ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED OCTOBER 18, 2005
Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem
Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatuallah wa Barakatuhu.
Insha'Allah this message finds you in the best of health and imaan, in addition to enjoying the peace and blessings of Ramadan.
This week I have been reading and sporadically participating in conversations between a few of the new Muslimah's and some of our more seasoned Muslim sisters, touching on many issues, the majority of which seem to be focused on spiritual turmoil, disappointment and loneliness.
What initially triggered these conversations was the first reply to an email I recycled and circulated called "The Rusty Muslim's Ramadan Action List", which was followed up by an email imploring one another as sisters and brothers in Islam, to reach out to anyone we might know who could be alone during this Ramadan, particularly new Muslims, many of which only know of a "Muslim Community" through e-group memberships.
As the combined emails began to be read, one-by-one, those passing the time alone, started replying. Amongst the replies were:
"This is my first Ramadan. My shyness has kept me from going to the Masjid."
"This is my first Ramadan as well. Unfortunately, I live in an area where there are no masjids to be found. At least not without a 4-hour round trip drive. It is highly frustrating for me to be unable to share this time with a Muslim family."
"I am Muslim for almost 2.5 years, but so far I still did not find much ease and happiness in Islam."
"It's almost 3 years I'm living in Egypt, I'm still not talking Arabic so much and I live in farmers area, so is very difficult for me to make friends and communicate with people here, my husband is the only one that talks English, and right now my husband is traveling to work away from me, yes I'm feeling alone this Ramadan, even though there are some people from the family of my husband around, I still feel somehow alone. I have been alone before in my life and the feeling not nice."
"After observing my husband praying, I became so fascinated by everything Islamic. I read everything I could get my hands on, asked tons of questions, attended a class to learn about Islam in the local masjid, learned to pray, etc. I wanted so badly to turn my life to Allah (swt). I had never had religion or God in my life before. I thought my depression and my problems would suddenly vanish after saying Shahadah. I was mistaken. I was fooling myself into thinking I had the greatest imaan, though I really had none. I was hoping that Ramadan would bring a new beginning for me, but so far I have been moody, unhappy, and lazy. I continue to fast, but unfortunately, I even caught myself asking, 'Why am I fasting?' I feel nothing."
"I always wondered how is it possible that for example from sis Aishah I can always feel the calmness, kindness... How come I don't feel it? … I really want to change it. Especially now, it is Ramadan, the best month of all. But how do I soften my heart, how do I become a better Muslim?"
"You know, when I converted, SubhanaAllah there was a sister by my side that I really respect and adore. MashaAllah, she is such a nice person, Muslimah, I really like her. And of course, I wanted to be like her. She was hijabi, she tried to avoid haram and she really lived (and still does Alhamdulillah) her life for the sake of Allah only (as much as I can say from my experience). So when I met her, not only did she give me the last push to become a Muslimah, she also held my hand when I said Shahadah. She is truly my sister. And I wanted to be like her. But what I didn't realize at that time was, that she didn't become like that overnight either. She had already some years behind her. She had more knowledge, more Iman. InshaAllah I'll be like her one day, but now I know it won't happen over night."
Another sister wrote: "Its actually quite hard to find any writings regarding American Muslimahs or western Muslimahs in terms of daily struggles and such. Usually they just write about the "euphoria" of conversion and what caused them to convert, end of story. But no one really records the struggles, the loneliness etc., that most experience as a result of defying the whole society and choosing something that their friends and family just can't understand."
To which came the reply: "That is so true… I've spent countless hours on the internet trying to find some kind of a diary of Muslim woman. The only one I found was Sister Aishah's website (*smile*). I mean I love to read conversion stories, but also what happened after. How the person developed, what they went through (and I am sure we go through similar struggles), how they reacted to changes and trials..."
The latter, of course in conjunction with the other comments I had been reading, prompted me to respond.
