Spill The Poetry: “Oxygen”

For all my women, with love.


compromise 

“he’ll fix up –
once he’s married”
“we’ll be fine –
once we’re married”
vacant guarantees
just more responsibility 
for women
who never had a chance
who will never have 
the chance
to have a chance
no rights
no love
no humanity
dependency 
slavery
imprisoned
in a man’s world
they want
to push you 
into reassurance 
of their fantasies
push you
to have their way
push you 
for answers
push you
to shut up
push you
push
push 
push
until you’re not
even yours
anymore
until you’re 
black and blue
on the inside
a place
they can’t reach
with their eyes
they’ll never understand
why
our hearts are aching
again.
embarrassed 
of feeling
tired
of feeling
punished
for feeling 
alone
disposable
forgettable 
just as good as air
unnoticeable, 
but noticeable 
when not there.

Support Your Local Revert

I recently sat down with my good friend from middle school who reverted to Islam when we were just kids. I wanted to share her story and her struggles as a way to learn and better ourselves when it comes to helping reverts. Reverting to a religion that a majority of your family isn’t a part of can be hard and at times lonely. So if you know a revert in your community, reach out and offer them support.

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Q: How did you find Islam? What led you to finally convert?

A: So, what led me to Islam were my older cousins and my uncle, just being around them and spending a lot of time at the Masjid. It was always so much fun for me and to me it felt like that the people were very genuine. Like even though I had gone to catholic school… you know Christians can be like in your face with like getting you to convert. You know you got the Jehovah Witnesses knocking on your door every weekend. You know, they’re in your face. For me it was not like a… I was just that because that’s what my grandmother was and she was raising me at the time you know? It was not anything I believed in. But going to the Masjid and learning the Quran and everything made sense to me and it made sense to me that, that would be the last religion God has send down. So I accepted it at 12 years old and I decided this is what I want to practice and this is what I believe in. Because I experienced another religion and I was able to compare and contrast the two at such a young age.

Q:  How did reverting change your life? What struggles did it come with? And what was the positive aspect?

A: So there were struggles and also positive aspects of it. Most of my family is Christian and my aunt was really into Christmas like full out into Christmas but my family was respectful like for example if I don’t want to eat pork they would make everything without pork. That type of stuff was fine but it was just wanting to spend time with my family without celebrating holidays that I don’t necessarily celebrate or believe in. That’s where the struggle was; how do I spend time with my family without embracing the traditions and giving them false hope that I believe in this too.

The positive aspect is that I did have other family members who are Muslim and they supported me and it made me feel really comfortable. My family is pretty open, they aren’t judgmental people so the transition was smooth and no one made me feel uncomfortable for changing my religion.

Q: Would you say you were religious before? When you went to Catholic school?

A: No, it was more like a habit. Like you just do what you’ve always done. When you go to Catholic school, it’s like a ritual like the things they teach you and you do it mindlessly.

Q: So after your Shahada, was it easy to go to the Masjid and feel welcomed?

A: So because I was a child and went there with my cousin they embraced me as a child, but as I’ve gotten older I feel like going to the Masjid isn’t the same. You know, when I try to go to a Masjid, not having many Muslim friends, it just doesn’t feel that welcoming. There is no structure for new Muslims who are just starting to come to the Masjid. There wasn’t really an effort to try and include reverts. I wish they had some kind of program where they partner you with a sister who can help you learn and guide you through the transition.

Q: How do you think your experience is different from someone who was born into Islam?

A: When you’re born into something you know a lot of the fundamentals because you’ve grown up with it and there are people all around you actively teaching you and helping you with your knowledge of Islam, the Quran, and hadiths. But with reverts you don’t really have that direct source of knowledge. Most of the time you’re studying things on your own and online and you don’t even know if these things are accurate.

Q: When you tell Muslims that you’re a revert, what’s the reaction you typically get?

