What Is ‘Dog’ Really About?

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The first I ever heard of Mona Haydar was a few months ago in a facebook group for women who wear niqab. Someone posted her ‘Wrap my hijab’ video asking what everyone thought about it. The general consensus was that it was haram. I personally found it to be just really strange and awkward. You see a pregnant Mona surrounded by a group of Muslim women posing as she raps about her hijab. You see them posing in some other rooms. A few of the women dance. I didn’t like the beat and I was not really impressed by the lyrics or the overall message. So my response was sort of just, meh. After that I assumed I would never hear of her again.

Then she popped up on my twitter feed a couple of days ago. Turns out she released another song this one is titled ‘Dog’. And everyone has kind of lost their s**t over it. People are either praising her or saying that she is making baseless accusations about muslim leaders ( specifically males) preying on the weak.  If you were to look at the opening lyrics of her song it would appear that she is in fact accusing muslim leaders of having ulterior motives and hiding behind their religious standing to prey on others.

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And on her website she states the purpose of the song was to call out religious leaders. Even though her lyrics focus solely on regular Muslim men.

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This would be commendable if only she had actually bothered to call out any muslim leaders or organizations that had preyed on people. Instead she tweeted an article about an investigation into a German choir school where 547 boys were reportedly abused. Using this as her reason behind ‘Dogs’. Mona even explicitly states that she is not advocating calling anyone out.

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So if ‘Dog’ is not necessarily about calling deviant Muslim/religious leaders out for their depravity then what is it about? Well, that’s kind of unclear. There doesn’t appear to be one cohesive message in the song. Each verse speaks about something other than the opening verse .

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This verse appears to be about a guy who isn’t financially well off  hitting on her.

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The next verse seems to be about some guy blaming her for not being able to control his sexual desires.

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In another one she talks about a man trying to step out on his wife and another man who secretly smokes weed.

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She also talks about men who pretend to be more religious than they actually are before talking about the scandal surrounding a picture of Saudi men on a women’s panel.

While these are all topics that should be addressed they dont actually convey either message that Mona claimed ‘Dog’ was about. Her song does not address sexual abuse against women or children. Neither does it address respected religious leaders misusing their power. The song is mostly about Muslim brothers acting inappropriate. While not bothering to mention how some sisters engage in the exact same behaviors.

Mona ends up making claims about respected religious leaders that she cannot back up. So instead she focuses on the behavior of some Muslim men to disguise this. I don’t doubt that she has been harassed by brothers online. Or that she has witnessed brothers pretend to be more religious than they actually are. But if she wants to claim that ‘Dog’ was about ending the silence surrounding abuse of women and children then the least she could do is give some examples of abuse. Like she did about the boys at Regensburg Domspatzen.  Im certainly not saying that no Muslim religious leader has abused their power but Mona speaks as if their is a huge epidemic that is being silenced. Yet, she gives no proof of this! Perhaps that is because she doesn’t actually have any proof of her own.

Anyone with an eye for bulls**t can easily take apart Mona’s verses and see that there is really no substance behind the song. However, when someone is well known with a young, impressionable audience their claims absolutely need to have validity behind them. So far Mona’s claims have none. Yet, people continue to eat it up.

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Evaluating The Need For Male Guardians

In the years since 9/11 we have seen a steady rise of anti-muslim sentiment in western countries. Muslims have had to endure extreme scrutiny from the press, travel bans, and even surveillance in our masjids. Despite the efforts of many Muslims to invite the public to learn what Islam is all about, there is still a lot of resentment concerning Muslims and our presence in the West.

This resentment has resulted in attacks on some of the easiest targets of our ummah. A recent incident being the brutal murder of 17 year old Nabra Hassanen. It is reported that Nabra and a group of teens were walking to All Dulles Area Muslim Society when a car pulled up and two men wielding baseball bats got out and began attacking them. Everyone in the group ran, but when they met back up the teens realized that Nabra was missing. Her dead body was later found floating in a pond.

When I initially learned that Nabra was walking to ADAMS with friends, I assumed that she had been walking only with a few female friends. It made a lot of sense to me that they would flee and that perhaps Nabra was just left behind. But when I found out the number of people with her and that there were males present I was taken aback. I could not wrap my head around the males in the group not only running away but running away without making sure that the girls had first gotten safely away.

I want to make something very clear. I do not place the blame of Nabra’s death on the shoulders of these young men. The blame falls only on the person that beat and killed her. However, I find it alarming that not everything was done to guarantee that the young women in the group were okay. There is something very wrong with this. When young men do not take the time to protect the women in their community that is a problem. But the problem isn’t with these young men. The problem lies at the feet of the entire ummah. We as a collective are to blame.

Where We Went Wrong

The first place we went wrong is that we allowed ourselves to feel safe, and I think a lot of that has to do with us living in the West. As a result, we have slipped in making sure our communities are safe.  Muslims don’t take proper precautions given the hostile climate we live in. There is little security in our masjids, despite the fact that many have been vandalized or attacked. Muslim women travel without mahram men even though there have been so many reports of Muslimahs being physically assaulted or deveiled. And when there is an assault, people only become cautious for a short period of time. After an attack a man may be a little more vigilant in going places with his wife so that she does not have to be out in public alone. Or maybe he will tell her to take off her niqab or hijab. But these are temporary solutions that only makes them feel safe until the next attack. It simply is not enough. We need to make sure that we are taking extra steps to protect our masjids, homes, and loved ones.