[Habibti] you may be right about the lack of stories regarding the struggles... (*sigh*) And to acknowledge, yes, of course, there have been dark days ... in fact ... I wrote almost 200 pages (hand-written; only half transcribed to type thus far) ... about the first three months I spent in Saudi Arabia this past 2004. I have considered, from time-to-time, and have been encouraged by a few select sisters who have read the first typed pages, to finish the transcription, particularly because the majority of what I have posted on the website are stories about my time in KSA ... subhan'Allah ... and the unfinished pages would, indeed, round out the overall picture painted of that, the third year, of my Islamic journey. This week, reading some of the exchanges between sisters who are stepping forward to speak up about their loneliness, frustrations, and disappointment, I am once again prompted to consider completing the chronicle of those first months in Saudi Arabia, if for no other reason than to offer some encouragement to those reaching out for help.
When I returned to the U.S. this past March after Hajj, I decided to finally take the time to revise the face of the little website originally launched in November of 2002, and when I was finished putting the revised site all together, I was astonished to find how much I had documented about my experiences in Saudi Arabia. This, in turn, also made me all the more thankful that those memories had been reduced to writing so that they would never be lost, and that, insha'Allah, they might help someone passing through as Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala guides them to the Truth.
But, subhan'Allah, looking back on those memories made the dark days seem like mere seconds in time ... and in retrospect...what came hammering home is the often-quoted... "with every difficulty there is relief" (Surah 94:5-6) - and "Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala does not give us more than we can bear..." (Surah 2:286).
Another reason why I may hesitate to be too gut-wrenchingly "real" about the dark days, I suppose, is because I really try to work hard at not keeping in my mind the things that make me unhappy.
To me, well, the unhappiness is like a poison that festers in our hearts and minds, which sends me back to a time when I learned the value of the "What Are You Grateful For Today" post that I re-circulate from time-to-time. (*smile*)
You see, the idea for the "What Are You Grateful For Today" post was actually born many a moon ago (pre-Islam), of course, when I spent three months attending AA meetings (otherwise known as Alcoholics Anonymous). At the beginning of every meeting, each person attending takes their turn introducing, or as the case may be, re-introducing themselves, and subsequently has their turn (voluntarily, of course), "sharing" from their experiences as the meeting progresses.
Well, one day a woman shared something that just stuck with me. What she shared on that particular day was that she had started keeping a journal. And in the journal she had started recording things for which she was grateful. Subhan'Allah ... what profound wisdom ... Keeping the journal had become a personal daily objective. In it she would record any "something"; it could be just as simple as being thankful for waking up, or for having a good night's sleep, or for getting to work on time, or to receive an invitation to her daughter's home (to which she hadn't been welcome when she was a drunk), or even if it was simply to record her thanks for having made it through another day of sobriety.
At the end of such a speech, a chorus of "Thanks for sharing" is heard throughout the room.
The moral of the story is that every time a case of the blues or the urge to throw herself a "pity-party" would come creeping up on her, she would take out her "Grateful" journal and begin reading. After reading for just a short while, her thinking about the gloom and doom of the day and its present conditions would somehow dissipate enough so that when she turned away from the journal, it was with a renewed resolve to not let the blues (a/k/a: life) get her down.
Somehow I never forgot that lesson, or those three months when I faithfully attended the meetings every day. I stopped going after three months ... yes ... but it was largely due to a realization I came to after hearing a comment directed to me at one of the meetings. What was said to me on that particular day was, "You're not really an alcoholic; your boyfriend may be, but you should really be in the Al-Anon group." (Is your life affected by someone's drinking?) Laa H'awla wa Laa Quwwata illa Billaah! (There is no power or strength (in any) save in Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala!)
I took the words of wisdom I heard in those meetings to heart, and I never regretted or forgot the time spent 1-hour each day over on, ironically, Church Street.
