Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Shah Baha' ad-Din an-Naqshband & the Fools

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from Wisdom of the Idiots by Idries Shah.

Shah Baha’ ad-Din an-Naqshband (q.s.), the great teacher of the Naqshbandi dervishes, one day met a confrère in the great square of Bukhara.  The newcomer was a wandering dervish of the Malamati, the ‘Blameworthy’.  Shah Baha’ ad-Din (q.s.) was surrounded by disciples.

“From where do you come?” he asked the traveller, in the usual Sufi phrase.

“I have no idea,” said the other, grinning foolishly.  Some of Shah Baha’ ad-Din’s (q.s.) disciples murmured their disapproval of this perceived disrespect.

“Where are you going?” persisted Shah Baha’ ad-Din (q.s.).

“I do not know,” shouted the dervish.

“What is good?”  By now a large crowd had gathered.

“I do not know.”

“What is evil?”

“I have no idea.”

“What is right?”

“Whatever is good for me.”

“What is wrong?”

“Whatever is bad for me.”

The crowd, irritated beyond its patience by this dervish, drove him away.  He went off, striding purposefully in a direction which led nowhere, as far as anyone knew.

“Fools!” said Shah Baha’ ad-Din an-Naqshband (q.s.), “this man is acting the part of humanity.  While you were despising him, he was deliberately demonstrating heedlessness as each of you does, all unaware, every day of your lives.”

The Meaning of "'Iyd al-Fithr"

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from al-Ghunya li Thalibi Thariq al-Haqq by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (q.s.).

The Festival of Breaking Fast after Ramadhan came to be called ‘Iyd for the simple reason that Allah (s.w.t.) Restores joy and happiness to His servants on their day of festive celebration.  The Arabic noun “‘Iyd” is derived from a three consonant root which conveys the basic notion of ‘returning’.  Many other explanations have been suggested, including the following sayings below.  It came to be called “‘Iyd” for the simple reason that it contains the benefits of goodness Bestowed by Allah (s.w.t.), and the Favours of generous grace Conferred by Him upon His servant.  The explanation is that the servant returns at that time to humble entreaty and weeping, and the Allah (s.w.t.) Returns at that time to the giving of presents and the granting of gifts.

When people celebrate ‘Iyd, it means that they have returned to their previous condition from the state of purity experienced while keeping the fast.  It signifies that they have returned from obeying Allah (s.w.t.) directly to obeying the Prophet (s.a.w.), from the religious practice that is strictly obligatory to that which is customary but not compulsory and from the fast of Ramadhan to the fast of six days in the month of Shawwal.  It came to be called ‘Iyd for the simple reason that the believers are Told at that time, “Return to your dwelling places, knowing that you have been Granted Forgiveness!”

It came to be called “‘Iyd” because it is an occasion for remembering the Promise and the Threat, the Day of Requital and Superabundance, the Day of Emancipation for the bondmaids and the male slaves, the approach of the Lord of Truth to His creatures near and far, and the reality of contrition and repentance from the feeble servant to the One who is All-Forgiving and Ever-Loving.

It was Shaykh Wahb ibn Munabbih (r.a.) who said, “Allah Created the Garden of Paradise on the Day of Breaking the Fast; He Planted the Tree of Bliss on the Day of Breaking the Fast; He chose Angel Gabriel (a.s.) as the conveyer of inspiration on the Day of Breaking the Fast; and the sorcerers found Forgiveness on the Day of Breaking the Fast.”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) is reported as having said, “When the Day of Breaking the Fast comes around, and the people emerge from their homes to pray in the open space near the burial ground, Allah (s.w.t.) will Take Notice of them, and He will say, ‘My servants, for My Sake you have kept the fast, and for My Sake you have performed the prayers.  Now take your leave, knowing that you have been Granted Forgiveness!’”

The following hadits of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) is one of those reported on the authority of ibn ‘Abbas (r.a.): “When the month of Ramadhan is over, and the Night of Breaking the Fast has arrived, that night is called the Night of Gifts.  Then, in the early morning of the Day of Breaking the Fast, Allah (s.w.t.) will Send His angels forth to visit all the towns and cities on the earth below.  Once they have made their descent, they will position themselves at the entrances to all the streets and alleys.  There, in a voice that is audible to every being Created by Allah (s.w.t.) apart from the jinn and humankind, they will issue a proclamation, saying, ‘O Community of Muhammad (s.a.w.), come forth into the Presence of a Noble and Generous Lord, Who will Grant you gifts in abundance, and Forgive your terrible sins!’

