Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Starting Anew

     Everyone loves a fresh start. For many people, New Years resolutions mark the perfect time for making changes. What if your New Year wasn't January 1?
What if your New Year was Muharram 1 in the year 1435H?
     For Muslims, Muharram  is the first month of the Islamic calendar. These months do not follow the Gregorian calendar method of 30-31 days with the occasional 28/29 days. Islamic months follow the moon, therefore months are 28-30 days long, hence the year count a mere 578 years off. This is why Ramadan (the 9th month of the Islamic calendar) changes each year.

     Without realizing it, I made a fresh start in life just before Muharram. I didn't resolve to lose weight or quit smoking (already checked both of those off my list!). My fresh start was taking the Shahada, testifying that I believe in and worship one god only and testify that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a messenger and prophet of God (all praise and thanks belong to Him). By taking my Shahada October 30, I just missed Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha but made it just in time for the New Year!

     As more of my family and friends find out about my conversion I am becoming more comfortable with my new lifestyle. Learning new prayers, new phrases, and new etiquette along with gauging how people will react to my choice.

     It is interesting how no one cares about what you believe until you attach a label to it. Should this label be one that people are familiar with like Baptist, Lutheran or Catholic, no one bats an eye. Add a title that is mysterious or associated with terror, and everyone begins running for the nearest bottle of holy water and shouting "heretic" at you.

     It was not an easy decision made on a whim to convert from my native Christianity. I have spent over 15 years evaluating my beliefs and researching the beliefs of others. When I was a teenager, I was looking for answers and possible modes of rebellion from my parents. As a young adult, I continued to search for answers for my own piece of mind in every religion from A to Z.

    Once I thought I was comfortable with my religion, I began to research in order to be more tolerant of other religions and belief systems. Although I always felt a nagging bit of doubt, I assumed this was normal.

    After enrolling in a Christian college and having to take a class that basically prepares you to understand what you believe, why you believe it and what others believe, I was left with a false sense of affirmation. Surely I had been given the answers to my questions and could focus on worshiping God. Unfortunately, the Trinity and divinity of Jesus remained a source of unease. How can God be His own creator and son? How can an all knowing, all seeing, all controlling God grant humans free-will yet feel it necessary to save us with a blood sacrifice from the very sins He not only knows we are going to commit, but gives us the free-will to commit.

     In search for the truth, I began my quest again. I truly wanted to stick to the religion I was born to and knew. The religion that would give me acceptance and love from everyone I know. This was certainly not fair to me or my children. How can I explain to them a cup of wine and a bowl of crackers are the body and blood of God when I don't understand it myself?

    Refusing to take blind faith as the final answer, I began to dig deep into the Bible. I knew there were commands I was not following. Not just the popular big 10 commandments, but small ones like women covering their hair, for example. I rationalized that if I can't follow the least of these commands, how can I follow the greatest?

   I began covering my hair with bandanas and wide headbands and dressing more modestly. I began to feel free and more honest with myself. I no longer focused on what was hanging out, but what was in my mind and coming out of my mouth.

   I started looking at other religious sects within Christianity as well as other religions that commanded women to cover their hair. Since I didn't feel oppressed covering my hair from my Christian commands, how do women of other faiths feel about being commanded to cover, and who is commanding them to cover?

   One day I stumbled across Islam. Sure I've read about it before, but that is the crazy women oppressing religion of terrorists and I surely have nothing in common with their beliefs. Yet the more I read and searched, the more I felt I was being called home.

     The harder I pushed against it, the closer I felt I was being drawn to Islam. After researching I realized I had so many of the same beliefs as Muslims and the Qur'an held so many answers to questions I never knew I had. Did you know the Qur'an has details of scientific processes? The development of an embryo (Qur'an 23:12-14) and the origin of the universe (Qur'an 41:11) are just a few examples.

The pillars of Islam seemed easy enough:

I Shahada-profess you believe in one god  worthy of praise and that Muhammad is a messenger and prophet of God.
II Salat- salat is the building of a connection to God through prayers and prostration
III Zakat-charitable giving
IV Fasting-abstaining from food and drink during the month of Ramadan in order to feel closer to God and be more sympathetic to those in need
V Hajj-pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in adulthood

     While these pillars are essential to the faith of a Muslim, Allah (Arabic word meaning The God) is merciful and knows that those that are young, sick, pregnant or otherwise incapable are exempt from fasting, those financial incapable are exempt from zakah and those incapable due to health or finances are exempt from Hajj. There are even provisions to accommodate people unable to perform salat in the prescribed manner.

     Women are protected in Islam. While many think it is oppressive to have a woman pray behind a man or cover their bodies, there is a logical reason for these requests. Women pray behind a man because who wants a man ogling their backside while prostrating in prayer to God? While I am trying to focus my mind on God, the last thing I want to worry about is if Youssef can see my panty line while I'm bent over. (Should I wear my clothes loose enough, it shouldn't be an issue, but who wants to worry?) Women AND men are commanded to dress modestly and lower their gaze. This keeps the focus on clean thoughts and on God versus lustful thoughts of the mind.

     Like all religions, there are laws and rules. Like all religions, followers have freewill to choose to follow these rules. Will you get to heaven if you don't follow them, that is between you and God, humans certainly cannot judge you! Just to be on the safe side, I choose to follow the commandments of my God and follow the laws and rules He has set forth to guide us. If you find Sharia law and punishments to be too harsh, the very simple solution is do not break the law and you will not have to suffer the punishment!

     Finding Islam is like finding home for me. I finally feel like I have answers to questions I have been asking for years. Sure I'm nervous about how others will treat me and my family due to my choice, but ultimately I plan to please God no matter what. Insha'Allah (God willing) in my lifetime I can help eliminate some of the fear of Islam and spread the truth of what Islam is and not what others perceive it to be.