I recently finished a book that I borrowed from a sister who has been teaching me Arabic. It's entitled Gems and Jewels: Wise Sayings, Interesting Events & Moral Lessons from the Islamic History. Each saying or story is very short but they all provide a sense of what the early Muslims were really like and the level of their character. It is my belief that if anyone truly took the time to study in-depth the lives of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his companions and the lives of the early Muslims, he or she would not be able to deem Islam a religion of "legalism," "violence," or any of the other common misconceptions so many people in today's world hold. I especially liked the following excerpt as it has personal significance for me in this point in my life. So, I thought I'd share:

Ibn Qayyim said: "When a slave (of Allah) wakes up as the night encloses him and his only concern is Allah and how to please and obey Him, then Allah takes upon Him to fufill all of his needs and remove from him all that causes him anxiety. Allah also makes his heart free to love Him only, his tongue free to remember Him only, and his body free to serve Him only. However, when a slave of Allah wakes up when the night encloses him and his main concern is the world, Allah will make him bear the burdens of its anxiety, grief, and hardship. Allah will entrust him to his own self and He will make his heart busy, sealing it from His love since it will be preoccupied with love for creation. Allah will keep his tongue from His remembrance because it will be engaged with His creation; his body will be kept from obedience since it will be enslaved by its desires and services. And he will toil like a beast of burden toils in the service of another. And all who turn away from the worship, obedience and love of Allah, will be put into trial with the worship, service and love for creation."

Allah (the exalted) says:
"And whosoever turns away (blinds himself) from the remembrance of the Most Gracious (Allah), We appoint for him Shaitan to be a Qarin (an intimate companion) to him." (Qur'an 43:36)

Ibn Qayyim continues to say: "Seek out your heart in three situations: first, when you are listening to the Qur'an; second, when you are part of a gathering of remembrance; third, then you are alone and away from the world and its distractions. If you cannot find your heart in these three situations, then ask Allah to bestow upon you a heart, for indeed you are bereft of one."

In my first blog entry I mentioned that I would explain “how” I came to Islam and save the “why” for later. Well, things got a bit crazy in Spain and I sadly neglected my blog for a while but it is indeed later now and so I will attempt to begin to explain the “why.” Note, the “why” is quite long so I cannot even begin to post it all right now but I’ll go ahead and get started.
As I said, I was Christian before I became a Muslim. Therefore, my interest in Islam was only made possible first by my disillusionment with Christianity. Before I became a Muslim but while I was intensively studying Islam and Christianity, I read through the Bible looking for clues. During this time I made a list of thoughts and matters that bothered/interested me. I saved this list. It is by no means exhaustive but it is thought provoking if I do say so myself. Just let me know what you think.

Various Concerns/ Unanswered Questions

1. Matthew 27:50-53- “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”
To me, this seems like a very significant event. I know if I had seen dead people come out of their graves and walk around, it would definitely be something worth talking about. But what’s interesting is that only the gospel of Matthew finds this event important enough to mention. None of the other gospels say a thing about it. Are there other historical writings that mention this? Surely there would be many if these dead bodies “appeared to many people.” Yet I have found none. Many critics of the Bible believe this was written or added in order to make Jesus appear more divine.

2. James 2:24- “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
This passage seems to be very clear. The context does not seem to change its meaning. There seems to be no way around it. Most Christians, however, do not hold to this belief. Why is this so? Why do Christians choose to believe some parts of the Bible and not others? Perhaps in this particular case they were choosing between this view and an opposing view given by Paul in his various letters. (Ex. Romans 3-4)

3. I Corinthians 11:4-10- “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head- it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.”
This passage is clear. Women should have their heads covered, at least while they pray. Yet the overwhelming majority of Christians don’t practice this anymore. When I confront Christians or read about this issue, they say it was a cultural thing of the time and that it doesn’t really apply to us today. But this passage doesn’t say that it was cultural or temporary so where do we get that idea? Did we just notice that culture actually had changed and decide that this part of the Bible must not apply to us? This, for one, shows how much Christians conform to culture. But also, the reason Paul gives for covering one’s head has nothing to do with culture. He says it’s because “the woman is the glory of man” and “because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.” But let’s pretend for a minute that this was simply pertaining to the culture of the time and it doesn’t apply to us. If this is the case, then who decides what we should and should not obey? Some Christians may answer, “The Holy Spirit will guide us.” Then what’s the point of the Bible?

4. I Corinthians 14:33-35- “…As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
Cultural? (See #3) This passage says “as in all the congregations of the saints” (italics mine). This implies neither cultural nor temporary.

