Friday, February 19, 2010

Everyone has a Story: Elizabeth's Journey to Becoming Muslim

     I’ll start by saying that practically everyone in my family is of a different religion. Prior to converting to Islam, I called myself an Agnostic, along with my mother and older sister. All I knew was that I believed in God and everything else was product of man. I wasn’t even looking for a religion to convert to when I found Islam; I was perfectly happy as an Agnostic. During my junior year in high school, I had my first boyfriend who just so happened to be the only Muslim in town (it was a very small town). I knew he was Muslim but I had no idea what that was or meant. Meanwhile, I had a job at a hotel working nights and whenever I had a free chance I would get lost looking at all the information there was on Islam on the internet. I learned so much that it overwhelmed me at first. The only reason I ever looked any of this stuff up was to learn exactly what my current boyfriend believed in. I thought it was ridiculous for me to be so close to someone and not know their morals and beliefs. However, after a few weeks of doing research, I told him what I had learned and he was dumbfounded merely because none of his other girlfriends ever made the effort to do this. He was my first (and only) boyfriend I had, so I thought it was only normal for me to do this: apparently not. In any case, he was extremely supportive of me learning about Islam and he would further my interest by telling me things I hadn’t learned yet. It was at this point I gave up pork and alcohol forever, although I did not drink alcohol prior to this for personal reasons. 
    A few months after researching Islam, it was Ramadan, and my boyfriend had told me it was totally up to me if I wanted to fast, so I did. It was very hard the first few days because I was working and had school, but I got through it alhumdillilah. All my friends and family knew I was reading up on this new religion and fully supported me. In fact, I was able to give them some helpful information about it that many don’t realize: such as the fact that it is NOT polytheistic and actually stems from Christianity and Judaism. These were primarily the main misconceptions. During my first Ramadan I was given an English Quran and began reading it as well as highlighting certain phrases that stuck out to me. 
   During my first semester of college I took an Intro to Islam course that was taught by a convert. This course was incredibly interesting to me and since the class was often quizzed on Arabic words, it forced me to learn them and become familiar with them. I enjoyed the professor’s teaching so much that I am currently taking my fourth class with her. This class gave me so much knowledge on the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and others, as well as the history behind Islam. This class made me realize Arabic is a big part of being a Muslim; therefore, I decided I needed to take Arabic before my conversion.
    It would be two years later that I would get into an Arabic class. Although I took so many Islam courses to pass the time in college, I had a better understanding of Islam than some Muslims I knew. Not to mention, every Ramadan, YouTube was my best friend. I would listen to so many young people talk about their conversion process and how they are enjoying their lives now. One main problem in my life that kept me from becoming Muslim was in fact the person that brought it into my life: my boyfriend. I knew I couldn’t date someone after saying my Shahadah, nor would I want to, but at this point in our three and a half year relationship, it was too hard to break up with someone you loved and spent every day with. 
   During the summer of 2009 I had a hard course load and could not work that much, and without my scholarships, I had a hard time paying bills. This took its toll on me physically and mentally. I had accumulated so much anxiety I had to see a doctor because my parents were getting worried about me. It was as if the stress of life was getting too hard and my relationship with my boyfriend was getting worse and worse because of anxiety. I realized once Ramadan started that’s what was missing from my life, Islam. It had been probably a year since I had taken an Islam course, so I figured I needed Islam back in my life.
     The beginning of my 3rd year in college, just a few months ago as a matter of fact, it was three days until Eid al-Fitr.  I came home from work and my boyfriend told me he wanted to break up with me because he felt it was wrong for us to continue a relationship. I completely agreed and understood this to mean we were still on our path to getting married in the future.  So the next day at work, I realized that I am enrolled in an Arabic class and have no boyfriend; therefore I had nothing holding me back. I told a Muslim lady I worked with and that I feel its time for me to convert soon. She immediately suggested I convert on Eid in front of the entire congregation. This was NOT what I had in mind. I was thinking more private with just Muslimas but she had convinced me that it was an honor to witness someone say their Shahada, so I figured, who was I to take that away from the men?  That night, my friend at work gave me clothes to wear as well as a hijab, or headscarf, and made all the arrangements with the Imam. All I had to do was show up.

       When I get there with my friend the morning of Eid I cannot stop crying. At the time I felt so foolish because here are all these Muslim women looking at me like I’m crazy.  I told my friend I didn’t think I could get through the Shahadah without crying. I had made it a point that I would never speak the words of the Shahadah even in a whisper because I believed those words were saved for the day I converted, so when everyone told me to practice, I firmly said no.  But when the time came to say it, I spoke clearly and without any sniffles. Shukran Allah. However, the rest of the time I was back to crying. It was an amazing feeling though. Everyone hugged me and congratulated me. Some of my Muslim classmates were there, as well as my Islam professor.

