My Journey to Islam Part 2: Exploring My Beliefs

jesus and disciples

 

As a Christian in high school, I felt that I was pretty set in my beliefs—that nothing would ever change my opinions on God and religion. Even though I didn’t agree with all Christians or all Christian leaders, I felt that nothing could shake my belief in Jesus as God. To me, there was no other option; for me, to believe in the ‘true’ God was to believe in the trinity.

As often happens to many young people, my college years opened my eyes and mind to a world filled with people of differing beliefs. I was introduced to different ways of thinking, new ideas, and new religions. It was in college that I really came to understand who I was and more firmly establish my personal opinions and beliefs—and not just regarding religion.

In the first couple years I was in college, I chose to continue to surround myself with those of similar beliefs as those I was raised with. My first year, my roommate was also a strong Christian with a similar religious background. She introduced me to a Bible study group on campus which we attended together every week. This helped me stay connected to my religious roots. In classes, however, as well as among my classmates and friends, I began to experience new ideas and beliefs. The school was attended by students from very diverse backgrounds: Christians, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims . . . there was also a diverse mix among the faculty. I learned a lot about other cultures and religions, and learned to enjoy the diversity around me.

While nothing really changed my belief system those first two years, my heart and mind at least became open to the idea of alternate worldviews. It was during my last few years, and my year in graduate school that my beliefs really began to change.

Being open to diverse people and ideas made me willing to date my first boyfriend: a Turkish Muslim (who later, as it turns out, became my husband). I did have my doubts about dating him though—even though he seemed to be a great guy, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Should I be doing this? Should I be dating someone with a different religion from me?” For me, dating was about finding the person I was meant to be with. Did God really want me to be with someone who, at that time, I considered to be ‘unsaved’? Looking back, it is interesting however to note that even though I met him in 2006, when resentment towards Muslims was high, I never thought about that. My only concern was how our differing religious beliefs would allow us to make a life, and eventually a family, together.

This relationship opened my eyes further and made me question myself. I have to admit, we got in a lot of arguments about religion at first. We are both very stubborn people who were stuck in our ways. We eventually decided to not discuss religion anymore since it was such a point of contention. It was during that time period that I really began my journey of self-discovery that led to a change in my religious perspective.

I began to think about how most people in the world did not choose their religion—they were born into it, just as I was born into Christianity. My schooling taught me to think critically, and I began to apply such skills to my beliefs; why was I Christian? Why do Christians follow the Bible? Is the Bible really the word of God? And ultimately, was Jesus really the son of God?

I have always been a big reader, so it was my reading that ultimately led me down my road to self-discovery. I can actually chart my spiritual journey through the books I read. It started with the historical fiction The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory – an unexpected source for religious inspiration, I know. While many of the details of this novel about Queen Elizabeth were made up, a lot of things were based on actual history. I remember reading something that really caught my attention and made me think. When Queen Elizabeth first became queen, she was faced with a difficult decision: to use the Catholic Bible or the Protestant Bible in her royal chapel . . . wait, what? There were two different Bibles? I had never heard of such a thing. But apparently there were.

I also read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. For me, this book was inspiring because the author described her own spiritual, emotional, and physical journey as she traveled to three different countries, on a mission of self-discovery. She opened her mind to new experiences and beliefs, and attempted to re-orient her life; it really encouraged me in my own journey.

There were also other random experiences which either made me question my beliefs or encouraged me to research more—like watching The Da Vinci Code. While I realize most of that story is fictional, there was one point in the movie that caused me to pause—when it I discussed how Christ’s divinity was actually debated among early Christians. The issue was decided once and for all at the Council of Nicea in 325. There was also the question of how the Bible actually came together, and who decided what books were divinely inspired or not, and which ones should be included.

Another big part of my journey was a class I took in graduate school: Spirituality in Social Work. This class encouraged us to better understand our own spirituality so that we could keep it from interfering/ creating biases in our counseling relationships. This gave me some structure as I explored who I was spiritually, where I came from, and where I was going.

With the above experiences as a starting point, I began doing a lot more reading and researching into Christianity, especially in terms of understanding the origins of Christianity and the belief in Jesus’ divinity. Among other things, I learned that not even all modern-day Christians believe in the trinity or that Jesus is the divine son of God. I also learned that the origins of the books of the Bible are a little murky.

I tried to keep an unbiased point of view, reading books from different perspectives—ones that were written by Christians in support of Christianity, and other that were written by atheists in opposition to Christianity. One important book I read was Lee Strobel’s The Case for the Real Jesus. I had read his book The Case for Christ several years before, and remembered feeling that it made a good argument. So while I was at the bookstore looking for that book to re-read, I saw this other one and thought it seemed more like what I was interested in learning about. I also read a book with an opposing viewpoint: How Jesus Became Christian by Barrie Wilson. This book argued that the apostle Paul was the originator of the view that Jesus was divine, something it states that Jesus himself did not preach and the original 13 disciples did not believe. This book actually made a lot of sense to me; I had always thought that Paul, who wrote or influenced much of the New Testament (and wrote the earliest books), was one of the original disciples of Jesus. I learned however, that he was not – that while Jesus was alive, he was actually deeply opposed to Jesus and his teachings, and often spoke against him. The author of this book suggested that Paul staged his ‘conversion’ to Christianity, and then used his power to negatively influence and change the religion Jesus had taught. Paul eventually became the top religious authority on Jesus and essentially founded modern Christianity.

