All posts by Danielle LoDuca

Danielle LoDuca is a third generation artist and author. Drawing inspiration from personal life experiences, her writings highlight the familiarity of Islam in a climate that increasingly portrays the Islamic faith as strange. She holds a BFA from Pratt Institute and has pursued postgraduate studies in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Foundation for Knowledge and Development. LoDuca’s work has been featured in media publications in the US and abroad. She is currently co-authoring a book with her husband. http://shakielanddanielle.com/ https://youramericanmuslimneighbor.com/ https://www.facebook.com/danielle.loduca DanielleLoDuca@gmail.com

The Girl Behind The Veil

When you go out on a cold day, you put on your jacket; Sometimes gloves and a hat and a scarf too.

When I go out, I cover up just like that-
The way you put on your jacket.

I cover myself and I cover the clothes I’m wearing.

I know some find it odd. I know some think it’s foreign culture. I know some think I must be oppressed and suppressed.

Some even think they should “save” me. A man cursed at my husband once because… he must have forced me.

I like to call it hijab, which means “covering” or “partition” in Arabic.

I went without it for twenty three years.
I’ve been there.

I was a girl fresh out of college.

I would have started sooner if I hadn’t feared what my friends would say; If I hadn’t feared people a little too much.

The day I finally did it, I ran into work past everyone- looking down. I ran right into the break room and hesitated before I revealed myself- no longer revealed.

Why? Why do we wear hijab?

The Quran makes it very clear and simple: “so that you will be recognized and so that you will not be annoyed” (Quran 33:59)

Hijab is partially a statement, partially a protection. The implications of both aspects are very, very rich.

It is one of my favorite directives given in Islam.

When I go out, I am recognized as a Muslim: Someone who puts their Creator first; I’m not someone who’s interested in flirting, or showing off my body, or competing for attention.

When I go out, I do not get harassed or gawked at from top to bottom. I don’t get whistled at or called baby by men I don’t know.

Women don’t compare their curves to mine. They don’t get jealous and neither do I.

If my body is not like a supermodel’s that’s ok, I don’t have to feel inadequate. The people who care about me think I’m beautiful the way I am. Why should I worry about anyone else?

I’m not forced to be a runner in the race to wear the latest and greatest fashion.

My outer appearance is not a display of beauty but of the fact I have more important things on my mind.

Hijab has given me the freedom to move through the world with dignity and respect I had not known before it.

It is truly liberating.

I hardly ever have nightmares, but when I do they almost always involve me being out somewhere in a public place- and realizing I’m not wearing hijab.

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When Muslims Move In

My family and I moved into this quiet neighborhood several years ago.

I’d say I’m generally an outgoing and friendly person, but when we first moved in, I was actually a little afraid to cross paths with my neighbors.

Naturally, I would be inclined to go knock on their doors and introduce myself; but subconsciously I wondered if they would gasp…

What if they were in there talking about the horror of Muslims moving into their neighborhood?

That fear, that shyness, prevented me from being myself.

Thankfully a lady, who is now my closest friend in the neighborhood, walked over while I was out in the yard with my children. She introduced herself and struck up a friendly chat.

She put me at ease.

She removed my fear of not being welcome, or worse; of being hated.

Since then I’ve established great relationships with all of my immediate neighbors.

I am telling this story because I still do have fears. I fear that if a Muslim moves into your neighborhood that they might give the impression of being unfriendly.

They might keep to themselves.

Looking at them from a distance, they might seem strange to you. You might feel compelled to ignore them.

To just pretend they aren’t there.

But they might just feel the same way I did. They might be afraid they aren’t welcome.

Lets face it, we know what they are saying about us on TV…
and in the papers…
and all over the Internet.

We know.

And sometimes it’s hard to imagine that you haven’t been affected by it.

That you are exposed to those negative caricatures of Muslims so readily, yet somehow it doesn’t determine your opinion of us.

But my own experience proves that not everyone is so impressionable.

I have valuable relationships,
people in my life;
caring and reliable people around me

that are proof.

The Quran teaches us that God has created all the variation in humanity so that we can know each other.

The variation creates interest. It gives us something to talk about.

We all have something to learn from one another because we are different.

If we look at it that way- then life with each other becomes beautiful and rich.

Filled with curiosity and learning…

Which leads to understanding and compassion.

It

is

possible.

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Is That an Arab?

Last night, while walking from my car to a shopping center, I passed by a vehicle with its windows open.

I heard someone say loudly,

“What’s that? Is that an ARAB?”

Who… me?

Sorry, “Muslim” and “Arab” are not synonymous.

Actually Muslims are found all over the world. From China, Russia, and Indonesia to many parts of Africa and Europe, to both North and South America.

