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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.

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 Voices

Voices on the Radio
Ny'Kisha Pettiford
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Ny'Kisha Pettiford

"I walk a line daily between who Muslims are and what they are perceived to be."



» read her story


Reuben Jackson
Washington, D.C.
Reuben Jackson

"I honestly believe that Islam has made me a more patient, less angry man."



» read & listen | » download (mp3, 3:58)


Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

1

A compelling multimedia report on life as a woman in Afghanistan.

1

A glimpse into the lives of two Muslims in Australia.

1

A collection of photos documenting the Islamic holy month.

Recalling Rabbi Heschel's words while fasting for Ramadan.

About the Image

A young boy flies his kite on the Maldive Islands during Ramadan.

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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.

I was raised in a typical Muslim family, where we would go the Masjid on Friday, fast the month of Ramadan and celebrate Islamic occasion. When I was 8 years I completed the Arabic recitation of Quran; and in essence it was the conclusion of my duty as a Muslim. I didn’t understand anything that I read in the Quran. In fact I didn’t even think that there would be any meaning to the Quran. Over the years, I grew distant from the Quran. I went to a Catholic High school and from there, the Bible lead me to Quran. Every classroom in our school was stacked with Bibles, King James Version. One day, feeling bored and lethargic from work, I grabbed one of the many Bible copies from the back of my history class and began to read. And thus began my epic Journey to Quran. Science was my favourite subject. I especially enjoyed studying the human biology and astronomy. We learned about the human reproductive system from conception, to formation of zygote to embryo and finally birth. Much to my surprise, throughout the unit of reproduction, my teacher failed to mention God. Human creation is not possible without God. Our teacher taught us that an addiction or absence single chromosome can cause disastrous birth defects, adverse health effects and even gender complications. How can a single cell create and destroy life? How can this be a coincidence that a single cell would create or destroy life? Why didn’t my teacher ever mention God? The same thing repeated in astronomy unit. We studied about the creation and expansion of the universe, the solar system and the rotation of celestial bodies. There was no mention of GOD anywhere. It was as if my teacher was deliberately skipping GOD from her lectures. It seemed like a great betrayal, and dishonour to praise and admire the creation and purposely ignore the Creator. I gave up on science and turned my focus towards religion. I wanted to learn about the Creator. I would eagerly sit in the front of the religion class, note down everything the teacher said. Though I was happy I was happy to be in class, it was very rare that we ever talked about God. Some saint or Jesus as the highlight of every lecture. This was religion class, we were suppose to talk about Who God is? Where is God? Why He created us? Why were we discussing the lives of people? Disinterested, I spent many lunch breaks reading the Bible in our school chapel. The book was unfamiliar and mysterious but soon I had read it a great deal. The things I didn’t understand, I would ask my religion teacher. Like in the Book of Genesis, I read Jacob wrestled with God all night long and won. My teacher told me, here the word ‘god’ means, angle or a demon. So god is used interchangeably in the Bible? How will I know when god means demon, and other times means angel? Isn’t the Bible suppose to be God’s book? There shouldn’t be any confusion in this regard then. He should be the focused? In 1 Chornicles, and the Book of Psalm and Isaiah I read the earth has four corners and it is immovable. So I rushed to my geography teacher and said well this is not what we learned in geography?! She only smiled and nodded. Many times I was told that the Bible was not to be taken literally. It was symbolic, rather metaphorical. How can the truth be metaphorical? How can the truth ever be taken as a loose figurative sense? Anyway, I still used to go to mass. In grade 9 and 10 I think I didn’t miss a single school mass. I would listen very attentively to the priest and much to my surprise, in every mass, he would read the following massage from the Book of John: 16:7 and 16:13: "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you, but if I depart I will send him unto you . . .We will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak . . ." Didn’t the priest realize? This is in reference to Muhammad sallahu alyihi wa sallam. He was the only comforter and mercy to mankind that came after Jesus. He guided humanity to the truth, he spoke the revelation which was sent to him by Allah. By this time, I understood that if I wanted to learn about my Creator, I had to study Quran. But I didn’t know how? I did not speak or understand Arabic. And the English translations didn’t satisfy me. In grade 11 and 12 law was my absolute passion. I was law obsessed. The one thing I wanted the most at that time was to become a lawyer. I was fueled by the desire of establishing justice and equality. But every law that I read seemed good on paper but in reality it was no where in practice by any of the law institutes or governments. The law was good on paper, but it was impractical in real life. No matter how good of a law was passed, the criminals always found a loophole to beat and cheat the system. Law did not people just, upright, modest, generous. It merely outlined an ideal mode of behaviour which was expected from society. But what are those means through which the society could become civil? What incentive I could give them so there were be no murder, no rape, no break ins? Then a point came in my life and I didn’t want to pursue my career in law anymore. I liked the idea of sending criminals to jail but how many people could be possible lock behind bars? There are to be some way the peoples’ ‘hearts’ could change and their moral conscious could guide them, motivate to do good and be good always? It was around my high school graduation that my mom told me about this Quran course Al Huda was offering. I know in my heart I was searching for something. Whatever it was, I didn’t get it from law or science. I was still interested in religion, so I decided to take a year off from university and explore Quran. I had already studied the Bible, I had also read several parts of the Hindu Vedas. My research and study of these two scriptures constantly lead me to read Quran. I would read a passage from the Bible and automatically remember something Islamic my mother had told me as a child. But I didn’t know where to or how to even read Quran. I had read it independently in my high school years, but the English translation didn’t satisfy me. I knew I studied the Bible initially under Catholic teachers, maybe what I needed now was a Quran teacher? So I registered for the course without even considering the logistics. I didn’t know what was in the Quran. I didn’t know who the teacher would be. All I knew was I wanted to know what the Quran, so I came to class. And with the very first lesson, I felt there was a void in my heart, which has been filled, a sadness that has been removed, a emptiness that’s been filled and a happiness I found. True Quran made me a better person. It inspired me to be more patient, kind, caring and generous. But more than anything, Quran gave me answers. It was as if it knew me more than I knew it. Quran spoke of biology and astronomy. For example, of the many verses that I read are: "What is the matter with you, that you are not conscious of Allah's majesty, seeing that it is He Who has created you in diverse stages? See you not how Allah has created the seven heavens one above another, and made the moon a light in their midst, and made the sun as a (glorious) lamp? And Allah has produced you from the earth, growing (gradually)" (71:13-17). Also, “Allah created all things, and he is the agent, upon which, all things depend” (39:62) Only a few months into the course and Quran became the only way forward for me. Quran touched every aspect of our lives. It addressed each aspect of human needs. Each judgment gave insight into the complex rational and legal thinking of the Most Intelligent Creator. So if people knew their Creator and read the Creator’s message, Quran, then they will change? They will recognize their true worth and responsibility. Along with Quran, at Al Huda I studied the lives of the early Muslims who actually lived in a time when the Quran was received by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). They took the Quran first hand from the Prophet and implemented it. The first recipients of Quran were worshiping stones and vegetables, mischievous, corrupt, defiled of many vices, shameless, uncultured. But in a short span of less than 25 years, the worst country and the most civilized and well mannered people on the earth. In the less than a 100 years, the people of Quran encompassed an area ranging from Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean. The world of ours cannot present any other example of this miraculous success. Quran transformed these people. Quran is the cure for the problems and diseases of the modern world. I am happy I found the Quran. I hope to convey it to others as much as possible.

My name is Jennifer Kabir and I am an American Muslim. I am that woman who people often look at with a mixture of curiosity and wonder. Maybe it's the blue eyes and sometimes blonde strands of hair that make their way out from my hijab-the head covering worn by many Muslim women, that tell a different story of who I am. I suppose my exterior speaks of a different kind of Islam that has been purposely chosen and embraced.

I was raised in Southern California in a traditional American family. My family attended church, trimmed the Christmas tree, spent days at the beach, and shopped at Gemco and K-Mart back in the days when no one had ever imagined a Wal Mart or the concept of a global world. Islam or Muslims were not a part of our reality as we had never known anyone who practiced the Islamic faith.

I've come a long way from the beach town of Southern California where I used to spend endless summer afternoons in flip-flops and shorts with the smell of the salty ocean wind mingling through my sun bleached hair. Today you will most likely find me sitting barefoot in the mosque, listening to the Imam recite from the Qur'an, and trying my best to keep my two young children quiet inside the walls of the prayer hall.

My journey to Islam may seem unlikely but to me it was inevitable.

For as long as I can remember I had been on a spiritual search for deeper meaning and guidance in my life. People have often asked me: Why Islam? Why not the faith I was born into? The only honest reply has been to say that on every level of my being, Islam resonated for me. Maybe it's the way Muslims are taught to worship-bringing our minds, bodies, and spirits into complete submission to God. It is the beauty that transpires with the constant remembrance of God and the immense rush of inner peace that comes from setting aside one's will or rather "the ego consciousness" by giving all glory, all praise, and all recognition of power to God alone.

One might say Islam freed me from my inner world to some extent, by giving me an awareness greater than myself.

It is my deep desire to see there be a greater understanding of Muslim women's lives and the veil. The hijab means different things to different Muslim women who wear it as part of their dress and the way hijab is worn varies from country to country and culture to culture. For some, it is an expression of spirituality. For others, it is an issue of comfort and achieving a personal desired level of modesty. A Muslim Mom may look on hijab as setting the proper example to her young children or a woman may be seeking a greater closeness to God. Ultimately, the hijab is mandated in the Qur'an by God so that a woman may increase her own faith and spirituality.

The hijab is about her faith, modesty, and the purification of heart. The act of wearing it is an act of worship to God.

Finally, it is my hope that we can go beyond the veil to understand authentic Islam and what drives women to share this expression of faith through their appearance.

Brief Bio:

Jennifer Kabir is a Journalist and Founder of TouchofShimmer.org: a unique site featuring modest style and beauty for the everyday Muslim Woman. Jennifer pens a Muslim Women's Style Column at Examiner.com. Hailing from Southern California she resides in Michigan with her husband and children.

In the name of God, the merciful.

I first have to apologize. I am not someone who can tell you much about the "Muslim world." I was born and raised in America. I barely know any language other than English. I studied math and computer science -- so I did not even study much about the "Muslim world" either. So please accept my sincerest apologies if I waste anyone's time with this.

I can, however, talk a little bit about what “being Muslim” means, to me. To put it short, it means going through life with a constant consciousness of the creator. But this state of mind, alone, is not enough. Islam is a balance between knowledge and action: the knowledge of the creator is a pre-requisite, but the actions (prayer, fairness and justice in one's affairs, charity, etc) should be logical conclusions of that knowledge. What “being Muslim” means, at the simplest level, is to accept that there is one God, and Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was sent as a messenger, and that the Qur'an is the word of God, transmitted through the Prophet.

If you truly, in your heart, accept these things, the implications are so much more than I can begin to write about here, but I'll try to list a few. If you accept the Qur'an as true in your heart, then you start to see the blessings in so many things. In the very ability to see and walk and breathe, for example. And when you look at the world, you see all things as creations, which necessarily remind you of the creator. So when you see a tree, instead of seeing its physical properties, you are reminded of a verse in the Qur'an: “Do you not see how Allah has made an example of a good word as that of a good tree: whose roots are firm, and its branches are in heaven? It gives fruit at all times, with the permission of its Lord...” (14:24-25).

Having Islam in one's heart in this way, and viewing the world in this way, allows you to see the true beauty in the world. It causes you to reflect upon just how much more unimaginatively beautiful the creator must be.

Right now, as I am preparing myself for Ramadan, it is imperative for me to constantly remember God through his creation. During Ramadan, when we fast every day from early morning until sunset, we are reminded of our own physical limitations by being constantly confronted with hunger and thirst. But this confrontation causes us to think about the higher things – about things that are eternal, that don't simply go away once we have the food and drink that we so desperately need. We realize that the problems we have are just so temporal that we cannot obsess too much over them. So when I think about what it means to be Muslim, it's hard to find an answer better than, “Constantly remembering the eternal in all our daily actions.”

I apologize if this was unclear, as it's hard to really capture this in one short piece. If I have said anything correct or profound in any of my words, it is only by the will of God, and if I have said anything wrong, it is purely my own error.

I am a convert to Islam. As such, living in America I am somewhat of a minority within a minority. It is hard to say what being Muslim truly means to me, because Islam satisfies so many different aspects of my life, I almost don't know which to pick or emphasise. I'll give you a list: spiritually, Islam means connecting with God several times a day through prayer and remembrance. Socially, Islam means spending my time with my dear brothers in Islam who sincerely strive with patience to overcome their shortcomings and egos and try to submit their will to God. In business, Islam means striving to keep my word with my parters, customers and to be a good example for my employees... to deal with all of these people in an honest and fair way without being weak or oppressive. In marriage, it means making sure I've addressed my duties towards my wife in a kind and generous way -- from keeping a roof over our heads to taking her out on a weekend getaway. In family life, Islam mean maintaining close ties with my Mom, Dad and in-laws and trying to spend as much time as possible with them and show my appreciation for all the sacrificing they have done for us. As a father, it means trying to be the best example to my son, to show him that although the time, culture and society seems to have a lot to offer us, God has sometimes much greater to offer us, but only if we seek it out. Intellectually, it means having a rich framework with which to analyse current and past events. It means finding greater appreciation for the Creator as more scientific details are revealed about this world and it's inhabitants.

