On Mentorship

People have different perceptions of what mentorship is.

For some, mentorship is having a big brother, big sister, motherly, or fatherly figure to help them navigate their lives. For others, mentorship is frequent check-ins ranging from weekly to monthly just to see how things are going and answer a few burning questions. Still for others, mentorship is having a knowledgable person guide you through particular areas in life who keep in daily contact to make sure you are keeping to your goals, answering questions, navigating religious matters, social matters, professional matters, or even family matters. Something akin to an AA sponsor. Others see the latter as more of “life coaching”, which is actually a fairly new term in relation to mentoring.

The word “mentor” has different connotations to different people. Know exactly what you expect from a mentor and what the mentor is willing to give. You both will need to lay out exactly what is expected from both parties, and what each party is willing to give before either party agrees to enter the mentorship. This will save everyone a lot of headache and disappointment down the road.

Having had a few mentors over the years, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned about mentorship. Some things to consider when choosing a mentor are personality, values, expectations, boundaries, motivation, commitment, and life experience.

Personality may be one of the first things to consider when entering a mentorship. If you are both Type A personalities, the match may not last very long. Jungian personality traits are something to consider, as well.  Unlike the Type A/Type B personalities, depending on the reason for choosing a Jungian trait, personality concordance can be seen as beneficial.  For example, if you are an introvert, you may choose a mentor who is an extrovert in order to learn or affect these qualities and behaviors yourself. On the other hand this may make both parties frustrated and or uncomfortable with being polar opposites.

After considering your ideal personality match, seeking compatible values is of the utmost importance.  If your values don’t mesh, the mentorship is destined for disaster. A good idea is to make an honest assessment of your values and your potential mentor to do the same.  The exercise shouldn’t take more than five minutes.  Are you someone who puts family before anything else and your potential mentor is more concerned about success in the world? Does your mentor put faith above all else and you are more career oriented? That isn’t to say that either of these are poor matches.  However, be mindful of your values and your intended mentor’s values.  The more they match, the more successful the relationship is likely to be, but you may choose someone whose values differ somewhat from your own in hopes of adopting some of those values yourself. Just be willing to accept that your chosen mentor may not be able to work with someone whose values are vastly different from their own.

Defining expectations is also crucial to the mentor selection process. What is it exactly you are hoping to gain from your mentor? What are you able to give to your mentor? By giving, I don’t mean gifts or favors. I mean how can you reciprocate enrichment to the relationship? Discuss these with your mentor candidate before entering into an arrangement.

Like any relationship boundaries are vital to maintaining a healthy relationship. You should both agree on healthy boundaries that both foster your nascent relationship, yet maintain an appropriate level of distance and privacy. Your mentor is not your BFF, your bowling buddy, your shoe shopping bestie, etc. That isn’t to say you can’t do fun or social things together. And remember that your mentor is not your therapist. You can share personal things that are within the boundaries you have agreed to, but your mentor is likely not a counselor and not equipped to give you some types of advice or guidance and may refer you to a professional. Just be aware of the boundaries to which you agree, try not to overstep them, speak up if you feel your boundaries have been crossed, and be receptive to criticism if your mentor feels their boundaries have been crossed.  The key here is active communication.

Everyone is motivated by something. There has never been a person in history who has done “something for nothing.”  Not one. If someone does something for the love of God, then they are doing it to receive God’s love. If someone does something just because they “should”, then they are doing to serve their own moral compass. What are your motivations for seeking a mentor? Write them down. What are your mentor’s motivations for seeking someone to mentor? Do you both feel those motivations are appropriate? Don’t be afraid to question this from both yourself and your prospect.

Commitment is something most people complain about in many of their relationships whether family, social, professional, educational, etc. How invested are you in a mentoring relationship? Do you expect to sit back and “be taught” and have your mentor chase you around to see how you are doing, always be the one to initiate contact, or be adept at clairvoyance in order to give you whatever it is you think you need? How often would you like to engage with your mentor? Once a month? Twice a month? Once a week? Everyday? How much time do you need from your mentor at each meeting, whether by phone, electronic communication of some kind, or face time (not FaceTime)? Is your mentor available and willing to commit to your desired level of engagement?