Then, when the believers have emerged and presented themselves at their place of prayer, Allah (s.w.t.) will Say to His angels, ‘O My angels!’

They will respond to His Call by saying, ‘We wait intent upon Your service, time and time again, and upon aiding Your Cause, time and time again!’

Then He will Say to them, ‘What is the recompense of the hired labourer, once he has done his job?’

The angels will reply, ‘Our God and our Master and our Lord, You will Pay him his wages in full!’

So the All-Majestic One will Say, ‘I now call upon you to bear witness, O My angels, that I have Conferred My Acceptance and My Forgiveness, as the Reward for their fasting and the night vigil during the month of Ramadhan.’  Then He will Say, ‘O My human servants, put your requests to Me now, for this I swear, by My Might and My Majesty, You will not ask me this day, in this gathering of yours, for anything connected with your life hereafter, without My Granting it to you; nor for anything connected with your life in this lower world, without my Attending to your need.  By My Might and My Majesty, I will surely condone the false steps you make, as long as you are consciously alert in the effort to avoid incurring My Displeasure.  By My Might and My Majesty, I will not put you to shame, nor will I expose you to disgrace amongst those who are faithfully committed to observing the statutes.  Now you may depart, knowing that you have been Forgiven.  You have won My Approval, and I am Well Pleased with you.’

The angels will then be very happy, as they welcome the good news of all that Allah (s.w.t.) will Bestow upon this Community, when its members break the fast they have kept through the month of Ramadhan.”

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Relationship between Fasting in Ramadhan & Hajj

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is by Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi.

There is a hidden meaning in the arrangement of the obligations of Islam: kalimat ash-shahadah, swalah, swa’um, zakat and hajj.  Fasting during the month of Ramadhan is our attempt to recognise and practice the Divine Attributes, the Asma’ al-Husna, the Beautiful Names of Allah (s.w.t.) which He Taught our father, Adam (a.s.).  Patience, compassion, love, gentleness and forgiveness, which we may experience during fasting, bring the Creator and the Created closer as we experience aspects, at the human level, of these Divine Qualities.  Through this connection, we strive to truly become the sons and daughters of Adam (a.s.).

During the five daily prayers, especially during the position of prostration, we are in the Presence of Our Lord and we are speaking with Him.  When we become conversant with our Lord, He may Ask us to come and visit His House.  Thus, one is Permitted to perform the hajj.

Hajj embodies the state of ‘dying before dying,’ of leaving everything behind, of wrapping ourselves in our shrouds and presenting ourselves to our Lord, crying, “Labbayk Allahumma labbayk,” “I am present; I am here, my Lord!”  Kissing the Hajr al-Aswad, the Black Stone, is kissing the Lover, the heart of the Beloved of Allah (s.w.t.), Sayyidina Muhammad Musthafa (s.a.w.).  If we have felt that which is Divine and Eternal in us, spoken with our Lord, and seen the Truth by visiting His House, we should be cleansed, purified, of all that is not proper in a human being.

The function of zakat is, therefore, a purification, not only of our worldly possessions, but also of all that is material and temporal in our beings.  During the fast of Ramadhan, the believers, the faithful ones among us, were able to bring to our consciousness the Beautiful Names of Our Lord which were concealed within us.  At the end of fasting, on the day of ‘Iyd al-Fithr, which means return, we come back to the life of this world to act upon those Divine Characteristics, and to share with others what we have Received, until the tenth of the month of Dzu al-Hijjah, the day of ‘Iyd al-Adhha’.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Aims of the Qur’an & Its Valuables

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from The Jewels of the Qur’an by Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali (r.a.), as translated by Shaykh Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qassim.

The secret of the Qur’an, its purest pith, and its ultimate aim consist in calling people to God, the Most Powerful, the Lord of this World and the Hereafter, the Creator of the heavens above and the layers of earth below, and whatever is between them and whatever is under the moist subsoil.  For this reason the suwar of the Qur’an and its verses are limited to six types of which three are precedents and important principles and three follow them, enrich them and complete them.

As to the three important divisions, they concern the definition of God to Whom men are called, the definition of the straight path, perseverance in which is required in advancing towards Him, and the definition of the condition at the time of attaining to Him.

