Can We Allow Muslim Converts To Just Be?

The Muslim community has an obsession with Muslim converts. This obsession manifests as either jubilation at the prospect of someone taking their shahada or a weird sort of jealousy towards convert Muslims. Those who are overjoyed sometimes act as if they are the ones taking their shahada. Tears, hugging, and shouts of “Takbir! Takbir!” usually follow a person’s conversion. I understand how seeing someone come to the faith can inspire a Muslim to renew their own connection with Allah but the amount of excitement can sometimes seem insincere. I say this because this joy and support rarely extends past the first few weeks of meeting this convert. Converts so often find ourselves alone, struggling to manage our new faith with the life we already established. And it’s important to note that we did, in fact, have a life before Islam. A life that we are going to have to alter to fit with Islam. Family and friends that we may have to hang around less either because of their dislike of Islam or activities they participate in being prohibited to us. This inconsistent support from Muslims makes our adjustment all the more difficult.

On the other end of this is the jealousy and sometimes downright hatred those born into Muslim families have for converts. Lately it would seem that people believe this jealousy or hatred is directed solely at white converts. It is not. I’ll admit that there are Muslims who feel threatened by the influx of white converts. Perhaps they are fearful that they will want to incorporate secular belief systems into the faith. Or some who are jealous of the pedestal many people place white Muslims on. A white Muslim is more likely to be given a speaking position in a lecture, ask to lead a khutab, or even be appointed Imam. All while Muslims of other races may be more qualified and have actually had time to develop their identities as Muslims and leaders. Muslims aren’t immune to the affects of colonization and some subconsciously seek out the approval of white westerners. They hold up white Muslims as the proof that Islam is not this backward, barbaric religion. It’s almost as if they are saying, “Look! If this white person gave up their western ways to embrace Islam that must mean that it’s correct.”

However, this hatred isn’t solely directed at white Muslims and acting as if it is will deter us from examining the real reason this sentiment arises. Muslim converts of all races, including myself, have experienced hatred. If we correct someone or are having a disagreement on an Islamic subject we are often ridiculed for being converts. Told that we don’t really know much and that our status eliminates us from any religious discussion. If we adopt a certain religious practice or viewpoint that other Muslims around us don’t have we are told that we are extremists. Our cultures are attacked and used as the reason why we cant really be Muslims. This isn’t brand new and it is most certainly not just directed at white Muslim converts. Right fighting and petty people tend to be that way to others regardless of their race.

Most of this vitriol comes from the fetishization of Muslim converts which are a result of stereotypes many have about us. Some Muslims seem to believe that we are, upon conversion, more spiritual and knowledgeable than other Muslims. That we are more zealous in our pursuit of ilm. They think that our imam is somehow stronger and less susceptible to tests of faith.

Some converts do have a stronger imam than those born into Islam. Some of us have done extensive research before converting and afterwards expanded our knowledge in the pursuit of Islamic scholarship. However, for every convert that is excited to practice their deen there is another convert struggling not to become an apostate. For every student of knowledge is one who did not even finish the Quran before converting and are now struggling to reconcile their former beliefs with what they are discovering. There are those of us who feel isolated. That are too poor to afford to buy an abaya or take an Islamic course. Some of us who may even miss who we were before and feel like converting was a mistake.

These stereotypes help no one. It shames converts who are struggling because we feel as if we should be more spiritual than those who have had their entire lives to learn and practice the faith. We are less likely to talk about these feelings because we are pressured to be perfect. These stereotypes don’t do anything in the way of promoting unity between converts and born Muslims either. Imagine spending your entire life as a Muslim, having to navigate this world as one, only to have someone tell that a new convert is better than you.

The most unfortunate thing that can come from this obsession is that it stunts the development of new Muslims. We are either pressured to take on too much at a time in order to prove to ourselves and other Muslims that we are Muslim enough. Which leads to burn out and for many of us eventually apostatizing. Or we feel disliked and devalued for being converts. As if we are are a nuisance or a toddler incapable of having our own opinions. If we are already experiencing hatred from the rest of the world the last place we need to see it is in the community that is supposed to welcome us.

