I look forward to Ramadan like most Muslims. I worry about being prepared, but I also realize we can never fully prepare for anything, especially something as important as our duties and obligations to Allah. I understand that whilst I try my best, only Allah knows if my deeds, actions and prayers will be accepted.
Over the past 13 years, each Ramadan has taught me something different. My first few Ramadans were clumsy. Ramadan can only be truly learned by experiencing it. As a new Muslim, I read and studied about Ramadan and took classes at my mosque. Ultimately I winged it, as my husband at the time was not Muslim and I reverted to Islam only shortly before Ramadan. I made mistakes and learned from them. One time I thought it was okay to continue fasting, despite the sun setting, until I got home from work at 10 pm. That was a mistake. I did not feel good at all and I missed the tarawih prayers.
As I settled into Islam and learned more by reading the Qur’an and taking classes, I became more sociable and met new sisters. Lifelong friendships developed. While many new reverts are eagerly accepted into a mosque after reverting, the “thrill” often wears off and the newly reverted Muslim is left on her own to navigate the learning process to achieve a better understanding of Islam. As a Muslim community, we need to keep in touch with people who have reverted, make friends with them, guide them, teach them and include them in social activities beyond their first few weeks.
It goes both ways. As a new Muslim, you also need to reach out. Just like seeking that job you have been coveting, you also need to be proactive in your quest for gaining Islamic knowledge, inquiring about classes, asking about social outings and being that friend you are seeking. Making connections among the Muslim community, like anywhere, is a two-way process: both you and the sisters at the mosque must make an effort.
During Ramadan a few years ago, I and two close sisters took two new converts and visited six different mosques that were within a three-hour traveling distance from our hometown to break our fasts with them. At each mosque, we were warmly welcomed and treated like family. Each mosque was different in size; one holding about 1000 Muslims for iftar (the sunset meal during which the fast is broken) and the smallest having a capacity for about 20. Each mosque had varying styles of iftar. In one, we were served while seated on the floor, at another we sat at a table, and in the third we sat in a circle with a beautiful cloth placed on the floor for the vessels of food.
The mosques also varied by culture and ethnicity, which was a welcome learning experience. What each iftar had in common, though, was the happy, smiling faces, ready to greet one another and talk about how their day of fasting went. I learned about the struggles of the women, mothers, wives and single moms striving to raise healthy, happy Muslim children. We were unified by our various struggles combined with a tenacity to serve Allah in the best way we could. I experienced a deep appreciation for the strong Muslim women we met who wore different styles of clothing, head scarves, and other cultural Islamic garments, some handmade by the sisters.
I also learned different recipes for foods from many different countries and my cooking skills are now diverse and appreciated by my family. Tarawih prayers were the same in every mosque. One mosque had an area where mothers could leave sleeping children safely so they could participate in the prayers. This was appreciated by mothers who wanted to be pray at the mosque with their sisters.
During our travels to the various mosques, we had the opportunity to discuss Islam with the two new sisters who had lots of questions. It was beautiful to see their enthusiasm. It reminded us of the time when we took the shahada (and became Muslims) many years ago.
After our visits, they told us how wonderful their first experience of Ramadan had been and how much they learned from all the various sisters and mosques. Since that blessed Ramadan many years ago, we’re all still very close with each other and with the sisters we met.
Our visits taught me ten valuable lessons:
1- Newly reverted Muslims bring a newborn-like enthusiasm for the thirst of Islam and the love of Allah. May Allah protect us from ever losing that feeling. They come with a desire to be guided, taught and to feel as if they are part of a family, a community. We, as an Islamic community, need to be aware of this and make sure we have people close by who can take the time to form a lasting bond with them to help them along their journey in learning about Islam and becoming closer to Allah. As reverts, it is important to realize that we also need to reach out, making our needs known to our new community.
2- Everyone in Islam struggles with something. Conversing with a wide variety of sisters from different mosques with different backgrounds and ethnicities gave me a deeper appreciation for what they endure in order to stay on the right path. It also gave me insight into the common struggles we share.
In sharing our struggles, be it a sick child, opposing family, single motherhood, being a newly arrived immigrant, or being terminally ill, there is power in the camaraderie of sisterhood and sharing. It binds us as a community of Muslim women and it provides us with a platform for serving Allah in a better way. We need to judge less and love more.
3- Even when I am in a new town, I should consider any mosque I walk into as home. Our Islamic community should be welcoming, as we never know who will walk through our doors and who will or will not return based on our friendliness.
4- To break bread with my Muslim sisters is to share oneself with another for the sake of Allah. This is an act of worship in itself.
5- Social time with other Muslim women is important for my spiritual and Islamic growth and development. Our sisters are an Islamic university within themselves. They all have something valuable to teach and share. Our Islamic community has done a good job of encouraging our sisters to shine in the mosques, pearls that we are!
6- Often, some people are left on the sidelines because of their culture, ethnicity or even status of reversion. This is sad. Our Islamic community is huge and is made up of all different kinds of people. Its diversity is a wonderful thing. We should embrace and learn from our differences with love.
7- By leaving the comfort of my local mosque, I was able to learn more about Islam from the different styles of lectures given at other mosques. This, in turn, opened my eyes up to new things.
8- Our Muslim community is not static. It’s always growing, changing and getting stronger with an influx of new Muslims and by addressing crises, such as the refugee crisis and the rampant Islamophobia.
9- Our Muslim community is not perfect. Only Allah is perfect. We are striving.
10- I have a lot to learn but I am blessed to be on this journey and blessed to be a part of the Muslim community: the greatest on earth.