Muhammad, the prophet who was given the Quran was a descendent of the prophet Ishmael who was the son of Abraham – he was an Arab.

Jesus and many of the prophets we know of, were from what we now call the Middle East as well… And nobody seems to think all Christians are Semitic or Middle Eastern… Go figure!

The Quran makes it very clear that it is a message for mankind:

This (Quran) is but a reminder for all people. (38:87)

Muhammad is addressed in the Quran: And We (God) have not sent you except comprehensively to mankind as a bringer of good tidings and a warner. But most of the people do not know. (Quran 34:28)

That’s why people from all over have accepted it as their life’s guidance.

I learned about Islam independent of any people. I didn’t know any Muslims.

For me, it was clearly a universal message.

It not only speaks to individuals regardless of their background but it is also timeless. I didn’t get the feeling that it was irrelevant or outdated.

Aspects of the quran describe our modern world and it provides comforting advice that is perfectly on point.

So for me and many other Americans like me, it was a natural choice.

And when we chose to be Muslims, we didn’t change our ethnicity, or race, or nationality, or culture. Just like the first Indonesians who embraced Islam, or the first Bosnians.

In America, the Muslims are the most diverse faith group. When I go to a mosque I sit amongst people of many shades and diverse backgrounds.

Islam, in practice, eliminates racism and nationalism. It teaches us to focus on our humanity and to rejoice in our differences.

To get to know one another.

So one doesn’t need to be Arab to be Muslim, and no one should assume that every Muslim they see is an immigrant either!

I’ll leave you with the following verse:

O humankind! Surely We have created you from a single (pair of) male and female, and made you into nations and families so that you may know one another (and so build mutuality and co-operative relationships, not so that you may take pride in your differences of race or social rank, and breed enmities). Surely the noblest, most honorable of you in God’s sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God. Surely God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (Quran 49:13)

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Hating Islam

I often browse the Internet for information and I am amazed (well, sort of amazed) at the amount of anti-Islam websites.

More than that though- I am stunned by the sheer amount of time and effort people put into them!

Some of them seem as if they are genuinely promoting Islam, but the “facts” and descriptions are subversive, quoted out of context, misinterpreted, or just plain incorrect.

Very deceptive!

Have you ever wondered why so many people literally devote countless hours and days of their lives to turning people away from Islam?

Is it because they are so noble and compassionate that they must sacrifice their lives to save the world from a dangerous 1400 year old religion and the 1.6 billion people who adhere to it???

Probably not.

I can tell you for sure, that choosing Islam as my way of life has made me a better person.

Even the people in my life who are not exactly thrilled with my choice, will say they have mixed feelings; because they know I am a better daughter, sister and friend now that I’m a Muslim.

I’ve read the Quran many times over. Not only has it helped me to be a kinder, more responsible and compassionate human, but I have also attained a serene peace within myself I had previously thought impossible.

The positive change in me is Islam.

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Muslims Don’t Fly

Think about food.

Many of us know what’s good and what’s not, but there are still times we just “can’t help” having that cake, or ice cream, or hot dog.

Other people simply eat what they want. They might not even think too much about whether or not that food is good for their body.

Then there are those people who realize the relationship between what they eat and their overall health.

They research, study and even do their best to implement what they learn, with determination to take excellent care of their bodies. These are often the most successful, health-wise. They are also the fewest.

Islam has the perfect recipe for excellence. If one follows it diligently it will positively impact all aspects of the way they live, no doubt.

It encourages kindness, moderation and a real connection with our Creator. It not only fosters spiritual health, but also physical as well as social health and well being.

Almost all creatures in the universe naturally live according to their programming. They do what they are meant to do.

Take angels; they are intelligent creatures, yet they do not deviate from their purpose and nature. They obey God.

Humans on the other hand….

Well, you already know humans are nothing like angels.

Muslims are no different. We’re still human!

Some are born in a Muslim family, but never search to learn about the purpose of life, how to know God, and the difference between right and wrong according to The One who created them.

Some are like the person who wants to eat healthy, but they frequently give in to their desire for potato chips.

They know they should be good, but it’s just so hard!

Then there are the others, who are convinced and determined to live a wholesome life and fulfill their purpose.

They sincerely try very hard, but this doesn’t make even them infallible. They will flag, waiver and fall at times too.

They are more tenacious and struggle against themselves to stay on the upward path and that is what sets them apart and gets them better results.

Aside from these three, there are also the junk food companies. They deceptively use the concept of health to sell their garbage.

They use pretty pictures, nutrition facts and statistics to make people believe their food is healthy- even though its actually harmful.

Some people use Islam in the same way, they have a goal, an agenda; and they pick and choose and twist aspects of Islam to fit and promote their cause.

