Sunday, 28 September 2014

Gatherings of Remembrance & Heedlessness

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from Imam ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah’s (r.a.) al-Wabil asw-Swayyib min al-Kalim ath-Thayyib.

The gatherings where Allah (s.w.t.) is mentioned are the gatherings of angels, whereas those full of chatter and heedlessness are the gatherings of devils.  Let the servant decide which of these two gatherings is more pleasing and important to him, for he will belong to it in this world and the next.

An invoker is made joyful by his invocation and makes those around him joyful, for he is Blessed where ever he may be.  But someone who is heedless of Allah’s (s.w.t.) mention, someone who just chatters, is made sorrowful by his heedlessness and empty talk, and makes those around him sorrowful as well.  Dzikr saves the servant from regret on the Day of Judgement.  Every gathering is which the servant does not mention his Lord will be a source of regret for him on that Day.

The dzikr of Allah (s.w.t.) and the tears shed in private are the way to the shade that Allah (s.w.t.) will Grant His servant on the Day of the Greatest Heat in the shelter of His Throne.  As people stand in a melting sun, he who remembered his Lord will find shade beneath the Throne of the Most Merciful, the Almighty.  To be busy with dzikr is how Allah (s.w.t.) Grants something better to the invoker than those who supplicate Him.  As the Messenger of Allah (s.w.t.) said, “Allah Says, ‘To one too occupied in My dzikr to supplicate to Me, I Give better than what I Give to those who ask.’”

The easiest form of worship, dzikr is also the strongest and the best.  Moving the tongue is easier than moving the limbs of the body and simpler.  If someone could move his muscles day and night as much as his tongue, he would be completely exhausted - in fact, it is quite impossible.

Are Non-Muslims Allowed to Enter Makkah & the Sacred Mosque?

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted from Are Non-Muslims Allowed to Enter Makkah & the Haram? and answered by: Ustadz Faraz Khan.

Why is it that non-Muslims, including Jews and Christians, cannot enter Makkah or the Haram?  The short answer is that historically, there was disagreement among jurists with respect to the matter.  Imam Abu Hanifah’s (r.a.) opinion was that non-Muslims can enter Makkah and even the Sacred Mosque, al-Haram, as long as they do not do so for the sake of the hajj or ‘umrah, which they are not allowed to perform.  This is the opinion of the Hanafi madzhab, which historically, up to the present, has been the largest juridical school of Islam.  Other schools of thought, however, differed on the legal ruling.

This ruling is based on the Qur’anic verse:

O ye who believe!  Truly the polytheists are impure; so let them not, after this year of theirs approach the Sacred Mosque... (Surah at-Tawbah:28)

This verse was revealed in the 9th year after Hijrah, which is therefore what is meant by the phrase, “this year of theirs.”  The year is ascribed to them in the verse to emphasise the fact that the legal ruling therein is specific to them alone.  This is the opinion of Imam ibn Ashur (r.a.), as recorded in his Tahrir wa at-Tanwir.

Most Qur’anic exegetes, mufassirun, interpreted the first statement as metaphorical, that is, polytheists are not literally impure, but their creed of associating partners with Allah Most High is so base and vile in the Sight of Allah (s.w.t.) that it is akin to filth itself, so much so that it is as if those who adhere to such beliefs are themselves filth.  This is the opinion of Imam ibn Ashur (r.a.) in his Tahrir wa at-Tanwir; Imam al-Aluwsi’s (r.a.) Ruh al-Ma’ani; Imam an-Nasafi’s (r.a.) Madarik at-Tanzil; Imam Abu Su’ud’s (r.a.) Irshad al-‘Aql as-Salim; Imam Abu Hayyan’s (r.a.) Bahr al-Muhith; and Imam as-Suyuthi’s (q.s.), Tafsir Jalalayn.

As for the legal rulings derived from the verse, as mentioned above, there was disagreement among jurists historically.  Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) interpreted the verse to mean that after that year, polytheists were not allowed to enter the Sacred Mosque of Makkah, yet they could enter other mosques, as only the Sacred Mosque was specified in the verse.  This was the opinion of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.) as well.  Imam Malik (r.a.) understood the verse to be more general and therefore maintained that polytheists could not enter the Sacred Mosque of Makkah nor any mosque whatsoever.

Also, according to Imams ash-Shafi’i (r.a.), Imam Malik (r.a.) and Imam Ahmad (r.a.), the term, “Sacred Mosque,” used in the verse linguistically refers to the entire Sacred Precinct, that is, all of Makkah as well as its outlying areas; hence, the legal ruling of barring non-Muslims from entry would apply to that whole area, not just the Sacred Mosque of Makkah.  Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) understood the verse to refer only to the actual pilgrimage, not to mere entrance, and therefore maintained that polytheists could enter any mosque, even the Sacred Mosque of Makkah.  According to him, they simply could not perform the pilgrimage, neither hajj nor ‘umrah, as was customary among the polytheists of Makkah before the revelation of the above verse.  This is found in Imam al-Jassas’ (r.a.) Ahkam al-Qur’an; Imam al-Aluwsi’s (r.a.) Ruh al-Ma’ani; Imam al-Qurthubi’s (r.a.), Jami’ li Ahkam al-Qur’an; Imam ash-Shirazi’s (r.a.) al-Muhadzdzab; Imam an-Nawawi’s (r.a.) Majmu’; Imam ibn ‘Abidin’s (r.a.) Radd al-Muhtar; Imam al-Kasani’s (r.a.) Bada’i as-Sana’i; and Imam al-Buhuti’s (r.a.) Kashshaf al-Qina’a.

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Faith of Abraham II (a.s.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from a transcript of discourse delivered by Mawlana Waffie Mohammed at his weekly dzikr session held at the Hermitage Masjid, on Thursday, 18th September 2014.

The personality and mission of Abraham (a.s.) has many dimensions and lessons for us.  Throughout his life, he was very much interested in passing on the legacy of monotheism.  However, throughout his travels he realised that he was not attracting the people as he would have hoped for and thus prayed to Allah for a righteous offspring to carry on his teachings.  Today, we will look at one aspect of his personality which is his total and complete submission to Allah (s.w.t.).

Firstly, we need to understand that Abraham (a.s.), up to his teenage years, did not grow up with his parents.  When he eventually went home to his parents, he was surprised to see them and his people worshipping idols.  As a matter of fact, his father made and sold idols.  So Abraham (a.s.) had a real problem that manifested in him having many disagreements and theological clashes with his father and his people.

Abraham (a.s.) used to ask his father, “O father, why do you worship that which doesn't hear, doesn't see, and cannot avail you in anything?”  He could not understand the logic of submitting to something that was created and had no life; something that could not even drive a fly away.  He implored his people to seek sustenance and guidance from the One True God.

We need to understand that Allah (s.w.t.) is The Sustainer.  Everything comes from Him and whatever we want, we should beg of Him.  He once Told Prophet Musa (a.s.), “O Musa, ask Me for everything, even the mending of your shoelaces.”

True submission and faith is not easy for a lot of people.  Even amongst the believers; a lot of people say they have faith but do not really act upon it when they seek assistance from soothsayers, for example.  Abraham (a.s.) tried to show the people in many ways that these creatures they worshipped cannot help them as they even do not have any power of their own.  And when his verbal reasoning failed he tried another tactic.

A big celebration was planned where everybody in the village would attend for a big feast on the riverbank.  After making sure that no one was around, Abraham (a.s.) went towards the temple armed with an axe and destroyed all the statues except one; the biggest of them all.  He hung the axe around its neck and left.

How big was the shock when the people entered the temple!  They gathered inside watching in awe their gods broken in pieces.  They wondered who might have done this.  Then they all remembered that the young Abraham (a.s.) preached against their idol worship.  They brought him to the temple and asked him, “Are you the one who has done this to our gods?”

Abraham replied, “No, this statue, the biggest of them has done it.”

“You know well that these idols don't speak!” They said impatiently.

“Then how come you worship things that can neither speak nor see, nor even fend for themselves?  Have you lost your minds?"

Their minds and their senses were telling them that the Truth is with Abraham (a.s.), but their pride prevented them to accept it, and reject the idols they were worshipping for generations. This they thought would be total defeat.  They started yelling at him and shouting: “Burn him!  Take revenge for our gods!”

When they decided to burn him, Abraham (a.s.) showed no resistance.  Even when he was flung towards the massive fire, Jibril (a.s.) appeared to save him.  When Jibril (a.s.) said that Allah did not Command him to save Abraham (a.s.); Abraham (a.s.) refused the angels help and instead relied solely on Allah (a.s.).  He knew that Allah (a.s.) would Take Care of him and in the process was giving his people practical da’wah.  Allah (s.w.t.) records this in Surah al-Anbiya’:

We Bestowed aforetime on Abraham his rectitude of conduct, and well were We acquainted with him.  Behold!  He said to his father and his people, “What are these images, to which ye are (so assiduously) devoted?”  They said, “We found our father worshipping them.”  He said “Indeed ye have been in manifest error-ye and your fathers.”  They said, “Have you brought us the Truth, or are you one of those who jest?”  He said, “Nay, your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, He Who Created them (from nothing): and I am a witness to this (truth).  And by Allah, I have a plan for your idols ― after ye go away and turn your backs.”  So he broke them to pieces, (all) but the biggest of them, that they might turn (and address themselves) to it.  They said, “Who has done this to our gods?  He must indeed be some man of impiety!”  They said, “We heard a youth talk of them: he is called ‘Abraham.’”  They said, “Then bring him before the eyes of the people, that they may bear witness.”  They said, “Art thou the one that did this with our gods, O Abraham?”  He said, “Nay, this was done by this, their biggest one!  Ask them, if they can speak intelligently!”  So they turned to themselves and said, “Surely ye are the ones in the wrong!”  Then were they confounded with shame: (they said).  “Thou knowest full well that these (idols) do not speak!”  (Abraham) said, “Do ye then worship, besides Allah, things that can neither be of any good to you nor do you harm?  Fie upon you and upon the things that ye worship besides Allah!  Have ye no sense?”  They said, “Burn him and protect your gods if ye do (anything at all)!”  We Said, “O Fire!  Be thou cool, and (a means of)) safety for Abraham!”  Then they sought a stratagem against him: but We Made them the ones that lost most! (Surah al-Anbiya’:51-70)

Allah (s.w.t.) Helps His servants from sources we can never imagine.  Abraham (a.s.) understood that he was at all times living in the Presence of Allah (s.w.t.) and this was later passed on to us.  This is why, when before we pray we recite:

“For me, I have set my face, firmly and truly, toward Him Who Created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to Allah.” (Surah al-An’am:79)

People say we pray to the Ka’bah but Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is reported to have said, “When you stand for swalah facing the qiblah, understand that Allah is before you, and is between you and the Ka’bah.”

We need to understand that we do not own anything.  Everything is from The Creator.  All He has Given is will power; power to channel His Blessings on us in a direction of our chose.  Humans are Blessed with a little bit of freedom with the knowledge that we will be Taken to Judgement one day.  We must submit to Allah (s.w.t.) and let Him Take Care of everything else.  The entire life of Abraham (a.s.) contains instances and actions where he demonstrated immaculate faith in Allah (s.w.t.); from the story we recapped above up until his mature life.  We too should strive to build our reliance and faith in Allah (s.w.t.).

It is something easy to profess but when the trials and test come your way, only then can we really test our faith.  Faith in Allah (s.w.t.) is something we cannot rationalise.  We must culture ourselves to always trust and rely on our Lord and know that He will never let us down; just as He Took Care of Abraham (a.s.) in the most trying of times.  May Allah (s.w.t.) Bless us all to develop faith and trust in Him, similar to the faith shown by His friend, Abraham (a.s.) and all His other messengers, insha’Allah.

Two Stories on the Effects of Swalawat

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is recorded in al-Qawl al-Badi' fi asw-Swalah ‘ala al-Habib ash-Shafi’i by Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Abd ar-Rahman as-Sakhawi (q.s.).

A pious saint, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Sa’id ibn Mutharrif (q.s.) says, “I had made it a habit to confer a fixed number of blessings upon the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.) before retiring to bed at night.  I once retired to bed in the upper chamber of my house after conferring my fixed number of blessings when I saw the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.) in a dream.  He entered through the door of the upper chamber whereby the whole upper chamber instantly filled with light.  The Noble Prophet (s.a.w.) then came towards me and said, ‘Bring forward that mouth which confers blessings upon me in abundance so that I may kiss it.’

I felt ashamed to present my mouth before the blessed mouth of the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.) and so I turned my cheek towards him.  The Noble Prophet (s.a.w.) then kissed me on my cheek.  I suddenly woke up overcome with anxiety and this caused my wife who was lying next to me to suddenly awake too.  The whole upper chamber was emanating with the beautiful fragrance of musk and this fragrance remained on my cheek for eight days.”

Imam Abu Nu’aym (q.s.) related in his Nuzhat al-Majalis that Imam Sufyan ats-Tsawri (q.s.) said, “I was once leaving my house when my gaze fell upon a youth who was reading, ‘Allahumma swalli ‘alaa Muhammad wa ‘alaa ali Muhammad,’ with every step he took.

I asked him, ‘Is there any proof for your action?’

He asked, ‘Who are you?’

I replied, ‘Sufyan ats-Tsawri.’

‘Sufyan of Iraq?’ he asked.  I replied in the affirmative.  He asked, ‘Do you have the ma’rifat of Allah?’  I replied in the affirmative.  He asked, ‘How did you attain it?’

I said, ‘He Takes the night out of the day and the day out of the night, and He Fashions the child in the mother’s womb.’

He said, ‘You have not truly recognised Him.’

I asked him, ‘So how have you come to recognise Him?’

He replied, ‘I firmly decide on doing something, but I end up having to cancel it.  I resolve to do something but find that I am unable to fulfill it.  Through this, I have realised that there is another being who is governing my affairs.’

I asked him regarding his conferring of blessings.  He said, ‘I went for the hajj with my mother.  My mother passed away during the journey.  Her face turned black and her stomach bloated whereby I realised that she had committed a grave sin.  As I lifted my hands towards the sky to beseech Allah, I saw a cloud coming from Tihama (Hijaz) from which a man appeared.  He passed his hand over my mother’s face making it luminous and over her stomach, causing the swelling to disappear.  I asked him, ‘Who are you?’  You have alleviated me and my mother of this great affliction.’