The next place we went wrong is hindering the progression of our boys becoming men. I firmly believe that in order for a boy to progress to being not just a man but an honorable man he must be taught responsibility and respect. At some point we stopped teaching young men to take personal responsibility in ensuring that those who may not be able to protect themselves are safe from harm. We have stopped teaching them how to stand on their own in situations that are stressful and sometimes scary. We allow them to become too influenced by a culture that essentially has no respect for women, religion, or tradition. I’m not saying that boys can have no childhood and I’m not saying we have to cloister ourselves away from the rest of the world. What I’m saying is that we need to educate boys on what responsibilities they will have as men. These responsibilities include being the protectors of our women, communities, and religion.

Where Are Our Men? Why Have They Failed To Protect Us?

This is a question I saw on Facebook right after news of Nabra’s death broke. The sister who posted this question was understandably angry. When we learn that a Muslimah has been beaten or had her veil ripped off it makes a lot of us feel vulnerable. But I think it’s a bit unfair. Women cannot sit back and complain that we are unprotected when we have little desire to enforce the rules we already have in place of providing safety for us. Most Muslimahs I have met are really against the idea of having a male guardian accompanying them. Many would see it as restrictive, a threat to their independence. The very idea of not going somewhere if you don’t have an mahram male with you is inconceivable.

In conversations regarding how to make women safer women talk about organizing self defense classes or buying pepper spray. These are good ideas and may mean the difference between life and death, but these should be the last resort. The first topic in these conversations needs to be making sure that Muslimahs are accompanied by mahram escorts as much as possible. If a woman has a mahram male and can be accompanied by one there is no reason why she should not be.

A lot of people will say that women shouldn’t have to be escorted by mahram men. We should be able to walk in public without being assaulted, abducted, or murdered. And I agree with them, we should be able to go out without being molested. But safety in public isn’t really guaranteed for anyone. Even non-Muslim women are not completely safe in public. Daily, women are sexually harassed, raped, and physically or sexually assaulted. So if non-Muslim women are not safe in Western society, I can’t understand why Muslim women would believe we could be.

Open Letter To Muslims In The LGBT Community

Revert Muslimah

Dear Muslims in the LGBT community,

I believe in speaking candidly when it comes to important matters. Without open honesty there can never be a dialogue and without a dialogue we can never progress to our better selves and actually regress to being thought police. So that’s what I plan to do in this letter. I won’t sugarcoat or try to disguise my beliefs because it would be a disservice to myself and anyone who might stumble upon this blog. I will start by examining what homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism actually are.

Some believe that homosexuality/ bisexuality are caused by a child not being exposed to the opposite sex parent. They also believe this about transgender people. However, this is not true. Plenty of boys raised by single moms and girls raised by single dads do not end up gay .What it comes down to is desire. It really is…

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How College Students Leave Islam

“Thus I continued from day to day, in such ecstasies of joy, thirsting for full sanctification, and more intimate communion with God; daily asking what should I render to him for all his benefits to such an hell deserving sinner; earnestly begging that God would find out some way for me , that I might be made instrumental in advancing his kingdom and interest in the world.”

–Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Sarah Osborn (1814)

One would think that a 21st century Muslim convert and a 19th century revivalist Christian woman would have little in common. However, as I read this excerpt from the memoir of Sarah Osborn in preparation for my American civics discussion course, I could not help but be moved by her devotion. While our faiths were different our lives had been taken on a similar path. We were both women who suffered innumerable hardships only to be saved from a life of despair by the grace of God. Months earlier I had retaken my shahada after a lapse in faith that nearly ended in me committing suicide. Like Sarah I felt a gratitude that was outreached by Allah’s mercy and I wanted to spread the joy I was feeling. I remember sitting in class the next day eagerly anticipating for it to start. I had thoroughly enjoyed reading Sarah’s words and I wanted the class to hear my perspective.

Our usual TA was absent that day so the discussion was led by someone else. She opened the discussion by asking if we believed what Sarah wrote in another excerpt or if we thought she was just exaggerating.

“But Satan had still a desire to sift me as wheat. He assaulted me daily; but those words of the blessed Jesus were frequently applied for my support, ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.’ One night in particular, when watching with a dear friend, who was sick, Satan assaulted me in as furious a manner, seemingly, as believed the combat lasted, at least, two hours, as fierce as though I had talked with him face to face. He again ranked all my sins before my eyes, telling me it was impossible, notwithstanding my great hopes,for me ever to be saved. He was still sure of me and would not let me go. I should surely turn back again, and worse than ever.”

Everyone in the class unanimously agreed that she had been exaggerating in order to make an impact on her audience. And just like that, all the excitement I previously had evaporated, the words falling silent on my tongue. How could I, in all seriousness, tell my classmates that I not only believed her but fought the same battles with Iblees? I knew that they would dismiss me as they had dismissed Sarah. My classmates could never understand what it was like to have Shaitan whisper to you, enticing you to sin. They would not know what it was like to see past sins played before their eyes as if on a projection screen. To feel weighed down by the guilt of them, knowing that each one had left a stain upon their soul. I knew they could never believe me because I used to think as they did. Something else Sarah wrote came to my mind.

“Some would tell me I was turned fool, and distracted, when I said I have been a vile sinner, for everybody knew I had been a sober woman all my days: and yet I used to do such things too, as well as they: And what was the matter now? Sometimes they would say, “This fit will be over quickly.” But all such answers as these, of which I had great many, would serve to humble me yet more, and put me on pleading of preserving grace, that I might never bring dishonor upon the name of God. And indeed, all the trials I met with, which were various, had, through the abounding goodness of God, this effect, to quicken me yet more.”

This was an unfamiliar feeling for me. Never had I been so afraid to speak my mind. I am not one to be cowed down from whatever stance I take. The classroom was my space. This was a place where my voice was heard, where I could introduce new ideas. I felt that this was especially important since I was the only Muslim in the class as well as the only female student. I saw myself as someone who would stand by her beliefs. Yet, I remained silent, effectively cowed.