The two books mentioned in the above paragraph were probably the most influential on me as I tried to understand who Jesus really was. I read The Case for the Real Jesus specifically with the idea that maybe it could explain away some of what was discussed in How Jesus Became Christian—that maybe it would present a good argument countering what I had just read. I was very disappointed, however. I felt that Lee Strobel’s logic was counter-intuitive to me— I felt he used false logic, and gave more of an emotional argument than a factual one. Most of the book was spent arguing how the Bible was true and had been well-preserved with little to no changes,–and that therefore if the Bible was true than Jesus must be divine. He did not even address what I had just read about Paul—which was the most compelling argument I had ever read against Jesus’ divinity.

By the time I felt I had read and researched enough to understand the origins of Christianity and Jesus, I had a lot running through my mind. Frankly, I was confused. I didn’t know what I believed anymore. I was seriously doubting Jesus’ divinity, but I wasn’t ready to completely renounce Christianity – what if I was wrong? What if Jesus really was the divine Son of God? To say he wasn’t would be blasphemous. But even in my confusion one thing remained clear: there was a God, and I wanted to follow Him. I wanted to know the one true God. So I continuously prayed for God’s guidance, and to show me the way, the path to Him – the path I was supposed to be on.

Photo credit: Foter / Public domain

Posted in Islam, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

My Journey to Islam Part 1: In the Beginning

path

In case you are unaware, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan recently ended. It is a month of spiritual focus, primarily including fasting from dawn to dusk every day. I mention this because it was four years in Ramadan that I converted to Islam. Hence I felt this a good time to share my story . ..

So, to tell the story of my journey to Islam, I think it’s best to start at the beginning– where I came from, my roots, my foundations– to better understand where I am now. I have always been a very spiritual person; very modest; the “good girl” stereotype. So it came as no surprise to my Muslim husband when I accepted Islam. Although he knew it long before I did, I already had Islam in my heart. Allah had already been with me my whole life, planting seeds and thoughts, teaching me how to live as he intended. It just took me some time to realize it.

When I was about ten years old, my family became more religiously involved. We began attending church regularly. I have always been a good student, and Sunday school was no different. I paid close attention and learned eagerly. I took the lessons to heart and always tried to do what I thought I was supposed to. As an example of this, one day in Sunday School the teacher told us that all worldly music– if not Christian and singing praises to God– was sinful. It was evil and from Satan. Listening to it was like following Satan himself. This terrified me, since my family often listened to ‘worldly’ music. Later, I was in the car with my family when they turned on the radio. I began crying and screaming, covering my ears. My mom was shocked and didn’t understand what was going on. When I explained, my mom tried to soothe me and explain that it was okay. I understood that she was upset that someone would tell a child such a thing. When I was older, my mom admitted to me that she felt that that church was too extreme and its values and ideals did not match what she believed. (They also practiced speaking in tongues– something I never felt was authentic, even when I was much deeper into Christianity.)

A year or two later, we ended up moving to another nearby city. A friend of my mom’s encouraged us to join her church, the First Baptist Church; so we did. Over the next few years, I slowly became more and more involved in the church, and especially with the Youth Group. When a new youth pastor from Texas came to the church, it was a great opportunity for me to become even more involved. My younger sister and I both interviewed with and became apart of the Youth Leadership Team.

Concurrently, I had also joined another religious organization: Job’s Daughters. Many are probably unfamiliar with what that is, so let me try to explain it briefly. Job’s Daughters is a Masonic organization for girls between the ages of 11 and 20; the easiest thing to compare it to is Girl’s Scouts, though it’s really quite different. Based on the Book of Job from the Bible (the Prophet who lost everything, including his family, during a trial by God), the organization teaches girls many valuable life lessons, including honesty, faith in God, charity, modesty, leadership skills, etc. It attempts to bring up young girls into strong, educated, faithful young women.

Most of my teen years were absorbed by my participation in the Youth Leadership Team (and other church activities) and Job’s Daughters. Looking back, I actually don’t understand how I was able to fit so much into my life, including other activities like softball, band, and babysitting. The church and God were crucial parts of my upbringing. I will always be grateful to my mom for involving us in the church, since it is what instilled in me a love of God.

I applied myself whole-heartedly to the church and to what I felt God wanted me to do. I was frequently at the church, which was easy to do since it was only a short walk away. At a minimum I was there on Wednesday nights (going around 5pm for Youth Leadership Team meetings, and staying through the Youth Group gatherings in the evening) and for most of the day on Sundays (Sunday school, church, and at one point also Sunday night services). But there were often many other activities, including small groups, in addition to that. Our Youth Pastor was very motivating, as well as very knowledgeable of Christian theology, having majored in it. The focus of our Youth Leadership Team meetings was for us to be servant leaders– to lead the other youth in our church by example, and to serve others in the same way as Jesus had. We were inspired and encouraged to participate in many service projects, especially within the church– to be involved in the church ministry. I also participated in the Youth Praise Team which led worship during Youth Group, and later also the Church Praise Team that led worship for the whole church on Sundays.

