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Selected Poems

Poetry by Adnan Onart

Read or listen to Adnan Onart's poem featured in this program, and enjoy three more — including:

» "Ramadan in Dunkin Donuts
» "Ribbon Time: The Moment"
» "Al Miraj"
» "Morning Prayer"

Selected Audio

30 Days of Ramadan Playlist

We received so many wonderful Ramadan stories from Muslims around the world. But, we only had 60 minutes for those voices. Rather than letting these stories collect dust, we created this playlist featuring 30 voices —one story per day for each day of Ramadan.

First Person

Expressions of Muslim Identity


The voices in this episode are only a sample of the many thoughtful reflections we received in response to our exploration of the many, varying expressions of Muslim identity. We created a dynamic map that allows you to read each Muslim's essay and see the broader geographical context.

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

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1

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Talking with your pre-teen son or daughter can be difficult enough, says Naazish YarKhan, without adding terrorism and its misguided association with Islam to the mix.

1

A collection of photos documenting the Islamic holy month.

Three young Muslim-Americans — Kamran, Tasneem, and Zahra — struggle to reconcile their "Muslim" and "American" identities. Why don't we hear more of this in the media?

Native Deen releases a music video for the My Faith, My Voice campaign "in response to the rising tide of Islamophobia facing America, especially in the wake of the New York Islamic cultural center controversy."

1

A glimpse into the lives of two Muslims in Australia.

About the Image

“If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.” -Flavia Weedn

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Being Muslim is everything to me. From the moments I open my eyes, my first act is an act of worship to God. My relationship with God guides my every action and my every decision. Being Muslim is a constant reminder that this journey of life is paving the path and building an everlasting life in the hereafter.

I am human, and in the Arabic language the word human is "Insaan" the root word of which is "Nasa" which means "forget;" because humans in their nature continuously forget. God knows this, He created us. That's why we believe that the 5 prayers a day maintains that connection to the divine. When I realize that God is with me at every moment, that I'm accountable for all my actions and how I treat others; I do my best to avoid hurting others, to treat others with respect, to make decisions that will please Him, to honor my parents, etc. That is the most striking and beautiful thing about my faith.

Being Muslim in America has become increasingly difficult. I grew up in Michigan, and never felt under attack as much as I do today. I turn on Fox News or pop in a film, and I can see a general perception of how non-Muslims view me. I feel that Muslims are continuously experiencing civil right violations, they are scrutinized unfairly and unjustly, their words are twisted, and a minority of extremists is representing the mass majority of peaceful Muslims in the minds of many of my non-Muslim neighbors. Anti-Muslim rhetoric is repeated by politicians and lawmakers, which makes me nervous.

I wonder what it will be like for my children. I'm afraid that fear-mongering will continue - recently 6 Muslims were accused of terrorism with, so far, no sufficient evidence to back those claims. I fear that another Bush will come into power and open up another facility to imprison innocent Muslims under secret evidence. I fear for Muslims in China (Uighers) (10,000 went missing besides the thousands killed), Palestinians (Israeli settlement expansion continuing, Gazans under seige), Iraqis (unrest), and impoverished Muslims across the world. I fear that world silence for such grievances against Muslims will continue.

I've visited forums and sites of right-wing conservatives who don't even believe Muslims have a right to live or practice their faith freely. How hypocritical of a people who built a country based on freedom of religion and expression.

I hope that more of my fellow non-Muslim Americans will educate themselves, disregard fringe anti-Muslim thinking, open their minds and hearts, and continue the tradition of acceptance. I love my country because many of the non-Muslims around me have only treated me with respect. We Americans are a people of resilience, love, and acceptance, and I believe our country will continue being the greatest country in the world if we hold tight to our beliefs of freedoms, and our intolerance of injustice to anyone no matter who they are.

Being muslim, to me, means accepting all faiths on this Earth, and treating every living or inanimate object with respect and genuine care and interest. (Un)fortunately, I have no reference point other than Islam, and if I take that as my base, then, the following points must be considered.

1. Per Islam, God sent 124000 messengers to share his message across different times. He also sent multiple messengers at the same time to different parts of the world.

2. Islam CLEARLY states that there is no complusion in religion.

So, if we were to take these 2 points into consideration, then, in order to be muslim, I have to openly and fairly acknowledge that I am jewish, I am christian, I am hindu, I am bhuddist etc hence I am muslim.

I say this because ALL religions, regardless of their origin, focus on humanity towards your fellow man, and, the ultimate acknowledgement that there is ONE God.

So, differences in religion to me is like differences in languages. All languages have ultimately one purpose and that is to be a medium for communication, and likewise, all religions have one purpose and that is the acknowledgement of ONE God.

Being Muslim to me is NOT about maintaining a cultural identity (Arab or indopak), nor is it about hard or fast rules that are not open to interpretation.

If something is rigid, any force put on it will cause it to break, but, if something is flexible, it will take the shape of the force exerted upon it, bear it, and return to its original position.

So, once again, being muslim, to me is being accepting of all.

thank you / Aali.

I was born in India in a family that observed Muslim traditions faithfully. I have lived in the USA for more than 35 years, most of my adult life. I have not been a practicing muslim for most of my life. Yet I am familiar with most of its practices, good and not so good.

I want to comment on French President Sarkozy's recent proclamation that French Muslim women would not be allowed to wear the burqa. I found it amusing and somewhat typical of Western colonial attitudes towards Islam.

When I was growing up, my mother wore a burqa. She was a housewife burdened with raising six children in a household that had little or no modern appliances. Frequently during her workday, she needed to run an errand: buying a forgotten grocery item taking a sick child to a doctor etc. She always a burqa on these occasions. It was convenient..she did not have to worry about the clothes that she wore underneath the burqa or if she was having a bad hair day. On Sundays when the entire family went to the local square, she dressed in her finer clothes and did not wear the burqa.

Recently, I visited India. I had been in touch with one of my nieces, a tech savvy very modern woman in her mid twenties. She and her husband both work in large modern Indian companies. When she came to visit me, she wore a burqa which she removed before we went to a restaurant. Nonplussed, I asked her why the burqa. She explained that she liked to wear modern Western clothes both in her professional and in her personal life. Unfortunately, in the neighbourhood where she lived, her attire would subject her to catcalls and unwelcome attention. The burqa kept her safe and anonymous and incidentally allowed her to dress as she pleased.

The use of the burqa under both these circumstances was a convenience and a choice for the women involved. I wonder if Sarkozy would object to these women wearing the burqa.

Being a Muslim is a way of life. Living in America as an American Muslim, I find that the basic freedom of religion that the American Constitution provides truly works out to the advantage of all religions, especially Islam. To me, being Muslim means to follow all of the commands of God and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, May the Peace and Blessings of God Be Upon Him, on a daily basis. For example, a typical day for me as a Muslim is as follows: as a college student in America, I observe all of my five daily prayers whether at home, college, or at the Mosque, treat my fellow students, teachers, and citizens with mutual respect and fairness, and answer any questions about Islam or misconceptions of Islam that people may pose to me. To me, Islam is beautiful because it is truly a uniquely perfect way of life in the sense that Islam has all of the solutions to any of my problems through the word of God in the Qur'an and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, May the Peace and Blessings of God Be Upon Him. To me, being a Muslim also means to give back to the community, always speak the truth, respect the rights of my neighbors regardless of religion, and constantly do pious actions to gain the pleasure of God.
When looking at the Muslim nation today, I'm greatly concerned with the state of my fellow Muslims. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance period in Europe, the Muslim nation was at the forefront of the world with regards to literature and science. With all of the internal and external violence among Muslims today, I see one main cause to the problem. We as a Muslim nation are the cause of our decline. As God says in the Qur'an, "Verily never will Allah (God) change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)" (part of verse 13:11, Quran). The only solution for the Muslim nation to rise up to dignity is to turn back and obey the commands of God and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, May the Peace and Blessings of God Be Upon Him. Based on this idea, it is my hope and strong belief that, God willing, the Muslim nation will rise up to dignity once again, after we change our selves, externally and internally to gain the pleasure of God.

Islam to me is beauty. It is peace and spiritual healing. I am a born and raised Pakistani-American Muslim. I do not seperate religion from my life as if the two are independent. Islam defines my existence. Islam teaches me how to live and provides me with tenants upon which to base my character and personality.
I believe Muslims get too caught up in what is absolutely forbidden in Islam, the haram, and what is allowed, the halal. Just because something is not obligatory does not mean it should be ignored and just because someone is not doing something obligatory does not mean they should be chastised. Islamic faith is between the individual and God, not the individual, Islamic community, and God.
In Islamic communities an outsider looking in will see warmth and cold. There is a strong sense of brotherhood and sisterhood which unites people and gives Muslims strength. That is the warmth. There are always people who judge or feel the need to pass judgements which isolate Muslims who appear to be practicing poorly. That is the bitter cold: bitter because when the community becomes a disconnector, it goes against it's very most amiable quality.
After 9/11 many non-Muslims around the world started leaning about Islam for the first time. Education through the media and word of mouth suddenly spawned several non-Muslim self-proclaimed experts in Islam. It angers me when non-Muslims make passionate arguments about Shari'ah or the hijab when all their evidence is media-based. Nothing scholarly or truly educated thought motivating the conversations it angers me more that they so easily speak about something that is so important to me with such juvenile knowledge. That is why I appreciate programs like these.

I am one those those "converts" to Islam. My story began at age 40, and during a time when I was searching for a deeper truth about the Christ. In those days, I was a sincere Christian. I even worked with a lay ministry that, on three or four occasions during the week, visited those persons who were sick in hospitals and homes. We also comforted persons who were dying, as well as the families of the deceased. But, as my sincere efforts increased, so did my interest in learning more about the Christ, his true nature and circumstances of his birth, and his mother's virginity. The Bible and a host of other Christian and Hebrew text could not answer it for me. This question was not satisfied.

I actually began my conversion while at a Border's Bookstore in a location in Southern Maryland. For some odd reason, I recall a statement, some twenty years earlier, someone made about the mother of Christ. They referenced her being in the Quran. While at the bookstore, I found a Quran, and tried to make heads or tails of its Index. I came across the name Ibrahim (Arabic for Abraham). I quickly read through one part of a chapter. It was very clear. From there I came across the story of the mother of Christ. I invested $20 to purchase it; I began reading the book the same day. That evening, I got a lot of resistance from a friend in whose home I temporarily stayed. He asked me to remove the book from his Christian home.

Over the course of time I would increasingly reference the Quran as the religious guide for my life. The Quran displaced the bible as my daily dose of religion. Afterwards, the reading would permeate all aspects of my living. I literally was transformed into a Muslim.

I am now 51. I believe all the holy books contain a virtually metaphysical truth about the Almighty. It is with sincerity that we individually decide what truth gets us to a place where we are in line with the will of the Almighty. For those who are most sincere, the idea of having a Christian or Jewish, or Muslim identity is replaced by the notion that one's ultimate goal is to serve the humanity. And, to do so without regard to race, religion, culture, nationality, or social status.

I came to Allah with a weary and broken heart. I had gone through difficulties that had alienated me from myself and rediscovering Islam (w/o the racialism that was such a part of the Nation of Islam) provided me with a way back to my own heart.

The way Islam expresses itself in my life is the constant rememberance of Allah. I don't cover and don't attend masjids very often because I don't find the love that brought me to Islam, but I remain a Muslim.

Being Muslim to me means that I'm here for a reason; it’s my map or guide. Without it, I’d be lost. I would have no idea why I’m here or what my purpose or goal is. Faith helps me make sense of this crazy world. For Muslims, we look at our religion as, not only being our religion, but our way of life. It’s your whole daily routine. It’s integrated into your everyday actions, so we do everything in accordance with Islamic principles.

I hope we will come to a point around the world where individuals are not judged by the acts of others. I hope we will come to a point where we ask questions about things we don't know instead of just assuming we know. I hope we come to a point in our history where we actually follow our Declaration of Independence where it says "All men are created equal."

If you have anymore questions I would be more than happy to speak about my faith. It is the one thing I can't stop talking about.

Take care,
Ammar Alo, Esq.

I am a born Muslim who was raised in India. I became a doctor, got married and came to the US. I am a practicing psychiatrist. I have 2 beautiful daughters who became dental doctors.
Half my life i just followed traditional Islam and thought that was religion. It is only when I read the Quran with meaning that I really got the zist of Islam which is to love humanity and the best way of pleasing God is to SERVE humanity. Islam is believing in ONE God . That right away teaches us that every human is the creation of that same One God, whether he is a Hindu or Christian or a Jew. If we are to please Allah (which is the arabic word for God) or Bhagwan (the Indian word for God) or simply God in English, we must respect all humans and care for all of humanity in need.
What I like about Islam is it accepts all the prophets irrespective of any religion, including Jesus ,Moses, and Mohammed. Some , including my learned father believed Ram, a hindu deity, may have been a prophet teaching humans to practice kindness, fairness and justice for all. Islam emphasizes justice for all people even at one's own expense no matter what ones religion is.
Another beauty of Islam is it orders equality for all . No one is superior to another. All are equal in Gods eyes. Freedom is another very important order. The Quran says you have no right to take away another's freedom.
Charity is emphasized. Quran says do not think of it as a loss, for it comes back to you in a better and larger way.
Finally it places responsibility of your actions on your own shoulders for we will be answerable for our own deeds and be rewarded accordingly.