As to the three divisions which enrich them and complete them, one describes the conditions of those who answer to the Call to God, and His Delicate Dealings with them, the secret and the purpose of this being to excite a desire and to encourage them.  It also describes the conditions of those who shrink from answering to the Call and the manners of the Suppression and Punishment of them by God, the secret and the purpose of this being to provoke consideration and fear.

The second division narrates the conditions of those who deny God, and reveals their disgrace and their ignorance in disputing and arguing against the Truth.  The secret and the purpose of all this being, on the side of falsity, to make manifest and to create aversion, and, on the side of truth, clear apprehension, confirmation and constraint.

The third division defines the stages of the path to God and the manner of taking provision and preparation for it.

Regarding Letters in the Beginning of Some Suwar

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from Ruh al-Bayan by Shaykh Ibrahim Niyas al-Kawlakhi at-Tijani (q.s.), and translated by Ustadz Moctar Boubakar.

Letters such as ‘Alif, Lam, Mim’, are most disturbing to the Arabs because they could not comprehend anything regarding their meaning.  Although the Qur’an is a miracle in its fluency, eloquence and in the fact that it informs about hidden matters, the Arabs do nevertheless understand it.  They were Arabs and understood everything that came in the Qur’an until these letters appeared in the beginning of suwar.

They did not get the least bit of taste for their meaning and as a result they became the greatest disturbance to them.  Besides their disbelief and stubbornness, they were nevertheless Arabs and fluent in linguistics.  They were aware of the tafsir for the speech of the Arabs.  Every word in Arabic holds several meanings that are in occurrence with the temperament associated with that word in linguistics.

However, not withstanding, all their linguistics proficiency as just exposed through the above examples, the Arabs did not get the least taste regarding the meaning of these letters at the beginning of suwar.  They were a greater disturbance to them than all the miracles of the Qur’an.  The first to be revealed amongst these groups of letters is “Kaf, Ha’, Ya’, ‘Ayn, Swad.”  When Jibril (a.s.) would come down with a verse, he would read it until its end and would also give its tafsir.  And then the Prophet (s.a.w.) would read it as Jibril (a.s.) read it.

However, when Jibril (a.s.) came with the revelation, Kaf, the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “I have understood,” and then Ha’, “I have understood,” and then, Ya’, “I have understood,” ‘Ayn, “I have understood,” and Swad, “I have understood.”  This shows that the Prophet (s.a.w.) knew its tafsir before Jibril (a.s.).  Because of this, Jibril (a.s.) then understood that this is, in fact, a secret hidden even from the conveyor of the Qur’an.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Do Not Leave the Istighfar

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

A man once came to Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri (q.s.) and complained to him, “The sky does not shower us with rain.”

He replied: “Seek Allah’s Forgiveness.”

Then another person came to him and said, “I complain of poverty.”

He replied, “Seek Allah’s Forgiveness.”

Then another person came to him and complained, “My wife is barren; she cannot bear children.”

He replied, “Seek Allah’s Forgiveness.”

The people who were present, said to Shaykh Hasan (q.s.), “Every time a person came to you complaining, you instructed them to seek Allah’s forgiveness!”

Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri (q.s.) replied, “Have you not read the Statement of Allah:

“Saying, ‘Ask Forgiveness from your Lord; for He is Oft-Forgiving;’  ‘He will Send rain to you in abundance’; `Give you Increase in wealth and sons; and Bestow on you Gardens and Bestow on you rivers (of flowing water)’.” (Surah Nuh:10-12)”

There are two things in the earth that give a person safety and security from the Punishment of Allah (s.w.t.).  The first has been removed, whilst the second still remains.  As for the first, it was the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.).  As for the second, it is istighfar.

But Allah was not going to Send them a Penalty whilst thou wast amongst them; nor was He going to Send it whilst they could ask for pardon. (Surah al-Anfal:33)

Insha’Allah, may we never leave istighfar.

Regarding the Divine Names in Surah al-Fatihah

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Shaykh Ibrahim Niyas (q.s.), in his Tafsir, wrote regarding the Divine Names in Surah al-Fatihah.

Allah (s.w.t.) has Mentioned five of His Names in the Fatihah: ‘Allah’ is a Name, ‘Rabb’ is a Name, ‘ar-Rahman’ is a Name, ‘ar-Rahim’ is a Name and ‘Maliki Yawm ad-Din’ is a Name.  These are the origin of the five pillars of Islam.  Islam has been built on five pillars.  The shahadah, that there is no deity other than Allah; the meaning of Laa ilaha illa Allah is the Name ‘Allah’.

