Is being an American Muslim a big part of your identity?
Absolutely. I teach American history and I’m very open about being a Muslim. My students are usually quite perplexed that a white American can be a Muslim of strong faith. I answer a good amount of questions about Islam from curious students (outside of the class time, of course). I pride myself on the fact that American values are consistent with Islam, and I try to apply those principles and values in my teaching.
What was your first Ramadan experience like?
My first Ramadan experience was quite easy from the perspective of abstaining from food. I had relatively few struggles with fighting hunger and thirst, alhamdulilah. I was able to maintain consistent workouts throughout my first Ramadan. Fitness is very important to me, so I was very grateful for this. However, my first Ramadan was not as joyful as I wanted it to be. Being a convert and not having any family members that celebrated, I often found myself having iftar (breaking fast) alone. Compound that with the fact that I had very few Muslim friends at the time, and most of the month felt quite lonely. Regardless, I really enjoyed the month and felt that it helped me grow spiritually.
What advice would you give to a convert who is experiencing Ramadan for the first time?
Have patience. Your first Ramadan might be very lonely, but as time progresses and you establish a family and a core group of friends, Ramadan will feel much more festive. Additionally, fasting gets easier and easier as your body gets used to it. Alhamdulilah, I can speak from experience as Allah has made fasting easy for me. Alhamdulilah, I fast every Monday and Thursday throughout the year and I can honestly say that most of the time it’s extremely easy for me. It wasn’t always so easy, though. Doing it consistently has trained my body, thus making it easy for me. So remain patient and things will get easier.
What would you wish Muslims who are not converts knew about your Ramadan experience?
I wish that they knew that one thing that really appealed to me when I first became a Muslim was the fact that I thought Muslims were so unified. I took a lot of pride in the fact that I could go to any mosque that I wanted and I could very well see the same faces that I saw at a different mosque a couple of nights earlier. I never experienced this type of unity when I was a Catholic. I get disappointed when seeing the intense fights over the sighting of the moon (signifying the beginning of Ramadan). The reason that this upsets me so much is that I believe that many Muslims don’t realize the harm they’re doing in regards to dawah (outreach), because as an outsider, seeing Muslims united (not fighting), was a huge selling point for me.
In your opinion, what should non-Muslims know about Ramadan or Islam in general?
Non-Muslims need to understand that Ramadan is not about abstaining from food and drink all day in order to have a very rewarding feast at night. It’s about worshipping Allah and becoming closer to Him. I’ve met several non-Muslims that will fast with their Muslim friends and then celebrate with them at night (this is great and all), but many times they’re doing it for the festivity standpoint more than anything else. While this is totally understandable, I believe that Muslims can do a better job teaching and emphasizing the spiritual aspect to them.
What is one thing you want people to know about you?
The fact that I’m a convert in no way, shape, or form means that I’m a better Muslim than a non-convert. The reason that I say this is that some Muslims have a tendency to put some converts on pedestal. On a good amount of occasions I’ve had Muslims come up to me and say things like “you’re better than me.” To be frank, I’m not a fan of this because only Allah can judge people. Only Allah truly knows who’s better.
Want to know more about Islam? Call 877-WhyIslam, you deserve to know!