Ilm Summit Reflections #5

As I’ve matured in Islam, my understanding and approach to the religion has also matured. This is something I have struggled with and continue to struggle with each day.

Some issues:

My name: Have blogged extensively about the name changing issue but essentially I have moved from knowing that having an Arabicized name was not obligatory but using one, mostly out of a desire for immediate recognition and to fit in to the Muslim community to a complete reversion to my birth name with affirmation that  using such a name makes it a Muslim name and that it may be preferrable for many, particularly for those of us in the west and those of us with non-Muslim families to maintain our distinctive cultural names.

Holidays: I know I’ve said it at least once on this blog that I’m content with our two Eids, and I am, but I no longer share the view of those who say it is an innovation to celebrate or participate in any other celebrations. At some point in my teenage years, well before coming to Islam, my birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July and all the rest became rather insignificant to me and they still are for the most part so it wasn’t an issue for me to continue to marginalize them when I accepted Islam. Yet, now I feel this opinion is too harsh, I don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter but don’t have any issue joining my family on Thanksgiving Day and yes, even eating the turkey, I cannot count how many times I’ve discussed whether or not to eat the turkey with other Muslims. I don’t really celebrate the Fourth of July, per say, but do enjoy watching the fireworks.

Fitna-filled family gatherings: When my grandmother died a few years ago, I agreed to help my family set-up and bring supplies for the wake that was held in a church hall but declined to attend. There was of course the usual late-night until dawn mixing, music, dancing, drinking, Christian prayers, suspect food, video camera, etc that is common place at Ibo wakes. I thought that my helping to set-up and using my faith as a cover would be enough to satisfy my family, particularly my mother. But it was not enough, and of course some of my mother’s Muslim colleagues showed up, which never helps your case when making an argument on religious grounds with your non-Muslim relatives. The rest of my family went to Nigeria for my grandmother’s burial but my mother specifically mentioned that she did not want me to go because I most likely would not have attended some of the more problematic events. And for some time afterward, whenever my mother was upset with me, she would say, “…and she didn’t even come to my mother’s wake,” ahhh, talk about a dagger in the heart, it still pains me each time I reflect on that but alhamdulillah she hasn’t said that recently.

So this past year, my father’s 70th birthday/retirement after teaching for more than 30 years party rolled around with all the usual fitna, but there was no question in my mind that I would have to be there, it was not optional, and to not have gone would have been unconscionable. So I went, came a little late, because I was returning from Niagara Falls but made it, and later that year, I also attended the Nigerian Association of Greater Rochester’s (NAGRoch) Nigerian independence day celebration accompanied by my father, which I am sure made him happy. Being good to parents is of exceptional importance in Islam and I seek the pleasure of my parents in enjoining ties with my family as much as possible, doesn’t mean I’m going to celebrate Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Easter or marry a Christian Ibo guy but I am going to do what I can to please them, and seek the reward from Allah for doing so.

I remember at the AlMaghrib Reunion this past 4th of July at the ISNA convention in Washington DC, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi (hafidhullah) mentioned that he and a group of western students asked Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen (rahimullah) about the meaning of his early 1990s fatwa that it was haraam for Muslims to live in western countries. And Ibn Uthaymeen (rahimullah) replied that that particular opinion was meant for the questioner or the audience it was addressed to and not as a universal opinion and that he did not mean it to apply to them, Muslims born and raised in the west. But for so many Muslims, their deen is based on a translation of a fatwa obtained from a website with neither context nor ability to understand that it may not even be valid for them, which they then take as an obligation upon themselves to spread and sow the seeds of discord in their families and communities.

For me, the past two years of my Islam have been a maturing experience, I don’t think it’s appropriate to say I am becoming more or less radical, more or less conservative, although I know some people see it that way, but I believe it is a natural process of just becoming wiser, smarter, more secure in myself, in my identity, in my Islam, and more questioning of the status quo, which seems to predominate in some quarters of our community that tells us, women are non-entities, certainly less important than men, that a woman should neither be seen nor heard, so why should we consider her or her/our children in planning the layout of a masjid, that tries to make us justify our love for and continued existence in western lands, that tells us to disassociate and cause immeasurable harm to our families for no good reason, etc.