As a Christian, I prayed whole-heartedly; I worshipped God the best I knew how; I read the Bible and memorized verses as much as I could; I listened exclusively to Christian pop/rock/praise music for at least 3 years; and I learned how to evangelize.

There were often opportunities for me to participate in retreats outside of the normal day-to-day events. Among these, there were several experiences that were especially influential. One of these actually happened after I graduated high school (I’m not sure if it was the year immediately following or the one after that) — the annual worship conference at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. This church is well-known to many Christians as it is one of (if not THE) biggest churches in the country. (If it sounds familiar, it’s likely because it was in the news recently when the Pastor Rick Warren’s son took his own life). The other, and most significant experience I had was actually held over three separate years: PaceSetters at Dallas Baptist University. For three summers during high school, our Youth Leadership Team took a road-trip down to Dallas, Texas for this camp. It was a stringent, week-long leadership training camp where we were immersed in all things Christian, including frequent Bible studies and worship sessions. I still value it as an incredible experience that helped make me who I am today.

Throughout my life, I have always been a person with a strong conviction, strong sense of morals and values; I also feel that I have the gift of discernment– to truly understand a situation, to see behind people’s actions to get at least a hint of their intention, and to have an innate feeling of truth and justice, right and wrong. I use the word discernment because this is actually what I was told while I was in Youth Leadership Team– when we had to take one of those tests about your spiritual personality that give insight into your strengths. I don’t believe it just because that test told me so, but because myself and others agreed that it was true, because I’ve always felt that I had that gift. It’s why I became a social worker. Many people, before and since have told me that I am “wise beyond my years.”

I bring this up because it is this — my own discernment– which made me begin to start doubting and having trouble with Christianity. The deeper I got into it, the more I felt that for many people, it was all a show, an act. They talked the talk, and they pretended to walk the walk, but it wasn’t authentic. But before I go further into this, let me just say one thing. I have met some amazing people in my life, and many of them have been Christian. I believe that people can find God in different ways, and Christianity can be a path for some. It is not my place to judge whether they are going to heaven or hell because of their beliefs– that is God’s place. Only God knows their heart. And I have met Christians in my life whom I believed to be truly people of God, true followers of God in their hearts.

My initial trouble with the church was, as I said, people who were pretending to be righteous believers– in other words, hypocrites. And there were many of them in my church. People who openly judged others for their actions, but then committed worse behind closed doors. People who preached about ‘loving others as Jesus would’ but then stabbed them in the back. People who flaunted their perceived good deeds to gain popularity and encouraged others to praise them for how good they were.

I think one of the biggest struggles I have had within myself regarding Christianity is to get over the issue of there being hypocrites. The fact is that every religion has hypocrites, including Islam. I had to come to the realization that I cannot judge a religion based on the false followers. That being said, it is an important point because it was a door for me– a way for me to take a step back and begin thinking more critically about modern Christianity and what exactly I was following.

So when I took this step back, I began realizing some things that bothered me. Some of these things I realized as they happened, and others I realized when I looked back on them. For example, I became increasingly aware of the intense focus on Jesus in Christianity– to the point of rarely or never saying “God.” If Jesus were the same as God, then why not use the names interchangeably? Yet some people insisted, in every sermon, praise song, or prayer to say ‘Jesus’ and not ‘God.’ The most recent experience I had with this was actually a few years ago when I was a hospice Social Worker. One of the Chaplains was relating to our team his experience in counseling with a family who was Jehovah’s Witness. He was laughing about it, because as he was talking to her, he kept using Jesus’ name to refer to God, and every time he did, the woman corrected him by saying “God.” Really? You think that’s funny? If you believe that Jesus and God are one and the same, and you know this woman does not believe the same, then why would you insist on referring to Him as Jesus, when to you it makes no difference which name you use?

Another problem I came to have with Christianity was the evangelizing. It’s one thing to want to share with people about your faith, it’s another to force it down their throat or manipulatively convince people and children who aren’t educated enough to defend against your insistence. The church was always focused on ‘saving’ people. It didn’t seem to care what the final outcome was, as long as they got someone into church, got them to say “I believe in Jesus” and baptized them. 1 down, 5 billion more to go! I remember the last time I attended the church I grew up in back home– I left feeling disgusted. It was the service just after New Year’s, and the message was about increasing the number of members at the church. That’s right, it was all about numbers. Not about bettering yourself, refocusing on God in the coming year, or being a better disciple of Christ. It was about getting more church members. If everyone brings in one person to our church, then the church will double in size. I can just imagine the Pastor also calculating in the back of his mind: and double members means double money. It just so happened that the church was also working on raising money for some swanky new renovations to the building. I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence.