And establish the swalah... (Surah al-Baqarah:43)

The ‘Rabb’ is used to mean ‘the One Who Corrects’, as well as, ‘the One Who Nurtures’.  The swalat of the servant nurtures his Islam and corrects it.  ‘ar-Rahman’ is equivalent to the pillar of fasting.  It is an exaggerated form of expression for the word mercy.  The mercy of the affluent servant towards the destitute reaches such a level that it makes his ego taste the hunger that the destitute suffers from so that he may thereby offer him charity; this is the pillar of fasting.

‘ar-Rahim’ represents the pillar of zakat, tithing.  He has mercy on the destitute and as a result, sets aside a portion of his wealth for his sake.  ‘Maliki Yawm ad-Din’, ‘The Master of the Day of Judgement’, represents the pillar of hajj.  Just as people will be Resurrected on the Field of Resurrection, coming from all directions to one place, the hajj is similar in that respect.

Using Perfumes & Medicines That Contain Alcohol

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is a summary of various fatawa on using perfumes and medicines that contain alcohol, specifically, ethanol.

There are several categories of fragrances today including perfume, eau de parfum, eau de toilette, and eau de cologne; each containing a lesser degree of aromatic oils, respectively.  The lower the concentration of aromatic compounds, the shorter the scent life.  Perfumes are highly prized precisely because it lasts from morning until night.  Additionally, perfume wears well, meaning the scent stays fresh as the day wears on.  In fact, good perfume is designed to smell nice throughout its various stages of wear.

Aromatic compounds used in perfumes have complex chemical interactions.  In order for a scent to last throughout the day, tens or even hundreds of ingredients are used so that the perfume continues to ‘bloom’.  Essentially, as one group of compounds is spent, another re-enlivens the scent and adds its own tone.  Perfume is said to have three notes that work together to form the lasting fragrance.

According to the Shafi’i madzhab, khamr, alcoholic beverages made of grape juice, and nabiz, alcoholic beverages that are made from other type of juices beside grape, are haram and impure.  Therefore, ethanol derived from alcoholic beverages is also haram and impure.  The synthetic alcohol is produced through the hydration of ethylene or hydroxylation of ethyl sulphate to yield ethanol and regenerate the sulphuric acid.  Here, there is no fermentation process, thus, the synthetic alcohol is pure.  Therefore, synthetic alcohol would be permissible to use and will not cause body or clothing become impure.  However it is not permissible for oral intake.

al-Azhar’s Dar al-Ifta’ states that, “In Islam, it is unanimously held that all things are supposed to be deemed pure, and that it is not necessary that all what is declared forbidden is considered impure.  This is because impurity is a legal ruling that needs evidence.  For example, drugs and fatal poisons are forbidden, yet this by no means qualify them to be impure.  For this reason, some scholars including Rabi’ah, al-Layts ibn Sa’d, al-Muzani and some other scholars hold that wine is pure regardless of its being unlawful, and that only drinking it is forbidden.  However, the majority of jurists are of the view that wine is impure and forbidden.

Thus, we conclude that all that is impure is deemed forbidden, but not vice versa.  This is because regarding something as impure is to forbid any physical contact with it, whereas regarding something as unlawful is not necessarily to forbid any contact with it.  To illustrate, wearing gold and silk is unlawful for men, yet they are considered pure by the consensus of scholars and thus can be touched by men.

As far as perfumes containing alcohol is concerned, they consist of many ingredients like water, perfume, and alcohol that comprises the highest percentage.  It is known that alcohol is produced from sugarcane by way of distillation.  Thus, according to the juristic rule, which states that all things are presumed to be originally pure and that being prohibited does not render something impure, perfumes that contain alcohol are pure, particularly if we bear in mind that they are used for cleaning and perfuming the body.  Thus, it is permissible to use these perfumes and there is nothing wrong in that.”

It is found in Sunnah.org, “Leaving aside the very weak argument that alcoholic beverage is pure unless declared otherwise, there is an aspect of cosmetic alcohol which would seem to differentiate it from beverages fundamentally enough to place it in a different class where the rulings of both the impurity and prohibitiveness of beverages do not apply.  That aspect is the fact that cosmetic beverages are not made for intoxication, nor are conducive to it, nor are used towards it, nor are they made for consumption, nor conducive to consumption, nor used for consumption.  In other words: cosmetic alcohol is essentially a different substance than khamr.  That is why the position of permitting it seems strongest, some even permitting the consumption of cough syrup containing alcohol for the same reason.  And Allah knows best.”

Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller stated in his translation of the Maqaswid under things which are considered najasat, impurities include liquid intoxicants, whether liquor, or other products containing ethyl or methyl alcohol, since these two are produced by wine fermentation, as opposed to other, chemically distinct types of alcohol that are not produced by wine fermentation, and hence not filth.

However, he gave a slightly different ruling in his translation and commentary of ‘Umdat as-Salik wa ‘Uddat an-Nasik by Imam Shihab ad-Din al-Miswri (r.a.).  In it, he said najasat means any liquid intoxicant, including, for the Shafi'i madzhab, anything containing alcohol such as cologne and other cosmetics, though some major Hanafi scholars of this century, including Imam Muhammad Bakhit al-Muthi’i of Egypt and Imam Badr ad-Din al-Hasani of Damascus, have given formal legal opinions that they are pure, thahir, because they are not produced or intended as intoxicants.

Topical alcohol includes the alcohol used in sanitizers and other chemical-related topical products, and is not the normal alcohol which is consumed.  Therefore, it is permissible to used such products.

As for the use of alcohol in solid or liquid medicines, there are conditions for its use by muftiyyun.  Firstly, the medicine containing alcohol or other haram ingredients must be absolutely necessary for the life of the person who takes it.  Secondly, a knowledgeable and trustworthy Muslim physician should recommend such a type of medicine containing alcohol.  And finally, the patient is not allowed to take this particular type of medicine while there are other lawful medicines available.

Habib 'Ali al-Jifri on Islam in Essence

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Habib ‘Ali al-Jifri said that the essence of our transaction with Allah (s.w.t.) is closeness, qurb.  We realise this when we reflect upon the Qur’an.  The essence of acts of worship is closeness:

…but prostrate in adoration, and bring thyself the closer (to Allah)! (Surah al-‘Alaq:19)

The essence of vigilance, muraqabah, is closeness:

… for We are Nearer to him than (his) jugular vein. (Surah Qaf:16)

The essence of excellence, ihsan, is closeness:

… for the Mercy of Allah is (always) near to the people of excellence. (Surah al-‘Araf:56)

The essence of repentance, tawbah, is closeness:

…then ask Forgiveness of Him, and turn to Him (in repentance): for my Lord is (always) Near, Ready to Answer." (Surah Hud:61)

The essence of guidance, hidayah, is closeness:

“…but if I receive Guidance, it is because of the inspiration of my Lord to me: it is He Who Hears all things, and is (ever) Near.” (Surah Saba:50)

The essence of supplication, du’a, is closeness:

When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed Close (to them)... (Surah al-Baqarah:186)

Allah (s.w.t.) is Closest at the last moment before we meeting Him:

But We are Nearer to him than ye, and yet see not. (Surah al-Waqi’ah:85)

Allah (s.w.t.) is the Close One, al-Qarib.  We du’a, O Allah, Make us among those who You Love and those who You have Singled out to receive Your Closeness, for You are the Close One.  Amin.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Jennifer's Bridge over Troubled Water

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is Sister Jennifer Giove’s journey to Islam.  It was a long, painful journey for her and serves as an inspiration for the rest of us.  To understand where she is now, we need to understand where she came from.  Here is her story.

When I was about 10 years old, my mother became a Jehovah's Witness, so from the very start, my religious world was very black and white.  If you were not a member of ‘The Truth’, then you were going to Hell.  Only those people who were Witnesses were going to make it through to the earthly paradise after the end of the system of things.  That is a heavy thing to place upon a child's shoulders: that the rest of your family is bad and is going to Hell because they did not believe in the same things you do; that it did not matter if they were nice people; and that it only mattered how they prayed, how they dressed, how they spoke, and so forth.  When I was 12ish, I heard my mother behaving inappropriately with someone.  I cried because I ‘knew’ she was going to Hell, because that is what I was taught.

My mother was also an alcoholic, although I did not know it.  I just thought that the reason why she would beat me was because I was bad.  I was not her only child; I had a brother with Down’s Syndrome.  I was fiercely protective of him yet at the same time, he was my annoying older brother and we fought a lot.  He could not speak so I felt torn between treating him like my brother and treating him like someone who did not know any better.

