I’m glad you’re hanging out with us, a sister said to me last evening at Tumbleweed Park in Chandler AZ where a group of Muslims meets every Saturday for a potluck picnic. There’s plenty of tasty food dished up by Muslim women from places like Algeria, Egypt or other Middle Eastern countries. American converts contribute delicious dishes too. People like me lacking culinary skills add snacks, healthy of course. Children romp and roll in the grass enjoying the time outdoors. I love listening to their giggles and laughter. Men take over the barbeque duties and roast up meat dishes. I’m a vegetarian so I don’t pay attention to these servings but enjoy the vegetable offerings made with beans, vegetables and pasta noodles. There’s always plenty of fruit. As Muslims alcohol is haram, or forbidden, so we drink tea, water or juice. Of course the conversations are lively with all of us catching up on family or friends’ accomplishments, such as graduations, birthdays, weddings, engagements, or sadly an unexpected passing. At Magrib, the fourth of five daily prayers, we stop to pray thanking Allah for our blessings that include our evening of food, family and fun. Not everyone is so fortunate. Personally, I thank my friend Leila for introducing me to the weekly picnics because otherwise I’d probably be home alone. Prior to my conversion I had a lackluster social life about as lively as a head of lettuce. Now I have more invitations than I can keep up with. How cool is that? My Muslim friends invite me for lunch, dinner, activities at the Masjid, picnics and more. At prayer time, I have a lot to be thankful for. Most of all, however, I thank my friend Diba for introducing me to Islam. If I hadn’t extended myself that day at the airport (where I volunteer) almost two years ago and asked, “Miss, do you need help?” I may might still be lonely and sad. Instead, I’m part of a vibrant active community where I feel wanted, loved and cared about. What more could I ask for?
Imagine my shock to read a post, right from the gutter, on my Facebook page. A strange man with the manners of a sewer rat insulted me without provocation. I’ll call him Shane. Next to a picture of me wearing a new outfit, a gift from a Pakistani friend, Shane said, “You look ridiculous.” All other 56 comments were nice, caring, or positive. I thought I looked lovely. I wrote back asking that he keep his unkind comments to himself. His reply? “You look ridiculous in that oppressive garb.” Furthermore, he indicated I was on a “bad path” a nasty reference my recent conversion to Islam.
Right away, my lower class upbringing in New York City roared into action. OK you withered old prune, you need a good cussing out. As fast as my neurologically challenged fingers could type, I dished up an appropriate nasty reply that had the sting and bite of an angry wasp. Wait a minute, I said. Don’t send it. You’re not that hot tempered New York City girl anymore. You’re a lady, a mature Muslim lady. A lot of people hold negative opinions about Muslims. Don’t inflame the mess. I deleted my reply and blocked him on Facebook so there’d be no more Shane. My self-esteem remained intact too.
I have no idea how Shane, not a Facebook friend, was even allowed to post on my page. I thought that wasn’t allowed. In any event, the shalwar kameez is a loose fitting two piece garment worn by many Southeast Asian women most commonly seen in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. I was so proud and delighted to receive not one but two as a gift from a dear friend from Pakistan. To show off my pleasure, I posted a picture on Facebook of me in a shalwar kameez.
Disapproving comments are not welcomed. It’s my body and I’ll wear what I wish. I once posted a photo of myself wearing my Saudi friend’s abaya. If I chose to wrap myself in a burlap bag or waxed paper, so be it.
As for the “bad path” comment, converting to Islam was my own free choice. Maybe this sounds terse but I don’t need anyone’s approval. My life is my own. Be happy for me that I’m at peace. Be happy that I found a caring, loving and cohesive community. Be happy that I wake up looking forward to each day rather than dragging myself up in despair. And if you can’t share my joy, then say nothing. I am content whether I’m wearing a shalwar kameez, abaya or pair of old blue jeans. I’m 60 years old, survived a nasty car accident and deserve a few good years.
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) at Arizona State University sponsored Islamic Awareness week in early April to spread information about the true meaning of Islam, not the distorted version that swirls across the media. As you can see from the attached chart, topics included a discussion on Islam, extremism, Chinese Muslims, Malcolm X’s legacy and a guard at the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison who converted to Islam. An educational and enlightening week ended with a charitable event at the Tempe mosque on Saturday morning. Students and friends of students, including myself, gathered to prepare food for area homeless men and women that was distributed later that day. Visit the Muslim Student’s Association Facebook page for photographs taken that week of student’s visiting the information table.
Congratulations dear Muslim students for weeks of hard work and diligence to assemble such an outstanding event to spread the true meaning of Islam, which revolves around kindness, devotion to family, charity, and love of Allah. Islamic Awareness week also sought to dispel nasty rumors about Muslims circulating not only in the media but throughout the larger community. We are just like you, real people with dreams, ambitions, goals, and problems. We go to school, to work, or both. Since converting several months ago, I find myself surrounded by loving, caring, hard-working, and loyal women and men who care deeply about each other, their families, friends and their religion. Please do not condemn all of us for the brutal mistakes of a few. There is good and bad among us all. Join me or any Muslim for a Friday mosque service. You’re welcome to pray with us any time.
Love is like the wind, you don’t see it but you feel it. That’s an apt way to describe the sisters in my Halaqa, also known as a Quran study group. Each week, the meeting room overflows with love, joy, kindness and compassion not to mention tasty food and lively conversation.
After years of curiosity with Islam, I finally took the plunge and officially converted a few months ago. At a friend’s suggestion, I test tried the Halaqa at a local mosque. That was about the same time as my conversion. I missed one session to attend a memorial. Starting out with a potluck dinner, we nibble on homemade food and dabble in conversation about our lives, families, jobs, friends or the latest news. Children giggle and play games. Then it’s time for business. A smart, well read sister leads us in a serious discussion on parts of the Quran. We ask questions and talk about true Islam, not the distorted often violent version a few misguided and fanatical men carry out in the name of Islam. At Magrib, the fourth of five daily prayers, we break to pray together then return to finish our discussion. We end with a sister offering up a prayer of peace, mercy or thanks.
I am blessed to be among a diverse group of women with an age range from students to seniors. Women are from around the world including places like Somalia, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Chile, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Mexico and the US. Forgive me if I left out someone’s country. Our differences enrich us yet we are bonded by our devotion to Islam and to each other.
For a long time, I knew little or nothing about Islam but the more I learn, the more I want. My sisters help me expand my knowledge. It’s refreshing to be in a group without competition, gossip or backbiting. We respect each other and truly care about one other’s well being. There’s no rivalry on who has the sharpest looking purse or most expensive hijab. We’re in this together as sisters in Islam. If I fail or if I succeed, at least I know my sisters are on my side. This is the true face of Islam. Thanks ladies for welcoming me into the group.