5. Matthew 12:39-40- “He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
“Good Friday”, the death= 1 night + Saturday= 2 nights… “Easter Sunday”, tomb is empty. 1+1=3? I’m confused. Some Christians explain that the Jews of the time used a different system to describe days but there is no way to make the burial of Jesus equal 3 nights. Many believe this passage was later added to support the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This would explain why Mark simply says:
Mark 8:12- “…Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.”

6. Matthew 24:36- “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Matthew 26: 39- “… Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
In what way was Jesus God if he had none of the characteristics God has? They even had separate wills. What makes God God after all? Jesus was not all-knowing, all-powerful, or omnipresent. He ate, drank, and slept. He talked to God and was unable to do many things. In what way was Jesus God?

7. Mark 6: 4- “Jesus said to them, “Only in his home town, among his relatives and his own house is a prophet without honor.”
Why does Jesus refer to himself as a prophet? This statement likens him to all the other prophets. He doesn’t seem to draw attention to the fact that he’s “God in the flesh” at all.

8. Mark 10:17-19- “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher’, he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good- except God alone. You know the commandments’…”
First of all, why did Jesus reprimand the man for calling him good? Was Jesus testing him? Was he being sarcastic? Or was he simply saying, as it appears, no one is good but God, so don’t call me good? Secondly, why did Jesus list works when asked how one could receive eternal life?

9. Mark 12:29- “‘The most important one’ ”, answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one…’”
This is the most important commandment yet the core of the Christian faith involves the Trinity; God is three in one. Why is ‘the most important’ commandment the hardest to understand under Christianity? Also, what makes this commandment so important in the first place?

10. Mark 15:34- “… ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
Why would Jesus say this? Did he honestly believe God had forsaken him? Can a perfect being lose faith in God? Can God lose faith in Himself? Why did Jesus, who seemed to know what he was in for previously, start questioning now? It’s possible that he simply said this out of despair but would God exclaim things he didn’t mean out of despair? Would a perfect man exclaim things that he didn’t mean out of despair?

11. Mark 16:9-20
Why do “the earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses” not have this section? Interestingly enough, it’s about the actions of Jesus after his resurrection. This does lead one to question the rest of the Bible’s accuracy. (See also John 7:53-8:11)

12. Luke 22:69- “But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
So Jesus and God are separate even in heaven? Note, it doesn’t say “Father” but “God”. “God” implies complete and not lacking any part. Does this mean God is completely God without Jesus? And does this mean Jesus still exists separate from God in heaven? Have they always been separate? Is Jesus more “the son of God” than God himself? Or is he both? Does this separation not take away from the “most important” commandment, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one…”? (Mark 12:29, Deuteronomy 6:4-5) If they were separate in the Old Testament, then why have this commandment? If they were together in the Old Testament, then why are they separate after Jesus ascends?

13. John 1:20-21- “… ‘I am not the Christ.’ They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’”
Who is “the Prophet” they were referring to if it was not the Christ or Elijah? Who else were they expecting? (Note: Some Muslims say it was Muhammad [saw])

14. John 5:41- “I do not accept praise from men…”
Since when does God not accept praise from men? This seems like another refutation of divinity by Jesus.

15. John 16:13- “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
“He will not speak on his own”? “He will speak only what he hears”? What part of the Holy Spirit explains that? According to Christians, is the Holy Spirit not the very Spirit of God? Then in what way does he not speak on his own? And who is he listening to if it’s referring to the Spirit of God himself? Also, “he will tell you what is yet to come”. Does this not sound more like a human being than a spirit that lives inside of people? (Note: Muslims believe that the “holy spirit” referred to by Jesus was actually Muhammad [saw]. This makes sense because Muslims believe he did not speak on his own but recited the very word of God that he “heard” when it was revealed to him. He also predicted future events including battles and the end of the age.)

16. Genesis 22:2- “Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love… Sacrifice him…’”
Why would God refer to Isaac as Abraham’s only son? Ishmael was born before Isaac. (Note: Muslims believe Ishmael was sacrificed.)

17. Exodus 19:14-15- “… they washed their clothes. Then he [Moses] said to the people, ‘Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.”
Exodus 30:19-20-
“Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die.”
Exodus 40:30-32 (same concept)
These Israelites observed physical cleanliness as necessary for spiritual purposes. Christians do not observe this. But why was this necessary in the first place? Has God really changed so much to care about it so much at one point (to the point of “death”) to it not mattering at all later? (Note: Muslims practice this through wudu and ghusl.)

