Hope After 9/11 – Globally

hope

Every year, my friend and I put up flyers before Ramadan, inviting others in our college in California to join us for Iftar. We hoped and expected to be contacted by Muslim girls excited at the opportunity of breaking their fasts with other Muslims. Instead, who we found were perhaps far more special – a Japanese student who decided it was crucial for her to learn Arabic in order to understand the Quran better (she later transferred to Al-Azhar to follow her aspirations), and a young seventeen–year-old Mexican girl, who had been hiding her desire to convert to Islam from her parents for three years and wanted to keep her first fast with us.

At a time post 9/11, when Islam was under intense scrutiny throughout the world and especially in the West, it was heart-warming yet mind-boggling how it still attracted young women with such vigour. Adding to the paradox, as political Islamophobia radically increased in Europe, Islam continued to be the fastest growing religion in the same region. Racist nationalistic governments or political parties in countries like France, Norway and Switzerland initiated steps to remove Islamic “symbols”. Niqab was officially banned in France and they wanted to eliminate Halal food options in school canteens. But these steps across a range of countries have not been able to halt the interest towards Islam. In fact, it keeps bouncing back with more intensity. It was no less than a miracle that Daniel Streich, the man responsible for initiating the successful campaign for banning minarets in Switzerland, not only converted to Islam but vowed to make the biggest, most beautiful mosque in Europe to counter his past hatred for the religion.

However, the most interesting aspect of the conversions to Islam is that although the West accuses Islam of suppressing women’s liberties, a large proportion of those embracing Islam happen to be Western women. Camilla Leyland, a 32-year-old single mother embraced Islam in her mid-20s for ‘intellectual and feminist reasons’. She explains: “I know people will be surprised to hear the words ‘feminism’ and ‘Islam’ in the same breath, but, in fact, the teachings of the Quran give equality to women, and at the time the religion was born, the teachings went against the grain of a misogynistic society.”

A new study by the inter-faith think-tank Faith Matters suggests that the real figure of conversions to Islam in the UK alone could be as high as 100,000 with as many as 5000 conversions in one year alone. The same study suggested that the conversion rate was more in females, and that the average age of converts was twenty-seven. Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, admitted that this report was the best intellectual “guesstimate” but added that “either way few people doubt that the number adopting Islam in the UK has risen dramatically in the past 10 years.”

Mughal attributed this increase in converts to the prominence of Islam in the public domain and the subsequent public curiosity it provoked. Batool Al-Toma, a 25-year-old Irish born convert to Islam, agrees: “There has been a noticeable increase in the number of converts in recent years. The media often tries to pinpoint specifics but the reasons are as varied as the converts themselves.” Islam’s latest convert that surprised the UK was Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth. Broadcaster and journalist Booth, 43, recalls the day she decided to become a Muslim: “It was a Tuesday evening, and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy.”

Another celebrity convert, London-based Kristiane Backer, is a former MTV presenter. Kristiane says: “In the West, we are stressed for super­ficial reasons, like what clothes to wear. In Islam, everyone looks to a higher goal. Everything is done to please God. It was a completely different value system. Despite my lifestyle, I felt empty inside and realized how liberating it was to be a Muslim. To follow only one God makes life purer. You are not chasing every fad.”

According to Kevin Brice from ­Swansea University, who carried this research out for Faith Matters, the female converts to Islam, “seek spirituality, a higher meaning and tend to be deep thinkers.” The depth of their thought rings true to me. Yuki had told me that when her sister committed suicide for no apparent reason in Japan, it provoked her family to seek the meaning of life, which is what led her to Islam. Her parents were ecstatic that she had found an answer. My much younger Mexican friend bewildered me with her very deep paintings, depicting souls in trouble seeking peace and light in the midst of trouble.

Kristiane Backer, who has written a book on her own spiritual journey (“From MTV to Mecca”), believes that women who were born Muslims became disillusioned and rebelled against it. When you dig deeper, it’s not the faith they turned against but the culture. The treasures of the true Islam lead so many to embrace it, despite the steps taken to demoralize its followers and mar the faith. It’s a jewel that those born in Islam perhaps take for granted. The image that can never leave my mind is when my young friend in California took out a beautiful wooden box from her drawer to show me, where she cherishingly saved her most price-less possessions: “Her book on how to pray Salah, her silk scarf and her Quran.”

Witness to a Shahadah (Declaration of Faith)

By Umm Usman 

“Would you like to come in tomorrow? A woman is taking Shahadah,” my son’s teacher asked me. My son is studying in an Islamic school in America. I had never actually seen a non-Muslim embracing Islam, so I said I would like to join them. I am glad I did, as it turned out to be a highly enriching experience.

I got there a little early to set up the snacks. I did not know the sister, who was going to take the Shahadah, except that she was a student’s mother. Whenever a woman came in, I thought may be she was the one?

