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“I’m just going to call you ‘Lord’ because I don’t know what else to call you” How I came To Islam

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"the day you meet God, He is going to ask you about your sins and not about their sins. You will not be responsible for their actions and they will not be responsible or yours.”

“The day you meet God, He is going to ask you about your sins and not about their sins. You will not be responsible for their actions and they will not be responsible for yours.”

Guest post by: Jessenia Ortiz. She works as an editorial manager for a electronic publishing company. When she is not working she likes to spend time with her family, her 3yr old and her husband. Sister Jessie is pursuing hifdhs and spends most of her time memorizing the Quran. She enjoys traveling, and her last big trip was umrah. 

I read a novel entitled “If I should speak” by Umm Zakiyah. This book contains some ayahs of the Quran and Hadiths woven into the story. That novel led me to read the English translation of the Quran, which eventually led to me taking my shahada.

The author included the hadith that says:

“O evil soul, come out to the wrath and anger of Allaah.’ Then his soul disperses in his body and is dragged out like a skewer being pulled out of wet wool…”

This shook me to my core. For 3 days it was all I kept thinking about. I couldn’t believe my God could do something like that (although I did feel inside myself that it was true). After that, I told myself I have to find out what else is in that book, so started reading the Quran.

My journey towards “finding” Allah (the Arabic word for God) really started early around age 5. That was when my grandmother taught me how to pray.  I did include intermediaries in my prayers but I always wondered why I couldn’t pray to Allah directly. I never understood the 3 in 1 God. (Alhamdulillah).

I grew up going to Catholic school and attending church with my grandmother. I learned about the Prophets, perhaps because we were children we were not taught all the negative things that the Bible says about them. I still remember that when I was little, going to Catholic school, I wanted to grow up and be a nun. They seemed so close to Allah. I use to sit in church asking (God) Allah to help me love that religion, if it was the right one. I always wondered why do we say “Thank you God for your son our lord”; why not worship the one that created the “son”?

The first time I was exposed to Islam was actually in my global studies class in high school. Ironically, it was a Jewish teacher who told us about Islam. Alhamdulilah, he presented it clearly, he said Muslims face the Kabah 5 times a day and pray. He even told us how they prostrated on the floor to pray. I thought to myself, if there is anyway to pray to God that is the best way. Unbeknownst to me, while my teacher was telling us about Islam in school, my older sister was also learning about Islam. She would become Muslim that year; it would take me 13 more years to enter into Islam.

My sister did her best to explain Islam to me and in my mind I couldn’t see the difference from what I believed and what she believed. At that point, I had started praying to Allah directly. I still remember that I would say to Allah “I’m just going to call you ‘Lord’ because I don’t know what else to call you”.

As the years passed my sister and her husband would always try to give me dawah (invitation to Islam) but it always seemed that I would have to stop believing in all the prophets (peace be upon them) and believe in a new prophet–Muhammad (peace be upon him). I just couldn’t give them up. Yet, they tried their best but guidance is in the hands of Allah alone.

After some years my sister and her husband moved to MD and put their children in a school called Al Huda. When I asked them what the name of the school meant they said “guidance to the straight path.” After learning that, I always use to pray “Lord, guide me to the straight path“. It was during one of those visits to MD that I my oldest niece just gave me the new novel written by a sister from their community. She gave me the novel, and a copy of the Quran in English. She didn’t say much except “maybe you’ll find it interesting.” I read the novel and didn’t really feel connected, but when I got to hadith quoted within the story (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him) it all changed. While the story was from the imagination of the author, the Hadith and the Quranic ayat were real. In my heart felt “this is the truth” so it led me to read the Quran.

I, then, started reading the English translation of the Quran. It was amazing. I couldn’t put it down. I had tried to read the Bible but every time I tried, I kept falling asleep (literally on the book). As I read the meaning of the Quran it just confirmed what I already believed. The Quran told the stories for all the prophets and told the stories of the most upright men in history including Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them).

When I use to read ayat that refer to the disbelievers I use to wonder who those people where. My sister broke the news to me that I was the disbeliever. Finally, I was getting ready to say the shahada but I was still weary. It was a couple years after 9/11 and I just didn’t want to be associated with people who could do something like that. My sister gave me the best advice. She said “the day you meet God, He is going to ask you about your sins and not about their sins. You will not be responsible for their actions and they will not be responsible for yours.”

