Saturday, September 23, 2006

Retreating for Ramadan

So it is Ramadan already. It stretches before us like a body of water. Water we have to cross to take us to somewhere more beneficial and we have to dive in and submerge ourselves, keep focused on our aim of pleasing Allah Subhana Wa T'Ala and limit distractions.

As part of this, I will be going on a blogging break. Ramadan Kareem to all who read this blog. May Allah Subhana Wa T'Ala reward our efforts and give us strength.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

When standing out is outstanding

Following my previous gloomy posts, I feel I have to redress the balance somewhat and talk about the positive side of living in a minority Muslim community.

Alhamdulilah, where I live, we are truly blessed with a small, ethnically mixed and thriving community. So-called "extremism" doesn't have a place here. I have yet to hear a Khutbah that I would be embarrassed to have my family or non-Muslim friends listen to.

Whether you are greeting someone in person, over the phone or via text or email, you always say Salaam Alaikum.
Everyone is brother or sister here. I have friends from Muslim majority countries who find that strange. Here it feels natural, we are few, we feel a greater bond to each other.

A major plus point of wearing hijab is that easy identification we can make. You see another muhijabi and you will smile and exchange salaams, even if you don't know them, there is that connection there.

Recently the sisters held a big iftar to raise funds for Lebanon. The venue was packed with sisters of all backgrounds and ethnicities and just about every style of dress and hijab imaginable. We prayed together, made du'a together and then all shared the delicious food each sister had brought. With everyone united for the purpose of pleasing Allah, it was like a tiny glimpse of Jannah.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Somewhere In Between - Part Two

"converts, especially white converts, are not usually going to win a lot of love, either from our birth society or from the Islamic community itself"


Do you ever read something and it so perfectly encapsulates something, you're left thinking "I wish I'd written that"?

Anyway, I wrote my last post and had a good whinge and was stunned as always by the nice comments. Seriously, no troll-like types at all.

When people ask me about being Muslim, I always break into a massive smile, because to me, it's wonderful, in so many ways which are hard to describe.

Which is all very well, because there are times when it's very, very lonely.

You are Muslim. Your friends and family are not. No matter how well they might accept it, the fact remains that they would rather you weren't Muslim. That hurts. To have a big part of you your loved ones wish wasn't there. Plus, it is a whole range of experiences you can't share with them.

As for the Islamic community, there is the divide caused by different cultures, the fact that you will be overburdened with friendly advice on how to live your life by people who don't really know you, and they don't really know you because of the attitude that everything of your pre-Islam life is to be locked in a big box marked "Do Not Open".

Which is a ludicrous attitude. Especially as some people have very real reminders of their past life (i.e children) which cannot be so easily boxed away.

Besides which, those experiences, that life brought you to this point. Allah is the best of planners, Alhamdulilah.

Islam is a journey and for a convert, it usually means treading your own path.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Somewhere In Between

Today I travelled to another city to attend a one day course for work.

After the course finished, I had some time left before my train was due, so I thought I would go to the mosque. Asr was nearly due and I wanted to go somewhere quiet and read the Quran. The more I thought about the idea, the more appealing it became.

I called Directory Enquiries and got the number of a local mosque. I rang the number. No answer. I passed a Shalwar Khalmeez shop with a Muslim name, I went in, gave my Salaams and asked if they knew where the mosque was. Of the five ladies in the shop, one returned my Salaams. I asked where the mosque was. They looked at me like I had asked for a bacon sandwich. "It's the other side of town".

I left the shop and I felt saddened by their rudeness. I'm starting to have doubts about going to this mosque, from the ladies' reaction, it could well be somewhere women aren't allowed/encouraged to go. I passed by a university, usually a good place to find a prayer room. It was closed. The shopping centre didn't have a prayer room either. It's getting late, I decide to try and catch an earlier train.

The timetables are located on a gloomy quiet platform. A gaggle of teenage boys are nearby.
I hear the word "Waki"(wannabe/white Pakistani) and with a sinking feeling, know they are talking about me. One actually walks over, pretending to look at the timetable, so he can check that I am indeed, white.
He returns to his friends and I hear the words "P*ki Lover". That would be about me too, then. Since my indignation would just feed their obnoxious behaviour, I walk away. I think that if I did have a Pakistani husband standing with me, they would have probably kept their opinions to themselves. Cowards.