Finally, consider the life experience your mentor brings to the table. Just because a person is young, or even younger than you, doesn’t mean they don’t have the life experience to be your mentor. For some people, both those offering and those seeking mentorship, this may be awkward. Ask yourself if you are comfortable with this and ask your postulant mentor if they are amenable to the match as well. Your own life experiences may be something you can offer to the relationship also, so keep that in mind.

A mentoring relationship is a two-way street.  It isn’t about what can a mentor do for me. It IS about what can you do for each other. Think about what you can offer to the relationship. Your mentor may not desire or expect anything from the relationship other than the feeling they get from helping someone. But be aware that you may, and should, have something to contribute when appropriate.

The very last thing to keep in mind: The person you most desire for a mentor may decline. This may or may not be a reflection on you. It may be that they are not able to commit themselves at this stage in their life to being a mentor. They may already be mentoring others and do not have the bandwidth to take on another person to mentor. Don’t take it personally.  I can’t say whether should ask for feedback about their decision if they choose to pass on the opportunity.  You will have to gauge this for yourself.  They may choose to not give a reason. Be accepting of that.

 

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Asking “Converts”/”Reverts” About Their Story/Why They Converted to Islam

I used to hear this question at least once every single day. Now it’s down to about once per week. I still dislike answering it. In the beginning I told a long story. As time went on, it became shorter and short. Now, my answer is “by the Grace and Mercy of ألله ﷻ.”

It isn’t because I’m tired of the telling the story. Not at all. It’s because the story is very personal and I really would rather not share it with the whole world. Many Muslims say they feel inspired by our stories. Personally, I think it’s sensationalism on their part. “Look at this brother (or sister) who converted to Islam. Allahu Akbar!” And then you never hear from them again.

What many fail to realize is that sometimes a person has to reach an incredibly low point in their lives before they are even able to hear that ألله ﷻ is calling to them. Sometimes we feel ashamed at things we have done and the kind of person we have become. Yes, we are told that we are forgiven for our sins when we profess our faith, but that doesn’t instantly heal the mental and emotional wounds and scars that came with the journey. In time, healing does often occur. But it can take a long time. It isn’t necessarily a lack of faith; its human nature.

I’m not asking people to be afraid of asking the question, but be sensitive about it. Get to know the person a little first and tell them when they are ready to tell it, you would be open to hearing their story if they wish to share it at some point. Don’t demand it out of them. Don’t press them. And if you just, met them, or have only spoken with them a few times, don’t ask. It’s rude. Would you like it if someone you don’t know asked you personal questions about your family and finances? No, I think not. For some people, the story of their journey to Islam can be just as personal and private.

How will you remember God?

A wise man said to me, “you can enjoy a dollar for a moment of your life, but if you remember God, you can enjoy life forever.”

This may be one of the wisest things I’ve heard in quite a while.  Too often we get overly concerned about things in this world beyond what we need.  Everywhere people are trying to keep up with the Jones’ (or any last name from anywhere), and focusing less on things that should really matter to us like our own health and well being, our families, our friends, and even our spiritual health and faith.  Money and material things have become our gods.

In a consumerist society, it is difficult to escape the attraction of wealth and “things”.  We are constantly bombarded by entertainment outlets, marketing and advertising, and even our friends and family telling us we need to have the next best thing.  But do we?  I often find myself taking things for granted and getting carried away with material concerns, when I should be focusing on my health, education, and spiritual practices.

Gratitude lists can be very helpful in reminding one about the blessings in ones life.  It’s difficult to stick to a habit of writing them everyday.  It starts to become difficult to think of something new and not trite, and then it becomes a chore.  Perhaps a daily gratitude list is not for me.  Perhaps a weekly list is better?

One of the things I am struggling with is taking the time to keep up with all 5 prayers each day (just the required part, not to mention the recommended additional parts), reading Qur’an every day, and taking time to just sit and remember ألله  ﷻ . In the beginning of my embracing Islam, it was easier, even though I struggled at learning what to do.  Usama Canon and others have suggested people develop a daily litany to remember ألله  ﷻ.  I put it on a list of things to do.  I still haven’t done it.

