Islam formally came into my life a year ago after years of introspection, reading, talking and searching the internet. What has changed since last year when I said Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith? Everything and nothing at all. I still enjoy a gut busting joke, remain devoted to my friends and never touch junk food. Ever. I’ll die loving animals and protecting the environment. Nothing can shake my devotion to peace and prosperity in the world. Books and the printed word hold me as they always have. I enjoy seeing a good movie. Drinking coffee and reading an interesting book at a local cafe makes my day. I love to share a tasty meal with friends. A lively game of Scrabble is a favorite.
Converting changed so much. First of all, it brightened my social life and ended years of boredom. There are always activities happening at local mosques, such as group activities, lectures by guest speakers, or fundraising dinners for worthy causes. On Super bowl Sunday last year a new friend invited me to watch the big game with her family and friends. My preferred team lost but who cares. We’ve had lunch after Friday prayer services and breakfast on Sundays. I am invited to a pot luck dinners. Another sister who lives nearby asked me to visit and we started to play Scrabble. I developed another friendship with a sister and her two sons. We eat lunch often, take her boys to a play area at a mall, and sometimes go for a ride outside the city. A group of sisters once in a while enjoys coffee and conversation at Starbucks or socializes in a public park. I’ve made friends with sisters visiting from outside the USA and learning about their culture. My Somali friend cooks for me often and I love playing with her children. Now and then, a local mosque organizes a family picnic in a park and everyone shows up for food, friendship and faith. The invitations continue weekly. Sometimes I say no because they interfere with my regularly scheduled volunteer work. I am humbled by the warmth, love and caring that my sisters and their families have shown me. My short term memory took a whacking in the car accident so I just cannot remember all the wonderful social events I’ve attended.
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 that I began to attend over a year ago. 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 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 either Magrib or Isha, depending on the time of year, we break to pray together then return to finish our discussion. We end with a sister (which now is often me) offering up a prayer of peace, mercy or thanks. Our Quran group is diverse with women ranging in age from students to seniors. Women come 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. I am truly blessed.
So what else is new? Every religion has standards. Islam is no different. Women and men are encouraged to be modest. I cover my head with a hijab, wear long sleeves blouses and skirts as well as knee-length tunics. I bought my first abaya last July during Ramadan. The sister selling abayas and hijabs outside the mosque suggested I try it on. So into the ladies room I went, slipped the abaya over my head and proudly walked out. The sister smiled and said it looks great on you but there’s only one problem. Dumbfounded, I asked what was wrong. I was so eager to own my first abaya. I had it on backwards. Ha ha. All in all, I dressed conservatively albeit colorfully so a few minor adjustments was no big deal.
I often wore hats so covering my head (and my now gray hair) was a natural transition. The hijabs (also known as headscarves) came one by one as gifts after I said Shahada last February. Print hijabs, cotton hijabs, silky smooth hijabs and several I bought myself. All were so pretty and nice. They piled up week after week until I found myself smothered in hijabs. I felt like a true Muslim woman now. In my boxy one bedroom apartment, space is tight, especially for a semi-hoarder like me. I can’t seem to help myself. I collect “stuff.” I hold onto magazines that I’ll never read. I just can’t resist buying books, especially on sale in thrift shops. I love to read. At breakfast if the morning paper is late I’ll read the cereal box out of desperation. Do I need another pair of shoes? Probably not but at half price sales it’s hard to say no. Over the years I’ve learned to live with less primarily because I just don’t have the space. I finally re-organized with the help of a wicker basket, moving t-shirts out of the dresser opening up space for hijabs. Problem solved? Not exactly. I just cannot seem to keep the scarf drawers neat and tidy despite trying. And trying and trying. What’s a girl to do? Yet again, I tidied up my scarf drawers last month, organizing hijabs by color. I was so proud of myself. Classy and stylish, I could open my drawer and pick out a scarf to match my outfit just like that. Wham bam, easy peasy. That lasted maybe a week until the drawers looked like a windstorm blew through them. They’re a mess once again. Now that I’ve become more adept at wearing the hijab I apparently lack at proper storage technique. I could care less about my sock and underwear drawer where I just throw everything in. With hijabs, it’s different. They need respect just like our blouses, skirts and shoes. The right pair of shoes can make or break an outfit. There’s hope for me, I hope. Several months ago, I visited my dear friend Diba who is largely responsible for my conversion. For hijab storage, Diba tightly rolls the scarves much the way I rolled my towel and head for the beach as a youth. The new storage method has already opened up more space in my drawers. My headwear is sorted out, even if my life isn’t quite the same way. As I said, maybe there’s hope, I hope.
Muslims pray five times a day. I rarely prayed, even though I was raised Catholic. I cut school, skipped mass, and cannot tell you what’s in the Bible. My late mother always prayed that I’d return to the church but I never did. Our small apartment sometimes reminded me of a chapel with a large portrait of the Last Supper hanging in the living room. Rosary beads and prayer books were scattered throughout. A picture of Jesus stared at me as I ate. Maybe she’d be happy now that I pray five times a day, more than I ever have in my life.
Speaking of prayers, this past year was my first as a Muslim during Ramadan, the holiest Islamic holiday that lasts about a month. Except for Friday nights, when I volunteer at the airport, I attended nightly prayer service at the mosque, also known as taraweeh, preceded by iftar. Iftar is a meal to break the sun up to sun down fast required for able-bodied adults. Time at the mosque with my Muslim friends became a routine that fulfilled, energized, uplifted, and renewed my soul. After prayers my faith grew deeper and stronger. I felt closer to Allah, asking again for forgiveness for mistakes of the past. I vowed to spread more harmony, more joy as well as avoid to gossip. Chit-chat can hurt others anyway and stain my character so I don’t need to do it. I am human though and sometimes make mistakes. I always ask for forgiveness.
During Ramadan, sisters welcomed everyone, friends as well as guests. There was no difference among us even though we were a mixed group of Africans, Arabs, Persians, Asians, and Western converts. Islam united us all. Sisters dished up home-cooked meals to elderly or disabled women like me. Although children were sometimes pesky, they really were a delight to be around. School-age girls joined in prayer standing next to their moms. The little ones were an inspiration for the future and it’s our collective responsibility to teach them well so they mature into responsible adults as well as fine examples of our faith. Conversation among us was always lively. No one was left out. Afterwards, everyone pitched in to clean up so the room was presentable for prayers.
I was humbled by a request in 2015 to be on the board of the American Muslim Women’s Association. I hope I can live up to their expectations and serve the community with the resources they need.
I am content and satisfied as a Muslim. I found a place inside a community of people who care about me. I found my inner hijab. Thank you to all the people who helped and guided me on my journey. You all know who you are. I finally arrived after a long, difficult struggle. May Allah always protect and watch over me and my community. Always. I failed to succeed as a professional writer despite awards, publications in prestigious magazines and years of trying. Converting to Islam made me a winner right away. I stopped caring about my missed writing career. What does it matter now that I found where I belong?