I lived in an upper-middle class neighborhood and so, anything out of the ordinary was noticed and judged.  I was poor, from a divorced household, with red hair, with a brother with Down’s syndrome, and to top it all off, a Jehovah’s Witness.  I was food for the ridicule machine.  Children are cruel in the best of circumstances.  I was tormented.

When my mother became an apostate, my friends in the congregation seemed to abandon me.  There I was, 15 years old and my world went upside down.  My mother was drinking and fornicating openly; she was still torturing me.  I was also getting sexually abused by the son of her boyfriend and my grades were falling in school.  What I did not know was that I had a learning disability.  My parents knew but hid it from me.

While my mother was a Jehovah’s Witness, my father was a Buddhist.  He taught me the peaceful side of humanity.  He taught me how to live simply and eat healthy foods.  He lived in a yurt with no running water, electricity or even an enclosed toilet.  His parents were immigrants from pre-WWII Germany.  His father had passed away long before I was born.  They came here as Jews escaping Hitler and became Congregationalists.  His father later becoming a preacher in a church.  My aunt was a Born-Again Christian and my mother’s family were non-practicing Christians which meant that they did not go to church but believed in Jesus (a.s.).

By the time I was a teenager, I was already familiar with an abnormally large chunk of the world’s religions.  That is to say, I knew they existed.  I was able to move away from the abuse and torture of my mother and moved into my father’s house.  It was traumatic since I was going from a high tension, high survival instinct environment to a non-violent, peaceful home but far away from any of my friends.  I was starting over, but because of the continuous denigration, I was socially inept.

My father did not condone drinking and drug use, especially amongst teenagers, but he knew that trying to stop it was pointless and would just push it to be done in secret.  In order to feel ‘normal’, I started to smoke pot and drink and smoke cigarettes.  When I started 10th grade, the school system decided to change how a student was going to graduate each grade level.  They changed it from a letter scale to a pass or fail system.  I knew I was not going to be able to pass and since I was having such a hard time at school anyways, I decided to quit and just join my friends on the streets doing drugs and drinking all day.

Time went by and after a summer of being homeless and drunk and doing things just to get what I thought was loving attention, I entered a program for at-risk youth.  I was placed in a rooming house and started to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.  I was also working on getting my General Education Degree so that I could attend perhaps college.

That is when it happened.  I was 17 years old and that evening, I was supposed to stand up in front of everyone and give them my ‘recovery’ story, kind of like how I doing, only that it centred around my journey to being sober instead of my journey to religious belief.

Part of Alcoholics Anonymous is a belief in a higher power.  It did not matter what one believed just so long as you believed in a higher power: God, Allah, Wiccan, Christianity… it did not matter, just so long as the power of control was out of our hands.  I suppose that an atheist would have a problem there.

I was terrified.  When I say terrified, I mean nervous breakdown, crying, screaming, pulling-out hair kind of terrified.  You know how in some countries, when a woman experiences a death, she thrashes around wailing over the dead?  That was me.  Standing up in front of everyone meant opening myself up for judgement and for someone with my history of rejection, this was too hard to face.

There I was, wailing, laying on the floor or the bed, and sometimes both, crying out to God.  Since I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, I called out the Name that I understood to be God’s ‘personal’ Name, Jehovah.  I knew I had to face my fears but I could not do it by myself.  I asked for His Help.  I told Him how I felt.  I told Him that I knew that this was something I had to do.  I also said that I knew He was the Creator.  He was God and there was no one else.  He had all the Power and I was nothing.  I told Him that I was going to leave it to Him.  I would trust in Him to Protect me from my fears, and that I knew that I was not worthy of His Love.  I said that it was His Will.  I said there was nothing I could do to make Him do anything but that if He was going to Send me to Hell, that was His Choice and I would accept that.  If He Chose to Allow me to enter Paradise, that was His Choice as well.  I told him that I know He had the Power to do anything and communicate in any way He Chose.

Suddenly, I saw a light, for less than a half blink of an eye, and what sounded like music but in reality, it was more like a single note, every note, sung by millions of people.  I also immediately stopped crying, like a light switch had been flicked.  It was instantaneous.  I also felt held.  Once I calmed down, I restated my belief in Him and His Power.  That He was the Master and I was nothing.  I gathered my things and headed for the shower, still thinking about my experience.  Words really cannot describe it fully yet I can still hear the sound and feel that ‘held’ feeling.  I set my things up and turned on the radio.

