September 04, 2003
[This item was originally produced as an interview and subsequent phamphlet that was circulated at the 39th Annual ISNA Convention; Almuslima, Inc., and its associated website, Almusliman.com, are no longer active.]
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim
Assalamu Alalikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh!
Almuslima, Inc. Joins in Welcoming You to the 39th Annual ISNA Convention! “Islam: A Call for Peace and Justice” More than 30,000 American Muslims gathered in the nation’s capital to attend the 39th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America during the long, Labor Day weekend Aug. 30 through Sept. 2. (2003).
ISNA’s annual meeting is the single largest congregation of American Muslims each year, and the first event of this scale since the Sept. 11 tragedy. Al-hamdu illah! Almuslima, Inc. would like to take this opportunity to announce the launch of their new website, Almuslima.com, and to introduce to the Muslim Community, one of its newest members, Sister Aishah Schwartz! Subhanallah! Almuslima had the opportunity to interview Sister Aishah, on Saturday, August 16, 2002.
Below is just a small portion of our interview.
Almuslima: When did you become a Muslim, Sister Aishah?
Aishah: I officially embraced Islam on Friday, April 19, 2002.
Almuslima: Subahanallah! Please, Sister, tell us how you came to Islam! Aishah: Oh, wow…are you sure you have time? It has been quite a journey… Almuslima: Take as much time as you need, Sister!
Aishah: Okay, here goes! I came to Washington, D.C. about 2½ years ago, after living in a small southern town for the previous 18 years of my life. After about three weeks of earnest legwork on unfamiliar streets, taking buses, trains, and cabs to navigate my way through the city, I landed a job with a reputable law firm. Working with attorneys is what I have done throughout my adult life. I threw myself into my work, striving to prove to everyone that this small-town girl could make it in the big city. I found myself working very late hours, sometimes not leaving until 11 or 12 o’clock at night at least 4 out of 5 days of the week. Unbeknownst to me when I started my new job, the team I joined happened to be in preparation for a major trial! Amongst the benefits of working with the firm was the provision of transportation home at night if you worked overtime. It was late one evening into my second month on my new job when I happened to call for a cab, and I quite unexpectedly became friends with the driver, who, as it turned out, happened to be a Muslim! I have always believed that everything happens for a reason and in retrospect, I know that God brought that person into my life, at that particular time, because He had a plan...and He knew a friendship would be cultivated that day that would ultimately peak my curiosity about the religion of this new friend. The friendship grew because whenever I called the cab company for my nightly ride home, I would request the same cab! The relationship had its ups and downs, as do most relationships, but the resounding proclamation, “You don’t understand me!” seemed to have become all too familiar over the long run, and given my natural inclination to try to figure things out, and because Allah (swt) seems to have given me a heart filled with compassion, I began to consider that perhaps if I tried to learn more about the religion of my friend, that I would come to have a better understanding of him. This decision marked the beginning of my journey. Even though I was working many hours at the time, I found myself staying behind at the office, well past the time that I had clocked-out for the day, scouring the internet for information about Islam. Having been raised in a Baptist environment, I also researched Islam from the perspective of Christianity. This pattern or searching for information continued for about two months. I had grown totally fascinated with each passing day, and as I passed through website after website, printing article after article, clicking on link after link, and after exhausting myself out at my desk, I would make my trip home with an armful of print outs, and stay awake even longer after arriving at my apartment, devouring the material I had printed like it was some kind of treasure…little did I know…
Almuslima: So you researched Islam on your own? Subhanallah!
Aishah: Yes. I researched it from every angle, of course having spent so many years working with attorneys, you might imagine I am not one to formulate an absolute opinion about something without giving it full investigation, so in order to explore the pros and cons from every angle, not only did I print articles on Islam from Christianity’s viewpoint, I even engaged in an email exchange with a Christian who converted to Islam, and then re-converted back to Christianity! Subhanallah! I did not listen to that person, as Allah (SWT) was already working in my life and I immediately dismissed that persons attempt to dissuade from my quest. And even though I had printed so much material on the Christian perspective, I did not waste much of my time reading it, as it seemed to me that the truths I had found in my research were speaking to my heart, and something inside kept me pressing forward.
Almuslima: Was there something in particular that you found when you were reading that influenced your decision to become a Muslim?