I stayed silent until we moved on to a different topic, but for the rest of the class I could only think of how fearful I felt of being rejected by my peers. I began to see a divide, one that could not be bridged. I thought that my classmates were deaf to Allah’s calling and they thought I believed in fairy tales.

This scene plays out every day in the lives of young Muslims like myself: sometimes in a lecture hall, other times in a study group, lunch break, or even at a party. A Muslim who is sure of themselves and sure of their faith will suddenly feel like a fish out of water when confronted with the doubts of their peers, friends, and even professors.

Thousands of freshmen enter college unprepared to effectively challenge and refute the doubts of an increasingly secular and anti-Muslim world. They go off secure in their religious beliefs and in their relationship with Allah but slowly, seemingly over the course of their first year in college, they began to see religion and Allah as flawed. Hijab becomes less important, as does praying, reading Quran, and abstaining from haram activities.  A class in philosophy or theology results in an existential crisis while a gender studies class leads to doubts about Allah’s stance on the LGBT community. They find themselves at a loss for answers to questions they thought would never be asked.

All it takes is one little thread to unravel everything. After the doubt sets in comes the questions. At this point, many will seek the counsel of other Muslims, but find that no answer can really satisfy them. Feeling misunderstood, the Muslim student isolates his or herself or seeks out non-Muslims for comfort. It usually doesn’t take long after that before the student becomes an atheist. Perhaps they still believe in the existence of Allah but just can’t see Islam as relevant to today’s world. Some might follow parts of the religion but cut off anything they personally don’t agree with.

Their community is shocked, parents are distraught. They sent their child off to college to receive a degree, but instead find that their child has abandoned their faith. Things become worse when they discover that there is nothing their imam can do to resolve the situation. Eids and Ramadan are awkward times as the families struggle to adjust to their child’s new identity, which is usually a rebellious one. Many former Muslims feel a certain level of resentment towards Allah and become extremely vocal in their attempts to deter people away from Islam.  One can find a class of former Muslims among the most zealous of Islamophobes.

But for some there remains a small ray of hope. Most of the Muslims I meet at some point have gone through a crisis of faith and have made it out of the storm. I know of a young Muslim mother, the same age as me, who struggled with hijab and reconciling her belief that Islam treated women unfairly based on what she had witnessed growing up. Now she wears hijab and has reminded me to keep faith in Allah when my life seems to fall apart at the seams. I know of another muslimah who became an atheist in college but now is in constant remembrance of Allah. I can’t count the number of times I have stumbled upon her doing dhikr or reciting the Quran. She is well on her way to becoming a student of knowledge. My own story is an example as well. As time went on I became less insecure in expressing my beliefs. I find myself unafraid to talk about Islam and what led me from being an atheist to a willing slave of Allah.  And when I find myself falling into that dark place where doubt and hopelessness reside, I remind myself of the words Allah spoke to Prophet Muhammad when he was afraid that Allah had forsaken him.

“By the morning brightness and by the night when it is still. Thy Lord hath not forsaken thee nor does he hate thee. And the last shall be better for thee then the first. And thy Lord shall give and give unto thee and thou shalt be satisfied. Hath he not found thee an orphan and sheltered thee? And found thee astray and guided thee? And found you needy and enriched thee? So for the orphan oppress him not. And for the beggar repel him not. And for the bountiful grace of thy Lord proclaim it.”

 

— Qur’an, Sura Al-Duha

The Problem With Modern Day Salafis

 

There was a time when I was thinking of becoming a salafi. I found the emphasis on orthodoxy to be appealing. However, upon observing the behavior of salafis I decided following that path would not be right for my deen. I do not intend to bash salafis although I do have a personal dislike for salafi Islam. Instead this post will be an honest observation of the problems I have witnessed with modern salafis that led me away from salafiism.

Sectarianism

The biggest problem I had with salafis was their sect like mentality. Oddly enough salafis do not consider themselves to be a sect. In fact, they take great offense in being labeled as such. Yet, the behavior of salafis are the same as those within a sect. Common characteristics of a sect are as follows:

  • Separation from other members of the religious group. The sentiment of salafis is that they are upon the right path and everyone else is on the wrong path. This eventually leads to a kind of self righteous thinking where a person  believes that only they and anyone who thinks like them can be correct. No matter what the situation is. While salafis may strive not to separate themselves from other Muslims this is inevitable.
  • Discouraging questions.  Being a young Muslim there are still many things that I do not know about Islam so when I don’t know something I try not to shy away from asking questions. However, I found that asking a salafi a question would often lead to an accusation of me trying to find some loophole to follow my own nafs. This was especially true when it came to something they didn’t know the answer to.
  • Unquestioning devotion to certain leaders (or scholars).  Whenever I simply disagreed with a salafi scholar the reaction was severe. For the salafis I met the only valid scholarly opinion was that of salafi scholars. Anyone else was either labeled as a false scholar or had their character assassinated. Which leads me to my next point.
  • Discouraging opposing opinions. My first red flag was when I was told by a salafi sister that I should never listen to anything that Yasir Qadhi had to say because he did not like salafis. I heard similar things from other salafis  as well. What was even more alarming was how many salafis engaged in character assassination of various scholars.  It wasn’t enough to disagree with a scholar. They often took it a step further and tried to discredit that scholar altogether.  They seemed not to realize just how serious their actions were.
  • Using shame, fear, or guilt to coerce a certain behavior. In many instances the salafis I encountered delivered ilm (or thought they were) by belittling, using threats, or guilt tripping. If I were to disagree with a salafi it was not unusual to be called ignorant or told that I was blindly following a false scholar. I once had a salafi sister threaten me with the day of Qiyamah because I told her that her tone was too harsh. She never bothered to consider that she might actually have been in the wrong. Another underhanded tactic that was used was inciting guilt by accusing someone of following their nafs instead of the religion. This usually happened when there was a difference of opinion.