I used to fear that I was watering down my Islam and I asked this question to Yasir Qadhi (hafidhullah) at Ilm Summit and he replied, that it was not so much a watering down as a maturation process and a rejection of fatawa that he did not believe were ever even valid for me in the first place and he mentioned that I should try to apologize and explain that to my family and do my utmost to maintain ties with them within set boundaries.

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Author: Ify Okoye

Muslim woman, RN, & rebel with a cause.

15 thoughts on “Ilm Summit Reflections #5”

  1. Asslamu alaikum sister

    After having read your blog for a while now, I have now felt the urge to comment…

    When it comes to family gatherings with less than Islamic practices, would it suffice if you greeted your parents and then delivered the appropriate message to the people at whom the gathering is aimed at – congratulations, condolence, etc. and then leave. This is what many Muslims from the subcontinent who are invited to weddings that are not segregated, have music, etc. do. You could perhaps greet family members you are close to, pointedly in your parents presence (sometimes that’s what it takes), so they know that you are doing what you can.

    1. Wa alaykum salaam Bint Khalil: Have we met? Are you one of the Bint Khalils in my area? I tried the do as little as possible approach for my grandmother’s wake and it did immeasurable harm even though I was there before everything started and met and greeted some of my relatives. My absence at key moments was noticeable and remembered. There are lines I am not willing to cross but I believe Allah places in situations where we are surrounded by non-Muslims or people of other faith traditions as a test and as a form of dawah. Who else is going to call my family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc to Islam, if not me? I don’t live in a bubble of practicing and like-minded Muslims so I have to weigh what sometimes turns out to be the lesser of two negatives.

    2. I doubt we’ve met – I only came to the US a year ago and I distinctly remember every Muslimah I have had a conversation with in the duration. One day though, inshaAllah … you seem like a really cool Muslimah.

  2. Salaam Sister,

    I am entering my eighth year as a Muslim and I think it is something we all go through. I was just reading Jeffery Lang and he speaks of it too, the need to be the uber-Muslim and please our peers or simply want to fit in- since we don’t fit into our traditional societies anymore. I guess I was always a “bad” muslim though because I would attend the Irish family gatherings with the singing, boozing, and God knows what , have sat through and enjoyed THanksgiving dinner, and even watch my family open presents under the Xmas tree. I discovered early on that I would never fit in – if it meant being a doormat wierd stepford wife thing. At least in our small community – it was the only type of female to be. I fought for my Islamic rights more back in the day and now have simply abandoned the larger community because I don’t do second class and feel more at pease with myself for having done so. I guess that is my biggest change is the lack of involvement with the larger community. Also, supporting my family as is has been key, since the reality is without their support I may not have remained Muslim – oddly enough kept to the faith by Christains.

    1. Wa alaykum salaam Zahra,

      I know what you mean by not accepting to be second-class. I don’t seem to fit into my old pre-Islam community nor into the Muslim community, very well. I mean, of course, I know the right things to say and do so as to not make a fuss and get a pass from the wider community but the demeaning treatment of sisters in many sectors of our community disgusts me and offends my innate sense of justice and fairness. The excessive displays of feigned modesty, lowering or silencing of women’s voices, pathetically only reserved for interactions with Muslims of the opposite gender which easily slips away with non-Muslims is quite sad. I struggle to fight for my rights to be myself and for the rights of others and to remain in a community where women are valued mainly for bearing children and being subservient and certainly not questioning the status quo of the men in charge. At Ilm Summit, we has a session on the history of feminism and my thoughts on that will, in sha Allah, turn into another blog post.

  3. You know, that name thing would be a LOT easier for you if you’d just pick an easy one, like, oh, Bill. What do you think?

    Yeah, I’m pulling your chain, just a bit.

    1. Yes, I agree 🙂 But the name Bill is a bit too masculine and plain for me, I need something with a little more pizzazz, something connoting a rebellious but calm nature. Any ideas?

  4. Well, you cou use a haiku.

    The quiet swan paddles
    Speaking not of the hidden
    Thermite.

    Or just do what Prince did, and use a symbol rather than a word.

