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Reaching for the Stars: A Former Refugee Honored At A Major Baseball Game

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Outside Minute Maid Park, the Houston Astros stadium, milling amongst the blue and orange fans, Ghulam Kehar waits for Dayana Halawo and her family with tickets and a T-shirt to wear as she throws the ceremonial first pitch. He is the CEO and co-founder of Amaanah Refugee Services, which works with resettled refugees in Texas – the top state in the nation to host resettled refugees. On July 31, 2017, Dayana, a Muslim resettled refugee who arrived in Houston from Syria last August, was invited by Amaanah to throw the opening pitch to open the game. This is a distinct American tradition, where a guest of honor throws a baseball to mark the end of pregame festivities and the start of the game.

Amaanah chose Dayana for her resilience and spirit of giving back. Amaanah works with former refugees months after governmental resettlement assistance ends. Since 2008, Amaanah has touched the lives of over 10,000 refugees. This is the second year the Astros — the leading team in the American League West— have worked with Amaanah to give refugees a “truly American” experience and a special honor.

“I was three years old when war broke out,” recalls Dayana. More than 30 years ago, her mother, a young woman with 4 children, escaped war in Circassia (current day Russia) and made a new home in Homs, Syria, 100 miles north of Damascus. Many Circassians – Sunni muhajirs (migrants) from Caucasus — had assimilated in Syrian society, while maintaining their heritage and identity. Her people had suffered for centuries. The Russian government killed or expelled nearly the entire nation from in 1864, after they resisted the Russian Empire’s advance for more than a century. To this day, the Circassians remember this as their “genocide.”

In 2005, Dayana met Mohamed Bilal. He owned the beauty store located in front of her house. Ethnic differences divided the families over the marriage, but the two were determined to become husband and wife. ”I left everything for Mohamed Bilal,” Dayana shares her love story.

Her –happy– home became a warzone again in 2011. All supply routes to their city were blocked and aerial shelling and bombing filled their days and nights. When Assad’s forces bombed her neighborhood, Mohamed Bilal and Dayana barely escaped, clutching their 1-year-old son they ran out of her building. Nine months pregnant, Dayana was about to give birth to her daughter and understands how her mother felt leaving her life behind.

Today, Bilal and Dayana have settled into a bustling life in cosmopolitan Houston, befriending people of all colors and paths in life.

In Homs, she attended the Al-Salam school and became an English teacher at her alma mater. Now, the former refugee from Syria is giving back as an instructor at Amaanah’s Awesome Academy. Amaanah identifies resettled refugee populations in the school district, says Ghulam, and sends bilingual instructors [to] help the public school teachers during and after school hours. “We have become an additional support system for [former refugee] kids in the system,” he shares humbly. “Dayana is a teacher there – which is pretty cool,” he adds.

Dayana arrives at Minute Maid Park, a baseball glove in hand and prayers on her lips. Her entourage is escorted to the VIP section of the stadium. “I am so nervous,” she says. “We play football in Syria,” she adds with a giggle. She has been practicing pitching for a few weeks but her face on the giant screen of the Jumbotron is setting off new waves of jitters.

A buzz of reporters interviews her while her children look from behind the netting, seated in the dugout. Mohamed Bilal comes out with an Astros hat and a hug. The air is electric. “Go, girl, go!” yells a security guard. Her children, Laith and Joudi, wave from their seats. After a set of last minute instructions, the 5 foot 2 inch Dayana walks up to the mound on the perfectly manicured field. The crowd bursts into applause.

In the upper deck 300 supporters were waiting for Dayana. “Wallah, you did well,” says her ‘coach’, a family friend, Yehia Omar, who showed her how to throw the ball.

“She is amazing!” says single mom Ghadah Bayati, a former refugee from Iraq and Amaanah’s Transformed Program specialist, who is also in the stands celebrating Dayana. “We coach resettled single-mothers on financial management, employment, language, transportation and housing,” rattles off the former program participant.

Refugees are admitted to the United States for humanitarian reasons but they also contribute to the American economy. An internal study done by the Departmant of Health and Human Services, which was completed in late July (around the time Dayana was invited to pitch the ball) but never publicly released, found that refugees “contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government” between 2005 and 2014 through the payment of federal, state and local taxes. “Overall, this report estimated that the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63 billion.” The New York Times reports that “the draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times, contradicts a central argument made by advocates of deep cuts in refugee totals,” including Stephen Miller, Trump’s chief policy officer. The Trump administratio,  rejecting this study, has set a limit of 45,000 for refugees allowed to resettle in the United States.

