With Ramadan starting literally just right around the corner, it’s important to take a minute to think about this time. I received an email (all credit goes to the original writer) entitled “What Everyone Should Know About Ramadan” and I wanted to share parts of it now before we start striving to do our best during this blessed month.

First off, Fasting in Ramadan is obligatory for every sane, healthy, and mature Muslim. This means that we must fast unless we are not yet reached puberty or we are in an ill state either mentally or physically. We must be able to mentally understand fasting and be able to physically carry out the fast without putting ourselves in harm in order for it to be a valid fast. To deny the obligation of fasting during this time is an act of Kufr. Allah (SWT) says in Surah Baqara Ayah 183 “Fasting has been prescribed upon you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain Taqwah”. As long as we meet the conditions above so that we are mentally and physically sound to fast, we must fast during this month of Ramadan.

* We need to learn the rules and regulations of fasting such as the times when we can break our fast, what we can and cannot do during fasting hours, and what to do in case we make a mistake during this time.
* We should begin this month with a clean slate: Make Tawba (sincere repentance) for the sins we commit on a daily basis.
* Make du’aa that Allah (swt) helps us fast properly and correctly.
* Begin this month with a firm intention to follow the example of the Prophet (SAW) by fasting not only with the stomach and the private parts, but with the tongue, the hand, etc.
* Set realistic and reachable goals to accomplish each day such as give $5 in sadaqah, read a certain number of pages of Qur’an, improve our character, etc.
* Remember that every night, Allah Descends from His Throne (in a manner that befits His Majesty), extends His Hand, and asks who will turn to Him in repentance. Take advantage of this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
* If someone is missing fasts and is able to make them up (due to sickness, traveling, pregnancy, menstruation, post-natal bleeding.. etc) then they must make them up before the next Ramadan. Those without a valid reason must make the fasts up ASAP. Some scholars also say they must offer Kaffaarah (expiation) for every day that they missed but some don’t agree that it’s necessary.

----Merits and Virtues of Ramadan----
* The gates of Hell are shut, the devils are chained, and the gates of Heaven are open wide.
* Baa bar-Rayyaan is a gate of Jannah reserved specially for those who fast.
* Fasting is a form of expiation for minor sins

* If someone tries to pick a fight with you, say “Ana saa’im” (I’m fasting). This is a reminder to yourself, and a warning to the other person.
* Make every pang of hunger a reminder to yourself to be thankful to Allah, to turn to Him in repentance, to beg of His Mercy for you and your fellow brothers and sisters in Islam.

*HADITH QUDSI: “Fasting is for Me, and I give the reward for it. (A man) gives up his sexual desires, his food and his drink for My Sake. Fasting is like a shield, and he who fasts has two joys: joy when he breaks his fast, and joy when he meets his Lord. The change in the breath of the mouth of he who fasts is better in Allah's estimation than the smell of musk.”

One of the most important issues that Muslims face in their faith is the topic of Prayer. Its importance can be seen in the fact that it is the 2nd of the 5 pillars of Islam. Prayer isn’t just saying a few words, bowing your head, or moving your body. It’s a connection to your creator with which you show your appreciation and submission to him. In Surah Al-Fatiha, which is used in every rakah of prayer, we find the ayah, “Iyyaka na3budu wa iyyaka nasta3een”. This translates to “It is you (Allah) we worship and it is you (Allah) we seek help from”. Such ayahs show that prayer holds special meaning beyond words and bowing.

For new Muslims, prayer can be more of a difficult task than many may think. For one, it’s in a language that is foreign to most of us, and for two, it’s a different way of praying than we are used to. The bigger issue however is number one. The majority of new Muslims don’t speak Arabic. While we are learning to pray, it will take a long time for us to be able to comprehend what we are saying along with us saying it. We can memorize the words, but it takes some time to be able to put those words with the meaning in a way that we can understand what we are saying. This can be very discouraging, but in time it will become easy, Insha’Allah.

With Ramadan approaching, we should pay extra attention to our prayers. With our deeds more important than ever, this is a time which should be utilized to its fullest. The following videos (part 1 and part 2) were shared with me from someone who wanted to help me with my prayers (Thank You Mohamed), and I hope that Insha’Allah this might help someone as well. These videos describe The Prophet’s (SAW) prayer.

May Allah guide us all with light and increase our desire and need for knowledge, Ameen.

