part 2

Written by Theresa Corbin

Part 1 here

Where did I leave off? Oh yes … So there I was, dying from vampire Lestat’s bite only to be reborn as eternal evil. Oh wait, that’s a different story.

Eh hem, so there I was, feeling like I had been lied to my whole life, trying to cling desperately to my culture and simultaneously trying to figure out what the truth really was. I was confused, embittered, and lost.

hotmess

I believed in God, I just didn’t know what was the correct path to Him. I alternated between ignoring the question, flipping the question off, and seeking answers.

Now that I think about it, I had turned my culture into my new religion. To be the best worshiper at the altar of culture, I never wanted to miss a party, but wished I could just yell at all those kids and tell them to turn their racket down. I looked for answers in the holy books of Vogue and InStyle, but really wished I wouldn’t be considered a freak if I read and talked about Anna Karenina.

I was a hot mess, as the saying goes.

My culture was making me miserable. And my roommate was suffering most of its brunt. She spent much of her time studying other religions and talking to people of different faiths, allowing me to tag along from time to time. After much thought and deliberation, she converted to Islam.

I cannot say how she came to this decision. By this point, my mother had passed away, and I was busy with my grief and self-pity.

I had become a capital A-hole, challenging my newly Muslim roommate’s every move. I had all the cultural perceptions of Islam that can be expected. I don’t even know from where I picked them up. I knew nothing of the religion besides it being something that was “backwards” and tried to take women’s rights away from them. And I knew I was not down with that.

Our dorm room discussion became episode after episode of When Corbins (that’s me) Attack.

rejecting islam makes you angryI accosted her when she decided to wear the headscarf. “Why do you wear that?” I asked as snide as I could be.

And she answered calmly and simply. “So, that I can be recognized as a believing woman. So that I can say who sees what of my body and am not a victim of the male gaze.”

I not only heard what she said, I saw it in action. I didn’t feel more liberate with less clothing. I felt picked apart and judged, and more often than not I felt like prey.

I longed for the respect that I saw my newly Muslim friend and other Muslim women receive from men as they wore their long and loose clothing. The thought of being in control over who would see me was very appealing.

“Yeah, but women are like second class citizens in your faith,” I spat on another occasion, trying to distance myself from my growing affection for Islam.

She explained that during a time when the Western world treated women like property, Islam taught that men and women were equal in the eyes of God. Islam brought more honor to the mother than the father. It made the woman’s consent to marriage mandatory, a practice that would have been laughed at in the Western world at the time.

Islam gave women the right to own property and businesses. And if a woman were to marry, she would not have to share her wealth with her husband. Islam gave women the right to inherit, unheard of in its day. She listed right after right that women in Islam held nearly 1250 years before women’s lib became a thing.

And these were just a fraction of the conversations we shared about Islam as a way of life. I continued to search. At some point, I thought about Judaism. It was the original monotheism. Since I wanted to get back to the original religion, this seemed logical to me.

When I voiced my Jewish aspirations to my roommate, we talked at length about the prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She explained to me the Islamic belief in all the prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and then the last prophet who came with the same message as all the rest–Muhammad (PBUH).

Prophet after prophet came until the last prophet Muhammad (PBUT) came with the same message to guide mankind back to the truth one last time. “And to this day his sayings can be verified in chains of narration and the Quran has not been changed by man.” She said.

When I heard, I believed. I had asked God when I was a seven year old in Catholic school and learning about prophet Noah (PBUH) if He should send any more prophets that He would guide me to believe in them. I believe that God granted me this mercy, because it was not until this conversation that it all clicked.

I became less angry about my friend’s new religion and began to listen about all the things she was learning as a Muslim. My next question was “What does it mean to be a Muslim?” I met other Muslim women and questioned them about their faith and read for myself.

What I found out was that in belief I was already a Muslim. I believed in the oneness of God. I believed in the prophets up to and including Muhammad. I believed in the angels, and Divine will, the day of judgement, the holy books, and all that jazz.

But—and this is a big but—I was scared to abandon my culture (turns out I didn’t have to abandon the good things from my culture). I was afraid of receiving the same ridicule I had dished out to my friend.

Islam made sense and even spoke to my nature. But I rebelled and the more I refused Islam and chose my culture over it the more miserable I became. I would find myself weeping for no other reason than the increasing emptiness I felt as I continued to reject Islam and replace it with culture. My health began to fail. I lost my scholarship at school. My personal safety was compromised. I even became homeless.

I defied until I couldn’t go on. I finally admitted, like the most homophobic person who finally comes out of the closet, that I was a Muslim. I finally said the words “I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and messenger” on the first day of Ramadan 2001.