The song that was playing was my favourite song, ‘Bridge over Troubled Waters’ by Simon and Garfunkel.

When you’re weary,
Feeling small.
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all.
I’m on your side,
When times get rough,
And friends just can’t be found.
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will lay me down.

When you’re down and out,
When you’re on the street,
When evening falls so hard,
I will comfort you.
I’ll take your part,
When darkness comes,
And pain is all around.
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will lay me down.

Sail on, silver girl,
Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine,
If you need a friend,
I’m sailing right behind.
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will ease your mind,
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will ease your mind.

Since then, I have experienced many more different religions from the standard, mainstream ones to others like Wiccan.  I kind of look at it as ‘taste testing’.  I had been so hurt by my childhood and being traumatised by black and white religion that I shied away from any religion that was totalitarian and absolute.  I have had a hard life since then: homelessness, epilepsy due to a bad blood vessel in my brain, threatened haemorrhage, the loss of a child in utero due to a chromosomal disorder, car accidents, facial fractures, gestational diabetes, the discovery by police of the bodies of both my father and brother in their home, a month before I moved to the city that my father was born in.  And these are just the highlights.

When I moved here, to Maryland, from Massachusetts, I left behind all my friends and my own ‘ummah’ of the Native American community; a community that I found support and love, a community that helped me grow into a better person, a community that helped me trust ‘belief’ again.  I moved here and I was alone.  I had also left a friend who I had connected to who had a PhD in Islamic religious history.  I felt uneducated when compared to him so I decided to investigate Islam.  I started with the anashyd, went to recitations and then joined a forum.  Unfortunately for me, it was an ultra-conservative forum.  There was no formal shahadah, but I considered myself Muslim from then.  These people did not.  Prior to this, I never knew what a Muslim or Islam is.  It was one of the few religions I had never encountered.

I learned a lot and even participated in Ramadhan that year, for 12 days.  I almost died because of the fast.  I had not taken into account how my body would react to the change in diet and how that would affect my anti-epileptic drug levels within my body.  I ended up overdosing on the drugs to the point where I was hallucinating and got very ill.  I had no idea what was happening but the hallucination taught me that everything was connected, giant circles and that when something happens in one circle, while we may not know it, the affect happens somewhere else.

When I first moved here, I was so angry. I stopped praying.  I told God that He was going to have to be Patient with me and that while I wanted to pray, I could not.  I was angry like a child and He was just going to have to wait.  My friend worked in a job that took him to far off places to do potentially dangerous, potentially fatal work.  He sent me an email telling me that he was going to be gone for a few days, maybe a week, maybe more.  15 days later, he was still away.  I was in a panic.  I imagined the worst things.  I also knew that his girlfriend must be even worse off than me.  I was walking back from the store with 2 gallons of milk and I started to pray. not for me, but for her, for God to Relieve her fears and Calm her.  Three hours later, I received a text message from saying that he was on his way to the East Coast and then home.

I have been learning more ever since.  I have received hate from people who say they are Muslims but because, in their eyes, since I have not stated the shahadah to their satisfaction, I am not only a non-Muslim in their eyes, but a ‘Zionist kafir’ intent on causing division in the ummah.  I have lost friends because I post about Islam but I have also become excellent friends to a woman I once considered my enemy.  It is funny how things work out that way.

Nowadays, I live with a man who, by law, is my husband but due to his indiscretions, I have asked to be divorced from.  Unfortunately, I am unable to financially support myself and my 6 year old son.  He does not seem to know that I consider myself a Muslim, and so I have to hide my beliefs.  He works nights and sleeps days so the only prayer I am able to perform is fajr.  I use a white towel as a prayer rug, wear the too small abayah that a friend bought for me in Afghanistan, and while I speak to whomever I wish, I have no in-real-life Muslim friends.  The whole of my associations have been online.

I still struggle with the whole ‘black and white’ parts of religion, but I am learning to accept that Allah (s.w.t.) Knows my struggle and I can only trust that He Understands and will Move my heart when it is time.  Each day is a new start and each step forward or back is part of the process.  Maybe I learn some things faster than other things.  Maybe, when I think I have reconciled something within me, Allah (s.w.t.) Knows that I skipped something and Sends me back to do it again.  So long as I wake up and keep trying, then it is another opportunity to please Him.