Just let us be. Allow us to develop as new Muslims. Allow us to be flawed and wrong. Don’t insult us to win an argument or expect us to be your motivation to practice more. We’re people and we deserve better than to be someone’s spiritual guru or a person’s projection of their own insecurities. Stop obsessing over us, it’s creepy.

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Things To Consider Before Putting On Niqab

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Financial stability is essential 

Before you put on the niqab it is very important to make sure that you have some kind of financial stability in place. Many niqabis either have an at home business or are married and rely on their husband’s income. You could also consider working in the medical field. Specifically, with hospice care or in laboratories where no one really cares that your face will be covered.  Another option would be to remove your niqab for work and only wear it outside of work. It would not be a good idea to put on niqab if  you are not sure how you will make money.

Most Muslims won’t support your decision 

The last thing I expected when I put on niqab was to receive more support from non-Muslims. It was the saddest part as well. I lost a mentor when I put on niqab. Had my Imam tell me I should remove it. Muslims were less likely to greet me and many times they treated me as if I were some alien from Mars. The friends that stayed often critisized my choice. Despite the fact that I never brought it up many sisters felt the need to tell me it was not fard on them (or me) to wear it or that they were happy to just wear hijab. Without ever asking for my opinion they bombarded me with theirs. A sign of insecurity on their part. There is an expectation that niqabis will be more religious than sisters who wear the hijab. As a result many hijabis have a perception that we are judging them and they become defensive for absolutely no reason. They somehow convince themselves that our personal choice is a reflection on their moral character.

You will face discrimination

I am not saying this to scare you away from niqab but to help you make preparations for the discrimination that you will face. Trust me on this, you will be discriminated against. The degree to which this happens will vary depending on your location but it will happen at some point. It could be as small as someone laughing and making rude jokes because they think you cannot understand them. Maybe when you get on the train and look up from your phone you will find another passenger eyeing you as if you’re about to do something suspicious.

Do not be surprised if you are followed through every store you enter or are repeatedly turned down for jobs that you are totally qualified for. You will be threatened, cursed out, spit on, or attacked if you are out in public alone. Many niqabis go out less than hijabi sisters just to avoid this. Or they only leave when they can have a mahram escort. After a while it becomes tiring to constantly mistreated. And don’t expect many Muslims to be sympathetic. In their opinion you would have brought the suffering on yourself for doing something they don’t see as necessary. They will even go so far as to tell you it is not illegal for a U.S employer to refuse to hire you since niqab is not apart of the religion.

People who tell you that niqab is fard may not have your best interest at heart

While there is some dispute on if the niqab is fard or sunnah, many women who wear it believe that it is obligatory and will try to convince others of the same. Here’s the thing though. Those people who say that won’t support you if you become homeless due to not being able to find a job. They won’t finance your up and coming business you want to start at home. Many of them just expect you to find a husband to take all these worries off your hands. In my opinion it would not be wise to marry someone simply because you are in a bad situation. That could leave  you vulnerable to choosing the wrong partner. If someone simply tells you that you must wear the niqab at all times without considering if your personal situation will allow that, then they really aren’t looking out for your best interests. If what you are wearing matters more than your safety, financial stability, or even your mental health it would be best not to listen to this person. If you can wear the niqab and still find work then do so. If you can wear it without fearing for your life then wear it. However, there is no need to take an unwavering stance on something that even the scholars disagree on when it puts you in jeopardizing situations. There is nothing worse than making something obligatory when it is not even explicitly clear that Allah has made it obligatory.

