Category Archives: Islamic Issues

To be a Black. Convert Muslim. Female.

Hello everyone. My blog has been rescued from the depths of oblivion after I have read quite a few blogs for the “Convert Truths” blog carnival and felt compelled to contribute. (And yes, I’m way late…sue me). I wanted to share what my own personal experience has been like as a Black, convert Muslim, female living in the United States. Here goes:

I wish I could tell you about the beauty. I wish I could tell you that I took shahadah after being fascinated with Islam and seeing the goodness of Muslims. I wish I could tell you how I found a family, a community and a new place to exist. I really wish I could. And I wish that because I am quite aware of the fact that Muslims don’t want to hear my kind of story. It’s too painful and too much truth for one person to digest. The reality is my convert experience has been a rocky one. It has been, at times, fraught with doubt and confusion as to why I chose to be a part of this community and around these particular people. Once the initial convert zeal wore off, I found myself in a miserable circumstance.

Many of you are quite aware of my story. For those who aren’t I can give you the quick rundown. I converted to Islam when I was 17 years old. I was initially part of the predominately African-American masjid where I took shahadah but became distant from the community after it folded due to mismanagement, personal scandals and a failure to help new converts like myself navigate the pitfalls of the larger world around us. Unwittingly, I fell in with members of the Tablighi Jumat (though I never officially joined it) and eventually the Salafi movement (which I also never officially joined) because my Muslim friends and support were part of these movements. I was only able to maintain that level of Islam for a couple years before I found myself burnt out, tired and wanting more. I “took a break” from practicing Islam for several years. I eventually found my way back after I moved to South Florida and became part of a Caribbean Indian and Indo-Pak mixture community. That is where it all began…

If you ask me what it has been like to be a Black, convert, Muslim, female I will reiterate it has been rough. Having spent most of my Muslim experience in non-Black immigrant communities, I have faced a great deal of racism, sexism and colorism. Though I often heard how we are “all Muslim” and have been reminded of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) last sermon where he says, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action,” the reality amongst Muslims was and is far from the ideal. Beyond all the beautiful speeches given to me by my Indian, Pakistani, Caribbean Indian, and Arab brothers and sisters I realized that being Black, a woman and a convert made me less than. The litmus test was marriage. I watched as my fair-skinned Latina friends were repeatedly asked for their hand in marriage. I watched as the White female converts were held in high esteem and absorbed into immigrant Muslim families (their babies will be so fair, mashallah!) and I laughed inwardly at the sisters’ tales of being proposed to at the annual ISNA convention because that NEVER happened to me. Yet, I continued to subject myself to this mistreatment because I didn’t know what else I was supposed to do. It occurred to me that my presence was being tolerated. I was angry at myself because the Afrocentric movement was what had led me to Islam. Before becoming Muslim I was confident and proud of the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, the shape of my nose and of my slave ancestors. How did I move from that to being ashamed of taking off my hijab at sisters’ only events? How could I sit silently as people insulted my skin color or asked me if I was a convert or Muslim? What happened to me?

I eventually woke up. I divorced the Arab husband I was married to, left the masjid that I had been attending and rediscovered/reclaimed my identity. I was free and ready to reconnect with my people, Black people. One would think that moving to a predominately African-American Muslim community would’ve been better for me. I thought I would find myself welcomed into my local W.D. Muhammad masjid with full and open arms. I was coming home! However, from the moment I set foot in the masjid I immediately knew I was an outsider, not to be welcomed in. This time it wasn’t because of my skin color or cultural background. I was an outsider because I wasn’t part of the Nation of Islam experience and I didn’t have an entire family who was. I was also an outsider because I was attractive, single and a threat to the sisters. The fact that I wore abayas, full hijab and tended to be more conservative (due to the years I spent in immigrant Muslim communities) didn’t help either. Sure, I could come to Jumah, participate in community events or even help out with the tasks the masjid administration assigned to me but I got the message loud and clear: don’t think you’re going to come in here and change things or try to be a better Muslim than us. Nepotism was the order of the day and I had no family connections.