The beauty of Islam lies within the completeness of it. God sent Muhammad and the Quran to teach us to strive and struggle for something much greater than ourselves and our short term desires... to be in awe of the mercy of God and the vastness of his generosity, to worship Him through actions... by striving to enjoy the many gifts He has bestowed upon us without becoming arrogant or stingy. In Islam, we probe as deep as we can, questioning things and seeking out truth. In the Quran (the book of God), the Hadith (the sayings and actions of the final messenger of God) and the Sirah (the life of Muhammad), there is so much to reflect up and so many timeless life lessons.

When I think about the future of Islam, I don't rely on hope. I have no doubt that God will always protect this way of life and that there will always be some people striving for his pleasure. That being said, I think that Islam is so relevant to the times we all live in and wish more people (Muslim and non-Muslim) would educate themselves about Islam and get all of the benefits it has to offer in this life and the next.

The word Muslim literally means to one who submits to God, our Creator. To me it means to follow the same basic teachings of all the Prophets, from Abraham, Moses, Jesus to Muhammad (peace be upon them), by submitting to the Will of God and striving to lead a righteous and pious life. It means giving charity, even if all you have to give is a smile, and being a good neighbor. It means representing Islam not just by your good deeds, but also by your good character.

I find beauty in the simplicity of Islam. The simple message of worshiping one God, for me, answers the question, "What is the purpose of life?". There is also great beauty in the straightforward daily rituals of worship such as the five daily prayers and the ritual purification before the prayers. This gives Muslims a chance to take a break from our daily lives and focus on remembering our Creator throughout the day, striving to be God-Conscious at all times.

One of the great strengths of Islam is it's diversity and unifying quality. It was taught 1400 years ago by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that racism is impermissible and that we are all equal, both men and women, in the eyes of God, except in terms of pity and good deeds. It was also taught that we were made into nations and tribes so that we may know one another. Islam teaches that shouldn't let out cultural differences or nationalism get in the way of uniting together as the one human race.

A concern that is central to American Muslims is one of Islamophobia. It unfortunate that a small but vocal minority of Islamophobes use their positions in the media to attack, distort and flat out lie about Islam and Muslims. My concern is that American Muslims aren't given an equal platform to respond to the attacks. It's unfortunate but many of the Muslim organizations can't afford or aren't given the opportunity for airtime to combat many of the stereotypes and misinformation that are circulated about Islam and Muslims. Hopefully in the future American Muslim community will become increasingly able to have access to the mainstream media to lend it's voice to the conversation.

My overall hope would be that the Muslim world, or the Ummah, unites together under the teachings of Islam, setting aside petty differences, and works towards a future of peace, prosperity and happiness, together, within the framework of Islam.

First of all I would thank NPR for taking this initiative to have a discussion about the American Muslim prospective.

The role of a Muslim American is often misunderstood by many Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. Prior to 9-11 the role of Muslim American was like any other American minority experience. However post 9-11 this role is constantly evolving and taking a wide range of meaning and responsibilities.

Like many others I had to take a long and hard look at my role as a Muslim American. To me being a Muslim American means to strive to improve every aspect of me and my surrounding with the guidance of Allah. This might sound too ambitious but this is what I like to aim for. To fulfill my role, I am involved with community services such as skid row feeding program, restoration of parks and trails with Treepeople, helping others, also focusing on self improvement such as being on time.

My concern is how society reacts to Muslims identity and its effect on Muslim Americans. For instance, certain government agency’s inappropriate conduct with Muslim community can discourage Muslim Americans to get involve in their community. I am also concern about the youth in the Muslim communities, because they are struggling the most to define their role in the society.

Majority of the Muslims realize that Islamic values are American Values. Unlike some so-called “Muslim countries”, here you do not have to lie or bribe someone to get the job done. Yes there are ailments in this society as well. But this is the perfect opportunity to apply one’s Islamic teaching to improve oneself and the society.

Thank You

P.S. The picture was taken at the last year's Humanitarian Day downtown Los Angeles.

I myself grew up Christian and to make a long story short I became Muslim after some troubled teen years, that most Americans go through. Looking back over the past five years I can see all of the amazing things I have accomplished. I went from being a kid with no purpose but just going through the everyday steps just because that's what you do. Go to school, go to work, enroll in college etc... When I remember those days, I can remember feeling dead, like a zombie, without thought doing the daily activities. Now as a Muslim, with the purpose of my life I now recognize that Allah did not create humans or jinn except to worship him. Everything I do whether it is reading the Quran, praying, fasting, or simply doing my laundry it all can be considered as worship as long as I keep my purpose of life in mind and perform the actions the way Islam instructs me to do so. Everything I do can be classified as worship and this is the reason I now perform so well in all of my tasks. I have found that I am far beyond any other kids my age. After completing two years of a four year degree I have obtained a position at a medium sized company in a field that I plan to stay in for my life. Now I am earning more than any other kid my age. The funny thing about it is that I don't care about the money. I looked for something that I thought I could be happy in, that would be beneficial for Islam and ultimately pleasing my creator; and it just so happened to be that this was also a high paying career.

Part of the greatness in Islam that allowed me to achieve these accomplishments is the brotherhood in Islam. Muhammad, Allah's final prophet and messenger, may peace and blessings are upon him said, “A believer is a mirror to his brother. A believer is a brother of a believer: he protects him against any danger and guards him from behind.” I have created a network of people that I love just as much as my own real blood brother and they are all over the world. Islam has the widest variety of people in the world. There are Muslims from every continent that has life.

With this wide variety of people and large number of followers it is hard to imagine every one of them having success stories such as mine and this is the problem I fear faces the Muslims today. We have the tools it takes to become the greatest person alive, but not all of us know how to use these tools. It’s like having a plumber in a computer hardware store. Even with all the tools in the world he could not repair the computers. The Muslims need to learn to be better rounded and know that every single one of us is extremely important and can contribute to the return of Islam. We need politicians, we need computer programmers, we need journalists, we need shoe makers, we need garbage collectors and we need religious scholars. I pray that Allah gives success to the Muslims and that he shows the beauty of Islam to the people. In order to get the best perspective when looking at the beauty of Islam I invite you to become a practicing Muslim and see this beauty.

The "muslim world" to me has, for the most part, lost the morals and ethics tought by the prophet Mohammad peace be upon him yet has retained the name 'muslim'. This ignorance of hte muslimd of their religion has allowed for few to hijack Islam and taint it with terrorism. To me, being muslims is not a name or a title, rather it is an attribute. The attribute of submitting to Allah alone (the one true God worthy of worship). Only in this direct connection to God do I find peace and love and guidance. Islam is all beautiful. The entire way of life which is nessesetated by worshipping one God only is the solution to problems all over the world.

In terms of daily life, Islam (submission to God, is expressed in every aspect of my life. When I sleep, I pray to Allah to keep my soul safe. When I marry, I do it to please Allah. When i speak, I try to say only what pleases Allah. Anything i do that pleaases allah is considered worship [on top of the 5 daily prayers and other rituals]. Even an action of the heart such as forgiving someone is a good deed. In this way, my life, rituals, and death and all that in between can be worship with the right intention and right action. This is the purpose of life as Allah has told us in his book of guidance (the Quran) and as explained by the prophet mohammad's actions.

Thank you

For me, Islam serves as a guideline for living my daily life. Being Muslim, to me, means living a life with purpose and gratitude to God for what he has given us. I believe that every day presents us with tests of faith and strength and I think there is beauty in everything if you allow yourself to be swept away. Each day there is the opportunity to do a good deed: help a person cross the street, rescue a wounded animal on the side of a road, warn someone of danger ahead, pick up a lost item and return it...I personally work in an environment where there are few Muslims so in that sense I do not worship publicly. I do, however, cherish the time I take out each day to observe the daily prayers. Each prayer can take just under 5 minutes and serves as a reminder of our true responsibility, i.e. that of worshiping. In the Muslim community itself, there are those who see the daily prayer as a sort of burden. They do not observe it at all or instead delay it until after work. This is a critical failure because the prayer is a simple yet compulsory duty for Muslims. At the same time, I have found that my prayer has been strengthened by those who do piously observe it. As a student in university some of my favorite moments were spent gatherings remembering God's unending mercy and the prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) devotion to Him. Circles of knowledge have provided me with the support and courage I needed to feel fully satisfied in life, yet aware that everyone's time on this earth is limited.
My hopes for the future of the Muslim community, or the Ummah as it is known in Arabic, are those of unity, honesty, and the end of arrogance. Islam encourages people to be truly humble and embrace the humanity in everyone, realizing that God created us all, and that as our Creator, He knows us best. Thus we trust in Him and His words as relayed in the Holy Qur'an. I hope that Muslims around the world, especially those in conflicted areas, can realize the commonalities between the Abrahamic religions, despite historical disputes. Non-Muslims are supposed to be guaranteed safety in Muslim societies. There may be a tax, but every society charges a price for providing security.

I was born a Muslim and have always cherished this blessing. Even though growing up I didn't pray my five daily prayers, I never missed fasting Ramadan, and I always knew that the tenants of Islam are true... There is only one God and Mohammed is His last prophet. We were created to worship God the Almighty. Growing up in the Arab world I never thought of my faith being different or needing explanation. Then my family moved to Canada in the mid-eighties. I was one of few black students, and to my recollection, one of two Muslims in my class. At the age of 12, I knew that I was on the right path. I knew that I was blessed to be born Muslim. I felt that I was in the light. I felt bad that my classmates were confused as to the why they were created and what the purpose of their lives was. At that time I didn't wear the hejab neither did anyone in my extented family, but we were without a shadow of doubt Muslim. As teeanger, I knew that loved being Muslim. I have had many tribulations in my life. I lost my mother whom I adored with every fiber of my being when I was young, and became responsible for my younger siblings. I could have been bitter and angry, but I asked God to help me. I asked for patiences. I kept repeating what we say in Islam when somone days; " to God we belong and to Him we retun" My faith sustained me. In my early twenties I keep at a fork in the journey of my life. I had my first ever crush that felt like the real thing. It was someone who was not Muslim. I asked myself what is the most important thing in my life. I said that being Muslim and wanting to worship God Almighty was more important. I looked in my heart and saw my naked soul without pretense, lies, covers or adornments. I sincerely like who I was and I loved being Muslim. I never looked back. Few years later, I sat myself down again and looked in my heart and saw my naked soul once more. I asked myself what is stopping me from wearing the hejab. I said I am not 100% sure about the need for wearing since people have different opinions. I asked myself if I wanted aa piece of cloth to be the reason that God is not pleased with me, and I lose my chance to enter Paradise. I decided not to take any chances and to put the hejab on. At that times and many times to come, I accepted that I will not always know the answers to everything. I believe in the goodness of God and the truth in the message of Islam. I am the servant of God and am happy if He accepts me in that role. My life continues .... but I think this is enough. The bottom line is I love being Muslim before 911 and after. The religion is pure and awesome. The people can be good or bad but I don't worship them. I only worship the Almighty God. The words that I live by and pray die with them on my lips are.. "there is no God but God and Mohamed is His messenger. "

I was born and raised in an educated family of Pakistan, where the emphasis was on strong moral ethics according to teachings of Islam. However, I must admit that all my Prayers, fasting and charity was more of a ritual, until I came to US in 1997.Islam was revealed to me and my faith increases as I saw the misery in people's lives by not following the teachings of Islam. There is no such thing as culture or creed in Islam.Muslims are united by their Ideology and belief in One God,and accepting all Prophets, Muhammad being the last one.Although, after WW I, the nationalism and ethnicity has lead to a lack of Unified Muslim Leadership. The most beautiful thing about Islam is the concept of "Measured out" by the " Most Just" Creator.It effects our daily lives: there is no turf war between man and women, between Privileged and poor, between the Capital and labor once the rules of the Creator regarding the Rights and responsibilities are followed. My concern is the lack of awakening regarding Islam in the Muslim world, and hope that one day people will devote as much of their time towards the Understanding of Islam as they do to obtain their livelihood or for entertainment.When the changes come from the hearts of People, it will be only then that the real Peace will be on earth.