Aishah: I wish I had an easy answer for that but I don't really... it wasn’t exactly one particular thing…but what I did find fascinating was what I learned about the respect and the fairness with which the Qur’an seemed to instruct men to treat women. It also became clearer and clearer to me that the Qur’an is a blue-print for how we should conduct ourselves in our daily lives, and how we should treat other people, and that if a person lives their life according to its instructions, that person could expect to receive blessings and reward beyond anything previously imagined in his/her wildest dreams! And sure enough, from what I have experienced so far…
Almuslima: Since your Shahada?
Aishah: Yes, since April 19th,of this year! Subhanallah! Every time I think about the things that have happened in my life since that date, I am overcome by emotion! Every person I have encountered, and everything that has happened to me since that day, has been linked in one way or another to a wonderful walk through blessing after blessing!
Almuslima: Al-hamdulillah! Sister, what has been happening?
Aishah: Prior to April 19th, it seemed that I had closed myself off from everything and everyone that existed in the world outside the walls of my apartment and the halls I walked throughout the day in the office where I work. My sole purpose in life seemed to be to live to work. That was the sum of my existence, which doesn’t make for much of a life, by any stretch of the imagination! As long as I was at work I had a purpose. I knew what I was supposed to do when I was at my desk...There were so many times when I would leave the office late at night, or, well, for that matter, no matter what time I left the office, and as I walked out the front door of the office building, I would feel the tears welling up in my eyes, and then they would stream silently down my cheeks, to be quickly brushed away before anyone could notice…I was absolutely afraid. I was afraid of getting on the bus - once I walked out the front doors of the office I had no control over anything, and I was afraid of everything; all I wanted to was run back inside the shelter of the office building! If I could have arranged a space with a bed and personal hygiene items for use in the locker room downstairs, it would have suited me just fine! The office was like my shelter from the rest of the world…I felt protected within the confines of its walls…I felt had a sense of appreciation for my efforts from the people I worked with, who are wonderful people - I am really so blessed to be employed by them…but at the end of the day, I had other choice; I had to go home! I would fight the tears on the ride home, and when I would get to my apartment, I would shut the door on Friday evenings, and never leave again until Monday morning when it was time for work (unless I was driven out by absolute necessity). It would not matter how beautiful the weather might be outside, I was petrified of everything…I don't know...I felt like I was disappearing...you know...so, since coming to Islam…it has been literally like being re-born! Its like I have my life back!
Almuslima: Sister, mashallah, I am so happy for you!
Aishah: Subhanallah! I am amazed with each passing day the difference Islam has made in my life! I have always been a compassionate person by nature, but now I find such happiness in knowing that Allah (SWT) is using the talents and gifts he has given me to communicate with people in so many ways!!! And for some strange reason people seem to connect with me...I don't know why...and umm...it’s just been so amazing! Once you open up your mind and open up your heart and you let go of the control that you have been holding onto in regards to your will and life, and you let Allah (SWT) take charge, and let Him guide you…everything coming to you after that is inter-connected, and you find yourself becoming conscious of one blessing after another! Subhanallah! And even though I have gone through a difficult period...if I think about all the positive things that have happened to me, the bad days dim in comparison, you know? So, umm...if sharing all of that helps someone…well...Insha’Allah, it will! It has been such an amazing journey...even though its been so short, already I just can’t help but feel and believe with all my heart that Allah (SWT) has something so amazing planned for the rest of whatever time, Insha’Allah, He is going to allow me to be on this earth…I don't know why, but the power of everything that I have felt happening in my life has been so energizing! Allah (SWT) seems to be making up for lost time in using me in so many ways…and I just feel so blessed, and so lucky that He would even consider me the slightest bit worthy of His mercy and blessings! I’ve grown to have such an acute awareness of His presence in my daily life...in every little thing that happens...and even when I get frustrated...I’m reminded to say – Al-hamdul illah!
Almuslima: Can you share with us some of the ways your life has become different since you accepted Islam?