Outside of the Muslim community I found myself in a strange predicament. Before 9/11 people would assume that I was from the Nation of Islam. That’s what being Black and Muslim meant. However, after 9/11 I was suddenly “foreign” and from “over there.” People assumed I didn’t speak English, that I was passive and docile, and that someone was forcing me to cover my hair and body. The strangest part of all was that Black people no longer recognized me as Black. My light brown skin (once considered too dark in Arab and Indian/Pakistani communities) combined with my hijab made people assume I was East African or a “Black Arab.” There were no head nods, complicit glances, or casual words spoken to me from other Black people. Somehow, being Black meant you had to be Christian. To be anything else was to be a cultural apostate.

One may ask, why be Muslim then? Why don’t you just leave? Why subject yourself to this? After all, I have had so many negative experiences in the Muslim community. Best believe that I have asked myself these questions many times since I converted. To sit here and say that I haven’t would be a lie. So, why do it? Why remain here? I believe without a doubt or hesitation that there is no nothing or no one worthy of worship of worship except Allah (who has no partners, no equals, no sons) and that the Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah is his messenger and the seal of all Prophets. If I left Islam where would I go and who would I be? Despite the negative experiences I have had and continue to have, the Quran has offered me guidance and peace during these tumultuous times. After all, when I am focused, when I remind myself of my purpose, when I lay that rug out and face the kiblah, I remember that there is nothing and no one else in the world except me and Allah.

Ramadan Mubarak!

Once again Ramadan is upon us again. Though I won’t start fasting until tomorrow, insha’allah, I am both excited and a little anxious (as I always am when Ramadan rolls around.) Since I’m the type of person who loves organization, planning, and peace of mind I thought I’d share a few items from my Ramadan preparation/checklist.

(1) Clean house. (Not that my home is filthy). I like to tidy up for two reasons: I get so busy during Ramadan that I hardly have time to keep things in their proper place. Since I usually do dhikr, read Quran and pray Taraweeh at home during the weekdays, I like my space to be clean and smelling good. Clear head, clean home…nuff ibadah!

(2) Grocery shopping. I NEED to eat a healthy breakfast or I can’t make it past 10:00 without a migraine. This year, since mahgrib is comes in late, I think we’ll be having iftar at home. (Maybe some guests). I like to have tasty meals that are nutritious. I also like to reward myself for a day’s fast. If there is any time to eat right Ramadan is it. Otherwise, I pay for it with my body.

(3) Review my goals and create a list or some other way to monitor my progress. If I don’t then time tends to slip away from me. I look up and Ramadan is almost over.

(4) Scope out the best Taraweeh, fund-raising and iftar spots. Yes, I can admit I do that. Again, the time flies by so quickly I want to maximize it. By strategically mapping out my Ramadan activities I feel like I’m able to do so.

Do you have a Ramadan checklist?

My Covenant with Allah

O Prophet! When the believing women come to you to take the oath of allegiance, take their pledge; that they will not commit shirk with Allah, that they will not steal, that they will not commit fornication, that they will not kill their children, that they will not give any cause for scandal which they may invent between either their hands or legs (a woman accusing another woman of an illicit relationship with a man and spreads such stories – or – a woman carrying an illegitimate child and makes her husband believe that it is his), and that they will not disobey you in any just matter, then accept their allegiance and pray to Allah for their forgiveness. Surely, Allah is Oft-forgiving, most Merciful. (Quran Surah 60, Ayah 12)

This morning my husband and I were having a discussion about Surah 60, ayah 10-11 and I had an epiphany of sorts when I came to ayah 12. I wondered how differently I would’ve viewed my shahadah (the declaration of faith I said to become Muslim) if I had felt Surah 60, ayah 12 was not only a standard of being a Muslim woman but also a requirement. I wondered how differently the Muslim community (more particularly the African-American Muslim community) would be if all the other women who accepted Islam as their way of life understood the same. What would the African-American Muslim community look like if these were the values upheld by everyone?