A: It depends. Being a revert and a black revert on top of that some people will make you feel like you’re not a real Muslim because they’re an Arab Muslim. But then there are other people who are welcoming and they’re usually other black Muslims. People who aren’t even Muslim will say things like “Oh you don’t look like other Muslims I know, how can you really be Muslim?” when I tell them I’m a revert.  And all I can say is that “I am a Muslim but I’m still learning.” You know, people ask me all the time “Well how are you Muslim? What country are you from?” and I wish people would understand that you can be Muslim no matter who you are. Yes, a black girl from America can be a Muslim. It’s for everybody.

Q: What’s one thing that you want the Muslim community to learn about reverts?

A: That we genuinely want to be part of the Muslim community. We’re not Muslim because our parents are Muslim and they made us be Muslim. We want to learn and be included. We want advice but not in a judgmental way.  

Q: How do you think Islam has affected you personally?

A: I believe that it has made me a calmer person and it has changed my judgment a lot. I think about things before I say and do it. That’s the best part of Islam to me, it has changed my character for the better. It has also made me a self-aware person and I try to strive to live by the Quran and hadiths.  

Q: What were the struggles you faced when you started to learn to pray and read the Quran in Arabic?

A: That’s one thing that I wish there was more support for. I remember the first Surah I learned was Al-Fatihah and that was one that I can remember no matter what but everything else has been hard. It takes a lot of practice and I wish there was someone I could just call up and say “Hey am I saying this right?!” It’s a completely new way of life and I wish there was more support and someone who will go through it with you and share their experiences and relate to mine. The other thing I find hard is that my old friends are great and I love them they’re great people but there are things that are haram for me but not for them. So when they go out clubbing on a Friday night it’s not haram for them but it is for me. And I still want to go and enjoy myself but within the halal realm. 

Q: Was it hard to go through middle and high school without the Islam support at home?

A: Yes, as a kid you want to do what everyone else is doing and it’s hard when you’re Muslim. Sometimes it felt like I was living two lives; on the weekend I would go to the Masjid and then during the week I was just another girl at school because at the time I wasn’t wearing hijab or really praying. And that’s something that I’m still working on and striving for.

The Reality of Idolizing Islamic Speakers

In light of recent events, I’ve realized that people, no matter who they are, will disappoint you. We won’t name names, but the news that recently broke has disappointed the American Muslim community greatly. In the West, it’s hard being Muslim to begin with and then something like this happens and the whole community is affected significantly. In the current political climate this is the last thing that we needed. We have been making active strives in the right direction and this kind of “publicity” disrupts the entire Ummah.

As a teacher, a preacher, and someone who posts about Islam on social media constantly; you have some level of responsibility to do it justice. You cannot be a hypocrite who does not practice what he preaches. If you claim to represent Islam and the Ummah, then you need to with sincerity. You don’t get to profit off of Islam while also abusing your power to manipulate multiple women. I can’t even fathom how people continue to defend him. The proof is there, and he ADMITS to many of the allegations made against him, but there is still a large amount of people who are defending him. He has blackmailed, paid off, and emotionally abused these women, but yet, he is still given the benefit of the doubt. As this news unfolds, it reveals a deeper issue in our community – misogyny. Men can make horrendous “mistakes” and get away with it, but if a woman steps out of line, she will be scrutinized until the end of time. It’s interesting because about the same time as this scandal surfaced, a picture of Mahira Khan leaked where she was wearing revealing clothing and smoking a cigarette with a male co-star. The comments that came afterwards were disgusting to say the least. Mahira Khan, an actress, who never claimed to represent Islam, was scrutinized for this picture with no mercy whatsoever. On the other hand, we have people making excuses for an abuser – people are out here posting verses from the Qur’an about how we shouldn’t judge others and instead we should make 70 excuses for them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there seems to be a highly noticeable difference here. Actively raising and treating women unjustly compared to men, is not of Islam. So, the next time you think you’re being “just,” look at the situation and reflect on if you would run to the defense of a woman in the same way.