I myself also participated in this evangelizing at times. I remember at one of the PaceSetters camps– where we often did service and volunteer work– they took us to one of the poor Hispanic neighborhoods in Arlington, where they had organized an afternoon of fun and play with the kids there. But there was a catch. This wasn’t just about having fun with the kids; this was about ‘saving them.’ There were different ‘teams’ divided up over different areas. We were told that the team who was able to ‘save’ the most children would ‘win.’

So after spending some time playing with the kids, we each sat down with a group of them and shared the gospel with them, telling them about Jesus. At the end, we asked them if they believe in Jesus; many said ‘yes’, much to our delight (point for me!) and we then prayed with them so they could accept Jesus into their heart. Looking back, I am deeply ashamed that I ever participated in such a thing. I see many issues with what we did. The first being that we didn’t even know who these children were or if they already were Christian– maybe they were being raised in a Christian household. Or maybe they weren’t, maybe they practiced another religion; what would their parents think if they knew we were brainwashing their children? Which brings up the second concern– they were CHILDREN. And that’s exactly what we were doing, brainwashing them. It’s different when they’re your own children, or their parents brought them to church to learn about their family’s religious tradition, but that’s not what this was. We were using our position to manipulate them. Of course the children were going to like us and agree with us, because we were their new friends. We just played with them and they had fun. They probably didn’t even know what we were talking about, and they could probably care less. Some of them didn’t even speak English very well. I doubt that anything we did that day made a real difference for any of those kids.

This last subject brings up another area of concern I began having with Christianity. The idea that being ‘saved’ was like a free pass, meaning you could do anything you wanted and it didn’t matter, you could still be confident that you were going to heaven. Of course, this is the outcome of anyone who you ‘saved’ didn’t matter– because no matter what else they did in their life, they were ‘saved,’ and they could still count as someone you helped get to heaven. At first, my thinking on this subject was more focused not on the theology of it– the idea that when you believe in Jesus you will be saved and go to heaven– but on the result for many Christians, which was to use it as an excuse to cover their multitude of sins, past, present, and future. Like a free pass to do whatever they wanted, and not be held accountable. In the end, it didn’t matter how you lived your life, as long as you believed in Jesus. As time passed, I began to feel that the problem with this was not just people’s reaction to the belief that Jesus saves you, but the belief itself.

These were some of the thoughts going through my head as I entered, and continued through college. Looking back on it now, it’s easy for me to pinpoint what my concerns were. But at the time, everything seemed to be a muddled mess. All I knew is that something wasn’t quite right. So although I still continued to be a moral and spiritual person throughout college, my participation in church slowly declined over time. Even though I had plenty of opportunity to be involved in local churches in my home away from home, I rarely took the effort to even go to a church. For me, this was the beginning of my spiritual journey: a journey that ended up leading me – much to my surprise — to Islam.

Update:  Read Part 2

Photo credit: kendoman26 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Posted in Inspiration, Islam, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Film Review: Love is a Verb

I recently had the opportunity to go to the USA Film Festival here in Dallas to watch Love is a Verb. This film is a documentary about Turkish Muslims belonging to the group known as Hizmet, or sometimes called “The Gulen Movement” after its founder Fethullah Gulen. It is presented by American Director Terry Spencer Hesser and narrated by Ashley Judd.

This movie is the first of its kind that focuses on this subject. I really enjoyed it, and was relieved to finally see a film honoring Muslims, giving them a good name rather than a bad one. It details the beliefs and goals behind the movement, chronicles some of its humanitarian work around the world, and also explains the history and turmoil the movement and its leader have caused in Turkey. I encourage everyone who has the opportunity to go see this inspiring documentary!

From the Director:

“In the decade after 9/11, I was vaguely aware that it was not a good time to be a Muslim in America; nor was it a good time to be an American in the Middle East. But for me – like for most Americans –this awareness morphed into specific and non-specific fears about Islam and the extreme interpretations of it. Then in 2010, I met a group of people from the Niagara Foundation who invited me on an interfaith trip to Turkey. I am not religious; but I am curious and jumped at the chance to see Turkey and to have an adventure with a culture that was foreign to me.

I also looked at the trip as an opportunity to discover new stories to film. I never dreamed that it would change my worldview. After the trip I decided that others’ worldview had to be changed as well. After a lot of reading, several more trips and a lot of scouting and interviewing, we began our journey, which eventually had us filming in six countries. This film introduced us to the work of people whose motives I would have doubted had I not witnessed their selfless commitment and bravery with my own eyes. These members of the global Hizmet movement, a loosely-affiliated group of people inspired by the work of Fethullah Gulen are dedicated to addressing social cohesion through education, dialogue, and anti-poverty work.  We met people who went into war zones to educate but also to mitigate the hatred and desire for revenge that lasts long after the last body is buried. And we met others who repeatedly went to some of the most dangerous places on earth to bring medical relief. I met a woman who answered one of my questions with, “we have to love” as a simple declarative statement and a philosophical imperative. . . .”

You can read more on official website, which also provides info on screenings: Love is a Verb Official Website

The next screening is on June 7 in New York City.