You may be saying to yourself, it goes without saying that a Muslim woman should not do any of the things mentioned in this ayah. However, as we all know, there are women who become Muslim and do not understand the seriousness of the oath that they taking. More pointedly, when women take shahadah, I am not altogether sure that the expectation of how they will behave and what principles they are expected to uphold are spelled out as clearly as they are this ayah. Nor is their acceptance into the Muslim community contingent upon the criteria laid out in the Surah 60, ayah 12. (I am not a scholar of Quran but also implicit in the ayah is that women who are already a part of the community- by birth or as a longtime converts -are upholding these principles as well).

It’s amazing how many times I’ve read this ayah but never came to this understanding until recently. Subhanallah…the Quran is beautiful like that.

Coping with slander and backbiting

Character assassination is an attempt to tarnish a person’s reputation. It may involve exaggeration or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person. It is a form of defamation and can be a form of ad hominem argument.

For living individuals targeted by character assassination attempts, this may result in being rejected by his community, family, or members of his or her living or work environment. Such acts are often difficult to reverse or rectify, and the process is likened to a literal assassination of a human life. The damage sustained can last a lifetime or, for historical figures, for many centuries after their death.

In practice, character assassination may involve double speak, spreading of rumors, innuendo or deliberate misinformation on topics relating to the subject’s morals, integrity, and reputation. It may involve spinning information that is technically true, but that is presented in a misleading manner or is presented without the necessary context. For example, it might be said that a person refused to pay any income tax during a specific year, without saying that no tax was actually owed due to the person having no income that year.

The aforementioned Wikipedia quote summarizes what I have been going through for the past few months. One of the major tests Allah (s.w.t.) has given me is to deal with the fall out from slander and backbiting. Recently, I made a choice that many people in my community did not agree with. This resulted in rumors and gossip spreading. There have been a great deal of assumptions made about me and my character. The rumors and gossip eventually turned into slander and backbiting whose end result is character assassination. I am in no way a good comparison to Aisha (r.a.) but I can imagine the pain she must’ve felt when people accused her of doing something she did not do. Aside from the backbiting, innuendo and assumptions (if I could even begin to put them aside), as a woman, there is nothing more horrific than having people say or imply that you committed the egregious sin of zina when you know you have been chaste. At first, I brushed the rumors off, chalking them up to childishness and misinformation on part of some. Eventually, I realized why slander is a major sin in Islam. (Particularly when the slander is of the sexual nature and in relation to a woman’s chastity). It is very difficult to recover from such attacks once the word has been put out there. When people meet you, whatever they were told or heard about you precedes you. As a woman, slander may influence any future choice for marriage, put you honor into question, and make it difficult for you to feel comfortable in your community. For now, I am wearing a scarlet letter.

Alhamdulillah, I am a strong person and I understand some things about life. I ask Allah (s.w.t.) to vindicate me. I ask Allah’s forgiveness for anything I have done wrong. I ask Allah (s.w.t.) never to make my wrongs fair-seeming to me. And most importantly, I ask Allah to help and to guide us all. Ameen.

How can a person cope with backbiting, slander and character assassination?

Epiphany #…

Everything I have: my skills, my abilities, my intelligence, my strength, my beauty, my love, my knowledge, my relationships, and my material possessions are from Allah. If a person despises me, is jealous of me or works to undermine any of that then they should know they are fighting Allah (s.w.t.) and not me. I can only be successful by Allah’s leave. I can only fail because of some inadequacy on my part or because it is part of Allah’s divine decree.