 I took my shahada on October 3, 2004. It was the same night that Muhammad Alshareef (founder of Al Maghrib Institute) gave his farewell speech at Al Huda school. I still remember him saying “There is only one way towards God. Sometimes you stumble upon the truth. You have a choice you can take it or you can dust yourself off and walk away”. I called my sister after the lecture was over and I took my shahada over the phone with the whole family.

When I look back I think, Subhannallah, Allah is the best of planners. He planned out my path so perfectly. There were and are so many tiny details along the way from before Islam up until now. I always make dua that Allah let keeps me on the straight path and never lets me go astray. Ameen.

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#ProjectHijabUpdate: THANK YOU!

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As salaamualaikum!

I hope everyone is having a most blessed Ramadan! Alhumdulilah our initiative started last Ramadan to inspire and support sisters who need help taking a step towards modesty continues to support many people. I truly hope you are all benefiting from #ProjectHijab as a means of support as you go through your personal journey of modesty; physically and spirtiually.

Since beginning the project the articles written by myself and dear friends have reached almost every country in the world! I am so happy to say there are thousands of views from US and UK but also France, Sweden, Qatar, Turkey, South Africa .. and 60+ countries around the world. It is safe to say that the topic of hijab and the  goal of modesty reaches a GLOBAL community.

Even since project Hijab the articles are viewed daily. Our goal was to help one person and insha Allah it seems that the series has reached many hearts.

The Project Hijab Series was also nominated for the Brass Crescent Awards last year and become a runner up, alongside several amazing Muslim blogs. This was a great honor for this series and all the efforts put into the series by various authors who took the time to share their personal experiences with you.

HandbagsandHijab is blog dedicated to spiritual growth in all it’s forms and for a young woman Hijab is definitely built into the growth whether your are just starting to adorn hijab or have been wearing it for years and years or if you have worn it multiple times, each story is different. Each day is test, a lesson, an experience and a blessing. When you choose modesty you are not choosing to hide yourself, but rather “reveal your dignity” and I suggest if you have not already, to take advantage of these lovely articles.

That being said this page is not exclusively about Hijab, and this Ramadan I will be sharing personal Reflections from Quran. I hope you can enjoy the upcoming series and share it with friends. It will be just as personal as #ProjectHijab was, only it will encompass topics including and beyond modesty.

If you are here exclusively for the #ProjectHijab articles, you can search them under “categories” and you will find them all arranged there.

JazakAllah khair for visiting this page. I genuinely hope you benefit and enjoy reading and share with family and friends!

May you all have a blessed Ramadan.

H&H

Springtime of My Heart

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I feel I’ve grown distant from a good friend. Many say that friends come and go, that I should just let go of the connection that I once had. I, however, disagree. Because unlike so many friends I’ve had and will have in the future, this one never let me down. In fact quite the opposite, I’m sure. This friend will never let me down and is always there when I am in need. Sitting right above my mircrowave counter in a cupboard in a fancy lace jacket. The Quran.

My Lord, make the Quran the springtime of my heart. that is what the Prophet (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) use to pray for.  This beautiful prayer makes me reflect. During my life there was a time that I read the Quran very often. So often that I would pick it up every hour or so, and look upon my large green paged book with the fondness of a close, understanding friend.  When I read this prayer of the Prophet (pbuh) I realized that during those times the Quran had become the Springtime of my heart.

Springtime means something different for everyone. For me the very notion of Spring brings to mind one word: Revival. A time of peace and healing after a raging winter. Spring brings life to the world around us. As the sun rises, the plants blossom, the leaves turn bright shades of green, flowers and trees alike stand tall hoping to soak in the golden rays of the sun. The sparkling light of sun fills the day with warmth. The birds are out and about singing praises to The Almighty, and as soon as the sun sets and birds crease to sing, the crickets begin their night show.  The joy the uncontrolable delight of springtime brings hope and happiness to all.

Springtime comes once a year and all year we await the season of blossoming flowers and revival of life itself with deep anticipation. Yet, when the Quran becomes the springtime of one’s heart…then it can be spring anytime of the year. During the dark, cold days of the winter, or during the colorful autumn. In fact, it is a gift of good hope when everything else in our lives have gone awry.

To quote Jawaher Balousha “The Quran is not some dry text void of feeling” or even “a bunch of don’ts, a list of commandments. It is the most faithful friend of our hearts. It warms the coldness of our emotions. It fills our world with light when the clouds overcast. It brings life to deadened sensiblities. When all you know is sadness it gives you hope of happiness. It bears the promise of fruition of lost dreams and wasted effort. It is a place of joy

Yet so much like the passing of seasons the springtime of the Quran can easily pass by unnoticed, unless you reach out and embrace it, and make your connection with it. I hope to regain my year round joy, my year round revival of my soul, my year round hope. I hope to regain a connection with my year round springtime. I hope to regain my connection with the Quran.

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I like history because I like stories. So to begin my “quest” I got this book called The Men Around the Messenger by Khaalid Muhammad Khaalid translated by Sheik Muhammad Mustafa Gemeiah of Al Azhar Administration. Highlight stories of the Prophet Muhammad (S)’s companions (excluding the four caliphates-who have their own books). Each chapter is presented in a sort of time-capsule way that allows you to envision traveling back to the early years of Islam and takes you through the life of each individual and tells their story.

I am not going to re-tell their stories. Rather, I have highlighted parts that really stood out to me, causing me to pause, think, be in awe. The stories themselves are all gems and I highly recommend this book to anyone. I’ll begin with a companion who’s name is probably very familiar for most people: Abu Dhar Al-Ghifaariy

Abu Dhar Al-Ghifaariy was from a tribe that was known for being dangerous thieves and highway-robbers. He was strong and powerful both physically and mentally. He came to Islam when it was in it’s early stages. However the minute he heard about Islam and the truth of the Messenger of Allah (SWT) he wanted to shout it out to everyone he knew. Muhammad (S) was in wonder about the conversion of Abu Dhar when he found out he was from the notorious tribe of Gifaar, and in his wonder he smiled and said, “Allah guides whom He wills. Indeed, Allah guides whom He wills”

Abu Dhar was a man who knew how to use his sword (coming from a formidable tribe), however Muhammad (pbuh) advised Abu Dhar to use his words which were just as powerful as a sharp blade. After getting into a few skirmishes with the Quraish because of his overzealous attitude to call people to Islam openly, Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent Abu Dhar back to his people of Gifaar and stay with them “until my order reaches you” (of course we know this is when Islam went to Medina). And in the protection of Medina when Islam had the capacity to grow without persecution, Abu Dhar came back to Muhammad (pbuh) with not only his entire tribe of Gifaar as Muslim but the entire neighboring tribe of Bani Aslim. Without a doubt the Prophet (pbuh)’s wonder and astonishment increased, and he expressed his wonder on that day saying, “Allah guides whom He wills

I can only imagine what it must have been. You never know who Allah (SWT) will guide. There is no “fit the bill” description of those who enter Islam expect within their heart and only Allah (SWT) can read people’s hearts. Prime examples would be: Yusuf Islam former singer and heartthrob of the western world. People come into Islam by the guidance of Allah (SWT) and leave the world asking the question: why?

Another example is Yousef Estes. A former Preacher of Catholicism brought into the fold Islam without any Muslim preaching Islam to him. It’s one those things. It makes you wonder, because you know there’s something to it. There is something about Islam that reaches peoples hearts quicker than words each the ear.

Muhammad (S) expressed his opinion of Abu Dhar in a words so encompassing:

“The earth never carried above it, nor did the sky ever shade under it a more truthful tongue than Abu Dhar’s”

I read this. And read it again. I wonder how the earth and sky must have felt to be in the presence of Abu Dhar? Due to Prophet (pbuh)’s advising Abu Dhar would use his tongue as a sword, speaking the sharpness of truth that caused stir in the Islamic world even after Muhammad (S) returned to Allah (SWT).

In fact the Prophet once asked him, “O Abu Dhar, what would you do if you witnessed a time when commanders monopolize the spoils of war?” He replied, “I swear by Allah Who sent you with the truth, I would strike him down with my sword!” The Prophet (pbuh) said to him, “Shall I guide you what is better? Be patient till you meet me.”

During the rule of Umar (R) Islam thrived, “No governor of the Caliph, whether in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, or anywhere else in the region, could ever  eat a kind of sweet unaffordable by ordinary people without such a piece of information soon reaching ‘Umar, who would immediately order that governor to return to Al-Madiinah, where he would face a severe punishment”

THIS. This quote makes you think about society today and about the human heart that longs to meet His lord. Because I can’t imagine ANY of the leaders of today-any one of them-feeling they don’t deserve entitlement. Or bonuses. Or a nice chair. Or an nice office. There’s an incredible distinction between a leader and their people. A glamor. A title. In fact many of the world leaders today sit in relative comfort why their people are getting kicked out of their homes, while their people have turned to street begging (I’ve seen more begars on the streets of Chicago in the past four years than my entire life), or in some cases while their people are being slaughtered (Syria and Egypt come to mind).

There are two types of leaders, those that fear their power and those that crave it. Those that fear power are not weak. They know that they will be accountable in front of God for their people and they will answer to Him and Allah sees everything. And that is something that is worthy of real, blinding fear.  Though in today’s age I can’t imagine a leader of people being accountable for eating a sweet that his people could not afford. I can’t imagine the kind of moral character and personality that would give up their ego and live his life modestly serving the needs of his people. But this is history. And it happened once. Which means, maybe, just maybe it can happen again.

After the passing of ‘Umar the Islamic world underwent “a tremendous gap, causing inevitable reactions beyond human expectations. What sort of change? the assassination of Umar opened the door of fitna (trials) in the Muslim world. Trials between Muslims of that likes that can be seen even today, from great wars and battles between Muslims to the smallest of arguments among us. And things like money-created by Allah to be obedient to His servants for the benefit of mankind-turned into a tyrant master. And power-a responsibility that pious people tremble when thinking about its horrible charge in the Hereafter-turned into a means of authority, wealth and destructive luxury.

And it was during this time (after both Muhammad (S) and Umar (R) passed, that Abu Dhar used his tongue as the Prophet had advised him years ago, that his tongue was a sharp as a sword. He traveled the Muslim world with a chant,

Announce to those who hoard up gold and silver, the warning of branding irons with which their foreheads and bodies will be branded in the hereafter!”

His chant was in reference to a passage in the Quran (9:34-35) that gives the a warning of those who hoard the wealth the punishment in the hereafter.

His chant became one that was heard across the Muslim worlds, one that inspired the people to reflect and change. The hype could me comparable to Obama’s speech for “Change” or Martin Luther King’s “I had a dream” it was a signature of the time. Abu Dhar saw that wealth was being accumulated and monopolized for power and being turned into a means of supremacy and abuse. The worst of which had afflicted Syria. (Another surprise, sometimes it feels like the world we live today is falling apart. But I believe that perhaps the world always feels like it is falling apart in every time period.) When he was called from Syria to Al-Madina by Uthman (R) (the current Calipha) who had been informed by the Syrian governor that Abu Dhar “Spoils the people of Syria” with his talks. Abu Dhar arrived in Al-Madina and Uthman (R) kindly presented Abu Dhar his decision, “Stay here beside me. You will be endowed with blessings day and night”. But this was Abu Dhar who wanted nothing more than to follow Allah (SWT) in the way that had been during the Prophet (pbuh)’s era and he responded, “I don’t need your world!”

I don’t need your world. We’re so tempted to LIVE this Life. To yolo our days away with Drake and Rhianna. But there is SO much more! In fact if LIFE was all there was to our existence, I can understand where dark depression comes from. But as Muslims we know that there is a life of the grave, the Day of Judgement, the final reckoning, Heaven and Hell. And LIFE compared to that is just the test. The entrance exam, the MCAT of an entire progression just the first step, difficult but only the first of many things to come.

What truly broke my heart is that Abu Dhar wished so much that the Prophet’s Companions would not be appointed as governors and would not collect fortunes, but would rather stay as they always had been: as spiritual guides to the right path of Allah’s worshipers.

Abu Dhar was not tempted with the world we call dunya. He was offered the governorship of Iraq, a country that posses so many natural riches, and declined saying, “By Allah, you will never temp with your world”

This duyna and all its jewels were presented to Abu Dhar’s and he never accepted it. He stayed patient until the day he died knowing that he would meet Allah (SWT) and Muhammad (pbuh) soon.

Abu Dhar Al-Ghifaariy