Divorcing Grace From the Religion in Favor of Rituals

Aisha reported: I was on a camel that was misbehaving, so I started to beat it. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said to me, “You must be gentle. Verily, gentleness is not in anything but that it beautifies it, and it is not removed from anything but that it disgraces it.”

What drew me to Islam was the mercy, the graciousness, the sympathy of Allah and his messengers. What drew me away from salafis was their lack of these things. When I first became interested in salafis many people warned me to stay away from them. I was told that they were extreme in their beliefs. However, I assumed that these people had some sort of bias against salafis so I chose not to listen. Over time though I found what I had been told to be true. At first I would tell myself that having a bad encounter with a salafi didn’t reflect on all salafis but telling myself this became more difficult after I encountered more salafis who were harsh, who were extreme.

There was a lack of sympathy, a lack of compassion, a lack of gentleness, a lack of manners and almost no awareness of this on the part of salafis. I was baffled by how someone could claim to love Prophet Muhammad but forget about some of his most important messages of forgiveness, patience, and mercy. Their tendency to take a black and white approach to every situation left me questioning if salafis even have an understanding of just how important gentleness is. If there is no sympathy, manners, compassion, or mercy then Islam just becomes a set of rules and rituals that have little meaning behind them.

A Guise For Insecurity

I dont believe that any salafi starts out with the intention of becoming this way. I think people become drawn to salafism for some of the same reasons I was. They see that Islam has sort of lost it’s place in the eyes of the world as a noble religion that can restore peace and justice in society.  They see that the ummah is fractured and as a whole is going further away from the deen. Salafism is presented as a solution to all of this by calling for a return to our former glory.

At the root of salafism is insecurity caused by a fear of not knowing what place Muslims have in a world that is constantly evolving. This leads to salafis taking on a hyper-vigilant disposition towards the religion. The harshness, arrogance, and extremism that salafis are known for are really just defense mechanisms to combat the fear they feel.

 

 

Ramadan for Diabetics

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As April winds down, many Muslims I know are getting excited about the holy month of Ramadan. They’re researching which food will give them the most energy, making plans to cut out certain vices like cigarettes or music, and preparing their menus for iftar. The preparations alone can be exciting. However, if you are a diabetic like me you often feel left out.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Fasting helps Muslims develop a closer bond to Allah. By abstaining from sexual relations, food, and drink during the daytime, we are better able to focus and develop taqwa. It is also meant to remind us about those unable to eat, allowing us to be more grateful for the bounty Allah has already given us.  Muslims often experience a renewed sense of spirituality as a result. But how is one supposed to achieve this without fasting?

Feed The Hungry

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous [Fasting for] a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during then] – then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship] – a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day]. And whoever volunteers excess – it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.” Surah Baqarah 184-185

One of the goals of fasting is to help those able to feed themselves realize what life is like for those who can’t. Since not eating is dangerous for diabetics, feeding a poor person is equivalent to fasting. This can be done by donating money to charities or giving to a food pantry. However, if you lack the funds to do this, then volunteering at a soup kitchen works just as well. In many ways this is actually better.

While in public I have often observed that people refuse to even acknowledge the homeless as fellow humans. When they speak, many people refuse to make eye contact and pretend that they are not even there. They are sometimes made fun of if they smell bad, and if one of them is mentally ill and having an episode people, will record it to upload it to the internet, further taking away that person’s dignity.

Volunteering in person reminds us that homeless people deserve just as much dignity and recognition as everyone else. Spending time with them allows us to get to know their personal struggle and avoid generalizing their situation. This is a great opportunity to give dawah. In-person interaction will lead to a dialogue, allowing us to spread Islam easily.

Cut Out Distractions

Time spent outside of the necessities such as work or school is often wasted with distractions. Hobbies and friends can easily become distractions as we devote more and more time to them. Think of Ramadan as a chance to cut back on these things.  Devote your time to reading and then re-reading the quran, sunnah, and biography of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Take time for sunnah prayers. Spend more time in the
masjid or perhaps take an online Islamic course. The biggest distraction that could be cut out is unnecessary internet usage. Instead of surfing the internet at night, devote it to Allah.

“They used to sleep but little by night (invoking their Lord (Allâh) and praying, with fear and hope). And in the hours before dawn, they were (found) asking (Allâh) for forgiveness.” [Surah Ath-Tharyât 17-18]

Use Iftar to Focus on Loved Ones

A month in which food is supposed to be restricted is, oddly enough, centered around food, at least for some. There can be such an overemphasis about the meals we break our fast with that people often forget that fasting is supposed to help discipline us. Mealtime is spent gorging ourselves when it should be spent connecting with our family and community. For diabetics this behavior is especially dangerous. An entire month of repeating this could easily land us in the hospital. We don’t have to stop ourselves from partaking in iftar altogether, but we need to know our limits. When you’ve reached yours, spend the rest of your time interacting with those around you and establishing new connections with those you don’t know.

There is no reason that Ramadan can’t be just as special for diabetics as it is for other Muslims. How we experience it depends upon what we choose to do with our time.

 

What Makes Someone An Extremist?

Revert Muslimah

What makes someone an extremist?
This is a very good question because the word is sometimes attached to any practicing Muslim. But being Muslim doesn’t make a person an extremist because there is nothing extreme in Islam. What makes a person an extremist is how they interact with the rest of the world. An extremist believes that they and anyone who thinks exactly like them are the correct people in any situation and that anyone who is different is deviant and will never see Jannah. Because of this belief an extremist will separate themselves from the rest of the ummah and only interact with people like themselves. You can spot an extremist by how they treat others. Basically they act like their s**t don’t stink. When someone who isn’t an extremist sees someone not following the Qur’an or sunnah they will lead by example or maybe give that person a…

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From Darkness To Light

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I suffered from depression for half of my life. For many this is hard to believe due to my age. It began when I was eleven and lasted for over a decade. Before I was even aware of what the words depression, anxiety, and stress meant I knew there was something wrong with me. It wasn’t just sadness but a persistent feeling that nothing would ever bring me happiness again.