Last Februaury, 80 business leaders including CEOs urged the president to consider the serious harm to U.S. economic interests — including potentially billions of dollars in economic loss — that could result from overly-restrictive immigration policies based on unfounded security concerns.

As business leaders, we have seen first-hand the positive economic benefits of immigrants and refugees in our communities and firms. Many of us have such heritage ourselves; indeed, 40 percent of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by refugees, immigrants, or their children. Immigrants and refugees revitalize shrinking cities and workforces, and create new business and American jobs.

With their energy and vision, Mohammad Bilal and Dayana could easily be one of them. They have not let any of the hardships they have faced deter them from building and giving back to their new home. Up in the stands, Dayana’s friend Aminah Ishaq, an avid Astros fan, hugs her and cheers the homerun against Tampa Bay. They met when Aminah helped Mohamed Bilal find work as a handy man to add to his income from his job at a restaurant. “They refuse handouts,” shares Aminah.

Now, Dayana teaches Aminah’s daughter the Quran. “She is such a generous soul,” confides Aminah, who was invited to a ‘huge feast’ at Dayana’s apartment during Ramadan. “She treats me like a sister,” says Aminah.

I witness some of that hospitality as she invites me to her home. “Come and stay with me,” squeals Dayana, with a warm smile and an offer wrapped in traditional Muslim values. I will cook Syrian food for you,” she says to me, touched that I had flown from Washington D.C. to cover her story. I promise to meet up with her next time I am in her city.

“I am so proud of you, Mama. You went out there and did that in hijab,” chirps Laith, his eyes brimming with pride for his brave mother who is reaching for the stars in their new home.

Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Amatullah

    October 12, 2017 at 1:53 AM

    SubhanAllah, amazing ppl out there!
    jazakhAllah khayr for covering this ukhti, been ages I read something positive.

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#Culture

Book Review of Revolution by the Book by Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (Formerly known As H Rap Brown)

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Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s magnum opus, Revolution by the Book, is a paradigmatic Islamic liberation theology manifesto. It gives an outline of spiritual cultivation specific to the experience of the marginalized who are advocating for freedom from structural oppression, particularly Black Americans in the context in which Imam Jamil is writing. In his book, Imam Jamil Al-Amin argues that Islamic religious practice, which he refers to as “the Muslim program” provides a successful guide to revolution, specifically for Black Americans who have been marginalized, dehumanized, and oppressed in the United States for over 400 years. This revolution is not to be understood in the context of the masses suddenly rising up and overthrowing the ruling class. Rather, it is a suttle and spiritual revolution of the hearts. Imam Al-Amin argues that only through the revolution of self can a person be able to revolutionize the community around them. He writes that “It is said in Islam that the greatest struggle is the struggle against the evil of self. The struggle against the evil of self is the great Jihad, the foremost holy struggle,” alluding to a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him). The book’s quotations are almost completely from two sources: the Qur’an and ahadith, which are sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Revolution by the Book is adorned with these two sources of Islamic knowledge. It is seldom impossible to find a page of the book without either a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him), or a verse of the Qur’an. Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s book begins with Surah Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Qur’an. Following them come the 10 chapters of the book all deal with a particular aspect of this program. Each chapter begins with a particular set of verses of the Qur’an.

