‘You are black, you are white, you are male, you are female. They are just a few of the ways you may have identified prior to taking your shahada.‘
Todays blog on the layers of you is by Khadija (follow becomingkhadija on Instagram)
One thing that tends to happen once we become Muslim is that we forget that these identities still pertain to us in our efforts to add the new layer of identity that comes with being a muslim.
Its all to often that the declaration of faith is presented to new Muslims from a cultural view point and the deen (path of Islam) and the culture are so intertwined its hard to make heads nor tails of the two.
At the beginning stages for a lot of Muslimahs for example, it is how they are told they should wear the hijab inclusive of the types of clothes that should be worn. For some this can then make it difficult for those who may not physically “present” as Muslim to be identified by other Muslims and likewise they may now be seen as the ‘other’ by members of the community to which they already belonged.
Going deeper still there is a incorrect ideology that your name has to be changed (it doesn’t if there is no Islamic contradictory meaning to it) so you have already “lost” the style of dress you may have had and now you’re loosing your name too.
Should we keep going down the rabbit hole? For those who may have been in the game a little bit longer now you may even notice that which school of thought you do (or do not) follow also further impacts on the identity that you may now be so desperately trying to hold on to.
Its all alot to take in really and when you’re being asked to or made to feel like ridding yourself of your old identities is a mandatory action; it can push some people to question everthing they ever thought they knew about themselves.
Often people are referred to as layered like an onion and whilst I agree with it in part I feel we are more Akin to cabbages. Neither are glamorous but hear me out. With an onion each of the layers although connected to the other do not overlap much at all. A cabbage on the other hand. If you were to peel off one layer you would interfere with another layer and said layer does not necessarily cover the layers below it. In human term, our layers, our identities are not separate from each other. They are not necessarily hidden by each other and when peeling back one layer of self you automatically impact the layers underneath.
Bringing this back to what happenes with our identities post shahada. We cannot remove layers of our old self, our current self or and any other self without interfering with the other layers. In everyday terms this may be referred to as ‘loosing yourself.’
OK enough of the analogies it’s probably useless me explaining all this without offering some ways of not loosing yourself or in some cases how to re-find yourself.
1) Embrace parts of your culture that do not oppose the deen.
There are admittedly complications to this but remember everything is permissible unless proven other wise.
2) Find alternatives.
For those things that are impermissible in the deen maybe take a look at small switches that are accessible to you. For example if Sundays are roast days where your family get together but it’s usually accompanied with alcohol how about alcohol free celebratory beverages and keeping the Sunday family tradition.
Visit the barbers or hairdressers, use a face mask. Buy clothes etc that you enjoy wearing. Being a muslim doesn’t mean letting go of yourself. It takes time but you’ll get there.
4) keep an open mind and renew your intentions.
Its easy to get sucked into the vortex of other peoples opinions of how you should identify. But keep making duaa that you are guided and do not feel as though one person’s opinion is what you should base everything off.
5) Find others who share similar identities to you
Whether that be at groups in the mosque forums online (practice Internet safety) or by work or academic associations.
At this point my disclaimer is that I firmly believe we have our seperate identities for a reason as gifts from Allah swt. It speaks to a level of ingratitude to be made to feel we should dismiss this. Despite what anyone says you are ‘Muslim enough’ as you are with ALL of your layers. They are what help you towards better character and connection to Allah exhaluted is he.
Listen To our weekly convert circle talk ; “filling our hearts with light” by Almaas
By Umm Nuh.
In my early days of discovering Islam I timidly trundled into a local islamic bookshop to enquire about what to read to know about Islam? The first book I was given was on women in islam and hijab. Not sure why I was handed that? Perhaps the shopkeeper considered hijab the most important topic for me to learn about first? 🤔
It was a heavy and confusing academic read , I lasted a chapter and turned away from Islam for another year or so.
Next I was handed leaflets by various dawah organisations, “islam and science “,who is the prophet Muhammad,” you know the ones, bite size booklets which challenge stereotypes of islam in the media. My interest had again been sparked.