Things that were not haram before suddenly become haram

There are a lot of strange expectations placed on women who wear the niqab. As I said before people expect us to be more religious than other Muslimahs. Often times more religious translates into having less of a personality or life. Once I put on niqab it was suddenly haram for me to visit the gym. People expected me to only wear black or other dark colors. Patterns were seen as showing off. Going out with non-Muslim friends was looked down upon. As was taking selfies. Many times we cease to stop being people with flaws and just become a symbol. This isn’t something that niqabis choose. It is just something that is forced upon us. Niqabi women are as diverse and unique as any other woman.  We have our own opinions, interests, and exspriences.

I won’t lie to you. Wearing niqab is difficult. However, it can also be rewarding. There is nothing better than feeling like you are doing something to please Allah. Just make sure to consider what I have written here. If you do decide to take on niqab just know that Allah sees your struggles and he knows how much you want to please him.

Evaluating The Need For Male Guardians

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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…

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When Will This One End?

It is currently 3:08 a.m and as I type this on the notepad of my cellphone, I am standing under the aclove of Dar Al-Jalal. Driven into a corner of it by the rain and wind. Even though no one is here and the doors are locked, this is the last place that will offer me a little bit of shelter until the morning. I am homeless, broke, and for the last three weeks have been struggling to suppress thoughts of suicide. How I ended up here is less important than what I will do now.

I don’t know how long I can take this. It seems no matter how faithful I am to Allah my life continues to spiral downward. I don’t have my physical health, mental health, stable housing, or a strong support system. I have people who love me but there was nothing they could do to keep me from this situation. Only Allah could. He is all I have left. Islam is all I have left. However, I have been struggling to hold onto my religion.

I am not here to bemoan my troubles. This situation isn’t even something that is new to me and I know there are people who have it worse . However, it is hard to put that in context when most of my energy goes into preventing myself from committing suicide. Im exhausted. I have never fought so hard to only end up feeling further from Allah. Of all the things I could live without a connection with my creator is not one of them.

Ignorance Among Muslims Concerning Mental Health Issues

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Yesterday I underwent the first of two evaluations to see if I suffer from bipolar disorder. During Ramadan I began to suspect that my depression may be something more serious. For months my mental state has been deteriorating at a frightening pace. The mood swings are becoming more frequent as are episodes where I experience breakdowns or when I am almost completely catatonic.  It was during this blessed month that I expected to have an escape from this but unfortunately that was not the case. In fact my depression became worse. My therapist, who is administering the evaluations, had expressed that she saw signs of bipolar disorder. So I thought it would be something worth exploring.

It goes without saying that this is a distressing time for me. I am not sure if I have a more serious mental health issue or if the depression that I have had for twelve years is just becoming worse. Right now what I need is support, compassion, and a bit of understanding. However, that is not what I am getting.  Lately I have seen many Muslims on social media making threads and posts about depression. All of which state that  depression and other mental illnesses are caused by a lack of imam and that anyone who cannot “cure” these ailments through reading quran, prayer, or dhikir must not be trying hard enough. On the more extreme sides of this argument there are some Muslims who confidently state that these illnesses just don’t exist and they have been concocted by the medical industry. It is clear that many Muslims lack a fundamental understanding in the difference between sadness and depression. As well as an understanding between depression and other mental illnesses. In this post I would like to dispel some of these misunderstandings.

The Huge Difference Between Sadness & Depression

Sadness is a normal emotion that all of us feel at some point and it happens as a result of an event. That event could be a divorce, failing a class, the death of a loved one, or even a disagreement with a friend. Sadness eventually fades. Usually as our circumstances change or we adjust to whatever we are experiencing. However, depression is a state of being. In most cases it never completely goes away and if  it does it usually returns. It does not have to be triggered by any particular event. Which means that a person could have a normal life devoid of major stresses and still experience depression.

Depression can manifests itself in a multitude of ways. A person suffering from depression may be constantly angry or irritated. They could under perform in work or at school. A person with depression may be constantly sad or they could have a difficult time feeling any emotion. For someone who does not have depression it can be hard to spot as many people with depression find ways to hide the illness from the outside world. Perhaps this is the reason why so many people are ignorant of it.