Acceptance, understanding, and appreciation for life tend to be lost on some people. Many on this earth allow differences to separate them from others without any valid reason other than them thinking that differences are too difficult and too insignificant to overcome. In a time where biased opinions influence beliefs, this allowance is dangerous to relationships. Even though we may not realize it, each one of us has a relationship with those who we both encounter and those we never meet. Our actions affect this earth and this life which in turn affects those here and those yet to come. Even though we may not know those people, we have a relationship of sorts with them.

As people, we expect understanding and tolerance shown to us. Even though we hold that expectation, we don’t always return the gesture. What stops us from acting the way toward others as we expect them to act toward us? There are many answers to this question. Some answers include hatred, fear, misunderstanding, resentment, and ignorance. Once we can figure out what is causing these issues, we can then deal with them. Once we understand our habits and our ways, we can find ways to better ourselves. If we can treat people in a better manner, maybe they will do the same for others. Our actions towards them influence how they react to those they encounter in the future. The way that they treat others will be passed on to their children and so on. It’s a little daunting that our actions can influence such a great number of people. How then do we change this? It’s simple, we have to change the way we react in certain situations. We have to take care of how we hold ourselves and present ourselves along with developing the way we think. In order to do this, we must find tolerance within ourselves for diversity of all kinds. Whether it is religion, gender, ability, ethnicity, or sexuality, we have to be able to deal with it in a manner which isn’t oppressive to others.

I watched a movie today called “Arranged”. It is a story of two young women, one is Muslim and the other is Orthodox Jewish, who are new teachers in a Bronx public school. Despite their obvious differences, they develop a special bond. Even though many people are against their friendship, they don’t allow it to break them apart. Over the course of the year, these two women find they have much more in common than they had thought. As I watched this movie, it made me reflect on how much we take our actions for granted and how much hatred has ruined the chance of many relationships. Prejudice and biasness has become part of everyday life and it’s ridiculous. People judge others by first sight instead of by interaction. That judgment is based on appearance alone. Do they appear to be something different than you? If the answer is yes, then 9 times out of 10, that is it. There is no second thought on the issue. They are deemed something lower than the person judging them. We do not hold the power of judgment. It is not in our ability to rightfully judge someone. We tend to discard someone before we even know them because of how they look or act or what someone says about them. This movie reminded me that this isn’t good. We don’t have the right to do this to someone. This does nothing except push people away from each other and create boundaries that separate groups of people. It creates hatred and discrimination. It makes life very unfair and it can easily be avoided.

So the next time that we encounter someone new, let’s not be so quick to jump to conclusions about them. Let’s try to get past all our differences and get to know them. Maybe we could learn something from them that might change us. Don’t allow appearances and superficial attributes be the reason you push someone away because it only takes one tiny crack to break something precious.

The same question arises with both Muslims and Non-Muslims when wanting to learn about Islam; “where do I start?” This question is one that everyone will have a different answer for. One answer is no more than another, but from experience I have found the best answer is the beginning. No matter how much we think we know, most of the time we are missing basics. So, how about we go back to the beginning and start there? Start from the very first topic that we should learn, “What is Islam?”, and build from there. In order to truly understand our religion, we must understand the very basics and fundamentals of it. We must go back into our brains and learn the same things as children do. We have to learn 1,2,3 before we can learn 10. I can honestly say that at times it has been embarrassing to admit that I need to act like a child sometimes in order to learn what I need to, but the truth is that once we can put that embarrassment aside, we can learn more than we thought we could.

Once we have learned and understood the fundamentals we can delve deeper into more issues. But the one thing we must remember is that we need to understand the things we learn so that we can implement them into our lives. If we learn truth but don’t act on it, we are nothing but ignorant hypocrites. If we use what we know in our lives, we improve ourselves. Once we know something small we can expand that knowledge until we are experts in that area. Who wouldn’t want to know all they can about their religion and way of life? Allah (swt) says “And of men and beasts and cattle are various species of it likewise; those of His servants only who are possessed of knowledge fear Allah; surely Allah is Mighty, Forgiving” (Surah Fatir: Ayah 28). “'Whoever walks in the path to seek knowledge, Allah will make the path to paradise easy for him” [Muslim]. If knowledge is held with such a high esteem in Islam, then why shouldn’t we pursue such a thing that the Creator of this Universe will forgive our sins for?