My depression was the result of a combination of traumatic events. I had no tools to process what was happening in my life and no one to help me. I was taught not to speak about what went on in my house. So for years I stayed silent. I thought I would find help in the church and for a while I did, but eventually my connection with God faded.

When I lost my relationship with God I felt directionless. I found escaping from reality to be the only relief from my depression. I didn’t do drugs or party like other teens but I escaped through books. I spent hours upon hours at the library and even developed a passion for library science. Sometimes I would avoid sleeping altogether just so I could finish a book. For me reading was like entering a new world, and on the rare occasion that I would run out of books to read, my depression would return.

By then I knew that what I was suffering from was depression; once I took an online test in the computer lab of my high school and I matched all the symptoms. I know it sounds a bit morbid but I was actually happy about the results. I thought this would convince my mother to get me help but she wouldn’t hear of it. There is still a lot of stigma and misinformation about mental health issues. Looking back I can see she suffered from depression as well but was just in denial of it.

I didn’t receive help until I became homeless my senior year of high school and entered a youth shelter. The psychiatrists there put me on an anti-depressant. My mental state did improve some but not much. I had been hopeful that medicine would cure my depression and when it didn’t I figured that it was my situation that was causing me to be depressed. So I focused on getting to college thinking then everything would get better.

Nothing went as I expected it to. The first set back was getting cut off from government assistance that allowed me to receive medicine without paying. I spent the first few weeks of college experiencing withdrawal symptoms that left me sick and irritable. It was very difficult to manage my depression in a new environment. I was used to hiding my emotions for a certain amount of hours each day. then being free to go home and not have to pretend that nothing was wrong. That wasn’t really possible anymore because I was living on campus in the dorms. I had to regulate my mood for longer time periods and it was a struggle.

Eventually I signed up for free therapy at my university. I didn’t really make any progress and decided at the end of my freshman year to transfer to another university in the area I grew up in, hoping that the new switch would bring a different perception.  For a while it worked. I made friends quickly, I liked how diverse the setting was (I went to
a small private college my freshman year), and I was closer to my family. But that faded too. Soon enough the same thing happened as before and I fell into the same cycle

Depression has a way of creeping up on a person. At times it was so subtle that it took weeks for me to realize I was depressed. On the weekends I would sleep all day. Sometimes it would manifest as anger and irritability. It became harder to work around my depression. I could still work, still go to class, and maintain friendships on a
superficial level, but many days I would finish what I needed to do and make excuses to lock myself away in my room until the next day.

A friend of mine urged me to seek counseling and get on medication. I did both through my university but my mental state stayed mostly the same. I began to focus on regulating rather than curing my depression. I accepted that depression would be a part of my life and there wasn’t any cure. All I could do was stop myself from drowning under it. After that, my mental state came to sort of an equilibrium. I wasn’t happy but I wasn’t a complete mess. Some days I struggled to feel anything at all. I figured this was better than nothing.

About two and a half years ago the clinic at my university began to struggle with finances. It was a public university and there just wasn’t enough funding to support all the students that needed to use their services. A nurse practitioner that was prescribing my medicine suggested that I switch from Zoloft to Prozac because it was cheaper
for them to order. I wasn’t in any position to say no since I could not afford medicine on my own and I didn’t know other ways to manage my depression.

She started me off on a low dosage to see how I adjusted. It didn’t go well. After a couple of weeks I began unraveling. I couldn’t focus anymore, had terrible mood swings, and began to contemplate suicide. That’s what tipped me off that I was experiencing side effects. I called a friend of mine who told me once she considered suicide
while on Prozac. She picked me up and drove me to the hospital.

While we were waiting for me to be admitted onto the psych ward we talked about life and depression. I remember telling her that no one was truly happy and that ultimately it was an impossible goal. She left after a few hours because she needed to get up for work in the morning. I remember calling my boss to tell her I would need a
little time off work and breaking down in the middle of my sentence. I didn’t call my family because I didn’t believe they would understand.

When they first admitted me to the psych ward I was placed on the wrong unit. I was only a risk to myself but they placed me with people who were dangerous to others. Being there was kind of like an outer body experience. The other patients didn’t really seem to be aware of their surroundings. I watched a woman smash a phone on the wall and be carried away somewhere. One man walked past me and looked at me as if he wanted to attack me. The woman who I later found out would be my roommate
just sat covered in a blanket and staring at me.

A couple of doctors came by to talk to me. It didn’t take them long to figure out that I was on the wrong floor so they decided to move me. They placed me in a separate room and left me there while trying to get me moved somewhere else. The room had windows that allowed the staff members to monitor whoever was in there. I sat on the couch and watched the other patients.  Fear set in as I realized I didn’t know how long I would be there and I essentially had no control over what would happen to me. I began to withdraw into myself. I separated myself from my emotions and for the first time in my life I felt completely empty on the inside.

Before the day was over I was moved to a different floor. By then I had broken out of my haze but I was still pretty freaked out by my surroundings. The other patients were more coherent and really nice but I no longer wanted to be there so I decided to do whatever I could to convince the doctors that I was well enough to leave. I don’t recall how long I was there but I think it was less than a week.

I have difficulty remembering details of the time period between when I was released from the hospital and when I found Islam. I know I was hospitalized during finals and my university allowed me to be excused from all of my classes except for painting. My boss kept me on even though I took a lot of time off work. My relationship with my mother improved after I told her I was in the hospital. Afterwards we could talk about things that were going on in my life.