I've had enough now. Alhamdulilah, there's a train that I can catch. As the city slides away from me, I feel relieved.

The stereotype of the Muslim woman is that we are isolated from society, either through choice, or due to the stereotypical image of the tyrannical, domineering Muslim man.

The sad fact is that, so much of society makes you feel uncomfortable, it's easy to stay in your comfort zone. It's annoying not being able to find somewhere to pray. The stares make me feel weary. I can tell myself that it's good dawah, it's good for us to be representing Muslim women in a positive way and it's good for people to see a convert.

Sometimes, I just feel so tired. Tired of explaining, being made to justify myself to people who view me with suspicion anyway. Several times, I've walked onto a train carriage and people have not just moved seats, but moved carriages. When I wear abaya, I know the nasty looks will increase as I'm viewed as not only a Muslim, but one who needs to go back to their own country.
I'm tired of explaining to both Muslims and non-Muslims that no, I didn't convert for marriage.

I think many converts are torn about whether to carry on living in their country of birth or to move to a Muslim majority country.

I don't belong here anymore, but where do I go next?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Plague

"But for all these great powers he's wishful like me
To be back where the dark Mourne sweeps down to the sea."
William Percy French

It has been years since I have been to the Mountains of Mourne and yet they remain the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

Many poems and songs have been written about them, countless pictures painted, all of which cannot describe the awesome sight of those imposing dark peaks sweeping down into the water below them.

It is hard to reconcile such beauty with the ugliness that was (and in some places, still is) found in other parts of Northern Ireland. An ugliness that can only come from seething hatred, bigotry, death, and most of all, fear. Identical streets side by side, divided by walls of concrete and steel, all sharing a love of flags and painting kerb stones. The flags, painted kerbstones and murals not a decoration, but a reminder of who you are, who they are, why you should hate them and stick, stick, stick to your own kind, or else end up stuck to the ground in some alleyway in a pool of your own blood.

Despite this, the Northern Irish, like those in the South of Ireland are known for their friendliness. Which makes the events of the Troubles (the stoicism and dry humour of the people evident in giving several decades of sectarian fighting a name which makes it sound a minor disturbance at a county show,)even more inexplicable.

Attempts are made, to explain, to understand, to justify. Discussion of the injustices experienced by Catholics and the insecurity felt by Protestants.

The truth is the Troubles happened because people wanted it to. Over 3000 people are dead as a result of the blood lust of a minority. Many more have been maimed. The numbers of lives wasted in some way by these events is incalculable.

Whatever the starting point, it was the terrorists, both Loyalist and Republican and those who gave them succour who maintained the conflict. The terrorism perpetuating itself as a classic example of the cycle of violence

Why? Power, money and for some people, sheer sadism.

What power, money and a love of bloodshed all have in common is that they are addictive. You can never have too much money or power. If you think it's an acceptable tactic to kill people, does it matter how many? The justification can always be found later and as Stalin said: "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic".

Yes, there were the young and idealistic who were quickly bled to the machine by those who seemed to run all the operations but took none of the risks, but the main motives are those outlined above.

In a small place like Northern Ireland, it's nice to be a big fish. The ideology of terror soon providing a facade for some unashamed gangsterism. For while the Loyalist and Republican movements were supposed enemies, they could very amicably divide sources of protection money. The money involved was huge. Enough for all the latest weaponry from Russia/South Africa and to keep you in nasty gold jewellery and child maintenance payments. Certainly more then you would ever make working legitimately.

While the gangster activities continue, terrorist attacks have largely diminished, as the Peace Process shakily proceeds.

What I cannot understand is why it has taken over thirty years to get to this point.
So many wasted lives. As Bono put it: "All the folks the rest of us won't get to know".

In Islam, we believe that on Judgement Day, the Earth itself will be asked about the deeds it has witnessed. What a tragedy that one of the most beautiful parts of the planet Allah has given us has seen so much wickedness.

Photograph found via Google on Flickr. I couldn't find any details of who took it, if this changes, I will post them here.