18. Numbers 23:19- “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.”
The New Testament says he is both. It just seems odd that all throughout the Old Testament it emphasizes the holiness of God and the separation between he and his creation but in the New Testament God jumps right in there and becomes a man.

19. Deuteronomy 13:6-9- “If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying ‘Let us go and worship other gods’… do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death…”

20. Deuteronomy 18:17-19- “The Lord said to me: ‘What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.”
I wouldn’t have thought much of this passage had I not heard a Muslim talk about it. He is convinced that this is describing Muhammad [saw]. He believes this because: a. the use of the word “brothers” refers to the brothers of the Israelites, i.e. the Ishmaelites. The Ishmaelites were the ancestors of the prophet Muhammad [saw], not Jesus. b. “a prophet like you.” Muslims claim that the backgrounds and characteristics of Moses and Muhammad [saw] were more alike than any other two prophets (not because of this passage. It is a widely held belief.) and c. “I will put my words in his mouth.” This is how the narration of the Qu’ran by the prophet Muhammad [saw] is described.

21. Deuteronomy 21:15- “If a man has two wives…”
Christians are also quick to criticize the acceptance of polygamy within Islam. Yet, the Old Testament acknowledges it without condemning it. It even sets rules concerning it. This is a round-about way of accepting it. Now, though Paul makes it clear that Christians are no longer bound to the law, he also constantly makes it clear that "the law" is still good and acceptable.
2 Timothy 3:16"All scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."
Romans 7:12 "The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good."
Romans 7:7 "What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!..."
Therefore, if this is true, would this not mean that even polygamy is acceptable? Also, what about the various parts of the law that contradict parts of the New Testament?

Deuteronomy 22:20-21- “… no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found… the men of her town shall stone her to death…”

22. Deuteronomy 30:11-14- “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near to you: it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”
This passage refers to the Law given by God to His people. Christians say Jesus (God/a prophet/the son of God/a perfect man) had to come and die because the Law was impossible to live up to and it could not provide salvation. But here, God says what he commanded them was “not too difficult for [them] or beyond [their] reach.”

23. Deuteronomy 34:5-12- “And Moses the servant of the Lord died there…”
Moses is believed to have recorded the first 5 books of the Old Testament (i.e. the Pentateuch). Is Moses, therefore, describing his own death? We don’t even know who added on to Moses’ writings. How, then, can we be so sure it hasn’t been changed?

24. II Samuel 12:20- “... After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went up to the house of the Lord and worshipped.”
Once again, we see God’s people washing physically before praying or worshipping.

25. II Kings 11:18- “All the people of the land went to the temple of Baal and tore it down. They smashed the altars and idols to pieces and killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars…”

26. Psalm 2:7- “… He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”
Why this word usage? Why does God call someone other than Jesus his son? And why does he say, “today I have begotten you”? Was Jesus not God’s “only begotten son”? (John 3:16)

27. Psalm 2:4-5- The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath…”

28. Psalm 11:5- “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.”
There doesn’t seem to be a way around this verse. It says the Lord’s very soul hates the wicked. But Christians claim God loves everyone unconditionally. One could say, “It really means their actions He hates.” But, then, one could just as easily say the same about these types of passages in the Qur’an.

29. Psalm 11:6- “On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot.”
Whether this is literal or not, it shows that God punishes. Many Christians today claim that God does not send anyone to Hell. It is merely a consequence of our actions that God cannot control while remaining just. As surely as gravity, we cannot get into heaven without the “blood of Jesus”, for “the wages of sin is death”. But this passage shows that there is a decision on God’s part. Not only does God not allow the “wicked” into heaven, but he inflicts punishment upon them himself. This is not a common viewpoint among many Christians today and seems to be from a different perspective than the New Testament. The Qur’an, however, seems to make much of the Old Testament make sense and relates to it more closely.

30. Psalm 19:7- “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul…”
If the law of the Lord was perfect, then why was it unable to save people? Why was it done away with? And why was it practiced for so long before Jesus finally came? If the law was imperfect, or incomplete, or too perfect for people to live up to, then why did God wait so long to send Jesus to “save the world”? And, if Jesus was the only way to heaven, then how were people saved before Jesus came? We know that some people entered heaven before Jesus came (Elijah, Moses, etc.). Does this mean that Jesus really wasn’t necessary at all? And if Jesus wasn’t absolutely necessary to save people, would the Almighty God really humble himself to a poor man and servant?