One advantage which New Muslims have is that we learn from the basics. We aren’t raised in Islam, so we have to learn everything from the beginning. If we were raised by Muslim parents, the basics would had been introduced to us early on and we would had been very likely to forget many of them. Sometimes people who are newer to Islam are able to separate culture and religion which is hard to do at times. We get to see this beautiful religion through fresh eyes. It’s not a bad thing that we come into Islam at a later age. In some ways, it’s a blessing because we are more comprehensive and more thankful of the knowledge which we receive. So the answer to where do we start is simple, start at the beginning of Allah’s gift to us. Let’s all go back to the basics and deepen our knowledge from there.

One of the biggest mistakes that new Muslims tend to make is to have unrealistic expectations. We have found this amazing religion which we want to follow with all our heart. We decide to leave everything that we've known our whole lives to live this new life as a Muslim. It is unknown territory which can be very difficult, especially if we go through it alone. Many people will desert their own family when their family members accept Islam. This leaves the new Muslims all alone without the support that they need. What makes it worse is that it's often very hard to find the right support from their community. This leads to a lot of issues and problems.

I think one of the biggest problems that arise is the issue of high expectations. We have changed our life which is usually in a very unfamiliar manner than what we are used to. Once we have tasted this new way of life, we want it all at once. We tend to leap too quickly into the matter of knowledge. Sometimes we compare ourselves with our fellow Muslims. We may be the same age as our sisters and brothers in Islam, but in reality we are newborns into this religion. We want to know everything that they know and we often forget that it's not how much we know, but how we use that knowledge in our lives. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Convey from me even if one ayah (verse) for it may be that the one being informed will comprehend better that the one listening (at present)." (Al-Bukhari).

If we push ourselves to learn too quickly, we will either learn nothing or we will become discouraged. Allah (SWT) has made our religion not of hardships and barriers but of ease and encouragement. He has given us a complete way of life in Islam, not just a few rules or sayings. Islam circles every part of a Muslim’s life. It is what pushes us in our moral decisions, our choices, our family life, our personality, and our character. This cannot be learned all at once. Even if we study day and night for the rest of our lives, we will never learn it all. With this in mind, we can’t push ourselves so hard to learn that we forget why we are learning in the first place; to be closer to Allah (SWT) and to obey him. Aiming high is a good thing at times, but other times it can be harmful to our determination and our want to learn. The best thing we can do is figure out what we want to learn and why we want to learn it. Once that is known, then we should pace ourselves so that we aren’t just reading and studying instead of learning. Allah rewards for intention. Keep your intention pure and go from there. Don’t let your new way of life discourage you in the least. It’s a lot to deal with, but it’s possible as long as we have a drive pushing us to become good Muslims. As long as we have this desire to be the best we can, we will continue to grow in Islam. If we lose that drive, we will lose this beautiful way of life that Allah (SWT) has blessed us with.

If I were to return to my hometown just as I am today, I doubt that anybody would recognize me. Today stands a young woman in the place of what was a young teenager who was typical of the time and place of past. I can honestly say that I am 180 degrees of what I used to be and for me that is a great thing.

I was raised in a place which is a very conservative and narrow-minded place, especially in the 90s. Where I consider to be my hometown has a population of around 3,000 people which is a small town. Everyone was pretty much the same.. white, American, Christians, and if you weren't all of these, you were considered a serious outsider. Just as everyone else, I blended in and joined a church because I was supposed to be Christian just as everyone else was. My family was not religious at all. I joined The First Baptist Church when I was 8 years old after my grandmother died. I was baptized by the age of 9 after my grandfather died and I was very active in the church. Sunday church, Sunday school, Discipleship training, Wednesday youth group, Wednesday church meetings, and Friday youth group were all must-attends for me. I was the first person to find a bible verse and I was the first one to recite what I knew.

All in all I considered myself to be pretty religious, especially for a child. There were times that I felt unsure of my beliefs though. I was taught that Christians are not allowed to question about their faith because it is as if we are questioning God himself. Other times I witnessed our youth pastor teach us that women weren't equal to men and when I questioned him about this I was made to feel as if I was betraying God for my unfaithfulness. This made my faith start to slow down. I finally saw that something wasn't right in what I was being taught. I turned to the bible and to prayer. I read the bible but many passages didn't make sense to me. I prayed but then I started to wonder why I prayed more to Jesus than to God and why I turned to the son instead of the creator. I started to question all that I knew and all that I grew up with. After not finding the answers to my questions, I started to lose my faith and my prayers slowed down and my church-going slowed as well.