I am told that it is normal for our iman to waver.  Some days our iman is really high and we find it easy to complete all of our prayers, read Qur’an and find other ways to remember ألله  ﷻ.  Other days our iman is really low and we do nothing, not even pray sometimes.  For me, finding a balance in between can be difficult.

I’ve been trying to find ways to overcome this.  A friend of mine said, start with saying Alhamdulillah once every hour.  Just that.  That’s pretty reasonable.  I’m not perfect at it, but it does help.  I have lists of all things that can be done.  I read over the lists many times, and ultimately decided if I tried to do all of those things, I would start seeing them as a chore.  I decided this morning that I’m going to take 5 things from the lists and try to incorporate those into my life.  Every two weeks, I’ll add 5 more and just slowly build.  Insha’Allah by the end of 2015, I will have found a consistent balance in my iman.

Here are some things I’m trying to be consistent with and then some things from my list:

  • Say Alhamdulillah once each hour
  • Repeat the shahada once every hour
  • Pray the required aspects of prayer for each prayer each day.
  • Read 10 verses from the Qur’an each day
  • That’s a good start.

Here are some other things to consider:

  • Memorize one verse of the Qur’an each day
  • Teach the verse you memorized to someone else
  • Make du’a for a Muslim
  • Make du’a for a non-Muslim that ألله  ﷻ guide them
  • Learn a couple of new du’a each week
  • Memorize the du’a of repentance
  • Memorize the du’a for guidance
  • Sit after prayer and make dhikr, Alhamdulillah, Allahu Akbar, Subhana’allah, Astaghfirallah, etc.
  • Say Bismillah before doing anything.
  • Learn the 99 names of ألله  ﷻ
  • Learn a new hadith each week
  • Teach that hadith to someone
  • Voluntary fasting
    • Mondays and Thursdays
    • 13th, 14th, and 15th of each month
  • Give sadaqa as often as possible
    • Feed someone, especially a poor person
    • Give someone money if you can, even if it is only a dollar or two
    • Offer to do a chore for someone
    • Pray for someone
    • Talk to some and try to brighten their day, just don’t be patronizing
    • Smile at someone, especially a stranger
    • Give up your seat for someone
  • Spend time with your family
  • Call your parents/siblings/children
  • Write to someone you care about (letter or post card are best, but email, too)
  • Fulfill conjugal rights with your spouse
  • Clean your house
  • Cook a meal for your family
  • Talk to a non-Muslim about Islam (don’t be a Qur’an/Hadith thumper though!), be gentle
  • Pray for the deceased
  • Forgive someone
  • Forgive yourself
  • Reconcile with someone
  • Strive to be patient
  • Visit the sick
  • Ignore a slight
  • Try not to swear or use vulgar language
  • Do not backbite/gossip/slander/make snide or snarky comments
  • Return a favor
  • Repay a debt
  • Improve relations with a neighbor(s)
  • Return greetings (to everyone in an appropriate, healthy way)
  • Attend funerals
  • Accept an invitation
  • Show gratitude, don’t just write about it
  • Learn something new about anything and then teach it to someone
  • Play with your children
  • Give your spouse a gift
  • Spend quality time with your family
  • Plant a garden
  • Volunteer
  • Improve your ethics
  • Strive to eat halal, healthy food
  • Take care of yourself, including exercise, modest eating, and treating illnesses appropriately
  • Try to be on time with prayers
  • Suppress your ego
  • Does cause fitna/drama
  • Avoid greed
  • Avoid showing off
  • Keep confidences and trusts
  • Keep personal and familial matters private
  • Be an activist for social justice (do something besides just posting on Facebook or Twitter)
  • Defend the oppressed
  • Speak about only those things which you know
  • Avoid spreading rumors
  • Reduce time wasting
  • Develop a healthy, halal hobby
  • Give leftover food to charity, such as a homeless shelter, or a homeless person on the street
  • Recycle
  • Dress nicely all the time
  • Read surat al-kahf every Friday
  • Be on time for Jumu’ah
  • Go to sleep at a decent hour and get up at a decent hour
  • Be hygienic
  • Be lawful
  • Be content with what you have
  • Be truthful

There are many more things you can do, but that’s a pretty good list to choose from.