But it was because of the fact that I had been in an on-again/off-again relationship with an alcoholic that I had begun to fear for myself that I might also become one. When I started attending the meetings it was out of a sense self-preservation (I have oft been told that I am a survivor), but in the end, the meetings served as a reaffirmation of what I already knew; there was more to life than being with someone who could not live outside of a world that didn't include alcohol.
Al-hamdulillah, the good news is that I moved on with my life. Hooray! It meant moving to another state altogether, in order to finally extinguish the relationship, because every time we had ever broken up we ended up back together again. I always try to see the good in people; and he was a good person…just somehow lost and seemingly unable to find the straight path.
So, it seemed that the prospect of finding a new job in another state, and thus putting a few states between us, was the only way to break the cycle. Breaking the cycle is the hardest part. And what I knew for certain, was that I did not see being belly-up to-a-bar as my final destination…and off to Washington, D.C. I went…spawning the story, "country-girl moves to the big-city", otherwise known as the "Shahada" story! Al-hamdulillah!
I am ever grateful thankful that I made that move, because if I had not, I would not have embraced Islam when I did.
Three years into my life as a Muslim, believe me, I had my moments! (*Checks to see how much hair is left…*)
Okay, so in further responding to inquiring new Muslims (sisters or brothers), wanting to know if there are stories other than those written exhorting the wonderful experiences of new Shahadas, that share the other, sometimes dark and lonely side, after Shahada, I write today to say yes, of course those stories exist!!
In fact, yesterday was one of those days when I felt my nerves beginning to unravel, but I chose to beat it back. The walls of the Alexandria apartment I was living in had begun to close in on me and after Maghrib I put on my abaya and went to a nearby masjid for the Taraweeh prayers. (Special evening prayers performed during Ramadan. During each night's prayer, one juz (1/30) (a/k/a chapter or 'surah') of the Qur'an is recited so that by the end of the month of Ramadan, the entire Qur'an will have been read.)
Al-hamdulillah. The Taraweeh prayers were a wonderful reprieve, and rejuvenating, but by mid-afternoon of the next day I felt the relentless infiltration of the darkness trying to creep up on me once again. So, I left the apartment on an errand (that's another story entitled, "Misadventures of Aishah's Ramadan Lamp!"), and ended up back at the masjid.
It was an hour-and-a-half ahead of the time for Maghrib, so I just sat there as the time passed, making dua and remembering Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala; relishing the sense of serenity I felt coming from the masjid's enveloping protection which combined to re-awaken the knowledge that Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala is always with me. Al-hamdulillah.
And then Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala gave me my something to be 'grateful for today' ... in the shinning eyes and immaculate smile of a beautiful, young, abaya and hijab clad girl who looked to be about 8-years of age.
When I entered the sister's prayer hall I found it to be empty, in fact, before I could enter, I had to sort of peek my head in the main entrance of the masjid in search of the brother, who I surmised from previous visits is the "masjid keeper", to unlock the door to the sister's hall.
Just before the adhan there was knock on the door, which had been resting just slightly ajar. In response I replied, "Aiwa" (meaning "yes"), whereupon the masjid keeper entered, by a single step, and stopped to address me in Arabic. I sadly replied, "Mafi Arabi", with a slight shrug of my shoulders. (A response I had learned in KSA when I wanted to convey that I didn't speak Arabic!) Understanding my reply, the brother took another step forward and, speaking in Arabic again, but this time including gestures (okay, charades I can do! *lol*), he brought his hand up and down towards his mouth like he was holding a eating utensil, and said, "hina?" – which I learned during my time at Hajj meant, "here" -- to which he added a sweeping gesture encompassing the prayer hall. This translated to my being asked if I would be breaking my fast at the masjid, to which I smilingly replied, "Aiwa!"
Satisfied that his effort had garnered the response he needed, the masjid keeper happily turned and went back through the door whence he came whilst I returned to my thoughts. A few short minutes later there was another knock on the door of the sister's prayer hall, followed by the immediate entrance of the aforementioned little girl, which I deduced to be the daughter of the masjid keeper.