I was born into Islam with Muslim parents in a Muslim country. I came to the United States when I was two years old with my mom and dad's hopes and dreams of a better future. I attended Alexandria City Public Schools, had the most amazing teachers on the planet- and attended George Washington University. Islam, I was taught was a belief in a merciful Allah swt who has created the univerise and who will at the end of time judge all people for their actions on Earth. While growing up, I learned to pray salat,read the Holy Quran in Arabic, and recite prayers, by example and attending the local mosque. Each year of Ramadan brings a special magic in the air to cleanse myself of all my impurities physically and spiritually and Eid is a most special occasion where I see Muslim brothers and sisters of all colors, ethnicities, nationalities come together under one prayer and embrace each other with hugs and smiles- united under one faith.
Although I was brought up a Muslim, and taught all of the physcial and spiritual rituals- I came to respect and be proud of my religion even more when I explored college and stumbled into the lectures of Professor Seyyed Hossien Nasr, who taught me the rich history of our civilization and all of the contributions that Muslims have made. I became aware of my identity as a Muslim American to teach my non- Muslim friends by example of what Islam teaches me; patience, tolerance, generosity and to become a better person and to respect and protect this land given as a blessing from Allah swt. Islam teaches me, that as a Muslim I am obliged to be responsible to take care of myself and strive to be the best person that I can possibly be at the same time helping my family, friends, and even a stranger if need be in becoming a better individual and as an ummah united and taking care of all of Allah swt's blessings.
The beauty of Islam is that in Islam there is no class, caste, or nationality, race or ethnicity- all people regardless of rich or poor are seen as one equal in the eyes of Allah swt. Islam has taught for centuries what is recently being taught in regards to taking care of your health, body, family and enviroment.
As a Muslim and an American I hold the same values of treating each equally, while having the freedom given by Allah swt to practice my faith while my neighbor worships their faith.As a Muslim woman I have the freedom to cover my head with a hijab and be respected as an individual.
As for all of the Muslim world- no matter the differences in tongues, cultures, or ethnicites we are united under the one declaration "la ilaha illa allah" ( There is no God but one God )
I am grateful, proud and yet humbled to be a Muslim American who can practice my faith freely,express my mind openly- and intend to make the world a better place insha'Allah.

My sister recently said to me that she's so proud of my "millenial" family- I have three Korean-American, Egyptian, Muslim children. But I guarantee that I never, ever imagined that this is where my life would lead me, and that I would have someday been trying to convince the Korean shopkeeper that I was indeed Korean, despite my headscarf.

I pretty much grew up in the Catholic Church, in a small Midwestern town. At St. Joe's, everyone knew that I held a sort of honorary status as a non-baptized Catholic. I was a cross-bearer, a member of the choir, I often read the second Bible reading in Mass. I found a home in the church that gave me purpose and status. But what I realized as I moved on from St. Joe's, was that the faith hadn't moved me to implement it in my personal life. I could write a rousing report on St. Sebastian, but couldn't extract personal meaning to apply it to my daily life.

When I was 21, I began working with someone who did some very peculiar things like fasting, and disappearing to pray at odd times of the day. When I learned that they were Muslim, I became intrigued. I wondered what was within this faith that could impel someone to engage in these acts so publicly, but do them with such pleasure and conviction. So I picked up the Quran and read. The very first page captivated me:

"In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.

"All praise and thanks is due to the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds; the Most Gracious, the most Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we worship, and thine aid we seek. Show us the Straight Way, the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, Those whose portion is not wrath. And who go not astray. Amen."

I read those seven lines maybe three or four times over. It was such a complete prayer- one that filled my heart with such hope for the future. I continued to study the Quran, finding treasure troves of not only spiritual guidance, but scientific facts that quenched my need for some kind of intellectual foundation.

A few months later, I reticently walked into my boss’s office and told him that I would need a longer lunch break than usual. I could have told him that I had a dentist’s appointment and he would have believed me. Instead, to combat my fear, I said it out loud: “I’m going to the University of Maryland for Muslim prayer services.”

I think he found it amusing. Silly, naïve young woman having an identity crisis, seeking truth in the world’s religions. He smirked at me, didn’t ask too many questions, and complied with my request without hesitation.

I cannot tell you that I remember the words that were spoken at that prayer. I can tell you that I remember who spoke them, and that still today he speaks with the same conviction and persuasiveness with which he spoke 12 years ago. I do remember the orderliness of the day. I remember how compartmentalized the men and the women were, and how unnaturally natural it was that it didn’t feel odd. I remember how quiet the audience was, and how clearly the speaker’s voice echoed through the air, and how the silence between his pauses formed sweet moments of serenity that seemed to wash over us as purification. I remember how it felt when a cohesive rustle erupted from the congregation when he called to establish the prayer. I remember how it felt to pray, for the first time, with purpose and meaning. I remember the thrill of feeling shoulders on either side of me, being ecstatically bound by something that was not restrictive, not suffocating, not forced, and not false.

Over the next few years, my transformation became final. Donning the headscarf, I could no longer use my appearance as a crutch in the workplace. My self-worth was released from the grip of personal opinion, and my talents and abilities stood by themselves for the first time.

After 9/11 I wrote an op-ed piece in the local Muslim newspaper, fearing for the legacy that we might leave our children if we did not deal with this tragedy properly. I said that we would no longer be practicing our faith in obscurity, but for all intents and purposes we would be front and center stage. Having studied political science at the Naval Academy, I knew that the repercussions of 9/11 would certainly be long-lived. I warned that we were standing on the forefront of a historical era in which we help determine what would be written in the history books. I then asked each and every Muslim out there to conduct themselves with the highest Islamic standards, the standards of conduct that had drawn me to the religion in the first place.

Through the ensuing scrutiny and frequent disparagement, I found greater strength and commitment to my faith. There are answers for every charge or insult, and they are bound in dignity, mutual respect, and grace.

Islam is a commitment. It is a commitment to live your life with integrity, sincerity, magnanimity, mercy, and patience. It is a commitment to recognize that everything that you have had, have now, or ever will have, is a bounty from God that you cannot take for granted. It is a commitment to be God-conscious, to train yourself to see the signs and goodness of God wherever you look. I know that I, and my fellow Muslims, may fail the spirit of Islam in so many ways on a daily basis, but what I know for sure is that Islam never fails us.

So, I'll handle all of the puzzled looks that surface at the Korean store with pleasure. Because I, too, am proud of my "millenial" Muslim family, who eats halaal chicken that we buy at the Korean store, prepare with Pakistani spices, and share with our American, Chinese, Pakistani, Moroccan, Syrian, and Egyptian Muslim friends.

What drew me to Islam was the fact that it is all-encompassing and by that, I mean that it is not simply a "religion" by today's standards, but rather; a way of life. And a beautiful one at that. Being a Muslim means surrendering with love and servitude to God. I have searched far and wide, the only pure monotheistic religion with pure sanctity of God and not attributing any deficiencies to God is Islam. I feel, as a Muslim, I am always conscious of God. I love praying to Him five times a day. It truly makes me feel as if I always have a connection with God Almighty and no intermediaries, just God and myself... To a certain extent, my words are limited in describing what it truly feels like to be a Muslim.

Peace be upon those who follow guidance,

My story, well let's see. I started exploring what faith really meant to me in high-school. I passed through a 'holy ghost' type of church in the process (which I later realized informed my penchanct for scriptural based faith). Along the road to Islam I passed through other faiths as well. Given my ken for all things eastern I looked into Confucianism and Daoism briefly. I also studied American Indian spirituality at a superficial level. I was looking for a common thread or theme. What I think I found was a belief in a Supreme Deity or Ultimate Power. All paths seemed to have this as a commonality, but they expressed its' particulars differently. This was filed away in my heart for some years. Then I read Malcolm X's autobiography and this inspired me to read the Quran. Upon reading just a small portion, not even completing the second chapter, I knew I had found my path and what I perceived as the perfection of that common thread (one supreme deity). I found my peace a couple years later when I reverted to my god-given state of worshipfulness by testifying that nothing deserved to be worshipped or adored except for Allaah (God) and that Muhammad (bin 'Abdullaah) (Allaah's prayers and peace be upon him, and all the prophets) is his slave/worshipper and messenger.
The "Muslim World"; the diversity in this realm comes about mostly through regional variety and cultural variation. In some ways, we are very much alike, no matter where we're from. This comes from our common faith. In others we are very different, this is often due to culture. The one thing which remains true is that Muslims the world over having an overwhelming tendency to show geniune love for their brethen from other parts of the world, no matter the cultural or language barriers. I have experienced this first hand and it still touches me deeply.
Being Muslim to me means living my life, as much as possible, in concert with Allaah's will. Knowing that I may falter, but also knowing that the door is open for my repentance and return into His favor.
What do I find beautiful? The most beautiful thing I've found in Islam is the filling of deep and sincere faith when it touches you. And it doesn't happen often or for very long, at least for me. There is at once both a sense of powerlessness that's very liberating and a sense of being completely sufficed by Allaah's Mercy. Also, I find an expression of this in my love for my youngest son. In him I've found a quality I would have never believed I had. Even as I write these words I grow misty thinking about it. In that love for him that I feel is a reflection, however dim, of Allaah's love for his obedient slaves (us).
My hopes and concerns truthfully revolve around myself; this may seem narcissitic, but let me explain. I believe very firmly that my first duty is to perfect myself. Through each of us working on our own short-comings and tending to our own fences, we will effect a greater change in the world then if we look past ourselves and focus on the outer rather than the inner. I worry about my motivations, my emotions, my reactions; all those things which belie the states of my heart. Mind you, I don't advocate divorcing yourself from the world. Those who know me know that I'm very opinionated about many things, and my opinions are not uninformed. However, my greatest fear (and hope) is my own rectification. By being the best I can be I pray to make to world a better place for my children and for all. Thank you for this opportunity; may Allaah (God) guide us and you, and rectify all of our affairs.

My mother became Muslim in the early seventies, and I was born in the mid 70's when Islam was just beginning to burgeon within the African American community of the north.

I grew up in the projects and ghettos of Brooklyn. Like many other black kids, I did not know my father. But my love of baseball and comic books (and my very strict mother) kept me off the streets.

However, nothing could keep the streets from getting to me. With NYC's crime rate rising in the early 90's, my mother made a drastic decision, and sent me to Senegal, West Africa to study Islam. I was 14 yrs old.

I studied for three years in Senegal before switching to Darul Uloom, an Islamic education institute in Trinidad and Tobago. I spent two years there and finally returned to New York.

I returned to NY, went to College, got married, graduated, got a job, and started having kids.

People tend to make assumptions about me. Because I am American, and I don't wear traditional Muslim clothing, Muslims usually think I'm new to Islam, or don't know much about my faith.

They are often surprised by what I know.

And non-Muslim Americans are generally surprised to learn that I'm Muslim. After all, Muslims aren't Mets fans! Muslims don't know how Spider-Man got his powers!

American Muslims are not like Muslims from other parts of the world. We are very fortunate, economically speaking. But we are torn. And in more ways than one.

My time in Africa and Trinidad made me love America. I missed home so much that I absorbed everything American. I craved American food and learned to distinguish between the many different American accents.

But when 9/11 happened, things changed. This is what I mean by American Muslims are torn.

I am a descendant of slaves. My family has fought in several American wars. I am just as much a part of this nation's legacy as anyone else.

Yet, my country sometimes appears to be at war with my faith.

We (Muslims) have to be careful what we say for fear of being labeled a terrorist or even worse, being arrested or investigated.

We have to be careful which websites we go to. Some Muslims have been arrested for saying the wrong things in Muslim chat rooms.

We have to be careful about which charities we support. Some Muslim charities have been accused of supporting terrorist groups overseas.

We have to be careful which Muslims we invite into our homes. The FBI has used undercover Muslim agents to indict Muslims for various crimes.

And then there's the issue of raising the next generation of American Muslims.

My kids love T.V., movies, candy, and video games like any other American child. But I have to be careful to regulate what they see. And I must still make sure they get an adequate Islamic education.

For me, the future is about hope and fear.

Hope that Islam will continue to grow in America. I am confident of that because I see how many Muslims are here now compared to when I was a kid.

I have hope that we will someday be able to reconcile our faith with American political aims. I have hope that more average Americans will become familiar and comfortable with Islam without thinking we're trying to take over and change American values.

But there's always that underlying, creepy fear that one day, a really bad terrorist attack will happen in America, and the wrong person will be President.