Here’s the intro from the video:

 

Posted in Inspiration, Islam, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Conversion Story Coming Soon . . .

So I know I’ve been promising for a while to share with my readers about my conversion, as well as why I chose to wear hijab. Inshallah, I will share those very soon. I am working on writing my conversion story now and will probably share it in several parts.

In the meantime, I came across a few videos that I thought were very interesting and relevant. Some of you may have heard of the Imam Yusuf Estes. He was a Christian preacher who converted to Islam, and posts a lot of his speeches on YouTube. I came across one of his videos recently, in which a Christian asked him why he converted to Islam — what was the pivotal point for him. His account of how he got to Islam is actual very similar to my own, in that he did a lot of research on the history of the Bible and where it came from. I think it can be summed up in 3 phases:

  1. Realizing there were faults in Christianity
  2. Submitting to God and asking for his guidance
  3. Discovering Islam and realizing it was what he already believed in his heart

Not only was this path similar to my own, but there was one distinct thing that was identical in our stories. About halfway through the video (minutes 14:00 – 16:30), he discusses how when he submitted himself to God and asked for His guidance, he felt an urge to kneel and tough his head to the ground; to prostrate in submission to God. I felt this same urge, at a point when I didn’t know that those actions were exactly what Muslims did every day, five times a day. And that the words we spoke, asking God for guidance, were also essentially repeated in those same daily prayers.

Anyway, I thought I’d share two of his videos here. The first one below is the story I am talking about. The second is actually his entire conversion story.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Inspiration, Islam | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Creationism vs. Evolution: Where Does Islam Stand?

dinosaur fossil

A few weeks ago the long-fought argument over creationism versus evolution was once again propelled into the spotlight with the live debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham, the Christian founder of the Creation Museum.

I have to admit that I didn’t actually watch the debate, but have only read summaries and reports of the discussion. I don’t really think I needed to watch it. As several journalists have pointed out, such a debate is unlikely to change anyone’s mind. There is no way that either side can definitively prove the origin of humanity. Personally, I know where I stand; and it’s in between the two extremes showcased in that debate.

So rather than use this as an opportunity to argue something that I know I cannot convince certain people of, I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to simply inform people. Many may be wondering, where does Islam stand on the questions of evolution?

Many people may assume there is a pretty simple answer to this question: against evolution, of course! But actually it’s not so clear. On one hand, it is very clear: Muslims believe in a Creator, God, who created the universe. But on the other hand, most Muslim scholars do not throw out the entire theory of evolution, but do clearly discard the well-known piece that claims humans have evolved from apes (or ape-like creatures), as well as ideas that one species can evolve into another.

Before I get into Islamic beliefs on the subject, I do want to comment about Christian beliefs, since as someone who used to be Christian I feel I have something worth saying on the subject. When I was Christian, I remember being told that dinosaurs never really existed, and that the earth was not as old as it seems — that God made the earth to appear old by planting dinosaur fossils. It was so strange for me that honestly, I just kind of pushed it to the back of my mind and tried not to think about such a discord with modern science. As the issue has been brought to the spotlight, I have now realized that this view of creationism is referred to as “young-earth creationism” and is the belief held by Ken Ham. It is not held by all Christians. I believe the primary point of debate among Christians on this subject is whether or not Genesis’ account of God creating the earth in “6 days” literally means 6 24-hour earth days, or refers to 6 eras or time periods (young-earth creationists claiming it is literally 6 earth days).  However, another note is that Ken Ham’s form of young-earth creationism is actually different from what I was taught; his belief is that dinosaurs did in fact once roam the earth, but did so along with Adam, and that the earth is only about 6,000 years old.

So back to Islamic beliefs on the subject, first of all I think Muslims are not often highlighted in this debate because many feel it is unimportant. Unlike Christianity, which has a long history of fighting against the scientific community, and denying scientific claims, Islam has a much friendlier relationship with science. Many in the scientific community believe that religion and science are contradictory– that religion is nonsensical, emotion, and therefore has nothing to do with science. Muslims, however, believe this is far from the truth. Muslims believe that God, as the creator of the ‘laws of nature,’ is the ultimate expert on science. Many scientific facts were in revealed in the Quran, in a time when they were impossible for people to know them. Such revelations encouraged thought and scientific intrigue in the Islamic community at the same time that it was being suppressed by the church in Medieval Europe.

In the Golden Age of Islam, when Christian Europe was in the dark ages, Islam was flourishing in scientific discoveries, the implications of which are still being felt in today’s modern world. Muslims believe that since God created the universe, all of creation points to this fact, including true scientific discoveries. This excludes theories that have not or cannot be proven. So Islam’s place in the scientific world is this: that as long as it does not contradict the Quran or hadith, scientific thought is encouraged and celebrated as humanity’s recognition of the awesome world that our creator has made for us. In fact, throughout the Quran humankind is encouraged to learn about and reflect on the wonders of the universe. Muslim scholars argue that the only ‘science’ that contradicts the Quran is that which has not/ cannot be proven, i.e. that which uses false logic.