Then one day, as I was getting ready for school something massive happened that ended up paving the way to my answers. On the TV, images of planes crashing flocked the screen as well as panicked cries. That September morning brought a new word to me, Islam. Before that day, I had never heard of the religion of Islam nor the word Muslims. Montana just wasn't a place for exploring or teaching diversity. I sat day after day watching the news and listening to the radio about anything to do with what had happened in New York. I heard horrible things that I knew in my heart couldn't be true. I didn't know the first thing about Islam but when people said that what the terrorists had done was what Islam taught, I stood up and said that this couldn't possibly hold an ounce of truth. I had no facts to back me up but I felt in my heart that no honest religion could teach that and I refused to believe it. After that day, there was a new idea was in my life.. Islam.

A couple years later, my mother married a Pakistani man who again brought the idea of Islam back into my life. He didn't show me Islam, but the ways he followed made me question if Islam was truly that way and thankfully I found that it wasn't. I started to research Islam and saw how great it was. Then I moved to Pakistan and spent 6 months there where I learned true Islam from my grandfather-in-law. He was a great man who showed me Islam instead of culture. He invited me to question life and why things happen the way they do. He showed me how to pray and he encouraged me to read the Qur'an. After a while of searching for the truth, I found it in the words of Allah (swt). I found the Qur'an to hold everything I had questions about. I found Allah's words to give me comfort and it moved me in a way that nothing else has. I decided to take my Shahadah and I knew that it was the right thing for me to do.

After that day, many obstacles landed in my path. Many new trials came and I had to learn new ways. My whole life did a drastic turn. I started dressing differently, acting differently, speaking differently, and most of all I started seeing things differently. I learned respect for myself as well as everyone else and I learned the importance of living a good life. I put other things first in my mind instead of myself. I began to grow as a person and I became a better one for doing it. Becoming a Muslim has changed my life amazingly. It has given me a reason to live a good life and to want a good life for myself and for those I love. It has given me strength and self-respect. It has made me who I am today and guided who I have become.

Salaam Alaikum!

I have decided to recreate my blog into something useful and important Insha'Allah. Okay, a little about myself. First off, my name is Zainab (or Shana). I am a revert to Islam for 4 years Alhamdulillah. I have had my ups and downs just as everyone else but with those experiences I have come to understand the person I am and the person that I want to be. I am hoping to use this blog to share my experiences, my hopes and dreams, as well as the knowledge that Allah (swt) has given me. So this is why my blog is now "Dreams of an Inspired Mind: Muslim-ized". I hope that this will benefit us all insha'Allah.

Peace out... Salaam Alaikum

No matter what part of our life we are in, whether it is adolescence or adulthood, there will be times in which we face uncertainty. Granted there are people who face more uncertainty than others, there will come times when we all face it. We can’t escape it and there isn’t a way to determine when that uncertainty will hit us. We could be driving or even just resting when it happens. Since we can’t escape it, the question then becomes “How do I deal with it?”. This is a hard question to answer in just one breath because there are many different ways which works for many different types of people. With this world growing, expanding, and developing, there are more types of people than before. There are religious and non-religious, strong and weak, determined and unmotivated. This diversity means that one thing may work for a person but fails on another person, which demands different techniques for each individual.

The thing which I always find very effective for myself in times of uncertainty is faith. Nothing comforts me more than it and nothing works as well to not only calm me but help me understand the situation. Now, I know this isn’t useful for all people because everyone’s level of faith varies. I have also dealt with stress techniques which were somewhat helpful for me and successful for others. This technique covers a wide range of ways which include breathing, focusing, and even pressure techniques such as gripping and releasing a foam ball. The best way of dealing with uncertainty that I have ever come across is comfort. Whether it be with family, friends, or even strangers, the comfort of knowing someone is with you so you aren’t going through it alone. Talking to someone about what you are feeling and what you are afraid of really helps to relieve the emotions that occur from uncertainty.

So, no matter where you are or when it is, uncertainty will hit you eventually. The important part is to be prepared in knowing how you can deal with it. If you don’t deal with it, it will only consume you and bring your heart down to the ground. It will worry you till there is nothing left but fear. The important thing is to remember that you can face it and deal with it. Don’t let it affect you in a negative way.