As-Salaam Alaikum
To all the Muslim brothers and sisters out there, Eid Mubarak, the best time of the year has indeed started for the fastest growing segment of the USA and spiritually conscious people all around the world. I take this effort to tell our story with the general public dispite a common attide of pregidis against muslims in total.
The point that must be made is to ask, that reasonable minded America consider that we are a logical country here so we need to wakeup to the fact that to paint a billion plus and growing number of the world peolpe as evil because we are also "vitimized", to profess the same religion as a small, less than 1 persent of our true religion, how can logical people conclude that we are all the same? The term islamic terrorist is an oxymoron. A person may be a terorist or a muslim but not both at the same time? the terms contradict each other. Ours is a religion of peace we only believe that we have to protect our selfs,family and our fellow muslims from attacks on us. We muslims are truly logical people, meaning that we understand all christians can't be lumped together with madmen that are so out of touch with reality that they may think that they are christians when in reality they have simply strayed off the true path of that religion. America don't be afraid of muslims, the vast majority of us only want to be friends in peace and undestanding.
Now a little more about us, well we feel peace in our hearts that our guide book The Honorable Qu'ran is unchanged, unaltered and the exact same message The Almighty God expressed through his angel Jebril(Gabriel)to our belovet Prophet Muhammad(s.a.a.w.)more that 1000 years ago. That along with our Prophets life stories listed in his Hadiths this imformation is all we need to let us know, we are on the best path, not the only path, we are tought that TRUE CHRISTIANS and TRUE JEWS will also make it into Heaven, but we feel our is the most clearly defined road and the path without any confusion if you only read our Qu'ran and the Prophets Hadiths.
The Specking of Faith host Ms.Tippit, on the radio, asked the question,what do we muslims find beautiful in Islam... well the answer is all around us every day. Almighty Gods endless creation is one aspect of this life we find beauty in. God Almighty created everything,the animals with their innate knowledge of life, that is no accident that new born babies in the wild can be up and striving soon after birth with little or no teaching, depending on which animal you want to talk about. Where would we be without honeybees
and the wonderous work they do for peoples food supplys?
In our wonderous Qu'ran we are told taht if one were to double the worlds oceans and if you were to use all that water as ink, if that were possible, all that ink on all the paper from all the worlds trees, would not be enough to express on paper all the glory and prasize that God almighty is trully due for all that he has given to mankind. Ramadan is about refousing our lives on what rally matters.
God did not make this universe and this worlds lifetime for us humans just for fun and games. We muslims we get that we know that, we are tought that from BEFORE the cradddle. Ramadan is our time to remember for anyone that may have lost focused, that Almighty God, the prasizing of him is why we are in this lifetime.
As much as the devil wants people to get lost in this worlds material
nonsence, only God and what he wills, that is the only thing that matters now and the only thing that will matter on judgement day.
how people see you today is what foolious people worry about when only success on judgement day, that is where the real winners and losers will be sorted out. America also likes to beleive that we get to set the rules on judgement day... only the devil working overtime
could have us thinking that our wills, our wants matter on that day. wrong people only the creator and owner of that day gets to make the rules for that day, we as muslims know this fact and Ramadan is a gift of a time for us to refocus on what really matter's; Prasizing God,respecting all his messengers and his signs, loving each other is very key in our religion, we are incomplete until we love each other as God loves us all. Once again understand that that last point is flat against the idea of being a terorist.
This is just a small idea of what we are all about but the hard part is that to get the full picture one needs to read our holy book and that is only in arabic. The english copies aren't translations because
the lanquage doesn't translate completly enough to have the full true same meaning. The Qu'ran in english will only give you a small idea of what your missing until you csn read the real thing in arabic.
Unfortuantly Arabic words have so many meanings that one must read it in it's Arabic to fully appreciate it.

At one point or another in our lives, no matter what faith we were brought up to believe in, each and every one of us faces our beliefs and makes a choice. We either accept or reject, embrace or push aside, strengthen our belief in our faith or let doubts and questions linger unanswered. Growing up with Islam in today's day and age meant scrutinizing everything my faith entailed through the eyes of a skeptic.But then again Islam does after all teach us not to be blind in our faith:

When they are told, "Follow what GOD has revealed herein," they say, "We follow only what we found our parents doing." What if their parents did not understand, and were not guided? [Holy Quran 2:170]

Indeed, they have rejected this without studying and examining it, and before understanding it. Thus did those before them disbelieve. Therefore, note the consequences for the transgressors.[Holy Quran 10:39]

But what I and every other Muslim soon realizes is that in due time doubts and questions are answered and that faith in Islam is never blind. It is this simplicity and reasoning that draws so many to this faith. That and the simple human yearning towards GOD. And to this yearning Islam answers:

When My servants ask you about Me, I am always near. I answer their prayers when they pray to Me. The people shall respond to Me and believe in Me, in order to be guided.[ Holy Quran 2:186]

I am an American 59 year old woman who was raised Jewish and attended Hebrew school until after my Bat Mitzvah. My parents were not religious but wanted me to have a religious education. In early childhod around age 5 I started questioning my existance.
Later in my late teens I became agnostic which was a short lived experience. Around the age of 25 someone gave me a book on mysticism from the Sufi tradition. I read the book while I nursed my newborn. I felt I had to find these Sufi's. As it turned out I found a group in Vermont, that I stayed involved with for onver 22 years. Although the group which was focused on aspects of Islam, didn't ask you to convert. I tried to fast Ramadan at that time. I was 35 years old. I questioned aspects of the Koran and visited Muslim Sufi's. I was told one really couldn't be a Sufi unless one was Muslim. This comment stayed with me for years and simmered inside. Many years later I met an imam from California. I was in my late 40's. He made such an impression on me without saying anything. (proslytizing is forbidden in Islam) A few years later I saw him in NC and all of a sudden asked him about converting to Islam. What was it that was so strong? Beauty and a scent of love and passion. I converted to Islam in front of 100 or so people. This was a hard decision due to so many external "rules" that contradicts our Western freedom. It is now 10 years later and the beauty of this amazing religion or "spirtual path" as I see it still is a huge undertaking of learning "knowledge" and developing insight into one's existance. Islam, to me is an art form and a wholisitic practice of the body, mind and spirit
I feel this invitation by God is a gift. I am now a member of the Jerrahi Halveti Sufi Order in Spring Valley NY. It is a traditonal Muslim Sufi Order.
My husband and I plan on perform the hajj this November.

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!” – Dr. Seuss

…and I think I am:

I am a Muslim. Islam is ingrained in my being. I pray five times a day, fast during the month of Ramadan, and give alms to charity. I am the generation that went from an ordinary person on September 10, 2001 to waking up the next morning and being demeaned. After 9-11, I knew as an American-Muslim that our perceptions and image were going to change. We had to be prepared to refuse the image that these radical fundamentalist had given us. I approached The University of Arizona to endorse and help us initiate the Muslims Student Association. That year, we started the Fast – a – thon tradition. We invited everyone on campus to join us on one day during the holy month of Ramadan, to fast with us. At the end of the day we had a feast. For every person that participated, Muslim-owned companies or stores donated a monetary contribution to the local Food Bank. This tradition is in its 5th year, and last year we were able to raise over $2,500. My generation has been able to reinvent the meaning of “American Muslim“ or perhaps “Modern Muslim“.

I am an architect. We create things and leave our impressions on earth. Relentlessly I am designing new things; whether, it is a master plan for The University of Arizona Arts Oasis project, Phoenix College Fine Arts building, or the Tucson Bus Shelter. I am constantly creating. Now I am on a mission to expand the margins and create contemporary, yet symbolic Islamic Architecture at the Aga Khan Program in Islamic Architecture at Harvard and MIT. Muslim communities continue to implement the same architectural vocabulary that they are familiar with, mimicking and emulating their neighborhood mosque from the Middle East to Western suburbia. I witnessed this frenzy while working as a designer and cultural / religious advisor on the new Islamic Center project in Seattle, Washington. From that experience, I realized that I have a passion to expand the boundaries and create a new vocabulary for the next generation.

I am you. I am not defined solely by where I am from, my traditions, heritage, rules, and culture. I believe in the best from everybody, everywhere, and everything; morphing it into a modern culture. We all should be global citizens where we learn from each other and import the best things from others into our own lives. We should be open and yearning to change; push for new things and be unique. Celebrate life with me; celebrate the holy month of Ramadan.

______________________________________________________________
Maryam Eskandari, Director of American Institute Architect Associate
Graduate Student | Aga Khan Program Islamic Architecture Harvard and MIT
Architectural Designer | A.I.T | NAAB | NCARB
Ph. 520.891.0084
E. maryam.eskandari@yahoo.com
http://maryameskandari.blogspot.com/

There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You, feel it, don’t you?
----Rumi

One night, a few months ago, I read this line of poetry and it pierced the deepest part of my heart, psyche, and soul. It still does each and every time I read it. I’ve spent many nights thinking what does this mean to ME? Why does it speak to me so loudly, so clearly-almost like my inner self is whispering in my ears, clearly audible to me, but not to others. I still haven’t delved into the depths of this quote and my inner soul, but I do know that this is what I am constantly searching, chasing, craving for and what Islam means to me, especially during the spiritual month of Ramadan. This is the time, the month, when I really should be thinking, questioning and checking myself, as a Muslim, about my personal state of affairs. How far have I come as a person? What have I accomplished in life? What is my spiritual state? Where are my priorities? What are my goals as a Muslim, a human being, a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a wife? I still struggle with these questions specifically, but ultimately know that this is a lifelong struggle, a yearly “check-in” with myself and my relationship with God. This is what Islam means to me on a very basic, every day level- that quest for continuous improvement and spiritual fulfillment as I come closer to the Divine.

Along with these personal questions I struggle with, there are other concerns that keep me up at night. Concerns I have not only for myself, for my children, but even broader to both the Muslim and non-Muslim community. I find myself preoccupied with the thought of how do I raise my children to become Global Citizens? How do I ensure that my kids have that love and respect for humanity, for the planet/creatures, and ultimately love for God that I believe will make this world a better place? Like any mother, I have hopes and dreams for my kids. I want them to be proud of their mixed ethnic heritage- being a mixture of Syrian and Venezuelan descent, be confident of their Muslim identity despite these times of misunderstandings, and have the courage to stand up for what they believe, be true to themselves, and be future leaders who can bridge between sometimes differing cultures and continents. I want them to live in multiple countries, absorb multiple languages, and truly see the beauty within each and every country, culture, and race. This is how I believe we can become global citizens, respect each other, the earth, and walk in each other’s shoes. This isn’t just a candle in my heart, but a burning fire in my soul that blazes with passion…here, far away, in Indianapolis.

The attached pictures is in the old souk of Damascus with my husband Diego, Zayd-my son, and Serene-my daughter.

This month is not simply about Fasting from food, but fasting from prohibited things as well. For if you are not guarding your eyes, ears, tongue, and heart, for you are only going hungry and not truly fasting for Allah (swt).

This month is about the Quran, coming close to Allah(swt) and those that you love. abstaining from that which is not loved. I like to call the beloved month.

The month of Ramadhan is the month in which Allah (swt) sent down the Quran. It is a month in which Allah has made greater than any other month. The Shaytan are locked up, and the gates of Paradise are open. Any good deed that one does during this month, has greater blessings than it would in any other month.

We have awaited like kids on the first day of school for this month to arise year after year. Masjids become fuller than they typically are. you greet family and friends with the blessings of the month. You obtain from what is haram, and observe the fast during the daylight hours.

It is in the Holy month that many renew their faith, and work on the weaknesses and draw themselves closer to Allah(swt). This month for myself personally I intend to spend more time on my Islamic studies and the Arabic language rather than on Facebook and Twitter.

Not that I watch much TV, but I will insure that I lower my gaze from things that are Haram, especially that which is on TV. Guard my ears and my tongue. For these will sure make a weak heart. Inshallah I ask Allah(swt) to bless us all during this month, guide us to do what is right, and protect our families from the fire of hell. Ameen.

During the month of Ramadhan Allah (swt) offers us an opportunity to gain major blessings thins month, more than we would any other month. One specific opportunity is through reading the Quran.

Many of us gather at night for the Iftar( breaking fasts), Nightly Prayers, and recitation of the Quran. I miss these days, and I wish that they would never end; for it is this blessed month that I have no excuses than to spend time with my Lord and those that I love and hold so close to my heart.

The Koran says that no one is Muslim unless he is waging jihad. this jihad is a necessary struggle against one's own lack of ambiution, and one's own tendecy toward immorality and vile pursuits.

I see a growing desire in many to adopt Islam but they do not understand they mjust adhere to the Koran to be a Muslim. This means fighting for a muslim community, the Ummah, and for shari'a law.

this is why I left Islam, it cannot be true that a religion requires its adherenets to kill off everyone else. But I do not think that you will include people who leave a religion; my story is as much a part of the religion as is those who stay.

Even though Islam is the religious tradition to which I subscribe, my roots in the so-called “Muslim World” are tenuous at best, non-existent at worst. I’m an “indigenous” Black American Muslim convert, and while I am not qualified to talk about the complexity and diversity of the historic “Muslim World,” I do feel that my personal experiences--along with my knowledge of the tradition (however scant it might be)--imbue me with the capacity to discuss such issues as Muslim identity in America intelligently and sagaciously.

I was born into a Catholic family in Pensacola, a navy port town in the Panhandle of northern Florida. Still vivid in my mind are the Sundays when my family would attend Mass at the local Catholic church. As a young teenager, I became engrossed with character of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) and his teachings. Moreover, I grew to admire the priests, nuns and deacons of my community (an admiration that persists this very day), so much so that I had aspirations of becoming a priest myself. They all seemed to exude a sense of holiness, justice and mercy as went about serving the parish and the community as a whole. In my youth, I wanted to emulate their passion and zeal,so that I could one day serve my community in a similar fashion.