31. Psalm 51:5- “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
Are we as humans born sinners or merely with a sin nature? This passage would suggest the former. My question is, how is this just? Two people sin so the rest of us don’t even start out with a clean slate (tabula rasa)? And what exactly is a “sin nature”? If it means we’re merely prone to sin, prone to be tempted, then what difference did Adam and Eve have from us? They were tempted just as easily as we would have been. Then there’s Jesus. Was he not born a sinner? Many Christians claim this was the purpose of the virgin birth. Because of it, he was born sinless. If that’s the case, then did he have a sin nature? If not, then how could he have been tempted? Also, would he really be acceptable as a sacrifice on our behalf if he really didn’t have the same issues other people have? And if he didn’t have a sin nature, what was the point of God becoming man at all? Did not “God become man” so that he could be on our level and, therefore, justly sacrifice himself as a perfect man?

32. Psalm 119:152- “Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever.”
Last forever? If this is talking about the Law then how come Christians no longer follow it?

33. Isaiah 2:22- “Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?”
Again an emphasis is placed on the division between God and man.

34. Isaiah 42:1- “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.”
This is an interesting way of saying “I’m coming to earth as a man.” As a matter of fact, which of the messianic prophecies make it sound like God, himself, is coming to earth? Do Jews today believe the messiah will be God? Did Jews in the Old Testament expect the Messiah to be God?

35. Isaiah 42:8- “I am the Lord: that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”
Isaiah 42:17- “But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame.”
Isaiah 43:10-13
- “… Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me."

Have you ever listened to a lecture or read an article that discussed how the average person spends his or her time in life? It’s a pretty popular topic and definitely interesting to think about.

I checked out the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the United States Department of Labor website and calculated the following.

In the average American’s life time (about 76 years), one spends:

Work/school: 13.08 years
Avg. 7.6 hrs/day 5 days a week = 38 hrs/week = 1,976 hrs/yr = 82.33 days/yr x 58 years = 4,775.33 days = 13.08 years/lifetime

Sleeping: 25.26 years
Avg. 8 hrs/day 7 days a week = 56 hrs/week = 2,912 hrs/yr = 121.33 days/yr x 76 years = 9,221.33 days/lifetime = 25.26 years/lifetime

Housework: 5.53 years
Avg. 1.9 hrs/day 7 days a week = 13.3 hrs/week = 691.6 hrs/yr = 28.82 days/yr x 70 yrs = 2,017.16 days/lifetime = 5.53 years/lifetime

Watching TV: 8.30 years (I assume internet would go in this category for youth)
Avg. 2.7 hrs/day 7 days a week = 18.9 hrs/week = 982.8 hrs/yr =40.95 days/yr x 74 yrs = 3,030.3 days/lifetime = 8.3 years/lifetime

Socializing: 2.37 years
Avg. 45 min/day 7 days a week = 5.25 hrs/week = 273 hrs/yr x 76 yrs = 20,748 hrs/lifetime = 864.5 days/lifetime = 2.37 yrs/lifetime

Total: 54.54 years (out of 76 years = 72%)

Not included in this list are everyday activities such as transportation, exercising, recreation, taking care of kids, time spent as a baby, etc. As we look at these statistics we see that so much of our life is spent on menial, everyday tasks. It really makes me think. How am I spending my life? How much of my life is actually spent doing something worthwhile? What will I have to show for myself on the day of Judgment?

I was talking to one of my Muslim friends about this issue and how disheartening it can be. Then my friend kindly pointed out to me that, as Muslims, included in our everyday activities we are required to pray 5 times a day. So let’s think.

Salat: approx: 1 year
At least 4 min/prayer 5 prayers a day = 20 min/day = 140 min/week = 7,280 min/yr = 121.33 hrs/yr x 71 years = 8,614.67 hrs/lifetime = 358.94 days/lifetime

One year! Just of mandatory salat! This is assuming someone lives only 76 years and is only praying about 4 min/ prayer. This also does not include Sunnah prayers, Ramadan prayers, voluntary prayers, or dua’a! I’ve heard many non-Muslims criticize Islam’s practice of praying 5 times a day. They say it is ritualistic and legalistic. But I think of these statistics and I see the wisdom in it. Just practicing the basics of Islam daily we are doing something meaningful in the midst of our everyday, ordinary lives.

In addition:

Fasting in Ramadan: 5.84 years
30 days/yr x 71 yrs = 2,130 days/lifetime = 5.84 years

Islam is truly interwoven within our every faucet of life. That which is mandatory is a blessing. Let us not neglect it. Ameen.

It’s about 1:00 in the morning right now and I have to wake up in less than 5 hours but I’m afraid if I go to sleep now that this clarity of thought might not return again so I must write about what is on my mind and just survive on adrenaline tomorrow, inshAllah.