So how will you remember ألله  ﷻ?

Questions to Consider Each Day

Some Questions to contemplate and possibly answer, if you were so inclined.
**Morning Questions**
How was your quality of sleep last night?
What time did you go to bed?
How did you feel after Fajr this morning?
What 5 things do you need to accomplish today?
What selection from the Qur’an do you want to read and learn from today?
What do you want to memorize from the Qur’an today?
What du’as do you need to make and/or memorize today?
How will you remember Allah today?
**Evening Questions**
Did you accomplish your 5 goal tasks for today?
What passages did you read from Qur’an today?
What lessons did you learn from your Qur’an reading for the day?
Did you make your du’a for the day?
How did you feel afterward?
How did you remember Allah today?
What did you eat today?
What did you do for exercise today?
Did you listen to any lectures or nasheeds today?
What did you get from it?
Anything special you would like to note?
Were you able to attend any lectures today?
Who was the speaker?
Any thoughts about the speaker specifically?
What was the topic?
How were you able to relate to the topic?
Where was it held?
What did you think of the venue?
What key points did you get from it?
Anything you want to note?
How did you spend your time with your family today?
Did you read any uplifting books or blogs today (other than Qur’an)?
What did you gain from it?
How many prayers were you able to accomplish today?
Were you able to go to the masjid today?
Which one(s) did you go to?
Anything you want to say about the masjid?
If today was Jumu’ah prayer, what was the topic of the khutbah?
What were your thoughts about it?
Did you give saddaqah today?
What kind (money, culinary, labor, du’a, etc.)?
Was today a day of fasting for you?
How did you do?
How do you feel about that?
Did you discuss Islam with a non-Muslim?
What did you talk about?
How was your mood today?
What  did you discover about yourself today that you would like to change?
What steps can you take to change?
What burning questions do you have?
What goals do you have for tomorrow?
List five values you would like to integrate into your life:
What classes did you have today?
What things do you want to research further?
What homework assignments do you need to complete this week?

Observations on my own personal journey of learning Islam, Arabic, and Qur’an

I have been reflecting on where I am at in learning Islam, Arabic, and Qur’an, and how I have been learning.  I’m finding deficiencies.

 

I have not been able to decide if my learning and memorization techniques do not fit the way I learn and memorize, if I’m not putting forth enough effort, or a combination of both.

 

I been Muslim for just a couple weeks shy of seven months now.  I know people learn at different paces, but this is starting to concern me.  It took me three whole months to memorize Surat Al-Fatihah.  As of today, I still don’t have the Tahashud and Darood memorized completely.  I do my best and continue to ask Allah for guidance, but I still feel deficient.

 

Things I have noticed:

 

I love attempting to read Qur’an and listening to Qur’an recitation.  It’s beautiful, but to my brain it is just noise.  Beautiful noise, but noise nonetheless.  Everything flows together so beautiful.  So beautifully, unless I know the specific word (and I don’t know more than 10), I cannot distinguish where one word stops and the next begins.  This is also true of the typography of Qur’an.  Unless I know the word, I often cannot tell where one word stops and the next begins.  Even if I think it’s a word I know, sometimes it’s actually part of another word.

 

My Arabic is coming along slowly.  I know I need to practice writing more.  Four year old Saudi children probably write more beautifully than I do, Masha’Allah.  I can write the letters in all of their forms.  My visual letter recognition is at about 99%.  My auditory recognition of letters is about 60% because I haven’t been able to completely learn the nuances of the sounds of similar letters.  My pronunciation still leaves a lot to be desired, but with practice, it will improve Insha’Allah.  I’m getting to a point where I can sound things out by ear a little bit.  If you speak very slow, sometimes I can write the word with a fair amount of accuracy, depending on who is speaking, how clearly they enunciate, and their rate of speech.  As much as transliteration annoys me, I’m getting to the point I can take someone else’s transliteration and put it back into Arabic letters.  But Masha’Allah, I’m progressing.