He replied, ‘I am your prophet, Muhammad.’

I asked him for some advice.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) instructed, ‘Whenever you take a step, read ‘Allahumma swalli ‘alaa Muhammad wa ‘alaa ali Muhammad.’’”

Almond Milk

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted from Signs on the Horizons by Shaykh Michael Sugich.

“If you did not know anything about him and met him in a dark alley at night, you would probably start shaking with fear, raise your hands, beg for mercy and hand over your wallet.  He was tall, scarred and scary.  I forget his name but remember his hard face.  He was, in fact, the polar opposite of this menacing thuggish figure.  He was a feature of the bazaars and markets of Fes, patrolling the stalls to make sure both traders and customers behaved themselves.  He settled disputes, chased down thieves and pickpockets and generally kept everybody honest.  He was like an ex-officio muhtaswib or swahib as-sawq, which in traditional Muslim society was the keeper of markets and public morality.

He did not get paid for doing this and his role was without any legal basis, but he did not need a license.  His tough, intimidating presence and moral authority were enough.  His real life was away from the bazaars, in circles of remembrance.  Here he blended in with the motley crowd of Sufis and submerged himself in the Names of God.

Whenever we would come to Fes, we would escape from the rigours of the Way to indulge ourselves in almond milk at a little almond milk bar frequented by Fesi students.  The milk bar was on the second level above a bakery just up the cobbled passage from an entrance to the Qarawiyyin Mosque with glass windows that looked out upon the street below.  Students would gather in this brightly lit and garish hangout.  Young Moroccan couples stared dreamily across the tables over sweet almond milk and biscuits.  It was an early breach of the pristine traditional integrity of the ancient city, but for those of us from the West it was an innocent enough diversion and a fleeting relief from the punishing intensity of spiritual discipline, which could be brutally heavy on our over-pampered personalities.

One afternoon, a friend and I were coming away from a gathering of invocation and on the way to another when we decided to take a quick, surreptitious detour to the almond milk bar.  We ascended the spiral staircase to the second floor, sat down at a table beside the glass window and sipped the richly sweet infusion.  We were in high spirits… until we looked down at the street below and saw the tall, scary faqir staring up at us, frowning.  All our levity evaporated when, to our dismay, he charged up the stairs and into the almond milk bar.

‘What are you doing here?’ he snapped, shaking his head.  Suddenly, through this powerful faqir’s eyes, the innocent almond milk bar seemed like an utterly depraved den of iniquity.  He shook his head in disgust.  ‘Come on, get up.  You’re coming with me!’  He dragged us away from our almond milk, down the stairs, into the streets and to our next circle of remembrance.  ‘Don’t let me ever catch you in that place again,’ he scolded.  I never went back there.  God Bless him and have Mercy on him.”

A hadits qudsi States, “The act of worship that is most beloved to Me is giving good counsel.”

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Prostrations of Forgetfulness, Sajdah as-Sahw

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following are the main points of the prostrations of forgetfulness, sajdah as-sahw.  This is quite technical.  The two reasons for the performance of the sajdah as-sahw are non-performance of something called for, such as an integral sunnah, or performance of something uncalled-for, such as absentmindedly adding a rak’ah to one’s swalah.

As for the non-performance, if one misses an integral part of the swalah and does not remember it until doing what comes after it, then one must, if still in the same rak’ah, go back to it, perform it and what comes after it, and, since it is a sunnah mu’akkadah, prostrate for it at the end of the swalah.  If one is a follower who misses an integral portion of the swalah, one continues following the imam until the imam completes the swalah with salam, and then rises alone to perform a makeup rak’ah.  One is only obligated to repeat a missed integral part of the swalah when praying alone if one’s forgetfulness of it does not continue until the next rak’ah.  If, however, one’s forgetfulness continues and one goes on to perform the integral portion during the course of the subsequent rak’ah, then the same integral action of the following rak’ah takes the missed integral's place.  In this case, the rak’ah with the omission does not count and one does not return to it, but performs the rest of the prayer and then adds a makeup rak’ah at the end.  After this, one performs the sajdah as-sahw before one finishes with the salam.

If there is a surplus action, such as when one absentmindedly goes from qiyam, standing, to sujud, prostration, without having performed the ruku’, the bowing; if one then remembers, one stands up and performs the ruku’ again, and performs the sajdah as-sahw at the end of the swalah.  This having stood twice before the ruku’ is a surplus action.  One does not sujud for forgetfulness when there is no surplus action, as when one omits the final sujud of the prayer, but remembers it before one finishes with the salam and performs it.  In this case, one does not sujud for it because there has not been an addition.

If one misses an integral sunnah, even purposely, one performs a sajdah as sahw.  If one misses anything else besides an integral sunnah, then one does not sujud for it.

There is no sajdah as-sahw for doing an uncalled for action, either intentionally or absentmindedly, of the type which when done intentionally does not invalidate the swalah.  Examples include the turning of the head, or taking one or two steps.  Reciting a part or all of Surah al-Fatihah or tashahhud at the wrong place in the prayer are exceptions to this in that, although intentionally reciting them at the wrong place does not invalidate the swalah, it does still require a sajdah as-sahw.

One performs a sajdah as-sahw for unintentionally doing an uncalled-for action of the type which when done intentionally invalidates the swalah, such as a small amount of extraneous speech; provided it is not the type of action whose unintentional performance also invalidates the swalah, such as much extraneous speech or action.  This is because the invalidation of the swalah obviates the requirement for a sajdah as-sahw.  Straightening back up after ruku’, and the jalsah, sitting between sajdah are two brief integrals.  To intentionally make them lengthy invalidates one’s swalah, though to do so absentmindedly merely calls for a sajdah as-sahw.  An exception to this is qiyam at length after ruku’ in the final rak’ah of any swalah, as this does not invalidate the swalah even when done intentionally, and even if there is no supplication therein.

If one forgets the first tashahhud and stands up, it is impermissible to return to it.  If one intentionally returns to it, this invalidates one’s swalah because one has interrupted an obligatory action, the qiyam, for the sake of something non-obligatory action.  The integral sunnah is the first tashahhud only.  But if one returns to it absentmindedly or out of ignorance, one merely does sujud for it, though one must interrupt the tashahhud that one has returned to, and stand up as soon as one remembers.

If one has omitted the first tashahhud and started to rise, but checks oneself before standing and sits down again, this does not call for a sajdah as-sahw as it is not a full surplus action.  But if one intentionally rises and then returns to sitting after having been closer to qiyam, one’s swalah is invalid.  If one had not yet been that close, or had, but returned absentmindedly or in ignorance of its prohibition, it is not invalid.  The same principle applies to omitting the supplication of the dawn prayer, swalah al-fajr, where placing the forehead on the ground is as standing up is in the above ruling; that is , one may return to the omitted supplication as long as one has not yet completed one’s first sujud.

When praying behind an imam who misses the first tashahhud by standing, the follower may not remain seated to recite it by himself as this is a gross contravention of the leadership of the imam and invalidates the swalah when done intentionally and in awareness of its prohibition, unless he has made the intention to cease his participation in the group prayer, the jama’ah, and finish alone.  But it the imam omits the first tashahhud and the follower stands up with in, and then the imam sits, down, it is unlawful for the follower to follow him therein,  Rather, the follower should either cease his participation in the group prayer, or else remain in qiyam and wait for the imam to rise before they continue the prayer together.  If the follower intentionally sits back down when the imam does, knowing it is unlawful, then his swalah is invalid.  If the imam is sitting for the tashahhud and the follower absentmindedly stands up, then he must sit again, in deference to the imam’s leadership, because following him in what is correct takes priority over starting an obligatory integral, which is also why the late comer to group prayer may omit both qiyam and reciting Surah al-Fatihah to ruku’ when the imam performs it.

One does not perform the sajdah as-sahw when one is uncertain if one did something that calls for it, or that one added a surplus integral, or did something uncalled for.  But if uncertain, whether one omitted an integral sunnah, or performed the sajdah as-sahw, or whether one prayed three raka’at or four, and this includes being uncertain that one performed one or more of a rak’ah, since without all seventeen integral sunnat, the rak’ah remains unperformed; then one proceeds on the assumption that one did not yet do it and finishes with a sajdah as-sahw.  When one’s doubt is resolved before finishing the swalah with salam, one also performs sujud for forgetfulness because of the rak’ah one prayed while uncertain, which was presumed to have possibly been extra.  But if performing it would have been obligatory in any case, as when one is uncertain during the third rak’ah of a four-rak’ah swalah, as to whether it is the third or fourth rak’ah, since both of which would be obligatory for the swalah in any case; but one remembers during it that it is the third, then one does not sujud for forgetfulness, though if one did not remember which it was until rising for the fourth rak’ah which one presumed might be the fifth, one performs sajdah as-sahw.  The same principle applies to swalah of less than four raka’at.

The sajdah as-sahw, even if there are numerous reasons for it in one swalah, consists of only two sajdah, prostrations.

If one comes late to a jama’ah and the imam performs a sajdah as-sahw at the end of the group’s swalah, one performs it with the group, and once again at the end of one’s own swalah.  A follower does not sujud for forgetfulness when he makes an individual mistake that the imam did not make while following unless he omits an integral sunnah.  He does sujud if his mistake occurred before joining the jama’ah or after the imam finished with salam.  If the imam makes a mistake, even if it was before one joined the jama’ah, then one must sujud for it with the group out of deference to the imam’s leadership.  If one declines to perform it, it invalidates one’s swalah.  If the imam neglects to perform a sajdah as-sahw, the follower does so anyway.  If one comes late to jama’ah, absentmindedly finishes with salam with the imam, and then remembers that the rest of the prayer that one has to complete, one performs the remainder and performs sajdah as-sahw.

The sajdah as-sahw is a sunnah.  It is performed before one’s final salam, whether the reason is a surplus action or an omitted one.  One is no longer entitled to perform it if one deliberately finishes with salam before it, or absentmindedly finishes with salam and there is a lengthy interval before one recalls that one was supposed to have performed it; though if this interval is brief and one wishes, then one may sujud, and one has thereby returned to the prayer and must again finish it with salam.

To Dance or Not to Dance

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted from Signs on the Horizons by Shaykh Michael Sugich.

“We were invited into the bourgeois home of a wealthy Saudi industrialist who was a dogmatic Salafi that constantly condemned Sufism but who loved my teacher, Sayyid ‘Umar ‘Abdullah.  The industrialist was denouncing the practice of the sacred dance, hadhrah, as a forbidden innovation, bid’ah adh-dhalalah, in Islam.  When the industrialist left the salon where we were sitting, Sayyid ‘Umar jumped up mischievously and said to us sotto voce, ‘Now, if I stand here before you and declare God’s Name, ‘Allah!’; is this Forbidden?’  We looked at him, shrugged and shook our heads.

He then moved casually from one foot to another and said, ‘If I do this and say, ‘Allah!’ am I doing something Forbidden?’  Of course not.

He then moved from one foot to another with more rhythm and said, ‘If I do this and say ‘Allah!  Allah!’ is this Forbidden?’  We shook our heads.  Then he started to swirl around the floor with an imaginary partner and said, ‘But if I do this,’ and he began singing, ‘Everybody loves Saturday Night!  Everybody loves Saturday Night!’  Well, that is Forbidden.  What he was telling us is that what differentiates what is forbidden from what is permissible is the purpose and this is the classical Sufi approach to remembrance in all its various forms.  When the industrialist returned Sayyid ‘Umar sat down with an impish smile and continued to charm his unwitting host.  And Sayyid ‘Umar never practiced the hadhrah, except once.

During the post-colonial period in the 1960s when African states achieved their independence, Muslims across the continent were being marginalised because they had fallen behind Christians, Marxists and nationalists by rejecting secular education in favour of the traditional Islamic schools, kuttab madaris, which focused on memorising the Qur’an and religious teaching.  Delegations had been sent around Africa to try to convince Muslim parents to allow their children to have a more rounded secular education with little success.

One of the Muslim communities most resistant to change was in what was then the Belgian Congo.  As one of Africa’s pre-eminent educators, Sayyid ‘Umar was sent on a tour to make yet another plea for secular education.  In the Congo, his presentation was to take place in the grand mosque after the Friday prayers.  Sayyid ‘Umar was the honoured guest of the day.  When the prayers were completed, he expected to stand up and make his speech.  Instead, the whole congregation stood up and started a huge African-style hadhrah, which was absolutely wild.  Although Sayyid ‘Umar was a scholar and his Sufi practice did not include performance of the hadhrah, he joined the dance.  He became so involved in the invocation that he was pushed into the center of the huge circle.  He threw himself into this unfamiliar ritual heart and soul and led the community in the sacred dance.  Then he was called on to give his talk.  Up to that point none of the educators who had advocated secular education had any credibility, but now, as a leader of their hadhrah, Sayyid ‘Umar was one of them.  The whole community agreed to enter their children into the secular school system.”

Monday, 22 September 2014

Making Our Work Beautiful

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from Shaykh ibn ‘Atha’illah as-Sakandari’s (q.s.) Kitab at-Tanwir fi Isqath at-Tadbir.

We may ask what “beautify the way you request” actually means in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) advice, “Stay warily conscious of Allah and beautify the way you beseech and request.”  In reality, beautifying the way we ask has many dimensions.  Shaykh ibn ‘Atha’illah (q.s.) described for us here what Allah (s.w.t.) had Disclosed to him of these dimensions through Divine Generosity.

We should know, and may Allah (s.w.t.) be Merciful to us, that people who search for sustenance are of two basic types.  Firstly, there are people who search for means of livelihood with obsessive preoccupation, to the point that their attention is diverted from Allah.  Aspiration and attention, if focused obsessively on any one thing, divert a person from everything else.  Shaykh Abu Madyan (q.s.) once described this effect, “The heart can face in only one direction — the direction it faces seals the heart off from any other focus of attention.”  Indeed, this saying comments succinctly on a moment of Divine Speech:

Allah has not made for any man two hearts in his (one) body ... (Surah al-Ahzab:4)

By these Revealed words, we understand that Allah (s.w.t.) does not give a person’s heart the ability to face in two directions at any one moment.  This is because human beings are too weak to face two ways at once.

