My parents told me I was Muslim. They taught me the basic teachings of Islam: how to behave, treat others and distinguish halal and haram. I knew I was Muslim, but I did not know what that meant. They told me I should pray, but they did not enforce it. My parents never pressured me to practice and I grew up in a neighborhood with few Muslims. However, when I would see my parents read Qur’an and pray daily it made me curious.
When I was twelve, as I watched my mom pray, I thought to myself: “Why don’t I know how to pray? Will I go through life not knowing?” I felt guilty. I asked my mom to teach me, she told me to listen and learn from watching her. I did not know what she was saying or the meaning behind bending down and standing back up. I knew if I continued learning like this, I would not understand what I was reciting. I wanted to have a better understanding of Islam and its teachings. I wanted to feel close to Allah. I did not want my religion to be a mundane ritual.
It was then that I decided to teach myself. After I memorized an English translation prayer book, I began praying in English and did so for about a year. Although I was praying, I knew something was missing. I knew in my heart that I should learn how to pray in Arabic because there are many English translations, yet there is only one Arabic version. It took a lot of pausing and replaying of YouTube videos, but I finally learned after a month of studying.
During my first year at UCLA, I learned to read and write in Arabic with the help of a wonderful professor and because Allah helped me throughout the way. Initially, I was afraid to take on this challenge. I thought it would be impossible to learn the Arabic language. I had no previous knowledge and I thought I would not have the time. I am sharing my story with you because this experience taught me that if you strive to do something for the sake of Allah, He will make it easy for you.
Before, I thought Islam was a set of difficult rituals, however I have learned it is a way of life. Now, praying is something I enjoy and I cannot imagine my life without Islam and Allah. My intention was to learn and connect with my religion. I did not want to continue life having doubts every day.
Today, I cannot thank my parents enough for how they raised me. I consider myself lucky. I know others whose parents have taught them about Islam, but they take it for granted. They do not put their knowledge into action. It is one thing when you learn because you are told to, and it is another thing, if you learn because you want to. By not forcing Islam on me and my siblings, my parents made us find answers for ourselves.
I am still on my journey as a Muslim. These days, I am trying to memorize verses of the Qur’an and I read it daily in English and Arabic. I am not sure how difficult or time consuming my journey will be, but one thing I know is that Allah is always by my side, guiding me through the way.
Featured photo: “Qur’an with ‘Tassbeh’” © 2008 Doctor Yuri, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en