    1. lol at Bill & n2k.

      n2k: Welcome to the blog, maybe I could do something like your nickname. In sha Allah, we will be reunited in October in Durbah. I miss the times we shared together as well.

  5. Hi there!

    I am a western non-religious girl who is very interested in islam. I have done significant research on Islam as a hobby,for i don’t like the way it is portrayed in the media and i dont tend to believe something just because i see it on tv or because of handful of people think it. And this goes both ways;
    This has led me to do some pretty intensive research on what both sides of the question think and say, which has shocked me most of the time.. The intolerance and ignorance revolving around islam, on the part of non-muslims and on muslims alike, has sometimes led me to desperation, when seeking the truth. I don’t remember anymore how i came across ur blog, but i found the opportunity to communicate with a muslim from a western background very interesting. You seem to be someone I could easily relate to, and learn a lot from, and this is why i decided to comment.
    I have read this post and your reluctance to celebrate christmas with your family came to my attention. As I have said, I am not religious, but in my country we celebrate christmas. Nobody in my family is really religious, but we can trace my grandparents as being brought up as Catholics. We all still celebrate christmas as a moment to gather the family.
    I suppose what i would like to understand is why you wouldn’t want to be a part of it, as I never really took christmas to be a religious festvity, and I dont think that if i had a religion it should come in the way of my family gatherings. If nothing else, I would invite my family to be a part of my celebrations and be the first to want to be the part of theirs. After all, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, a very much respected Prophet in Islam.
    In a time in which people are so divided, and ignorance leads to prejudice and hate, I would think it of the utmost importance to build bridges, wether by teaching and instructing, wether by taking people along with you, to the mosque, etc. This is what I have asked several of my friends from different religious backgrounds: take me along, show me. But this can not be done if you’re the first to reject being a part of their celebrations. Would you be a “bad musilum” by attending a celebration with family and friends, even if you don’t take active part in prayers, or forms of worship that go against your beliefs? Couldn’t you think of it as simply a way to connect with them? Is it really necessary to take yourself out of the picture like that? If I met you personally and asked you to take me along to the mosque and teach me about islam, wouldn’t you? What if someone asked you to go along to a church and learn about their practices? Would you refuse? If yes, why would you?

    Thank you so much for this opportunity to debate some issues that are so relevant to me and congratulations on your blog! I really hope I have not came across wrong, or offending, for all I am interested in is understanding this religion that fascinates me beyond explanation. Unfortunately, the muslim community in my city is very small and very closed, which doesn’t allow me to pose this questions in person to anybody else, so I recurred to the internet. (makes me think about the video posted on your blog, “contradicting community”!) If you let me in, I believe I could learn a lot from you and your bloggers!

    PS: I write you from a white macbook! 😀

    1. Hi Madalena, welcome to my blog, I hope you will and or have found some benefit here, and may your studies be filled with ease and contentment.

      Not sure where to start, you’ve written much for me to digest. Let’s see, your search for truth amidst the misinformation reminds me of my own intense search and studies that began in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and lead to my eventual conversion to Islam. I read everything and as much as I could find on Islam and had an online buddy who was also researching Islam. We shared resources and books and websites but I became Muslim and he did not, at a some point we lost touch, maybe he’s become Muslim, not sure.

      The main difference between us was that once I was able to grasp and accept that I believe in a Creator that has sent guidance for us in the form of various revelations carried by prophets and messengers culminating with the Quran then I could put aside the disappointments of the various Muslims or Muslim countries or Muslims behaving badly as simple human frailties and separate it from the perfection of the message of Islam. He could not, he saw Muslims behaving badly as inextricably linked to Islam. But I said to him, if you believe God is true and that you should worship him, you should worship him despite what others that claim to be Muslim are or are not doing.

      Let me address the issue of celebrating Christmas in another comment, in sha Allah (if Allah wills).

      Loving the macbook, my sister also recently purchased a white macbook.

  6. Hi —

    You get the greatest comments and observations, MA. Of course, what you write is pretty interesting, too.

    Now, if we could just do something about this Mac fetish of yours…(g)

    Take care.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Hope all is well with you and the family. Thanks for the kind words, don’t worry I’m sure you’ll see the light of mac one day 🙂

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