When I found Islam I experienced a period of elation. Like many reverts I had an excitement for my renewed connection with Allah. My perspective on life had changed and I thought I had overcome my depression. So it was a surprise to me when I began to feel depressed again a few months later. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about
how this was affecting my iman since I felt a lot of pressure to keep the momentum going from when I first reverted.

In my last post I talked about how I went through a test of faith seven months after my reversion that led me to stop practicing. Well, right before that I became sick and ended up being hospitalized again. I had to have surgery and dropped the rest of my classes. While I was in the hospital the only people who came to visit me was a second cousin and an old friend of mine I knew from high school. I was really upset about this because I felt like the other people I cared for cared nothing for me.

Observing salaah and keeping up with my Islamic studies became nearly impossible for me during this time. I was in tremendous pain and the medicine the hospital put me on left me high and drowsy. Most days I did not even see the sun. I was still weak and had a long way to go in recovery after I was released. I cut myself off from the painkillers
I was prescribed because I did not like how they were affecting me, but I was unsure if I could pray due to my surgery wound. That, coupled with my erratic sleeping schedule, only further separated me from my deen.

A month after I was released from the hospital I had recovered enough to go back to work and start praying again. However, I held some resentment for what I had gone through. At that time I did not realize how illness could actually draw someone closer to Allah and become a blessing. I felt only pity for myself. I did not really admit how I felt but I let that resentment fester. This along with my unanswered doubts eventually led me away from practicing.

During the time that I stopped practicing my depression was worse than I had ever known it to be. Once again I was directionless and really didn’t have anything to live for. This led to some truly reckless behavior on my part. I separated myself from other Muslims and I avoided seeking knowledge, just further pushing myself down into a dark hole. Before I could do more damage myself, I realized that I needed Allah. Without him there really was no meaning to life.

During Ramadan I began practicing again and even retook my shahada. Once again I experienced a period of rejuvenation and happiness. However, I knew it would not last. I decided to seek therapy again but avoid medication since I did not have insurance and my university had continued to suffer cutbacks. I wanted a Muslim therapist but I could
not really afford one so I went to a clinic that had a sliding scale fee for lower income people. I was given a therapist that was a Palestinian non-Muslim. I was at least glad she had a little background on Islam and I could talk to her without explaining a lot
of things or worrying that I would offend her by talking about Allah.

Allah brings certain people in our life in a time when they are needed. I knew there was nothing she could do to fix my problems because ultimately Allah holds all the power, but she was still very helpful during challenges that tested my sabr. There were certain
things I felt too shy to talk about with my Muslim friends so it was nice to be able to speak with someone without fear of judgment. I was still trying to overcome the guilt and shame I felt when I decided to stop practicing and she really helped me with that too.

After some time I found that while my mental state was not deteriorating, it was also not improving beyond a certain point and neither was my deen. This led to more depression and feelings of inadequacy.  I knew that I needed to be close to Allah, but I lacked the iman needed to maintain that relationship. My iman was scattered. At times I experienced bursts of energy where I would pray every salaah, read the Quran, go to my class for new Muslims, and listen to countless lectures from various imams and sheikhs. However, other times I had difficulty going to class and praying even one salaah despite having ample opportunity. I went days without opening my Quran, and when I did I could only read on the surface. I was not attempting to gain fiqh. I don’t really have an explanation as to why I was like this other than my iman shifted with my mood.

I would see YouTube videos or articles on Muslim websites with titles like “Overcoming depression and anxiety with Islam,” or “Are you sad and depressed? Watch this.” Many of my favorite speakers covered this topic as well but it never really set in. Once again I came to the conclusion that depression was just a part of who I was and there was nothing I could do about it.

This did not change until I began feeling the urge to wear niqab. Before this I never considered taking on niqab as I thought hijab was enough. So it was strange to me when I began to feel a pull towards it. I was apprehensive because I was afraid that I would not be able to keep my job and I was also afraid that I was not religious enough.
People seem to have a higher standard for niqabi women and I knew I just didn’t match up.

I thought that I was feeling this urge because I knew I needed to change in order to progress in my Islamic learning. Instead of putting on niqab I decided that I needed to push through my depression and continue seeking knowledge. After all, niqab would be pointless if I did not have enough faith to even lift a finger to further learn about
the religion that I chose. So I set goals to pray every single salaah,
and to not simply read my Quran but to gain a deeper understanding by
asking questions. I slowly but steadily progressed, but I could not
shake the idea of niqab.

The more I thought about it the more I saw the benefits. I was still very frightened by the idea but I decided to order one along with a pair of gloves. I talked to a few of my Muslim friends and two of them encouraged me to pursue it, but one friend who had become sort of a mentor to me was totally against it. She told me this desire was not coming from Allah and there were no benefits to wearing niqab. I also talked to my boss about it and she was not okay with it either.  Even though I felt Allah was guiding me towards niqab, I let fear overrule me and I listened to those people. Something inside me felt immense guilt because I knew Allah was calling me to niqab, but I stopped trusting his judgment and trusted his creation instead.

At some point I decided that I needed to allow myself to follow the path I thought Allah was leading me down. So I put on niqab. To say that it was niqab that cured my depression would be an oversimplification, but there was a shift in my perspective once I put it on. It had to do with trusting Allah. Before then I don’t think I
was truly submitting to his will. With niqab I had to put my employment and a good friendship at risk as well as having to deal with additional criticisms from the rest of the world. Once I decided I would put my trust in his will I was finally able to achieve Ridha (satisfaction, happiness).