If a person tries to focus attention in two directions simultaneously, surely one of these will be warped and spoiled.  This ability to be directed in many ways at once and focus full attention in various directions in a single moment without any disturbance or interference is a Characteristic of Divinity Alone.  For this reason, Allah (s.w.t.) has revealed that, Allah (s.w.t.) is Divine in the Heavens and Divine on the Earth; meaning that Allah (s.w.t.) Turns Attention to the denizens of Heaven and to the denizens of Earth at the same time.  Turning to Face the Heavens and its inhabitants does not distract Allah (s.w.t.) from Turning to Face the Earth and its inhabitants.  Neither does Caring for the Earth distract Allah (s.w.t.) from Caring for the heavens.  Nothing distracts Allah’s (s.w.t.) simultaneous Attention from any other direction or dimension of being. For that reason, Allah (s.w.t.) repeats in this moment of Revelation the word, ‘Divinity’ in relation to many dimensions or directions at once.  If the word ‘Divinity’ had not been repeated in this way, we would not benefit from this insight and would not comprehend what it makes obligatory upon us.  This repetition makes clear to us that people who seek livelihood and sustenance in an obsessive way that alienates them from Allah (s.w.t.) are not beautifying the way they seek.

Another dimension to beautifying our way of seeking is to ask Allah (s.w.t.) for sustenance without specifying the amount, the time, or the means by which it might come.  Is it not better to leave it to Allah (s.w.t.) to Give sustenance in whatever way, at whatever time and by whatever means that Allah (s.w.t.) Wills?  This is the way to request politely with proper comportment, adab.  Those who request sustenance and specify the amount, the means, or the time by which it should arrive have set themselves up as lords over the Lord.  Clearly negligence and forgetfulness have clouded their hearts.  One Sufi has said, “Once I yearned to leave aside making a living by intermediate means.  I beseeched to be Given instead two pancakes each day that would suffice me and give me respite from the daily weariness of working.  Then one day, I was thrown into prison.  In the dungeon, I was given only two pancakes each day to keep me alive.  This wretched condition persisted for a long time, until my spirit was broken.  One day, I was considering my sorry state when I heard a Voice Tell me, ‘You asked Me specifically for two pancakes each day but you did not ask Me to Give you well-being.  I have Given you what you begged for, so why complain now?’  So I beseeched Allah (s.w.t.) for Forgiveness and turned to Allah (s.w.t.) for Help.  Suddenly, I found the door to my prison cell broken.  I was able to slip out and be free.”

O believers, take this lesson to heart!  Do not give in to dissatisfaction by asking to be Removed from one condition and Placed into a different one when you are in a condition that accords with the state of your heart and mind.  That is rude and impudent towards Allah (s.w.t.)!  Instead, be patient so that you avoid receiving just what you have asked by your own designs and efforts while being frustrated from enjoying it in peace, comfort and tranquility.  How many people have left one kind of work to engage in another kind only to find weariness and difficulty as a result of choosing for themselves.  In another book, Shaykh ibn ‘Atha’illah (q.s.) wrote a truism that encapsulates this teaching: “Asking for isolation when Allah has Set you up working with others is a manifestation of hidden selfishness, while asking to work for a living when Allah has Set you in isolation is a decline in your lofty aspiration.”

The People of the Sharing Group & Its Role

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following are two threads where The Sharing Group members introduce themselves and explain their role in being something greater than themselves.  This is an explanation of what we are: The Sharing Circle: The Swuhbah; and these are the norms how we run our physical sessions: How to Begin & Run a Sharing Session.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: as-Salaamu ’Alaykum.  As a start, my name is Terence Nunis. I used to be a Catholic prior to my conversion.  The blog, A Muslim Convert Once More, belongs to me.  I converted in 1999, at St. Alphonsus at 0300h.  I was alone. I officially converted to Islam in 2001.  I studied primarily under Shaykh Zakaria Bagharib (q.s.) for eight years until he passed away.  I was in the second batch for the Diploma in Islamic Studies at IIUM.  I was a Council member and briefly an Executive Committee member of Darul Arqam Singapore.  I was there for 14 years. I specialised in convert development, comparative religion and da’wah.

The Sharing Group began with six people as a means of convert follow-up and development about two years ago.

Brother Justin Taylor: My name is Justin Taylor.  I have investigated every way to the Almighty I could find.  I was born into a Roman Catholic family and baptised as such.  As a child, I was given the choice to investigate whichever religion I might like.  I spent many years as a teen and in my early twenties living isolated in a tin hut out in the bush.

During this time, I really made headway into spiritual things.  I feel I was lucky to be able to develop how I thought without adverse influence of anyone else.  In fact, it was against the general beliefs of most of my associates.  I first came across Islam as an undergraduate investigating the literature of religion as part of my second degree in English literature, and we looked at Sufi logic.  I have investigated the Bible and Qur’an, but to be honest, I have spent much more time investigating Buddhism; in particular, the Mahayana Buddhism typified by Zen or Chan.  In this investigation, I spent an extensive time meditating, several years perhaps.  I met Brother Ahmet from this group, and he introduced me to it.

Sister Nur Nadiah Zailani: My name is Nadiah, a born Muslim and hoping to learn more about Islam and its relationship with life in the Sharing Group.  Unlike Brother Terence, I do not have certifications with regards to Islamic studies, or any certified studies of Islamic background, nor am I teaching it.

Sister Jennifer Giove: My name is Jennifer and I am an American Indian living in the flight line between DC and Camp David.  Yes, I see the President's chopper quite frequently.  I am a mother, wife and an active PTA member.  I took my shahadah privately in 1989ish before I even knew what a Muslim was.  I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness but my father was a Buddhist and reached the rank of Master before his death.

I have never felt the need to take the shahadah publicly since I feel that Allah is the Only One Who truly Defines that term.  I have been studying the Islamic doctrine for the past 4 years and while I have yet to read the Qur’an in its entirety, I love the ahadits and have read more than my fair share.  I tend to remember what I read so long as I can place it within context.  I use humor a lot and I am adept at sarcasm, which makes me seem shallow but you will find that I am not.  Only my online family here is aware of my shahadah and because of my delicate situation with my family; they is unaware that I even pray at all, even though it is only fajr,

Brother Justin Taylor: I am very grateful to meet all the people here and to learn and discuss things I simply cannot discuss with the majority of people I meet.  I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone in The Sharing Group, for teaching me so much.

Brother Taymullah Heng: My name is Taymullah Heng.  I was born to an Anglican Christian household and I found Islam during a Divine Intervention 4 years ago.  Now, I am still learning more about The Creator and also seeking a path of Oneness with Him.

Brother Hasan: as-Salaamu’Alaykum wa Rahmatullah.  It seems already we have some things in common.  My name is Hasan, and I was born and baptised into the Catholic faith as well.  Based on some life experiences and challenges I faced early in my life, I developed a belief and understanding of a Higher Power.

It was not until I was around 13 or 14 that I began to want to understand at a level deeper than the surface, and began to ask questions to expand my knowledge.  This included knowledge of the Catholic and Christian perception of God, and ultimately it grew, as my curiosity did, to encompass what other religions and many different people grew to understand of Allah.

About 6 years later, I took my shahadah after must research, much seeking, asking questions, and finally following this up by taking an intensive course at the university in Islam; al-Hamdulillah, this class was confirming much of what I had learned through the internet, and clarifying or teaching me new things as well.

A few months later, I took my official shahadah at the age of 18 in the presence of someone who has been my teacher, shaykh, and guide.  I recently celebrated my 3rd birthday on the 13th April of this year.  Please feel welcome to add or reach out to me anytime, insha’Allah.

Brother James Harris: as-Salaamu ’Alaykum.  My name is James Harris.  I am senior lecturer in Arabic at the University of Salford in the UK.  I am originally from Australia, but now live in Manchester, UK.  I was born into a Protestant Christian family and embraced Islam about 17 years ago.  I am a researcher in Arabic language and the culture of the Arab world, and have published numerous publications on the Arabic language and the culture and history of mainly the Arabian Peninsula.  I have previously published research on the language and culture of Aceh, in Indonesia.  I am currently a co-editor of the Journal of Semitic Studies, published by Oxford University Press, and I am a Council Member of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies.  I have studied Islam with various teachers formally and informally in Australia, Indonesia, the Middle East and the UK.  I am honoured to be a part of the administration team for The Sharing Group.  My personal web page is at the following link: Dr James Harris | School of Humanities, Languages & Social Sciences | University of Salford.

Brother Jak Kilby: I was thrown out of the local church’s Sunday School in my native south-east London at about the age of nine, and told to never return.  Once I recovered from the trauma, I got on with my life as it developed following my personal beliefs loosely around the central acceptance of God as Creator, and with a grounding in the biblical stories, but also an interest in other religions in my spiritual search, as I was sort of left in a void.

Everything I did in my life tended to be by the hard route, which meant many diverse learning experiences and interesting life.  That difficult route lead me to hardship many times and I had turn to God in supplication, seeking answers.  This continued up to a point where I was confronted over both race and Islam via an African-American group who provided answers which included, “the white man is the devil”, gave me a baptism of fire since many things they presented did provide answers.  It was like being dragged backwards through thorn bushes for several years.  The experience led me to seriously researching Islam to verify or disprove their version of things.

After almost eight years of this, I finally concluded that what was presented to me as ‘the truth’ was distorted and not Islam, and that Islam as I had come to understand it was indeed a wonderful way of God, the perfect guide to this life and that to come, as well as the answer to my years of supplications.  I made my shahadah in London’s Central Mosque immediately after the juma’ah prayer on the first day of Ramadhan in May that year, 1986.

I found myself allied to many like souls as well as at odds with some of the Muslim community.  I spent time with several teachers, mainly, but not exclusively, shuyukh of various thuruq although I follow none of them as ‘my’ shaykh and neither do I follow a particular thariqa’.  My respect for them is as that for teachers of the knowledge of Allah and good manners.  I tend to say I vote with my feet concerning who and what I follow.

I have had very little formal education either in the general sense or in Islam.  I did attend an Islamic Studies intensive course in Sudan and received a Diploma in Islamic Studies from Marqaz Islamiyah Afriquiya in Khartoum.

I have worked as a freelance photographer since 1967 and also within that time included work as a writer and designer.  That continues in different forms to the present although I relocated to Malaysia four years ago, built a wooden house and have been planting fruit trees and other things.  Much of the work in the course of my life was with jazz and jazz musicians and to some extent, I recognise the influence of this on my path since at heart I will improvise.  My Muslim name is Muhsin and since conversion, I was known by this name in the Muslim community in the UK.  My old ‘work’ name of Jak was a left over from my school nickname since it is my initials.  For some reason better known to myself, when I came to Malaysia, I opened my Facebook account as ‘Jak’, resulting in Muslims now calling me by that name.  Allah Knows what is in our hearts.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Him throwing you out of the church was probably the best thing that happened to you then, Brother Jak Kilby.

Brother Thomaz Almeida: Salaam from Brazil! I spend some years studying the Diyn and my heart really accept the Path three years ago in Morocco. I do not have formal religious studies, only some e-classes and a lot of time in books. I work for local government and I'm doing master degree in human and social sciences.

Brother Jak Kilby: Yes, Brother Terence, I believe it was the best that could happen.  After I found Islam and entered it, reflecting on that I just said, “al-Hamdulillah,” concerning it.  At the same time, I reflect that when we find problems with some of the Muslim community, the Christian Church, which has far better PR, can also be pretty awful.  I was traumatised by this as a child, not least that the priest, or to be exact, curate, screamed aggressively, “I'll spifflicate you, boy, if ever you darken these doors.  Now get out, and never return!”  I had never heard that word, spifflicate, before, or used since, and it sounded terrifying to a nine year old.  Incidentally, it was because I asked a question he did not like.

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: My name is Hamayoon Sultan.  My ancestral tribe and surname is Qurayshi but my father left it out of my birth certificate; I use it on FB.  I grew up in a traditional Pakistani immigrant household in the UK.  I was doing hifzh al-Qur’an as an 11 years old when I asked my teacher whether his pronunciation should have been otherwise; he had made a mistake!  Rather than accepting it or explaining to me why not, he slapped me, spifflicated me.  I finished the lesson but told my mother straight after that I would not continue.

I was then non-practicing for a good 12 or 13 years.  But like with Sidi Muhsin, this incident led me to question many of the perceived wisdoms within the community and probably made me better.  I have though never been able to jump that final yard and take a shaykh; probably the memory of that childhood incident.

I am married with two young children.

Brother Jak Kilby: Brother Hamayoon, we had better be careful repeating that word too much - spifflicate!

Brother David Rosser Owen: as-Salaamu ‘Alaykum one and all.  I have been asked to introduce myself.  I am David Rosser-Owen. I have been called Daud, with various Romanised spellings, among Muslims - the one I favour is Daoud.

I grew up a practising member of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, with the usual requirements to learn long bits of the Bible.  At school, I was intending to study medicine, but made the choice of doing A Levels in science subjects - logically enough, except I was not much good at mathematics; and so inevitably, I failed to get good enough grades.  So I joined the Army.

Upon commissioning, I was posted to the Far East as the Confrontation War was just getting going.  Not long after I arrived in Singapore, I was sent on a Malay Language Course at Nee Soon Camp.  This was really my introduction to Islam and Muslims, as we had not really learned anything meaningful about them in school, even in history.

At the end of the course, we were tasked with expanding our vocabulary by our own devices.  I used to go and talk to British and Malayan Army Malay soldiers.  Inevitably, we got talking about Islam and religion generally.  As what they were saying seemed sensible, I brought up the problems I had had with Christianity.  The soldiers gave their own answers, but produced after a while, a ‘guru agama’ from the nearby Royal Malay Regiment contingent.  This was the beginning of some serious dialogue.

After a while, several months, I came to the conclusion that my queries had been answered and that I believed the answers; and that I had somehow crossed from one to the other, from being a Christian to being a Muslim.  I converted with the qadhi of Labuan when on the island and on my way back to Singapore.

I studied under the guidance of that RMR guru for a while - for the rest of my posting in the Far East, actually.  I spent my embarkation leave in Kuala Lumpur with him studying.  So most of my basic early study was in Malay, in the Shafi’i madzhab and Naqshbandi thariqa’.  My shaykh was living in Ulu Selangor.