The first chapter, “God Alone” stresses the importance of belief in God in transforming society. Without this belief, society cannot move forward in improving itself. It is followed by a chapter entitled “Born to Worship” which emphasizes the importance of prayer. Thereafter comes a chapter titled “Holy Money” which speaks of the importance of charity, which morphs into a discussion on the sociopolitical imperative of investing one’s money in the community. Then comes “God’s Diet” which speaks of the importance of fasting and eating healthy food. The fifth chapter is titled “Pilgrim’s Progress” and mentions the Hajj, and how Islam connects Muslims to a broader community of brothers and sisters around the world. The book is then followed by a chapter titled “God Natured” which speaks of the importance of the fitrah, or original nature of submission to God that all human beings possess, described in a hadith by the Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him). The book then presents a chapter titled “Turn Right at the Light” which emphasizes the importance of repentance when one commits a sin. Chapter 8, “In Your Family” emphasizes the importance of the nuclear family, and is followed by a chapter titled “Everybody Can Fight But Everybody Can’t Win” which emphasizes the importance of practicing the program and living by an Islamic epistemology, as opposed to ascribing to secular ideologies such as nationalism and Marxism. The book ends with a chapter titled “Finish Lines” which accents how death can come any day for a human being, and how the Muslim must prepare for it, each and every day. The book then culminates with Surah Asr, a three verse chapter of the Qur’an dealing with the importance of time, and making the most of the limited time that man has on Earth. Revolution by the Book serves as a call to action, intended to resurrect the soul of the reader, so that they can ultimately resurrect a broken society. The text reads in the voice of a powerful figure. In order to understand just how powerful of a figure the author is, one must understand both his contributions as both an Imam and leader of American Muslims as Imam Jamil Al-Amin, as well as his contribution to the freedom struggle of Black Americans as H. Rap Brown.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin is a leader within the Dar Al Islam movement, a Sunni Muslim, predominantly Black American, Islamic movement in the United States. Founded in 1962, the Dar Al Islam movement was the single largest Sunni Muslim organization in the United States until Imam Warith Deen Mohammed transitioned his father’s formerly pseudo-Islamic Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam in 1976. The Dar Al Islam movement’s ideology can be seen in the sources that Imam Jamil Al-Amin cites. He uses very few sources outside of the Qur’an and ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad. This is because the Dar Al Islam movement overall did not affiliate itself to any particular madhab, or school of Islamic jurisprudence, nor did it affiliate itself to any Sufi order. However, the organization is distinct from Salafis in the sense that they are not anti-madhabb or anti-Sufism. But one can see the ideology of not following a particular Sufi Shaikh or school of thought in this work of Jamil Al-Amin. Rather, he focuses on preaching to people the Qur’an and authentic sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. This is not necessarily an issue as he is preaching very rudimentary and basic Islamic teachings, and means of purifying oneself in this book.

The title of the book may also seem strange to some. As opposed to a revolutionary manifesto, the book seems to rather be a book on how to change one’s own self and how to restructure society from there. Before his conversion to Islam, Imam Jamil Al-Amin was known as H. Rap Brown, a charismatic and nationally-known leader within the civil rights movement. He would be mentored by now-Congressman John Lewis, who was then Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. At the young age of 23, H. Rap Brown became Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, succeeding Stokely Carmichael. Under Brown’s leadership, SNCC entered into a working relationship with the Black Panther Party. Brown took the nonviolent out of the name of the organization, and renamed it the Student National Coordinating Committee, lamenting that “violence is as American as cherry pie” and that they would “use violence, if necessary” and fight for freedom “by any means necessary.” 

While chairman of SNCC, Brown simultaneously was appointed Minister of Justice of the Black Panther Party. In 1971, Brown was sentenced to 5 years in jail for “inciting a riot”, a crime that many suggest came out of the Cointelpro program that specifically had the goal of “neutralizing” him. It was in jail that chaplains from the Dar Al Islam movement invited him to their weekly Friday prayers. Familiar with Islam because of Malcolm X, H. Rap Brown attended Friday prayers without becoming Muslim. After a few Friday prayers, H. Rap Brown converted to Islam and took the name Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. Upon leaving jail, Imam Jamil Al-Amin studied the classical Islamic sciences in West Africa, India, and Pakistan. Following that, he became Imam of a community of around 400 Muslims in the West End neighborhood of Atlanta. The title Revolution by the Book comes from Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s credentials as a revolutionary. He is alluding to how he feels that his Islam is the culmination of his revolutionary days in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Black Panther Party, and that he has now finally found a means of making this revolution possible. He says in the prologue of the book that becoming Muslim did not mean a shift from his revolutionary lifestyle. Rather, he says that Islam was a “continuation of a lifestyle” of the struggle for freedom for Black Americans.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin writes that:

It became evident that to accomplish the things we had talked about in the struggle, you need a practice. Allah says He does not change the condition of people until they change was is in themselves. That is what Islam does, and it points out right from wrong. It points out truth from falsehood.

He continues on to say that:

It is criminal that in, in the 1900’s, we still approach struggle…sloganeering saying, “by any means necessary,” as if that’s a program. Or “we shall overcome,” as if that’s a program. Slogans are not programs. We must define the means which will bring about change. This can be found in…[what] Allah has brought for us in the Qur’an and in the example of the Prophet. Our revolution must be according to what Almighty God revealed…Successful struggle requires a Divine program. Allah has provided that program.

