I am so excited to introduce a Guest Post onto my blog. A few weeks ago, we planned to collaborate for each other over on Muslimah Bloggers facebook page. Those few weeks flew in and Ashley was kind enough to let me write for her fantastic blog, which I hugely admire.
Ashley is a 20-something year old American Muslim, who lives in North Africa with her awesome husband. Besides a BA in Language Studies and an MA in Translation, she loves to read, needle-craft, and strives to improve her tea-brewing for the perfect cuppa. When she isn’t snuggling cats, you can find her writing over at www.muslimahaccordingtome.wordpress.com, where she shares her experience with Islam as well as resources and support for new Muslims.
Networking with her and sharing ideas/talking about our conversion to Islam was a pleasure. Both coming from the West, moving to Africa and being inspired every day by the grace of Allah we started blogging in a quest to please Allah…
and information about
Please visit her page to find more enjoyable posts but before that, enjoy!
The shock of leaving books behind and coming into the real world…
I’m not a very social person. Ever since I was young, I have preferred the company of one good friend who understands me over a huge group of chatting girls, and after a trip to the book store my family was lucky to see me at all for the next week or two.
It follows naturally that when I began to think about such a big life decision as embracing Islam, I mostly turned inward. In my journey to Islam, I devoured book after book, reading and re-reading the Qur’an, studying Middle Eastern history and Arabic language, reading the stories of other converts, and ingesting pretty much any material I could get my hands on.
Honestly, highly social situations make me feel awkward, and meeting new people is one of the biggest stress-inducers I can think of in my life. So as the summer ended, and I finally had to come out of my room and back into the real world of two jobs and a the final year of a bachelor’s degree, I was reluctant to say the least. I had been content after I got home from studying abroad to spend all of my time between the book store, the library, and my reading nook, and moving back into school meant I had to finally face the people.
First there were my friends; I had definitely drifted away from my old friend group while I was abroad, and with my newfound spirituality, I didn’t do much to re-kindle the connection when I came back. There wasn’t much we could relate on any more. Then, there was the MSA, the Muslim Students Association. This was a situation I put my own self into. I remember coming to the fall activities fair with the sole purpose of signing up for the MSA in order to keep learning about Islam and finally connect with real Muslims, walking up to their booth with shaking hands and a sweat breaking out on my forehead.
My first impression of what it meant to be a member of the Muslim community (outside of what books told me it should be) was an enthusiastic hijabi girl with a huge smile on her face, leaving the MSA booth to greet me, meeting me halfway as she saw my hesitation in approaching her. This impression, and the conversation I had with her that day (and all the days since, as she has become a dear friend), set the tone and my expectations for what it meant to be a part of the ummah.
She signed me up for their email list, gave me all the details for the time and location of their first Friday prayer where I could come meet the rest of the girls, let me know when the first general meeting was, and personally invited me to her house for some authentic Afghan cooking.
It felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders after this encounter. I had been reading for the past three months about the beautiful sisterhood of Islam, how true believers love for each other what they love for themselves, and how a believer is rewarded for easing the burden of a sister. But I still had my doubts; what if they didn’t think I was a real Muslim? What if they didn’t accept a random white girl? What if they judged me because I didn’t cover my head yet?
All of these questions were wiped away that day.
My first Friday prayer confirmed these expectations for me. All of the girls there were warm and welcoming, excited to meet someone new and be a part of my journey to Islam. This was also the day where I met an older woman, a teacher at the university, who would become my friend and mentor leading up to my shahada and in the months after officially becoming a “convert.” During my time in the MSA and the small local community of Muslims, I began to learn what a beautiful thing it could be to be “social,” to have people to talk to that accept you as you are, and are excited to know you just because you share la ilaha illallah.
And I began to feel more comfortable, and even happy, in the presence of other people.
It wasn’t until almost a year after my shahada that I came to find out what a sheltered spiritual upbringing I had had with my beautiful mentor friend in the open, tolerant, and caring Muslim community of the Bay Area.
I moved to London, United Kingdom to complete my master’s degree in September of 2015, my heart brimming over with the excitement that I was heading to a massive city with a bustling Muslim community. No more hour-long drive to a halal shop to obtain meat, a mosque just around the corner, prayer rooms right on campus, and most importantly, so many new, wonderful sisters to meet and make life-long friends with. Friends in deen are friends indeed right?
