By: Camille Paldi
This article was first published by Literary Yard.
It just came out of my mouth.
لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا ٱلله
There is no god but God.
lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh
مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ ٱلله
muḥammadun rasūlu llāh
Muhammad is the messenger of God (Wikipedia).
Now, I was officially Muslim after reciting the shahada or declaration of faith in Islam. The shahada is the central statement of faith in Islam, recited ceremonially by new converts, and consisting of an affirmation of the uniqueness of God and of Muhammad as God’s prophet (The Free Dictionary). Muslims believe in all of God’s prophets with Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) as the seal of all Prophets. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet and not son of God. I was in the midst of studying for an LL.M degree at University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law. I had recently returned to the United States after living for three years in the Emirate of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
In fact, three and a half years prior to this date, I had embarked on a solo journey to the Middle East from Hawaii, which would forever change my life. I flew to Dubai with a few suitcases, hopes and dreams, and the enthusiasm of a fresh graduate of law seeking out employment and a new adventurous life full of travel, learning, and the absorption of all the different cultures and nationalities, which would surround me for my entire stay in the Emirates. In fact, I was lucky enough to see the Islamic jewels of art, culture, and architecture in the UAE, Oman, Pakistan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Qatar. The mosques beautify the atmosphere with their stunning art, architecture, design, and display and of course, the remembrance of Allah.
I gained employment at a local law firm called Global Advocates and Legal Consultants in the Garhoud district of Dubai, directly across the street from a quaint mosque. The owner Ali, often gifted me informative books about Islam and Arabs, which I read fervently and with a thirst for knowledge about Islam. We even read the Qu’ran together line by line, word by word and discussed and pondered its’ deep meaning and content. Islam is such a beautiful and peaceful religion, focusing on preparing the individual for the Day of Judgement, on which day one’s good and bad deeds would be weighed and a decision would be made as to whether or not one would enter Heaven or Hell.
I can distinctly remember hearing the Muslims call to prayer or adhnan five times a day and remembering how beautiful and peaceful it sounded, especially at 5 AM in the morning when the atmosphere was still, silent, and dark. I once told Ali that it sounded like honey dripping into my ears. Prior to converting to Islam, every time I heard the adhnan, it would stop me in my tracks whatever I was doing and cause me to ponder my existence. Muslims are reminded five times a day to return and submit to Allah or God and to remember that their ultimate return is to Him. The mortal’s place on earth is temporary and we are only here to fulfill our assigned tasks – assigned at our conception.
You see our entire lives are already written including how much money we might make, our spouses and children, work, the places we might travel and the people we encounter…everything is part of a larger plan…Allah’s plan. Once one as an individual comes to accept the greater plan and submit to Allah’s will, one might feel more content and satisfied with everything one has been given in this life and strive for a greater eternal life in Jannah or Heaven. This can only be done by fulfilling Allah’s wishes such as caring for the needy and the poor, taking care of one’s family, fasting during Ramadan, giving in charity, and increasing oneself in knowledge towards Allah’s cause.
I was struck by how well women seemed to be treated in Islamic countries. It seemed girls and women were always protected either by their fathers and brothers or husbands and that they were well maintained physically, emotionally, spiritually, and monetarily. They dressed elegantly, covering all of their skin in black dresses and wore a scarf to cover their hair. Women were not seen in public without remaining fully covered. Human beings should cover all of their skin in public as we are distinct from other animals. It makes sense. Honor is key in the maintenance and protection of women. In Islam, there are no relations between males and females prior to marriage. It is a question of honor for the female and the family of the female in question.
Everything in Islam has a rhyme or reason. For instance, fasting for one month from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan helps one keep their weight and blood-sugar under control, prevents cancers, and boosts the immune system. Fasting causes a pause in the digestion system, which then allows the digestive system to clean itself out and re-boost. Islam operates on a lunar calendar and there is really something special about the month of Ramadan that permeates the air. This is the month that Allah sent the Qu’ran down to earth through his messenger Muhammad (pbuh). During this month, one should reflect upon the Qu’ran, help those in need including the hungry and homeless, and focus on one’s role in submission to Allah. If one cannot fast for health reasons, one can donate to charity in lieu of fasting.
Fasting has a lot of health benefits like prayer benefits the individual in many ways. The Islamic prayer allows oneself to stretch one’s body out, improve circulation, aid in digestion, stretch all of the internal organs, and acts as a spiritual bath, leaving one feeling refreshed and revitalized after prostrating and praying to Allah. The washing of oneself prior to prayer or wudhu allows oneself to purify oneself five times though out the day, even rinsing the nostrils. This makes sense as it cleans out germs and other impurities, which might cause disease. One rinses the feet, hands up to the elbows, face, nostrils, and hair. Usually, the Muslim is very clean, pure, with good posture and good physical and mental health.
Imagine if this was done in America? Can you imagine companies allowing their employees to either leave the office and go to a mosque or prayer room to pray five times a day? It would be unheard of. However, I did find my counterparts in the Islamic world much healthier physically, mentally, and spiritually then in the West. Of course, as one lives for Allah and submits to His will rather than living purely for the market. The sense of purpose of the Muslim is deep and extends to fulfilling Allah’s will. We are only here because Allah allows us to be and we should remember that constantly throughout the day. We are only trustees of the earth and all that we have belongs to Allah. Allah tests one with wealth and power, however, it is important to remember that these are only tests to see how one treats other people and fulfill’s the will of Allah. Life is a test to see which among us are worthy to enter Jannah or Heaven.
Through Islam, I also learned not to eat pork, as the pig is a filthy, disease-carrying animal that eats dead flesh. Furthermore, halal meat, or specified meats slaughtered in the Islamically prescribed method, should be consumed to preserve ideal human health. In addition, one should pay attention to the specified halal foods as mentioned in the Qur’an and sunnah or the actions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Sunnah is the body of literature which discusses and prescribes the traditional customs and practices of the Islamic community, both social and legal, often but not necessarily based on the verbally transmitted record of the teachings, deeds, sayings, and silent permissions (or disapprovals) of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) (Wikipedia).
One should also avoid alcohol, as it is a dangerous intoxicant that leads to the disruption of the fabric of society, the family, and the deterioration of the health and well-being of the individual. Gambling is also a dangerous activity which destroys society, as it is a zero-sum game in which one party wins at the other party’s expense.
The five pillars of Islam include (1) shahada or reciting the Muslim profession of faith; (2) salat or prayer; (3) zakat or paying alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor; (4) sawm or fasting; (5) hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca.
My journey to Islam began with one brave soul stepping on a flight from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 2008, and continues to this day as I study and contemplate Islam and the Qur’an.