So Islam generally does not get involved in the creation debate, except that to say that God created the universe, and that if there are fossils on earth then those animals (i.e. dinosaurs) must have existed in the past. Regarding evolution, there is some variation among Muslims, but most agree that evolution in general is not true since it cannot be proven (missing links), although speciation, at least to some degree, is a reality (the idea that species can evolve within their own species– this does not mean they can evolve into a completely different species i.e. reptiles can evolve into different types of reptiles or to have different features that help them adapt to their environment, but reptiles cannot evolve into birds).

Regarding dinosaurs, Muslims generally believe that if science and fossil records prove that the earth is billions of years old, then it must be true. This is not a contradiction to Islamic belief, because Muslims believe that when God created the universe in “6 days,” this mention of time does not mean 6 earth days. God cannot be restricted to time as we on earth know it. In fact, the Quran specifically states that sometimes God’s “days” does not mean earth days, but can mean other periods of time such as thousands or tens of thousands of years. So we don’t know what actual unit of time it took, but 6 days most likely refers to 6 distinct phases of creation. In this view, it is permissible to believe that the dinosaurs were created along with other animals, and may or may not have gone extinct before humans were created.

To conclude, since certain scientific claims have not yet been proven and are not specified in the Quran or hadith, it is better for Muslims to stay out of debates that will cause us to choose a side that might be wrong. Only God knows the answers to many of the mysteries of the world. There are some who claim, like Ken Ham, that dinosaurs roamed alongside humans. There are others, like Bill Nye, who claim that they lived and went extinct millions of years ago. While Muslims may have a tendency to side with one claim or the other, it is better for us not to, unless that claim is scientifically proven without a shadow of a doubt (some believe there is doubt as to the methods used in dating fossils). In the big scheme of things, does it really matter when dinosaurs roamed the earth? Many feel it is unimportant, as such a question does not hinder belief in Islam or in God.

In the realm of scientific thought, Islam should learn from the lessons of Christianity. The Christian church once refuted and even persecuted scientists who disagreed with their narrow framework of beliefs about the world (i.e. Galileo), only later to realize that they were wrong. So if it does not contradict Islamic truths, who is to say it is not true? Only God knows the real truth, and rather than us debating on things we do not know and cannot really prove, it is better for us to focus on bettering ourselves and strengthening our faith.

For those who are more interested in Islamic perspective on the dinosaurs and creation, I found this short video which is very interesting and puts things very simply, including discussing what ‘days’ means in terms of God’s creation: Islam on Dinosaurs

To read more about what the “young-earth creationism” is, you can visit the website connected to Ken Ham, anwersingenesis.org and to read specifically about their view of dinosaurs, the age of earth, and more see the Get Answers page.

For an Islamic argument against Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, you can read Fethullah Gulen’s article here: Questions & Answers – Darwinism

To watch the debate mentioned here, you can visit NPR: Watch the Creationism vs. Evolution Debate: Ken Ham and Bill Nye

Photo credit: subarcticmike / Foter / CC BY

Please note: Like I said above, I am not trying to start a debate that cannot be won by any side. Therefore I will not be allowing comments trying to start a debate, or comments that are derogatory or rude in nature.

Posted in Islam | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Dr. Oz Discusses His Turkish and Islamic Heritage

First of all, thanks to Pearls of Islam as I first saw this video on that blog!

I found this video very interesting, not only as a Muslim, but also since my husband is Turkish. Many people are not aware of the political / religious tension in Turkey, and I feel Dr. Oz put it very eloquently as he compared it to his own family. His comments on the difference between religion and spirituality are also well put.

Personally, I feel that the religious structure is very important in allowing the spiritual component to flourish, but I can easily see how many today are turned off by religion due to the politics and corruption of it found in our modern world.

Posted in Islam, Turkey | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand

Lake Powell

The first picture I thought of when I heard of this week’s photo challenge was this picture, which I took during a trip to Lake Powell several years ago. The scenery in that trip was very majestic, and I was constantly filled with awe at the natural beauty around me.

That trip to Lake Powell was a very spiritual one for me. It was the last trip I ever took with my church youth group from high school; my last significant spiritual experience as a Christian. It was the summer after my senior year of high school, and I would be off to college in just a few short weeks. That week in Lake Powell was a time to enjoy life and reflect on the wonders around us.

There was one night in particular that I will never forget. I believe it was one of the last nights of the trip. There was a huge thunderstorm; probably the largest I’ve ever seen. We experienced it from the house boat we were staying on. The thunder was so tremendously loud. We all sat together, listening to the thunder, watching the flashes of light, meditating on God’s awesome power. I remember feeling so full of awe at God’s grandness; overcome with love for my creator who had given us such a beautiful world for us to enjoy.

When I see this picture again, it reminds me of that night, and it fills me with peace. It is always a reminder of the natural beauty in this grand world of ours, and makes me feel gratitude toward the God who gave it to us.

