The Washington Post carries a series of articles by Alison Lake, one of their staff writers, on the experience of conversion to Islam:
1. Confessions of a convert to Islam
"Well before formally converting, I knew I wanted to be Muslim. I felt Muslim, and enjoyed spending time with Muslims. I began to avoid alcohol and eat halal (permitted) foods, changed my dating habits, and become more aware of how I dressed. As I continued to read, I became more aware of how our actions affect other people, and our futures. For example, Islam is centrally focused on community awareness and charity, so much that the entire month of Ramadan is devoted to good deeds and awareness of the feeling of hunger.
The word Islam means "submission." That is all: submitting to God and admitting your humility. I love the Islamic phrase insha'Allah, or "God willing." It admits that we (humans) cannot control everything. We don't know God's plan for us and should be humble to that and follow what we do know from Him. With that in mind, living my life according to what I believe is a little easier."
2. Converting to Islam today
There is much to admire in Islam, and Muslims should educate non-Muslims, as well as their own brothers and sisters in the faith, on the religion's nuances. There is a rich field for debate on subjects such as the meanings of the Quran, the implications of Prophet Muhammad's life practices today, the behavior of men and women in the public sphere, and what Islam shares in common with other religions. Islam is also in dire need of a better public relations campaign around the world, particularly in the West.
Islamic civilization was born in the Middle East but also has deep historical roots in India, Iran, central Asia, and Africa. Western textbooks and histories previously ignored Islamic civilization's rich history, which is slowly becoming more accepted in the European/American worldview. While Europe was in the bubonic depths of the Dark Ages, Islamic civilization produced great thinkers, writers, and inventors. Baghdad and Damascus were bustling, advanced centers of learning and commerce. Arab scholars (many of them Muslim) helped to launch the Renaissance in Europe with their scientific advances and translations of ancient texts for wider consumption.
Islam also shares many points in common with the histories of Judaism and Christianity, based on scriptures and the tradition of such prophets as Abraham, Moses, and Noah. This commonality in the Abrahamic faith tradition is a helpful foundation for interfaith studies, and for pursuit of greater understanding of Islam by non-Muslims. There are too many Muslims worldwide to ignore -- more than 1.5 billion. Hopefully more non-Muslims will take time to understand this religion and its people, and try to look beyond the crimes of terrorists and the stereotypes perpetuated in the media and in Western culture.
3. "Why don't you love Jesus?"
My recent first visit to a Muslim country demonstrated that daily practice of Islamic faith does not have to be cumbersome or a cause for social shyness, and further inspired me to challenge my own timidity about outwardly being Muslim.
The Quran instructed the Prophet Muhammad to "Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their garments [or veils, depending on the translation] close around them," so as to be known as believers and not molested. The Quran does not expressly instruct women to cover their hair and necks, but Islamic culture and faith practice surrounding the Prophet Muhammad led to use of the headscarf. These are known as hadith (sayings of the Prophet) and sunnah (practices of the Prophet), and are central to Islamic practice.
My trip to Morocco in June transformed my perception of what a day should look like for a Muslim. I observed how many Moroccans incorporate prayer into their daily schedule, and how easily women moved about, dressed modestly in extreme heat, stylishly, and without baring lots of skin.
4.Embracing new rituals
Prayer in Islam is beautiful, peaceful, and humble. The act of praying is powerful, especially when you do it several times a day. I feel closer to God the more often I pray, and my faith deepens. Somehow the greater frequency of prayer sharpens my spiritual senses. As a result, I approach life more in spiritual terms; think of God more often; and feel stronger emotionally, intellectually, and physically. I feel motivated to read the Quran, to reach out to people, and to thank God for all the blessings of life.
I look forward to the quiet reflection of Ramadan that comes every year, along with the pleasure of cooking certain meals and foods I can eat in the morning and after breaking fast in the evening. Knowing I am fasting changes the tenor of my day and gives focus. The daily routine throughout the year of dressing the part, reading Quran, and wishing salaam to other Muslims provides other comforting, predictable, and rewarding rituals.
Fasting is definitely challenging to learn if you don't grow up with it. I still struggle with it. My blood sugar rebels and I feel thirsty, even dizzy. I try to be easy on myself, because in Muslim families, children learn to fast slowly, short periods at a time. But I do my best because it is a mark of the faith and brings great rewards: understanding the feeling of being poor or starving; self-discipline; cleansing of the body; and spiritual closeness to God. In the Quran, God enjoins Muslims to fast. Those who are sick or on a journey are not required to fast, and should give money or food to someone needy. Also, women are not expected to fast after childbirth or during their monthly cycle.
I believe Islam is needed now more than ever, especially in our hectic society that seems to be regulated by television, fluorescent lights, commercialism, self-indulgence, and the 24-hour clock. Regular spiritual practice is calming and grounding. Islam expects more of us. Knowing that God is responsible for this world but also gave us brains and heart to use well is somehow freeing -- we can do our best and leave the rest up to God.
Click on the links to read the full articles.