Despite the respect I had garnered for the priestly class and the passion I had for teachings and character of Jesus as described in the Bible, I had some uneasiness about certain theological positions of the Christian faith. Late into my high school years I struggled with the sensibility of the Trinity and doctrine of Vicarious Atonement. Finally, after a year and half of questions and internal debates amidst the auburn street lights of my neighborhood, I decided to reject the doctrines of the Trinity and Vicarious Atonement and pursued a more “agnostic” approach to religion. I still identified myself as Christian at that time, but only in the sense of following the teachings of Jesus, only in the sense of being “Christ-like.”

After a graduated high school in 2005, I met my first Muslim while working as a grounds keeper at a local community college. She was an older, Black, Southern woman whose personal experiences extended back to the days of the Nation of Islam and Imam Warith Deen Mohammed. She, with her boisterous self-assurance and somewhat profane modes of expression, impressed upon me the Muslim position concerning God, Jesus, the Bible and humanity. I was drawn to her words and to passion with which she spoke them. My last day of work, she gave me an English translation of the Qur’an and said to me, quite prophetically, “you gon’ be Muslim!” I converted at the University of Florida later that year, right before Ramadan. The rest, as they say, is history.

For me, being a Muslim is more than an artificial demarcation of personal or cultural identity. Being Muslim has at its core a deep intellectual recognition of humanity’s position in all of creation vis-a-vis creation itself. It represents a willful acknowledgment of the necessity to submit by way of congruency to a greater power and will that both paradoxically lies far beyond our conventional means understanding and yet is so close to our minds and hearts that we can let this transcendental power and will manifest in our daily actions. It means living in world riddled with Niebuhrian ironies, tragedies and paradoxes: of being people both of peace and violence, of being people both concerned with the affairs of this life and the one to come, of being people who both call to love and justice. For me, being Muslim means coming to terms with my humanity, with being a tension-riddled human being full of contradictions and weakness and knowing that this inner and outer struggle for equanimity and peace, which all conscious individuals endure regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof, serves a greater end, an end which our ken’s are incapable of grasping.

So when I pray, when I prostrate, when I fast, when I give charity with my money or even with a simple smile, when I do good in this life, when I struggle to do what is just, when I recognize--for good or ill--my humanity, I think of the birds and the trees and the celestial bodies in the heavens and say to myself, “I have found my place in creation, as a humble servant of God.” And herein lies the beauty of Islam: that every person, irrespective of hue or tongue or socio-economic status, is interconnected with each other and creation itself, but since we humans have the moral agency to act upon our wills (to a certain extent), we are obligated to take care of creation and each other. Moreover, the act of attending to this responsibility via self-actualization and humility is considered to be the greatest form worship. This, to me, is Beauty.

I know I’m still quite young, with much more to learn and--perhaps more importantly--much more to unlearn. However, despite my youth and the naiveté that is suppose to accompany it, my intuition and hope lead me to believe that Muslims will continue eke out meaning, fruitful existences in the States. After all, for most of us, this is our home. I, for example, was born in this land; my family is here and nowhere else; my culture is here and nowhere else; my language is here; my history is by and large here; my religion is here; my life is in this land, and quite possibly, so will be my death. I therefore hope that Islam will find its place in American society.

This land has been a source of peace and prosperity for many Muslims, but it has also been a source of caustic and bitter irony. Such contradictions make me wonder if we Muslims will be able to adequately answer the questions posed by modernity, even post-modernity, in America. They make me wonder if we will be effective in resolving the inner tensions between the different racial, ethnic, tribal and socio-economic components of the Muslim strata in America. They make me wonder if Muslims will become more critical engaged in American society. Most importantly, they make me wonder if we Muslims will ever get to narrate our own stories, to tell our own tales, instead of someone else doing it for us.

I contemplate these issues during these Ramadan days and nights, hoping to find answers of some appreciative magnitude and caliber. ‘Cause God knows we need ‘em!

A Ramadan Reflection (originally written for the Kabobfest blog): I felt sorry for myself all day yesterday-sorry that the pounding of Oakland’s unseasonably warm sun further parched dehydrated skin, sorry for myself watching my co-presenters inhale an all-you-can-eat hotel breakfast buffet consisting of custom-made omelets and waffles, Thai food, and guzzling down free water given to session presenters. I felt sorry for my ailing body that endured these sights and for it to be weakened by the onset of disease and the thrashing of psyche by melodramatic internal organizational in-fighting. How could I consider creating a salvation strategy for some self-serving, opportunistic member of the group who burned almost every other member important in the scheme of things when I was so pre-occupied by basic human needs like food and water? After linner at the aforementioned Thai restaurant in Oakland with group members, at which I took notes to avoid thinking about the praised sticky rice and spicy shrimp in front of me, the rest of the group decided to go back to the hotel and participate in a “group writing cipher.” It was 6-ish at this point, less than a half hour/forty-five minutes till iftar. This was the point I should have formally cued and vocalized my stage right exit, to get back to Berkeley to try to break the fast with my brother. But I foolishly followed the herd. In doing so, I refused to recognize that I was on emotional “E” at this point. All my fuel had been used up from the past two full days of hashing and re-hashing organizational drama. Right before the cipher started, I realized that it was time to break my fast. I was irritated that no one in the whole group understood the significance of the dark velvet draping of the night’s sky. I finally mustered up enough energy to speak up, excusing myself for my low-energy as a result of the fast, and my body’s desire to take part in the nourishment it was entitled to at this point. A big “ohhhh”rounded the circle like a moving current of electricity. In the place of a hoped for excused exit, a different kind of suggestion came in: “Well, why don’t you get something from the hotel market over there.” In disappointment over the result of my passive-aggressive approach towards leaving the scene, I followed orders like a Syrian soldier-one of performing an assigned task with loathing compliance and dragged feet. Scouring the selection available to me-condensed Campbell’s soup, Nutri-grain bars, and expired yogurt-I settled on water and pretzels (and was suddenly reminded of the cliff bar in my purse). I came back and the group had already started the writing assignment. Feeling obligated to participate, I downed all of my water, vacuumed up a handful of pretzels (an anathema to the Arab Muslim’s conception of an iftar meal), and joined in. The timed writing exercise came to a close and now was the time we all shared our products. During the time four of the five other group members shared their work, I tried hard to concoct a good excuse that would exempt me from reading my exceptionally negative response to the writing topic of “A gang of gypsies.” Time was up. All I could come up with was the truth: “I don’t feel like sharing.” So-finally, with that the 24 plus hours of group interaction had come to a close. I swept up all my belongings, said my salaams, and fled. As I walked out in a huff, I ripped off a piece of the cliff bar in dissatisfaction. Before I turned the corner to where my car was parked, I noticed a man huddled under the awning of a storefront door. It was hard to make out the black shirt he was wearing from the black soot all over his body. Sitting down next to his trashbag, he made chewing off every ounce of protein from an already sparse chicken wing sport. As I passed him by, he didn’t ask me for one thing: not to “spare some change” or “provide a meal”-nothing. What struck me was that I saw this sight and walked on. Because I was so engulfed in my self-pity trance, I failed to recognize the great disparity of our lots in life as i begrudgingly bit off another piece of chocolate almond crunch-ness. Finally it hit me 10 paces past him: “What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I feeling sorry for myself? I actually have food in my hands and in my mouth! Who am I to feel sorry for myself?” So I walked back to the man, gave him my cliff bar, to which he said “bless your heart” and headed back to my car. My self-pity and complaining stopped there because, 27 days in, I was reminded the point of Ramadan on a visceral level-something we were constantly taught on an intellectual one. This was the point of Ramadan. No matter how hungry I am during the day, I will always have food at the end of the day. There are many people out there who cannot be eased by such a guarantee. Even my meagre dinner that night-water, a handful of pretzels and two bites of a cliff bar-pales in comparison to the struggle by 852 million people worldwide(13 % of the population), who suffer from malnourishment and starvation, to find even a morsel of that on a daily basis.

I've experienced Ramadan in three culturally distinct countries: India, my birth place, Saudi Arabia, where I spent my early childhood, and United States where I have lived for the past 15 years. The mental, physical, and spiritual struggles were and have been consistent throughout all the Ramadans I’ve been able to observe.
However, there is one particular Ramadan in which I spent almost one week in the largest Mosque in the world, Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca Saudi Arabia that sticks out in memory.
That was an experience like no other. I can't compare it to anything else I have experience in my life. The aura the mosque embodies is all consuming. When I saw it for the first time, I recall being overwhelmed with joy but also with strange sensations of apprehension nervousness. However, once I walked into the Mosque, I left two of those feelings at the door steps.
Breaking my fast in the mosque after the Maghrib prayer (sunset) with millions of people for a week was absolutely surreal. To pray all the five payers from when dusk broke until the last payer at night was incredible. There was a sense of oneness and peace I felt there which I have no words to describe. I was 14 years old at that point and I can’t wait until I have another opportunity to experience that again with the awareness and maturity I have accumulated since then.

I converted to Islam about one year ago. Before this I was a hodge podge of Christian/Buddhist/Unitarian Universalist. Being a ceramic artist who's work targets religion and spirituality, I have observed and learned about several faiths. I felt could never pin point my beliefs to just one system, but Islam was one religion I never got the chance to fully learn about until about a year ago.

Being very liberal minded, my main hang up with religion was judgment from other people and from God. I would always think, "What about homosexuals? People of other faiths? People who do good service all their lives but don't believe? Would a forgiving God really banish all these people to hell?" And then something clicked. Why was I trying to answer all of these questions when I didn't possess the power to? If I truly believed that God was just and merciful, what did I need to worry about? For humans to say one way or the other about someone's eternal destiny is taking on the power of God.

I also find it very interesting how people are so quick to cast each other to into hell. "You had a child out of wedlock! You're going to hell!" "You don't believe in my God, you're going to hell!" I have NEVER heard it the other way around... "You gave that homeless man a dollar! You are SO going to HEAVEN for that!" Not that I think we should take advantage of God's mercy, but we can't let fear be our driving force.

Muslims have their problems as a community just like any other religious community, but what I have learn from Islam is the strong link between the self and God. We all have our individual struggles (aka the real Jihad) on a daily and hourly basis. Islam has taught me that instead of pointing fingers at someone with a different struggle, we must focus on ourselves, help each other get through life with love and compassion, and leave judgment up to God.

As an American Muslima I find it difficult to find "true" explanations of Islam in any Media source. The media continues to propagate the sensational stories; proclaims most terrorists as "Muslims" or "Islamic Extremists." The general popluation seems to think women are down trodden, subservient 2nd class citizens who cannot do anything and are, under rules in the Quran, to be hidden, treated poorly and tucked away.

As a member of the NPR system - KXJZ in Sacramento - I appreciate this moment in time. Islam is rules and morals of life;, an encompassing way of life as well as a belief. To dispell a few common misperceptions: I am not a 2nd class servant. I wear the Hijab because I want to. I am not married to a "foriegner." My husband does not keep me home. I work outside the home as well as at home. I cook because I want to and choose a healthy Halal diet for the same resons persons of the Jewish faith choose a Kosher diet - I am commanded to in the Quran. Islam is peace. The Quran, provides life guidance that finalizes the guidance given in the Torah and the Gospels. In all my studies I've only encountered love, kindness and positiverules to live by. I pray 5 times a day to keep my life centered and the thought of Allah at the center of all I do; it makes me a better person.

I'd appreciate it if NPR would do some additional research and discontinue the now long standing trend of calling Terrorists Muslim Terrorists. I pray that all will some day have a real understanding of Islam, not the cultural preferences seen on TV.

As we go forward, I am encouraging you to say hello when you see me. Smile rather than turn away and call me "strange." One woman even asked if I had ears "under that thing" on my head. Yes, I have ears and I hear you. If the words or actions you are contemplating would hurt your, the will hurt me.

Please don't read this as a rant. This is my attempt to share with you the beauty of Islam. I've met sisters who speak Swahelli, French, Urdu, Arabic, Spanish, Farsi, Turkish and yes, English. We are one. Salams
For more information about Islam go to www.WhyIslam.org

One of my favorite parts of Ramadan is the Sahur or morning meal. I love getting up extra early to prepare a hearty meal for my family. My family sits together and eats excitedly foods that we may not ordinarily eat for breakfast. We stay up until dawn and pray the dawn prayer together. What a wonderful way to start a fasting day, Masha'allah!

The following is my conversion story to Islam:

Having repeatedly been asked about how I became Muslim, and why, I have decided to tell the story one last time, but this time on paper. However, I feel conversion stories are worthless unless related with the lessons learned, and it is with those lessons that I intend to begin.