What does life mean to you? Is it all about nice cars, lots of money, maybe being number one? Or perhaps it's more about helping those in need and protecting what you believe in? Whichever you think is most important in life, be sure that our actions don't come without a price. What is up to you is that you must decide if that price is worth it. Me personally, I believe that the purpose of life is to live it, helping as many lives as you can, while still protecting your faith. To me, the two most important things in life are faith and love. The love which I refer to is the love that you have for your fellow humans. The love that puts them in a place of importance in your heart. Even if you don't know them, their lives are still important to you.

We all go through so many trials thoughout our lives that we either forget what's really important or we find what's important. When we are given a test in this life, we find out what type of person we really are. We find out what means most to us. To everyone, the things that matter differ, but the thing that stays the same is that we all value something important. Every person on this earth places something above themselves. Sometimes people value materialistic things over other things, but that doesn't mean that they are wrong. It just means they see value at a different level than others do.

Many people have had experiences which leave them devastated and questioning life. I think that every person, in order to find out what life truly means to them, they have to go through something life changing. You can't find importance without the struggle behind it. It's the struggles we go through which creates our understanding of the value of life. Without that struggle, we can never really know what life means. We can't see how important something is without knowing what it's like to not have it.

So what does life mean to you? Have you been blessed with the true understanding of it? If not yet, then one day you will find it. One day, each person on this earth will go through something which helps them find the meaning of life. To some it's cars and money, but to others it's helping and caring. Me, I choose the latter because that is the only way to help others find the meaning they are searching for. Hopefully, we all will find our own meanings in time.

By now, I'm sure you have all heard of the Binghamton shooting which occurred on Friday, April 3rd. For those who don't know about it, here is a little information on it. Friday morning, a man went on a rampage, killing 13 people and injuring even more. The shooting occurred at the American Civics Association which is an organization that helps immigrants with immigration and citizenship. Before entering this building, he barricaded the back door with his car and entered the front of the building, shooting two secretaries upon entrance. The shooting only lasted three minutes, but it took hours to clear the building and while it was being cleared, the high school was on lock down and many frantic people were unaware of what was really happening. Hours after the first shots were fired, they found the gunman dead.

This isn't a news report, so don't worry about that. There are many things about this incident that I find interesting (not the murders, the after-occurrences). There is one thing that can't be argued, this was a premeditated act. Why this massacre occurred, we will probably never have that answer. There are two conflicting reports which really interest me. The first report stated that the gunman's sister couldn't believe this happened. She said that her brother was a good man and that she never could imagine him doing this. The second report, after saying his name was something different than the first, stated that his family wasn't surprised of his actions. They supposedly reported that he had a drug and gun addiction. Of course we can't believe what the news says, but I find it interesting that there are two completely contradictory stories published by two respected news sources.

What could make a person do this? I believe that any answer you could have to that question would be nothing but an excuse. Everybody has a hard life in one way or another. Every single one of us will face times in which we think there is no way to come away from it; no way out. The thing some of us forget is that there is ALWAYS a way out, no matter how hard it is. There is always a solution to every problem. No matter how hard something gets, with time, there is always an answer.

What would bring someone so low as to take another's life is a question that I have been thinking about a lot. Of course we don't know this man's life, what he was facing, what he had been through, what emotional and psychological problems he may have had. The one thing we do know though is that something pushed him so far that he decided it was worth it to take the lives of 13 innocent people and ruin the lives of many more. Psychological issues are on the top of the list of reasons for murders, but there are no excuses for such an unforgivable act.

This man may had thought that there was no way out or even that there was nothing left to live for. He may had believed that his problems were too big or that his life was too hard for him. No matter what he was thinking, he was wrong. No matter how hard something is, it is never quite as bad as it seems. Look around you. There are orphaned children living on the streets starving, there are people who are blind but trying to live their lives on their own, there are people who can't walk but still strive to be the best people they can be, and there are single parents trying to raise a family and take care of everyone on their own. When we look to these people, we realize that our lives aren't as hard as we think they are. We tend to get caught up in ourselves and forget this. No matter how difficult something is, we can overcome it. The only thing that can stop you from success is yourself. There is always a way out if you want it badly enough. There is always a better life waiting for you to find it. Nothing in this world is bad enough to resort to such violence. Always look to the future of what could be instead of looking at a past that you can't change. No matter how bad something looks, it could always be worse, just don't let it get there. You have to be the best you can be and try your hardest to succeed. Never give up on yourself and you will see how much better life is.