Islam’s Secret to Contentment

Jan 11 - Islam's Secret to contentment

By J. Samia Mair

“Consider well contentment, for it is a treasure without end.” (Al-Tabarani)

I am not sure anything satisfies me more than those rare occasions, when I experience a sudden intellectual breakthrough and spiritual advancement. This recently happened to me, when I was rereading a passage from one of my favourite books on Islam: “Those, who learn the lesson being taught by the Quran, understand that there is nothing they can do about their worldly lot, so they put their effort into improving their lot in the next world.”

I was immediately reminded of the following Hadeeth: “God has preordained five things for every man He has created: his period of life, his action, his lying down, his moving about and his provision.” (Ahmad) I thought about how different my aspirations are now that I am a Muslim.

Growing up, I was taught that God did not exist and religious people were fools. My parents wanted me to get a good job, make a lot of money, live in a big house and be happy. But what is happiness? Recently, I was visiting a Muslim sister, who said: “religion should be easy and make you happy in this life.” I disagreed. We obey Allah (swt) and His Messenger (sa) for the next world and eternal bliss. Submission is not always easy nor does it always make us happy – but it can make us content.

Our beloved Prophet (sa) taught us how to be content: “When one of you looks at someone who is superior to him in property and appearance, he should look at someone who is inferior to him.” (Bukhari and Muslim) Our provision, appearance and lot in life have already been decreed. We should be content and grateful with what Allah (swt) has provided us. He (swt) knows what is best and what will lead us to Paradise.

If anyone would have told me growing up that I would someday be a Muslim, wear a Hijab and cherish learning about Allah (swt) and how to obey Him (swt), I would have laughed out loud. I do not have most of what my parents had wished for me: I stay home raising my girls; I occasionally earn some money by writing; and I live in a two-bedroom apartment. But as it turns out, I am happier than they are, and more than I could have imagined.

Every day, I try to thank Allah (swt) for bringing me to Islam. Faith is a gift, and I did nothing special to deserve it. In fact, I could name many others, who appear far more deserving of this blessing than me. I am truly content with Allah (swt) as the Lord, Islam as the religion and with Muhammad (sa) as the Prophet and the Messenger.

Don’t Confuse Liberal with Tolerant!

Jul 10 - Don't confuse liberal with tolerant

By J. Samia Mair

It’s a beautiful, sunny and crisp fall day. My twin daughters and I are meeting two of my friends and their girls at a local farm for a hay ride, corn maze and whatever else the farm offers. My girls and I arrive first. They jump out of the minivan and run to the entrance.

We decide to wait for our friends inside. I pay, we enter and then I notice something very odd. I am the lone visible Muslim (I wear a Hijab) in an otherwise orthodox Jewish crowd. Needless to say, I stand out and am drawing some attention. My girls, however, run off to play in an enormous tractor tire filled with dried corn.

Finally, after what seems like a very long time, our friends arrive. One of my friends is Jewish and she has a big smile on her face as she approaches. As it turns out, the farm is having a fundraiser for a local synagogue. She whispers to me that she really dislikes this synagogue because they are “militant and hate everybody”. “Me, for instance?” I ask. “You in particular,” she replies. “So, I am probably not welcome here?” “I suspect not at all!”

She begins a small, quiet tirade about this group’s reputation for widespread intolerance. She confesses that it pleases her tremendously that my presence is likely to disturb their otherwise beautiful day. I look to our other friend, who is a Catholic, and gauge her opinion on the situation and whether it is prudent to stay. She says: “Don’t ask me; I don’t know anything about this stuff.” Before the adults decide what to do, our four girls run by us, screaming and holding hands – they are heading straight towards the unsuspecting sheep. Issue resolved. We are clearly staying.

We proceed to follow our girls around the farm from one activity to the next. To my surprise, I find myself engaging in typical, friendly conversation with the other parents. It occurs to me once again – I must stop confusing liberal with tolerant.

In fact, my friends, who embraced my conversion to Islam the most, are my practicing Catholic friends – the very ones, whom I was most reluctant to tell. They were simply happy for me that I had found spirituality and God.

By contrast, many of my friends and colleagues, who I thought would be fairly indifferent to my conversion, actually had some strong, negative opinions on the matter. At the time, I was working in a research university on the East Coast – very liberal, very progressive and, oh yes as it turns out, selectively intolerant. I recall that it was completely inappropriate to belittle anyone, except for three special categories: republicans, ‘hicks’ (country folk) and religious people.

I remember a comment my boss made to me, when I had complained about a computer programme that our team used. “Stop your Jihad against WordPerfect!” he warned me. Legally actionable – I doubt it. Poor taste – unquestionably.