The little girl approached me carrying a small plastic cup filled with juice. I greeted her with "Assalamu Alaikum", and as she replied, "Wa'Alaikum Assalamu," she handed me the cup, whereupon I said, "Shukran!" (Thank-you.)
As quietly and quickly as she had entered the prayer hall, she exited and returned just moments later with a small plastic container of dates. Subhan'Allah. I took a few of the dates and the young girl left me alone once again.
So, there I sat, quietly, and all by myself (with the exception of the presence of Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala, of course!) breaking my fast. Al-hamdulillah.
And, no, surprisingly, it wasn't a lonely feeling at all ... actually, I was filled with a wonderful sense of peacefulness and gratefulness. Subhan'Allah.
You know, it is through some of the little encounters we have from time-to-time that our lives are enriched ... and the nicest part of this particular encounter was yet to come.
As the masjid keeper began the second call to prayer (Adhan), a door that is used as an entrance to the main part of the masjid from inside the sister's prayer hall opened, and passing through the doorway was the same little girl who had brought me juice and dates. Al-hamdulillah.
She walked over to where I was and together, standing shoulder to elbow (*smile*), we formed our own little line for salat. Masha'Allah… I was somehow immediately filled with a sense of wonder, combined with a surge of sadness mixed with longing, at what it would have been like for the girl standing beside me to have been my own daughter. (I am also, as many new Muslims are, the only Muslim within my immediate family.) And my silly, sentimental-self had to bite back the flood of tears that were pushing at the brims of my eyes as we stood silently beside one another, hands folded in front of our chests, heads bowed, listening earnestly as the Imam led us in prayer.
When we finished praying the young girl stood, and smiling as she turned to go, I caught her hand and said to her, "Do you know 'beautiful'?" To which she surprisingly replied, "Yes."
So I continued with a smile and said, "You are beautiful!" And her face lit up.
I then asked her, "Do you speak English?" To which, she answered with a slight frown, "No."
This puzzled me a little as I had the impression she did speak English because of her previous responses and the fact that I am aware students are taught English in the Egyptian schools. Well, just about as soon as those thoughts passed through my mind, I found myself hearing her say, and rather forthrightly I might add, "I don't like it."
I had hold back the chuckle that had risen in my throat (*out of the mouths of babes!*), and smiling I said, with the utmost sincerity, "Thank you for praying with me."
To which she answered back in her tiny, non-English speaking, voice (*lol*), "You're welcome."
As she turned away once again to leave, my new friend called out, "Bye!" and quickly then, "Ma'Salaama!" (with peace) – to which I replied, "Fi Aman'Allah!" (in God's protection)
Then just as she got to the steps that would take her out of the prayer hall and back into the masjid, she paused to look back and ask, "Will you come back tomorrow?"
Gosh ... how could I say no? So, insha'Allah, I will return to the masjid tomorrow.
Yes, it occurred to me, too, that we had neglected to exchange names ... (*smile*) ... insha'Allah when we meet again we'll resolve that little matter! (*wink*)
What happened this afternoon is why I like to venture off on my own from time-to-time. People say, "Aren't you afraid you'll get lost, being in a place that is new?" And I remember the words of a sister I met at an iftar Saturday before last. I was showing her pictures I had taken on my digital camera. We came to the three shots I had taken of Stanley Beach and she said, "Whatever you do, keep these pictures on your camera! If you get lost, just show them to any taxi driver (or whoever else is available), and they'll know exactly where you live!"
So, naw, I'm not afraid ... after all ... it's on life's little adventures that my journey stories are born!
So, in replying to the conversation on the subject of the "other" side of what happens after embracing Islam, it turns out that (*looks over shoulder and back again*), I think I just wrote a new story, didn't I??? Anyhow…I don't know if it did or not…but I hope it helped a little. (*hugs*)
Hey! Don't go just yet…before you do take a moment and make this dua with me: "Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error. Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which Thou didst lay on those before us; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith." (Surah 2:286)