The Difference Between Depression & Other Mental Illnesses

Another thing I have noticed is that many Muslims lack the ability to differentiate depression and other mental illnesses. In many cases they view mental illness as either sadness or insanity. When in reality it falls on a spectrum and each illness varies in degrees. Depression is just one of many mental illnesses. There is also bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD, PTSD, CPTSD, anxiety, various eating disorders, dissociative disorders, sexual/gender disorders-just to name a few. Each has their own set of symptoms and effects. The problem with this misconception is that people either see the person as not wanting to fix what is making them sad (which ties into confusing sadness and depression). Or they view the person as insane and therefore dangerous. Even if the person has not displayed any dangerous behaviors.

What Happens When Muslims Lack An Understanding Of These Issues 

All too often I have to explain to Muslims that depression is not the same as sadness and that a person who is depressed (or suffering from another mental health issue) is not a bad Muslim. Usually I am told that I must read a certain surah. Or that I trust therapists and doctors more than Allah. I am told that I must not be praying. That I am ungrateful to Allah. Just today someone emphatically stated that “Quran is the cure” as if my depression is a result of me not reading it.

Muslims assume that I am not praying, reading quran, doing dhikir, making dua, and trusting in Allah. They have absolutely no way of knowing if I am guilty in what they accuse me of but they figure that in order for me to have depression it must be a result of not practicing my religion. This is a very black and white outlook to this subject. They think that a person either relies on Allah to cure their depression or they deviate and look to medical treatment. The idea that mental illness can be managed with a combination of faith and medicine is never considered.

My Illness Is Not Caused By A Lack Of Faith

When I start to think that suicide is a better option the only thing that has stopped me is knowing that it would incur the displeasure of Allah. It is not love for this dunya, my life, or even my mother. It is only for my love of Allah. When I have sat alone in my bedroom, tears pouring down my face, I have made dua to Allah. Knowing that only he could bring an end to my episode. When I feel that myself and my life are worthless I seek refuge in Allah through his revelations. I am constantly worried that there is something I must not be doing correctly. That I could always achieve more taqwa.

My life is a mess. There are times when I skip showering. My apartment piles up due to uncleanliness because I have stopped caring about how it looks. I have not been able to complete a successful semester of college in two years. When I do emerge from episodes of depression I notice that my friends are progressing in their lives. They are completing college, studying abroad, making new friends. I realize how long it has been that we have talked or had lunch. Then I realize how unreliable I am as a friend since I tend to close myself off from the world. I have given up on the prospect of marriage because I feel like I would be a burden to any man that marries me. I have found that I cannot complete any of the things that I want to in life because I am incapable of following through with small tasks. Through all of this I have held on to Allah. I have held on to his quran and sunnah. To have fellow Muslims doubt my faith is perplexing. It is only my faith in Allah that makes this life worth enduring.

Only Allah Knows My Burdens

Lately I have considered just deleting all of my social media accounts as I am weary of being told that my mental health issues are a result of my lack of faith. I  no longer use facebook and I have plans of deleting it altogether. It would probably be best if I were to do the same for twitter. The problem with this is that  I get the same response in real life. I have had friends tell me that I have a choice in being depressed. I have been told that I am cursed with a jinn or Shaitaan (but no one can explain my episode during Ramadan). I have even been told that I don’t want to be happy.

As a result I don’t talk to many people in my life about my depression. Even when a person says that they can be there to talk I don’t take them up on the offer. I know that unless they have experienced depression themselves they won’t understand. If I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder I don’t know who I would tell besides my mother. If I tell anyone else I run the risk of being accused of lacking faith. Or that looking for treatment is doubting Allah’s ability to heal me (they never consider how Allah can use other platforms to cure a person). Many times I think separating myself from Muslims would bring the most solace.  It is times like this that I realize compassion, understanding, and patience can only be found in Allah. When I search for it in his creation I find very little of it.

