Jul 22, 2013

My first Ramadan: A revert's journey

By Tara Delancey


It was September 2006. I was a second year university student who had just converted to Islam, returning to school with a mixture of giddy enlightenment and nervous panic. Alhamdulillah, my first Ramadan was a whirlwind of baraka that kicked off my journey into Islam with a huge boost of eeman. This was due to a series of chance encounters and fateful events throughout the blessed month - all of course judiciously ordered and destined by Allah himself. There are also many lessons to be observed from my first Ramadan experience that we can all benefit from inshaAllah. Some of the highlights include:

Joining the Muslim Community:
When I converted to Islam, I said my shahada on a sunny, summery day to the trees outside my house. As quaint as this may sound, this was not only due to the fact that there was no Muslim community to speak of in my home town, but because I was absolutely terrified of coming out to other Muslims. I was afraid they would judge me unfit to be a real Muslim. Thus, when I got back to the University with Ramadan just days away, I had no idea that the holy month was about to begin. Alhamdulillah, Allah led me straight to the Muslim Student Association’s (MSA) first meeting. There I found a lively, diverse, and passionate group of people that welcomed me into their fold without hesitation or judgment. Later that same evening I was invited to the house of two converts who had recently married, Ryan and Alexandra, where we had a lovely dinner and discussion about Islam.

''وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا ۚ وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا''

''And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you - when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers'' (Quran 3:103). 

Ramadan truly is a time for community and sisterhood. As a community we need to go out of our way to make a place for the converts and make them feel welcome during this holy month. Don’t just give a convert sister your cell phone number. Take hers! Then call her the very next day. It is actions like this, that build strong bonds of friendship and sisterhood between new converts and other Muslims, that are critical for their “survival” as a Muslim. Just being friendly isn’t enough. As for you converts, don’t cut yourself off from ni’amat, or good things brought to you by Allah, by withdrawing from the Muslim community at this time of year. Put yourself out there! Yes, I can tell you right now, you will always be “different” in some ways, but it’s what makes you a beautiful and valuable asset to the Muslim community.

Meeting my best friend for life:
As I walked into the tidy but humble little MSA office for the first time, I came face to face with a girl who looked strikingly familiar. I had the uncanny feeling that I had known her all my life. Remarkably, she had the same sensation. We met up later and started talking as if, indeed, we had been friends for many years. As it turned out, we had both converted at nearly the same time; we had nearly identical family backgrounds, as well as similar tastes, interests, and personalities. It was a match made in heaven. Allah brought us together at exactly the right time in our respective lives to support and encourage each other at the beginning of our journey into Islam. Having her in my life, especially throughout that first Ramadan, was the relief for my suffering and an anchor for the drifting ship of my life.

فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا-إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا 

For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease (Quran 94:5-6)

It is no coincidence that Allah repeats this verse twice. It is so important for us to remember that it needs double emphasis. If you are a convert experiencing difficulties, however extreme, meditate on this verse and find its truth in your own life. Make du’a for Allah to guide you and support you, to create peace in your life, and to strengthen you with patience and forbearance throughout your trials.

Praying at the Mosque:
At Ryan and Alex’s house, after we had finished dinner and the conversation was dying down, they asked me, “Do you want to go to taraweeh?” “Tara-what!?” I replied. Turns out, the same day I joined the MSA was also the first night of Ramadan. Feeling pretty ridiculous in a borrowed jalabiya, we all set off for the mosque. All my anxieties went out the window when we began my first prayer in jama’ah. Like drops of water, we were all individuals reciting the silent supplications, and like the ocean, we moved up and down together through waves of blissful worship of the One. It is the feeling of both unity and singularity. Submerged in sujood, the material world was thrown upside down and the mind came to rest on the single, sacred though: Subhan rabi al-a’ala. Subhan rabi al-a’ala. Subhan rabi al-a’ala.

'' وَلَقَدْ نَعْلَمُ أَنَّكَ يَضِيقُ صَدْرُكَ بِمَا يَقُولُونَ- فَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ وَكُن مِّنَ السَّاجِدِينَ '' 

''And We already know that your breast is constrained by what they say. So exalt [ Allah ] with praise of your Lord and be of those who prostrate [to Him].'' Quran (15:97-98) 

Praying taraweeh is like working out: no matter how reluctant you feel about it beforehand, you will always come out feeling energized, though exhausted, and glad you went. Thus I urge you, make every effort this Ramadan to attend taraweeh at your local mosque. If you have kids, why not organize some kind of babysitting arrangement with the other masjid moms? I personally endorse taking turns as babysitter throughout the month, but do whatever works for you. The reward you get for sacrificing your taraweeh so that others can attend will be at least the same as if you attended, inshaAllah, and it will bring your community as a whole closer together.

Attending an Eid party:
There was something special about that first Eid; even the air itself seemed to hum with joy and celebration. My new BFF and I skipped class and spent the day together. Riding the bus and counting in Arabic, eating sandwiches and enjoying simple pleasures, we felt as if the universe was having a secret carnival - like a cosmic festival that only we were aware of while those around us tended, obliviously, their daily affairs. Later we were invited to a children’s Eid party where I was once again impressed at the generosity of fellow Muslims whom I had never even met before. Unfortunately, this Eid was the exception to the rule. Almost every Eid thereafter was an anticlimactic, average day, one where I couldn’t help but think “it’s still not better than Christmas”.

Regarding Eid, the Messenger of Allah sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam is said to have narrated:

''On the morning of Eid Allah sends down the Malaa’ikah (Angels) to all the lands of the earth where they take their positions at access points of roads, calling out with a voice that is heard by all except man and jinn, “O Ummah of Muhammad (S.A.W), come forth from your houses towards a Lord that is noble and gracious, who grants much and pardons the major sins.” (As reported in Targheeb) 

My experience demonstrates a point that I think all Muslims living in the West are acutely aware of: that our holidays face some serious competition, especially with the bombardment of holiday marketing around Christmas, and we are under pressure to make our Eids a more memorable experience. Things for the kids like carnivals and big group parties are excellent. However, something more is needed to make these two holidays more clearly defined. After all, what’s a party without any theme? We need to get into the habit of sending Eid cards, cooking special Eid meals, wearing special Eid clothes, singing special Eid songs, etc., to make the holiday more pronounced and defined in the memories of our children. In other words, we need to create traditions. There are, of course, Eid traditions from all over the Muslim world that Western Muslims can draw from. I have faith that, with a little creativity, it is entirely possible to build on these and create our own Eid traditions without stepping into the realm of bid’ah (making unlawful innovations in the religion), inshaAllah.

I credit the awesome spiritual and emotional power of my first Ramadan first to Allah, and second to the Muslim community that Allah brought me into. A convert’s first Ramadan sets the foundation of how they understand their deen and their place (or lack thereof) in the community and can be a maker or breaker for their Islam. With the help of Allah, let’s make this next Ramadan a month to remember for our new convert sisters!

I'd love to know about your experiences of Ramadan as a revert or otherwise in the comments section :) 


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