I am reverted to Islam after teaching in an Islamic school for a year. I did a lot of reading of the religion and felt very drawn to it. Since coming into the folds of Islam, I have learned quite a lot. One of the biggest struggles at first is to separate the culture of a people and Islam. That was very hard and many reverts are not able to do it. There is a big push to become "Arab-ized" and many reverts fall for this. I had issues with my name; how I dressed; what door I walked into at a mosque- all these issues that were not Islam; but rather cultural responses to it. ..and then, there were the responses of my family...

Since that time, I have grown more comfortable in my knowledge and with who I am as a Muslim. I have given presentations at schools and churches. I teach in a public school. I am aware that I might be the only Muslim someone knows and so this makes me the Islamic spokesperson by default. I strive to be a better person; and therefore, a better Muslim.

I am excited to be a part of the new American Muslim- one who is active in causes; ready to bring positive change to the larger community around me- and to open those doors of understanding to what Islam REALLY is...and hopefully plant those seeds of change that are so desperately needed all around.

Wow, such a broad topic - I don't know where to begin. I'm an American Muslim, born in Michigan, of Middle Eastern descent. I was raised alongside my eight other siblings, and 8 of the 9 of us are married, most of us with children. My husband is a Canadian of Pakistani descent. We both have our businesses in the same building - he is a neurosurgeon and I am an attorney.
What I find beautiful about Islam is a few things. One, the simplicity of the belief & submission to one God. It might sound boring, but really it streamlines my life. I believe that He will judge me & therefore all my actions are done with that in mind. I can't pick & choose what I like of the faith & discard the rest - because that would mean I think I know more than God & that's not true submission. Secondly, is the Muslim character. The obligations I have to be kind to people, starting with my family, then neighbors, makes for a kind personality. I'm not saying I'm such a kind person :) but I strive to constantly improve in that area. Thirdly I would say code of conduct. I don't think anyone can appreciate the comfort I have in my home - based on conduct requirements - such as no alcohol or drugs, or adultery. It doesn't mean I'm an idiot who doesn't realize it can happen, but that it's such a crime and violation of a marriage that before it happens, my spouse or I would have to think 1000 times. It's just not such an easy transgression.

In terms of challenges - I would say two. Firstly, I feel that the society around me makes it more difficult to raise my children in an Islamic manner. I know it sounds cliche, but I think the temptations are too many, & I am scared for them. What that means to me, is that I will strive hard to instill in them the belief in God so that if they do stray, one day that strength of belief will make them return. Secondly, I find the internal challenges of the Muslim community are many. With the combination of the immigrant as well as American Muslim population, it is hard to find the right formula that will become the American Muslim culture. Simple things like the proper administration of the Islamic centers & taking into account community wants & needs in a progressive manner, as well as rooting out ultra conservative views. I don't mean rooting out the views in the sense of suppression of free speech, but in the sense of not letting those views take root in the development of the community.

My family & I are involved in the local Muslim and general community around us. That's what makes me a true Muslim. Focussing on my family and my community (used in the general sense). I don't believe as a Muslim I am allowed to ignore the ailments of those around me, regardless of their beliefs. I think this requirement has taken root, and more & more Muslims are becoming involved in local initiatives.

Thank You.

Born and raised in America to immigrant parents, Islam often seemed out of place in my world. It only seemed to exist in my home, where we would pray, read Qur'an, learn about Islamic history and fast.

Outside life was different. Food had to be examined and questioned before being eaten, and my hijab, or headscarf, was more of a point of scorn and laughter, rather than pride and respect.

But as the years flew by, my parents never lessened their grip on Islamic values, and insisted that we live by them. It wasn't hard to do -- we could see where the values saved us from trouble, and helped us feel more safe.

In fact, in high school I became more of an educator, than a student. Whenever the topic of Islam came up in class, the teacher would volunteer me to speak of the religion I practiced and share its meaning with my fellow classmates. I started to give mini-lectures on hijab, and eating halal food.

Now that I am a mother, to a child also born in America, I hope I can pass on the same appreciation of Islam to my daughter. I want her to feel the same passion when standing before God to pray, and I want her to have the same confidence when she strolls out in public wearing her headscarf.

NURAH W. AMAT’ULLAH, Founder and Executive Director of The Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development, is a program developer who focuses on faith-based community development initiatives. A graduate of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program at Hartford Seminary, Ms. Amat’ullah ministers to pastoral care needs in the urban community. Over the years her programs have been aimed at building capacity among poor and immigrant communities in the Bronx. Clients served by the programs are predominantly new immigrants with transitional needs that are culturally specific. Ms. Amat’ullah current serves as an Archival Librarian at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. She is actively involved in a number of inter-faith and NGO organizations, including Women in Religious Leadership, New York Disaster Chaplaincy Services, Muslim Consultative Network, Religions for Peace-USA and Auburn Theological Seminary Women’s Multi-faith Committee.

The Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development (MWIRD) is a faith-based, community service organization focused on the following areas: hunger relief, health education, transitional needs of new immigrants and inter-faith work.

Founded in 1997, the organization initially began by opening and operating a food pantry at the Mount Hope Mosque, in the Bronx, distributing halal food to a needy population of immigrants, primarily West Africans, most of whom are Muslims. Interactions with the pantry’s clientele, who were primarily women, led to an awareness on the part of the pantry’s founder of their transitional needs, and this understanding was the catalyst for development and establishing services to low-income families, Muslims and others in the Bronx. Currently MWIRD operates a food pantry in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, at 2044 Benedict Avenue, in partnership with the African Islamic Center. Current projects include: Public Benefits Outreach, Immigrant Women’s Health, HIV/AIDS Education and Referral Services, and Youth Service Learning - working with new immigrant youth.

The Institute works collaboratively with borough, city, and state agencies, as well as nonprofit and grassroots organizations. As a result of these efforts, MWIRD is a resource for Bronx Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, seeking assistance in various areas of life. We offer referrals to literacy programs, intervene in housing-related issues, engage parents with the public schools, help clients understand immigration and medical documents, and assists in other areas on a case-by-case basis.

I am a convert to Islam. I have been a Muslim for about 5 years now. My husband is not religious and we have been married for 10 years and have 2 children together and I have a 16 year old step son. I had been attracted to Islam and the middle east as a college student. I took several classes and learned more about the history and the religion. As a person I was generally always on a spiritual quest. As a child I attneded public and christian private schools...lutheran, catholic and I attended a reformed church with my family on weekends. I sang in the choirs and was active in the youth groups there but something didn't fit for me. I had a problem with the idea of christ and of Jesus as a man and god having to prove he loved us by sending his son. When I learned more about Islam it seemed to me that it was simple. YOu had only to say the shahadah to become a muslim. And then to be muslim you had to observe the 5 pillars. Islam offered a way of life and had clear expectations of behavior and an accountability that resonated with me as a person.

Islam to me is my weekly women's class where we study quran and hadith. It is the local mosque where I can gather with fellow mulsims in congregation and pray and hear the call to prayer. Islam is everyday, my prayer and everything I strive to be and do-a good wife a good mother, friend, daughter...I have to seek out Islam since I am somewhat isolated in my religion.

I was sitting there, in Luquillo, Puerto Rico, a place where I have never been before, in a house I had never stayed in, with a man in my living room, whom I had not met before that day. He was a Palestinian man, who speaks very little English. His primary language is Arabic. I speak almost no Arabic, and my primary language is English. So, we spoke in Spanish. Even that was difficult, because he spoke the Puerto Rican dialect, ommitting s's and other letters, while I spoke the Mexican dialect. There is one thing however, that connected us more than any other thing. We were both Muslim.
I have been Muslim since 1999. I converted from Catholicism, in a search to provide a spiritual and moral guide for my life. Islam seemed to be a great fit. Since then, I found the religion has opened me up to a whole new world. You see, being an American, Latino Muslim, has pretty much made the world my home. I have been to visit Muslim communities in China. Simply because I am Muslim, I feel like, and am welcomed like, I am visiting family. I have traveled to India, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Saudi Arabia. By virtue of my darker skin tone, I automatically fit in, but the fact that I either speak the language or am of the same religion, almost gives a sort of celebrity status on occasion. You see, India and Saudia Arabia, don't see many Mexican visitors. But, a Mexican American Muslim! They look at me like I came off of Galapagos Island.
You see, I'm not such a rare breed here in the U.S. In fact, I've found that the world is becoming more like me every day. Or perhaps it is more humble to say I have become part of the natural evolution of the world. As I continue to travel, God willing, I will continue to discover the goodness of humanity and incresingly more cosmopolitan world we live in.
My friend, Zayad, in Puerto Rico, will always be my friend. He helped us a great deal while we knew him for those 6 short days, and we had him and his children over for dinner the night before we left. And he, may God reward him, did even more for me, because as he stated, I was a traveling Muslim. How many of you would do that? Invite a strange man, in a foreign place, into your home for dinner, only because he is the same religion? Well, we did, and he'll forever be my friend, because first, he's my brother in Islam. He's progammed into my phone as "Zayad de Puerto Rico" to be sure I don't forget who he is.

(The picture I attached is my family in Puerto Rico: my wife and children,and In-laws)

"Oh, you don't look like a Muslim..." "Oh, I didn't know you were a Muslim - you speak English so well!" "Oh, you're a Muslim? But I thought you're an American..." I've heard these comments countless times since 9/11, although I've lived in this country for 30 years & have been proud to hold a US passport since I was 18! There remains so much confusion & misunderstanding about what it means to be a Muslim, especially an American Muslim. Yes, I'm an American Muslim - my skin is brown because my parents are from Sri Lanka & Pakistan, my English is excellent because that's the ONLY language I speak, & I pray to God every day. The same God which Jews & Christians pray to - the God of Abraham, Moses, & Jesus - simply God...yet why do so many of my fellow citizens continue to view my religion with suspicion & hatred?

Even after my two teenagers & I wrote 'The American Muslim Teenager's Handbook' in order to dispel stereotypes & misconceptions about Islam - we still hear racist & negative comments, whether in the media, the blogosphere, or letters to the editor in newspapers across the country. After 8 years, why are so many people still so intent on willfully misunderstanding me & my religion?

I was the Vice President of the Arizona Interfaith Movement - interfaith dialogue & religious pluralism remain my passions in this life. I dream of a day where people of all faiths (or no faith) can respectfully share their beliefs with each other, a day where a person kneeling in a pew or prostrating upon a carpet are viewed equally as co-religionists on their spiritual path, a day when my children are proud to be called 'Muslims'...

I am an American born (indigenous) Muslim. I took shahada 39 years ago. I am 67 years old and a practicing Muslim. Islam has illuminated and informed my life as a human being, a wife, a mother a grandmother, a professional international maternal and child health advocate, and as a citizen of the world. There a many things I love about Islam: its simplicity ;the direct relationship with Allah without the need for an intermediary; it's teachings about caring for the poor and the sick, the spiritual equality of men and women (see it in the Qu'ran: all of the inequitable treatment you see of women are culturally based, not Islamically based); the perfect example of Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him; the status of mothers; the fast during the month of Ramadan to let us know what it is like to be hungry and make us more compassionate towards those for whom hunger does not end at sunset each day; the exhortation to be generous in giving; the significance placed on the acquisition of knowledge; the respect it teaches for parents and elders. I love the protection and respect and freedom that dressing modestly affords me as a woman In the United States, Muslims are not monolith. Muslims in America are comprised of indigenous African Americans and European Americans, Latinos,South Asians, Arabs, Africans, and Europeans. Too often Muslims are thought of exclusively as immigrants. It is the universality of Islam that is one of its strengths, as witnessed by anyone who has ever performed the Hajj in Mecca, which was beautifully described by El Hajj Malik Shabazz in "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." Muslims from all over the world recognize the oneness of God and the brotherhood of humanity. I am very concerned about Islam being hijacked by people with political motivations who wrap themselves and their hatred for the west in Islam and commit unforgivable acts of violence against innocent people. I am concerned about the Wahabi and Salafi teachings that are spreading in the U.S. among young Muslims that are intolerant and misrepresent the teachings of Islam. I invite you to visit www.aaii.info, the website of the African American Islamic Institute (AAII), the international humanitarian NGO of which I am the Executive Director, to see how our humnaitarian work to promote universal education, access to health care, empowerment of women, protection of children, alleviation of hunger and poverty and peace building is based upon the teachings of Islam

Husayn El-Mekki Abdullah-Aziz was born in 1980 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Aisha El-Mekki and Yahya Abdullah-Aziz. His parents came from a Christian and Catholic background, and became Muslim during the era of Malcolm X, and their passion for Islam and the Ahlul-Bayt (Holy Progeny of Prophet Muhammad) grew even more during the Islamic revolution of Iran. They decided to pioneer to Iran to study and further research Islam during the early 80’s. His father and mother made many sacrifices and stayed in Iran for four years at that time and studied in the Islamic seminary giving their children an opportunity to see and be part of an Islamic society. They were blessed with the opportunity to meet many of the elite scholars of that time, including being honored as personal guest of the leader of the Islamic Revolution Imam Khomeini (May Allah have mercy on his soul).

He was a very fast learner and always received high academic grades.
In 1994 his family traveled to Iran again. Upon completion of the Farsi Language Course and graduating with honors he moved onto broaden his education in the field of theology, religious science and Islamic Studies. Some of the courses in the Religious Seminary included: Arabic grammar, philosophy, metaphysics, Hadith, Quranic science and commentary, Ethics, Persian literature, Islamic law, and several others. He maintained a 17.0 (out of 20.0) GPA. After four years, at the age of 18 he returned to the United States and gained work experience as he simultaneously engaged in college courses in the field of Computer Information Systems. He went on to expand his this knowledge at Wrightco Tech vocational school where he would receive certificates in business telephony, fiber optics communications and security systems. He maintained a 3.2 GPA.