For the people who keep saying that we shouldn’t talk about this issue because it’s backbiting, well technically it is, but simultaneously, it’s important to talk about it so others do not get hurt. We need to address these discrepancies and realities within our community, rather than pretending they don’t exist. When we remain silent in the face of injustice, we are only helping the situation to occur again. This situation has divided the Ummah even more, when in reality we need to be coming together now more than ever. How are we supposed to grow and learn as an Ummah if we refuse to own up to the truths that exist within our community and within our own selves? There’s a major difference between veiling someone’s mishaps, sins, or bad deeds, and actually confronting pressing issues that put others in danger. The Dallas community tried to keep this under wraps in the best way possible, but since the person involved was not willing to cooperate, it was important for the community to be aware of this hypocrite that they believe so strongly in to prevent others from getting hurt. No one, and trust me NO ONE, wanted to know this much about this scandal. Keeping it hidden would have been beneficial for everyone, but since it has escalated so much, it was important to talk about it publicly.

I worry for our Ummah. I worry for the youth living in this era of media that’s so saturated it dictates the way one should think and feel, and even stray’s people away from the true message of Islam. I worry for my dear sisters in Islam. We are so strong, although everyone is always trying to tear us down and keep us silent. My sisters, who get the blame for everything, even a man’s shortcomings. My sisters, who are taught that our “sins” weigh more heavily than a man’s. My sisters, who are afraid to speak up in their own community, a community that ideally should be a safe haven from the rest of this dunya, in fear of being so viciously judged and humiliated. Although this is the unfortunate and despicable reality of our society, my sisters, we must never lose our ultimate trust in Allah (SWT). Run to Allah (SWT) and understand that He is the All-Knowing and that He is your Protector. Find comfort in Him, even if this entire world seems to be against you.

The take home message from this entire situation is: do not attach your Islam with people. People are people and are not immune to the fitnah of this world. Nothing in this world is stable or consistent. Islam is perfect, however Muslims are not. If you want an example to follow, then look to those who have come before us and left a legacy worth following. We have endless examples of people who are worth learning from, so don’t attach your Islam and faith to someone in this dunya. If you attach your Islam to the people around you or lecturers in this dunya, then if they stumble, you stumble. If you want to have a strong and unbreakable bond with Islam, protect your imaan (faith) by attaching yourself to Allah (SWT), His text, and His prophet’s Sunnah.

 

Reflections: Hijab

Short. Simple. And to the point. Liberation lies in your right to choose.

There is a common misconception that wearing a hijab equals oppression, but why is this the standard way of thinking? Who said that dressing modestly makes me a victim of oppression? Western media and society enforces this idea on us that the only way a woman can be “liberated” is if she’s constantly “sexy.” However, this idea is severely flawed as it is just another mechanism that oppresses women through objectifying them. We are being taught to portray ourselves as desirable for men. That fact alone is extremely disempowering and validates the male gaze and a patriarchal society, even further. My existence and worth is not measured by how much I appeal to men. Living in such a hypersexual society can be difficult and complicated for someone who chooses to dress and act modestly.

Over the course of years it’s become a trend to liberate Muslim women by telling them that they must take off their abayas, modest clothing, and hijabs to be truly “liberated.” But let’s focus on that word; liberation, which is defined as the act of setting someone free from imprisonment, or oppression. But when did my hijab become something that was keeping me imprisoned? I made the conscious decision to wear the hijab at 20 years old. I came to this decision by myself, without anyone pressuring me to wear a scarf. And that is exactly why most women in the west wear hijab because it is THEIR choice.

Honestly, this decision is hard enough and we (hijabis and non-hijabis) could all do without your ignorant questions. If we don’t wear hijab, we’re too “modern” and “not Muslim enough” and if we do then we are “prude” and “backwards.” My hijab is none of your business. I never understood why other people felt the need to butt in and tell others how they should dress. The patriarchy reiterates the idea that women dress for, go out for, do their make up for, etc. for men. So this is why our hijabs become so controversial because we wear them for Allah (SWT).

No matter how you choose to dress, liberation lies in your choice. Respect my right to choose the same way I respect yours.