I just got back from a friend’s house where I was spending time with three Muslimahs I had met at the mosque. One of the girls grew up in Spain. Her parents are Muslim. Her mother was there as well. And the third girl is a convert; half French, half Spanish.

We started out doing what Muslimahs often do when they get together: eat. We had some tea and bite-sized pastries and just talked. We talked about our weeks, our families, religion, school, and then somewhere along the way we started talking about the economy. Spain is one of, if not the worst off country Europe with regards to the economic crisis. The people, if they have jobs at all, work constantly and get paid little.

My convert friend, Sandrine, is one of these struggling Spaniards. She works 6 days a week all day at a shoe store for insufficient pay. She was discussing her personal life and her worry about how she was going to get by. Furthermore, at her job she is required to wear the company uniform which includes sleeveless shirts and NO hijab. She wants to practice her religion fully but if she does so, how is she going to support herself? We discussed our lives as new Muslims and I explained how I’ve felt for the past 3 years. THREE YEARS I’ve been a Muslim and what do I have to show for it? For the longest time I felt as though I had no way out. I had no choice but to attend a Baptist University and once I was there I felt it was impossible to practice Islam in the way it should be practiced. So I spent 3 whole years in the shadows hardly progressing at all in my faith. I felt as though I had two separate lives. Sandrine said she felt the same way. Could there be any way out?

I have heard so many stories of people being kicked out of their homes because they converted to Islam. Families have been torn apart, spouses have divorced, and jobs have been lost. I read a story about a man who worked as an engineer in a time when it was very difficult to find jobs and his boss would not allow him to have just a few minutes to pray one of his 5 daily prayers. He was at a loss. Could he forfeit one of his prayers every single day? If he did not, how was he going to support his family?

This has all made me really start thinking about the Muslim Ummah of today. I’m realizing more and more every day that I am not even close to the only Muslim with difficulties. There are so so so many Muslims all over the world who are fighting every day. We all have our own jihad. We all have our own struggle. For some it is being impoverished for the sake of Islam. For some it is losing family for the sake of Islam. For some it is losing friends for the sake of Islam. For some it is giving up dreams for the sake of Islam. It comes in many forms but no matter what it is, every Muslim in the world has their own jihad.
Let us never take for granted the opportunities we are given daily to practice Islam and follow the path of Allah swt. And let us always keep the Muslim Ummah, all our brothers and sisters in Islam, in our dua’as. Ameen.

(photo taken from internet explorer)

Yesterday a Muslim friend of mine, a girl from Romania, asked me to go have a coffee with her. I hadn’t seen her in a while and I generally jump at the chance to hang out with the few people I know here that speak English so I was delighted to go. We met at the train station close to my flat. When I saw her I went up and gave the typically Spanish “dos besos” or two kisses, and we asked how each other was.

Then she said, “Alright, let’s go” and made a motion to her side. Then I noticed the bike… We were going to ride that?
“Oh, hmm,” I said, “Cooool. So where are we headed exactly?”
“I’m not sure yet. I know a few coffee shops.”
“Oh, yeah?” I said, “I mean, I think there are lots of good places around here. Are you sure you don’t want to walk?”

She gave me a questioning look.

“It’s just that,” I said, “I’m kind-of scared of motorcycles. See, my dad’s brother was killed on one and I’ve grown up with a bit of a phobia of them. So would you like to walk, instead?”

Then in the most frank way possible as seems to be the manner of the Romanians, she simply said:

“I think no. I’m wearing heels. Don’t worry.”

I almost laughed at the simplicity of her reply. So much for my life-long fear.

I took the helmet and mounted the (small, mind you) “moto” behind her. Normally I’m not a very touchy person and I like my space but at this point I had absolutely no reservations in hanging on to her as tightly as possible.

“Ash hado an la illaha il Allah.”

We started weaving in between cars in the already insane traffic of Spain.

“Wa ash hado anna Mohammadu rasool Allah.”

I held on tighter.
Then, we got to a wider area where I could see the mountains in the distance and the trees passing us by and I felt myself loosening up a bit. This wasn’t so bad.
Then I found myself kind-of enjoying it.
Then I found myself wanting to go faster!
This is why I vow to never drive one if I can help it. I know myself too well. I would go crazy.

The wind was whooshing past my face as we continued to pass through cars, avoid random passerby, and speed to beat traffic lights. It was at this point that I started thinking about Muslims and stereotypes. I myself am a Muslim and here I was surprised to find a Muslimah driving so crazily on a motorcycle. I guess stereotypes, no matter how inaccurate, affect us all whether we realize it or not. I just wonder what the passerby, who most likely know little about Islam and Muslims, were thinking when they saw two hijabis on that bike!
Oh, the little humors in life.