In 2006 he returned to Iran in order to further his knowledge of Islamic studies and to gain vast work experience in the field of translation. He specialized in tutoring and teaching English to high raking officials. He also worked at numerous educational institutes and universities specializing in translation and transcription, including The Porch of Wisdom Institute (www.islamquest.net), Sina Institute (www.insight-info.com), Sibtayn International Institute (www.sibtayn.org), Mofid University and several others.

He also married at this time, 8 time Iranian Gold Medalist (in Basketball and Martial Arts), Fatemeh Osfoori-Fard who also ventured into the field of Islamic Studies.

In 2008 he was accepted into the online MA program of I.C.A.S. (Islamic College for Advanced Studies), validated by Middlesex University. He is a current student there majoring in Islamic Mysticism.

He is a talented public speaker who establishes great rapport especially with the youth, who focuses on religious, inspirational and interfaith topics. He is invited regularly to travel and give lectures all across the United States and thus far to over 6 different countries. Some of the places he has given lectures at include: Rutgers University, Islamic Center of England (London, U.K.), Islamic Education Center (Tampa, FL & Potomac, MD), Muhammadia Center (Patterson, NJ), Wales Ahlul Bayt Youth Society (Cardiff, Wales), Jaffari Islamic Center (Orlando, FL), The Council of Islamic Guidance (Toronto, CA), Idara –e- Jaffaria (Burtonsville, MD), The Ahlul-Bayt Association (Austin, TX), SABA (San Jose, CA) and several others.

In 2009 he started the company, I.F.A.S. (Innovative Fitness & Advanced Scholarship); an after-school program dedicated to physical fitness and academics especially for Muslim youth.

He also writes articles and poetry for multiple websites, magazines and newsletters locally and abroad.

He is fluent in Western Persian (Farsi) and is well-versed in Eastern Persian (Dari) and Arabic.

His hobbies and interest include:
Spending time with family, reading, giving to the needy, sports, writing poetry, traveling, Islamic studies, computers, cooking and occasionally playing video games.

Hello. My name is Raef, 27 from Germantown MD - but I usually just say the DC area. I am a public high school teacher in Montgomery county. I teach C++, Java, and other tech-related courses at Northwest high school. I am also a singer/songwriter and am part of the Poetic Vision Tour (http://www.poeticvisiontour.com/). I am the vocalist and bass player for the band Great Seneca. I used to work for a security software company in VA.

My story is pretty simple - being Muslim just means that I am in sync with the rest of creation, and I do what I do to help others and please my creator. I apply this simple concept of Islam to my career and my life.

I decided to switch careers from a software eng. to a high school teacher because I wanted to help others in a more direct way (and because it was pretty boring sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day). The prophet Muhammad mentioned that anyone who paves a path for knowldge, Allah paves a path for him to paradise.

I was also concerned about negative views that people may have about my beautiful faith. When fellow teachers, students, and parents see me, a practicing Muslim, who is working tirelessly to help make a difference in the lives of 120+ students every day, they have a tangible counter-example of the so-called Muslims that make the evening news.

In my music, the lyrics I write and sing are all influenced by the values that Islam brings to people of all faiths. I sing about being grateful, being productive, and taking advantage of health before illness, wealth before poverty, and youth before old-age : all which are lessons taught by the Quran and practices of prophet Muhammad.
The Poetic Vision Tour is a traveling musical concert that is made up of artists and music that is spiritually compliant with Islam. During our concerts, we invite the audience to discuss and study the lyrics handed out to them. Muslims and people of other faiths have attended and enjoyed our music.

Born and raised here, I am fortunate to have close friends of numerous faiths. The years following 9-11 changed the way people view me and my faith. The constant mentioning of terrorism and Islam in the same sentence still worries me. Growing up, I was never taught to hate, or even put down others - the beautiful thing about Islam is that it is accepting of ALL people. Just walk into one of our Islamic centers - people of all walks of life come together and pray to 1 God. Islam makes so much sense to me because it's very natural - there's no middle-'man' between me and my creator. I don't need anyone or any special place to connect, ask, or pray to God.

I pray that God will give me the energy, and life to continue to do good and help others.

Raef Haggag
Germantown , MD

As a young American Muslim, I face a multitude of challenges on a daily basis. A minority within the larger American society, I must summon the courage to maintain my faith on a daily basis. I have to deal with people who misunderstand Islam, those with negative views of my faith, and those who try to stereotype me based on my religious convictions. Yet as I look around me and see the increasing number of converts to Islam throughout this country, I realize that with all the misunderstandings about Islam and the negative propaganda campaigns, Islam in America remains a viable and growing faith. It is an honor to be a member of a religion that recognizes the prophets of the other Abrahamic faiths and instructs us to leave the world a better place than we found it. It's an honor to be a member of the fastest growing faith around the world and to be a part of a faith community that has contributed to the betterment of the world through the sciences, technology, health, astronomy, philosophy, and geography.

This is a sort of blog entry/journal note that I wrote after making a major decision in my life about the Muslim headscarf. The note was very well received and a friend of mine suggested I submit it. It may need a lot of work so I am certainly open to edits.
Thanks!

As I have just completed my undergrad and begin to think more carefully about my future, I have been doing a lot of reflection on my life, and in particular my faith. Having thought about this for some time now, even over the past few years, I have decided to stop wearing the hijab (headscarf).

I have been talking to many people about my decision, and finding ways to talk about it has not been easy. But one of the things I realized, is that it’s important for me to go back to the beginning, because my story about wearing/not wearing a hijab is not one that spans just a few years, but rather is something that has been with me my entire life.

I attended a private Muslim school from kindergarten through the 6th grade, where a headscarf was a mandatory part of the school uniform. Outside of the school setting, I did not wear a scarf. This academic environment was contrasted by my family environment, where neither my mother, nor many of my relatives, wore a headscarf. Growing up in the academic setting, being taught that hijab was a mandatory part of the faith, I told myself that I would start one day, and arbitrarily picked high school.

My first week of high school was also my first week wearing a hijab in a more permanent manner. It was also the week of 9.11.01. Having been born and raised in a diverse city and attending Lane Tech, the largest high school in the city and among the most diverse, I was fortunate to have generally positive experiences in our post-9.11 world. During these years of high school, I struggled a lot with my faith, and was often challenged the most by my friends of other faith backgrounds. Christa challenged me to understand my faith better, for example questioning my wearing a scarf with a short-sleeved shirt (an effort to fit in then, which I now look back at with horror [my horror is by no means to pass judgment on others, but rather is a reflection of the change of my views over time]). In other ways, I learned more about my faith and myself as I made new friends through high school and college, like Nazia, Hazel, Khatija, and Amina, friends that have become my family. I firmly believe that these friends have drawn me even closer to Islam, in addition to the countless friends of other faith backgrounds that have been equally wonderful. Other times, I challenged myself, struggling to find what it meant for me to wear a hijab. For example, I did not wear a hijab in settings where I wore traditional desi clothes, not only due to my vanity but also because I believe in the flexibility of the scarf, which I liken to someone wearing an abaya (long Islamic dress) in only some settings.

In any case, my reasons for wearing a hijab were diverse and not necessarily rooted in a firm belief that it was a mandatory part of Islam. Some wear it because they believe it was mandated by God, while others do so for reasons regarding modesty or culture. I wore it simply because I felt that it made me more God-conscious and as a means of empowerment in a world that increasingly subjugates women. I liked being the hijabi that broke stereotypes, that was active in the community – with Muslims and individuals of other faith backgrounds, and I really believe that over the years it has helped me grow significantly, bringing me closer to my faith. My faith, just like everyone’s, Sana recently stressed to me during our conversation about the hijab, is something that is constantly changing, with ups and downs like a roller coaster. Over the past eight years of my wearing a headscarf, I feel that it has truly brought me up.

But at the same time, it is not without its downs. I’ve been feeling a lot lately as if I’ve gotten too comfortable wearing a hijab, to the point where I’ve let myself go on other aspects of faith that are much more important. Moreover, I’m not happy with the stereotypes associated with being a hijabi, and while I enjoyed being the one to break them, I think the issue is much more prevalent within the Muslim community than outside of it. Relationships, for example, are dictated between people who wear a headscarf and those who do not, as if a class of “better Muslim sisters” is created simply by wearing the hijab, where individuals try merely to fit in with, what they assume, falsely, is a “more religious” crowd. I had become so comfortable in this place that for the longest time I was afraid of taking it off because I feared that people would judge me. Hijab also has become more of a social or political statement lately, or even worse, a fashion statement. In our commercial society, we have even commodified the hijab – and I say this to myself first.

Additionally, I have come to the realization that while I do believe that in some respects wearing a headscarf makes me more God-conscious or I enjoy being a physically-represented Muslim, I wonder, as Tanya encouraged me to reflect, why I have to rely on a piece of cloth to do so. I should represent Islam not by how I dress, but by how I act and speak. I should be God-conscious not simply by being more careful or aware based on how I dress, but in every part of my life anyway.

So for these reasons and more, I am no longer wearing a hijab. There are many things I’m going to miss. As I told Michelle for example, I am going to miss being the hijabi that broke all your stereotypes. I am going to miss being physically represented as a Muslim, where fellow Muslims could say Salaam to me on the street. I am going to miss the respect that I received, while I question at the same time, why this respect does not last through my non-hijab days now. However, this is a sign of the fact that I have been wearing a headscarf for all the wrong reasons, and that stands against my faith, not for it.

But even my story is just one - perhaps unique, perhaps familiar - out of the many. And that is exactly as it should be treated: as a single story, of my life, my experiences, my interpretations, and my opinions, that may or may not share commonalities with the stories of others, but is still wholly mine. The Muslim mantra, if you will, after 9.11, was that “Islam is not a monolith but this phrase is something we had used in an isolated manner only for the non-Muslim community, not taking our own advice and asking instead for conformity within the faith. Our community lacks serious, open and respectful discourse, not just about the intrafaith issue of hijab, but about so many others things. Even more than all of this though, is the realization that my story is still not complete. In talking to Nate about this the other day for example, I was reminded of how great it was that this is something that I can revisit. Wearing a hijab or not wearing a hijab, any part of my faith, is something that needs to be revisited, so that it can be better understood and appreciated over time. None of us have completed our stories yet; only God knows.

I did not wear my hijab out the other day, and it was terrifying. But it was also an experience that was relieving because I know it is the right thing to do at this point in my life. So, a big thank you to all my family and friends that have heard me talk about this for countless hours and that provided much needed advice and support. Eight years ago, when I started high school it felt like the easiest thing in the world to put on that scarf over my head; the other day, it felt like I was taking off a part of myself. But it felt right.

Maybe, God willing, I will wear it again someday. But when I do, I hope it’s because I am ready to do so, when I am at a place in my life and faith in which I can learn from it and grow from it.

Until then, I have a million scarves that are now for sale!

Being a Muslim means everything to me. It helps me make decisions in my daily life, it bring meaning to everything I do.

The beauty in Islam is how simple it really is. It's me and my God and that's all. Obviously this is oversimplified, but what I mean is that when any crisis or goodness comes in my way, the one I turn to is God. He's always there, and there is a direct connection between man and God. When I need him, he is there, and what he wants me to do, I try to do my best. There are many parts of Islam, meaning many things Muslims are required to do (5 pillars of Islam), but the way I view it is that these things are there to help us become better people in general, for example, Zakat (charity) -> this helps us from being greedy and makes fortunate people realize that we should help those who are unfortunate out of our humanity that God has blessed us with. Fasting is another requirement that really helps us remember God more than usual and control our innate desires (with food/sex).

The way I see things since I'm Muslim, is that everything that God requires us to do is really making us better people, whether we realize it or not, and knowing that we will one day return back to him and leave this world also helps us not get too greedy about things here and be more accountable for everything we do even if we think no one else is looking.

That's my 2 cents

Lost in Transition

I was born and raised in Jerusalem Palestine under the Israeli Occupation in 1984. Being Muslim deemed me not one of the "chosen ones" and as a result I was not allowed to have citizenship in the country in which I was born, the country in which my grandfather lost his leg fighting for our identity and the land in which my entire lineage was born and raised. Although my birth certificate states "Israel" as my birthplace, I was given Jordanian citizenship and an Israeli ID card that will allow me to pass through certain cities but prevent me from voting. This ID was later taken back and I will never be allowed to become a resident of Palestine or Israel because I'm Muslim. This sent a clear message of unworthiness from the moment of birth-simply because I was born to Muslim parents.

Although I was born Muslim, I didn’t accept Islam as my faith until the tender age of eight. It was a sunny and bright calm day. My brother and I were playing on the balcony in Jerusalem when we decided to question this whole existence of a "God" that seemed to be causing so much bloodshed and chaos in our homeland. Across the street from us, a neighbor was hanging up some clothes to dry as they did not have a dryer. The young lady was in the middle of hanging up her laundry but the basket was fairly full. We innocently challenged God himself and said "If she stops hanging up the clothes, takes her basket and goes back inside-then there is a God." I objected to my brother that it would be an unfair way to test God. Why would she do that when she hasn't finished her task? He said "if there is a God, and he can do anything, just like he prevented that tear gas from hitting you on the way from school, and gave me strength to get up after being slapped by an Israeli soldier for wearing a necklace in the shape of the Palestinian map, then he can do this." Within seconds, the young lady stopped hanging up her laundry, took in the remaining clothes and went inside her house. From that moment on, I believed in God and inside me grew an unwavering faith that has not left me to this day despite the baggage and hardships associated with being Muslim.