I eventually left the Army when the UK PM, Harold Wilson, was cutting back on the size of the Armed Forces and I considered my best option was to leave and go to university.  I had to take ‘A’ Levels again, so I went to a Technical College in Cheltenham which is where I met my wife.  I then went to London University's School of Oriental and African Studies to read Arabic and Malay, and later to the University of Kent to do postgraduate studies in South-East Asian History and Politics, eventually doing doctoral research on the American Colonial Government of the Southern Philippines.

During this time, I also studied uswul ad-diyn, uswul al-fiqh, tajwid, and so forth with various scholars such as Imam Ramadhan al-Buthi (q.s.), Shaykh Ja’far Idris (q.s.), Sayyid ‘Umar ‘Abdullah (q.s.), and Dr. Muhammad Zaki al-Badawi (r.a.); who were in London, Europe, and Istanbul.  I learned from all, but I would not necessarily agree with some of them now, although I have remained on friendly terms with them.

Eventually, in 1974, when Shaykh Nazhim (q.s.) first came to London, I took bay’ah with him on the advice of my Ulu Selangor shaykh, and have studied those disciplines with him and Shaykh Swalih (q.s.), a Yemeni Shadzili shaykh from Cardiff, and taswawwuf, of course.

While a student, I was a member of the Federation of Students' Islamic Societies in the UK and Eire (FOSIS) and twice its President.  I have also been active in the Association of British Muslims since 1975, and am currently its ‘Amir - we are currently in the process of restructuring to have a more suitable format for activities in today’s UK.

Brother Mustafa Altunkaya: as-Salaamu ‘Alaykum All.  In all the years, I lived in three places.  I was first born in Turkey, then I moved to the US, finally coming back to the birthplace of Islam, the Hijaz.  I was raised as Sunni Muslim, a Hanafi.  During these years of my life, I met different kinds of people from different countries, different religions, different colours.  It was mostly in USA, though, that I really interacted with all kinds of people.  And I realised I should study my religion more and appreciate what I have. I had and still have, thanks to Allah.

I did not study religion much until I was 17 or 18 years old.  I have been studying the Qur’an and great mufassirun since then.  I do not have degree in religion.  I am a scientist.  Islam is a logical and meaningful religion.  And may Allah Help all of us and guide us to the right path.

We have different ‘flavors’ in this group.  I enjoyed learning many things here.  Different backgrounds.  “Islam is our culture” should be the best phrase to describe us.  I hope we become a colourful community firmly rooted in the Qur’an and sunnah.

Sister Khadija Leona Burdett: My name is Khadija Leona Burdett. I grew up in a family that had roots in the Anglican Church of England, but my parents did not go to church.  My Dad was a veterinarian and I was a happy child helping out in the clinic.  I know that Dad did believe in God, but he never accepted any faith in particular so I was most like him.  But I always remember talking to Him, not that I heard things back.  But I felt He was there Hearing me.  At 16, I became Catholic probably only because my soon to be first husband was Catholic.  I could never accept the Trinity as it made no sense to kill one’s own son for people who sin to be Forgiven.  I guess those who do believe must really need to feel special.  I looked around at many faiths.  I liked the goodness I saw in every one.  But there was always something that did not add up.  I took comparative religion after I left my first husband in Mexico and returned to enter university for my own education.  I had helped my husband become a lawyer by taking the classes.  Crazy things one does for the partner, I know!  But I knew I did not want to be one myself.  So after many years of trying to make the marriage work, I had to leave due to spousal abuse.

My priest told me to leave too.  They were very progressive in Mexico, in the church at that time.  So, back in Oregon and in school, I was very happily taking an Education major and other classes.  I was on a board of the OSU /WOSC education programs as the student member and met many Oregon State Students.  Amongst them was my dear friend, Brother Larbi, from Morocco.  Although I had learned about Islam in class and it interested me greatly, it was his telling me more in depth about being Muslim that started me on my way to actually accepting and saying my shahadah.  When Larbi received his Doctorate and returned to Morocco he left a prayer for me and he said that one day I would accept that I was Muslim.  It took me a number of years and the right time, but Allah Made me feel that it was what I most needed!  I contacted the masjid that I thought would be the best place to learn more and met wonderful sisters and brothers.  But I decided that I wanted another husband.  It is very easy to find nice brothers online.  But I wanted to find someone who would be my soul mate, not so easy!  I accepted a nice man from Bangladesh at first.  But my sister told me it may not work out.  She knew her culture well!  Poor guy, his family took him on a visit to the village they came from and married him then and there.  He went back without the wife and did not tell me for a few months until I had to ask what was wrong.  Then it came out.  But I told him to be responsible and to go for his poor wife.  What life would she have as a married and left woman in a small town?  I had been helping another brother in Pakistan with the flood victims.  I told him of what happened and he reminded me of three years before when we first met online.  He had said he was going to marry me.  I remembered and said yes, and yes, it was destined.  My kids thought I had lost my mind.  But I made arrangements to meet him and the family in Pakistan.

On the plane I had people worried for me too.  One even said he would be my wali and make sure I was alright.  He went through customs with me and helped very much.  Then I saw Waheed and the family waiting and I knew it was alright.  But Hajji Amir still went to talk to them first.  He came back to take me over to meet them and I felt at home finally.  It was a crazy day.  I slept a few hours after we got back here and then we went to the masjid and the civil marriage courts.  I said shahadah here because I had no papers from the US masjid to prove anything.  So, now I was accepted as a revert muslimah and married.  It was the best day in my life.  Now, we have celebrated 3 wonderful years together and I am very happy with my husband.  And I thank Allah for Sending me to him in every swalah!

My life is very different.  I do not go out alone.  I miss having lots of friends.  But even with problems here, I love my life with Waheed!  The weather in Faisalabad is so hot and electricity is on an hour and off one or two most of the time.  But nothing could make me want to live without him now.  I love this group that has so many decent people who know how to discuss things well.  I was very tired of the usual Christian vs. Islam argumentative group who are not interested in discussion and learning!  I am happy to have entered into this good place with all of you.  I like respectful and peaceful offerings of information.  Thank you all!

Brother Colin Turner: Salaam to everyone, Colin Turner here.  Becoming Muslim is truly a becoming, a work in progress, but officially the journey started for me as a teenager, which is more years ago than possibly anyone here would care to think!  The journey to Islam came from a position of a ‘questioning unbeliever’, passing through the stages of ‘reluctant believer’ and ‘enthusiastic believer’ until the doors of Islam and iman were reached.  Important teachers at the outset of the journey were C. S. Lewis and Mawlana Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi (q.s.), at least as far as conceptualisation of God, existence and meaning of Creation were concerned.  Residence in Iran meant that there was access to a wide range of juristic and theological resources with which one could engage in order to build up an intellectual and practical framework in which to situate one’s belief, and I became particularly interested in the ‘mystical’ approach to existence as exemplified by the Persianate Sufi poets and scholars such as Shaykh Jami’ (q.s.), Imam ash-Shabistari (q.s.) and, of course, Mawlana ar-Rumi (q.s.).

From the point of view of jurisprudence and orthopraxy, Hanafism was the initial rite of choice, but it soon became obvious that, just as the Prophet (s.a.w.) carried out the same act in different ways, it was possible to ‘mix and match’ jurisprudential rulings according to context and need.  Theologically, I was attracted to a number of different credal positions – a situation that still obtains today.  The philosophy of the ‘Isfahan school’, and of Mulla Swadra (q.s.) in particular, was also very attractive and continues to be so.

At present, I am Reader in Islamic Thought at the University of Durham, where I teach the history of Muslim political philosophy.  My doctoral training was as a historian, although my research interests today do not really reflect that.  In recent years, history has taken something of a back seat as research priority has been given to the life and teachings of Ustadz Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (q.s.), to my mind the most significant mystic-theologian since Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.).  Anthropology of religion is another research interest, and I am hoping to be able to carry out a cultural anthropological study of immortality motifs in the Qur’an and Muslim tradition, insha’Allah.

Not sure what other information to include here.  A wife and three children were Given to me by Allah, for which gratitude can never be enough.  The children are all grown now and are following their own journeys, insha’Allah.  They are fine examples of humanity, al-Hamdulillah, and were they not my children, I would be proud to call them my friends.  My wife, like many wives, multitasks in many different jobs and roles, one of which is Muslim Chaplain at Durham University.  We came to Durham as undergraduates over thirty years ago and are still here.  Not sure whether this says a lot about Durham or about us, but we are content to live and die here, unless Allah has other plans. And it is an honour to be able to post here.  Salaam to you all.

Brother David Rosser Owen: Brother Colin, what happened to Brother Omar Austin?

Brother Colin Turner: Ralph Austin can still be seen around Durham from time to time, although he has long since retired.

Sister Nazeera Faz: Salaam to everyone.  I am Nazeera.  I belong to the southern part of India, Kerala.  I am a born Muslim but was not a practicing Muslim for many years.  Then slowly, I started taking religion seriously after reading about Islam.  I never felt convinced the way we are taught religion at home.  But I am thankful that I was never forced into religion.  I belong to a family where members include Salafis, Sufis, Tablighis, agnostics and atheists.

I was following the Salafi version of Islam but I found that the more I try to practice, the more it became rigid.  I was disillusioned when I heard a scholar saying a woman should not step out of the house without a mahram.  Now, I try to follow the Qur’an first, then sunnah.  And regarding ahadits, I am not sure if what I say is wrong but I find some of the ahadits a bit tough so I am sometimes very cautious about it.  I do not accept any scholar or sect blindly.  I try to understand everything and I am still learning.  I would like to call myself just a Muslim.  I am a graduate in science.  I have no proper religious education.  I never attended a madrasah.  I learned little bit Qur’an at home, am married and am now staying in Italy.  I have a daughter doing her masters, a son in second year university and a son in high school.

Brother Roy Nahar: My name is Roy Nahar.  I was born Muslim but felt I never knew this religion I grew up in. In fact, I was one of its worst critics.  I hated every Muslim I knew because no one was ever giving me a direct answer.  I felt Muslims are arrogant in their knowledge.  I almost became a Christianity.  My elder brother is baptised.  I did not get that far when I realised Christianity just got me more confused.  I did some research about Islam through science and here I am.  Nice to meet all of you.

Brother Anak Kuningan: Salam to all.  My name is Jamiel and I am a quiet learner in this Sharing Group.  I have learnt a lot and am still learning from the wonderful sharings from everybody here.  I am still learning to submit to His Will and, insha’Allah, one day, I will be able to understand the concept of submission completely.  And I am from Singapore.

Sister Cindy Strickland Ibraheem Alshammari: Salam.  I am Cindy.  I converted to Islam 5 years ago and I am very thankful for this group.  Everyone is so wonderful and patient with me.  Thank you, Brother Terence.  May Allah Bless you.  I was born into the Pentecostal church.

Sister Zarqa Yusuf: as-Salaamu’Alaykum.  I am Zarqa and I was born a Muslim and lived all my life in UK.  I spent 3 years in Palestine where I saw what Islam really meant.  I saw brotherhood, selflessness, patience, compassion and list just goes on.  In the hands of injustice, I saw many lessons to be learnt.  I was introduced to this group by Brother James Harris and am very thankful as I am learning a lot just reading the multitude of experiences people have had, al-Hamdulillah.  I am currently in Oman with my family.

Brother Jak Kilby: Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam, sister Zarqa.  I am so happy to hear you had those positive experiences in Palestine.  I also spent time there and learnt a lot, many enlightening and positive things from my Palestinian brothers, not least, true brotherhood of Islam and inclusiveness of ‘other’ despite the adversity.

Sister Azza Dina: as-Salaamu’Alaykum, Azza Dina is the name.  Throughout my career I have a horticulturist, community engagement, and events person.  I am a born Muslim.  At the age of 11, I asked my mum the unthinkable: “How do you know there is a God?”

The only answer I received was, “Just believe!”  Of course, that was not sufficient.  That was the start of the search.  I did the rebellious teenage stuff, did the psychology stuff, went through the broken marriage period too.

During the lowest point of my life, I asked Allah for Forgiveness, I asked Allah for a way out, I asked Allah to give me strength.  We had dated for 8 years and yet, the marriage did not last for even 2 years.  I was perplexed, disheartened and even tried ending it all.  I learned that stuffing oneself with pills just gives one a bad tummy ache with triple vision and a raging headache.  There were rumours of spirits being sent to break up the marriage, na’udzubillah min dzalik.  I went to an imam in a reputable mosque and he simply asked me, “Did you do your prayers five time a day?  That is your basic protection.  Come what may, if you pray religiously, that is all you ever need.”  My life literally changed within 24 hours after I really, really, really prayed with buckets of tears.  He Reminded me that He never left.

Sister Amanda Grace: Looks like introduction day again.  My name is Amanda Grace.  It used to be Amanda Grace Briana Tull, then to Dianda Joubert, then Farah Marium Mim, then Amanda Grace.  I use Marium Fatimah now as a religious name.  I was raised a Christian and when I was 5, my parents divorced and I went to go stay with my dad and my sister.  My dad and his wife stopped going to church and so I am still not sure what type of Christian he is.  I know there is a name for it, but does not celebrate any holidays and believes in the Bible as it was first written, and God is Jehovah.

At 15, I moved in with my mom, being fed up with the abuse from my stepmom and the drugs in the house.  I turned rebellious and ended up pregnant with my first born.  Long story short, I moved in with a South African family and going through abuse and manipulation, they changed our names and took us to South Africa.  There, I met my ex-husband and not long after, moved out.  They still have my son.

Not to make this too long, about 2 years ago I was searching for truth, and with having helped a Muslim family in their shop, which was a metal container shop, I asked them questions.  I started reading the Qur’an on my phone and researching Islam and not long after, took my shahadah.  Many here know my full story.  My journey so far has been rough, as I can imagine all of our journeys have been.  I have not written yet on my journey thus far.  Insha’Allah, maybe when I have some time.  This is my blog: A Journey.