The remainder of the book outlines the ingredients for successful struggle. Imam Jamil Al-Amin claims that the most important aspect of revolution is belief in God. Without this, none of the other objectives such as prayer, fasting, charity, repentance, and pilgrimage to Mecca can be actualized and implemented. He also goes on to argue a divine command morality. If a person does not have belief in God, they lack an objective morality to base their lifestyle on. As a result, they fall into a subjective morality that makes it very easy for them to stumble and constantly reinterpret their values in accordance to their whims and desires when faced with pressure to compromise their values. To successfully mount a revolution, a person needs to be solidly grounded and not constantly reinterpreting what is right and wrong. Such an action could jeopardize the struggle and place the one engaging in the revolution in danger of selling out his or her values. Divine command morality serves as an anchor for the person revolutionizing society. This is why Imam Jamil Al-Amin believes that Imaan, or faith in God is the single most important ingredient to successful struggle. It is also interesting to note that the Arabic word “imaan” which means faith comes from “Amaan”, a root word that means safety or security. Through faith, believers are strongly anchored and have safety and protection from being misled by their whims and desires.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin writes that:

Iman is an essential ingredient to success, for a fearful, doubtful person is unable to struggle; he gives up easily, submits to every oppressor, compromises his integrity, acquiesces in injustice, and accepts enslavement. In contrast, a person who has taqwa, God-consciousness, fears only the Ruler of the Universe, Almighty Allah; he perseveres against the greatest of challenges, maintains his integrity, resists injustice, refuses enslavement, and fights oppression without regard to man-made standards.

Next, Imam Jamil Al-Amin claims that the most important aspect of this struggle is prayer. He says that prayer is the center of the community. He quotes the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad that prayer is what separates a believer form a disbeliever. He also quotes verse 11 of Surah Raad which states that “God does not change the condition of people until they change was is in themselves.” This is the most quoted verse of the Qur’an in his entire book, emphasizing the change in self that is required for the revolution that SNCC and the Black Panther Party imagined. He asserts that prayer is the key to this change, and that prayer is also what binds his mosque together.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin writes that:

Any building is just an edifice. The mosque is built to make prayer. Prayer is the key to the community, not buildings…Prayer is a practice, a program, that begins to make you aware, that makes you conscious of the Creator; it makes you fear Allah, and that brings about within you a transformation, a change that is necessary to throw off that whole system that you have become accustomed to. It is the beginning of a revolution in you which expands to other aspects of you reality.

Following his emphasis on prayer as the foundation of successful Islamic practice, Imam Jamil emphasizes other very important aspects of Islam, cemented with verses from the Qur’an and ahadith. Aside from just emphasizing the religious obligation of the action, Imam Jamil Al-Amin connects the idea to a sociopolitical imperative. It is not just his goal to explain to the reader why the action is religiously mandated. But he also seeks to connect it to why it is important for the social resurrection of the community in which a person resides. For example, he presents many hadith and the verses of Qur’an on the importance of charity. But beyond that, he connects the idea to the spiritual and social resurrection of Black Americans. 

Charity — you cannot have an effective social struggle, a successful movement, if you don’t have charity. You cannot have a successful revolution if people don’t have charity, if you are not willing to sacrifice. Sacrifice deals with giving, with sharing those things that Allah places in your trust? 

Beyond just laying out religious obligations, Imam Jamil Al-Amin points out many flaws in modern society, particularly those of materialism and corporatism. In his view, modernity is filled with many diseases that have deprived people of who they really are. People just go around consuming food, drugs, and entertainment, and are unable to cultivate their souls, or even ponder the fact that they have one. He writes about how society is devoid of values and how Americans have become a people who just go from one holiday to another without contemplating their existence. Americans have become a people not just intoxicated by drugs. More prominently, they have been intoxicated by holidays and entertainment.

We talk about intoxicants. We reduce the problem to cocaine and crack. But indeed, it is more than cocaine and crack. In fact, the problem is not crack and cocaine, the problem is that we live in a society that has made a virtue out of being high. This society arouses within you desires and passions that make you seek to escape reality by being high. Everything is geared toward keeping you in a state of euphoria. One holiday follows the next: Christmas to New Years, to Easter, to Mother’s Day, to Father’s Day, to the NBA playoffs, to the Superbowl, to championship fights, to Olympics. Everything keeps you high. Everything is geared towards keeping you away from encountering reality, everything is geared to keep you from remembering God.