When you think of Spain, what do you see? Most people imagine big dresses and Flamenco dancing, painted fans, bull fights, a hot sun, sangria and the beach.
I see all of this as well but the thing that most comes to mind is Spain’s history. For hundreds of years, Spain was under Muslim rule. In the early 8th century, nearly all of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by the Moors of Northern Africa. Muslims lived and ruled in Spain in peace with the Jewish and Christian populations. Spain became a center of education and innovation while the rest of Europe was wallowing in the dark ages. Some of the first Universities were started here during this time. They made major advances in astronomy, science, medicine, psychology and sociology, philosophy, agriculture, economics, music, linguistics and literature, exploration and geography, architecture and technology. They thrived for hundreds of years until the reconquista or conquest by the Christians made headway and finally took over the last stronghold, the Alhambra in Granada and overthrew the Moors in 1492. Shortly after, Ferdinand and Isabella began the Spanish Inquisition which persecuted, tortured, and exiled all remaining Jews and Muslims from the region. Spain had in a very short time become a completely Christian nation.

The last time I was in Spain, all that seemed to remain from its Islamic age was in museums. I assumed that Spain had had a history of Islam and that was it; “ya esta.” However, I took a trip to Granada this weekend and discovered that I was terribly mistaken. Granada was the home of the last remaining Muslim rulers in Spain and perhaps the greatest Muslim palace in the world, the Alhambra. When I arrived there, I could sense the difference almost immediately. There seemed to be hijabis and Arabs everywhere. I began to question if we were still in Spain and hadn’t gone a bit too far and ended up in Morocco. We went walking through the streets and the whole town was filled with a mixture of everything Spanish and Arabic. Everywhere there were elaborate hooka bars, Arabic restaurants, “teterias” where you could relax and order teas from anywhere around Spain and the Middle East. The streets were narrow and crowded and you could smell incense, tea, and shisa coming out of every store. One could easily mistake it for East Jerusalem had there not been whitewashed, red-roofed buildings in every local.

Then, we made our way to the center of town where there were beautiful European style buildings, fountains, and the most amazing open-air markets I’ve ever seen. They were filled with spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, pastries, and breads. On every corner there was someone either roasting nuts, grilling corn, preparing baked potatoes, or something of the sort. It was a bit chilly since it’s high up in the mountains so we got some roasted nuts to warms us up and walked around shopping and watching street performers. Never in my life have I experienced such a beautiful mix of two of my favorite cultures.

The visit to Alhambra was perhaps the highlight of the trip. Seeing the mosques and the Arabic writings on the walls and imagining what it must have been like in its heyday really made me see Spain in a whole new light. Muslim Spain never left, after all. Maybe history can never be limited to simply being history. Its effects are always present.

I suppose all I’m really trying to say is… I LOVE SPAIN!

Salaam Alaykom,

Before I really get started with my blog, I think it would be beneficial to give a bit of background information about myself.

My name is Brooke Baker. I’m from a relatively small town in Arkansas. I have two amazing parents and a sister about two years older than me who happens to be my best friend. I love learning about different cultures, languages, customs, etc and I’m also very into philosophy, theology, religion, (sometimes) politics, and history. I go to a small, private Southern Baptist college in Arkansas where I’m majoring in both History and Spanish.

The subject about which most people are probably wondering, however, is how I became a Muslim. The following is not so much an explanation of why I came to Islam but more so how I came to Islam. The former I’ll inshAllah discuss at a later time. For those who don’t know anything about Arkansas, it’s a state in the very heart of the “Bible belt” in which many, if not most people are strong, evangelical, born again Christians. I grew up in this type of environment and I, naturally, believed strongly in the Christianity I was taught. However, I was perhaps a bit more passionate than your average kid. By the time I hit junior high, my faith had become the center of my life, not just in words but in actions. I became very involved in Church and in the youth group and I surrounded myself with people that had the same beliefs and principles as me. My faith became all I wanted to study, talk about or even think about. Alongside this intense zeal for knowledge was a strong desire to convince others of this truth I believed I possessed. There wasn’t much of an outlet for that desire in my hometown considering most people were surrounded by Christianity everyday, so instead I resorted to my only window to the rest of the world; the internet. I started talking to a few people on religious chat rooms and sites at the age of 13 or 14. In spite of my busy schedule filled with all the typical activities of a young teenager, it became my favorite hobby. I talked to and debated people of every belief system including Mormonism, Buddhism, Judaism, Atheism, and Agnosticism. Each debate made me more passionate about Christianity and gave me a drive to learn more.