Brother David Schacht: My name is David Schacht, born Jewish, am still Jewish and love being Jewish.  I was not raised in a religious family but became religiously ‘observant’ at age 20.  I am not much of a mystic, but I love mystics.  I am an admirer of scholars such as Samson Rafael Hirsch and the Torah Temimah who personify the idea that there is no dichotomy between fulfilling our obligations to our fellow dwellers on this earth and fulfilling our obligations toward the next world. I love this group because it seems to me that it promulgates this vision.

Sister Ishq Ain Sheen Qaaf: as-Salaamu’Alaykum and greetings.  Introductions are so difficult so it probably will be brief.  I saw this thread in the morning and I thought I would leave it until perhaps the 100th post here but I will be brave.  Bismillah.  My name is Farah, born Muslim in the UK, also Hanafi.  I have a shaykh, and took bay’ah just over a decade ago.  Having Naqshbandi family roots, perhaps it should have been earlier but I guess it was not my time then.  I read a few books, listened to some lectures.  In the past, I have worked in schools, done a little charity work and helped in the mosques and madaris.  I am a mother, al-Hamdulillah.  I am trying to study Arabic again after a very long time away from it, and finding the grammar a little difficult, so I have learnt my lesson not to neglect it ever again but to keep trying, insha’Allah.  I like poetry amongst other interests and tried to find one that would serve the purpose of introduction but could not think of an appropriate one.

Brother Omar Grant: Greetings and Peace to all!  I am Omar Ghazali Grant and am nearly 67 years old.  I said my shahadah in 1995 after quite some years studying Qur’an and ahadits.  My biggest problem is that I am a human being with all the weaknesses and silliness that entails.  I was raised as a Christian, an Anglican, but did not identify with much that went on so spent many years of my life studying mysticism, philosophy and almost anything that sparked my interest.  I have a deep and abiding love for genuine Sufism and although I am not one of the friends, I count myself as their friend.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: It is wonderful to see that so many of us, coming from different backgrounds all over the world, coming together because we believe we are part of something greater than ourselves.  I never saw my coming to Islam as a changing of faith.  I saw it as a refinement of belief.

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: I suppose I should add that given my ancestors emigrated from Makkah to what is now Pakistan, I find the obsession of our elders with Pakistani and Indian culture to be missing the point - we were immigrants to that land and now to the UK.  Our job now is to try and faithfully live the principles of Islam within our new contexts, and accept that some change will happen.

Brother Abdur Rahman: Salaam and blessings to one and all.  My given name is Richard Cawley.  I use both names interchangeably.  Richard is the name of my spirit.  Abdur Rahman is the name of my highest aspirations.  May I become the true embodiment of the name.  May all who read these words be Blessed with Goodness.

I was born in Hackney, East London in 1973 to a white, working class East End family.  My paternal ancestors came from Ireland at some point.  My maternal family are from North London, Tottenham to be exact and very close to the Spurs football ground.  My maternal great-grandfather came to England from Germany shortly after the First World War; not an easy move I imagine.  Other than that, my family are all working class English men and women.  I was the first person in my family to go to university, al-Hamdulillah in every condition and state.

My parents were nominally baptised Christians, though neither my sister, two years younger than I, Michelle, nor I were baptised.  My mother, who has had the largest impact on me in matters religious felt it would be hypocritical to raise us in a faith to which she felt no real personal attachment.  My mother has long been interested in spirituality, and has been an active, private amateur astrologer for almost 30 years.  She has also been a student of the Tarot for about as long.  These things have been deeply influential on my own inner life.  We were raised to find our own answers to life’s Great Question: why are we here?  Looking back now, I can see that my mother was, and still is, my first spiritual teacher, and I give thanks to God for her.

Music has been one of the great loves of my life.  My parents tell me that I used to dance to music before I could walk.  That love of music has been with me all my life since, even though when I first became Muslim, I left music for a few years, by which I did great inner violence to myself.  Back in the day, I was a DJ, spinning records at parties, and a couple of small clubs; nothing major but just for the fun.  I went to Lancaster University and was my college DJ for 3 years, which was a lot of fun.  al-Hamdulillah, music continues to be a large part of my life nowadays.  The use of music in acts of worship, sama’, was a large part of the attraction of the Mawlawi thariqa’.

Growing up in Hackney, whilst is an incredibly diverse part of London, I knew Muslims from a very early age.  I went to school with many, and some of these I still know today.  As a teenager, I listened to a lot of hip hop music, and in the later 80s to early 90s, ‘Islamic’ terms and ideas began cropping up in rap music.  Many of these references came from followers of the Nation of Islam and the Five Percenters, and although I later moved away from their ideas and their focus on ‘blue-eyed devils’ since I actually have blue eyes, my heart used to leap whenever I heard them say, ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum’.

Although I have always known that if I ever chose a religion it would be Islam for reasons which are not entirely clear to me.  I think I just have a ‘Muslim soul’.  The first book to really stir my heart was Khalil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’.  For those unfamiliar with him, Gibran was a deeply mystical Lebanese Christian poet and artist of the early 20th century.  I bought it at 18 and devoured it.  I left school at 16 and found a job in a government office, where I worked with many interesting people.  One good friend there, a Christian, told me that the Bible praises someone who ‘searches for the Lord in their youth’ but I have never been able to find that quote.  Another friend was practised meditation and numerology.  I also knew a very kind, funny, sometimes grumpy but always human Pakistani Muslim, Muhammad Aslam.  We would talk about spirituality and religion in a gentle manner.  We had a circle of friends who would go out for curries together - we called it the curry club - and we would talk about all sorts of things.  He never preached but tried his human best to live his faith.  I found that deeply influential.

I started learning about Islam in the early 90s and also lived as a young man, doing all the things that most young men do.  I went to Lancaster University in 1995, after taking an access course.  I took a course on Islam in 1998, which necessitated opening the Qur’an.  It was great, but I found the Qur’an by itself could at time be quite scary.  I went to Lampeter to build on my studies.  I had been thinking and thinking about Islam for a long time, and moving in, the room next to mine was empty.  Another Londoner moved in.  I knocked on his door and introduced myself to him and asked him if he'd like to go for a drink, a traditional way of getting to know someone socially in the UK.  He said, “Sorry I can’t.  I’m a Muslim.”  It was like a thunderbolt.  We talked for the next couple of months and one day I was sitting alone in my room when Allah Cast iman into my heart.  I ran out of the room, knowing that I had to find another Muslim to tell before the moment passed.  It took me a long time, but eventually I found one and blurted it all out.

That was in November 1998.  Since then, I moved through a number of different groups.  It was only when the dry, legalistic Islam I had been encountering began to seem threadbare that I encountered Sufism.  Reading Mawlana ar-Rumi’s (q.s.) Matsnawi was like a reminder: “That was what I was looking for!”  I met my beloved teachers, Shaykh Kabir Helminski and his wife, Shaykha Camille Helminski in 2007 and took official bay’ah with them 3 years later.  I realise that the Mawlawi Sufi path is where I belong within the House of Islam, which is not to say it is better than any other - it is just my place.  May peace be with everyone who follows the Guidance of God deep within their own hearts.

I have a deep abiding love for spiritual poetry.  Mawlana ar-Rumi (q.s.) is, of course, my favourite.  I also love Shaykh Hafizh ash-Shirazi (q.s.), Imam ash-Shabistari (q.s.), Shaykh Yunus Emre (q.s.), Shaykh Amir Khusro (q.s.), Shaykh Abu Said ibn Abi al-Khayr (q.s.), and so many more.  I plan to learn Farsi, Turkish and Urdu in the coming years, insha’Allah.

Dreams have long been an important part of my spiritual life.  In 2007 or so I had a very, very important dream in which I met ‘Ali (k.w.), as well as Hasan (r.a.) and Husayn (r.a.).  I am not Shi’ah in the conventional sense, but am deeply drawn to the chivalric tradition of Islam, known as futuwwa.  These days, when asked what I am, I usually say human, Muslim, Mawlawi.  I acknowledge the deep roots of both the Sunni and Shi’i readings of Islam, and I accept both as orthodox, and deeply reject takfiri thinking.  The 12 a’immah are deeply significant, though I also draw from Isma’ili thought, and other strands.  In terms of law, I broadly follow the Hanafi school.

I have worked in a Muslim seminary in Wales for 3 years.  I currently work at Cardiff University - I have been there almost 10 years - where I work with students and also teach.  My academic background is history.  When I became Muslim, I devoured everything on Muslim history that I could.  I have taught courses on Islamic History, on Shi’ah Islam and on Sufism.  I have taught these courses mostly from a historical perspective - that is, on the historical development of Shi’ah Islam and Sufism.  In the case of Sufism, I have taught a literature based module which explores Sufi history through its literature.  I am currently in the process of changing directions and moving to secondary school teaching.

Islam is a state of being, which is why I feel that much contemporary Muslim thought is more about identity politics than anything else.  As such, Islam exists beyond the Muslim community, and praise be to God Who Maketh it so.

I live in South Wales these days.  I have 3 children from my first marriage, who all live with me: Sakinah, 12; Yusaf, 10; and Layla, almost 7.  I have been married to Sister Mrs-Munjlee Cawley for about a year now, al-Hamdulillah, and as many will know, we have been blessed by the arrival of our new child.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: It is amazing how many convert teachers, scholars and asatidzah we have in this group.  Surely Allah (s.w.t.) has Blessed us immensely.

Brother Jak Kilby: Brother Abdur Rahman, where did you grow up in Hackney?  I lived in Cazenove Road from 1990 to 1996, at the bottom of Stamford Hill where it meets Stoke Newington High Street.  The building was owned by Brother Yusuf Islam.  I was in the flat over the top of a disused shop which Brother Yusuf turned over to various groups at different times - the Gulf Peace Team, in the run up to and during the 1991 Gulf War; the F.I.S. (Islamic Salvation Front of Algeria), after they won the elections in their country and were then denied their role, which resulted in civil war; the Bosnian Charity Shop, which ran for some time with Bosnian refugees raising funds for their homeland.

At first, I thought I was blessed to live there with a large mosque just down the road, Masjid E Quba, the North London Mosque, until I got tired of their endless attempts to drag me on their Tablighi Jama’at sessions, as well as their non-acceptance of anyone who was not a Gujarati.  But it is an interesting and colourful area, not least with all the different groups of orthodox Jews living there.

Brother Abdur Rahman: I grew up in Clapton, Brother Jak Kilby, on Overbury Street, near Glyn Road, and Chatsworth Road. I know Cazenove Road well.

Brother Jak Kilby: I was often driving down Chatsworth Road, brother.

Brother Abdur Rahman: Allah!

Brother Nasir Bello: Salaam, I am Nasir Bello from Nigeria, I am an active da’wah worker, a volunteer trainer and research fellow with the Da’awah Institute of Nigeria. I have a special interest in inter- and intrafaith dialogue.  I am looking forward to engaging and learning from very meaningful discussions here.  Thank you

Sister Samra Hussain: Salaam everyone!  I am a born Muslim, so no interesting convert story here.  I was born in Pakistan and raised there until age 13 when I moved with my family to Canada in the Toronto suburbs.  I got married when I was 19 but continued my studies and worked as a teacher in a few Islamic schools until I was 26, when I had my children.  Everything was pretty neat and set in my mind about Islam based on what my parents exposed me to, which was very little.

About 2 and a half years ago, I decided to write a novel for teen girls that would have adventure, mystery and romance, but also have spiritual elements in it.  I felt like most novels were either religious and for one particular type of people or they were secular, so I wanted something in between where young girls of different faiths and even those young girls who were questioning about God and spirituality could enjoy it.  So that decision propelled me way past my rigid boundaries of comfort.  I started learning about other schools of thought within Islam and one question led to another and before I knew it, I started an interfaith blog to test out whether or not we could stay within our religious traditions and yet meet at some common point where we could all love God and serve a moral life.  The journey has been very painful psychologically and emotionally and yet I would not have it any other way.

When my preconceived ideas of Islam were challenged or at least when I saw there was more than one way of looking at our faith, it allowed me to accept others within and outside of my faith.  If I look at myself 3 years ago, I feel like I was a completely different person.  And yet it feels like my journey has just begun.  God is an Infinite Ocean and I hope to one day to drown in it.  Right now, I just stand at the edges and feel the thrill of the Divine waves that come to me and then recede, waiting for me to have the courage to walk in and experience it for myself.  And I also want to say that The Sharing Group is like a second home to me and a safe haven and thank you for setting this up.

Sister Mrs-Munjlee Cawley: as-Salaamu’Alaykum all.  My name is Naseem.  I was born into Islam, in West London, to South Asian parents and grew up in an area of racial and social tension.  When I was 2 months old my parents were amongst the founders of an Islamic society and madrassa that was, unlike those of today, a place for children, and often their parents, to learn about Islam, learn from the books of their own madzahib, learn how to read and pronounce the verses of the Qur’an and learn about how to become exemplary citizens through improving upon their Muslim identity.

I was studying literature and linguistics at university when I incurred an injury which left me physically disabled - a condition I have been tested with for the last 9 years, and because of which I was unable to complete my studies.  However, in that time, I have worn many hats and tried to be as productive a member of society as possible.  I have run a youth organisation called the Hillingdon Assembly of Muslim Youth (HAMY).  I have been a community advocate and interpreter, a self-help course tutor for NHS patients with long-term health conditions, a teacher, nursery nurse, school governor, an advisor to the metropolitan police and cultural awareness programne tutor for the emergency and medical services in West London.  I did all these before becoming a home maker and parent when my husband, Brother Abdur Rahman, took my hand in marriage last year.  al-Hamdulillah.

Yet, I have always felt like a student, and an infant at that.  I do not see these positions and opportunities as achievements, rather they have been my attempts to be a useful member if society, in the hope of contributing something positive in whatever capacity Allah has Allowed me to.

I was born into the Qadri thariqa’, my great uncle being Baba ‘Ubaydullah Durrani (q.s.), may Allah be ever Pleased with him.  However, not having knowledge of any Qadri circles near us, my family encountered the Naqshbandi thariqa’ in the mid-late 90s when we met Shaykh Nazhim al-Haqqani (q.s.).  I have been a student of both thuruq ever since.  I remain open to all avenues to Allah.  I feel like a fledgling Muslim and so feel most at home amongst others who have knowingly and deliberately followed the path of Islam, rather than amongst those who blindly follow their family or Shaykh Google without ever encountering the Reality that is Allah’s Love.  That's why I am glad my husband added me here.  This group is a huge step in the right direction for all of us, I think.  Wa as-Salaam.