The first week I was there, I headed out to London Central Mosque to pray maghrib. I was excited to see a mosque with a real dome and beautiful prayer rooms for the first time, and I was ready to experience being part of a larger community. I put on a new purple dress that I had just been waiting for an opportunity to wear, and smiled wide as I stepped into the women’s section.
I prayed my two rakat of greeting prayer, and made my tasbeeh as I waited for the athaan. Athaan, iqamah, I head over to get in line with the others. And as soon as I do, a woman walks up next to me, begins tugging on my dress, and muttering to herself “ugh, doesn’t she have anything longer to wear, haraam to have feet uncovered, not appropriate for the masjid…” until the prayer began.
I was so shocked by this display of “sisterhood,” I could hardly focus on my prayer. I hid in a corner to pray my sunnah, afraid of being approached by someone else, and ran out of the mosque before anyone else could see what I was wearing.
This was only the first in a long chain of similar incidents that would happen to me at different mosques around London, and even the prayer room in my own university, that eventually led me to stop going to the mosque entirely.
The mosque, which used to be a treat, something I looked forward too and was excited about, had become something that I was horrified of. If I accidentally was out during a prayer time and had to step into a mosque to pray, my heart would start racing just walking through the door.
During the year I spent in London, trying to be part of the ummah, I had all of one Muslim friend that never commented on my dress, never told me how to do something, and never corrected me on whatever arbitrary thing popped into her head.
As my hopes for finding community diminished, I began to fall into a mild depression. I kept replaying that hadith in my mind, that a true believer is someone from whose words and hands other believers are safe, and comparing that to the fact that whenever I saw a woman in a khimar coming towards me on the street my fight-or-flight instinct automatically kicked in. I kept reading quotes about how there is no racism in Islam, then wondering why there was no mosque where I was accepted because I could never fit into the dominant cultural group.
On and on, I continued to flash back to all of those books I had read in the solitude of my room, the warmth I had felt at the idea of being something so much more meaningful than myself—that had always been something I had missed in Christianity, feeling like I had people who had my back and cared for me just because we shared a belief, a way of life—and wondering why I felt so alone and isolated now, in a city brimming with a diverse, expansive Muslim community.
It is only in the past few months (I have been a Muslim for around three years now) that I have really begun to find meaningful connections with other sisters around the world, and Allah swt has finally answered my long, long year of prayers for righteous companions, through my blogging community. That was one of the blessings I had never expected to come of beginning a blog: I started writing in a last ditch effort to just get my thoughts out, and hopefully help some other revert sisters who were also feeling alone in the world. But, in reality, my blog has helped me to finally settle in, to find my place within the ummah, and to connect with like-minded people who will support, uplift, encourage, and grow with me.
The hadith comes to mind,
“Souls are like conscripted soldiers; those whom they recognize, they get along with, and those whom they do not recognise, they will not get along with.”
When I think back to my time in London, I don’t quite know why I had such high expectations. Before I converted I was not friends with every single blonde person I came across just because they shared a hair colour with me (I know, Islam is a much deeper bond than hair colour, but it’s just an example). Obviously people will always have different personalities and quirks; sometimes you will bond instantly and others you won’t like each other at all. You may have one big thing in common and absolutely nothing else; that is part of being human.
So it is quite natural that the same would happen within the Muslim community.
I guess the biggest lesson I have taken from this whole experience is that Allah swt really is the best of planners, and if you are persistent in your desire for good, making dua, and loving others for His sake even when they are mean and judgemental to you, He will put you in the right place at the right time, and He will give you from places that you could never have expected.
I spent so long trying to find righteous companions in mosques and prayer rooms, and only ended up being driven away from places of worship. And I never in a million years imagined the internet would be the source of some of my most inspirational, knowledgeable, and kind friends. But it has been here, in the “blogosphere,” that I have truly found my place and been able to come out of that socially-anxious shell, surrounded by supportive and loving sisters.
It is three years in and I have finally found my people, so if you are a convert out there and you are feeling alone, don’t ever give up searching, and trust in Allah swt to let Him open the doors for you. And most importantly, don’t let those who judge you or exclude you get you down; they are in your life for a reason, and they have something to teach you, but eventually you will find the sisters who love you for the sake of Allah.