Posted in Inspiration, Travel | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Noah’s Pudding

This past weekend, our local Turkish Center held their annual Noah’s Pudding Festival. The festival commemorates the Islamic holy day of Ashura, which was on November 14 this year.
For many Muslims, the day of Ashura is commemorated as a day on which many important events have happened in the history of Islam. It is a holiday that is also shared with Jews, due to the common tie to the prophet Moses. Muslims who celebrate this holiday do so due at the encouragement of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). According to hadith (sayings and traditions of the prophet that were passed down), while the Prophet was in Madina, he noticed that the Jews were fasting on the 10th of Muharram (Islamic calendar). When he asked why, he was told it was because that was the day that God saved the Israelites from the Pharoah, by opening the Red Sea for them. To thank God, the Prophet Moses fasted on that day. The Prophet therefore encouraged Muslims to fast as well on that day, since Muslims also believe in the Prophethood of Moses.

It is also believed that it was on this day in history that Noah’s Ark landed following the flood. Coincidentally, many traditions hold that it was on Mount Ararat in modern day Turkey that the Ark landed. Many Turks, as well as various other cultures, celebrate this day not only by fasting, but also with a special pudding called Ashure: Noah’s Pudding. It is said that after the Ark landed, Noah wanted to celebrate the event in some way, but they did not have much food left. So they put all the ingredients they had left into a pot and made a pudding. The pudding has become a holiday tradition in Turkey. The dessert generally has Ashure 115 ingredients in it. Ideally, you should use ingredients that you already have in your home, following in the tradition of Noah. But there are basic ingredients that make up this pudding, like bulgur, chickpeas, and dried fruits. Although it doesn’t sound very appetizing, trust me, it is!

At the festival this Saturday, they held a Cooking contest to see who could make the best Ashure, and I was asked to participate. I was a bit hesitant at first, since it was my first time making this pudding, but I decided Ashureto go ahead as it would be a fun experience. I made my pudding on Friday night, and was very pleased with the results. Apparently, I was so pleased with my pudding that I even dreamed that night that I won third place in the contest!

Okay, so as for the results — I did win third place! Funny thing is though, there were actually only four of us who entered. But the fact that my dream came true gave me a pretty good laugh for the rest of the weekend :)

For those who are interested, here’s the recipe I used for my Ashure; there are a lot of variations on how to make it, even in the Turkish culture. Mine turned out a little too thick, especially since it thickened more while it sat in the refrigerator overnight. You can add more water if it looks too thick.

Turkish Ashure (Noah’s Pudding):

Note: This makes a lot of servings! This is double the original recipe.

1 cup bulgur

10 cups water (divided)

4 tbsp rice

1 cup chickpeas (canned or if raw, boil them first so that are soft)

1 cup white beans (I didn’t use these, but I will next time! Again, cook them first)

10 dried apricots – cubed

1 cup golden (yellow) raisins

10 dried figs – cubed (I didn’t have any of these either, but will have to find some for next time)

1 lemon’s zest

1 cup cubed peaches

1.5 tsp vanilla

6-8 cloves (I actually ended up using more like 15-20, as I’ll explain below)

3 cups of sugar

Nutmeg (traditional Ashure doesn’t use this, but I thought it went nicely with the cinnamon)

Topping:

Chopped walnuts

Ground cinnamon

Pomegranate seeds

Pine nuts

Preparation:

Boil the bulgur (wheat) with 4 cups of water until most of the water is absorbed. I then turned off the stove and let it sit and cool while it continued absorbing water. Wrap the cooked bulgur in a cloth and let it sit overnight. Soak dried apricots, raisins, and dried figs in water overnight as well (note: the directions I read said to put them each in separate bowls. I was lazy and put them all in the same bowl, and didn’t see any issue with that.)

The next day, put the wheat in a pot with 6 cups of water and boil (ummm . .  quick note — I just realized that this is where I messed up. I doubled the original recipe, but forgot to double the water, so I only added 3 cups of water here!). Add rice and boil until cooked and soft. Then crush with the blender a little bit and return to pan (or you can use one of those cool handheld blenders and you won’t have to remove it from the pan — wish I had one to use here!). Add drained chickpeas, then add the dried fruits as well as the water they were sitting in. You can also add the lemon zest and peaches at this point. In a different small pot, boil cloves with 1 cup water. Add that water to the pot with wheat  (strain out the cloves). Okay, so it was here that I realized I didn’t have enough water. So I actually ended up boiling another 2-3 cups of water with cloves and adding that to the pot. But if you’ve added the correct amount of water initially, you shouldn’t have to do that! Next, boil on low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Be careful, as it might stick to the bottom of the pan if the heat is up too high. Then add sugar, and boil for another half an hour. You can adjust the amount of sugar depending on how sweet you want it. Best served warm and topped with nuts, pomegranate, and cinnamon.

I combined several recipes that I found online, borrowing ingredients that I liked from different ones. Some versions call for rose water. The primary recipe I used as a guide was the one on this Turkish Cooking Class blog.

061

Posted in Islam | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Return to Blogging

Dear Readers,

My apologies for another long absence from my blog. What started with our trip to Turkey turned into a lot of different things back to back that have made it very difficult for me to get back into the routine of writing here. I know that many of you enjoy reading my stories, experiences, and thoughts, and I regret that I haven’t been able to share anything with you for a while.