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Pretending Like You Care About Saudi Women

There is something deeply concerning  about this exchange below.

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The problem I have with this is not the person’s criticisms of the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, no matter how much he exacerbated it. The problem is the context in which this person is using it.

It’s Disingenuous

The first time I ever heard someone use this argument was on an internet forum discussing street harassment. A man commented that the women on the forum shouldn’t be complaining since women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to leave their homes without being accompanied by a male guardian. Something that he saw as more oppressive than women in the west not being able to leave their homes unaccompanied by a male without being sexually harassed or assaulted. The man who made this comment completely disregarded the women on the forum who gave detailed descriptions of truly horrific instances of street harassment and sexual assault.

He did not offer any condolences to these women nor did he speak of any solutions to help women in Saudi Arabia whom he viewed as oppressed. This seems to be a trend among people who use this argument. They simply say that women in Saudi Arabia are oppressed but they offer no solutions on how to resolve this. Nor do they express any desire to ever offer do so.

I only see this argument used against Muslims, POC, and Women when we ask for people to address legitimate oppression that we face in western countries. There is a reason for this. When people use this argument it allows them to deflect and redirect the conversation by basically saying, “Well at least you are not in Saudi Arabia.” As if this is some clever argument that justifies the abuse marginalized groups in the west endure. Essentially they are saying that it doesn’t matter how much a person is discriminated against in the west because it is still better than Saudi Arabia.

There are problems that need to be addressed in this country

I need for people who use this argument to understand just how problematic it is. A woman was murdered yesterday by an alt-right terrorist while protesting neo-nazi racists. A freedom that this country guaranteed her. Black men and women currently cannot even exist without risk of being shot by an armed officer sworn to protect and serve us. Muslim women are being murdered and abused when we leave our homes. Muslim and Jewish places of worship are being vandalized and bombed. We currently have a president who has barred Muslim refugees, deported Mexican immigrants, slashed budgets on public assistance programs, and is currently threatening nuclear war. The point is we have bigger things to worry about. So I need for people to get themselves together and stop deflecting by speaking about Saudi Arabia. Trust me when I say this country is no better.

What I Fear Most Is Being Alone With Myself

“It’s almost 1 am, should probably get to bed soon…..”

“But I don’t want to go to sleep. Probably wouldn’t be able to anyways.”

“My eyes hurt. I should at least be doing something that stops me from staring at my laptop.”

“I guess I could do some cleaning. Maybe I will finally do the laundry that’s been scattered on my bedroom floor.”

“I could go for a walk. Had a lot of chocolate after dinner. That can’t be good for my blood sugar.”

“I have to get to bed soon or else I won’t be able to go to Jummah prayer tomorrow.”

“I have so many projects I haven’t finished. How am I going to open my Etsy shop when I can’t finish anything?”

“I have to get my FAFSA in or else I won’t be able to re-enroll this semester.”

“I don’t even want to go back to school but what else am I going to do with my life?”

“Maybe Sarah was right. I should take a year off to work on my mental health.”

“And who is going to fund this year long vacation?”

“My head  has been hurting every night for three days. Probably not drinking enough water.”

“I didn’t submit one job application today. How am I supposed to find a job if I waste my entire day doing nothing?”

“I hope my neighbor can’t hear me crying again. You can hear everything through these walls.”  

“This is the fifth time my internet connection has gone out. Why does it keep doing this?” 

“I should read Surah Al- Dhua again. That will give me some hope.” 

“Im not ready to be married. I can’t stop my life from falling apart so there is no way I can keep a marriage together.”

“Homesteading is a pipe dream and I need to get serious about what I will do for the rest of my life.”

“Can’t remember the last time I finished reading a book.”

“Maybe if I take a couple of benadryl I will be able to get some sleep before fajr.”

“I need to go to bed or else I wont have enough time to do ghusl before going to jummah.”

“What the fuck am I doing with my life?”

“Ya Allah this is too much….”