He advises parents on the dangers of this corporatism also. Imam Jamil writes that: 

Your child must stop eating what the media sells; the television, radio, comics, magazines, recordings, etc. You must help them control their lives; you must take control of your children’s lives away from their enemy. You strive hard to teach your children right, then you turn the television on and allow everything that is against your religion, against your Lord, to be propagated in your house. You lock your doors and windows then turn on the TV.

One weakness in this text comes with regard to who Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s audience is. One review referred to it as “A valuable text for new Muslims and an excellent introduction to the fundamental teachings of Islam for non-Muslims.” So perhaps it is a text aimed at introducing non-Muslims to Islam, while also allowing Muslims to review the basic teachings through the context of his unique life experience. But which non-Muslims is he specifically speaking to? Is he speaking to Black revolutionaries who are not yet Muslim? He could be speaking to past colleagues of his from SNCC and the Black Panther Party. Is he making the case to them that Islamic practice presents a necessary program for them to actualize what they want in regard to this revolution?  Is that the purpose of this book? Or is he is referring to Islam as the continuation of the struggle in a rhetorical way. He is saying to his people that they do not need to wage revolution through protests and the ballot box. Rather, by the practice of Islam, each and every person transforming themselves will transform society. After all, society is merely the summation of a bunch of individuals. If all parts of the whole have revolutionized themselves, the whole too should revolutionize itself.

I also question if it weakens Islam or sells the deen short to present it as a means of good revolutionary praxis as opposed to salvation. The objective of Islam is to get close to God, not to restructure society. But establishing justice and ridding the world of this oppression is a result that comes from closeness to God. One begins a Muslim out of belief in God, and out of realization that the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is the messenger of God, the last of prophets, and the greatest human being to ever walk this Earth. It is obvious that Imam Jamil Al-Amin understands. He emphasizes that the self must be transformed before anything else and that it is important to be aware of one’s close proximity to death. I wonder if maintaining the notion of a revolutionary self is to essentially say to those from his past days in the freedom struggle that he has not changed as a person. The H. Rap Brown who asserted that “violence is as American as cherry pie” has discovered what real revolution is all about—the greater jihad against the nafs. It is a sign that he has not committed some sort of political apostasy towards the freedom struggle, or cultural apostasy towards Black people. Rather, he has discovered that this materialism and lack of spiritual ethic guiding the freedom struggle can be purified and best applied when put into Islamic guidelines. 

For Muslims, this is an especially important text. It reminds them to fulfill the basic obligations of their religion and the evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah for fulfilling these basic obligations. It also connects to a figure who is seldom forgotten. Many know of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, but few know of the Imam Jamil Al-Amin. In addition, the Dar Al Islam movement which he was a leader in provides a model for dawah and Islamic institution building. But moreover, Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s book exemplifies to the reader that purification of the self does not have to take place in a vacuum of political quietism. Rather, in purifying themselves, the reader too can purify the community around them. Revolution by the Book is a seminal text representing a seminal figure.

Both Imam Jamil Al-Amin and his manifesto will be etched in the American Muslim imagination for years to come as symbols for purification of self, and the purification of society, insha Allah. 

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#Life

Convert Story: To Ask Or Not to Ask, That is the Question

covery islam story
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“How did you convert to Islam” is a question that is commonly asked to those who convert to Islam. While the short answer to this question is, “I said shahada”, the long (and more detailed) answer is one that is commonly expected.

It is important to acknowledge that the majority of “born Muslims” who ask this question do such out of good intentions. For this reason, I wrote this piece out of a place of love and not out of a place of judgment or hatred. While it is important for “born Muslims” to be mindful of how they ask this question, it is equally important for converts to not hold ill will towards born Muslims who ask this question. Due to the fact that Islamophobia is rampant in both the media and political discourse, many “born Muslims” are naturally shocked and emotional when they meet people who accept Islam. Some “born Muslims” have also had limited interactions with converts and therefore, to them, it is not only shocking for them to meet converts, but they are genuinely unaware of certain etiquettes when it comes to asking a convert for his or her story.