Of course, I would be as narrow-minded as those whom I accuse of narrow-mindedness, if I made a sweeping statement that all liberals are intolerant of religion. I do know self-described liberals, who are not openly hostile to religion, and even a few, who are devout. But my anecdotal, unscientific observations have led me to the conclusion that liberal and tolerant are not synonyms, and I should never assume that a person’s political and social bent will predict his or her outlook on Islam or Muslims.

What perplexes me still, though, is how my belief in Allah (swt) I actually engender disdain in so many people, a significant portion of whom are the champions of the oppressed and disenfranchised. I want to tell them: “Forget about protecting freedom of speech, if you suffocate freedom of thought.”

My experience in this regard has also revealed to me that I suffer from the same narrow-mindedness. I should have known not to ‘judge a book by its cover’ or, in this case, a man by his side locks.

I remind myself of the perfect words of Allah (swt): “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.” (Al-Hujurat 49:13) My friend turns to me and says: “You’re like a peacemaker, making friends everywhere you go. That’s what we need to end this craziness – one person talking to another person, one on one. It should be as simple as that.” If only it were – if only it could be.

Survivor’s Guilt

By J. Samia Mair

It was the first time my mother was attending a sisters’ Halaqah. Although she was not openly hostile to my reversion to Islam, she was not particularly thrilled either.

I don’t remember the topic of discussion on that day, but I will never forget my mother’s question at the end: “What does that mean for me as a Christian?” The Imam replied: “It means you are going to the Hellfire.”

I am not sure, if the world stopped for anyone else in the room, but I braced myself, waiting for my mother to react. Surprisingly, she responded with a pleasant ‘oh’. The Imam explained that it was his duty to tell her the truth about the Kuffar, and he elaborated on the unpleasant fate of all non-Muslims in the life-to-come.

I thought: “Are all my relatives going to the Hellfire?” I remembered my grandmother, who grew up in a small town, far removed from the teachings of Islam. She never complained about her life. She helped her neighbours and brought much joy to everybody. I thought about all her life and started feeling ‘survivor’s guilt’.

Survivor’s guilt has been defined as “a deep feeling of guilt experienced by those, who have survived some catastrophe that took the lives of others; derives in part from a feeling that they did not do enough to save the perished ones and in part from feelings of being unworthy.” That is basically how I felt. I could not understand, why I had been blessed with the light of Islam, but so many others had not.

I did not want to accept the Imam’s verdict on my mother’s fate and decided to find out other opinions about the topic. I found different responses from warnings of eternal suffering to promises of Paradise. An eleventh century scholar wrote that to be considered a Kafir, you need to be exposed to Islam and reject it. I felt like the Grim Reaper, bringing death to my family and friends by having exposed them to the Deen.

Eventually, I came across one of the clearest discussions by Shaikh Hamza Yusuf. Basing his discussion on some of the greatest Islamic scholars, he describes different types of disbelievers mentioned in the Quran, touching upon the difference between idolaters and disbelievers. Yusuf explains why only some disbelievers will remain in the Fire forever.

The operative phrase here is “those who have no excuse for their disbelief.” Imam Al-Ghazali indicates that those, who were truly unaware, may spend some time in the Hellfire, but they will eventually be showered in divine grace. The Quran refers to disbelief accompanied by certain characteristics that indicate the vile nature of those who knowingly and willfully reject the message. (Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in “Who are the Disbelievers?” Seasons 2008 (Spring), Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 31-50)

I believe the Imam’s assessment of my mother’s destiny is not as certain as he had made us believe. I still worry about her and other non-Muslims. I cannot entirely shake off the feeling that if I were a better Muslim, they might revert as well.

Over the years, strong feelings of survivor’s guilt have subsided under the immense gratitude I feel for being brought to Islam. Instead of wondering why I am so blessed, I try to be a better Muslim and make Dua that those, whom I love, will also receive the same blessing.

May you and your loved ones all live in Islam and die in faith, and may you all meet Allah (swt) with a sound heart. Ameen.

The Gift of Faith

By J. Samia Mair

Silence. I remember lying on the sofa, enjoying the sound of nothingness. No shouting, no slamming doors, no awful names poisoning the air. The rest of my family had left, and I welcomed the lull in fighting. I was a happy child, but I was not raised in a happy home.

As I started to drift to sleep, a cool, gentle breeze passed over me. I felt an immediate sense of relief. It was as if every burden had been lifted, every worry comforted, every bad memory erased. Words cannot adequately describe the few seconds of peace that I felt that afternoon. But then, as now, I believed it was from another world.

After that day and for many years to come, I would lay down on the same sofa, around the same time, hoping that the breeze would return. I never experienced it again. But I know it exists.