No doubt, there is a certain fascination with conversion stories, and for good reason. Frequently they involve dramatic life-altering events, sufficient to shock the convert out of the materialistic world and into the spiritual. Those who experience such life dramas are brought face to face with the bigger issues of life for the first time, forcing them to ask the ‘Purpose of Life’ questions, such as ‘Who made us?’ and ‘Why are we here?’ But there are other common elements to ‘conversion’ stories, and one of them is that the convert is humbled to his or her knees at such moments, and looking back, most relate having prayed with sincerity for the first time in their lives. I have been intrigued by these commonalties, and have noted some significant lessons. The first, I would say, is that most converts who passed through these moments of trial and panic prayed directly to God, without intermediary, and without distraction. For example, even those who spent their lives believing in the Trinity, when faced with catastrophe, instinctively and reflexively prayed directly to God, and never to the other proposed elements of the Trinity.

Let me relate a story as example. A popular television evangelist once had a lady relate her ‘Born Again’ Christian conversion story, which revolved around a terrible boat-wreck, from which she was the sole survivor. This lady related how during her days and nights of survival against the harsh elements of the open ocean God spoke to her, God guided her, God protected her, etc. You get the idea. For maybe five to ten minutes she told her tale, which was indeed dramatic and captivating, but throughout the story she related how God did this, God did that, and seeking His favor, she prayed to God and to God Alone. However, when she was saved by a passing ship, she described how the minute she landed on the ship’s deck she threw her arms open to the heavens and yelled, “Thank you, Jesus.”

Well, there is a lesson there, and it relates to sincerity. When in the panic and stress of circumstance, people instinctively pray to God directly, but when conceiving themselves safe and secure they frequently fall back into previously held beliefs, many (if not most) of which are misdirected. Now, we all know that many Christians equate Jesus with God, and for those who would like to argue the point, I just suggest they read my book on the subject, entitled MisGod'ed (available through www.Amazon.com). For all others, I would just continue by saying that the real question is ‘Who truly is saved?’ There are countless convert stories, all telling how the God of this or that religion saved the person in question, and all of these converts conceive themselves to be upon the truth by nature of the miracle of their salvation. But as there is only One God, and therefore only one religion of absolute truth, the fact of the matter is that only one group can be right and all others are living in delusion, with their personal miracles having confirmed them upon disbelief rather than upon truth. As Allah teaches in the Holy Qur’an, “Allah leaves astray whom He wills and guides to Himself whoever turns back [to Him]” (Translation of the Meaning of the Qur’an [hereafter ‘TMQ’] 13:27) and “So those who believe in Allah and hold fast to Him – He will admit them to mercy from Himself and bounty and guide them to Himself on a straight path.” (TMQ 4:175) As for those astray in disbelief, they will be left to stray, as they themselves chose.

But the strength of belief, even when misdirected, is not to be underestimated. So who is going to become Muslim based upon my conversion story? Only one person -- me. Muslims may find some encouragement in my story but others may be left empty, just as Muslims sigh and shake their heads in despair when hearing others relate the ‘miracles’ which followed prayers to patron saints, partners in the Trinity, or other distractions from the One True God. For if a person prays to something or someone other than our Creator, who, if not God, might be the one answering those prayers? Could it just possibly be a certain one who has a vested interest in confirming those who are astray upon their particular flavor of disbelief? One whose dedicated purpose is to lead mankind astray?

However a person chooses to answer those questions, these are issues addressed at length in MisGod'ed, and those interested can investigate. But for now, I will tell my story.

In the winter of 1990, when my second daughter was born, she was whisked from the birthing room to the neonatal intensive care unit, where she was diagnosed with a coarctation of the aorta. This meaning a critical narrowing in the major vessel from the heart, she was a dusky gunmetal blue from the chest to the toes, for her body simply was not getting enough blood and her tissues were suffocating. When I learned of the diagnosis, I was shattered. Being a doctor, I understood this meant emergency thoracic surgery with a poor chance of long-term survival. A consultant cardio-thoracic surgeon was called from across town at the pediatric hospital in Washington, D.C., and upon his arrival I was asked to leave the intensive care unit, for I had become overly emotional. With no companion but my fears, and no other place of comfort to which to go while awaiting the result of the consultant’s examination, I went to the prayer room in the hospital and fell to my knees. For the first time in my life I prayed with sincerity and commitment. Having spent my life as an atheist, this was the first time that I even partially recognized God. I say partially, for even in this time of panic I was not fully believing, and so prayed a rather skeptical prayer in which I promised God, if, that is, there was a God, that if He would save my daughter then I would seek and follow the religion most pleasing to Him. Ten to fifteen minutes later, when I returned to the Neonatal ICU, I was shocked when the consultant told me that my daughter would be fine. And, true to his assessment, within the next two days her condition resolved without medicine or surgery, and she subsequently grew up a completely normal child.

Now, I know that there is a medical explanation for this. As I said, I am a doctor. So when the consultant explained about a patent ductus arteriosis, low oxygenation and eventual spontaneous resolution, I understood. I just didn’t buy it. More significantly, neither did the Intensivist – the Neonatal ICU specialist who made the diagnosis. To this day I remember seeing him standing, blank-faced and speechless. But in the end, the consultant was right and the condition spontaneously reversed and my daughter, Hannah, left the hospital a normal baby in every respect. And here’s the rub -- many who make promises to God in moments of panic find or invent excuses to escape their part of the bargain once the danger is past. As an atheist, it would have been easy to maintain my disbelief in God, assigning my daughter’s recovery to the doctor’s explanation rather than to God. But I couldn’t. We had cardiac ultrasound taken before and after, showing the stricture one day, gone the next, and all I could think of was that God had made good on His part of the deal, and I had to make good on mine. And even if there were an adequate medical explanation, that too was under the control of Almighty God, so by whatever means God chose to effect His decree, He had answered my prayer. Period. I did not then, and I do not now, accept any other explanation.

The next few years I tried to fulfill my side of the bargain, but failed. I studied Judaism and a number of sects of Christianity, but never felt that I had found the truth. Over time I attended a wide variety of Christian churches, spending the longest period of time in Roman Catholic congregation. However, I never embraced Christian faith. I never could, for the simple reason that I could not reconcile the biblical teachings of Jesus with the teachings of the various sects of Christianity. Eventually I just stayed home and read, and during this time I was introduced to the Holy Qur’an and Martin Lings’s biography of the prophet, Muhammad, entitled, Muhammad, His Life Based on the Earliest Sources.

During my years of study, I had encountered the Jewish scriptures referencing three prophets to follow Moses. With John the Baptist and Jesus Christ being two, that left one according to the Old Testament, and in the New Testament Jesus Christ himself spoke of a final prophet to follow. Not until I found the Holy Qur’an teaching the oneness of God, as both Moses and Jesus Christ had taught, did I begin to consider Muhammad as the predicted final prophet, and not until I read the biography of Muhammad did I become convinced. And when I did become convinced, suddenly everything made sense. The continuity in the chain of prophethood and revelation, the One-ness of Almighty God, and the completion of revelation in the Holy Qur’an suddenly made perfect sense, and it was then that I became Muslim.

Pretty smart, hunh? No, not at all. For I would err greatly if I believed that I figured it out for myself. One lesson I have learned over the past ten years as a Muslim is that there are a lot of people much more intelligent than I am, but who have not been able to figure out the truth of Islam. It is not a matter of intelligence but of enlightenment, for Allah has revealed that those who disbelieve will remain upon disbelief, even if warned, for in punishment for having denied Allah, Allah in turn has denied them the treasure of His truth. As Allah teaches in the Holy Qur’an, “Indeed, those who disbelieve – it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them – they will not believe. Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil.” (TMQ 2:6-7) But, on the other hand, the good news is that “…whoever believes in Allah – He will guide his heart” (TMQ 64:11), “Allah chooses for Himself whom He wills and guides to Himself whoever turns back [to Him]” (TMQ 42:13), and “And Allah guides whom He wills to a straight path.” (TMQ 24:46)

So I thank Allah that He chose to guide me, and I attribute that guidance to one simple formula: recognizing God, praying to God Alone, sincerely promising to seek and follow His religion of truth, and then, once receiving His mercy of guidance, DOING IT.

Copyright © 2007 Laurence B. Brown—used by permission.
The author’s websites are www.eighthscroll.com and www.leveltruth.com. He is the author of The Eighth Scroll—the modern-day religious murder mystery described in Booksurge's marketing copy as “bar none, the most exciting journey of 2007.” His other works include two books of comparative religion entitled MisGod’ed and God’ed, and the Islamic primer, Bearing True Witness. All of his books are available through Amazon.com.

I think growing up and trying to fast was always seen as a bragging right. Even though you are not required to fast until the age of 14, kids as young as 5 years old would attempt the feat! I particularly remember when I would fast on the weekends when I was younger, I would "collect" snacks and treats all throughout the day to save for the time when we broke fast. I remember going to the grocery store on a Saturday and collecting samples or getting candy from friends. By the end of the day, I would have my own goody bag. Now, so many years later, I see my 9 year old doing the same thing. Sometimes, I help her build the goody bag because I'm rewarding her for such a major accomplishment.

I am a convert to Islam. It happens to me every year: we're at an iftar (breaking of the fast) at a friend's house. Our host is Sudanese. My sister-in-law, also a convert, leans in. "So, tell me, back home, what do you do for Eid?"

Eid is the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. For me, this is a challenging time. My sister-in-law and I have our own family traditions of course, the kind that have spanned generations, passed down from our parents to us with love and tenderness over the holidays for over 20 years. But they are recipes for mincemeat pies and heirloom tree ornaments. Carols and Christmas stockings. I am waiting for someone to tell me how I too can get that "Eid feeling", that "it's Ramadan" nostalgia. Once you set yourself adrift from the customs of your childhood, how do you "transfer" your affection to a new set of holidays? Who provides you with the customs you'd like to become attached to? And how long does it take to become attached in the first place?

Tradition and history are intertwined in their very nature - a "tradition" implies something you don't do often, but have done repeatedly over a period of time. The fact that you only partake in a certain ritual - be it a type of food, clothing, decor, even smells - at a specific time and rarely in between, gives it that "specialness", as well as the exclusive memories of enjoying it under the same conditions - at Ramadan or Eid time. In the early years after my conversion, this was hard to come by.

My best personal success story in this regard is the sweet milk my husband's family makes. I won't divulge the exact recipe, but it's milk with nuts and cardamom and tapioca. The first year I had it I enjoyed it well enough. The second year I liked it and it reminded me of the previous year. Now seven years later, to break my fast with that Ramadan milk and a date - it's like coming home. The first day of the month my heart almost bursts at the first taste, "it's RAMADAN!"

We recently moved away from our extended families, and it's made me feel a bit like a new convert all over again. Over the years, my husband and I have shared many of the customs of my South African in-laws. Eid has always involved lots of family and lots of good home cooked food. But I've come to feel lately, now that I have children of my own, that I am still looking for *my* tradition to pass on to them. For fear of falling into the trap of mimicking Christmas, I have had to think long and hard about the customs I want my children to take with them to be *their* Ramadan and Eid traditions one day. Part of me wonders if that's part of the larger picture of us being away from family, to push me onto my own 2 feet in creating something special for us, for me. Maybe it's a challenge ten years in the making. I hope I will perfect it one day.

I wish every month is Ramadhan :) when so many muslims live under control of emaan. Muslims try to control their desires, control from evil things,many muslims read quran more, many people cry for their sins and feel deep peace in heart, many people give more charities and many good things that all muslims try to do more and more in Ramadhan masha Allah, the month that even better than 1000 months....I feel the blessings of Ramadhan is not only for muslims but for all creatures.

I can feel different atmosphere in ramadhan alhamdulillah, I feel peace and close to Allah....I feel somehow it's just a month that I don't wanna lose forever...so wonderful I feel ,I don't know why.....

In Ramadhan I feel that I have to do the best I can do to add my good deeds for myself and others for Allah sake and it makes me happy alhamdulillah......try to serve more people around me with love alhamdulillah :)

I know many muslims passed Ramadhan with no effects, still do zina, drink and eat haram, still do shirk, still dress half naked, still do many haram things, even their heart is blocked from understanding about islam and Allah astagfirullah.....many muslims leave Ramadhan with nothing left in their heart except evil stay in their heart and life naudhu billah, May Allah save me and all muslims from evil and give us the increase of eman and taqwa by ramadhan,ameen

Ramadhan is a training season for our soul and physique. All du'as will be answered by Allah. If any of us have soul problems, hard to be good muslim/muslimah, hard to follow all Allah's orders, let's pray more and more to Allah to heal and purify our soul and help us to be good muslim, and Allah will answer our du'as......whatever haram we have done in life, let's stop it ,let's train ourselves to be good muslim,let's improve our taqwa to Allah in this blessing month :)

Ya Allah please save me and all muslims from evil whisper and weak soul that follow satan,
Ya Allah please forgive my sins and all muslim's sins,
Ya Allah please guide all humans to you and help all of us to be good muslims, and save us from hellfire,
Ya Allah please bless us with laylatul Qadar in this ramadhan,
ameen ya Rabbal 'alameen

When I think of Ramadan, I think of many things, but the first is almost always my mother, up before the rest of us an hour and a half before dawn to prepare the food we would sleepily consume in the last half hour before the fast began.