However, it seemed that when I spoke with Muslims, I was a little less sure of myself than when speaking with others. Firstly, they seemed far more respectful and educated than the other people with whom I had spoken, so I was more compelled to listen and consider what they were saying than with others. And secondly, it seemed that the more I spoke with some of these Muslims, the more my ammo seemed to slip away. Every shot I threw at them, they blocked and turned around toward me. Not only did these Muslims have immense knowledge of their own religion, but they seemed to know more about Christianity than I did myself! This was indeed very disheartening but I hoped that with more study and more discussion, these problems would dissolve and people would start “accepting Jesus.” I soon abandoned discussions with people of all the other religions and simply focused on Islam. I met with Muslims regularly every night for months and debated, read, studied, debated, read, studied, until finally I found myself struggling to find any reason left to believe in Christianity. Each and every thought and conviction I had previously had had been dismantled one by one. Islam answered the questions I had about Christianity and more. It was sounder, more logical and seemed so much more pure and thorough than anything I had ever studied. I decided that I wanted to become a Muslim.

On the way home from a softball game one night, I remember attempting to tell my mom about all that I had studied and my thoughts regarding it all. I thought she would be understanding and simply hear me out. But I remember her listening very quietly with teeth clenched looking straight ahead, hands gripped to the wheel. I knew I had made a mistake in discussing it with her. The next morning my parents took me to see the pastor of my church. This was the first of an extensive series of meetings I would be required to have. I was made to meet with missionaries, counselors, biblical studies professors, family friends etc. I was 14 at the time and very intimidated. I was capable of arguing online where my age could be hidden but not in person where I felt a degree of respect on my part was required. Furthermore, my parents took away the books I had gotten and all access to the internet. The trauma of this experience and the sudden absence of all reminders of Islam made it very easy to slip right back into Christianity. Within a few months, all doubts regarding Christianity were gone and Islam was once again just a foreign, distant religion with which I had once run into some doubts. I soon came to the opinion that my encounter with Islam had just been a test and I now had a great “testimony” that I could share and help “bring others to Jesus.”

After about a year or so, my parents had begun to feel secure in the fact that I was a Christian and began to allow me access again to the internet. I was not at all worried that I would have a “relapse” so to speak, and turn back to Islam. I primarily just used the internet for chatting with my friends and doing homework. However, one day something, probably curiosity, prompted me to visit some of the old Islamic sites on which I had spent time before. Very quickly, the thoughts and feelings I had had about Islam previously spilled over me in a massive wave. This frightened me intensely. I did not want to go through what I had gone through before. I tried to avoid these feelings and just focus my thoughts on Christianity. But I could not stay away. I went back at night to read all the things I had forgotten. Again, an overwhelming sentiment came over me that Islam was the truth and I was left unsure as to what I should do. Soon, however, my parents again found out, I believe this time by discovering reading materials all throughout my bedroom. Apparently their suspicion had not quite gone away. A repeat of the first incident occurred almost exactly. I was deprived of all access to reminders of Islam, I was made to meet with many prominant Christians, and soon fell back into belief in Christianity albeit this time with a stronger memory of my encounter with Islam.

A few years went by during which time I became even more knowledgeable and stronger in Christianity. At the beginning of my senior year of high school I had just come back from a mission trip in Arlington, Texas and I felt that nothing could sway me in my beliefs. I was possessed with what I believed was the holy spirit of God and even without absolute reason, I could be sure of Christianity because “Christ lived in me.” I felt an assurance more so than I could reason one. While on this “spiritual high” I decided to look into Islam one last time simply because I no longer felt threatened. I went to a few new web sites this time and began speaking to some Western Muslims on different forums. Within a week of talking to them and reading I was in denial about the fact that I was again doubting Christianity and beginning to trust in Islam and within about two weeks I was absolutely petrified because I came to the realization that no matter what happened, no matter how much time elapsed, Islam would always exist and hold the same truths no matter how much I tried to will it away. On September 18, 2006 right after my 17th birthday, I called a sister I had met on one of the forums from Canada and gave my Shahada. It was perhaps the scariest, most intense, yet most meaningful moment of my life. I remember going to take a shower and knowing that for once, everything was right.