Brother Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah: as-Salaamu’Alaykum, my name is Zhaki, born into a Muslim family and taught the basics of the religion as a child, but I would say I did not really start taking Islam seriously until I was in my 20s, which seems to be a common enough phenomenon.  I live in Singapore, and I am Malay, along with everything else that comes with that - Sunni, Shafi’i, Ash’ari.  I joined this group for its openness and non-judgemental nature.

Brother Tarek Walad: Salaam altogether.  My name is Tarek. I am a twenty-something.  I was born into an academic and liberal family.  My father is a Palestinian and my mother German.  I had no religious upbringing and my knowledge was limited to the religious teachings in school.

At 17, I came in contact with my fithrah.  It was one evening, after gazing a long time into the star tent, that I came to the conclusion that there must be a Supreme Being.  I then briefly flirted with Christianity, but the pure monotheism of Islam attracted me more, although I have a great respect for Christianity and its teachings.  Later, I got to know many communities.  I flew to South Africa, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.  I had the opportunity to participate in the durus of great scholars.  Later, I was initiated into the Shadzili Order.  Now I live in East Germany in a town called Leipzig and I study Arabic and German literature.

Apart from religion, I have a great passion for Arts: I have been playing the guitar since childhood, and the oud; I paint and draw and sometimes I write for a magazine here.  Wa as-Salaam.

Brother Marquis Dawkins: as-Salaamu’Alaykum, wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.  What blessed stories to read and people to meet.  I truly love this group and people in it, al-Hamdulillah.

My name is Marquis Dawkins, born and raised in Dallas, Texas to a Christian family.  I was first baptised at age of 6 in the Baptist faith, then as I got older, went to a non-denominational Christian megachurch. Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship with Dr. Tony Evans, whom I still highly respect.

I first encountered Islam in the 5th grade when a little Turkish girl started going to our school.  I discussed with her about the religion as much as 5th graders could, I suppose, and like all curious kids decided I wanted to be a Muslim and told my mom about it.  She said, “Well, you can son, but just know they don’t believe in Jesus.”  Not wanting to give up on that aspect of my faith put my dreams of prayer rugs and kufis to a grinding halt.  Also, the Turkish girl left after 3 weeks.  I think the school did not accommodate her prayer times and diet.  Then, besides meeting a few Muslims when I lived in Austin during high school, one Iranian and one Sudanese, I had no other contact with the religion.  Mostly drifted in and out of various forms of Christianity. 

A few years later, I moved to Japan, then to Hawaii, went to college for a short time, then got a nice high paying job until 9/11 hit.  That brought down my world financially and otherwise.  I was unemployed, but God was Taking Care of me all along and, al-Hamdulillah, got a full time job back a few months later.  Like many other Americans of course, I blamed Islam and Muslims for my misfortune and regarded it as the most evil and satanic religion known to mankind.  But I also stopped going to church regularly.  It was a Japanese Christian Church actually.  I pretty much lived a life of dunya, living for the next video game purchase, club outing or alcoholic drink.

I became a Freemason in 2006, and one of the interviewers asked if I had ever read the Qur’an.  I stared at him in shock and horror, but he recommended it.  He himself was a Muslim at the time.  So on a whim, I went out and picked up the Mawlana Muhammad ‘Ali translation.  I read maybe two pages and that was it.  I put it on the shelf and never looked back.

Fast forward more years, and I met my lovely wife.  We had a beautiful daughter, moved to another island, went through various trials, changed jobs, and so forth.  Eventually, we started going to a Pentecostal church and I actually became the ministry worship leader and their web designer, a lofty title for a Facebook page manager.  I led songs and worship every week; I would even sometimes trash Islam in my discourses: “It ain’t Buddha!  It ain’t Mohummid!  It’s Jeeeeesus!”  Then, subhanallah, the church burned down.  We moved to another church, I was still as worship leader, then yet to another church because our growth as a family where I was worship leader was stagnant.  So eventually, I gave it up.

We went to this new church, and around the same time, I was having trouble at my workplace and marriage.  My hours were being cut, income was down and overall I felt a sense of frustration and distance.  So every night, under the full moon, I would go to the smoke shack at work and pray to God for Guidance.  I did not know what Guidance, just... something.

A good friend of mine, Brother Jose Felix actually, worked overseas and recommended I look into contract work.  There was great pay and benefits, and I am sort of an explorer type of guy, so I figured, why not?  The best paying jobs were in the Middle East, so that was where I started applying.  I started trying to learn Arabic and then thought, “Hey, the Middle East is full of those ‘evil Muz-Lums’; I had better study the culture so I don’t get my head chopped off!”  So, that is what I did.  I picked up that dusty Qur’an that was tucked away in a box for almost 10 years and began reading it, praying to God at every step that a demon did not jump out of it.  Yes, some churches actually teach that.

I found it fascinating.  It was poetic, melodic; it talked about Biblical heroes and saints I knew – Moses (a.s.), Noah (a.s.), David (a.s.), Jesus (a.s.)...  “Wait, Jesus?  Muslims know Jesus?  I had heard they hate Christians.  I heard they do not even believe in Jesus!  Was this the right Qur’an?”

I consulted Shaykh Google and the University of Wikipedia.  I learned that Muslims revere Jesus (a.s.) too, but they do not worship him as the Son of God or God and that they do not believe he was crucified.  “Well” I thought, “Them Moozlums just have wrong beliefs.  That’s why they are demon possessed.  Maybe I can do missionary work and convert them to the truth!”  Not knowing any Muslims here on my island, besides two I trained in Kendo with, I went to the only place you can have a civil conversation with people different from you, Facebook

I started in Christian / Muslim debate groups.  A lot of the Muslims were born into it and Wahhabi by doctrine.  But there were a few Christian converts like Brother Ahmad Jenkins that I met, so I would talk to them about it.  I found it was not the evil head-chopping, toddler-marrying religion I heard it to be.  And I kept reading the Qur’an.  I also started keeping swalah times, and wondered why as Christians, we did not stop throughout the day and thank God for His Blessings.  Interestingly enough, I also got ‘rebaptised’ at the new church I was going to, thinking it would pull me stronger into Christian faith.

A week later, with a friend in the UK online, I took my shahadah.  Through my reading, my research, my debates, my smoke shack prayers, I had found what I was looking for: That there is but One God, not divided, not abridged, Transcendent above all Creation and yet Closer to us than our jugular vein, Who Loves and Created us for His Purpose and worship.  And that, after Sending Jesus (a.s.), He Sent one man, an illiterate but beautiful hearted person, and Gave him His Message to humanity to recite.  The man did not seek self-glorification, wealth, fame or anything else, but wanted all of his brothers and sisters to love and submit to the Creator of the Heavens and Earth.  This man was Muhammad (s.a.w.).  At that moment, I realised that, my life had been changed.  I felt free.  I felt closer to God than I ever had before in the 33 years of my life.

A few weeks later, just before Christmas, I went to the local muswalah.  At that time, I had told no one about my conversion, but my wife noticed I was acting funny.  I was still convinced somehow that I could be wrong and that God was going Cast me into Hellfire covered with a sea salt for not worshipping Jesus (a.s.) as Him, so I prayed before I went that if God did not want me to go to the muswalah, to Prevent me.  I reached the muswalah before the imam got there since it is an hour’s drive away.  The door was bolted, so I took that as my sign not to go on.  As I walked away, a young man, now my brother in Islam, opened it and heard my story in a shorter form.  He showed me how to take wudhu’ and I attended my first khuthbah, which was about seeking Refuge in Allah from Grief.  I have a copy of it.  That first time I stood shoulder to shoulder and prayed with these other men.  It was just as the Qur’an Says:

And when they listen to the Revelation received by the Messenger, thou wilt see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognise the truth: they pray: “Our Lord!  We believe; Write us down among the witnesses. (Surah al-Ma’idah:83)

So that is my story.  That was the 27th December, 2013.  al-Hamdulillah, it has been a beautiful journey thus far, and I praise Allah (s.w.t.) for every step of it and continually ask for His Guidance.  As some of you know, I still have some very ‘Christian’ beliefs, but not ones that would take me out of Islam except perhaps to the strictest of Wahhabis or certain schools of ‘aqidah.  I stand by, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet.”  That, as I tell people, is my start and finish line.

The following was the follow up post held a year later for newer members, on the 01st December 2014.  We strive to make The Sharing Group the best place it can be to facilitate dialogue and learning.  But for dialogue to work, it helps if we understand where the other is coming from and seem them as partners, and not another faceless person we have to debate with and win.  In that light, we ask our members to say a bit about themselves and what they see as their role of the forum.

Brother Abdullah Shalchi: I like that it is a ‘closed’ group, so it is only really us and the NSA who read it.  This helps talk more openly.

Of course this should be a place where we share, educate and analyse each other's thoughts, but I think this should also be a place where we focus on helping people who are new to ideas and conceptions of Islam.  I was born into a Muslim family and there are many people who have converted for long enough to be confident enough to stand up to evangelical, rigid Muslim morons.  If a Muslim tells me Muslims should not do this or that, I have no problem telling them to mind their own business if they are just trying to feign piety.  I smoke, and I sometimes get that old look down the nose from guys with big beards.  But I am confident enough that there is only One I have to please, and God-willing I will quit in time.  I no longer feel small when people get on their high horse about my imperfections.

I think it is harder to maintain confidence and faith when you are new to a belief or ideology.  We judge communism by communists, we judge Islam by Muslims and that is wrong, we need to realise this.  We have to let it be known to this group that Islam can be one thing to one person and another thing to another.  It is a brotherhood or sisterhood but no one has a monopoly on the truth.  There are different sects and paths and we are all on an individual journey and we are the ones ultimately responsible for our journeys.  Slow and steady wins the race.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard of people simply burning out because they tried to be the perfect person as soon as they converted.  I did the same myself.  This needs to be a place where we can help each other improve little by little, day by day.  Islam is not a religion of perfect people, no matter what impression people give off at the masjid.

Sorry, that seems too long.  The Sharing Group should also be a place where people limit their posts to 3 short paragraphs!

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: My name is Hamayoon; I was born, raised, and educated in the UK though my parents are Pakistani Kashmiri immigrants.  I was added to this group after an unsavoury encounter with an unsavoury character in another forum - clearly I had impressed!  I am cradle Muslim though was non-practicing for a good many years after a bad experience at madrassa; I came back in my early twenties.  I see the forum as above; a place to safely ask questions and to receive answers grounded in traditional Islam.

Brother Syed Zuhaib Quadri: I was a non-practicing Muslim with no knowledge about my faith except a few rudimentary concepts.  Until the age of 22, I led a carefree and a rebellious life until God Said otherwise.  I became drawn towards my faith about 5 years back.  I must admit watching Peace TV in that initial period piqued my interest as there was no alternative to showcasing Islam in such a mainstream medium.  I was involved and in touch with Tablighi Jama’at, Jamat E-Islami and had incorporated lot of Salafi methodology without even trying.  I was exasperated and always searching for answers until I stumbled onto a dargah near my house, of the Qadri.  I had always been fascinated with Sufism since adulthood.  It had been some journey and a hell of a ride.

Sister Nico Le: My name is Nicole.  I was born and grew up in Switzerland.  Currently, I am a computer science student at ETH in Zurich.  I converted to Islam in August 2011 and have been struggling ever since.  This group is a safe haven for me.  There are many different opinions.  It is not just monolithic Islam.

Brother Steve John Steele: Hi, all.  A brief history of my journey: Star Wars, “The Force is an unseen energy that binds and penetrates all things”; Buddhism, well I attended some meditation sessions; neo-pagan, Wiccan; Muslim; searching, maybe Buddhism or similar.

Brother Joel Troxell: I converted to Islam 2.5 years ago.  I come from a seriously practicing Christian family, and I attended seminary for 2 years and worked for a church.  I picked up a translation of the Qur'an 6 years ago, thinking it would be as easy as the Book of Mormon to pick apart.  I was wrong. 

It has been difficult.  I am the only Muslim in my town.  I have left Islam a few times because I tend to identify with modernist, rationalist Islamic thinkers and gravitate towards Sufi practice, and so I have had some very unpleasant conversations with people who are quick to tell me that what I am doing is not Islam.  But once Islam enters your heart, you really do not have anywhere else to go.  I am also going through a very painful divorce, some of which is due to my ex-wife’s attitude about Islam.  I really wish there were local Muslims I could talk with and learn from, but this group and some other friends I have made on Facebook keep me going. 

Sister Adita El Sadani: My name is Adita of Mexican, Native American heritage.  I live in Dallas, Texas, USA and was born and raised in a strong evangelical Christian upbringing.  I converted to Islam little over 4 years ago but struggled accepting.  I believed Islam to be the way for little over 2 years.  I see this place truly as a support group and a place to find comfort in not feeling alone, although I am married to a very supportive husbands who lets me see Islam as my personal journey.  Many times, I feel Muslims do not understand where I come from spiritually and in a practical manner also.  I see good in Christianity, seeing God as Love, and feel being a Christian so many years has made me a more loving Muslim.  Leaving Christianity during a hard time in my life and almost losing myself made me seek something I longed for many years and in Islam, mainly Sufism, I have found this strong connection and that is something outside of here and my home I feel comfortable sharing.  I have left many groups and pretty much am at home here.

Brother Joel Troxell, I know exactly where you might be coming from.  I was brought up in a non-denomination evangelical church, the one that speaks in tongues and has some serious praise time.  I was a Sunday School Kids ministry teacher over 6 years.  It was not until my divorce and all breaking apart and losing myself did I truly find myself and who I was.  It was anger, rejection and suppressed feelings that brought me to Islam really, and that is when I knew that truly sometimes, Allah seems to rip apart and break down your world but it is only to bring you to a new real one.  May you come out of your divorce and find a better world open unfold in front of you.

Brother Joel Troxell: Jazakallah khayr, Sister Adita, for your kind words.  And I can very much relate to your background in Christianity. 

Brother Yusuf Abdulrahman: We have such amazing individuals here!  Masha’Allah, what a Blessing!  Thank you, Shaykh Terence for gathering all of us wandering souls together in one place!  May we all be blessed with excellence!