 

Even though the classes I attend are meant to be elementary, sometimes the instructor forgets that many of their students don’t speak Arabic, and then forget to translate, as best as possible, so we can all understand.  Translation is a difficult thing.  Somethings cannot be translated at all, and some things can only be loosely translated.  Something I learned today is that a translator can capture only some of the message of the Qur’an, but none of the miracle of the Qur’an.

The ONLY Unforgivable Sin

I have learned so far, that there are THREE “the only unforgivable” sins.

1.  Shirk – Ascribing partners to Allah

2.  Stealing from Salah.

3.  Committing suicide.

Does anyone know of more?

Tumblr says I’m not allowed to ask anymore than two questions today, and I guess I’ve already asked them.  Please send me a private message with your responses and I will append them to the bottom of this post Insha’Allah.

Lecture on Secrets of Qur’anic Arabic at Masjid Al-Faatir

I tried taking notes but had a really difficult time keeping up, so I stopped. I am missing more than I was able to write down. I was able to glean a few things from the lecture, but a lot of it was over my head. Meaning some of it was way advanced study, and I didn’t understand many of the words he used – in English! 

He is a good speaker, but I felt like he focused more on the Arabic and just kind of glossed over English translation, and some things he did not translate at all, or if he did, I missed it. It was very academic.

I also notice that the title of the lecture has changed. I went because it was originally titled Secrets of Surah Al-Fatihah or something like that. It ended up being Secrets of Qur’anic Arabic. Either way, it was good, but not something I would recommend for new Muslims. I think it might cause some confusion. I know it did for me. 

There were some things that were taught to me a certain way, but explained differently by the speaker. I won’t go into specific examples. And I didn’t think anyone was right or wrong, they were just different, so I asked someone for clarification during the break.

Here are a few of the notes I took:

Lecture on Secrets of Qur’anic Arabic at Masjid Al-Faatir

Dr. Hisham Mahmoud

Relationship between language of Qur’an and reflection. 

Qur’an created before humans. Destined to come into the world. 

Revealed in Arabic so we can have access to reflect. 

Coherence and Exegesis

Qur’an has no beginning and no end. 

Fatihah means opening not beginning. 

Qur’an is not linear. 

Everything in Qur’an is contained in Fatihah. Everything in Fatihah is contained in Bismillah. Everything in Bismillah is contained in baa. Everything in baa is contained in the dot. 

Khatam = gone through and come back to start over. 

Quran makes tawaf around Al-Fatihah (I didn’t quite understand tawaf. He kept referring to orbits of earth, moon, and sun, so I’m guessing it means orbital?)

Surah ta’nass (I had to guess here because it wasn’t written and I don’t know all of the names of the surat in the Qur’an) leads to Surah Al-Fatihah

Rabbin’as. Rabbin Al Amin

Malikinas. Maliki yaw mideen

Ilhahinas. Iyakka na’abudu wa iyakka nastaeen

Al waswas annas. Maghdubi al ahim wa la daaal leen

There is a relationship between one Surah and the one that follows. 

Bukhahi book (I didn’t get the title. It was in Arabic and they didn’t put it on the screen or the board) on relationships of verses of Qur’an

There was much more, but like I said, I couldn’t keep up.

Here is a photo that I thought was pretty fascinating. I didn’t realize palindromes existed in other languages, but I don’t know why I didn’t. I hope it’s legible.

image

Unfortunately, I am not allowed to let people comment on more than two posts per day according to the Tumblr Admins.  So if you have questions or comments about this, please send me a private message and I will append the question and answer to the end of the post.  Just be sure to include which entry you are asking/commenting about in your message please.

Matters of the Heart – The Permissibility of Lying

Matters of the Heart – Notes 

Dr. Omar Faruq Abd-Allah

From Imam Al-Ghazali “Wonders of the Heart”

Subject:  Permission to lie and Permission to use misleading words

What you say has an effect on what you are and what you become.

We live in a time of linguistic chaos.  People don’t use words the way they mean.

Be careful of words.  Use articulate speech.

Lying is haram.  It is hateful to Allah, the angels, and the Messenger (saw) because of the harm it produces.