I tried to keep the fact that I was a Muslim hidden as much as possible and, of course, by this time I had had some practice. I learned how to pray and studied as quickly as possible in case I was discovered. My secrecy lasted for a few months until my parents somehow came across a few of my emails. I had anticipated the blow but I didn’t know just how hard it would be. I was immediately made to see a regular Christian counselor and was again deprived of books and internet. Yet, this time I was sure of what I believed and was determined not to be shaken. However, I did not anticipate what was sure to be the biggest blow I could imagine. I was in the middle of applying to universities and my parents informed me that they were no longer willing to support me after high school in any way. They would allow me to go to the community college in my hometown and live at home under their watch. I had been looking forward to going to university my entire life. I had 4.0 GPA and a great ACT score and had been choosing my favorite universities all over the country to which I would apply. I could have gotten a full ride to some colleges in Arkansas but I was still 17 when I started university and definitely wasn’t ready to cut myself off from my parents completely and live on my own. I felt trapped. I was extremely depressed for a while but then formulated an idea. My sister attended a small private Southern Baptist university in Arkansas at the time. It was very Christian but at the same time a very good school. So I proposed a deal to my parents. I would attend this Christian school where there would be no Muslims, I would be forced to attend Christian classes, and my sister could keep an eye on me. After some deliberation they agreed and the idea actually seemed to make them a bit hopeful. They seemed to believe that after attending a Christian university I would have no choice but to be convinced of Christianity’s truth. Therefore, there arose a tacit understanding in my house that the subject of Islam was taboo and that after a while at University this “phase” would wash right out of me. However I was very certain of Islam and I was not willing to give up so easily.

The start of university was the commencement some of the most difficult times in my life. I didn’t have the guts to wear hijab in that type of environment and I knew if I did that my parents would cut me off for sure. I wasn’t open about being a Muslim but it seemed to leak out slowly anyway. I could tell I was in for a very lonely and tough four years. However, it was at the beginning of my freshman year that I was able to sneak around my sister and visit the mosque in Little Rock for the first time. This was my first time meeting other Muslimas personally. It was a simple jummah prayer and I only stayed for about 45 minutes but it was enough to give me encouragement to get by for a few months. The next year or so marked a bit of a dark period for me. I was Muslim, but alone and stagnant. I felt like I was neither progressing nor regressing (though I definitely had some major downfalls). I was simply becoming complacent and bored and depressed. I knew Islam was true and I did what was required of me, but I felt so alone and purposeless. I wasn’t sure what I was doing with my life or what I should be doing. Should I have come to this university after all? Should I have just worn hijab, gotten a job, and attempted to live on my own? I felt like a failure as a Muslim yet also had the desire to be a normal college student and have fun and make friends. My sophomore year I was able to visit the mosque a bit more frequently and I got to know some of the Muslim community though I only saw them about once every couple of months. As time went on, my family also started realizing more and more that I was not going to give up Islam. It became a bit less taboo and even though it made them angry, they turned their shoulder every once and a while when I went to visit the mosque or some Muslim friends in Little Rock. This past summer has been the period during which I’ve been able to spend the most time with my Muslim friends and go to the mosque. I met lots of new people including new converts from all throughout Arkansas. Even one of my friends from Japan that attends the University of Arkansas in Little Rock converted a few months ago. The difference between having Muslim friends and not having them is beyond description. When I’m at University and feeling down or alone in Islam, all I have to do is talk to them or even think about them and I feel a bit stronger.

Finally, all of this has brought me to where I am today; and that happens to be Spain. My university back home provides a few opportunities to study abroad and I got to a point where a break from my Christian university was exactly what I needed. I wanted to go somewhere where I could live around Muslims and break fast with people during Ramadan and go to the mosque whenever I wanted. To me this sounded like paradise. Because I’m a Spanish major and I knew there would be Muslims here and because I knew Spain had such an amazing history of Islam, I decided to come to Espana. I’ve been here for two weeks thus far and I’ve found the mosque (through trial and error, mind you), met lots of sisters, broken fast with people, and have started wearing hijab full time for the first time ever, Alhamdulillah. This is definitely a new beginning for me in many ways and I’m ready to embrace every bit of it. And because I’m finally doing something worthwhile regarding Islam, I’d like to share it with everyone who’s interested, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and I feel the best way to do that is through this blog. So, InshAllah I hope you enjoy! :)

About this blog

Asalaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullah,
My name is Brooke and I’m from a fairly small town in Arkansas, USA. I was brought up in an Evangelical, Christian environment in which I actively took part. However, when I was 17 I converted to Islam and it has since then in every way shaped the course of my life. I hope to share some of my thoughts and a bit about my life as a revert in this blog and inshAllah benefit others through it. Enjoy :)