Without wanting to venture back to the islamic bookshop for fear of being handed a burkah, I went to Boarders books and bought a penguin classics “Koran” translated by Karen Armstrong a Christian.I opened it up and read the opening chapter “Fatiha” it sounded much the same as verse in the bible, then I reached the chapter titled “the cow”. ‘How bizarre’ I thought? What has a cow got to do with understanding God and my search for meaning? I lasted a few pages then put it down, not returning to the Quran again for some years later.
Instead of the Quran, my source of early islamic education began with a very patient Muslim, who listened to my questions, discussed and challenged my views, until I reached a point where I could no longer deny the message of this religion.
I attended a local women’s convert group and met people of like minds and begun to consider Islam was for me.
I accepted Islam in time when Allah swt willed, alhamduillah. the paradoxes between life and death gave me the ultimatum I required and I could no longer live without acceptance of this destiny.
Furthering my islamic education I listened to islamic lectures online and went to weekend intensives yet I still hadn’t returned to personally study the Quran. Classes and courses would tend to randomly pick out verses (ayat) to discuss the meaning or address a topic. Over time I began to build a picture of how Muslims derived their laws and practices and the prophetic sayings (Hadith) and biography (seerah) built on these verses for more context. But I was still “unconnected” to the Quran as a go to guidance and book of personal relevance. I relied heavily on scholors interpretations, classes and teachers but couldn’t yet say the Quran had reached my heart.
Other converts, I have learnt approached the Quran in different ways, through its recitation, by reading it back to front, front to back, chapter by chapter. Seven years into my conversion I still hadn’t read it cover to cover, for me it just didn’t fit or flow starting at the mountain high chapters of surah Baqarah. I always went to the small chapters at the back, and preferred to wonder on the time (Asr) and the dawn (Fajr).
The way the Quran presented book bound, for me was like having to go through law and history class before I got to philosophy and art! I felt like a baby to Islam and couldn’t understand why the Quran began with history and law and attachment and love comes much later? It felt like Victorian parenting “children should be seen and not heard” It felt cold, isolating and I begun to feel quite stupid!
Babies are raised on love and connection, even though some parenting manuals recommend banishing them to their cots to suit the parents timetable. I began to wonder if Allah swt was all rules with fear? It doesn’t take a Psychologist to know how detrimental such a fearing rule driven connection would have for a Baby convert. Why do you think so many converts burn out, feel isolated, misunderstood and even leave Islam? I was beginning to understand why.
Being a advocate of attachment and right brain development, I flourished in creativity, emotion, reflection and deep thought, but I didn’t find that in most islamic classes.
It wasn’t until years later, after navigating my way through random approaches to learning Quran, that I learnt of the prophetic way to approach Quran. I learnt of this through a heart to heart transaction or transmission, a sequence of difficult experiences which led to a plea to Allah for guidance. Guidance came unexpectedly and in the most unlikely of circumstances, its message seared straight to my heart, through my deepest kept secrets, that’s how I knew Allah existed, no one else could have know how to reach me so.
In time through His guidance came teachers and I learnt that the prophet was revealed the Quran in stages, over a long period of time (23years) in context to the environment, stage of development both inner and outer and the challenges society threw at his path. The teaching of Quran wasn’t random, the methodology of revelation fitted like a glove, it developed right brain and left, it raised an “alaq” (developing foetus) with love, kindness , self discipline but in time, when the student was mentally ready.
I wondered if this method was just for the prophet swws? I learnt it wasn’t, the evidence in Hadith built a picture that ayat is revealed for many, and the way the prophet taught the Quran and passed it on to others was in the same way, 5-10 ayat at a time, starting with “Iqra” (surah Alaq) and focusing on the short chapters of early revelation to build “emaan” heart before the laws were sent.
WHAT A REVELATION this was for me!
It began to all make sense. I read around the early ayat, building a picture of why it was sent, what the prophet and companions said about that ayat and what lessons came from that. The picture was built of connection with Creator with love , wonder and awe. It told of the temperaments of self and others, the desires and the needs.
I could see the words matching with situations in my day, it began to come alive, All my senses began to confirm what was being said.