There are exceptions about lying.

Do not tell your spouse you don’t love them.

Do not tell someone looking to harm another where their object is.

We are obligated to withhold the truth if the truth will cause great harm to someone.

Avoid hateful words, even if they are true.

Kadarah – ugly things that should not be said.

You can only lie when something is to be avoided.

Speak in your heart before you speak with your tongue.

Most people lie for personal gain.

The greatest lie of all is to lie against Allah and the Prophet (saw).

No woman is known to have ever fabricated a hadith.

It is important to learn to say “I don’t know.”

Do not lie about your dreams.  Be careful about to whom you tell your dreams.

Do not lie about miraculous things that happened (karamat).

The greatest of firiya (ugly lie) is to lie about someone’s lineage (who is their father or mother).

Ta’areed – sort of like a pun or using misleading words.  This is acceptable.  An example was given about an Italian woman using a phrase buona parte, which is pronounced the same as Bonaparte (as in Napolean) to whom she was answering a question.

The Foundation of speech is to keep silent unless something good is to be told.

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Need some short Surat for Salah?

If you are having difficulty learning Arabic for salah, I recommend the first couple of verses (1-4) from Surat Ar-Rahman (55), Surat Al-Asr (103), Surat Al-Kawthar (108), Surat Al-Ikhlas(112), Surat Al-Falaq (113) and Surat An-Nas (114). 
These verses from the Qur’an are pretty short and also have a rhythm, which makes it easier to remember.
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Islamic Art

 

Absolutely beautiful!  This person is very talented

Misconceptions About Islam

Mohammad Was Not a Womanizer, and Other Common Misconceptions About Islam Debunked | The Daily Beast

A virulently anti-Islam movie trailer sparked widespread protests across the Arab world and may have caused the death of a U.S. ambassador. But the truth about Islam is anything but hateful, writes Olga M. Davidson.

By Olga M. Davidson

September 13, 2012

1. Allah is not a name of a god. It is the Arabic word God, with a capital G, referring to the very same god that Christians and Jews worship. If you want to be very literal-minded it means “the god” because it is the definitive of the word “god” (ilah or ilāh), and if one adds the definitive article (al) it become Allah (Allāh, actually but let’s not quibble). In Farsi, God is called khodah—as in French, God is called Dieu, etc.

2. Mohammad isn’t a god. According to Islam, Mohammad is the final prophet, or messenger of God. He isn’t worshipped, since he isn’t God or an avatar of God. His example is emulated, but he is considered a real person, who eats, sleeps, loves, and so on. Islam has many prophets before Mohammad, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus and arguably Mary, because she spoke with God. Mohammad is just a man; progeny of human beings. In the Qur’ān it is clearly stated that God is neither begotten nor begets (lam yalid wa lam yūlad)

3. Speaking of Mary, mother of Jesus … she is considered to be among the finest of women and there is an entire surah, or chapter in the Qur’ān, entitled Maryam, the Arabic form of Mary. She is emulated because of her unwavering faith in God and her supreme spirituality. She becomes pregnant with Jesus, though a virgin, because God can do anything, but God is not considered to be the father.

4. Mohammad was not a womanizer. He married a widow, Khadijah, and was singularly devoted to her until she died. She left him with Fatima, their daughter. Upon her death, Mohammad did not want to remarry but was urged to do so by his followers. His subsequent marriages were primarily to form alliances with his nearest and dearest as well as with more remote followers. In the Sunni tradition, Aishah, daughter of Abu Bakr, was considered to be his favorite wife. She was married to him at a very early age and was consequently raised by him and was his only virgin bride. Her tender age was considered to be normal at the time, but marriages are not consummated until the bride has menstruated, just as in Game of Thrones. His other wives were either widows or divorcées. Mohammad wanted to form a tribe or ummah that was connected through faith, as opposed to blood ties. As this tribe grew, consolidating it through marriage ties was politically prudent. At the time, polygamy at was the norm in Arab tribal society and marrying widows and divorcées was a noble thing to do.