What I predicted would happen actually happened. My friend accused me of extremism and cut me off. Eventually she apologized, but when I forgave her she again tried to convince me that I did not need to wear niqab and even told me I was not beautiful enough for it. My job was a student position at my university that I could only keep if I was enrolled in classes. Once I enrolled for another semester my boss did not accept me back and finding another job was extremely difficult. Even my mother, who usually does not interfere in her children’s personal lives, had a fit about it.

Even though I felt I was being attacked on all sides, I was more at peace then I had ever been before. I was reading Quran, I was praying, I stopped feeling the need to see my therapist, and I had a consistent relationship with Allah. No longer did my iman shift with my mood. It was hard for me to stay upset about things. At first I was scared to say I  was not depressed. For years I had been going through the cycle of being happy then depressed, happy then depressed. I never thought I would get to a place where I was not happy but content. I used to be so afraid of everything. Always wondering when the next bad thing would happen. It was surreal not to think like this anymore.

I spent so much of my life depressed and scared that it became a part of my identity, and that did not change until I gave myself over to Allah. Taking my shahada did not mean I had really submitted myself to his will. I did not fully understand submission until I was ready to set my fear aside to pursue the path Allah laid out for me. My experience overcoming depression is unique to my situation. I can’t say that what happened for me is what will happen for everyone with depression. However, I can say Allah has the capability to cure any ailment. His love and mercy is what led me out of the darkness of my mind.

 

Maintaining Friendships After Reverting To Islam

When I first began researching Islam two years ago I was not expecting to become Muslim. However, the more I researched the more I found that Islam made sense. It answered all of the questions I had that drove me away from Christianity and into atheism. I found Islam to be  beautiful, simple,  and applicable to today’s world. Listening to the recitation of the Quran brought me peace and awakened something in me that I thought was gone, a connection with Allah.

This was a very confusing time because for so long I had been sure that there was no God. I tried to convince myself that these feelings were brought on by how poetically the Quran was written, but they persisted. I told no one I knew about what was going on with me. A part of me was too arrogant to admit I was having doubts about Allah’s existence. At the time I had very few friends that were non-believers and many of my Christian friends tried to convince me that my life would be better if  I was not an atheist. We had many debates about the meaning of life and if there was a God. I didn’t want to admit to them that they were right.

As Ramadan progressed the more convinced I became that Allah existed and Islam was the correct way of life. This was reinforced when I began waking up for fajr. No matter what time I went to sleep I woke up for fajr. A part of me was frightened about what this meant and how my life would change but a part of me welcomed this new experience.

About a week before Ramadan ended I watched a YouTube video from a revert Muslimah. In it she says that her biggest regret was deciding not to convert to Islam when she was in high school and instead waiting years later. That same night I went on a Muslim chat site. I discussed the issues I had with Christianity and the person I was chatting with helped me realize how Christianity and it’s teaching of the holy trinity had isolated me from my true creator.

The next morning I took my shahada alone in my bedroom. I could feel my heart opening up. I can’t really describe it other than it felt like my heart was bursting out of my chest. I felt completely pure and at peace. I became excited to tell everyone one I knew. The first person I told was a friend of mine I was staying with over the summer. She was helping me move into another place I would be sharing with another friend of mine. We were driving over and I just decided to tell her about taking my shahada. I was expecting her to congratulate me. I thought she would be happy  considering she was one of my Christian friends who disagreed with me being an atheist. Instead, she just looked at me for a very long time without saying anything. After a while I just went on and told her how I was researching different prophets and how excited I was to once again have a connection to Allah. She interrupted me and told me flatly that Allah was not God.  Then she said she did not know what had come over me.

The rest of the car ride was quiet, neither of us knowing what to say to the other. The next person I told was the friend I was rooming with. I told her I had found God and I remember her getting so excited. Then when I told her I reverted to Islam her smile completely dropped. I could hear the change in her tone and knew she was not happy for me.

This marked the beginning of what would become a very tumultuous living situation. Not only was she displeased with my choice of faith, she felt the need to remind me of it constantly. Once she warned me that all Muslim men were abusive to their wives. Another time we were driving in her car and she had the radio on. She asked me if I was allowed to listen to music and when I told her no she became annoyed and said she would not turn it off.  I hadn’t even said anything! I couldn’t wait to leave that place and as soon as I could afford to rented out an apartment on my college campus.

My mother was fine with it, though. I was not expecting that and avoided telling her for a little while. I was still friendly with the person that told me Allah was not God, although our relationship kind of fizzled out after a while. Once while we were still talking she warned me against joining ISIS. I didn’t really know what to make of that.

I formed closer relationships with my coworkers over the summer and they all seemed happy for me.  Occasionally the subject of religion would come up and they would ask me questions about Islam. I answered them the best I could. However, one coworker I considered to be a good friend mine would persistently ask me about hijab. My answers were pretty much the same every time  but that was never enough. It became clear after a while that this person saw hijab as oppressive and sexist and once they asked if I thought the same. He even told me that they got nervous seeing a Muslim going to the restroom on a plane.

After a while, I began noticing that there were certain conversations or places they went that I could not join in. There were things my friends partook in that were haram in Islam but commonplace among non- Muslims, such as listening to music, having conversations of a sexual nature, and  backbiting. For the first time in years, I found myself succumbing to peer pressure.

While I knew these things were wrong I was hesitant to give up those friendships. At that time I had not met a lot of Muslims. I went to a class for new Muslims at my masjid, but between my work and school schedule, I could not find the time to get involved in the ummah or get closer to the few Muslim acquaintances I already had. I chose to overlook what was clearly a bad situation because I wasn’t confident enough to express what was best for me.