This way, the prophetic method was designed for right brain alignment and growth, just as the baby receives the transmission of love and balance from its mother as she gazes in to its eyes. It is creative, it is developing something unconsciously, a connection and a bond with the Rabb (Lord of the worlds, our educator, our raiser).
Why is this method not commonly known or taught in our mosques and convert groups?
My journey to understand why this revealed order is not common knowledge perplexes me with no end! However, what is more important and pressing is moving forward. The process of development and connection with the Quran is an EXTREMELY important issue if we are to be Muslims. I try not to get distracted by the whys but rather concentrate on the why nots! That is how I turned to Islam, I stopped looking for arguments, stopped trying to find excuses and just went for it! Try it, what do you have to loose?
Seriously, what is there to loose? Instead shouldn’t we ask, what is there to gain?
So rather than trying to uncover some great conspiracy or lost legacy of knowledge in Islam, I’m choosing not to get entangled in such arguments. The proofs are clear for me, the quranic revelation order has helped me connect with Allah, myself and this world, better and more surprising than anything else I have ever experienced.
It is an everyday journey of discovery, with many surprises along the way. It humbles, it reduces me to tears and immense gratitude. I’m addicted to the buzz that comes from a good taddabur session (deep reflection) with the words, and it can just be one word in the Quran , just one that gives me that buzz and my soul rings to its truth.
How I study Quran.
I’m Sharing some resources I have found has helped me to dig deep into the meaning of words in Quran. By looking at the root of words it opens your mind and Heart to Allahs Great guidance,
Step 1. Revealed Order Learning
I take a word from an ayat I’m studying , starting at the first revelation “Iqra” and going literally word by word through ayat 1-5 of the revealed order ayat or surah. (You can easily search revealed order online).
Step 2. Quran by Quran
I look at all the ayat relating/using that same word and it’s forms to form a bigger picture (this is called tafsir of Quran by Quran) I like to use corpus Quran : http://corpus.quran.com/wordbyword
Step 3. Tafsir
Next I look up tafsir (exegesis commentary) in books such as Ibn Kathir and others such as taddabur style commentary like Sayyid Qutb “in the shade of the Quran”.
Step 3. Hadith
I then look up relatable Hadith and Seerah relating to revelation circumstances , Sunnah.com helps me to look up words relating to the a topic in the ayat to Create context.
Step 4. metaphors and meaning
I then go and dig a bit in the root letters of the word in the ayat and look at the history and culture of the language used using lanes lexicon . It brings to life the Arabic words used in Quran. It tells of the miraculous language used and you can begin to understand why. It also uncovers Great metaphoric depth and shows up poor translations. Use Lanes lexicon .
Step 5. Reading Self
I will then go away and contemplate on the word for a while, maybe ask others. I may look at it in a personal relatable way too , give it life and analysis through personal experience (ie questioning what that is it like to live as an “Alaq” what are my needs and wants?)
Step 6. Reading Creation
Sometimes synchronous events happen around that particular area of study, the same verse pops up, someone will post an answer to a question that’s been on my mind, a guide in its many forms will come my way, even a song on the radio!
Step 7. Process and Trust
After some dua and struggle to understand, something grows and the Quranic revelation comes alive, it is just as relevant as it was then, in fact sometimes I have put the Quran down, look around and wonder, is someone watching me? (Well yes Allah is) is this really happening? (Yes Allah hears and is with us all).
Step 8. Persistence
Seems like hard work ? not really if you want to really know the truth, the truth will Come. once you get going it becomes so addictive, like uncovering hidden treasure over and over !
Step 9. Intention
Have a go, make your intention, present yourself to your teacher your Rabb and open the book at surah Alaq and literally READ like you have never read before, read on body mind spirit, right brain left Brain, read deep, read wide, read within and out. Keep reading, squeeze out the knowledge until you’ve exhausted it as the angel jibreel did with Muhammad swws.
Let me know how you get on by leaving a comment or email
Anymore questions I recommend listening to an online class on the prophetic method:
the “Quran and human nature” course
May Allah swt bless your journey of discovery amen