5. Women aren’t sold into marriage. Marriage and divorce in Islam have been greatly misunderstood. In Islam, marriage is a contract, not an oath. The groom has to give the bride a dowry to make the contract valid, and that dowry is for her and her alone to use as she wishes. Hence, her father or uncle or brother does not sell her. Unlike her Christian and Jewish sisters at the time, Muslim women could own property. As for divorce, it is not as simple as making a public declaration. Because marriage is a contract, dowry negotiations are taken very seriously; half the dowry is given at the marriage, while the second half has to be given if the bride asks for it or if the marriage is terminated through no fault of the bride. Furthermore, the groom needs to answer to the bride’s family of he wishes to terminate the contract. A bride can terminate the marriage if her husband is impotent or abusive; if he is an alcoholic or drug abuser; if he forces her to abandon her faith or act in a way that she deems as abandoning her faith; or if he disappears for over a year.  Marriage as contract, not an oath, is are meant to be fluid, and if a couple is not happy in living together, they can part from each other, remarry and continue to live normal lives.

6. Mohammad was not illiterate. The word Qur’ān means recitation, coming from the root q-r-, which means primarily to recite or declaim and then to read. If Mohammad is said to be illiterate, that is to underscore the importance of the spoken word, not the written word. The angel Gabriel gave the command form of q-r-, saying iqra’, which means “recite!” in Arabic, when he transmitted the message of God as opposed to having something written on tablets. That is why memorizing the Qur’ān is so valued. Under Uthman, who was caliph from 644-656, the Qur’ān became a fixed text, as in it was written down as a finalized text and has not changed since. The style of the Qur’ān in Arabic is rhymed prose, so it is easier to memorize and is considered to be inimitable. The physical book as called a maṣḥaf (pronounced as maṣ-ḥaf), which means pages between two covers or a volume, but the value of those pages is in the recitation. When the Qur’ān became mass-produced, recitations of it were considered extremely reliable, to the great surprise of European editors.

7. You can’t be a Muslim if you don’t want to be. Contrary to the misnomer, “Islam or the Sword!”, the Qur’ān is quite clear about not forcing anyone to convert. Conversion must be done through the heart. It is simple because one just has to pronounce, with sincere intention, the shahida:  lā ilāh ilā allāh wa muhammad rasūlu’llāh ( “there is no god but God and Mohammad is his messenger”) three times in front of credible witnesses. Hence one comes to Islam from pure intention as opposed to being schooled by a priest, minister or rabbi.

8. You are unlikely to meet 72 virgins in heaven. The Qur’ān says nothing about 72 virgins waiting for you in heaven. Heaven is described, among other things, as the opposite of the harsh desert, hence it is verdant with the river or body of water, Kawthar, and filled with hūr al ayn, which means “ones with eyes that are very dark around the pupil”—a sign of true beauty. The concept of 72 virgins comes from outside of the Qur’ān.

9. Non-Muslims are not infidels. Christians and Jews—also Zoroastrians, for that matter—are considered to be ahl al kitāb or “people of the book,” because they are monotheists, and Islam is strictly monotheistic. References to infidels in the Qur’ān usually have to do with the Quraishi of Mecca, Mohammad’s own tribe, because they tried to kill him and destroy his following. Same would go for any Christian or Jewish tribe with the same intent.

Olga Merck Davidson earned her Ph.D. in 1983 from Princeton University in Near Eastern Studies. She is on the faculty of the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations, Boston University, where she has served as Research Fellow since 2009. From 1992 to 1997, she was Chair of the Concentration in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University. Since 1999, she has been Chair of the Board, Ilex Foundation.

She is the author of two books: Poet and Hero in the Persian Book of Kings (Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1994; 2nd ed. Mazda Press: Los Angeles, CA, 2006) and Comparative Literature and Classical Persian Poetry, Bibliotheca Iranica: Intellectual Traditions Series (Mazda Press: Los Angeles, CA, 2000), both of which have been translated into Persian and distributed in Iran.

Copyright © 2012 The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC.

[Image: Indian Muslims offer Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Shahi Jama Masjid Mosque in the Walled City of Ahmedabad on August 20, 2012. (© Sam Panthaky, AFP/Getty Images)]