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: At one point, we were all wandering, and some wander still, brother.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
J. R. R. Tolkien

Brother Joel Troxell, Sister Adita El Sadani; I understand what you feel.  I have been there: A Muslim Convert Once More: Starting from Scratch.

Sister Sukaynah-Jenny Weiskopf: I come from a Catholic background.  I began seeking in my early 20’s, as I considered myself a very spiritual person, but did not fit the mold of Catholicism as I understood it

I looked into Christianity, metaphysical teachings, Buddhism, and several other groups and religions before finally finding Islam.  I became a practicing Muslim and since then, have spent time looking into both the Shi’ah and Sunni sects to help deepen my understanding of the teachings.  After 14 years as a Muslim, I had begun to become disenchanted with the behavior of much of the Muslim community I had been exposed to, and the way the teachings were being interpreted by them.  I have recently started researching Sufism, and believe I have found a better fit for me, as the Islamic teachings, while unchanged, seem to be understood on a more spiritual level.

The Sharing Group has been a Blessing for me and I find much inspiration from it.  I see Muslims and also some non-Muslims coming together in a safe forum, to share thoughts, knowledge, and personal experiences, without the fear of chastisement and being judged.  This is one of the things I most love about this group; that this community is here to support each other, not fault find.  I recently saw a quote that sums it up for me: “Be a ladder to someone else’s iman, not a hurdle.”  This is what I have witnessed in The Sharing Group; people being ladders, not hurdles.  Al-Hamdulillah ar-Rabb al-A’alamin.

Sister Julie Frost: Hello brothers and sisters, my name is Julie.  I was raised a Catholic and after many years of searching, I found my One God and a religion that fitted my values and belief system.  I converted four years ago.  I joined the forum to further my knowledge and understanding by conversing with the likeminded in a friendly, respectful environment.

Brother Marah Fahmy: I am born a Muslim but struggling a lot to be a proper Muslim.  I love this group because everyone is sincere, and we have an awesome facilitator who will without fail listen to our questions.

Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez: I go by Abdul-Halim Vazquez.  I come from a Protestant background, but unbaptized.  I think I first read the Qur’an in English around 8th grade or freshman year.  I enjoyed reading and thinking about lots of different religions, mostly Buddhism and Islam.  I became Muslim in my senior year of college.  Actually, now that I think about it, it was over a Thanksgiving break, so I have been Muslim 21 years give-or-take a few days.  I am still convinced Islam is the truth although my spiritual life definitely has its ups and downs.  I think The Sharing Group is ideally a safe space for people to ask questions, participate in some kind of Muslim community, receive encouragement, grow in knowledge and iman.  And my experiences here have been really positive. I love that the space exists.  My only bit of constructive criticism. I love that the tone is unapologetically orthodox.  I frequently wonder if it is possible to maintain that without going out of our way to alienate Salafis / Wahhabis.  Maybe we could take a more you-can-get-more-flies-with-honey-than-with-vinegar-strategy?

Brother James Harris: I am James, and I am a member of the administration team of The Sharing Group.  I live in England but I am originally from Australia.  I work as Senior Lecturer in Arabic at the University of Salford, in Manchester. I run the Arabic language programme, teaching Arabic language and training professional translators from the UK and the Arab world.  I have been fortunate to study Islam in Australia, the Middle East, Indonesia and the UK.  I have been Muslim since 1995.

I think The Sharing Group should be a forum where Muslims can learn and discuss in an environment that allows critical thinking, and where people of different backgrounds and who follow different approaches are able to express their ideas and experiences.  It is most importantly a place of friendship.

This group would not function if we accepted Wahhabi teachings as legitimate. For evidence of what happens with the participation of such people, just go on to just about every other convert forum and see how the discussions go.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: We do admit Wahhabis, especially converts, Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez.  But we do not allow them to dominate the discourse and bring their takfir here.  There are a surprising number of former Wahhabis in this group.  We have also had to remove extreme Sufis, and Shi’ah.  In essence, any form of extremism is not tolerated.  But we try our best to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Brother Said Allan Bak: I am from a nominal Lutheran background.  I converted to Islam in 1998, when I was 20 years old, al-Hamdulillah.  The first 8 years, I was in Hizb at-Tahrir, and later in the Salafi movement.  Since 2006, I have followed the traditional Sunni Sufi understanding of Islam.  Finding Sufism, taswawwuf, was a life vest.  Had Allah Ta'ala not Guided me to that, I suspect my Salafi burnout would have been worse than it was.

Brother Jak Kilby: as Salaamu’Alaykum to all.  I was originally from a Protestant Christian background, Church of England, and born and grew up on southeast London, UK.  I was thrown out of the Church at an early age for asking questions.  After that, I followed a sort of Do-It-Yourself religion, possibly within the realms of ‘New Age’ although it was before that time, and God was central to my beliefs.

I have been a freelance photographer most of my working life.  I always took a difficult route avoiding large companies, commercialism and where the money lies.  So I had an interesting and varied life but full of difficulties and struggles.  Within that came searching and looking for answers as to why we are here.  I used to pray asking God to Guide me and Show me the Truth, which I believed was out there somewhere.  And eventually I came to a point of finding Islam and believing it was the answer to my prayers but the start of the journey rather than what I imagined as the end of it.

I made my shahadah in London in 1986 at the age of 39.  Then, followed turmoil and divorce as a result, a couple of years later.  Eventually I married again and my wife is from Malaysia.  We lived in London for 19 years before moving to her country, where I am living now.

I am totally non-academic, a non-scholar.  But I have a wide experience of life including of Islam.  Central to my life is Palestine and particularly Jerusalem and Masjid al-Aqswa.  I work on ongoing projects connected to this as well as researching Jerusalem and am a founder and trustee of an educational research charity specialising in Jerusalem from the perspective of Islam.

Sister Sukaynah-Jenny Weiskopf: I want to apologise if my earlier comment about admitting individuals into the group from certain sects, sometimes considered to hold more radical ideologies, offended anyone.  I did not realise until I read Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis’ comment about his admitting individuals from any sect, and removing people only if their speech proved to be non-conducive to the group atmosphere, that I realised I had been narrow minded and judgmental.  I was immediately reminded of a quote that I love which states, “Your beliefs don't make you a better person, your behaviour does.”  Subhanallah.  So again, if my remarks offended anyone, I ask that you please accept my apologies.  I have seen the error in my ways.  And thank you, Brother Terence, al-Hamdulillah, for you wisdom.  We learn something new every day.

Brother James Harris:  I did not find it offensive, Sister Sukaynah-Jenny Weiskopf.

Brother Tim Luckcock: I was brought up Methodist with charismatic leanings, got involved in peace work with the Society of Friends (Quakers) when I became fed up studying theology at university, was a teacher and head teacher in Anglican schools, went a bit Franciscan and mystical, wrote a doctoral thesis on church school leadership and post 9/11, decided that Islam was a gap in my spiritual education which led me to travelling and joining a Naqshbandi brotherhood.  I married a born-Muslim but still did not quite fit in and have experienced many alienations and disillusionments.  I failed the Malamati entrance exam and Shaykh Kabir Helminski has recently taken me under his wing to keep me on the straight and narrow 

Brother Paul Salahuddin Armstrong: A multidimensional being, visiting for a short time this little blue planet in the Sol system.  Currently recuperating from cosmic amnesia...

I embraced Islam back in March 2000, since which time I have been researching Islam, theology, comparative religion, philosophy, history and touching on other related subjects.  I'm a father, happily married al-Hamdulillah, Divinely-Entrusted with two adorable daughters.

Currently, I am the co-director of The Association of British Muslims, a role which I have grown into over the past 5 years.  In many respects, it is building on similar activities I had been doing on a more local level.

Previously, I worked as computer engineer; building, repairing and installing desktops, laptops and networks.  I have experience working with both Windows and Linux based systems, and to a lesser extent with Macs.  I have largely left this trade in recent years, due to other demands on my time.

I am a keen supporter of interfaith and dialogue, previously a Trustee of Wolverhampton Interfaith for a duration of around 6 years, and still work with the organisation today on occasion.  The focus of my work is on spirituality, personal development, and, insha’Allah playing a part in the conscious awakening of our human family.

Brother Nabeel Sadiq: I was born in England from an Iraqi father and an English mother and I am from a Shi’ah background.  Since I can remember, I have always had a belief in God but was never inspired to learn after leaving Iraq in 1980.  I was shocked coming back to England that people would openly say they we were atheists.  After a few years trying to make sense of this new culture, I went to the book shop and purchased a Qur’an with Arabic and English which got me thinking more about God.  I had no doubts about Islam.  I was just was not sure how to increase my understanding until I discovered The Alchemy of Happiness and Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.).  It was then that everything made sense to me.  I have since tried many groups with not a lot of luck until I landed here.  Happiness at last.

Sister Sukaynah-Jenny Weiskopf; Brother James Harris, I am glad you did not find it offensive.  Sometimes I get a little worked up, especially when I think about how the teachings from this beautiful religion, have been exploited and used as justification to commit heinous crimes against humanity.  That tends to ruffle my feathers a bit.  My mistake, I felt, was assuming that all members of the sect which I mentioned, were in agreement with the sort of ideas which fuel such hatred.  I suppose I should judge the acts and the way the teachings are interpreted, but not necessarily all those people belonging to this sect.

Sister Cait Clarke: I am a revert, 19 years now.  I consider myself Shi’ah with heavy Sufi leanings.  Previous to Islam, I was raised in a Christian Protestant home, Methodist, Brethren, and Welsh Presbyterian; became Roman Catholic when I was 16; Orthodox Jewish when I was 25; and explored many other faiths, religions and ideologies on my journey toward Islam.  These days, I hang out mostly with interfaith Quakers who are not bothered by anyone’s theology, are open to discussion and exchange, and find it interesting that I do silent dzikr during the Sunday meeting.

The masjid where I reverted was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a Sunni community with a large revert membership, and also home of a second masjid, the Mother Mosque of America, one of the oldest purpose-built mosques in the US, which is led and looked after by a wonderful imam, Taha Tawil who is from Palestine.  I have learnt a lot about Islam in the past nearly two decades, and I have watched the political and social tone of Islam change in the US, UK and the EU due to growing Saudi Wahhabi influence.  It is a change that often makes me despair for the future of our religion.  I hope to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

Sister Catherine Aganoglu: I was brought up in the Church of England, but it did not seem reasonable, so I looked into other faiths and came to Islam after being introduced to it by convert in 1982.  I was rather isolated as a Muslim over the next 20 years and found it difficult to practice in isolation.  This changed about 12 years ago after I married again, and had opportunities to learn and practice more.  I am now more confident in my Muslim identity, and integrating it into all aspects of life.  I like to read the posts in The Sharing Group as there are knowledgeable and humble people in the group who I can respect and learn from.  I am aware I do not comment very much in the posts, unless I feel I can contribute anything useful to the debate.  I hope this is OK,

Sister Brenda Murphy: I am from an Irish catholic background, studied with the Jehovah’s Witnesses as well, having 2 siblings who are witnesses.  I bought my first Qur’an at 21; it took me 8 years to seriously consider converting but finally did at 29ish years old.  After the initial euphoria, I had a bad few years due in part to not knowing a single moderate, sensible Muslim in real life.  Even my hubby had some puzzling attitudes that made me question my decision to convert.  I came into contact with a lot of Salafis too, which was a painful and upsetting time and they chased me away more than once, not completely renouncing Islam but just having to retrace my steps to the beginning constantly, paring back to the absolute minimum of practice and belief.  What kept me going was an email list run by the New Muslim Project in the UK.  It had its share of extremists but there were many kind, sensible and indeed knowledgeable voices there.  Brother Jak Kilby I remember from way back, and some other names on TSG I remember from there as well; they probably have no idea how much they helped me hang on to my faith, and all Praise Belongs to Allah.  This group means a lot to me, I cannot really express how much it means and how grateful I am for it, al-Hamdulillah.

Brother Edge H. He: Hello and as-Salaamu’Alaykum everyone.  I also embraced Islam later in life and have now been Muslim for now 2, almost 3 years now.  I was born and raised in a Catholic family in San Diego, CA, and as I started to learn more in high school from books and life- I started to question and seek deeper meaning from my beliefs.  The scary questions and scary realities prompted me to seek out and study all different schools of thought and philosophies: Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Baha'i-ism, and finally led me to look at the path of Islam.

As someone who had many questions that still felt unanswered, I tried little by little to piece together the truth from what information was accessible to me.  I came to my own conclusions, and there were quite a few instances while studying Islam things resonated with my beliefs and conclusions.  Not to say this was all the time, because in the other instances the answers were not I imagined, but better than I could have thought.  al-Hamdulillah, I spent a little more time studying Islam and its teachings, to be more confident that this was a path I wanted to lead for the rest of my life.  At the young age of 18, I embraced Islam, and still look forward to the room I have for growth, insha’Allah.  There are still things I struggle with such as coming to terms with family members and telling them about my shahadah since some know, some do not; and I am grateful for the supportive family that I have found online and across the world.

This is where The Sharing Group comes in.  The Sharing Group, from my experience, has been a place where people of all walks of life can do so openly and comfortably.  A place where we can learn good things from good and like-minded company.  And of course the occasional joke here and there to keep things light.  Most importantly I feel it is a place where we can talk and share about things that we could not normally do in other cases.  And this is what makes TSG valuable to me.  I hope, insha’Allah, to be able to share more as we move forward, and get to know each other.  God Bless.

Sister Veronika Cejpkova: Wow!  You all seem so intelligent!

Sister Rina Tung-Vose: as-Salaamu’Alaykum. My name is Rina Tung.  Prior to becoming a Muslim 12 years ago, I was raised as a Buddhist / Taoist.  My family members consist of Christians, Buddhist, Taoist, and a Muslim - yours truly.  I am a senior lecturer by profession in a public university in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, born as a Malaysian, a wife to an Aussie convert.  I stayed in Melbourne for half a decade.  We moved to KL not too long ago due to my bond with the university where I am attached to.  You rarely see my comments on TSG, but I remain as an avid reader to most of the posts.  Have a good week ahead everyone!