And what I have learned since has taught me that I never had to give up my American culture entirely. I learned that fearing ridicule from people will only make you a joke. And I learned that their is an amazing peace that comes with being obedient to no one but the One God, the One who created you and designed you to do just that.

 

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Islam! Since 610

Photo used under Creative Commons from jamilarts

Written by Theresa Corbin

It amazes me how little the average American/Westerner knows about Islam. But, then again, I have to remind myself how little I knew about Islam 15 years ago.

In fact, I had never heard of such a thing. Nowhere in any of my high school history classes had I even heard of a religion called Islam, nor had I been introduced to this knowledge prior to high school in the 9 years I spent receiving knowledge from nuns at the local Catholic school.

Sure, I slept through several lectures on the Ottoman Empire in my teenage years, but I am pretty sure what I was napping through did not include an introductory discussion on a major world religion. How do I know that? Well, let’s just say that of all the tests I failed, never once was there a question about Islam.

If I had been quizzed during my youth about what a Muslim was or what Islam was, I would have responded that it was something like an Indian or an Arab, not that I knew there was any difference between Indians and Arabs. I was shamelessly sheltered. But at the risk of dating myself, this was well before 9/11.

Ignorance always leads to bondage.

Now that the U.S. and many Western countries are all up in Iraq (pronounced ee-ROCK not i-RACK) and Afghanistan (I won’t even go into the pronunciation of the “gh” sound in this word), both Muslim countries.

Now that Islam is the fastest growing religion.

And now that 1/4th of the world’s population is Muslim, most of the Western world continues to be in the dark about what Islam really is. What’s up with that?

Here is a quick rundown of this “strange” thing known as Islam broken down into four basic categories: Religion, God, Book, Prophet. So we can be informed, so we can dispel ignorance that leads to fear, so we can be reminded, and/or so we can be guided.

The Religion:

It is very simple. Islam is a major monotheistic religion. Islam is not a cult formed in the 18th century, as I have heard people prosthelytize—YIKES!

Nation of Islam is to Islam as Wicca is to Chrisitanity

Islam is a way of life. Islam is not an Eastern culture as some have “politely” informed me. Some even think that you have to be “black” to be Muslim, as my husband (another white convert) was informed in high school. This was probably because of the religion known as the Nation of Islam, which has VERY little to do with Islam.

Anyone can become a Muslim and enter the religion of Islam, regardless of culture or race. Islam only requires belief.

The God:

Muslims worship one God. Muslims are not moon worshipers, nor do they worship the prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessing be upon him- PBUH), as some Baptist congregations claim.

The God of Islam is the creator of everything. He* is not the creation. He is the Master of the Day of Judgement. God is in no need of help and has no partners. He is one. Period. The only one worthy of worship. Period.

He is the same God as the Christians believe to be God the father. 

In Judaism, He is known as Jahweh.

The Book:

Photo used under Creative Commons from franca L
Photo used under Creative Commons from franca L

The holy book in Islam is the Quran (pronounced core-ON not coooo-RAaaN).

The Quran features the same traditions as the original Bible and the Torah. Not because it is infringing on these traditions’ copyrights, but because they are true and valuable lessons for all mankind. Because God is bringing people back to His original message.

Muslims believe that the original Torah and Bible were true texts, until man meddled with them.

The Quran remains in its original edition, unchanged. 

The Prophet:

The Quran was first revealed to the last prophet, Muhammad (PBUH), in a long line of honorable men in 610 CEThe Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was known, even to those who hated him, as an honest and trustworthy man. How many people can say that about their enemies?

Muslims do not worship Muhammad (PBUH). He was a man. Muslims don’t worship men. Men are flawed. Muslims believe in Jesus as they believe in Abraham, Moses, Isaac, and Muhammad (Peace be upon all of them). Muslims believe in these men as prophets sent by God, and not gods themselves or partners with God.

God sent prophets to men over and over with the same message of His oneness.

We kept getting it wrong and going astray. We kept worshiping the creation and not the creator. God kept sending us prophets to get us back on track until Muhammad (PBUH), who was the last prophet sent to all mankind.

This is the foundation of Islam:

  1. Islam is a monotheistic religion. God is one and only one.
  2. There are holy books sent by God – Torah, Bible, Quran. The Quran being the most reliable.
  3. Muhammad is the prophet.
  4. There are angles. Angel Gabriel delivered the message from God to the prophets.
  5. God has a divine decree that does not know the limits of time.
  6. We will all be held to account for our deeds on the Day of Judgement.

*The pronoun “He” is not meant to suggest that God has a male gender. As gender implies a lack or need of another. God is not to be associated with being either male or female because God is not in need of anyone or anything. “He” is only used because of a lack of a non-gendered pronoun in the English language. And “She” would be equally inaccurate. 

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