During my early childhood, the first intifada broke out. My Dad, a physician who owned an ambulance on several occasions would come home and we would help him clean out Palestinian/Muslim blood from his Ambulance. One clear memory I have of this was after the Aqsa (mosque) massacre in which unarmed Muslim worshipers were massacred inside the mosque. My father described it as a raining of bullets, so severe you can barely see in front of you. When my Dad came home that day and opened the Ambulance door, blood which had flooded the Ambulance’s inside gushed out like a waterfall.

My parents finally moved us to the United States at the age of 12 for a safer environment and to get a better education. Growing up Muslim in America was free of bullets and tear gas but came with its own challenges and identity crises. From bullying at school, death threats after 9/11 to an identity crisis of trying to uphold my Islamic faith while assimilating to my peers and into corporate America as a young adult. My main conflict was that I was raised to believe certain things were wrong and only bad people did them. Things like drinking, going to clubs, speaking to strange men and dating.

After graduating and starting a career with a multi-billion dollar distributing company I started interacting with people who seemed very good but did “unislamic” things. Almost every business meeting included a happy hour or an open bar. This caused an internal conflict. How could it be that someone who did not follow Islam be good? To further complicate things, I even met American Muslims who assimilated to American Culture and were genuinely good well educated people but also did “unislamic” things.

After a few years of thinking, researching and interacting, I've come to the conclusion that Islam is just an Arabic word meaning complete submission to God. People express their submission in different ways. Islam is not meant to complicate one’s life but to make it more simple. I've reached internal peace when I was able to differentiate between Islam and Muslims.

Islam is not a terrorist killing in the name of God, nor is it a man taking four wives but never kneeling to pray. Islam is the man who lost his son in war and people came to give their condolences, he was very content and thankful. When questioned, he simply answered “God gave me four children, took one but left me with three. For that, I am thankful”. This to me is Islam and this is a great example of a good Muslim.

Islam to me now is a feeling inside my heart. It is a faith there is a higher power looking over all of us amidst the chaos in our world. Islam is the feeling I got when I visited the birth place of Jesus and the Aqsa mosque. Islam is the feeling I had after running the 33rd Annual Marine Corps marathon to raise funds to educate people I don’t even know and will probably never meet. Most of all I see Islam in my 6 month old baby niece. Born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, unaware of the complications she will face. Living in blissful oblivion, an innocent child who is completely helpless but giggles plays and sleeps because she is in full submission.

I strive to become that kind of Muslim and to submit completely and fully despite any adversities I may face. To giggle smile and keep the innocence of a child in my heart because I am completely submitted to a higher power that will watch over me.

I was once told that there will come a time when being Muslim is like holding a hot coal in ones hand. I believe we are living that time, and although I dropped that coal when I felt it burnt too much or it was hurting me. I quickly picked it up, because that same coal that has been burning also lit my path in my darkest hours since that day I was on the balcony and chose Islam, chose to submit. I hope that coal will continue to burn and be fueled with my faith and passion to show the world the truth about Islam and distinguish it from the Muslims who have tarnished its name.

I would like to share with you the news of completion of my Islamic studies that has taken me about 20 years while maintaining an engineering career.

I recently finished my PhD in Islamic Studies at the University of Birmingham in England. I chose this university because of its stronger Islamic studies department among the western countries that I could identify. It took me four years to complete it as a full time student. My thesis topic was: A comparative review of some widely-used English translations of the Qur’an.

While working as an engineer, I started my Islamic Studies in a serious way about 20 years ago. After a few years, I felt that I must learn the Arabic language. Almighty God arranged for me to go to Saudi Arabia thru my engineering job and to study the Arabic language in there. After 4 years in Saudi Arabia, I moved to Washington, DC area because of the Islamic universities that had opened up in here. I completed the equivalent of a BA in Islamic studies, first. Then, I did an MA in Islamic studies after which I went for my PhD. I quit my engineering job (at Boeing) so that I can concentrate on my studies and finish my PhD.

Now that my Islamic studies are completed, I would like to transition my career from engineering to teaching Islamic studies in the universities. I have done these studies because that is where my heart and mind has been all along. Further, because I have felt a severe need in this field and I have felt that that I can better serve the cause of Islam and Muslims, in this way.

This accomplishment can become a model for other Muslim youth in the western countries that they can do serious Islamic studies besides their professional careers. Yes, it requires a lot of sacrifices, but it is possible! If approached with the right intention and some genuine efforts, not only it would bring them closer to God (Allah), but they can better serve the cause of Islam/Muslims, such as struggling against the misinformation and misunderstandings about Islam and Muslims, and reaching out to bridge the gap between the various communities of faith.

It should be noted that the completion of some university degrees do not make a person a real scholar in the vast field of Islamic studies and the Qur’an, but it is only a step towards it. For example, my own knowledge in the ocean of the Qur’an and its English translations is like a person who has just made his feet wet in the shore while dreaming to swim in that ocean. In fact, these kinds of degrees can be a real burden on a person if not used and practiced properly.

May God guide me to use this accomplishment, which has been achieved only with His guidance and support, in the service of Islam/Muslims and the rest of the humanity in the most effective ways!

By the way, I am originally from Afghanistan and I have lived in the United States for the last 26 years as a citizen. I have been living in Northern Virginia for the last 10 years.

My name is Ali Syed. I am a Shia Muslim-American, born and raised in the United States. I am a medical student in Baltimore, Maryland hoping to do good in this world. My grandmother is my greatest inspiration - she is altruism, respect, love, modesty, and compassion in human form. She taught me to serve others, especially those who are impoverished, and to care for the elderly, as she did when she was a youth growing up in India. I love to cook, play tennis, admire God's creation (Mother nature), and share knowledge.

What does "being Muslim" mean to you?
It means I am a servant of Allah, or God. I am also a member of a 1+ billion strong community.

What do you find beautiful about Islam, and how does it find expression in your daily life?
- Its inclusiveness of all humanity and faiths
- the priority given to knowledge and education is of the highest
- Doing any good deed is considered an act of worship. My being a future physician means that every day, just the fact that I am earning money by legitimate means is a form of worship. The fact that I am also dedicating my life to service of humanity through my profession is an even higher virtue and even greater form of worship. Plus, I get to make Allah (The Exalted and Glorious) happy everyday. :)
- Sharing knowledge with others is so highly praised by Allah
- its emphasis on service, compassion and charity
- its strength lies in its ability to provide us with the tools to make good, logical decisions in our everyday lives
- the emphasis on humility before God
- the rich combination of the sciences and spirituality
- I get to communicate with God through my prayers everyday. I can ask for His Aid and beg for His Mercy, express my gratitude and humble myself.

What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition?
- I hope that we can raise the scholastic level of our community. This is especially important because in Islam we strongly believe that education is an incredibly worthy pursuit because it is the solution to all vices.
- As a Shia Muslim, I would like to see the American government more supportive of Shia groups, especially Shia-friendly nations in the Middle East, and learn to stand up to injustices done against this significant population within the Muslim community. This includes the Shias in Saudi Arabia (who are often victims of violence and injustice just for being Shia), Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain (a country with a Shia majority but unfortunately, extremist schools of thought are infiltrating and oppressing the Shias).
- I hope more people will stand up to extreme and illogical ideologies that misrepresent Islam. Extremists are ruining the beauty of our faith - it's about time the true Muslims, those who believe in moderation, educate the public and help promote peace and understanding.
- I hope that more people will understand that the Hijab is an expression of a woman's respect for herself and her connection to Allah.
- Muslim-American youth are becoming incredibly active in their centers and mosques and are hoping to facilitate an era of peace, prosperity, understanding, and tolerance among all people of the world. These youth need to be engaged by the American public, media, and the government. Look for them and Inshallah (God-willing) you will have found an exceptional and trustworthy human being.

Assalamo Alaikom (Peace upon you)

Being a Muslim and living it from day-to-day is the best gift I could have imagined and hoped for. I like to thank and pray to my creator, the creator of everything around, and not to the creation.

May God bless you and show you the light of Islam,

Adam--

The Muslim World is VERY diverse. The vast majority of Muslims do not speak Arabic as their primary language, Arabic speaking peoples are only 1/5 of the Muslim population. Indonesia is the largest Muslim populated country in the world and most Muslims are in South and Southeast Asia. Myself, I am American born but my parents immigrated from Somalia in the 80s (in the case of my mother) and in the 70s (in the case of my father as a teen). Islam is the backbone of Somali practices. From the way we marry to the way we eat to what wear to how we conduct ourselves culturally and even behavior. The Muslim world has similar practices but the style of practices are different.

Islam is a way of life, it governs everything we Muslims do. Growing up in America, the values Americans talk about are compatible with our faith. You can be American and be Muslim at the same time. I grew up here, I practiced my faith and grew up in it and I don't feel alienated for who I am. There are things such as drinking, partying, and what not many people my age do, but I stay away from it all as it conflicts with my faith and in the end, the choices I make for Islam will make me a better person.

I am a Black American. Growing up during the 1960s and early 1970s my father was marginally involved with Islam via the Moorish American Science Temple movement and my mother belonged to a Pentecostal church. I spent Fridays going to the temple/mosque and Sunday going to Sunday school and church. By the time I turned 13 I began to notice that the diversity I found in the mosque did not exist in the churches. I attended a Black church and knew that there were White churches. I began to ask why if everyone was praying to the same God why the churches were separated by skin color?

Also, my father had subversively gotten me very interested in reading history and comparative theology literature. The history revealed the role of the Church in the slave trade and comparative theology caused we to challenge the mental gymnastics required to address the concept of the trinity. It did not help that in order to fully embrace the religion of my mother I had to reject that of my father. At the same time, my father's religion embraced the message of the Christ (pbuh) and presented a challenge only to some of the doctrine of the Pentecostal church while allowing me to embrace the broader message and its messenger.

Finally, it was Islam that saved my life and allowed me to escape the poor inner-city neighborhood I was born into. Islam's restrictions against intoxicants keep me away from alcohol and drugs. Its insistence on education and learning caused me to pursue academic excellence to the point where now I am a university professor with a PhD.

I feel sad that the only imagine so many Americans have of Islam is of "Jihadists" and they do not see the faith that has guided my life and allowed me to fulfilled the American dream and become a good husband, father and even son.

It was the most beautiful and poignant place in the world for me. Jerusalem, the Holy City, surrounded with innumerable graves, many unmarked, its history saturated with death, warfare and magnificence. God, or fate, whichever one you may believe in, played a joke on humankind when it was named Jerusalem, City of Peace.

While I sat at the Israeli border, for seven hours, I pondered this. There I was, a devout Muslim American, stuck sitting and waiting, waiting with patience evaporating as it does from a pot of boiling water. It was a city beloved by my Israeli mother, whose father and uncle fought for its liberation and it was a city beloved by my Palestinian father whose parents chose exile for fear of the Israeli forces and fought for it's defense.

This place, where I sat waiting endlessly, was full of flies. There was some black gunk on the tiles and no air-conditioning. This infuriated me as I realized these conditions were for my benefit and the rest of the second rate humans – the Arabs. I sat on and off alone during those seven hours. They took my brother aside several times for interrogation and left me sitting there. Finally, I had had enough. I, an American, was not used to having lawful prejudiced displayed to me (except for my VIP treatments at airports, of course). I told my brother I wanted to go back to Amman and I did not want to wait any longer. So we told them to give back our American passports and we wanted to leave. They finally let us through, only 10 minutes before they closed.

It was an uneventful trip to Jerusalem except for the disconcerted looks I got when people noticed my headscarf, my American accent, and my Pakistani outfit, which I wore as a tribute to my raising and a consolation to my culturally torn soul. We arrived late at night at a distant cousin's house. I was surprised to find that they had stayed up waiting for us, even the children. Not eating, but waiting to share this meal with us as their honored guests. Then we were to set off sight seeing. I was moved by the honor they granted us. We had three days until I had to return to Amman and then to the United States.

As we set off into the night, I felt as if my mind and my vision were clear and precise, even in the dark. Truly this was a place of holiness. This pilgrimage was soon tarnished by the constant stops at all the checkpoints. We were in two cars, and the car I was in got stopped constantly. The other car, which had my brother Rajab, who is half Palestinian and half African American, and my light eyed and light haired cousin, was never stopped. The driver, (a distant relative?) grumbled something in Arabic and my aunt agreed. When I enquired, she explained, "They stop us because of your hijab (head scarf) and your brightly colored Pakistani clothes. They don't stop Rajab and Khalid (my cousin) because they look American."

This sat uncomfortably on my mind. Out of everyone there, I was the one who was the third generation American, I was the one who spoke English and I was the one who was actually Israeli! – I wondered if they would actually have treated me differently if they had known. I decided that from then on I would smile broadly at every stop at the suspicious and/ or puzzled soldier.

Soon, I was in the car with my brother Rajab and my cousin Khalid. Rajab started to lament at the arduous time we were having. He began to recall his interrogation, and tried to add humor to the moment. He recalled an ugly, uni-browed soldier asking over and over again whether he had been to Saudi Arabia. "No." was Rajab's answer and he would offer his passport as proof. But this did not discourage the soldier from his relentless pursuit. My cousin laughed and commented, "Poor Ilana! Her first time in Palestine and she was treated with such hospitality! We'll just have to make up for it." I laughed, but not because of his wit. Rather, his tone reminded me of that kind of humor my mother described as Yiddish humor.

The events of the day sobered me and I looked out the window a lot except for the occasional stop at a checkpoint. I asked, "Is it common to wait seven hours at a checkpoint?" Rajab translated for me. "Yes", answered my cousin, "especially after 9-11. In Gaza it always happens. There over 400 women have given birth at checkpoints." His tone of acceptance and normalcy stunned me.

