Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Her name is Hidayah.

Who is she?

Khadijah: Assalmualaikum wa rahmatulahi wa barakatu (peace and mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you) dear sis! Hope you are in the best state of health and iman (faith). Thank you for taking the time to partake in this small project (May Allah spread it and make it grow into something great).
I want to start off by asking you a few questions about yourself. Where are you from, your background (ethnicity) and your likes and dislikes (to get the readers to know a bit more about your personality)

Hidayah: Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatulahi wa barakatu my dear sister!

Okay, so to start with, I am from...humph, well, I guess the answer is a few places. I was born in Japan, moved to the state of North Carolina, then to Sacramento, California, then Columbus, Ohio, and now I have been in Cincinnati, Ohio for the past 2 years. I have never been in one location for very long (even when I was in North Carolina and California I moved to various cities) and so I’ve never had a place I’ve called “home”.

Nationally, I am both an American and Japanese citizen, but ethnically I am Jamaican. My father moved to the States from Jamaica when he was a young adult and my mother is a black American woman.

I have all kinds of likes and very few dislikes. My favorite past time is by far reading. I have always been a book worm and, in my opinion, nothing beats a pot of tea, a book, and a quiet corner as “me time”. I also enjoy all things nature (I’ve gone back and forth plenty of times trying to resist the urge of selling everything I own and just living in some remote corner of the wilderness). Surprisingly though, I am not completely introverted and I do like time with people as well. I like chatting with, cooking, learning, and helping others alongside members of the community as well.

Khadijah:  How was your life prior to Islam? Were you ever religious?

Hidayah: My religious life prior to Islam was…non-existent. At best. I had two families that influenced my religious life before I became Muslim: the family I lived with which consisted of my mother and step-father, and my father and step-mother who I saw perhaps twice a year.

My step-father viewed religion as completely unimportant. He believed in the whole “you don’t discuss politics or religion with people” motto. But if you were to ask him what religion he identified with, he would say he is a Christian and so everything is okay as long as we repent to Jesus in the end. My mother was religiously “on the edge” meaning she believed there was a God, but she had never felt connected with Him enough to believe He really existed. She also felt that He had forsaken her due to the series of bad things that happened to her in her life.

My father and I rarely saw each other due to my moving around a lot as a child and his reluctance to be with children since they made him “uncomfortable”. My father, however, is an extremely religious Protestant. So, whenever I did see him once or twice a year, we would spend 4 out of the 7 days with his church whether this was through religious services and lectures or some sort of social church gathering. This would have been fine except for the fact that his church made me EXTREMELY uncomfortable. I found the way they worshipped (your options were: walking up and down the aisles speaking in some incomprehensible language, sitting on a pew or the floor wailing loudly, or off-key singing of uninspiring hymns in a dark room) just plain weird and unnecessary. Of course, my lack of enthusiasm about his church led to a stained (severed, is more like it) relationship with my father. To him, if I didn’t accept his religion, he didn’t accept me.

These two extreme views on religion confused me as a child. I resigned to believing there was a God but since I didn’t understand my relationship with Him and what He expected of me, I just thought it better not to worry about religion and just live my life according to whatever I desired. Alhamdulillah, I was never inclined towards the interests of the majority of my peers so I didn’t get overly involved with parties, drinking, boys, etc. that are characteristic of American youth. In fact, I was pretty socially awkward until I reached high school because I moved around a lot and I was, to be frank, an overweight nerd; I had an extreme love for carbs (and still do!) and I was unbelievably into science and math so not many of my peers could relate to me.

Once I got into high school, however, my family had decided to settle in Columbus at least until I graduated so I opened up through taking classes with my fellow nerds and joining the clubs that shared my interests (including track and dance, which helped with the “baby fat”)

Khadijah: Can you please tell us how you discovered Islam?

Hidayah : In my junior year of high school, I became very close to a girl who had been dating a Muslim guy for years. She was my best friend and so, naturally, I would hang out with her and his friends (who were Muslim too) on the weekends. Of all the friends I had in high school, this group of people became the most important to me. I enjoyed their company because of the way they treated my best friend and I: they were all cousins, so they loved each other dearly for this reason and they adopted my best friend and I as one of their own family members.

My best friend and I spent the next two years with them as our best of friends but they never said anything to us about Islam because they were not particularly religious or practicing Muslims so they never tried to give us dawah. So until a few months after I graduated, I had no idea what Islam was, and the only reason it changed at that time was because that was when my best friend and her high school boyfriend got married. Her family did not approve of her marrying a Muslim and so I was the only one who supported her when she started making arrangements for the wedding. As a result of the wedding planning, I got really close to the family of her boyfriend-especially their oldest sister. After the wedding, my best friend became busy with married life and so the older sister and I became even closer; I would drive to her house in Columbus from Cincinnati every other weekend to hang out with her on Saturday and then cook and eat dinner with her family on Sundays.

A year past in this manner, and although the sister and parents of the family were practicing Muslims and I had seen them pray, they never told me anything about their religion. One day, I was talking on the phone with the sister and she asked me about the trinity that Christians believed in. I tried explaining it to her but the more I talked the more I realized how backwards and nonsensical the whole concept was. I became frustrated, not because of the questions she was asking, but because I had finally had enough of claiming a religion that I didn’t understand and so we left the subject and talked about other things going on for a while.

