By Michelle Schafieh
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, and 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. I was really proud of myself because I actually understood what I was saying. My parents were also proud of me that I took the initiative to learn. 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. That is when I decided to learn salah in Arabic.
At first, I had no clue where I would start. I did have an Arabic guide to prayer, but I was not sure if I was even pronouncing the words correctly. The transliteration is helpful, but I knew that I could do better. I decided that in addition to the book, I would use Youtube as a secondary resource. It was one of the best decisions that I came up with. Honestly, I think it was better than actual school because I was able to learn at my own pace and during my own time. It took a lot of pausing and replaying of YouTube videos, but I finally learned after a month of studying.
I was so proud of myself because I thought that it would be impossible since I was learning a whole new language on my own without a teacher. Some days, I would memorize a line and other days, I would memorize just one word. I kept telling myself not to give up because once I learned it, I would be able to pray five times a day!
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 along 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, especially with all the other classes that I was taking. However, when I told my professor that my goal was to read the Qur’an, he practiced with me during office hours. He saw that I was struggling, so he asked if I had a verse of the Qur’an with me. Fortunately, I had one in my bag, and he told me to pull it out. He said to start reading, and yes, I did struggle at first, but I could not believe it. I was able to read a few of the words. That was huge progress for me, and it made me believe in myself even more than before.
I also started attending halaqas and joined the MSA at UCLA. Luckily, they also held Qur’an classes at night where we would practice recitation. I felt like an outsider at first because most of the students spoke Arabic already and/or had gone to Islamic School. I did not let that stop me from attending, and I was grateful because the students were so welcoming and offered to help me. They helped me practice my pronunciation and also assisted me with my memorization.
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. When you start a new challenge, it may seem impossible, but from my own experiences, I know that if you believe in Allah, he will get you through it. He is the best teacher you can ever ask for. 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 Muslim parents teach their children about Islam, but sometimes this is taken for granted. We must try to put our knowledge into action. It is one thing when we learn because we are told to, and it is another thing if we learn because we are passionate about learning. By introducing Islam to me and my siblings in such a gentle manner, my parents made us find answers for ourselves through our passion and curiosity.
I am still on my journey as a Muslim. These days, I am trying to memorize verses of the Qur’an and I read the Quran 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.
About the Author
My name is Michelle Schafieh and like many of you, I’m constantly on the go. If I was not busy studying for school, I was volunteering for my local community. What always kept me motivated to strive for success was: Islam. I grew up in West Hollywood, and although I love
my city, I never had a strong Muslim community. Most of my knowledge came from my parents and online. What constantly kept me motivated were personal articles that I would come across describing Islam and the impact it had on people’s lives. Specifically, I once read an article about how smiling was a form of zakat and even though the act is small, it really does go a long way. I wanted to create content where even the busiest of people would still be able to take a quick break to be reminded of the beauty of Islam and how it truly is a way of life. By sharing my stories and how Islam has affected my life, I hope to motivate my brothers and sisters the same way I stay motivated.
Michelle shares her knowledge and journey on her blog Muslimgap.com