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.

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!