In this piece, I am going to write about a pet peeve that is shared among many Muslim converts. While I cannot speak for every single convert, I can say that based on innumerable conversations I have had with fellow converts, there is one thing most of us agree on and it is this; it is rude to ask a convert about his or her conversion story when you haven’t built a relationship with the convert. This piece will explain why many converts consider such a question to be intrusive. The purpose of this article is to better educate the “born Muslim” community on how they can do a better job in support of converts to Islam. In this piece, I will break down the reasons why this question can come off as intrusive if it isn’t asked in a proper manner. I will also include personal anecdotes to support my position.

I would like to conclude by saying that I do not discourage “born Muslims” from asking this question entirely, rather I am merely arguing that this question should be asked with the best of adab.

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said:  “Part of a person’s being a good Muslim is leaving alone that which does not concern him.” (Tirmidhi) For this reason, such a question should be asked for purpose and it should be done with the best of manners. This is supported by the fact that Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said, “I have been sent to perfect good character.” (Al Muwatta)

Note: For the sake of avoiding confusion, the term “born Muslim” is defined as anyone who was brought up in a Muslim household.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask about the person’s personal relationship with God

Within the context of a friendship, it is generally understood that friends will share personal details with each other. However, it is also generally understood that it is rude to ask people you just met personal questions. To ask a new acquaintance a personal question in most cases comes off as intrusive. This is especially the case in which you ask a person about his or her relationship with God.

For example, there are women who do not wear hijab. Even if we do (for a moment) ignore the Islamic ruling concerning hijab, we should all agree that a woman’s reason for wearing (or not wearing) hijab is a personal matter that is between said woman and God. If one was to ask a woman who doesn’t wear hijab why she doesn’t wear it, that would be intrusive because such a question would involve interrogating said woman about her relationship with God.

Another example concerns a married couple. If one was to meet a married person for the first time, it can be considered rude to ask said person about his or her relationship with his or her spouse.

When one asks a convert about his or her choice to convert, one is literally asking said convert about his or her relationship with God.

I am not saying that it is wrong in all cases to ask such a question. However, one should be mindful of the fact that because this is a personal question, one should have at least have built some form of a friendship with said person before asking.

convert friendship hugs

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is another way of asking, “Why do you believe in Islam?”

Many people identify to a faith tradition because it was part of their upbringing. If you were to ask a person who was born Muslim, “why are you Muslim?” you might hear said Muslim respond with, “I am Muslim because I was raised Muslim” and you wouldn’t hear a detailed answer beyond this.

In most cases, a convert to Islam (or any other religion) did such after research and critical thinking. To convert to a new religion involves not only deep thinking but a willingness to step into the unknown.

I have on many occasions told my story to people. In most cases I will ask the person “why do you believe in Islam?” I am then disappointed when I find out that the only reason the person is Muslim is due to upbringing. While I am not saying that said person’s faith is invalid or less than mine, a person who only identifies with a religion due to upbringing is a person who didn’t engage in critical thinking.

Any relationship should be built upon equality and mutual benefit. If I as a convert am able to provide a well thought out answer as to why I believe in Islam, I expect a well thought out answer to the same question from the person who initially asked me.

Again, while I am not saying it is wrong in all cases to ask, a born Muslim should ask himself or herself “why do I believe in Islam?” In my opinion, there are many who are born into Muslim families who don’t truly believe until later in their lives. Those Muslims in my opinion (and mine alone) are similar to converts.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to perform labor.

In some cases, “born Muslims” expect converts to tell their stories. I can remember a few incidents in which I have been asked to tell my story and I politely declined. In response, the person became angry. This to me is a symptom of entitlement. Nobody is entitled to know anything about anyone else (aside from people with whom one has a natural relationship with).

In addition, one should be cognizant of the fact that converts typically get asked this question repeatedly. Thus after a significant amount of time, a convert is prone to get tired of repeating the same question over again repeatedly. Naturally, it can become exhausting eventually.

While I do not believe it is wrong to ask this question in all cases, one should not ask this question to a convert from a place of entitlement. I can think of cases where I have been asked this question by “born Muslims” and when I have refused to provide an answer, they have gotten angry at me. This is entitlement.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to explain his or her personal life.

Backbiting is one of the worst sins in Islam. Another major sin is to disrespect one’s parents. Thus we can conclude that backbiting about one’s parents is a huge sin.