I just want to let everyone know, I appreciate your support and following. I do plan to continue writing here, and inshallah (God willing) I will be able to post more frequently now.

On a similar note . . . I know many of you have been curious about my experiences as a new Muslim. Many of you, particularly want to hear about why I became Muslim and why I now wear hijab. I do plan to share on these topics, but it has taken me time to prepare myself for that. The response I received after sharing about becoming a “Hijabi” was very overwhelming. Though many of it was kind, supportive, and encouraging, there were also a lot of hateful, judgmental comments that I wasn’t ready for. It has made hesitate in sharing more about such deeply personal experiences. However, I feel that in the end, my sharing is important and can do a lot of good, so it is worth it. So, in the near future I hope to write posts on both of these topics, in addition to some other that I have in mind.

As usual, I will continue posting on a variety of topics that relate to my life, including Islam, Turkey, random thoughts on life, and, or course, cooking! This December will be my blog’s one year anniversary. It’s been an interesting year; thank you for being with me throughout it!

To get things started, here’s a Fall poem from Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite authors:

The morns are meeker than they were,

The nuts are getting brown;

The berry’s cheek is plumper,

The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,

The field a scarlet gown.

Lest I should be old-fashioned,

I’ll put a trinket on.

Okay, time for me to get back to making chestnuts now . . . (Seriously — we really are eating chestnuts tonight! :)

Albany in the Autumn -- oh how I miss the Northeast this time of year!

Albany in the Autumn — oh how I miss the Northeast this time of year!

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Diving Into Islamic Swimwear

Since I have begun wearing hijab, I have not yet really felt the necessity to go swimming, and therefore have not needed to look into getting a full-coverage swimsuit. But, being that we have just decided to go to Turkey next week (I know, really crazy to decide at the last minute!), getting a swimsuit has become necessary. Well, necessary as long as I want to enjoy the beautiful Turkish Aegean and Mediterrenean beaches– which I do!

Let me just clarify quickly, that this is my choice and not a necessity due to Turkey being an ‘Islamic’ country. Actually, when I was in Turkey last summer, I got to see that most people actually dress the same on the beach as they do here in the U.S. It is, however, more normal and acceptable to see people dressed in Islamic swimwear in Turkey.

The last time I wore a bathing suit was last year while in Turkey. It caused a lot of anxiety for me, especially leading up to the trip, as I decided what I should wear on the beach. I had not yet started wearing hijab, but I was dressing modestly and was not comfortable with a standard bathing suit, even a one-piece. I had eventually decided to get a cute one-piece skirted swimsuit with high haltered neck, which I wore shorts under. But I was still uncomfortable showing this much skin, so I made sure to cover up quickly when I wasn’t in the water (either with my towel, or I  also had a skirt and a loose swim cover).

At any rate, now it is time to look into getting an actual Islamic swimsuit that will fully cover me, including my head. I’ve been searching online the last few days to see what my options are, including if I can possibly get anything in time for our trip. As I’ve been searching, I’ve also come across a lot of articles about Islamic swimwear, both from Muslims and from media reports on the topic. I had some knowledge on the subject already, though. Some of you might remember my recent post Modern Modesty in which I mentioned controversy surrounding Islamic swimwear, often referred to as a ‘Burkini.’ Yesterday, I found a new article which I wanted to mention and share. It’s a piece in The Guardian about Manal Omar’s unfortunate experience wearing her Islamic swimsuit in a swimming pool in the UK. Although she had worn this swimsuit many times before, in many locations including in the U.S., she never had a bad experience except in the UK.

Swimwear for Islamic women has come a long way, and now includes some great styles, with amazing quality. Most garments are high-end, with specially designed fabric to be lightweight and water repellant. Most are generally made out of the same or similar material as many traditional bathing suits, making them very suitable for swimming. Some are even anti-bacterial! While the prices range from around $50 to $170 depending on the quality, it seems very reasonable to me considering the average standard bathing suit costs around $50, with much less fabric!

Here were some of my favorite styles that I’ve found:

From Al Sharifa - I like everything except the cap -- looks a bit odd to me! But that's normal I guess for these swimsuits.

From Al Sharifa – I like everything except the cap — looks a bit odd to me! But that’s normal I guess for these swimsuits.

Islamic swimwear Amazon green and navy

You can find this one on Amazon!

islamic swimwear primo moda

This one from Primo Moda is cute — I like the style of the vest!

 

 

islamic swimwear madamme bk

From Madamme BK, a French brand. These are definitely my favorite as far as style, though they are pretty expensive at $170.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately for me, however, there is not time for me to order any of these so that they will arrive before we leave to Turkey. But on the up side, Turkey has an amazing Islamic fashion industry and I hope to find a great option there. Plus, it will be better for me to try it on and make sure it’s a good fit. I’ll make sure to update everyone when I come back about my experience wearing an Islamic swimsuit for the first time!

Posted in Fashion, Islam, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments