First penned in 2007, edited in 2020, this piece from Kosser Abdul Aziz takes us through some self-reflection about first impressions and good intentions.
Before I came face to face with Sarah at work, I was told that she was keeping a low profile because not everyone knew that she had become Muslim. So on the day that we finally met, I wasn’t too sure whether to meet and greet her openly or in secret! So quietly I asked Sarah whether it was ok to say, ‘Assalamu Alaykum,’ to her in public, to which she ecstatically replied, ‘Oh please do!’ and proceeded to give me a hug and three sunnah kisses! Glad we sorted that one out!
Sarah was extremely humorous. When we first met, she looked at me in my hijab and immediately touched her own neck scarf and remarked how that so far, this was as close as she had come to wearing her own hijab, but one day she will make that ultimate move. I personally felt as if her soul was fighting to want to wear the hijab but was succumbed continuously by the shaitan, but hey, a fighting soul is a good soul, right? The mere fact that she had this desire to want to wear the hijab but felt that she was unable to because of what people may say, was certainly a challenge in the right direction.
Every time I met with Sarah she always brought up the point about wearing hijab. When she spoke of her need to wear hijab, she had tears in her eyes, she wanted to wear the hijab so much but the shaitan was making her feel its presumed difficulty. The will was there, I saw it, she just had to make dua and ask Allah (SWT) to help make it easy for her.
You know, it felt as if she was nervous of my presence, well, people do get scared of my appearance at times. I’m kinda tall, wear thick black framed glasses and wear hijab. Put it this way, if you’re a minority wearing a hijab within a non Muslim environment then you’re considered to be extreme. So no wonder people were scared of me, plus the fact that my face shows no welcoming warmth to the on lookers, unless I break into a smile… But hey, I’m not complaining, if this keeps the ‘brothers’ away from me, so be it!
One of the first things Sarah and I spoke of was jihad. She mentioned that she wasn’t sure how to prepare herself for jihad and actually didn’t quite understand what it was all about. I explained that the mere fact that she had become Muslim was jihad, the struggle she faced each and every day. I explained for a mother, bringing up children was a form of jihad too. As I began to explain all of this she began to ease a bit. She really did carry a fear that one day she would have to go to fight in the name of Islam, and that this was obligatory for her.
Now Sarah was loving the whole new her i.e. new Muslim. For example, she loved the fact that she had to get up at 3am in the morning for fajr… yep you read it right, her exact words were, ‘I bounce out of bed at 3am!’ at which point I sunk low into my chair embarrassed of the fact that I had missed praying fajr on time for the past 2 weeks. I confessed as she looked on at me, mortified, as if to say, ‘Oh, How could you??’
She then proceeded to apologise for having not removed her nail varnish. She said she couldn’t bear to live without painted nails! She had worn nail varnish every day of her life and felt so, so bare without it. She said she was even contemplating whether to remove all her make up before meeting me for the very first time. Seriously now, I’m not that bad – maybe it’s the impression I tend to give people – ‘Be afraid, be very afraid!!’ Lol.
Sarah and I hit it off almost immediately. She was overly excited about her new found religion and had just so much to say. She was so unsure of many things and was keen to get everything right. One day, she drew close to me and whispered, ‘Listen, I have a serious problem’. I prepared myself for this unimaginable problem, she said, ‘I have a visa card!’ To which I burst out laughing. I just cracked up and started crying tears of joy and sadness. Joy because this sister was Alhamdu’lillah so keen on getting everything right and sadness because there are millions of Muslims out there that don’t give two hoots about using, abusing credit cards and accumulating interest. Sarah wondered whether it would be ok to transfer her card to another provider in order to take up the 0% interest offer and help her pay her debt back ASAP. I advised her that it was her intention that really mattered and to pay back the debt as soon as she could possibly afford to.
I sent Sarah an email once and ended it by saying, ‘And remember me in your duas.’ Little did I know, she didn’t know what the word ‘Duas’ had meant. So one day she asked, ‘Is that something to do with prayers by any chance?’ I felt silly for expecting her to know the meaning in the first place and explained that it was to do with prayer.
She also picked up the word, ‘Insha’Allah’ from me and every time she would repeat it, she would take it a step further though and raise her hands in the sky, pause a second and say a slow heartfelt, ‘Inshaaaaaa Allah’ then she’d look at me gleefully as if to say, ‘I got it, I got it!’
She burst into laughter as she imagined that when conversing later on with her Tunisian husband, she’ll end up repeating insha’Allah after every sentence, only because of not being sure of when to pronounce the word and when not to. I can just imagine the domestics they’ll end up having if pronounced at the wrong time…
‘Make me a cup of tea darling,’ he’ll say. ‘Insha’Allah!’ Sarah will reply.
‘Iron my shirt honey.’
‘Have you done the banking dear?’
‘It’s so hot today, I’m gonna die in this heat!’
I once showed her a picture I had taken of the Kaaba and I commented, ‘That’s lovely isn’t it?’ to which she replied, ‘We should say, ‘Subhan’Allah’ right?’ Yep, she put me to shame each and every time 🙂
Sarah’s husband had taught her the basics of prayer. She told me that she was confused by the technique of lifting her index finger up during the tashahhud. She made me laugh, again, when she mentioned that whilst praying tashahhud she was always uncertain at whether to lift her two thumbs up, Fonzi style, or was it two fingers? So just to be sure she had been lifting both thumbs up!
When Sarah felt that she did not understand the religion like she was supposed to, when she felt like, she was not ‘getting it right’, her eyes would fill with tears. She was trying so hard to make it work, she was craving for knowledge, and she wanted to pray with sincere devotion to Allah (SWT).
Alhamdu’Lillah sisters like Sarah are an inspiration for those Muslims that take their religion or their presence in this world for granted. They live off the luxuries of Allah (SWT) and do not even take the time out to reflect on His infinite mercies and thank Him for creating them at the very least.
I invited Sarah to attend one of my Saturday Islamic Studies classes with me. I thought it would be a good idea for her to meet with my teachers and my fellow class mates, a majority of whom were new Muslims.
I hardly recognised her when she arrived. She wore a pair of baggy cotton trousers and a silky top and had a scarf loosely tied around her head, draping backwards. She allowed room for a lock of hair to escape from her scarf and had adorned a long pearl necklace. Yep, she looked like Sinbad! And me being me, I immediately told her so to which she burst out laughing – ‘I like Sinbad,’ she replied with a smile.
Sarah was overwhelmed with the nicety of all the sisters she met with. She couldn’t believe how everyone wanted to talk to her and share their thoughts and feelings. While we were mostly dressed in abayas, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have really commented that she looked like Sinbad, since I felt that broke her confidence slightly. But she was the star of that moment, and everyone welcomed her.
She had wanted to officially have it declared that she was Muslim, so I decided to take her for a visit to Regents Park Mosque. She had never been to the masjid in London before so this was something she was really looking forward to. I introduced Sarah to the Imam of the Masjid who was very pleased to see her.
Sarah was lost for words out of nervousness and so the first question she asked the Imam was about… Jihad!
After praying Zuhr at the masjid a sister approached Sarah and told her that she should cover up properly if she was going to pray. Sarah, being already nervous as it was, explained that she was a new Muslim and currently learning the ropes so to speak and would cover up properly in time insha’Allah.
Sarah later confessed that she found the encounter slightly off putting and had I not been there she would have run out the masjid and not come back in fear of doing something wrong. A message to all I suppose, if you are going to preach, do it gently, we are supposed to be inviting people to Islam not making them run from it! Sabr everyone, Sabr! Shuwee Shuwee! (Something I picked up whilst on Hajj!)
Sarah purchased a book to help her learn Arabic starting from the very basics. She thought the alphabet looked very pretty and couldn’t wait to master the letters.
A day later I met with Sarah to go through the Arabic alphabet and to begin teaching her salah. I had also given her a tape so that she could listen to the pronunciation of each Arabic letter. The tape contained a recording of the alphabet and a few surahs.
Sarah found the Arabic alphabet confusing. She kept trying to compare it with the English alphabet in order for her to make out some sort of pattern. I told her not to bother with the English alphabet and to just learn the Arabic alphabet via its transliteration. The tape itself she found amusing, she said, ‘One minute the teacher is pronouncing the alphabet and then he breaks into a song!’ With a smile, I explained that that was actually called a Surah, a passage from the Quran.
I must reiterate, she was a laugh – she called up her husband once and said something along the lines of, ‘Look what I’ve mastered… Raa!’ she roared like a lion. She was referring to the letter ‘Raa’ within the Arabic alphabet.
She also adored the enchanting way in which the teacher recited the surahs and said that she too would like to be just as melodic one day. Sarah enquired whether it was permissible for women to recite the same way as men. I replied yes of course and encouraged her to practice this during her prayers.
After the visit at the mosque she said she had found the experience quite overwhelming. She was beginning to feel suffocated with all the attention she had managed to attract. Many sisters had gathered round her and were offering congratulations and giving free advice. I explained to her that they all felt such sisterly love for her, and that’s why they felt it was their duty to explain what they think she may not know.
Even the Imam was reduced to tears when at one point she explained to him that, one day she realised for herself that she really did want to become a Muslim. She had this yearning suddenly develop inside her, it wasn’t because of marriage to her husband, it felt like the right thing to do, the inner peace that she so needed.
When I first met Sarah, I noticed that she was overly excited and wanted to learn everything and anything about Islam there and then. I advised her not to overwhelm herself and take it a step at a time. ‘After all,’ I said, ‘Remember, all of your sins have been wiped away, Alhamdu’Lillah, you are just like a new born baby!’
We ask Allah (SWT) that He makes it easy for Sarah every step of the way and accepts all of her good deeds – Ameen.