This is evidenced by the fact that Allah has said (ﷻ) “We have enjoined on humankind kindness to parents.” (Quran 29:8)

A typical follow-up question to “Why did you convert?” is “How did your parents react?” This in many cases puts the convert in a position where one may feel pressured to mention some negative details about his or her parents. In Islam, parents are to be respected, even if they aren’t Muslim.

Before asking a convert this question, one should be mindful of not putting unnecessary pressure on the convert to commit this injustice.

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

However, I do maintain a firm belief that in any true friendship, things will be shared. I don’t think it is wrong in itself to ask a convert about his or her story provided that there already exists a relationship where personal information can be shared. It is highly suggested to hang out with the person first and then ask the convert for his or her story.

As a personal rule of mine, unless I have hung out with the person one on one at least once (or a few times in group gatherings) I don’t tell any born Muslims my conversion story. Naturally, I only share personal details with people I consider to be a friend. If I would hang out with the person, I consider that person to be a friend.

The reason I am also hesitant to share my story with just anyone who asks me is because I can think of countless cases of when I have shared my story to people I have never seen or heard from again. I choose to exert my agency to share personal details of my life to people who I consider to be part of my life. While many Muslims are happy when people convert, many Muslims also fail to provide any form of support for said convert after conversion. I have seen too many cases of when a person recites shahadah, people pull their phones out to record it, but very few will give the convert his or her number. I genuinely believe that many “born Muslims” fail to see the big picture in this regard.

Before asking a convert for his or her story, you should ask yourself if you are comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person. If you are not comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person, there is nothing wrong with that. However, you shouldn’t expect the convert to share personal details if you aren’t comfortable sharing personal details. Even if you have built a close friendship with someone, you still aren’t expected to share every detail of your life to someone. Even if you consider a convert to be a close friend, you should still respect a convert’s wishes to not share his or her story.

Conclusion

While I have addressed concerns about the tendency of “born Muslims” to ask converts about their journeys, I want to acknowledge that most people have good intentions. In Islam, the natural state of any person is one of righteousness.

I firmly believe that a friendship that isn’t built on trust and the sharing of personal information isn’t a genuine friendship. Therefore the key term in this context is “friend”. If you wish to ask a convert his or her story, please make sure the following conditions are met:

  1. You are already friends with the convert to a point where asking a convert about his or her relationship with God isn’t an intrusive question. Ask yourself, “Are we close enough where we can share other personal details of our lives with each other?”
  2. You have a well thought out reason as to why you believe in Islam.
  3. You don’t feel entitled to know about the convert’s journey and that you will allow the convert to choose not to share such information if the convert doesn’t wish to.
  4. You don’t probe into the convert’s relationships with other people.
  5. You aren’t just asking the question to somehow feel validated about your belief in Islam.
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#Life

Rebuilding Self-Love  in the Face of Trauma

touch trauma
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“…there is beauty in breaking” – Amir Sulaiman

Words fell softly from her lips as tears streamed down her face. A young woman, newly married, had reached out to me via social media to ask a question about how to reconnect with her body after trauma. Receiving intimacy and sex-related questions from Muslim women all over the world is a large part of my work.  But there was something about this particular questioner that struck me in a very deep place. I intimately knew her pain as a survivor. Not long after taking my shahada, I was the victim of sexual assault. The amount of trauma I suffered is indescribable. But rather than pulling me away from the faith, I relied heavily on the deen to pull me through one of the darkest periods of my life.

After trauma, rather than pulling away from the faith, I relied heavily on the deen to pull me through one of the darkest periods of my life. Click To Tweet

Healing after trauma took action, not only faith. For years, I struggled with the ability to connect with my body and to understand how to properly process emotions.  Intimacy, of all kinds, was a challenge for me. Reclaiming agency over my own body and establishing my right to pleasure led me down a life-changing path that has led to me now assisting other women in understanding and owning sexuality from a sacred perspective. My trauma broke me but it also showed me new ways to heal.

But getting back to pleasure really requires coming back to a sense of oneness and power within one’s self. It means owning your narrative and rebuilding the parts which have been broken. @TheVillageAuntieClick To Tweet

Re-engaging with sexual pleasure after trauma can be very difficult, especially for Muslim women who have been taught their whole lives to vigorously guard their bodies and not discuss sex. Talk of intimacy is still seen as taboo and, worse yet, the ability to report sexual assault and abuse remains a very difficult task for many women, regardless of faith.