Khalid then pointed to a fancy building. He spoke with a tone of pride and happiness. Rajab translated. "Khalid's first job as a contractor, when he came to this city, was that building. But, he is not allowed in it because he is Palestinian and here they are second class citizens." Rajab never hesitated to put in his opinions in subtle ways.

I looked out and saw two soldiers talking. They were a boy and a girl. They looked down at the pavement and seemed to be talking casually, but shyly. I began to think of them and how they seemed so oblivious to the consequences of their actions and the role they are playing. They were completely unaware of what they instilled in the hearts of others through their actions.

That night I cried. I cried for dashed hopes, for love lost, and for hate that seems to triumph in this land and beyond. I had been given a window that looked onto despair, injustice, and a place where wrongs were considered commonplace. I could not help but feel that the idea of a second rate citizen was absolute perversity. I remembered my cousin's face when he looked onto the building that represented for him a great accomplishment. The weight of this experience started to weigh heavily on me and started to be overwhelming. I felt as if I couldn't breathe. I recalled the Civil Rights Movement and thought that this must be how Blacks felt at that time. Tears streamed down my face and I buried my face in the pillow so that no one would hear my gasps. I felt anger, frustration and fear of the endless violence. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go back to America. I reached over to the dusty glass window and wetted my finger with my tongue and wrote, "Equal, please."

I want you to imagine that you wrote a great paper and your teacher gave you a low grade. Imagine the anger and frustration you would feel. The proof of your hard work is there in black and white. You followed the directions and reviewed everything. How would you feel? Well, multiply that so many times, maybe one hundred times or even a thousand. Because, this injustice consistently defines who you are and your future and you can't do anything about it.

The next morning we were to visit the Dome of the Rock. The goal of our pilgrimage. As the family stepped out of the hotel and walked toward the car, I looked out onto a view of the Old City of Jerusalem. There was the Dome of the Rock. The brightness made my eyes feel naked. I was seeing a skyline that I had only seen in pictures. Our guide was a Christian Arab. He took us to the holy sites of his religion and told us, when we were on the road, that Jesus had taken this route when riding on a donkey and entering Jerusalem.

Finally, we entered the Old City walls and walked in a labyrinth of walkways and steps. I saw East Asians, South Asians, Greeks, Italians, Germans and many Russians. As for the Palestinians, I was surprised at the range of colors: some as black as the darkest Africans and others so red and white that their lashes shone white in the sun, Such a view of diversity warmed my heart. I loved it.

As we entered a church I saw people were crying and praying at a slab of stone, sometimes children even kissing it—the site of Jesus' crucifixion, according to the Greek and Russian Orthodox Church. Then we exited and went back on the street where Druze priests, Orthodox Jews, Shiites, Sunnis and church bells littered the street. We weaved our way through the massive marketplace that seemed to infiltrate every vein of Jerusalem. The walking seemed never ending. It was when we past the Western Wall that we came near the end, walked past three Muslim graves and out a gate. A courtyard full of huge trees greeted us. A Mexican couple lost their group (their shirts had the flag), and I smiled, as a language, though incoherent to me, felt almost as familiar as English, flooded my ears.

Then an awesome sight met my eyes. From between the trees stood the enormous image of the golden Dome of the Rock. It was like seeing the sun up close and realizing it was a sphere. And as we got closer and closer, you could see the blue, green, white—and even red marble. There was such immense attention to detail, it was mind boggling. Our Christian tour guide entered with us in the Dome of the Rock. The inside was so amazing, I can't describe it. Such pains taken to make God's blessed place beautiful and through abstract art, prefect in geometry and symmetry, glorifying God in exquisite calligraphy—it overwhelmed my heart and my eyes filled with tears. It brought such peace and thankfulness to my heart. I felt a passionate need to pray, and I did, bowing up and down in the ritual prayer and during supplications.

We then walked down to the Omar Mosque, right next to the Dome of the Rock. It was a magnificent palace—no, even superior—beautifully decorated columns reach up so high that several trees could be piled up.

"Rajab," my voice seemed intrusive, but I went on, in awe, pointing to the ceiling, "There are birds." People lay on the floor of the mosque, perhaps some asleep. Others read Qur'an or prayed. Peace filled the place and my heart felt at ease. After praying a bit, my brother and I lay down, our faces upward contently observing the amazing art of the ceiling. Two birds circled the dome above us in opposite directions. "Maybe they are praying in their own way," Rajab remarked. "Look at the stars." He pointed to the vibrant colored glass. "Look, the center star is the Star of David. Maybe the Islamic star is the Star of David overlapped with more Stars of David," he said in a totally serious voice. I sensed no rancor or sarcasm. "It's places like this, our mosques, which give our souls peace, a sanctuary from the turmoil of the outside world." That last comment struck such a cord of truth in my body. Perhaps, God created such holiness, such peace because the nature of life can be filled with such turmoil. Maybe such places are a reward for those who turn to God in their time of need. Maybe God created such a sanctuary amidst chaos to give us this comfort, because the nature of humankind is to pray in need. But because chaos exists doesn't mean its right. Perhaps God places holy sites where peace is needed most.

Topics: Diversity, East Asia and the Pacific, Middle East and North Africa
Keywords: Ramadan, Islam, Muslim students

04 August 2009
Ramadan in a Multi-Faith Family

Ilana Alazzeh was born in San Francisco to an Israeli mother and Palestinian father. She currently attends Smith College in Massachusetts, where she stays active in community service and interfaith work, regularly speaking on panels regarding Islam and religious pluralism.

Celebrating Ramadan at Smith College has always been difficult. My thoughts always drift back to celebrating with my family, such as heading to the beautiful masjid every weekend for iftar. Smith’s masjid is less dazzling: It’s a large, bare room. Still, it is a truly blessed place of salaam, and I try to go whenever I am not too tired from homework. The community there is small but diverse, and is one of the most sincere I have ever encountered. It’s not only Muslims, but the religious, the curious and the ambiguous all join each other for breakfast. Ironically, this diversity still reminds me of home.

When my Israeli mother celebrates Ramadan, she always incorporates her heritage into the holiday. For example, while my Pakistani stepfather is downstairs making pancakes, she will loudly sing Hebrew songs from her childhood to wake us up for suhoor. Although she has converted to Islam, she still keeps her Jewish customs alive.

Once, my mother’s father came to visit during Ramadan. He is a small, mischievous and comical man, a Palmach war veteran of Israel. Unlike my mother, he refused to celebrate Ramadan. He would begrudgingly come to the masjid with us, and even though he knew Arabic, he only spoke in Hebrew or English. While we were inside doing our night prayers, he would smoke outside with my stepgrandmother: a Southern Baptist African American who converted to Judaism. It certainly wasn’t the traditional picture of Ramadan.

But even though my grandfather did not celebrate with us, he did respect the holiday. I remember him giving my younger brother a clap for teasing me with food when I was fasting. Even though he wasn’t fasting with me, he honored my decision.

I’ll never forget the night during Ramadan that my puzzle of a family and I piled into our van to see the Christmas lights. We sang Jewish, Christmas and Dawud Wharnsby songs. (Watch the YouTube video “We’ve scanned the sky Dawud Wharnsby.”) My family of different cultures and religions were all celebrating together, enjoying each other’s company and acknowledging our diverse faiths. Although our coexistence was rough at times, it was built out of respect and real love.

My celebrations at Smith will never be able to match Ramadan at home, despite its best attempts. Iftar at Smith’s modest masjid are usually a sad but wholehearted attempt at what’s made at home. However, as my mother stresses, “Ramadan isn’t about iftar.” And she’s right. Ramadan for me is a time of peace and introspection, which ironically happens the most in congregation. It is when I celebrate with others that I feel closer to God. Community begets personal faith and personal faith begets the community thriving with full spectrum in God’s multi-faith world.

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or any other agency in the federal government.

http://www.america.gov/st/peopleplace-english/2009/August/20090804110422...

To me, being Muslim means fostering a good relationship with my Lord. It means establishing a strong connection with the One who nurtures, feeds, clothes, shelters, protects and raisies me to higher levels in life. It means having the most love for the One Who is The Most Loving. My very being and all else that exists in the universe is at my disposal so I can make this relationship with My creator more solid. He provides us with every tool, method, and idelogy to sucessfully navagate through this life and the next. It is sad for me to witness so many of my brothers and sisters from the Muslim World become preoccupied with establishing better relationships with the creation as opposed to better relationships The Creator. If we only understood that it is the latter that facilitaes the former. If only we realized that all benefit and all harm are under His control so He is the One to be most sought after.

The complexities amount when we ,as a community, try to take on others' traditions in an attempt to preserve our own. In reality we are only furthering others' traditions at the cost of our own. If only more of us would recognize the value and beauty of our way of life which can not be found in any other. We can adapt others' ways that may make our worldy lives better but this is not the same for our spiritual lives. We must realize that our system is pure and should not be altered. We must stand firm. We are carrying on the traditions of prophets. We walk in the footsteps of Adam, Noah, David, Solomon, Jacob, Abraham,Moses, Jesus and finally Muhammad. What an honor this is. What a tradition to carry. What a travesty to lose it. What a dilemma we face.

We should understand that diversity can be both a uniting and divisive factor. To the degree we take on the characteristics of others as opposed to characteristics our Lord as legislated for us is to the degree we have the type of diversity that causes differing between us. This is the downside of our diversity. On the upside, we embrace all colors, all races, all nationalities, all economic and educational backgrounds, all age groups and respect both genders. This provides us with a richness of cultures and a connection to all peoples of the world. All become united under one theme: Worship of the One Who created us all, Allah and following the example of His Messenger, Muhammad. We all become a single brotherhood, cooperating upon good and rejecting evil. This theme should penetrate to our cores and adorn all of our interactions with the rest of creation. This theme should be apparent in how we interact with our families,neighbors,co-workers, friends, foes, animals, plants and the enviornment we all share.

Taking all that was previously said into consideration, we are all human beings with all of the strenghts, weaknesses, beauty and ugliness that can be attributed to our race. We suceed and we fail, we get it right and we fall short. It is a beautiful thought that The One Who is The Most Perfect in all respects, Free from every flaw and blemish,The Most Beautiful in His self, names, attributes, actions and speech leaves a clear path for us to take to Him if we are so inclined or desirous of a companion the likes of Him. But how many of us turn down His invitation of friendship?

Dear reader, this is the Islam I know and love with all of its beauty and splendour. Here is the honor bestowed upon us when we live our lives by God's final book, the Qur'aan, and the dilemma we face when we chose other paths. Here is how diversity affects us and here is the way to our salvation. Thank for this opportunity to express my views. I hope this has contributed to some of the clarity you were seeking as well as well a sparked some more curiosity so you wil continue to seek. I bear witness that there is nothing worthy of worship but Allah alone, without any partners in that worship and I bear witness that Muhammad is His true servant and final Messenger. My final prayer is All praise is due to Allah the Lord of the worlds May he sedn peace and blessing upon His Messenger and his followers and may He unite all of our hearts upon the truth, Amin.

I converted to the religion of Islam 17 years ago. I was going through some very difficult times when guidance to Islam came to me. I feel like I had pretty much given up on everything in life. I felt like all of my friendships were superficial. I was being harassed at my job. My family life was a mess. Basically, everything in life was collapsing around me. I had decided at the time that life was no longer worth living. Yes, I had planned to take my own life. All I remember is looking at myself in the mirror and saying, "God, whoever You are. Come help me and I will find you." Little did I know at the time that God is closer to us that our own jugular vein (from Quran). God entered my life almost immediately at that point. My older brother had converted to the religion before me and gave me a Quran to read. It was everything that I felt that I always believed in my heart. Being Muslims simply means submission to God. It is affirmation that God knows what is best for my life and I should follow the guidance given through the Quran and Sunnah (life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). The beauty of Islam is that it is a way of life. I used to attend church on Sundays and felt that the rest of the week went by without any spiritual connection. Muslims pray five times a day to bring us back to our spiritual selves and to God. My hope for the future of Islam to to see a true American Muslim identity emerge, filled with tolerance and cooperation with other faiths. One concern that I have is Muslims always respect the traditional Muslim scholars of the past and not be misled by fanaticism, racism or hatred.

Q:If you are Muslim, we'd like to understand more about the complexity and diversity of "the Muslim world," as it is often called. What does "being Muslim" mean to you? What do you find beautiful about Islam, and how does it find expression in your daily life? What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition?