About seven months after I reverted to Islam I went through a period of trial. I don’t care to disclose the details of the situation as it is still painful to even think about, but it is something that made me question if I could still be Muslim. I did not doubt the existence of Allah or that Prophet Muhammad was his last messenger but I doubted my capability to follow the path Allah made for me. I felt so guilty for having doubts after such a short time of being Muslim. I was too ashamed and perhaps a little too prideful to ask for help from the Muslims in my community that were qualified to help me.

I felt inadequate as a Muslim and internalized these feelings. Soon this manifested into resentment towards Islam and Allah. I had fallen into one of the worst states a believer could ever be in. I knew Allah existed but was not willing to follow him. After a while, I removed my veil. Then one day I was sitting at home and my adhan had gone off for the dhuhr prayer.  That morning I had been debating if I would continue praying my salaah. I remember sitting at my kitchen counter and feeling the urge to make wudu and pray but instead I didn’t.

My friends noticed the changes and questioned me about them. Some didn’t really know what to say when I told them I was having doubts but tried to be supportive. However, some of my friends were actually happy I was thinking of leaving Islam and encouraged me to do so. I didn’t really know how to feel about that. I wasn’t expecting anyone to have an answer for my problems but I also wasn’t expecting them to be happy about it. I found no joy in not practicing Islam. I was  confused, angry, and didn’t have enough sense to realize running away from my spiritual problems wouldn’t actually resolve the situation. The last thing I needed was for someone to encourage me to do something that would actually hurt me.

I did have one non-Muslim friend who encouraged me to continue praying and practicing. She was a devout Christian and  very open minded about other religions. Looking back I should have taken her advice but instead I ran away from my problems. After that my life went downhill. My physical and mental health suffered along with my grades and finances. I felt completely alone and isolated.

Sometimes I would spot a hijabi on the train or at work and wished I was in her place. When I stopped practising I expected to feel some sort of relief from my guilt but instead it was compounded. I lost my relationship with Allah, I lost my community, and soon after I began to lose my sanity.

I suffered from depression before but it skyrocketed after I stopped practicing. I began to seriously consider committing suicide. It wasn’t until after I started making plans to kill myself that I realized I needed Allah. My life had little worth once I lost my faith.

It was Ramadan again and I called a Muslim friend I made months earlier in my class for new Muslims. We talked and began spending more time together. We went to iftar regularly and she arranged for me to speak with the new imam of our masjid. He wanted to speak with me about why I chose to stop practicing. I was so nervous to speak with him. I was afraid he would judge me for not staying committed. However, he was really understanding and helped me not feel so ashamed.

When I came back to Islam I felt like a whole person again. I began praying salaah  and reading my Quran. I even started going to another class for new Muslims at my masjid. Alhamdulilah, I made friends with some new revert sisters.  Our friendships thrived on a mutual understanding that Allah was the focus of our lives and we needed to strive in pleasing him above everything.

While my new friendships blossomed my old ones began to wither. Out of all of my non-Muslim friends there were only two who were happy I went back to Islam. My Christian friend and a manager at one of my jobs I became close with. I didn’t even  need my other friends to be happy for me, but the least they could have done was support my decision. After seeing me depressed for so long they should have supported anything that brought me happiness. Instead a lot of them acted like going back to Islam  was the worst thing I could do.

As I grew as a Muslim I began distancing myself from some of my friends. I did not want to cut them off entirely, as I thought it would leave a bad impression, but I made an effort to strengthen my deen. I stopped going places and doing things with them that I knew were haram. As time went on the ones who loved me and wanted what was best remained my friends and the other ones drifted away from me. Now I have friends who care about and my relationship with my creator is intact. In the end that is what’s most important.

 

How Existentialism Has Reshaped Religion

Existentialism is nothing new. It has existed in different forms for centuries, from Teng Shih to Protagoras to what came to be known as the existential movement in the late nineteenth century led by Soren Kierkegaard. Each movement had slight differences but at their core they held the same belief. Reality is relative only to the individual and life has little significance except what that individual makes of it. Religion and other societal norms are nothing but human constructs designed to compensate for a lack of understanding for the world and each individual is in charge of their own destiny. While this is a sentiment that I disagree with it, isn’t one that is necessarily atheistic. Rather it is a rejection of systematic religion which many existentialist believe prohibits people from fully experiencing life. Even Kierkegaard was a Christian. As Protagoras wrote:

“Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or of what sort they may be. Many things prevent knowledge including the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of human life.”

Many people are familiar with the existentialism of Kierkegaard’s time which introduced a radical spin on Christianity. By separating some of Allah’s attributes of love and mercy from the revelations in the Gospel Kierkegaard sought to bring back what he thought was the authentic version of Christianity unpolluted by man. He did so by interpreting the Bible metaphorically rather than literally, putting emphasis on the overall message Isa conveyed.

The problem with Kierkegaard’s version of Christianity and religion as whole is that it gives leeway for acts of immorality. By concluding that the regulations within holy texts are obsolete, existentialism allows for each individual to decide their own morality, because in the end morality is only relative to that person. If love and mercy are the only recognized attributes of Allah then no act is inexcusable. The hellfire ceases to be a motivator for righteous behavior as does making sure our actions are pleasing to Allah. This way of thinking prompted the rise of secularism and the selfish mentality many people have today of not considering if their actions will bring about good for all of society or just themselves.

Looking at modern Christianity and other major religions, one could say Kierkegaard’s vision was a success. We have a class of people from every major religion that have taken on Kierkegaard’s approach and secularized most of their religion. Many of today’s Muslims, Jews, and Christians are hardly distinguishable from non-believers in their actions. By focusing solely on Allah’s attributes of love and mercy people have given themselves permission to defy and alter the revelations and rulings Allah has sent down, adopting parts of their religion that is suitable to their lifestyle or personal beliefs and disregarding the rest. At some point religion becomes just a suggestion rather than a guideline.