This November, 2020, marks my six year anniversary of converting to Islam.
Some days it feels like just yesterday that I was standing in the mosque saying my shahada, the hugs and tears from sisters all around me as they congratulated me. Other days, it feels like that was a lifetime ago, a story I heard about another person, not even myself.
Looking back on the past six years, it has been a long road, filled with ups and downs, happiness and heartache, but I wouldn't change it for the world. So today, in celebration of my journey, I want to share with you six lessons that I've learned over the past six years since I became a Muslim.
Meaningful change doesn't happen overnight.
This is something that I tell new Muslims over and over again, though I think it really applies to everyone on their spiritual journeys. Take it slow, and go step by step.
Yes, it is possible to make a huge change in your life overnight, but I have found that all of the times I have done that, I am burnt out and right back where I started within a few weeks.
It's great to have big goals that you want to achieve, but break them down into small steps that you can take one at a time. Work on them with consistency, and in shaa Allah when you get where you want to be it will be a lasting and meaningful change.
One thing I love about The Dua Journal is the fact that it has a daily section for iman goals - to help you keep on track with the small steps.
Allah is always with you.
The six years since I converted to Islam have probably been the most difficult of my life. When things are at their worst, I've caught myself thinking, "If I wasn't a Muslim would all of this be happening to me?"
The answer is yes, it would, but I wouldn't have the help of Allah to get me through it.
Throughout the difficulties that I have gone through in these past six years, Allah and the religion of Islam have truly been my rock and my foundation.
Even in your darkest moments, Allah is there with you. And when the darkness lifts you will see that it was all in His plan, and things have worked out far better than you could've ever imagined for yourself.
Plus, we know that the stronger your faith and the more Allah love you, the more He will test you.
Don't let the creation shake your faith in the Creator.
This is a lesson I am still learning.
I remember the day I took my shahada, after I repeated the words, the sheikh gave me a few pieces of advice. I don't remember the other ones, but the thing he said that always stuck with me was, "Get to know Islam before you get to know Muslims."
Most of my interaction with Islam in the earliest days of being Muslim was through books. Of course, most books deal with the ideal situation, so when I was thrown into the middle of a Muslim community full of real, flawed humans, it was a huge wakeup call.
I was expecting a community full of loving and spiritual sisters, so it was hard to come to terms with the same gossip, judgement and hypocrisy that I thought I had left behind with the church. There was a period where I even stopped going to the mosque, because I was just so disheartened by how people there acted and how they treated me.
But thinking back to the sheikh's advice, I remember my faith is between me and Allah. It doesn't matter how other Muslims act or what non-Muslims say about it - as long as I am strong in my relationship with Creator, the creation will all fall into place as it needs to.
And when I go into Muslim spaces I can take their words and actions with a grain of salt, knowing that they are just in a different place on their journey than I am.
Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees.
In other words, keep the big picture in mind and don't get to overwhelmed by the details.
This is another piece of advice that I give often to new Muslims: don't focus on the rules first. Learn about Allah and learn to love Him, and the other changes will come naturally.
In today's society, we are so hyper-focused on outer appearances and supposed adherence to the rules. She wears her hijab like this, he prays his salah like that, they say their duas in this or that language. We are quick to judge and quick to dismiss based on appearance alone, and often we are getting stuck in the nitty-gritty details.
She may have the most humble and sincere heart, yet all you can see is the bit of forearm coming out of her sleeve. He may have a heart filled with the purest love for Allah, but all you can see is that he places his hands differently in prayer.
We often turn this critique inwards towards ourselves, scrutinizing and overthinking our every move and word, coming up with hypothetical scenarios in our head to find out if they would be halal or haram.
Remember this: Islam is not the goal. Islam (and the rules it carries for our lives) is the means to achieve the goal, which is closeness to Allah. The most important things (prayer, fasting, etc.) are very clear, and as long as your intentions are in the right place, in shaa Allah you will be heading in the right direction.
Those details will naturally fall into place when the big picture is in focus. There are many different paths to the pleasure of Allah, and they will look different for each of us.
Forgiveness and patience aren't for other people, they are for you.
In my teen years, I was angry a lot of the time. At specific people for things that they had done to me, at governments and politicians for the oppression they created, at the world in general for what it is turning into.
People often ask what the biggest thing Islam has brought to my life is, and I always tell them, peace. Islam has brought me peace in so many different ways.
A big one of those is the realization that Allah is in control, and He is the ultimate judge of everything that happens in this life. That when things don't go my way, or a person is acting a certain way, I can choose to let it go and give it up to Allah.
We often hear things like, "Well they did x, y, and z, so they don't deserve my forgiveness." And that may be true. They probably don't deserve your forgiveness. But you do. You deserve the peace and tranquility that comes from giving up anger and grudges, and realizing that that person will have to answer before Allah to what they've done.
The same goes with having patience for the people around you.
Allah stresses those virtuous qualities of forgiveness and patience not only to build better communities and societies, but also to strengthen your own inner peace and resilience. And as hard as it may be to let some things go, it is so worth it.
Find the tools, community, and support that works for you.
I spent so much time in my early years as a Muslim going through phases (the Salafi phase tends to be a big one amongst converts) and trying to live up to someone else's ideal of what a Muslim woman should be.
I lost a lot of myself in the process.
It wasn't until a couple years ago, when I was living far away from any Western Muslim community, that I was able to actually reflect on who I wanted to be, and how that aligned with my faith. Once I began to reclaim my personality and my own spiritual goals I was able to seek out the right community and the right tools to uplift me in my journey.
Of course, The Dua Journal was a huge part of that. My first journal was the green Dear Allah journal, and feeling like I was able to write a letter to Allah revolutionized my relationship with Him. Now that I am a partner in the company, I am so grateful every day for the uplifting and supportive community of women that we have all around us.
It is so important to look within yourself, make goals that are resonant to the kind of Muslim and person that you truly want to be (not someone else's "should") and to seek out the kinds of tools and people that will help you in that journey.