My mother, a doctor with a strong interest in nutrition, was always sure to get as much protein into our systems as possible: there were scrambled and boiled eggs, fava beans slow-cooked the traditional Egyptian way, tuna salad. But there was always something for our teenage taste buds: My mother would wake us up with home-cooked french fries, still sizzling on the plate. Into our bedroom she would sweep, singing “wake up, wake up, your food has come to you” in a jolly voice, and as I rolled over on the top bunk to face her, I would find a handful of hot, salty fries stuffed into my mouth before my eyes were even open. It certainly was an effective tactic.
When we were younger, we would “fast” from breakfast until lunch and then from lunch until dinner, feeling for the first time what it was to have sustained hunger, to not cure it immediately with a stop at the fridge or the cupboard. The pangs in our stomachs would knot first, then twist, and there was something so satisfying about not succumbing, about defeating that part of ourselves that cried out to be served, to be given now now NOW!

Experience is learning, is knowledge, and the value of that knot in the pit of my stomach can never be underestimated. I knew, ever so briefly, what it was to want; knew the slight pain, the slight light-headedness that came with it; but more than anything, knew the gratitude of sunset, of taking that first sip of water, that first sweet bite of a date, sweet and soft and buttery, melting on my tongue. And as I got older, I knew too the gratitude of having that water, that date, having what so few have, and especially what so many everywhere can't reach: a fridge full of food; a house with a roof; a blanket to cover my bed; a loving mother who would wake up in the middle of the night to make sure her daughters were well-fed before the fast began.

My father broke his fast with a glass of hot milk, heated to the point of scalding in the microwave, nearly foaming at the top, and three or five dates to go along. It was my father who taught us the supplication to make when breaking our fast:
“Oh God, for you I have fasted, and from your blessings I have broken my fast, and on you I depend, and in you I believe”. And then each one of us would turn inward and think of what she wanted and pray a private prayer, just between her and God, before that first bite, that first sip. It could be anything: I would pray for a good grade on an upcoming test, for a class trip somewhere fun, to get out of babysitting that Friday at the mosque, for forgiveness for my sins – a rude word, a look of ridicule, the missing of one of the five daily prayers.

After the dates and milk we would pray our sunset prayer before having a proper meal, and there we would stand, my mother, my three sisters and I behind our father, reciting the Quran, choosing, somehow, the verses that would nudge our hearts that particular day, his words poetry, a calling to God.

Being a Muslim means that I recognize God in everything around me, and submit to His Glory and Majesty.

For example, when I wake up, I try to remember to thank God, and before I go to bed, I ask Him to take care of and have mercy on my soul. When I eat, I remember to thank God, and ask for more of His blessings. When I study/teach Biology, I am awed at the complexity of the human body, and how true it is that we submit to God, willingly or unwillingly (considering how many involuntary processes occur without out knowledge). When I am confronted with an "unfortunate" incident, I try to remember that it could have been worse, and there is some wisdom behind it. When I pray, I'm really begging the Creator, who has the ability to change or do anything. When I see someone less fortunate than myself, I wonder if it is a test for me, to see if I will thank God for what I have, and help those in need from that which I have been given more of. When I look out my window, I can't help but think, there is a Creator, who is Majestic, Omnipotent, Compassionate, and All-Knowing even about every leaf that falls, and every tear that is shed.

And I remember that all of this, too, will end. Except the glory of God. And while I fear that mankind seems to be moving away from humane treatment, and more towards violence and hatred, I have hope. I cannot change anyone but myself. And I know that His Judgment on the Day of Judgment will not wrong anyone. It's a beautiful feeling, knowing that all of the wrongs committed against the innocent in this world will not go unchecked in the next.

Christmas for a Muslim child outside of an Islamic country is eclipsing. It is an over the top, in your face, commercial extravaganza that sucks in the most determined cynic with it's glittering, dripping lovliness - it apparently now begins in August and runs straight through December. Even my Jewish friends tell me their kids get Christmas envy - really, how could they not if they are not firmly grounded in their faith. I often feel sad for our Muslim kids here in the States. It's very hard to feel Ramadan like they would in Muslim countries.

My dear friend, an American who converted when she married said to me last week, "I don't know why all these people look forward to Ramadan every year. I don't get it. I know I am not supposed to say this, but frankly you are starving and thirsty all day but they all can't wait for Ramadan!!" Well, when she said this, I felt very sad and dismayed. Ramadan in Egypt is the best place in all the world.

Everyone hustles to purchase a Fanoos Ramadan (ramadan Lanterns) that are a tradition going back over 1000 years to the Fatamid dynasty. The children sing ancient songs in the streets and collect nuts and sweets from family & neighbors. The very air is saturated with the sounds of Qur'anic recitation and the hope of forgiveness and mercy. Every neighborhood hangs colorful lights and banners and there are carnival rides for the children to enjoy after the long days fast is broken and families go out and stroll together and visit. The night air is alive with the smell of Ramadan sweets and the sound of the devout filling the mosques and streets for the nightly Taraweeh prayers where they stand praying 1/30th of the Holy Qur'an every consecutive night throughout the month of Ramadan into the early morning hours. The streets are filled with tents and tables for the poor and traveling to sit and break their fast. These tables are sponsored by private individuals and businesses. Everywhere there is laughter and the awe of God's great mercy on the lips of every Muslim. The television is filled with special Ramadan programs and in Cairo, especially, there is night after night of special events, concerts, music, boat rides on the Nile for enjoyment. It is a very happy time where every Muslims eye is on his closeness to the Almighty and his charity to his fellow man. Charity is the hallmark of Ramadan, and it flows in excess during this month. The most amazing sight is a city like Cairo - that is dense and loud and pulsating with 24 hour life and people upon people - becomes silent and the streets empty and quiet with stragglers rushing home right before the cannons fire and sundown announcing sundown for the breaking of the day's fast.

Here, in America, it feels so empty for our children that I have made it a point to encourage all my firends to put great efforts into making Ramadan big, meaningful and translate the sweetness of this blessed month for their children and to establish our own traditions for our families. My 6 year old son, Zakariya, now asks when Ramadan will be here months in advance. He understands but no longer envies his Christian friends or wishes for Santa. We decorate our house, make special treats and calendar pockets are filled with small surprises to delight. My kid quietly puts money away to give to charity at every Friday prayer and wants to fast with us even a few hours every day. He's starting to get it. But the greatest triumph, is when my child says, "Mama lets go pray," and leads the prayer for the very first time in his life. I know that, here in America, where he is surrounded by so much that would pull him away or even turn him away from his faith he will be alright.

Just a brief comment on the difficulty of "being a Muslim," in a time that one of the primary Muslim countries,Iran, is systematically killing, raping and terrorizing its own Muslim population, all in the name of Islam. Have you noticed any significant outrage any of the other Muslim countries? No! These atrocities go unchallenged.

When I was growing up, it was perfectly acceptable to debate and talk about Islam, the Quran, Prophet Mohammed's shortcomings, etc. Today it is unacceptable and even dangerous to debate about how Islam is practiced in our home countries as well as in the West. In our countries, be it Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, we are punished severely. In the West, we are labeled, intolerant and prejudice.

So a true Muslim, speaks out about the cruelties committed in the name of Islam, especially during the month of Ramadan when their consciousness is Heightened by fasting and praying.

I am writing this with the hope that you might be a little more courageous in your questions and what you publish about Islam. Your program will serve a greater cause confronting this injustice, rather than perpetuating a romantic notion about beautiful things about Islam.

Funny, your love affair with Islam.

From my experience any muslims who explore sources of morality other than Islam are threatened with death, and Muslim women who escape the virgins' cage are branded whores. Why not learn the truth of Islam as I have from Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She was once a muslim from Somali.

Here read this and learn about THE REAL ISLAM, not the puff pieces you proclaim on your show.

Islam is one road, one way among many to connect with God, our Creator and connect with essential self, our Soul. It is one way that has brought me peace and challenges, answers and questions, and continual closeness to my Gracious Lord. I converted to Islam from being an active Methodist thirty years ago while on a conscious journey searching for worship and a community that moved me spiritually. I started out as a conservative Muslim needing the rules of devotional worship and a lifestyle guided by accepted interpretations of religious text. I am now a little off the conservative path, in a place of following my heart more than rules and finding peace within me and with my God. I continue to connect with God daily through prayer and meditation, through readings of the Qu'ran and other spirtitual works. I find direction and solace in my Islam and from teachings of other faiths and spiritual leaders as well. I live my Islam inside with through connection and worship with God as taught in all faiths, and outside through being an active community member, doing good works as taught in all faiths. As a proud Muslim, I am a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister, a friend to many people from many faiths. As a active community member, I am a counselor, a teacher, a diversity facilitator, and an community activist promoting social justice. I am a grateful Muslim woman raised in and lovingly living in a diverse ethnic and faith community in beautiful Colorado sharing the values of my Chrisitan upbringing, my Muslim life, and the spiritual ideals of many of those around me. Thank you for reading my story. Peace and blessings to you.

I was fasting as I wrote this, observing Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam. During this holy month, fasting is practiced daily from dawn to sunset. The wisdom underlying the choice of this month for this sort of worship is that this was the month in which the Qur'an was revealed. I take this to mean that Ramadan offers an occasion for personal revelation or the courting of inspiration. Something about my sensibility makes this particular observance appealing to me. Perhaps, it has to do with the ascetic ideal as I see it.

A figure transfigured, seated amid implacable calm. Stillness surrounds him, emanates from him, the harvest of a lifetime passed in quiet quest of exalted pursuits. The gaze is steady, of one accustomed to looking from dizzying heights at unfathomable depths--free of ill will, guile, or self-interest. Arms and legs neatly folded, he sits, lost in thought, found in peace. Conversely, the ascetic ideal conjures an image of the desert-ravaged hermit, spewing prophecies and lusting for divine union. The first ideogram is of one who has overcome; the second is of one who has fused.

What is common to both is the suggestion of being transported, or of entering the presence of something unknown and unknowable. How else to justify the existence of intuition, intimation or inspiration other than seize upon the fallen crumbs from that ineffable table? Perhaps such mysticism transcends religion altogether, if religion is understood as an unseeing belief in the written, and mysticism as unwritten faith in the unseen. Yet, this meditative/ecstatic state is one that, I believe, can be accessed through religious practices such as fasting.

"There is only one religion, but there are a hundred versions of it" said George Bernard Shaw, and the same may be said of the practice of fasting. Besides Muslims, Baha'is, Buddhists, Catholics, Copts, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, Pagans, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox believers all engage in some variation on the theme. The fast may take place anywhere from a day to around half a year, yet it appears to be conducted in differently similar manners, for similarly different reasons. People abstain from food and drink, or solid foods, or meat, dairy products and eggs, or fish (on some days but not others).

The reasons are as free-ranging as the human imagination: spiritual nourishment, spiritual improvement, and/or spiritual warfare. This translates into purification, freeing the mind, freeing the body, compassion, solidarity with the poor, practicing austerity, resisting gluttony, control of carnal desires, tempering the power of habit or the violence of instinctive desire, sharpening the will, enhancing concentration, penance for sins, closeness to God, petition for special requests from God, to advance a political or social-justice agenda (as Gandhi made a way of life and diet) or even as a counterbalance to modern consumer culture (there is a television and entertainment fast). What emerges from this diversity is an innate human balancing system, feasting and fasting along the slippery road to moderation.

The discipline of fasting seems to express a kind of body/spirit antagonism: Fasting, which clearly serves some basic human function, is in effect a punishment of the body. How to feed a god and beast, at once? It's a dilemma of human existence. In this light, fasting acts as an undoing of the body and a dimming of its din. The suggestion being: if you wish to have an out-of-body experience, you must deny the physical body, experience a sort of semi-martyrdom or dying to the flesh in order to feed the spiritual body. It is a reminder of our other-body selves, our spirit-body and the otherworldly food it hungers for. This is perhaps why street magician David Blaine and his ascetic spectacles capture so much attention and speculation.

No stranger to punishing practices, Blaine is a hybrid of showman and fakir, perpetually testing the limits of his powers. One of his feats of endurance (September 2003) involved starving himself in solitary confinement, suspended from a crane by the River Thames in a glass box for 44 days. The illusionist believed that living without food and human contact, he'd experience "a higher spiritual state," which would lead to "the purest state you can be in." At first, the public repaid him for his efforts by pelting him with insults, paint-filled balloons, tomatoes, golf balls, and other forms of violent distraction; i.e. trying to cut off his water supply, and flying a remote controlled helicopter carrying a burger up to his box.