Aishah: Well, I guess I could start with the subject of prayer! A teacher from a Sunday class I have been attending at Masjid, introduced to me the prospect of this year’s upcoming trip for Umra, which, of course, at the time I had no concept of whatsoever! In a discussion one afternoon after class, my teacher suggested that I begin to prepare myself by getting up in the morning for the earliest salat. Well, at that time, the earliest prayer was in the 3:30 am time range! I thought to myself, “He must be crazy!” But I found myself obeying his instruction, and I began setting my alarm clock to wake me up at 3:30 am! Was I nuts, you ask? Some people might not rush to my defense too quickly! But, Subhanallah! Sister, you might not believe this, but within one week I had already begun to wake up automatically! It is as though I have a tiny guardian angel that comes to tap me on my shoulder...and I sit up to look at the clock, and it amazes me every day when I see the time…Al-hamdul illahi! It’s time to pray!
Aishah: Yes! I know! And I know a lot of people might think it impossible to wake up so early in the morning just to pray, but I promise you, considering how stagnant my life was before, and the way God has brought so many things and so many people into my life since I began to practice my new religion, its almost as though I have two full time jobs with all of the things that have come my way to do for the sake of Allah! (SWT). And just when I finish one thing, the next thing I know Allah SWT) is bringing me a new task! I just feel so blessed! I feel so much like...for each small task I accomplish, what comes back to me in return seems to be multiplied times ten! It doesn’t even seem fair or normal even, that good things, blessings and rewards, are now so much a part of my life...it just amazes me each and every day! Al-hamdul illah!
Almuslima: Please tell us more!
Aishah: Well, I’d like to continue the subject of prayer…that's been a journey all by itself! And so important!! I have gone through different phases...after Shahadah...I sort of floundered a little bit…um…I kept trying to read and study the material I had gathered, and amazingly enough, still had not completely exhausted! I'd go home in the evenings and lay across my bed with the mountain of stapled, or paper clipped or binder clipped by subject material, and I'd sift through the stack until I came upon something that jumped out in my mind saying, “Read me! Read me!” I was still reading and trying to absorb the seemingly insurmountable material on the subject of prayer. Let me tell you, coming from a Christian background, the whole prayer issue was overwhelming to say the least! I'd read for a while...and then…I remember so many times just laying my head back and succumbing to the tears that would escape from my eyes…thinking, “This is too much, I can’t do it!!” and I’d say to myself, “God, I am going to rest now…let this sink in and I will come back again tomorrow...and, Insha’Allah, I will learn some more…” I could not help but believe that He heard my pleas, and hears them still today, as I have already commenced to memory the words, “Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful;” words that are laced throughout the text of the Qur’an! And then one evening I found an awesome website that had these wonderful little pictures and I printed the pictures…I call them my “cheat sheets,” and I have hand written notes on each one with my personal choices of surah’s (chapters) or ayats (verses) recited in different portions of the prayer, and I have English translations beside everything (as “Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful regarding the fact that I cannot yet speak Arabic!),.and this is how I began to learn and practice the 5 daily salats (prayers)! I’ll never forget the day I made it all the way through Surah Fatihah without looking at my “cheat sheets!” “Al-hamdul illahi!” I proclaimed! And one by one, I have, over a period of time, been able to put away the cheat sheets! Yes, I still keep them with me though, as I have not totally mastered the whole thing…and I use the sheets whenever or wherever I can in an attempt at every opportunity to master my prayer…even at work!
Almuslima: Subhanallah! How have the people at your office responded to the changes in your life – and appearance?!
Aishah: Insha’Allah, we will have to continue our conversation very soon! We are out of time today! But I hope the readers will visit www.sisteraishah.com because, Insha’Allah, I am looking forward to answering more questions, and being able to share with readers many other things that have been, and continue to happen since I came to Islam!! THE TESTIMONY OF FAITH The testimony of faith is saying with conviction, "Ash hadu an la ilaha illa Allah wa ash hadu anna Muhammadar Rasul Allah." ("I declare there is no god but Allah and I declare that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.") The first part, “There is no true god but God,” means that none has the right to be worshipped but God alone, and that God has neither partner nor son. This testimony of faith is called the Shahada, a simple formula that should be said with conviction in order to convert to Islam. The testimony of faith is the most important pillar of Islam.
Copyright ©2005, Aishah Schwartz Permission is granted to circulate among private individuals and groups, to post on Internet sites and to publish in full text and subject title in not-for-profit publications. Contact author for all other rights, which are reserved.