After I got off the phone with my friend, I felt this overwhelming urge to look into Christianity to really understand it. I was fed up with not knowing what being Christian really was and I decided that if I was going to say I was Christian or believed in any religion, then I was going to know why I believed and really feel convinced by it. Otherwise, I was going to be done with religion for good and continue my life as I pleased. I began reading the bible and going to church but none of it made sense to me and I never connected with it. It all just seemed too forced and dependent on just having “faith”.

I decided I was giving up on Christianity for good, but I wasn’t sure I was done with religion so I decided to look into what other faiths believed. After reading about a few other faiths and still not finding anything completely convincing and logical, I remembered the event that started this whole quest was because of a conversation with my Muslim friend so I decided it was time to look into Islam and, subhanAllah, not only did everything I read finally make sense in my mind but I also felt like a light bulb had suddenly been flipped on casting light into a whole new world I hadn’t known had existed. I spent days locked in my apartment—not going to school or work—reflecting on the things I was reading and, for the first time ever, seeing God in everything. It was the first time I had felt any sort of genuine spirituality and it was so powerful yet sweet, exciting yet peaceful. I felt that I was still in my Cincinnati apartment, yet millions of miles away at the same time. I remember the first time I walked outside after my “spiritual retreat” and looking at the trees, grass, sun, and sky and having tears streaming down my face because my whole life I had been on Earth but I had never seen it as God’s creation.

Though I had felt this overwhelming love of and conviction in Islam, it would take me nearly a year to finally take my shahadah. I was afraid of the reactions of my friends, family, and American society. Then one weekend, I went back to Columbus to attend my first jumu’ah service. I was nervous and committed many masjid fouls (including not wearing a scarf in the prayer area and walking over the heads of people in sujood!) but the imam gave a khutbah on how in Islam we believe that while iman is in the heart and only known by Allah, you have to act on your belief and submit not only your heart but your actions for the sake of God. The next weekend, I went back to Columbus and took my shahadah with my friend and her family alhamdulillah.

Khadijah: What can you tell Non-Muslims and New Muslims about the hijab (headcovering)?

Hidayah: “With my hijab, I put my faith on display and not my beauty because my value as a human being is defined by my relationship with God and so I cover the irrelevant” –Yasmin Mogahed

Alhamdulillah, God made putting a scarf on my head easy and I actually started wearing one a few days before I took my shahadah. However, I didn’t quite understand the meaning of HIJAB and while I had a piece of fabric on my head signaling I was Muslim, I still spent an hour or more getting ready. I worried about looking Muslim but still being fashionable and attractive so that people would still think I was beautiful. I eventually learned the true definition of the modesty Islam requires of women and though I still struggle with it some days, I am learning to overcome the mentality of the false “empowerment” of women through displaying our beauty and selling ourselves to the whims of men who lack control, respect, and a sense of responsibility.

While I know hijab is what’s best for my own peace of mind, confidence, and personal growth, I have found that I am able to do things more easily for others than for myself so I personally have found strength to be more modest in two perspectives:

  1. any man who cannot respect what I do in submission to my Creator, will not respect me as and has no right to know me as a member of His creation seeking His pleasure
  2. My beauty is one of the exclusive rights of the man who will, inshaAllah, be my husband one day. He will be a man who will have agreed to fulfill my rights and honor me. How then, is it fair for me to give others access to something he is entitled to? Even if I didn’t care about protecting my beauty for my own good, it’s something I cannot display as someone’s grateful wife

Lastly, covering the head is not an exclusive trait of the Muslim woman (think nuns and conservative Jews) but it is something that extinguishes us from women of other faiths because of its blatantly clear requirement for us and our consistent adherence to it. That being said, I find pride in the fact that I am openly and obviously stating that I am a practicing member of no other religion than the one that advocates submission to God and embracing the natural state of man.

Khadijah: Did you find it difficult to give up your old habits? 

Hidayah: In the beginning, yes. In fact, I will now tell people that my conversion to Islam and my becoming a Muslim were two separate events months apart. A little while after my shahadah, I remember feeling that I hadn’t done something right since I was still having a hard time giving up old habits. I think new Muslims run back and forth between their “old” and “new” lives or “run out of fuel” altogether because they try to do too many things in a single instant without examining and changing the reasons and mentality behind why they were doing certain things and then making changes in a natural progression. Nearly a year later, I feel that I am just starting to truly understand what submitting your will to God in every aspect of your life means. It’s more than just a shahadah and praying five times a day. It’s adding new practices outwardly AND renovating myself inwardly—striving to change my heart, my attitude, my character, my relationships with others, etc. Now that I have come to realize the things I need to work on and truly desire to be the best I can be, I have turned myself towards emptying my heart of all the negative things it held. This is the only way one can change their outward deeds in any permanent way. I have since found it much easier to let go of the frivolous things I held in such high esteem before alhamdulillah.

Khadijah: What do you recommend to someone who is interested in Religion?

Hidayah: The number one thing I would say is to focus on gaining knowledge about the religion first and foremost and to ASK QUESTIONS of those with in depth knowledge. Religion and an awareness of God is innate in every human being and so it should just make sense you. God has not made His creation with certain traits and instincts and then asked us to deny them. Among the traits He has given man is the facility of logic and reason and if a religion calls for the denial of basic concepts apparent through logic and reason, then it cannot be the true religion of God. Furthermore, any religion that cannot hold up to the inquiries of mere human creatures cannot be the religion of the One who created all in His infinite Power and Wisdom.

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