When facing adversity (especially in regards to other human beings) or even striving for something better, I remind myself:

“…If the whole nation were to gather together to benefit you they would only benefit you with that which Allaah had already written for you and if the whole nation were to gather to harm you they could only harm you with that which Allaah had already written to harm you. The pen has been lifted and the ink has dried (a phrase meaning: everything has been decreed or settled)”. [At-Tirmithi]

In the language of the hood: you can’t knock the hustle…

Two Lessons I’m Learning

After my crazy week- crying, stressing, phoning, writing, and ripping and running I have finally settled down enough to think. I am have been reflecting on the lesson(s) my ex’s sudden death has taught me. Allah knows best but maybe I will learn more as I sort through my grief and make sense of this whole thing in my head.

The first lesson I’ve learned, which probably will sound cliche to most people, is you never know which day will be your last day. In fact, you never know which day will be someone else’s last day. I need to be mindful of how interact with people; how I speak to them, how I treat them, and what I say. Had I known I wasn’t going to see or talk to Moussa again the tone, content, and wording of our last conversation would’ve been completely different. I would’ve told him how deep within myself I was considering what he meant to me and to my life. Though I was telling him “no” in a clear, empathic manner, my heart was undecided. In all honesty, I was thinking about him and whether I should remarry him. Yes, I had my concerns about entering into another marriage with him but I was also being stubborn. In my own way I was trying to protect his feelings. I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility to him. I didn’t want him to feel lead on and I didn’t want to give him a false sense of hope. I never told him that I have a soft spot in my heart for him. Though we had our share of disagreements he never mistreated me. We had good times too…

The second lesson I learned is that Allah has a plan. I think about meeting Moussa (he was in D.C. and I as in Florida), moving to the Twin Cities, being married, divorcing, remaining friends, keeping in touch, him coming by for family dinners still, asking each other for forgiveness etc. and how it all fits together. I reflect on our conversations. I think about the decisions we made (good and bad). I think about his decision to put off having kids (when we were married) and then later my reluctance to do so. (Imagine if I we had children or imagine if we had remarried…I’d be a single parent, a widow). Everything happens for reason. I may not understand why or even think that it’s fair but it’s all a part of Allah’s divine decree. I know for fact that he was becoming stronger in his deen. We sat down one afternoon and talked about everything. On another day I met him in park and talked further. Now I feel it was as if we were making peace with one another without really knowing he was preparing for death. Subhanallah.

As I said, I am sure there are more lessons to be learned from this experience. I pray Allah allow me to receive them. Ameen.

Lofty ideal?

As salaam alaikum everyone, it’s been a long time. I’ve had a bit of writer’s block but I’m back with a vengeance now. :) I wanted to share some thoughts I had this weekend. It was really an epiphany…

I have been thinking about the Islamic principal of wanting for your brother/sister what you want for yourself. (You could call it self-sacrifice). I am wondering if this concept is really understood by Muslims today. Has it eluded us? Do were merely pay lip service to idea? Is it a lofty ideal?

Lately, because of experiences I’ve been having and my readings about the companions (may Allah bless them), I have been thinking that many of us really don’t want for our brothers/sisters what we want for ourselves. It shows in our actions. It seems like the principal goes out the window if it entails personal discomfort, the sacrifice of something we enjoy/love, or inconvenience on our part. I wonder how we will have a true community, real brotherhood and sisterhood if we aren’t willing to love one another, sacrifice for one another and compromise when necessary.

I am not speaking from a high, authoritative, morally superior position here. I’m calling myself out too. I realize I do not sacrifice my time and effort for the benefit of my brothers and sisters. I have been stingy in that respect. People have called on me to be involved with various projects and I declined because I did not want to sacrifice my time. I had other things I wanted to do. When I think about it I feel ashamed. How can I say I want to build community when I have been unwilling to contribute myself to the very projects that assist in the effort? (May Allah help me!) I realize I have to be more involved.

Sometimes I feel like an idealistic dreamer when I envision Muslims loving, sacrificing and caring for one another. Yes, we will have our share of disagreements, arguments and even fall outs. Can our relationships survive those though? It’s an awful thing to realize, when it comes down to it, a person doesn’t really want for you what they want for themselves.