What does being Muslim mean to me? That’s a question I don’t get very often. You see, most people don’t bother to ask the question because they already assume that they know all the answers. All they have to do is watch FOX news and viola!... instant Muslim expert! The truth is, being Muslim is so complex, yet so simple. Paradox, it is. But, I understand it. Does NPR care to know why? We shall see.
Being Muslim in America, as an American, as an African-American, as the son of educated parents, as a person of multicultural awareness and worldwide acceptance, it’s easy. As a Muslim, I have all the freedoms I need. All the joys I ever wanted. All the pleasures I can imagine. You see, being Muslim is about not answering to anyone but God. So, for as long as I am doing my best, and I am aware of that best, then what anyone else has to say or think of it really doesn’t matter. That translates into minimal, if any, enemies, no grudges, no hang-ups, no impossible-to-fulfill wishes, and so on. I live my life to the simplest satisfaction. I really am happy with it. Sure, there are always areas where it could be improved-a little more money on my paycheck, a little easier time at work, a little more time with the family, a little more leisure, a little more…it’s not a lot to ask. But, you see, as a Muslim, I have learned to be grateful with what I have already been given. It is not difficult to forget these blessings, but it is easy to be reminded that others don’t have it, and if I continue to be ungrateful, it will be taken from me and given to someone else. As the saying goes…you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Being Muslim also means having acceptance of the world around me. Sure, it’s not going well in certain areas, but I also recognize that everything happens for a reason. I do not agree with slavery, but I recognize that without it, I may not have been born. I do not agree with lots of things that happen in the world, but I do accept that all things happen for a reason, beyond what many of us can even begin to imagine. I don’t write the fate, I swim with it and just make sure that I have my lifejacket on and keep on swimming in the right direction, even if it seems upstream. Getting swept away with the current of life is just not an option I was given by God. I have strength to use. I have courage to ignite. I have hope to embrace. This is Islam. I also recognize that many world religions have the same foundations and creeds of love, honesty, caring, knowledge, sacrifice, and so on. So, by being Muslim, I have to uphold the universal truths, the universal imperatives, and the universal codes of excellence and betterment of my society. If I were Christian, Jewish, or Hindu, and I followed these same facts, it would not be abnormal. Now, do this as a Muslim, and it’s news!
Islam is beauty and contains it. I love the beauty of the Muslim woman, the architecture, the Qur’an’s flawlessness, the simplicity, the love, the unity. Everything is beautiful, as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I don’t find flaws or ugliness with Islam. People, prejudices, politics, greed, and ego make Islam ugly. Not many of us would admittedly stare aimlessly at something that we thought was ugly and repulsive. Islam has been around for a long time. Something must taste good to the eyes of many.

It finds expression in my daily life in many ways. I pray, fast, give alms, wear modest clothing, and such. All these things don’t directly make me “seem” Muslim, but they are focused characteristics of anyone who takes their way of life serious. My way of life is being focused, reduced stress, and plenty of love. If that means that I try my best not to look intently at every woman I see because I don’t want my wife to get on my case or for fear of falling into an irreversible relationship, or if it means that I don’t worry about every little thing people say, do, accuse, complain, rant, fight, kill, and think, or even if it means that I make sure I am kind to everyone I meet, even people I don’t necessarily care for all that much, but they would never know that, then yes, I think I am doing a good job. Is it because of my Islam? Maybe. Maybe not. It could just simply be my personality. In the end, it really doesn’t matter now does it. Love does not wear a face, cross, yarmulke, sport-jacket, or hijab…it just is. People may not know that I am Muslim. I am just the nice teacher. In that instance, being Muslim is not important, being nice is. That is what God sees. That’s what I will be judged on. That’s what I feel and believe. And no, I could not care less who disagrees with that as well.

I do ponder a lot in regard to my tradition of Islam. But, my concerns are with myself. You see, I can’t do a darn thing for anybody or any cause or any issue or any calling until I can handle my own self, my own feelings, my own heart, and my own sins. This does not mean that I don’t care about anyone or anything. What it means is that I can’t afford to be judgmental about someone else’s affairs when I have work to do on myself. But, that’s just me. Or maybe that’s just Islam. You decide.

I lived a near perfect Islamic lifestyle from the time that I was born until the age of 9 years old. My family lived in New Mexico close to Dar-ul Islam mosque & school built in the mountains in Abiquiu. The Muslim community there was incredibly diverse, beautifully spiritual, and open-minded. Most of the people had converted to Islam decades ago and were raising their children in this new faith they had come to understand and love. There in the New Mexican Muslim haven that our parents had established, us kids grew up without knowing much about racism or violence and spent our time outside for most of the daylight hours. When my mom was offered and accepted a teaching job at an Islamic school in Canton, Michigan our lives became radically different. We found that the Muslim community in Michigan was also diverse yet quite segregated. It took one year for us to become part of the family there, and once we were in we were loved and considered 'the cool black family' from the Southwest.
I began wearing the hijaab or headscarf at around 10 years old. It wasn't an issue until I attended a public high school, but even then, there were 3 hijaab-ed girls there already, representing Islam and cushioning my entrance as a freshman. Because I didn't only associate with the other covered Muslim girls, but I mingled with the chem nerds and starred in drama productions, and read the morning announcements over the speaker, I quickly became one the well known and liked students at Ypsilanti High School.
Four years later on a full-ride scholarship, I entered The University of Michigan, a college of which the Muslim Students' Association (MSA) was legendary! Freshman year I became the liaison for the MSA and the Black Student Union, next year I served as Secretary of the MSA, and, senior year I was the Vice President of the organization. For all four years of my undergraduate career the MSA was in the running for 'Best Campus Organization' and we took the trophy home 2 times during my 3 executive board terms. Unfortunately or fortunately, I haven't yet decided, I put more focus and effort into MSA than I did my schoolwork. Although I grew significantly academically, my faith and enthusiasm for Islam blossomed exponentially. We did so much good for Muslims and everyone on campus, by raising money for disaster victims, collecting food, raising awareness, and establishing spiritual getaways -- MSA was incredible to be a part of! I do have to mention that as much as we tried not to be, the MSA was a tad clique-y.

After graduation I wanted to start a working career but due to the recession and perhaps my hijaab, I was not able to find employment. I got married in December 2008, officially sealing the marriage circle of my parent's children and introducing yet another race into our diverse spouse pool (we have Japanese, Italian, African, Kurdish, and Caucasian). Currently, I work three jobs: I am a paid writer for Examiner.com (Detroit Muslim Examiner), I am a standardized patient instructor at the UM school of Dentistry and Medicine, and I am a child care provider at a Muslim owned daycare in Ann Arbor, MI. I volunteer at my local masjid, I donate to charity once a month, I like to be educated and up-to date of current affairs, I keep my nose clean and stay out of trouble. I am a lovely example of the American citizen.
Asalaamu Alaykum & God Bless America.
~Sakina

I was born to Black American Muslim parents in Manhattan. At two years old we moved to New Mexico to get away from all the negatives of the big city. I lived in New Mexico, mostly Santa Fe until I turned 14 after which I moved to Michigan and have pretty much resided here ever since, with the occasional year in Arizona or Colorado.

I didn't realize that Islam meant anything in particular to me until I was working at Schlotsky's Deli in college and one day at rush a regular said to me," You know I come here every day at lunch and it is always crazy busy and you are always smiling and happy. Even when customers are rude and annoying and everyone else is scowling. Why are you always so smiley?"
I stumbled a bit and thanked him for his compliment and then replied, "Uh, I'm Muslim..."
He was puzzled, but not nearly as puzzled as I was.

I went home that night and seriously thought about why Islam was the thing that really kept me smiling when all others seemed to scowl. I think that that was when I began to realize that most of us are Muslims because we love Islam and want to strive to be what Allah asks of us (loosely, brothers and sisters of humanity), whereas others are Muslim because that's what their "culture" is or because that's what saved them when they were going through their worst time and those people could have just as easily been Christian or Jewish or Buddhist. Unfortunately the latter two are also usually the crazy freaks who get the most publicity and make Islam seem to be so different from it's grandfather religions, Judaism and Christianity when it really isn't.

I love the fact that Islam is so all encompassing. In the second chapter of the Qur'an it states many times that the closest to us are "the people of the book", that would be Jews and Christians because those are the other two monotheistic religions who use a holy book whose wisdom was brought to the people through prophets Musa (Moses) and Issa (Jesus) respectively.

Islam is a deep, complex religion but it is also very easy and all encompassing and it's all about moderation. I find it sadly disgusting how a small amount of people who call themselves Muslims continuously disregard the moderation that Islam is all about. It's usually the people that the media likes to refer to as Orthodox Muslims (although there is no such thing) who are the ones who try and force Islam down the throats of their friends and neighbors when Islam clearly states "there is no compulsion in religion".

My story is too long to tell and the things that I love about Islam are too numerous to calculate but I must say that I dislike many Muslims and while that seems to be an oxymoron it is not. It's the same sentiment that comes from me when I walk down the streets of Detroit and see my black brothers and sisters making excuse after excuse for why they are not trying to better their situation. It disgusts me and shames me and used to make me wish I wasn't black the way that certain Muslims used to make me feel like I would certainly not be Muslim when I grew up. But I am black and I love being black and I am Muslim and I love Islam and I had to recognize that though the "bad apples" of my two minorities are what the media chooses to focus on, that is certainly NOT the norm for blacks or for Muslims!!

I pray that this note finds you and your families in the best of health and spirits.

May God reward you for seeking out the opinions and experiences of Muslims here in America.

I do have one suggestion, please. Yes, do ask the Muslims about their own stories, ideas and experiences. But when you want to know about Islam, please refer to the scholars of Islam as opposed to professors of religion or non-Muslims who consider themselves "expert" on Islam and the Muslims.

We have scholars such as Iman Zaid Shakir and Iman Hamza Yusuf of the Zaytuna Institute, California and Dr. Umar F. Abullah of the Nawawi Foundation of Chicago, Illinois.

Thank you for your consideration of my request, and best wishes on this project.

Peace,
Azeeza Mohamed

P.S. If you're keeping stats, I'm a female, white convert to Islam of 11 years. I'm 47 now, thank God.

As a Muslim woman of European heritage, I stick out in my native US and in most of the Muslim world. Wearing the scarf (hijab) constantly reminds me that I am "other". The most moving experience of belonging to the world community was when I made the pilgrimage to Mecca. The first three days all the men are clothed in two white sheets of terry cloth--no stitching, no hats, nothing to distinguish the street cleaner from the billionaire. I wept or laughed while we went about our ritual activities, at once overwhelmed by the spiritual sobriety of the millions of pilgrims and ecstatic with the joy of companionship. For once, I was in a place where I fit; I was welcome and comfortable.

After the third day, the pilgrims are allowed to change into their normal street clothes. Now their clothes reflected the extreme diversity of cultures that call themselves Muslim: the bright cotton wraps of West African women, the giant black turbans of Pakistani mountain men, the plaid sarongs of Malaysian men, the black abayahs and face covers of the women of the Gulf. By this time, the differences illustrated the unity of the Muslims and I prayed that we would all take that sense of fraternity back to our various homes and "pass the peace".

I was born in 2000 as a muslim. My mom is American and my dad is Iranian. I grew up for 4 years in Iran and spent the rest of my life in American. I am haveing a good life, I am happly that I have my mom, she teaches me about Islam everyday. Islam means to me that there is one God and one day we will meet with him and prophets and that everyone should be one equal. The beautiful thing is that I think of God everyday and in what I am about to do, is it the right or wrong thing to do. Islam helps me make decisions. I hope and pray that all Muslims will think the same way and don't think they are better than others. THE END

Yasamin Tahaei

I came to the United States in 1971. I came as a visitor, and CHOSE to make this country my home. This is my home. I consider myself a practicing muslim and have never found being in America in any way to hinder with my practices. I like to pray as often as 5 times a day, fast during the month of Ramadan and have been to the Hajj pilgrimage a few times. My friends have always been very sincerely interested in all my practices, and I have never been hesitant to share with them my experiences. I have been asked to give talks/ presentations to womens groups and have been received with utmost cordiality and a desire to get to know me, my faith and how I practice. It has always been my pleasure to promote their understanding of Islam. To me, Islam is a way of life...I do not practice Islam as a religion per se. I know of no other way to live my life. Ofcourse that does not mean I practice Islam in its perfection...I just try to do the best I can with all my human shortcomings. Islam teaches me to be patient with myself, and with my fellow human beings...in this too I am not perfect and slide from time to time...more often than I would like to, but this is also part of being human. The most beautiful thing about Islam I find, is its Universality. I try to visit church gatherings, temples of various faiths an pray with all of them and feel one with them. So far I have found nothing that is in any way uncomfortable in any of these services or gatherings. To truly appreciate other religions, I have been taught by my family and my teachers ; is to keep an open mind and to embrace the universality in religions as opposed to dissecting the minor differences. I am not a scholar...just an interested student/human being. I love people, I love being a part of this cosmos and I know i am not created in vain. My existence serves a purpose. I am part of a whole. I make this life whole and it does not matter if only in a tiny way.

Im not muslim but Try this magazine. NPR did a story on it and I thought that was a nice start. http://www.muslimgirlmagazine.com/mgmag/

On Being a Muslim
By Kari Ansari
Since becoming a Muslim many years ago, I have been compelled to strive for the potential I was born with, but up until that time did not use. My connection with God, through the teachings of Islam, has given me gifts of character and spirituality that I still find surprising.

Islam has made me smarter. God gave me a brain, but Islam gave me the reason to use it. For instance, being a Muslim woman has demanded that I grow intellectually. The Quran tells us over and over, “these are words for those who think.” Islam is a religion of thinking, questioning, revising our opinions, and considering the world from different perspectives. Over the years, I have listened to Muslim thinkers, scholars and teachers who have changed, moderated and enhanced their understanding of Islam as they themselves changed, moderated, and grew older and wiser. Islam has room for this. The message in the Quran is so layered and rich with meaning that it begs the reader to dive into the words over and over, only to surface each time at different places in its sea, leaving us gasping for breath from the complexity and simplicity that coexist simultaneously.

Being a Muslim has broadened my worldview. Being a Muslim in America means that I am part of a faith group that encompasses people of wildly different cultures and ethnicities. I have made friends and have worked with people from virtually all corners of the world. Since becoming a Muslim, I no longer view people through the lens of a television or movie camera, edited for my sensibilities; instead, I get to learn about them firsthand. I have friends who have transported me to their native land with a simple cup of tea and a little conversation. As an American Muslim, I have learned that the world is full of warm people who would give you their last meal, simply because that’s the way they have always lived.