But getting back to pleasure really requires coming back to a sense of oneness and power within one’s self. It means owning your narrative and rebuilding the parts which have been broken.

I have developed a five-step plan for helping women to navigate the heartbreaking process of reclaiming the body and opening one’s self to pleasure.

[*This plan is not to be used in place of mental health care (cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, trauma-informed somatic practice, etc.) but is meant to supplement intervention from a trusted licensed mental health provider.]

  1. Practice mindful forgiveness. This is not meant to be directed toward the abuser. Mindful forgiveness after trauma focuses on a need to forgive one’s self for the range of self-directed emotions that can be detrimental in the aftermath of sexual trauma. Sometimes women blame themselves when abuse takes place. This internalized oppression requires forgiveness because a victim should never assume blame for the heinous acts of others. Forgiving ourselves for any negative self-talk and asking Allah to grant His indelible mercy is a key foundation for the development of a healing path. It took years after my assault for me to understand the ways in which I had wounded myself with disparaging internal scripts. When I increased my level of istighfar and asked Allah to excuse all the instances where I doubted myself and harmed my spirit in the process, I was able to finally uncover long-hidden emotions and set about the work of true healing and reconciliation with my body.

    rights of women in Islam

  2. Seek knowledge about one’s own body and its rights. When I became a Muslim 21 years ago, I had no idea that Islam was such a sex-positive religion. The Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is full of instances where he demonstrated the beauty and importance of sex as a form of marital bonding as well as an act of worship. Scouring books of fiqh, I learned the rights of women in Islam which affirmed that we are not human possessions meant to be tilled; women have undeniable rights to pleasure and protection of our most sacred human parts. Understanding that Islam is a guide for all areas of life can give a sense of comfort and provide a pathway to explore the sacredness of sexuality. This is key, especially for women who have been abused by men of faith or who have been victims of spiritual manipulation for carnal gain. Also, learning about the female anatomy, how the brain is an integral part of harnessing pleasure, and ways to use the mind to develop an internal sense of pleasure can also be extremely helpful in re-igniting one’s love of self.

  3. Activate the sensuality of everyday life.  There is a misunderstanding of the role of sensuality in pleasure. Sex is the physical joining of bodies. Sensuality, however, is a conscious internal awareness of pleasurable stimuli. It does not involve engaging with another person. This is key because many trauma sufferers may find physical human touch triggering.  Recognizing the sensual aspects of daily life requires the mindful perception of things that titillate or arouse. It can be as simple as the feel of a particular fabric against the skin, the smell of the air after a heavy rain, a sound that evokes sensual memories, a scent that conjures an arousing mood. Why is this important? Sex is not the sole route to pleasure. For women, pleasure is largely dependent upon a spiritual or mental connection within the body. By engaging in self-motivated pleasurable sensations, this can assist women in realizing the power and control that we have over our physical vessels. Muslim couple healing reciting Quran

  4. Be easy with yourself. In the Qur’an, Allah reminds us “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” (2:153)  During the process of reclaiming one’s power, there will undoubtedly be times of anger, grief, sorrow, and resentment. These are human emotions and are quite reasonable given the magnitude of trauma’s effect on the heart. Be patient with yourself. Channel love and support during times of difficulty. Do not neglect your healing journey because of a setback. It is important to practice patience with one’s self and utilize prayer as a stabilizing force. Allah is Al Wali, our greatest Protector, and Supporter. During times of emotional despair, rather than directing our energy inward, we can learn to release these emotions through dua and remembrance. Trauma is not a fundamental characteristic of who you have become. Reclaiming your narrative means understanding that you have the power to create a different story with a powerful ending. Give yourself the time and space to rewrite your script.

    Allah is Al Wali, our greatest Protector, and Supporter. During times of emotional despair, rather than directing our energy inward, we can learn to release these emotions through dua and remembrance.Click To Tweethealing from trauma

  5. Find your circle. Healing is not a solitary act. Sometimes it requires the love and support of others. Do you have a circle of support? Who are the people in your circle? And if you don’t have one, how can you create one? When I was at my lowest, my circle was there to remind me of who I was and how far I had come. They were the ones with whom I could be my most authentic self. One of the ways in which we can heal trauma is by seeking human connection. Select your circle carefully and lean on them during times of need. The healing power of your personally curated community can be transformative and life-changing.

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