 

Reflections: Focusing During Prayer

I feel like one of the most common struggles that many Muslims face in their faith is concentrating when they are performing their five daily prayers. It’s no secret that we all lead different lives, filled with different struggles and situations, but at least we are all granted the blessing of stepping away from all of the commotion to submit ourselves in prayer and remembrance of our Creator. The importance of our five daily prayers is so reinforced, but often times we are not given adequate information on the significance of it all, which easily leads us to lack true understanding and connection with our prayer and with Allah (SWT).

We’ve all been there – we’re reciting Surah Al-Fatiha, but simultaneously our mind is wandering off without us even realizing it. Soon enough, you completely lose track of what rakat you’re on and don’t even feel the least bit connected to the words you’re reciting. It becomes a dreadful cycle and you begin to see your obligatory prayers as a chore rather than the blessing and relief that they are. So, how do you get out of the funk? Here are some simple, but effective ways to help you get in the zone while offering your salah!

Wudhu

Wudhu is literally like the pre-requisite before your salah. Don’t rush your wudhu and just splash water on yourself. There’s great significance behind even just “throwing water” on ourselves. Wudhu has been made for us to not only purify our physical selves, but also our mental and emotional states. If we heard, said, or saw something that maybe wasn’t the most beneficial for us, wudhu gives us the opportunity to completely wash away those “bad things” and start fresh. This isn’t just some made up notion, it’s literally the significance of ablution in Islam. Cleanse your mind, as well as impurities on your physical self with wudhu. Who wouldn’t want to be clean and purified before they face Allah (SWT) in salah?

Surah Al-Fatiha

We all know Surah Al-Fatiha and know the jist of its tafsir, but do we really know it? Yes, we hear it and recite it so often, I mean it is “The Opening” to the Quran! However, Surah Al-Fatiha is literally the crux of your salah. We recite it in every prayer, every rakat must start with it, but what does it really mean? It’s important to really delve into the tafsir of this surah and understand it’s power and relation to Allah (SWT). Here is one tafsir of the surah that has really impacted my perspective on it. Learning the tafsir really helps you focus on every single ayah you recite because you truly are understanding the beauty and significance behind it.

Set the mood

It almost goes without saying that in order to succeed at something, you must have the mindset prepared for it. Research has proven that with any tasks that you do, 80% of the success has to do with your psychological state and only 20% has to do with the actual action of it. Before you even start your takbir, really get yourself into the fact that you are standing before Allah (SWT). Envision nothing, but Him and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) watching you. Not to sound morbid, but sometimes even thinking about how this could be the last prayer you pray on Earth, can help you focus on praising and remembering Allah (SWT) throughout your salah. If you’re going through something, take a moment before salah to just breathe and allow your mind to refocus away from your problems and on Allah (SWT). He is the only helper and protector to us, and that is so comforting to remember.

Don’t make distractions for yourself 

If you’re a girl, you know the struggle of trying to pray with a hijab that is loosely or haphazardly tied. You begin to be more focused on the scarf on your head slipping off than your actual prayer. Make sure to securely tie your hijab before you start your prayer so this doesn’t happen to you! Also make sure the area around you is somewhat tidy, we all tend to get shifty eyes here and there (may Allah forgive us), but the chances of this happening are less if you have the ability to clean up.

Look into the tafsir of different surahs

Learning about and understanding the meaning behind Surah Al-Fatiha is important and should be an act we constantly revisit. However, it is also valuable to research the tafsir of other surahs and duas you recite during your salah. Looking into the tafsir helps us understand the context of what we are saying and inevitably connects us to the prayer and focusing on Allah (SWT) even more. Here are some reputable sources to dive into tafsir of various surahs, plus many more great topics in Islam that can surely benefit you during your salah and in life in general:

Bayyinah Institute

Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research

We all make mistakes, and it’s important to remember that Allah (SWT) is the most Merciful and that He understands our struggles, whatever they may be. As long as you are sincere in your approach to Islam and seeking out a stronger connection with Allah (SWT), you are never at a loss. Salah is supposed to be an ease and comfort in this stressful dunya. Therefore, we should approach it as so, and not look at it to be a burden. Insha’Allah you continue to seek out ways to hold on tightly to your salah and your faith. If you have any good tips on making your salah more meaningful, let us know down in the comments below!

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