Islam has taught me true empathy. I grew up in America’s safe neighborhoods, attending excellent public schools. With this advantage, I never experienced discrimination or disrespect from others until after I embraced Islam and wore the hijab, the Muslim headscarf. By taking on this visible identifier, I learned what it feels like to be the “other.” When someone spit on the street as I passed, just after the 9/11 tragedy, I experienced a little of what Catholics and Jews and other religious minorities in America went through in decades and centuries past. When my husband, a native of India, and I were swiftly refused a previously promised lease on a house after we faxed in our driver’s license photos to the out-of-town owner, I understood the resentment and frustration felt by those who suffer insidious bigotry. When I was made to stand with my arms and legs spread like a criminal for a physical pat down in plain view of other air travelers, I understood the humiliation of being profiled simply because of my faith. However, I consider these experiences a privilege, as they have taught me empathy for those who have suffered simply for being.

Islam has made me a stronger feminist. Contrary to common perceptions, being a Muslim woman demands that I become educated, one who questions authority and the status quo. The women who lived during the time of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad were constantly questioning the meaning of the revelations; they wanted to know where their place in society lay, and they asserted their intelligence in defining themselves. They asked the Prophet questions about their lives. They did not ask by means of their husbands or fathers; they spoke directly to the Prophet. Islamic teachings elevate women to equal status with men—the only qualifier of merit is one’s conviction of faith and actions. Islam leaves room for women to assert themselves in all aspects of community life, and while Muslims in America are struggling against the misogyny brought from overseas, Islam gives us the strength and framework to claim equal standing with men in the mosque and in the greater society.

Islam has taught me real humility. Muslims are taught to perform each prayer as if we are in the presence of God – whose magnificence is more than any of us can fathom. Muslims must pray in a prescribed manner, and the most intimate position of the prayer is called sajud, where one kneels down and places the forehead and nose on the floor. In the very beginning for me, an American raised with a large amount of pride, it was difficult to pray in this position. I thought to myself, “This is humiliating,” but was told that this is the purpose of sajud. I performed the prayer as taught, but was disheartened when I did not find the solace promised. A wise Muslim woman told me to continue with the ritual, regardless of whether it felt hollow or not. So I persisted. Weeks passed, and I went through the motions of the daily prayers, until one day–all in an instant–I felt myself in the presence of God while in sajud. During those brief moments I gained everything I would ever need in this world…the eternal longing for that most intimate connection with my Creator.

My husband and I named our son Sajid, which means one who prostrates to God.

Kari Ansari is Editor-in-Chief of America’s Muslim Family Magazine, based in Chicago, IL. Mrs. Ansari was born and educated in the United States, and is a convert to Islam. She has been an active member of the Muslim community, working toward the positive inclusion of Muslims into the mainstream of American society. Her four children range in age from 21 to 7. She and her husband, Ahmed, a native of India, live in the suburbs of Chicago, IL, with their children.

Kari Ansari
America’s Muslim Family Magazine
www.americasmuslimfamily.com
kari@americasmuslimfamily.com
PO Box 6335
Villa Park, IL 60181
703-354-1025

August 12, 2009
Hello NPR, Thank you for this opportunity. I was born to a Jewish mother and a Christian father in Concord Massachusetts in 1946. My mother's immigrant Russian parents disowned her when she married my father in 1940. As a result of this heartache, my parents moved to Southern CA, (the Mohave desert) where several of my father's brothers and their families had relocated from Mass. I was barely 5 yrs. of age when they moved. My mother was determined to let me pick my faith as she did not want me to relive her experience. She exposed me to all of the Christian faiths. She insisted that I attend the Seven Day Adventist School for four years to develop a strong knowledge of the bible. On Sundays, I attended the local community church where my aunt played the piano. My father's family in CA were from the "born again" Christian faith. There were no synagogues in the desert in those days, and my mother told me very little about her faith, as Jewishness in the 1950's was kept a secret in this heavily Christian community. Jews and Blacks were not allowed to join the Community Swimming Pool. She told me not to tell people that she was Jewish, although my father's family knew, but kept it hushed up. I could never understand this as a child. Children are so pure of heart. At any rate, I became a mainstream Christian (so to speak) but with little passion for God, Jesus, or religion. I hated being intimidated by my Christian relatives who would say, "the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ, so you need to accept him as your Lord and Savior." I felt there was a creator, but I could not find him the way everyone else had. I felt very guilty inside. I thought that perhaps I was a child of Satan, a pure sinner. I felt I was headed for hell throughout my teens and first marriage to an Episcopalian. That religion left me cold, as I saw no real passion other than the Sunday worship. Other times we just enjoyed each other's company, and it seemed more about social status than saving ones soul. Then I found Islam through a man who was caring for my father when he became ill. He did not try to convert me. I just kept asking questions and found what I was looking for, not the "pat" answers of just "have faith" that I kept getting when I asked questions of my pastors and relatives. I found proof in the Qur'an, (the word of God that has never been changed) through the miracles that were cited. Now I had proof that there was a God. This unchanged book sent by God through Gabriel to Mohammed cited things they could not have known 1400 years ago. My hard heart started to soften and open to this information; I wanted to stand in the light of this book and now the real God whom I had been searching for. These proofs, that I had been missing in the bible, opened my mind to the fact that God really existed. For instance, God describes the exact look of the forming embryo in the womb and that it is three layers deep in the belly of the female; That the mountains are as deep as they are tall to form the balancing pins of this spinning earth; that there are three different waters that divide as the river meets the sea with different fish in each; that the world is a sphere and not flat, and much more. None of this could they have known 1400 years ago, as there was no microscope to see the minute embryo, and only in the 19th and 20th centuries did we have the science and technology to confirm the hundreds of scientific statements made in the Qur'an. God says that on the day of judgement he will bring back even the tips of our fingers. Back then it meant nothing. What does it mean now? We now know that we each have an identity through our finger prints. These things were all I needed to follow this book and to realize this is the straight path. Not the crooked path that I had been on. I love wearing my hijab (head covering) and my jelbab (long dress) to let folks know who I am. I am a Muslim woman who guards her body with modesty for her husband, and places God first in her life. Thank you NPR for letting me share this beautiful religion that comes with an instruction book to take us to the promised land.
Paula Safiyah Blake, Columbia, Maryland 410-381-2420 443-472-6464

Being a Muslim means to be in obedience/ submission to the will of God; The God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, the Creator of the universe.
It means to be good, and work on being better person, citizen, husband, father, son, a friend and good co-worker.
To serve God by serving the creation of God, the humanity.
To await the return of Jesus, the Messiah, and the Propeht of God.
Islam (monotheism and submission to the will of God) is what Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad taught. So it is a universal religion.

Everything is beautiful about Islam.
Some things might seem strange in isolation, but when put in context AND in relation to teaching of other major faiths (including Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism etc...) they don't seem as strange anymore.
Not every thing is applicable at all times. Just like anything, there are rules and then there are the exceptions. Some times many forget the exceptions.

Muslims' traditions & cultures are as different as African Christians as compared to American Christians etc...
Islam is different from culture & tradition, but it seems like more often culture is what makes it in the media, and portrayed as "Islamic."

My fear/ challenge?
Despite all my humanly efforts to be good, I cannot live up to the high standards of Islam. I am afraid the people around me might judge Islam based my faults and shortcomings.
So, please, don't judge Islam soley based on my actions, traditions, or culture.

I can add more, but this might be enough. :-)
Tamim

Islam is the path that Allah revealed so that man could reach his full potential and please his Lord and Creator. When a person is far from Islam, like someone flying high over a road in the desert, it may seem like a narrow and difficult way. But when you come close to Islam you find it is a broad path that is complete both in its scope and in providing flexibility for man's diverse needs.

Does merely accepting Islam with your tongue, "la ilaha illAllah" (there is no deity worthy of worship other than Allah), erase all human foibles and weaknesses? No. But practicing Islam does bring out in a person those positive qualities that can be recognized by people everywhere. Indeed the Prophet, Allah's prayers and blessings be upon him, said it best when he said that he had been sent to improve the manners (akhlaque) of the people.

Part of what makes Islam beautiful to me is the barakat (blessing) that Allah puts in gatherings of Muslims who seek to learn and practice His religion. I just came back from attending a two-week course of lectures on theology, religious law, and more -- some 150 students took part. They came from all over the world to become roommates and classmates; we were together when we prayed, ate meals, studied, played, and took exams.

And to testify to how blessed and uplifting those two weeks were, there were so many positive comments from the staff at the event-hotel, including a non-Muslim engineer who spoke to us as a group and said that he had never addressed a gathering at the hotel before but he was moved to do so by his interactions with us.

When one thinks of the challenges Muslims face today, discrimination and wrongful prosecution are high on the list. The founding fathers of America rightly feared demagoguery but hate- and fear-mongers have risen to power here throughout the country's history, persecuting whatever group was a convenient target at the time. Yet the way to combat such villainy is through educating our countrymen about what Islam is and how we live as Muslims -- and Allah asks precisely that of every Muslim.

Some people are Muslims by birth and some by choice. I am the latter. Though Islam teaches that all people who believe in God and surrender to Him are "muslims," meaning those who surrender. In that case, I have always been muslim but several years ago became Muslim.

Searching for God has been an ongoing journey since my teenage years. Learning and appreciating different religions has too. In the beginning, I tried to get involved in my own Eastern Orthodox tradition. I liked going to church because it was a peaceful time full of chants and focus on God. And I loved the incense. But it never spoke to me, or maybe I never listened well enough. Whatever the reason, I moved on to the traditional American Christianity: Bible class and non-denominational church. Out of that, I received intense fear of Hell and dispair because 1. I was not sure if I had been saved and 2. I was sure my family and people of other faiths were not saved. Thinking of Hell was a private hell.

So I moved away from that, though perhaps the people I had been associating with simply misinterpreted the faith to me. I liked spending time with an extremely nice Christian girl who told me she did not make non-Christians her close friends because it would take her away from her religion. I have thought of that logic often since then.

And later, by some chance, or Godly design, I got involved in the interfaith community and realized that there are many different religions and spiritual paths, and I got a lot more comfortable. Here were all the teachings and thought I had been looking for. It was fascinating learning about different paths to the same God.

And I considered myself an interfaith person, or a person of no particular faith. This was fine for me, I was friends with everyone and respected everyone's tradition. A few years later it was not enough.

So I first fasted for Ramadan. And I loved it! It was strange because I have never been a person who skipped a meal or gave up the extra piece of cake. So how could I not eat or drink the whole day, over and over again? It had to be something bigger than my base desires that was driving me.

And that was the most peaceful I had ever felt. It was unreal. And of course, it was not something I was going to forget about but it lead me further and further into Islamic practices. I started praying. I would perform the correct prayer postures on my little rug and recite my own prayers. Then I started facing in the direction of Mecca. Then I decided to learn the Arabic words. So I would do the postures and have my little cheat sheet, that is how the ritual prayers were committed to memory. When I finally could do the whole thing without cheating and withough stumbling, I felt like I had accomplished something important, like I belonged to something, like there was a higher purpose for my actions.

And so it went: I continued to fast every year, prayed often, learned more and more about Islam. Eventually, I felt the need to declare myself officially Muslim. And when I did, it was as though a huge weigth was lifted off of me. Finally, I belonged, I was committed to something, I had a practical way of relating to life and God and I was so much happier.

Now, we as Muslims, and all people the world over are faced with the fact that some terrorist acts have been committed by Muslims. And this has clouded over everything Islamic from now on. Not a day goes by that I don't read some hateful book about how Islam really is the religion of violence, and all other religions are ones of peace. The authors come up with all kinds of inaccurate "proofs" that they are right, and I am shocked at how much Islamophobic hate there is out there.

The only thing I know to do to counter this is to establish personal relationships with non-Muslims. Since I do not wear a scarf over my hair, no one who sees me on the street would ever think I am Muslim. But one day when I was coming from the mosque with my friend, we were both wearing scarves, and we are both white Russians. An older lady asked us why we dressed the way we did and we explained that we were Muslim and this type of dress is part of our religion and she very politely thanked us. It was a sweet and telling exchange: if you want people to understand you, you have to show yourself to them. As a white non-scarf-wearing Russian, I do not fit into the typical mold of a Muslim woman. Which is fine with me. If someone meets me and thinks "why would she choose Islam as a religion?" then maybe they will be interested to find our more and will see that Islam is a great religion appropriate for anyone, from any country, race, or nationality.

And so I go around town and give talks on Islam if anyone requests it, I write for an online newspaper about Islamic topics, and I try to talk to people who have questions about Islam in a way that would show the true nature of our religion: a peaceful surrender to God's plan and a way of living that creates a symbolic order in our lives.

I am a 50 year old female and I came to United estates when i was 18 years old. I was born in Pakistan and was raised by two beautiful muslim parents.I cam here after I got married, have 4 grown children born and raised in America. It is very sad to see such ignorence in a country like America. But I also understand it is human nature to fear what we don't understand.
Islam is a very beautiful, simple and pure religion.Because of Islam I am a better daughter, a better sister, a better mother, a better friend, better neighbour and a better worker. We muslims don't observe Islam only during certein days or months we live it everyday. Islam teach us to be fearful of Allah (GOD)and yet at the same time reminds us how mercyful HE is and how much he loves us. There is no middle man between a human and GOD, everyone has a direct line to reach HIM, all we have to do is raise our hands in humility and beg for his mercy. If we follow his command and know that he is waching us all the time and we can not hide from him this will make us a better human being.
it is very difficult to capture the beauty of islam in few paragraphs, I love Islam and I am proud to be a muslimah!

