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“Is there anything wrong with pink?”

Posted on: November 18, 2006

Assalamu'alaikum,
Catatan seorang student of Journalism Columbia University tentang kelas new Muslims di Islamic Center/96ht street.
Wassalam,
Syamsi Ali

Here’s an account of my first Muslim conversion class. This could be included in my final Master’s Project, so comments and (constructive) criticism are greatly welcomed and appreciated:

Carissa Hanson has been called Nur since September when she converted to Islam. She chose the name because it means “the light,” and she hoped it would help her remember to smile. That usually works, but today she put her pet cat to sleep and can barely hold back the tears, let alone smile, whenever she talks about it.

So instead, before a weekly class for new Muslims and curious non-Muslims at the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, Hanson, 37, discussed her path to Islam. She was raised Lutheran, converted to Catholicism and then started attending classes here about a year ago with a Muslim friend. At her first class, a man took the shahadah, the declaration of faith to become a Muslim. Hanson repeated his words in her head that day, which included, “There is no God but Allah ” and “Muhammad is the messenger.” She said the words just made sense.

“When you fall in love with something and you can’t get enough of it,” she said, “that’s how I feel about this class. That’s how I feel about Islam.”

As she spoke, the five empty seats around the wooden conference table in the drab and windowless classroom began to fill. Liz Swartwout, who converted to Islam two and a half years ago, entered along with Imam Shamsi Ali, the class’s instructor.

Hanson, who wore a pink sweater with little pink balls on the front, jeans, white New Balance sneakers, a knee-length black coat and a sheer pink head wrap with pink beads, turned to the imam and asked her first of many questions.

“Is there anything wrong with pink?”

The imam replied without looking up from his copy of the Daily News. “No, there is nothing wrong with it.

” While Islam is both a lifestyle and a religion, dictating the clothes and food of Muslims, Ali warned against following the cultural mores of the Middle East instead of the teachings of the Koran. “People call me imam,” he said, “ but I don’t have to dress like an Arab. I have my own taste.” With style much more American than Middle Eastern, Ali wore a black leather jacket and khakis and left his short, black hair uncovered.

The class itself consisted of Ali explaining sections of the Koran. But constant concerns, like what to do about anger and sadness (wash your hands and pray) and how to seek forgiveness from Allah (agree not to make the same mistake again), halt lessons and prompt lively discussion.

The conversation moved from topic to topic, this time landing on beauty and vanity. Another imam had told the women that Muslims should not wear makeup. Was this true?

“The point is appropriateness,” Ali said with a slight Indonesian accent.

Hanson worried about using makeup with pork in it. Pork is outlawed in Islam and urban legends about pork in makeup scare many women out of wearing makeup at all. Swartwout, who wore deep red polish on her fingernails, piped up. “ They don’t put pork in makeup,” she said. “That’s silly. Read the ingredients. It’s all stuff you can’t pronounce. It’s all synthetic.

” Hanson was shocked (she had thrown all her makeup away), but pleased. “So I can go back to my light brown lipstick?”

Ali reasoned, “Allah is beautiful and he loves beauty.”

These short, vague answers are common for Ali. His students view him as part teacher, part spiritual leader, part psychologist and part friend. Two students, before the class ended, asked to call the imam later that evening to discuss private concerns. Ali balances guidance and religion without being demanding or preachy.

A young man entered the room. He greeted everyone, and then said, “I’ll be back. I’m just going to pray.”

“Did you convert?” Ali asked.

“Last Saturday.”

Congratulations are exchanged. The young man shook hands with the imam, but not his female classmates (touching between unrelated men and women is looked down upon in Islam). Then the newest Muslim left to pray.

“Finally!” said the imam. The women laughed and Swartwout replied, “It hasn’t been that long!”

But Ali is relieved. “He was a Buddhist,” the imam said. “It’s so hard to talk to them. I’m used to talking to Christians and Jewish people. They have holy books. Buddhists are so hard to talk to. They only believe in nature.”

The class ended with a discussion of life after death and the Muslim belief in paradise. “In paradise, when you have something to be enjoyed,” the imam said, “there is no limit.” “Does that include pets?” asked Hanson, who is still grieving for her cat.

“If pets make you happy,” replied the imam, smiling, “Allah will give you pets.”

note: it seems that this story is not the full version…. sorry for the inconvenience..

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