      The rest of the day did not go as smoothly as it should have. My now ex-boyfriend decided that this was the day he was going to tell me we had no future together; that he no longer loved me. This made me fall into a very deep depression that I’m now glad to say it was thanks to Allah I am still here. My determination to prayer was the only thing keeping me from the dark. For two months I lived like a hermit and didn’t bother to meet my fellow Muslim sisters or go to any Islam meetings. I felt too alone. 
   November was my saving grace. A young girl in one of my Islam classes introduced me to some Muslim girls that were on the Executive board of Islam on Campus. They took me to my first Jumaah on campus and out to eat later that night. Just their company alone meant so much to me. Later I was invited to a Halaqa where I met other Muslim girls and began friendships with many of them. In fact, the person who asked me to write this blog is one of those people who has no idea how much her kind words kept me out of the dark and on the road to living life as a proud Muslim convert. I am currently extremely happy I converted and am so thankful to Allah for giving me such wonderful friends.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Elizabeth Wood
University of Florida
Muslim Youth for Truth Contributer

Friday, February 5, 2010

"My friends made me do it." How to deal with peer pressure and getting the courage to finally say NO.

When you hear the words peer pressure, what comes to mind?
Defined straight from Webster’s Dictionary, peer pressure means “influence of one’s friends on morals”. That being said, peer pressure can be both positive and negative. However, I am going to discuss the negative sides of peer pressure in the Muslim community. In addition to looking at the dark side of peer pressure, we will explore how to avoid peer pressure and what to do if you have already endured peer pressure. 
From the outside looking in, it is so easy for all of us to look at our Muslim friends that are engaging in haram activities as “bad” or “sinful”. But what we fail to understand is that our friends did not end up this way overnight. They did not just wake up and say “Today, I feel like displeasing Allah (SWT)”. Changes in behavior, whether they are beneficial or malignant, take time. I remember reading somewhere that shaytan whispers to people to engage in small sins first, then he works his way up to the larger sins. This is a very dangerous tactic. In our minds, it is only a small sin, right? But to shaytan, and some of our friends, it is a plan that leads us to bigger sins. 

The best way to avoid peer pressure is to avoid any situation that makes it easy for haram activities to occur. What do I mean by this? If you are invited to a party by people that are known to drink, and you think / know there is going to be the consumption of alcoholic drinks there, simply do not go. Come up with an excuse as to why you cannot go. If you keep making excuses and not showing up, the people inviting you will eventually get the message in a kind way that you do not want to be around risky environments. Even if you think you can handle going to a party where risky behavior is going on, there are no guarantees. Once you are in that situation, it does not matter how religious you are. It does not matter how much Quran you have memorized, or how many Sunnah prayers you make. Human nature is human nature. Which is perfectly illustrated when we see the most religious family turn out to have kids that are addicted to drugs, partying, and more. This could happen to anyone, and it does not happen over night. I am not saying you will be able to avoid every situation that could lead to haram. Why that would be impossible! All I am saying is that it is essential we avoid all the situations that could lead to haram as we can. That way, if we have to battle one or two situations every once and a while, it would not be as difficult as avoiding that situation every time you have an outing with friends. 
Now that I have discussed how to avoid peer pressure, it is imperative we look at what to do if you have already given into negative peer pressure. If you have already been affected by peer pressure, the first step is recognizing it. Most people that have been affected by peer pressure do not even realize it. Or, they convince themselves that they are doing these haram activities out of their own wishes, and that other people have nothing to do with it. The question you must ask yourself is, “If I was living alone on Earth, only with the purpose of serving Allah (SWT), would I be engaging in this haram activity? Anyone that is a true Muslim would answer no to that. We all want to please Allah (SWT) and have the reward of the hereafter. 
The second step is having patience when making change. As I said earlier, the changes made in life happen over a span of time. None of us makes a change completely correct after the first attempt. Change at a pace that you are doing something, but not too slow that nothing gets done. A quote I find really helpful for destroying habits is “There is no need to fight old habits. Start new ones. It is the resisting of an old habit that puts you in that trench. Starting a new pattern is easy when done with childlike disregard for imagined difficulties. You can prove this to yourself by your own experience.”- W. Timothy Gallwey. 

The third step is making the change for Allah (SWT) only. When you try to change for your parents, friends, or strangers on the street, the change does not last. The reason it does not last is because those people are not always with you. If you are changing for other people, you will go back to your old ways as soon as no one is looking. This is between you and Allah (SWT), no one else. Making a change can be difficult. Not only do you have to deal with the personal struggle between you and Allah (SWT), but you also have to deal with what everyone else says about you. You have to deal with people scorning, saying things like “Oh so you want to change now, after all of the bad things you have done?!!!” You have to deal with saying goodbye to your friends that used to put you into haram situations. The way to deal with it is to focus on you. People are going to make hurtful comments, especially if they are not following the way of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Remember, this is not about them. It is about following Allah (SWT), and trying to make new, Islamic choices. And maybe, just maybe, you will stumble upon some people that know how to give advice islamically. If you do, hold on to them. It is rare to find a person that gives advice with gentleness, which is what we all need in times when we are engaging in haram activity.
 Before you think you are alone, remember, this could have happened to anyone. Even if we all are not facing your problems exactly, we are all struggling in this religion to obey Allah(SWT). 
But it is something worth struggling for.

Anonymous Contributor