In many ways, I was a typical, well-adjusted American girl. I had friends, did well in school and wanted those things most other teenagers wanted. But I felt different as well. I was raised in a primarily atheist home. Religion was viewed as a crutch for the weak, and the religious were deemed acceptable objects of scorn. But I always believed there must be something else beyond the apparent. I wondered: “Where do I come from? Why I am here? What should I do, while I am here? And where am I going?” I remember a friend telling me that he never pondered over the questions that occupied my thoughts. I envied him. I envied all my friends, who journeyed through life content with the seen. I felt cursed for wanting answers to questions many others did not even think to ask. I felt cursed for wanting to know the unseen. I felt cursed, until the moment I knew I was blessed.

In earnest, my spiritual consciousness awoke in Brazil, while working with a non-profit organization promoting indigenous rights. I lived at a school, where I studied Portuguese with Christian missionaries from all over the world. These missionaries did not try to convert anyone. They sought only to help others in desperate need. I started to rethink my views on religion. How could religion be so horrible, if it produces people, who spend their lives in the service of others?

When I returned to the United States, I began attending a liberal Catholic church. It was wonderful, except for one thing – I did not believe the basic theological foundation of Christianity. I believed Jesus (as) was a prophet, not God. Somehow, I was able to overlook this major theological difference for quite some time. Then, a good Jewish friend attended service with me one Sunday and said that she never understood, why priests talked so much about Jesus in their sermons and so little about God. Her seemingly innocuous observation changed my life. I could no longer sit comfortably in the pews and pretend that I belonged. In many ways, my Jewish friend led me to Islam.

I started to research different religions – not so much to convert but to see, what else was out there. At the same time, my mother gave me several books written by a well-known, self-proclaimed Sufi. His discussion of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) and Islam enthralled me. Eventually, I came to believe that this particular author was a charlatan, but he inspired in me love for the Prophet (sa) and respect for Islam. This author wrote that people should not convert to Islam, take on Islamic practices, or read from traditional texts. He suggested that only his work held the key to spiritual excellence in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, his writings encouraged me to read more about Islam from other sources. In one of his books, I believe he quotes the saying “leave your donkey at the door.” So, once again, I was led to Islam by an unlikely source.

I have often remarked that I did not choose Islam; Islam chose me. As soon as I read its teachings, I felt home. I could not believe that a religion existed, in which many of my beliefs were established creeds. Still, I did not feel the need to convert. But Allah (swt) has a plan for each of us. A classmate in graduate school gave me a translation of the Quran. It sat on the corner of my desk for months. One day, I decided to read it. As soon as I read Surah Al-Fatihah, I knew I was going to convert. It was the prayer I had been trying to write all my life.

As I continued to read, I started to fall asleep. I found myself looking up at the sky. The sky was bright gold. Arabic letters in bronze moved slowly across it. It looked as if an enormous scroll was unfolding above me. The colours in this dream – if I can call it a dream – were amazing. They glowed but unlike anything I had ever seen before. Such words as ‘brilliant’, ‘radiant’, ‘incandescent’ and ‘luminous’ fail to capture what I experienced. The dream was so powerful that I became scared and woke myself up. Since that time, I have had only two other dreams with amazing indescribable colours. Like the breeze I experienced as a child, I believe now as I did then, that these colours were from another world.

Shortly thereafter, I took my Shahadah. The Imam gave me a few books. One of the books made me gasp. On the cover was a picture of an open Quran. The pages were bright gold and the script was in bronze – just like in my dream! At that moment, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.

Ironically, what almost led me away from Islam were its followers. Someone once told me not to judge Islam by Muslims. I wish I had heard that advice, when I first converted. About a year after I took the Shahadah, I felt alone in the religion. I could not find a community, where I fit in. I was told many beliefs about Islam that did not seem right. I found it difficult to untangle what was Islam and what was cultural. I wondered, if a westerner could truly be a Muslim.

I prayed to Allah (swt) for guidance. He (swt) led me to the German author Murad Wilfried Hofmann. Among his many achievements, Mr. Hofmann was an ambassador to Morocco, who converted to Islam. Like me, he was also an attorney. I read his books and realized that there was a place for someone like me in Islam. Allah (swt) also sent me many beautiful sisters, who continue to travel with me on this wondrous path.

As I look back on my life, I wonder why I was so blessed to be called to Islam. I did nothing to deserve it. I know many non-Muslims who seem far more worthy than I. I wonder: “Why me and not them?”

Faith is the most beautiful gift. Each day, I try to thank Allah (swt) for guiding me to Islam, knowing that my gratitude is wholly insufficient. I try to be obedient, but I worry, because I often fail. I find comfort in the belief that Allah (swt), Most Merciful and Most Forgiving, continues to guide and forgive me, as He does with all believers. Between hope and fear, I journey on.