Maimunah Ikramullah

Being a Muslim means to me that I have a daily relationship with God, in which I hope that every word, every action in my day will help me attain God's pleasure and paradise. Our time on this Earth is a big test; testing our belief in the unseen God and our steadfastness in prayer, helping others, and doing good. God has been the closest to me more than any other. He knows me better than anyone in this world and I would feel lost without Him and His guidance. As a Muslim-American female who was born and raised in the U.S., I find Islam extremely freeing in the sense that I am liberated from being a slave to uncomfortable, exposing fashions or to look a certain way or to compete with others in terms of looks. I have worn the Islamic headscarf since I was 14 years old, by my own choice. While this wasn't easy to do in High School, I felt that it was important to do for God and myself. I did not want people judging me by my body, but for my brains and intellect. I find that in American culture, a female's worth and self-worth is determined by her sex appeal, even from the early years of elementary and middle school. By wearing a headscarf, I felt that I was changing this rule for myself and that each woman who wears it, is changing this unwritten rule, one woman at a time. I would not allow myself to be degraded to nothing more than an exposed body for passing men to admire. I am a person, with thoughts, feelings, and opinions. In addition, Islam has granted women so many rights that Western women were not granted until the early-late 1900's. Muslim women have the right to their own inheritance and have the right to keep every cent they earn in a job. They are not required to share any of their wealth with their husbands. In Islam a woman in not required to cook or clean. If she does so in her household it is considered a charity. I feel that being a Muslim woman makes me extremely content, happy and grateful to be born into this religion. As a mother of two daughters, I hope to pass on to them this tradition of liberation and empowerment for women in Islam and most importantly the love and worship of God the most Merciful.

I was born in Houston, Tx to some very young parents. My Grandparents are devout Babtist Christians who raised us close to this religion. Our parents didn't really follow any religion, so I used to ride the bus to church alone. When I got my license i drove myself there each Sunday. I stopped attending church after I graduated high school and began life as an adult. I spent some time in college and began working as a photography studio manager. I came back to Dallas from NY and after managing for 5 years began my own photography company, Zanphotography.

I had a background in Photography, Sales, Graphic Design, and Management so I wasn't too worried to do it all alone. I advertised for free using my own graphics and with the help of Myspace pages I was off! I scored a few huge jobs shooting celebrity events for Ghost Bar, inside the infamous W Hotel in Dallas. Only the most beautiful and successful people partied at this place. I shot everyone from Justin Timberlake, to Owen Wilson and Kate Hudson...and lots of other sports and pop stars that graced through our doors. With this job came lots of other restaurant openings, and every other main street night club had me shooting their private parties. My work then went into all the Dallas magazines, sometimes even in People and Paper City was a weekly regular. I got to hang out with publicist from Vogue and worked with the best in the media business. It was simple and glamorous and along came with it, lots of Glam friends. I could walk into any party and it seemed I couldnt go anywhere at night without spotting friends. I even had to look the part while working. I had to wear sexy clothes, loads of makeup and "fohawk" style hair...it was popular at the time. I often found that I had "fans"...people acutally came up and wanted to have their picture with me, on their own cameras...later I would see it posted on myspace or facebook. I partied, and drank, and only cared about one person....Me. Deep down inside though...this life and the people in it started to wear down on my soul. It's a wicked life....I remember standing next to Justin Timberlake, and all the flashes from the crowd going off and we could barely see 5 feet in front of us...I only took about 3 shots of him, so I wouldn't get fired and then I slid my lens to the side...I couldn't do it more...it felt horrible all these people screaming flashing, body guards around him, managers yelling...and this was after he had finished a 3 hour concert. What kind of life was that? I felt dirty that I was part of the reason he couldn't have a normal life. I started wondering what was so great about my life, what was I doing to better anything around me? Nothing, just shooting pictures of people partying and drinking and Wow..."Here is my contribution America, I'm here to make the world and more materialistic and vain place!"...not exactly something that would make my Grandmother proud.

So here it came...the overwhelming sensation of doubt about who I was and what I was doing with my life. I couldn't sleep I began having nightmares with people screaming out to help them. I also couldn't escape the thought of the most important question that I had ever asked myself..."What will you say when you must explain your life to God?" OMG...what do you say...Umm sorry God I am too busy drinking and hanging out with cool people to think about You or to help others....THis is defintely a defining moment in my life where I knew it was time for some changes. I talked with friends about what I was feeling, they tried so hard to help. One friend recommended that I watch a few lectures on youtube...one of which from a guy named Yusuf Estes...a Muslim convert who used to be a Christian pastor...the best part was he was from Texas! I watched the lectures and when I got to his...I heard a bearded man explain everything I was going through right to me as though he was reading my mind...He told the story of his conversion to Islam from Christianity. Said he needed a greater purpose in life, a better reason to wake up in the morning...Oh how nice this sounded to me. To wake up without thinking..."What did I do last night, and how did I get home alive?" I became obscessed with learning more about his religion. I would come home from shooting around 2:30 AM and get online till the sun came up. It was so relieving to listen to other converts too...Yusuf Islam, his exact reasons for converting...the same as mine! Holy Cow I found some help! Of course when studying and believing in this religion...you start to look at yourself differently. It's like you see yourself from outside your body! I remember...a friend of mine, (who is now my husband) said to me..."Who is it that thinks your so glamorous and cool? What kind of people are they...they are just like you only caring about themselves and living for nothing better"...Ouch those words drove straight through me. He became my biggest supporter in my transition.
I remember one day I wanted to start going to the New Muslim classes at the local masjid and I went into my huge closet to find something suitable to wear...HA! Good Luck! This day I went crazy I think. I teared up as I thrashed through the hangers of sexy tops and tight jeans and pants...not one single thing that I could wear to a holy place. Most of the tops had to be taped on to avoid the loose fabric from exposing your chest! I began crying at myself...what kind of girl was I!...I tore through the clothes throwing them behind me in a huge pile of slinky embarrassment. When I was done there was only a small rack of barely modest things left. I couldn't afford to replace them all so I slowly began the process of a new wardrobe. I started with looser pants, shirts with long sleeves...modest shoes instead of stillettos...and a low pony tail became my daily routine. Then it went from there, and slowly but surely God carved his way through my black heart and planted Himself deeply inside. I said my Shahada in April of 2007 in the office of Dr. Yusuf Kavacki, the Father of Elif Kavacki. My later husband Hassan was there supporting me, as well as a few new girlfriends I had made from the New Muslim classes. I have a slew of new friends now, who follow the same lifestyle as me. I didn't get rid of any of my old friends...but if your not down for meeting people at the bar, then they tend to stop calling as much, until it's just never at all. No problem for me I am busy as I ever was and happily married with a wonderful family of In-Laws not far away.
I asked Hassan if I could visit Jordan, he is from Amman and his parents and siblings live there. His family was so happy to have me, Muslims have the best since of family and welcome guests as if they are blood. I stayed with his Mom and Dad for a month. I started wearing the hijab full-time there, it made being out in public easier for me, less men harassing you and people really respect you more...Wow, people respecting me for the way I dress and carry myself in public, that was a new and wonderful feeling. When I came back to Dallas, I couldn't take off the scarf. I just couldn't stand the thought of going back to being just another "piece of meat" for men to glare at. I didn't want to go back to competing with women based on whose boobs look bigger, and what brand are you wearing and are you sexy enough to be my friend....No more of this life for me. I wanted to be free from those chains and wearing the hijab was the only answer for this. I wore it proud, wore it with style and actually more men than ever in my life opened doors for me and showed me respect. One day a man in his 40's came up to me at a store and said...where did you get these clothes, you look so classy and stylish...I wish my wife would start dressing this way. Why wouldn't men love this...they have a beautiful wife who shows her skin only to him and in public she covers demanding respect for herself and her religion with every public apperance she makes. I am currently working on designing new headpieces for hijab wearing women to wear. Soon, Inshallah I will have the first set completed.
I still do photography but I keep it clean, you know. I don't shoot clubs or crazy parties anymore. I stick with charity functions, fundraisers...and my newly started wedding and bridal photography is going quite well. I also take part in MAS, (Muslim American Society), and WCTI (Woman Converts to Islam). I speak sometimes to schools about Islam, and even to Muslim schools to the younger girls, I try to tell them to stay away from the wrong kind of life...I tell them from experience that it gets you nowhere, a vicious lonely circle where everyone is lonely and rich and it never gets any better. I have a huge following on Myspace, thanks to the youtube interview done on me. I use the page on myspace to reach out to other "praty girls" and show them that you can escape that life. Even if you don't wanna become a Muslim, just clean up your life and you will change forever for the best. Having God in your life is the best therapy you could ever hope for, and it's free! I also love working with Sr. Elif Kavacki, she is a great woman and really trying to open doors for Muslim women everywhere. I am happily married, and we are hoping one day Allah will bless us with an addition to our new little family. My husband and I enjoy living in downtown and keeping each other close to our religion. We frequent trips to the masjid and enjoy nights with friends for dinner, we have picinics by the lake and watch the sunset, and attend a lot of functions with his career. This replaced all the late night parties and people who dont' really care about you. I think it's a pretty good trade, Hamidillah...

What never ceases to amaze me are the expressions that people have when they first meet me. Because I'm an exhibiting contemporary artist a lot of time I'll interact with people like curators, museum directors, patrons and such, online or by phone long before I physically meet them. Sometimes I think they expect a wild eyed scraggly beaded man wearing traditional Saudi attire (I'm Egyptian by the way). Or they think that because I'm a visual artist then I'm sort of 'anything goes' hedonistic secularist, fat blunt in one hand and glass or Merlot in the other.

But I'm not, I'm just an American Muslim.

And I'm part of the birth of a new Muslim cultural identity that's truly a historical event to witness. We are the fruit of the American melting pot, where the divisive cultures of our parent's homelands are foreign to us. I do not see color or ethnicity as a hierarchy but as an opportunity, the same opportunity that exists in teaching and learning about each others' religions.

This is the true essence of Islam, that unfortunately has been distorted through people who have monolithic ideals. Yes, we have limitations on what we can and can't do, how much or how little we are permitted to engage with certain aspects of any society. But those parameters are hardly limiting, actually liberating in knowing you are safe to indulge in the permissible.

From time to time I find the challenges of being an American raised Muslim coming more from other Muslims who have not understood the full potential afforded Americans. Yes, I am an artist. My discourse on the world around me is done visually. Mundane details like hairstyle and choice of attire are at times unorthodox. I listen to music when I'm inspired to create the object that I hope will become vehicles of conversation in galleries and museums. I knew this was my future when I went to Hajj, camera in hand, documenting experiences for future audiences. So please, call me Hajji Hippie Arteest.

Again, I'm still a Muslim. These activities are the gifts given to me by my creator, and I use them in pursuit of a better understanding of my religion, and the cultures of my parents' region. An understanding that is not just focused on "westerners" but also critical for Muslims to be introspective of how they are viewed, and why they are sometimes misunderstood.

The good thing is knowing that I'm comfortable and privileged to be part of a generation that is free to distill the hubris of ethnocentric culture from the superstructure of Islam. This is what makes America great.

We skate, we snowboard, we make art, we make music, we fall in love, we slam poetry, we go baggy, we go skinny, we get emo, we get big.

But we also pray, we memorize Quran, we fast, we give in charity, we educate, we represent.

We are the ambassadors of an emerging American Muslim identity, just as rich and full of nuanced subcultures. My niche is art. You'll find me in the mosque after the gallery reception. I hope one day we'll break fast together.

I converted to Islam 5 1/2 years ago at the age of 19, while studying Islamic World Studies at DePaul University in Chicago. I was the first person in the US to receive my undergrad in Islamic Studies. Ramadan has always been a challenge for me. My non-Muslim family thought I had an eating disorder. I had to fight with my parents about the mental, spiritual and emotional virtues associated with fasting while always trying to include some kind of a "its good for you, like a detox" spin on why it was physically healthy for me. I am addicted to coffee. I was addicted to cigarettes. The splitting headaches that you get when you are first fasting are debilitating. I have had to learn craniosacral massage techniques to get through the pain and caffine, nicotene withdrawls that accompany the fasting.

This year I start my first year of law school in fort lauderdale the same week Ramadan starts. I live alone, and will be starting and breaking my fast without the support of my Muslim friends who are all in Chicago, and without my non-Muslim family to eat with. I am hoping that although I will be doing this at the most intense, and important time of my life, and although I will be doing it all alone, like I never have before, I can make this Ramadan particularly special and show myself what kind of discipline I can have when I have no spiritual support around me.

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Voices on the Radio

is a professor at the University of South Florida. She grew up in Kuwait.

is co-host of the Al Jazeera America TV show, “The Stream.” He’s a playwright, and a first-generation Pakistani-American.

emigrated from Russia to Dallas, Texas when she was eight years old. She grew up in the Russian Orthodox Church.

is Mexican-American, a lawyer, and a single mother. She lives in Seattle.

is a scholar of modern history with a focus on the Middle East. He has taught in the U.S., Turkey, and Spain.

is a PhD student in New York City studying Arabic and Comparative Literature.

is a program officer in the Education and Training Center/International at the United States Institute of Peace.

is a poet. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he and his wife are active Muslim members of a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

grew up in Istanbul and now lives and teaches elementary school in New York.

is a Pakistani-American living in suburban Chicago.

is a retired federal prosecutor and the father of 11 children. He lives in New York.

is a campaign communications specialist for the Service Employees International Union.

is an attorney specializing in labor and employment issues.

is a photographer living in Dallas, Texas.

lives in Dallas, Texas where she volunteers with the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation.

is a Mancunian who converted to Islam in 1993.

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