Brother Arvind Ashaari Parhar: Salaam everyone.  I am Ashaari, embraced Islam n 1999 in Singapore.  I was born into a Sikh family.  I met Brother Terence at Darul Arqam, the Muslims Converts’ Association of Singapore, where I learnt quite a fair bit about the faith without being too subjected to indoctrinated principles.  I met a renowned Sufi Master, Shaykh Nazhim an-Naqshbandi (q.s.) when he toured the region and took a sharp turn to my perception and experiences.  I am now residing in Melbourne, Australia with my wife of Lebanese descent and 4 blessed kids, al-Hamdulillah.

I lost contact with Brother Terence for a couple of years until sometime last year, when I spotted him on Facebook.  He invited me to this group.  It has been a pleasurable experience reading everything here.  I am not a very active contributor but reading most of the posts here gives me something to relate to and I think, as converts, that is important for all of us.  Thank you, Brother Terence and all other administrators; you are doing a great service for all of us and, insha’Allah, this grows to greater heights.

Brother Tan Siew Kim: I feel safe in this forum to share or to expose myself to other people's thoughts and true knowledge.  It is such a valuable space.  Thank you to the administration team.  It opened my heart to be closer to the diyn than I was previously.

Brother Jon Beatty: Salam.  I converted in 2008.  I have studied various Islamic groups, had a couple of teachers and study with a few scholars out of the UK.  I see the group as a dialogue of legitimate Islamic teachings without the extremist influence

Brother William Voller: Peace and Blessings of God be with you all.  I am a teacher of mathematics and physics in a British state school for ages 11-18.  My father is a celebrated artist.

I converted in 2002, at university studying, uncharacteristically, engineering.  My journey has taken me pretty much to every Muslim group and sect.  There were so many highs, lows and twists; it is too onerous to mention it all here, but some highlights follow.

After a few years in, I studied Hanafi fiqh in quite some detail as well as other Islamic sciences.  I think sitting with a traditional ‘alim whose teacher’s teacher was Shaykh al Kawtsari (q.s.), the last Grand Mufti of the Ottomans, and studying sirah was the saving moment that expelled all doubts for me.

I naively thought fiqh was the answer to all ills and was quite militant toward ‘the West.’  Then, after being on a TV show, I became interested in Catholic history and Canon Law.  So much so that I was to do a PhD at Edinburgh; comparing high Medieval laws of apostasy in both Canon and Islamic Law.  However having a family and realising English, Latin and Arabic were 10 languages short of actually being able to complete it, I had to stop.  However, I learnt much and the ‘Doctor.’ prefix has never been the objective.

Studying legal history quashed all ideas that Islamic law was any superior to its western legal counterpart, plus I realised western academic endeavour was far superior to what is going on currently in the Muslim World.  More recently, as I have realised my magnum opus was not in writing some great thesis, but in the hearts and minds of the young people that attend the school I work in, I have found the Immanent God in the small things and in everyone I met.  Many a convert feels the need to study Islam abroad to know God, but everywhere you look, you find His Countenance.

I think this group should be an open forum in which people can air their thoughts without the risk of the ‘fitnah police’ suppressing any such ‘bid’a’.  It should be open at all levels.  But as one aspect, I would like to see us develop a synthesis between the best of the Islamic tradition and the modern world.  Sometimes we forget just how brilliant it is here in Britain and elsewhere; a short dip into history is more than convincing.  In this false claim of a clash of civilisation, we can be the lubricant that is both us and them.  Not necessarily so academic and high level perhaps more pragmatic, all levels need discussion, but if nothing else it should definitely be relevant and real.

Perhaps Muslims unrealistically assess the world as gone wrong or a moment from the trumpet blast yet maybe we actually are at a better place than before?  I wish to pass on wisdom here if I can and so I will defer to the greatest of the wise: “My ummah is like the rain, I do not know whether the first of it is better or the last of it.”

Brother David W Roesler: I was born into a Protestant faith and my family converted to Mormonism when I was 10 years old.  I was never very religious and as an adult, was agnostic verging on atheistic.  I found faith through research on screenwriting investigating the divine feminine and the wide variety of mystical faiths.  During this investigation, I had numerous experiences that convinced me there is something out there guiding and watching us.

I consider myself a follower of the Way.  My daughter married a Sunni Muslim and converted and I try to investigate Sufism as much as possible because of its mystical basis and close relationship to Christian mysticism and Kabbalah.

Brother Hasan: as-Salaamu’Alaykum everyone!  Good to see plenty of familiar faces, and some fresh faces as well.  I will keep things short and sweet.  My name is Hasan and I come from a Roman Catholic background.  I was born and raised in California.  I embraced Islam 3.5 years ago at the age of 18, due to much time searching and seeking for deeper meaning in life.

My quest began around the time of high school.  It was a time where I was considering many big life choices: what college I wanted to attend, what profession to enter, understanding how I defined true success, and some point spirituality and peace of mind and soul entered the mix; all things that would define how I would live the rest of my life.  No pressure.

My journey took me through many highs and lows, with lessons learned from books as well as life.  I always believed that with every good question came a good answer, and so with that I started searching.  I encountered many philosophies and religions, and sought to gain from each of these, kernels of truth, peace, and happiness.  These included Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Judaism, to name a few, all different schools of thought which I looked into and studied.  It was not until I came across Islam that I truly found out what it was that I was looking for.  Initially I began to study Islam first out of curiosity, then out interest, and then out of passion and desire to learn more.  About two years later, I embraced Islam in San Francisco at the age of 18.  Now 3.5 years later, here I am, and what a journey it has been.  Without a doubt, it is the best decision I have made in my life.  I am not married yet, so I can still get away with this one.  All kidding aside, I recognise that it has been quite a journey, though it has not been without its challenges, al-Hamdulillah.

This to me is where The Sharing Group has been such a big support in my life.  May Allah continue to Bless you all.  I have made many great friends and connected with all kinds of people, that 3-4 years ago, I never could have imagined meeting, let alone becoming such great friends with.  The administration team, the members, everyone here is just great.  Feel free to reach out, it is what the group is all about.  If you want to connect or ask me any questions, please do not feel shy!  I am an open book, insha’Allah, I look forward to connecting and getting to know you soon!  Wa as-Salaam.

Brother David W Roesler: I also love investigating all faiths and even mythologies believing God has no favorite or chosen people.  All cultures and peoples have received Divine Guidance and Inspiration but over time have misinterpreted or corrupted the message over time.  What amazes and inspires me is finding the same ideas and archetypes imbedded in almost all faiths stretching back to our primitive beginnings showing a guiding hand nurturing mankind down through the ages.

It explains man’s rise from a virtual ape to building pyramids, understanding mathematics and physics.  Poetry, art and orchestral music from a lowly ape?  It seems obvious to me mankind is the benefactor of Divine Inspiration that has taken us from the jungles to edge of the universe!

Brother Haydar Gallaghan: Salaam.  It is challenging to self-describe at this stage of life, as there have been evolutions, and more to come.  I converted to Islam in 1978 with a Sufi community, but it is difficult to embrace the term ‘convert’ any longer.  I am a white American, and I would consider myself at this time a non-sectarian Shi’ah, with a strong dose of Sufism mixed in.  My life lesson is to remember that I am not in charge.  My good friend, Brother Hajj Ahmad signed my up to this group, and for the most part I have simply watched from the sidelines.  I am very intermittent on Facebook, but I will endeavour to contribute when I can, with an eye towards helpfulness as opposed to harm.  God Bless.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: al-Hamdulillah.  May Allah (s.w.t.) Reward you all for your good opinion of the administrators.

Brother Ishaq Mohammed: as-Salaamu’Alaykum.  My birth name is Marquis Dawkins; my Muslim name is Ishaq Muhammed, its meaning being that if anyone ever said I would be a Muslim and call upon the name of Allah, I would laugh as Sarah did when she was told she would have a child in her time of old age

I originally grew up Christian, eventually became a leader in music ministry.  I studied Islam when I was trying to find work in the Middle East, fell in love with the principles of it and converted a year ago to this month.  Actually, my anniversary is a few days from now, I think.

I never tire of Allah and His Blessings but I tire sometimes of life with its unlimited roller coasters and I tire at times of Muslims with unsavoury and spoilt attitudes, in particular when it comes to halal and haram issues.  I also have not completely chucked my knowledge of the Bible or Jesus (a.s.) out the window as some Christian converts have.  I still very much read the Bible and, in fact, see myself as a Christian no less, to paraphrase Shaykh David Rosser Owen.  What I see of Christ (a.s.) and the prophets, I now see through Islamic eyes.

al-Hamdulillah for this group and people like Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis, without whom, I would have left the Diyn a long time ago.

Sister Cait Clarke: Brother Ishaq Mohammed, I too am an unlikely revert.  I have a cousin who reverted two years before I did, and when she first told me what she had done, I nearly had a screaming fit.  She was quite calm, and asked if I had ever really read the Qur’an.  I had, but not in any thoughtful manner, so she suggested I do so and then have a go at her.  Instead, I ended up making my own shahadah,

Sister Julie Frost: as-Salaamu’Alaykum brothers and sisters.  I posted earlier on, a very brief introduction of my journey to Islam.  I have enjoyed reading through all your posts and look forward to reading and learning more.  I am interested in seeking knowledge on Sufism.  Are there any suggested readings or recommended shaykh, or group located in Sydney, Australia, I could follow up?

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: You might ask Brother Ansari Jainullabudeen, Brother Arvind Ashaari Parhar or Ustadz Soner Coruhlu.

Sister Nur Rasyida Burdis: Salaam.  I am a born-Muslim and my husband converted to Islam a couple of years ago.  To know what other converts go through and discuss current issues, if I have something to contribute that is, is something useful to me.  I use it as talking points with my husband and hope to learn something out of it.  It is really interesting to see different perspectives and I am thankful because it really is an eye opener.

Brother Ansari Jainullabudeen: Shaykha Amatullah Jyly Armstrong is with the Darqawi thariqa’.  She is based in the eastern suburbs and conducts fortnightly women’s group meditation sessions in Newcastle.  They are on break at the moment as she is away.

Shaykh Ibrahim Ansari is with the Rifa’i thariqa’.  His circle meets in Merryland.  His murshid, Shaykh Taner Ansari and his wife are coming down from New York in February for a tour of Sydney and Melbourne.  Events will be announced soon.

Sister Julie Frost: Thank you, Brother Ansari.

Brother Louis Llewellyn Shann IV: This is the best Muslim forum around in my book.  Great job, Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis, and the other administrators here

Brother Arvind Ashaari Parhar: Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam, Sister Julie.  I used to live in Sydney years ago and found good company amongst the good souls at the Naqshbandi Sufi gathering.  They have weekly dzikr sessions at a home in Greenacre.  There are a few converts that attend the sessions.  Their details can be found here: Naqshbandi Sufi Order of Australia.

Sister Julie Frost: Thank you, Brother Arvind.

Brother Mansoor Rizvi: I was born and raised in the United States to Shi’ah Muslim parents.  As a child, I always had an interest in different religions.  The Islamic community center that my parents used to attend was very cultural, and the emphasis was on certain cultural rituals, which for me was a bit of a turn off.  I did my own research into Islam.

A few years ago, I went to study full time in a Shi’ah Muslim seminary in Florida, known as the Imam Ali Howza Seminary.  I believe that its always best to focus on those things that we have in common when promoting dialogue, and once a rapport has been established, then the differences that exist can be addressed, albeit respectfully.  At the end of the day, there is no compulsion, and the spiritual path that an individual chooses is between them and their Lord.  Extremes of any kind bother me, and I find more in common with a moderate Christian then I do an extremist Wahhabi or Salafi Muslim.

A person’s spirituality should be defined not simply but what makes them feel a certain way, but more so manifested in how they treat others.  I have a respect for Sufism and Sufis, and it is my belief that a lot of the spiritual knowledge that is part and parcel of Sufism comes from the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt, the family of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  Thank you for having me and for allowing me to participate.

Brother Kyle: I am Kyle from Jamaica.  I converted to Islam in the summer of 2013.  My Muslim Alias is Omar.  When I initially converted, all I learned was Wahhabism.  I am now a Maturidi following Hanafi fiqh.  I am good at debating, I enjoy politics, history and video games.

Brother Soner Coruhlu: Salaam, Sister Julie Frost, our weekly classes are based in Mt. Druitt and Bonnyrigg.  I was a lecturer at Auburn Gallipoli Mosque as well but we are looking at a new venue in Auburn, insha’Allah.  If you are interested in attending any of our classes, please do let me know.  I will also be conducting lessons on methodologies surrounding the purification of the heart on the Voice of Islam radio station but will provide those details at a later date.  With peace and prayers.

Sister Julie Frost: Salaam, Brother Sonar.  Thank you.

Brother Justin Taylor: My name is Justin.  I have always searched.  I remembered, recently, a small insistence within me which would say ‘keep your innocence’.  I was led here via a brother to whom I have the utmost respect.  At times, I talk way too much, I write altogether too much.  I have had an amazing life so far.  I feel God or Allah Guides me and is, no doubt, the Best of Planners.  I love God.  I want to learn all about Him, for myself.  The words of others are helpful to me but I have been given an obstinacy which precludes others making my mistakes for me.  I must make them myself.  I appreciate this group for its scholarship, its friendliness, when I am corrected most of all.  I still owe Brother Terence a biographical account of my journey, but for some inexplicable reason, I have been unable to compile it as yet.

I will learn about all religions.  I decided I will not allow opinions and geography to bar me from my God.  We have an arrangement.  Having said this, I often feel most comfortable with Buddhism.  I have sat and read all texts I have seen with tears streaming, and gratitude beating in my heat.

Brother Irshad Alam: I am Irshad Alam.  I studied taswawwuf under a shaykh of the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi thariqa’, Shaykh Muhammad Mamunur Rashid of Bangladesh, who emigrated to Cambodia to spread Islam to East Asia, especially China.  My shaykh has also given me the task of spreading this thariqa’ as his deputy to the USA and the world.

I also translate the Sufi writings of the Mujaddid to English and they are available on the internet.  I am also writing an English tafsir based on Tafsir al-Mazhari by a great Naqshbandi shaykh and ‘alim, Qazi Sanaullah Panipathi.  I have lived most of my life in the USA.