Soon entered an African sister, and by the way she walked in, unsure, yet smiling, I knew she was the one. The teacher ran to greet her and asked her to join us. We tried to make her feel at ease, as she seemed elated and perplexed at the same time.

I wondered what was racing through her mind? What made her decide to revert to Islam?

We sat down on plastic mats on the floor, the sister in our midst. The school children stood around us. A Muslim man associated with the school came in and sat on a chair facing the sister.

He spoke about believing in One God and His Prophet (sa), about the responsibilities of a Muslim, and the pillars of Islam. The sister listened very intently as did everyone else. He then asked her a few questions about the basic message of Islam.

Then, she slowly repeated the words of the Shahadah after the brother.

“Ash hadu an la ilaha ill Allah wa ash hadu anna Muhammadar Rasul Allah.”

“I declare there is no god but Allah (swt) and I declare that Muhammad (sa) is the Messenger of Allah (swt).”

It was pure joy to hear her significant words! I felt a very palpable peace enveloping the room. “The angels surely are surrounding us,” was a thought that came to my mind.

I felt blessed to be witnessing a soul being carried into the safety of Iman. We take for granted being born in Muslim families, whereas here was a woman, who had been through disbelief and was choosing to become Muslim with Allah’s (swt) Mercy.

I also felt a deep yearning for what she had gained here.  All her sins before entering Islam had been erased and forgiven by Allah (swt). She was sinless at this very moment and had a fresh start.

Our hearts filled with love for the new Muslimah. It was amazing, how we felt an instant bonding with this stranger, as soon as she became a sister in Islam. This is also one of Allah’s (swt) bounties that Muslims can feel an immediate attachment with other Muslims.

With moist eyes, we congratulated her, and all the women hugged her. The teachers hugged her son, who beamed happily at his mom, who was now cheerful and calm.

Each one of us gave her gifts, including books of basic Islamic guidance, such as Wudu, Salah, and Fasting. She said these were the things she has many questions about. There were also scarves, CDs of Quran, and sweets.

Chatting over snacks, she said that her Muslim husband put their son in this Islamic school, where she got the opportunity to observe and interact with so many Muslims for three years. This helped her to make up her mind about reverting to Islam.

May Allah (swt) keep her and all of us steadfast in faith till our last breath. Ameen.

Blessed Repentance – A True Story

repentanceNayyara Rahman tells the true story of a girl who rebuilt her life

Deliverance comes in unusual ways, and to unusual people. On the surface, nobody would think of her as unfortunate. Being born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother not only exposed her to different cultures, but different lives.

When her Lebonese family moved to Australia, she fit right in. For although she was half-Muslim, the girl was quite unscrupulous about how she dressed, dined, and generally lived her life. The Quran was more of an ornament than anything else in the household, the prayer mat just another piece of tapestry.

Upon reaching adulthood, she never missed her childhood innocence. In fact, she was eager to lose it, and soon did. Purity was a distant thought, as it sometimes is when you are young and beautiful. Her list of admirers grew, especially after she became the cover girl for an illicit magazine. For someone whose sole purpose in life was to be happy, she was doing very well indeed. But, something was still gnawing at her. Soon she found out what it was.

As she was channel surfing at a friend’s house one day, an unusual program caught her eye. It was about Chastity. She felt that the words were directed towards her. After all, every day of her life consisted of the evils being talked about: immodesty, fornication, and an overwhelming lust for this world. She thought about the Fire that was so real, and shivered.

Now, she knew. The best way to understand Allah’s Mercy is to know that all you have to do is ask, and He gives. Once she had made up her mind to reform, guidance followed soon after. She left her boyfriend. The girl who never grew tired of tank tops began to see the beauty of the Hijab. Someone who prided herself on being the darling of fashion magazines began to appreciate the Quran’s Eloquence. Drugs and drink were shoved away to make room for fasting and prayer.

At last the gnawing stopped. Her days were now periods of peace – a very welcome change from the rowdy clamour she had left behind. She had never known such contentment, and she believed that life did not get any better than this. That is when fate stepped in again.

Allah has a way of testing His Faithfuls, and He tested her too. She had not been feeling well for some time. At an examination at the local hospital, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. However, she was not afraid. After all, her life belonged to Him. He had much more of a right over it than she did.

Nevertheless, the surgery took place. The result was gloomy. She died soon after, at the tender age of twenty-two. It all happened in the course of three weeks. Her reversion to Islam up until her death.

However, her brief attempt to reconstruct her life did not go in vain. There is so much we can learn from her: For one thing, we must remember Allah helps those who work hard towards self-improvement. It is never too late to change, and no goodness, no matter how small, goes unseen by Him.

Above all, remember, that there is no such thing as a ‘long life’ for those of us who understand what it is. Should not we make the most of whatever time we do have left?