In Franz Kafka's story The Hunger Artist, the protagonist faces the same sort of hostility as Blaine. The parallels are unmistakable: both suffer from the mob's suspicion, nay, outright hostility toward the exceptional. Perhaps people are loath to be reminded of their own neglected human possibilities, but over time the public comes round, demonstrating a less complicated appreciation.

At the end of his six-week spell, witnessed by some 250,000 pilgrims, Blaine emerged from his glass box pronouncing tearfully: "I have learned more in that box than I have learned in years. I have learned how strong we are as human beings." Nevertheless despite the triumphant tone of his parting speech, and "considering the peculiar nature of his performance," as Kafka described it, the uncanny similarities with Kafka's disquieting moral parable linger.

Whatever else The Hunger Artist may be, it is an allegory of spiritual dissatisfaction, opening with the line, "During these last decades the interest in professional fasting has markedly diminished." The strangely affecting, self-dramatizing, contrary narrator proceeds to chart this decline from the morbid curiosity of the marveling crowds and their grotesque merriment, to their eventual revulsion, malice, and crushing indifference to the "suffering martyr" who perversely fasts on and on, even after everyone, including himself, has stopped keeping track of the records he has broken. Interestingly, the longest period of fasting fixed by the hunger artist's impresario was at forty days, the length of Christ's fast. "Just try to explain to anyone the art of fasting! Anyone who has no feeling for it cannot be made to understand it," exclaims the narrator in exasperation, at one point in the story.

The unhappy ending of this human experiment, mercifully unlike David Blaine's, is the burial of the crazed old artist. And rather than leave his "perfectly good cage standing there unused," he is replaced by his antithesis: a young panther, his "body furnished almost to bursting point with all it needed." But, more than anything else, it is the haunting dying words of the hunger artist that best communicate the incommunicable: "I couldn't find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else."

With this in mind, I believe fasting to be a form of practical mysticism, or a belief in privileged moments. Perhaps this is the "artist's metaphysics" that Friedrich Nietzsche described, but I do think that fasting can stir whisperings of another world or glimpses into uncharted regions of the soul. "Only something supernatural can express the supernatural," says Ludwig Wittgenstein, which does not make it any clearer to the uninitiated. Yet fasting is this, too--a pursuit of clarity. And, just as regular baths are prescribed during longer fasts, so fasting is a hygiene of the spirit.

To put it differently, when poet Philip Larkin writes, "Deprivation is to me what daffodils were to Wordsworth," he voices the bitter-sweetness of self-sufficiency. It is not deprivation per se that he is enamored with. It is having fallen in love with a pain, not for how it impoverishes but how it enriches: fortitude, profundity, insight. Likewise, Michel Foucault does not explicitly speak of redemption through sacrifice, but he does hint at the transformational process in his own terms when he writes of "a sacrifice, an actual sacrifice of life... a voluntary obliteration that does not have to be represented in books because it takes place in the very existence of the writer."

Naturally (and unnaturally) there are other ways to willfully enter this altered state. Whether such experiences go by other names--Martin Heidegger's "unthought" or Karl Jasper's "boundary experience"--is immaterial. The point of the exercise is the salvaging of truths not afforded by everyday experience. For in the act of fasting, it is not merely food one renounces, but thoughtlessness. This is also evidenced in Eastern mysticism in the practice referred to as "immaculate speech." To maintain immaculate speech, oftentimes silence is required, another renunciation. In the final equation, it is a question of attention, sustained attention--an idealistic attempt to align what is thought with what is said and done. Whether one can approach and enter this state having diligently sought it or having been mysteriously granted it, fasting offers a gradual awakening or gentle shock out of soul-deadening routine. To fast is to slow down, almost to stillness, and distill what is necessary.

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I'm an Egyptian poet and author of Signposts to Elsewhere, a book of 300 of my original sayings: www.janestreet.org/press

As a Muslim American in my early thirties, most of my co-religionists who are near my age are "second generationers." Either they are the children of immigrant parents who came to this country in the late 1960's and early 1970s, or they are the children of Americans who converted to the religion of Islam during that same period.

I chose Islam as my religion on the eve of my 18th birthday while away at college in New England. I had been thinking about it for years, my initial interest sparked by encounters with Muslims who were extraordinarily generous of spirit. My heart and mind were contented that Islam was the proper path for me and although I knew that there would be social consequences, the decision of my heart and soul was to convert and accept Islam as my own religion.

When I was a new convert in the 1990's , the American Muslim community was a lot more conservative. Some of the "re-evalutaions" of how Islam should be lived in America, especially post-9/11 has resulted in a "loosening of the belt," which has translate into a combined large roar coming from Muslims my age asking for an "American Islam."

Although I understand some of the intent behind this call, I am weary of my second generation co-religionists who are willing to sacrifice Islamic traditions in order to finally feel accepted by American society.
I am lucky that this has never been a consideration for myself. Even before I was Muslim, as a middle-class Black American , I was raised to believe that, "try as I might, I would never be white." I would never be the fully American in the eyes of some.

Almost immediately after my conversion to Islam, I traveled to North Africa to begin learning Arabic and to feel what it was like to live in a Muslim majority society, some place where my headscarf was the norm or at least not disdained. That was thirteen years ago. I have since traveled, visited, studied, and lived in three Muslim majority countries in North Africa,the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

What I have come to understand from spending all of this time abroad is that whatever "American Islam," becomes it must always humble itself to the well established traditions of older Muslim communities, be they in Malaysia, Senegal or Syria.

I say this because, yes it is true that Islam adapted to each place where it went to create a distinct culture, but there were also inner consistencies and logics that were not shed. I fear that in our quest to be more American than Congress, we as a community may actually weaken and dillute our faith.

Tonight I got a ride home from the mosque from an Iraqi couple. They are recent refugees who, we discovered, live on the street over from my apartment here in Chicago. The woman is older and would like for me to spend some time with her daughters. From only just speaking with her a little, I was already impressed by her knowledge of Islamic religious schools of thought.

It is through contact with such people that I feel myself grow, and that I learn how to live Islam more fully regardless of where I am. Before we prayed tonight at the mosque the Iraqi woman and I were debating about whether someone could actually live off of what is given as pubic assistance in America. She was commending America for offering such a program, whereas in Arab countries she said, people only get what they work or beg for. Yes, I told her, but public assistance is not enough to live off of. She disagreed. If one lives a simple life, no television, no (cell) phone - it is enough. She was adamant. The call was given for us to pray and so our debate ended.

Later ,in the car, as I showed her where I lived, she joked that we should get together at the park near our house and play tennis together. We both laughed at this joke.

I am a Black American convert to Islam, for whom "American Islam" means melting all of the diasporic Islamic traditions together, not cutting and pasting so called Western and so called Islamic values together until Muslims are safe and go unharrassed in their pursuit of a materialistic American dream.

I am fully confident that I am American, the descendant of a people who gained their citizenship after centuries of bondage. I am striving to be a good Muslim and this too requires serious effort. A lot of effort is also needed to explain this Path that I have chosen to my fellow Americans. Perhaps if they see me and my Iraqi neighbor playing tennis in the park with our headscarves they will understand.

SOF asked...We would like to understand the complexity and diversity of “the Muslim world.”
I am a Muslim revert, a convert to Islam. My Muslim world is in the largest city in NH, a state that is 99% white, mostly rural, and mostly Protestant. Manchester is a refugee resettlement area, with a long history of immigration, initially to the mills from French-speaking Canada, but also from Greece and Ireland during other times in its history. Manchester has Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians of all denominations, two Mosques, several Synagogues, and a Buddhist Center. The people who attend my Mosque on Friday include Muslims from Bosnia, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Syria, and other countries. Our experience as people is extremely diverse, and our experience as Muslims is also therefore diverse. I have devout Muslim friends who cover with Nikab, and culturally Muslim friends who smoke and drink. As a convert to Islam, my experience is colored by my own life as an educated woman from small town northern New England; and by my own spiritual journey that began in Congregational Protestantism. My “Muslim World” is indeed diverse and complex.

What does being Muslim mean to me?
Being Muslim means to me searching for an inner peace through acceptance of a structure that gently and consistently brings me back to God, and to a focus on the larger fundamentals of my existence. Wearing hijab reminds me to consider my actions from an Islamic perspective. Praising God throughout the day reminds me to think about the many gifts I have received, including the gifts of lessons, even when they may have aspects that are not pleasant in the moment. Attending Jummah (Friday Service) is an opportunity to stop and think about the way in which Islam interacts with the world, and to hear other Muslims speak about their thoughts and studies in this topic.

As a convert to Islam, I come to Islam intensely and intentionally, digesting it not as I digested Christianity as a child, but rather as an adult, questioning and mulling over details and implications that were not apparent to me in my childhood experience of God. As a convert to Islam, being Muslim means constantly learning and questioning; what do I believe? What does Islam believe? What do Muslims believe? Which Muslims are we talking about? Attending local adult classes about Islam are as important as finding resources on my own.

What do I find beautiful about Islam; how does it find expression in my daily life?
The sound of the Athan, the call to prayer, has come to hold the beauty of hymns for me. Standing in a line of women making Salat together feels ordered and beautiful. It is beautiful to me to attend Jummah and to see that the average age is young. Taking time throughout the day to stop and think about God in the five daily praises of Salat gives me perspective on the relative triviality of my work difficulties. Memorizing surahs from the Qur’an to repeat in Salat allows me to rethink basic religious principles, and how they apply in my life now, relative to other times. Standing tall, bending forward, bowing low remind me of the Sun Salutation I learned in yoga. Except for Salat, or playing time with babies, I really don’t spend that much time in flexible postures. Using my body to praise God fills out my experience as a part of God’s world.

Eating halal keeps my meals and my foods closer to home. I grew up in an environment of gardening, and of eating locally and seasonally. Driving out to the farm to pick my goat for halal sacrifice reminds me of the preciousness of life and the special gift that allows meat to arrive on my table. I realize in Ramadan that I can eschew food and drink from dawn to dusk. It reminds me of the suffering of others, and of the importance of controlling my own personal responses to difficulty.

It is a wonderful thing to hear from a stranger, “Asalaama Alaikum Sister.” My hijab brings me family everywhere I go. Being part of the Masjid in my community offers the opportunity to be part of that community. I meet other families who like to pick strawberries, go to the park, share recipes, learn together. This community offers a wonderful addition and counterpoint to the larger communities in which I move.

What hopes, questions, and fears are on my mind as I contemplate the future of my tradition?
In a multicultural community, I have had many questions about what is culture and what is religion. Why do different cultures cover differently? Why do different countries view the role of women in Islam differently? Even within cultures, there are rural and urban differences in practice and thought. As a revert to Islam, these questions are puzzling and on my mind in ways that do not seem to trouble many of my born-Muslim friends.

Women’s liberation in the US has made becoming a physician so much easier for me than it was for my mother only 30 years earlier. Yet, the incidences of heart disease and lung cancer in women clearly rose during that time. Recently, I have begun to see young women in my practice with violent injuries; not victims of violence, but perpetrators. Children in the US are much more likely to grow up with only a mother than with only a father.

I look at feminism with very different questions from an Islamic perspective, than I did from my Women’s College view. Islam notes that husband and wife are parts of the same whole. The genders complement one another, not imitate or compete with one another. My questions are less about whether I get to keep up with the boys, and more about how we can work together better. I wonder how this will play out for me, and in my very diverse Muslim community. SOF programs have allowed me to hear prominent Muslim women’s thoughts on topics I am still learning about.

It would seem that if anyone could leave the violence and vengeance to God, it would be religious communities. Islam specifically enjoins against unprovoked violence. Seeing the wide variety of beliefs and understanding in my own community, I can see how it could happen that even people within the same faith could disagree about important issues. As the non-Muslim world becomes more aware of Islam, it looks in on Muslims’ internal struggles. It is increasingly important that disagreements within Muslim societies be civil, for our own sake, and for our public image in a global community.

I hope for my Muslim community to see the outside world as more than a threat; to see itself as more than a victim; to see the larger communities of the faithful as siblings rather than rivals. I hope we will work to understand each others’ perspectives, and to understand how our own perspectives impact others. I am reassured to see the interfaith groups in my community gather to learn more about each other, and explore our similarities and differences together. I hope my Muslim community is up to the task of greeting the plurality of US society as an equal member of that plurality.

Islam is what shapes my life. Praying five times a day to the Eternal Creator, fasting on the Month of Ramadan for 29 or 30 days depending on the sighting of the moon and NOT on astrological assumptions, not stealing, not showing off, not fibbing, being respectful towards your elders, constraining your desires, believing in One Eternal God Who has Eternal Power and Exists Without A Place and cannot be imagined and that Prophet Muhammad is the best and final messenger of Islam. In the future I aspire on learning more and more about the knowledge of Islam and hope that if i have children(God willingly I will)they will become pious Muslims and make supplication to Allah for me and spread the belief of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaa; that God exists Without a Place and does not need anything and everything is in need of Allah.

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