If someone really wants to know about Islam, they can’t get the big idea from observing Muslims. Just like you can’t get a good idea of the perfectly healthy lifestyle by observing the average American.

You have to go to the sources. The Quran most importantly, and the Sunnah, or the way of the Prophet Muhammad.

The fact that people often fail, does not invalidate the test.

And just because someone slaps a label that says “Islam” on something, doesn’t mean that’s what it really is.

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A Snowy Day in the Neighborhood

My very favorite thing about the snow is that it brings almost everyone out of their houses and into their driveways. It’s probably the only time where neighbors are all outside at the same time for the same purpose.

You will almost always find neighbors helping one another, chatting, catching up and even sharing things from shovels and gloves, to cookies and hot cocoa.

Thankfully, I have really great neighbors who are always kind, helpful and caring to me and my family. Most religions encourage neighborliness, so do common sense and basic human decency.

Did you know that Prophet Muhammad taught to be especially kind to neighbors, regardless of their beliefs?

The prophet Muhammad said: “The best friend in the sight of God is he who is the well-wisher of his companions, and the best neighbor is one who behaves best towards his neighbors.” (Al-Tirmidhi,120)

He also said that the angel Gabriel (who brought him the revelation) used to remind him so much about the rights of neighbors that he thought they might be made heirs (i.e.. like family). He also said not to look down on giving gifts nor receiving any gift from one’s neighbor no matter how small it may be.

If we truly believe in God, then we must be concerned for the well being of our neighbors:
“He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while the neighbor to his side goes hungry.” (Al-Bayhaqi 19049)

He warned severely about mistreating or bothering your neighbor:

“He will not enter Paradise whose neighbor is not secure from his wrongful conduct.” (Sahih Muslim, 15)

Imagine that!

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What is Islam?

What is Islam?

Seems like a no-brainer right?

Even the dictionary explains it like this:

Is·lam
isˈläm,iz-/
noun
1. the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah.

That’s not the real meaning of the word though- And understanding the meaning of the word Islam is a simple explanation of the “faith” or religion described above.

The Arabic word Islam is derived from a root word: selema (seh-leh-muh) which carries the meanings of peace, purity and submission.

Islam means Submission to God and His will. It carries with it the implication that doing so is purity and that by doing so one will attain peace.

The trees, animals and planets are all in a state of Islam, because they are governed by God’s laws of physics, biology etc.; They function according to how they’ve been created. They naturally submit to God’s will. That is how they are programmed.

Humans are different.

We have been given a kind of intelligence unlike the rest of creation. We have been given free will and choice.

I can submit myself to whatever I want and so can you. We can submit ourselves to the love of wealth and material possessions or status. We can submit ourselves to pleasure and live hedonistic existences if we so desire. Each individual is free to choose their path.

Any person who chooses to submit his or her will to God peacefully, that person is in a state of Islam.

“Surely, the way of life with God is submission to Him.” (Quran 3:19)

And that, my dear neighbors, is what Islam is really all about.

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American and Muslim

I am an American of European descent. My grandparents were born here. My parents never knew any other home or any language beside English.

I grew up doing all sorts of typical American things; from parties and sleepovers to swimming lessons and horseback riding. We had amazing summers boating across the Long Island sound. We dug for clams with our feet in the shallow waters of the bay and stayed on the beach until sunset. We enjoyed backyard barbecues and fireworks. Our winters were brightened by snowmen, iceskating and mugs of hot chocolate.

When I chose to be a Muslim did I become less of an American?

Of course not!

I’m still me… and America is founded on the concept of freedom of religion.

In some ways, I am an ideal representation of what it means to be American by exercising my freedom of choice.

As it turns out, I’m more appreciative of my country, culture and many of the values I’ve been raised with now that I am Muslim, than I ever was before.

But does Islam conflict with American values?

The truth is, there is much more in common than there are differences. The concept that Islam is un-American is a fallacy and a relatively new one at that.

Did you know the Supreme Court of the United States of America honored the prophet Muhammad as one of the greatest lawgivers of all time as recently as 1935?

Maybe there is another reason that some people’s initial reaction is that those two terms can’t coexist?

Objectivity and a genuine interest in educating oneself about the facts are all that is needed to find out.

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What in the World is Halal Food Anyway?

Have you heard that Muslims eat “Halal” food?

Maybe you’ve seen the Halal Food carts in NYC, or have heard about the controversy in the UK over halal meats being sold in ordinary supermarkets.

What is your reaction when you hear about “Muslim dietary laws” or when you hear or see the word “halal”?

The Arabic word “halal” simply means “permissible”, so it applies to anything and everything permissible, whether it be food, actions or anything else.

Interestingly, when it comes to food, the food of the “people of the book” is also halal (permissible) for Muslims.

Who are the people of the book?

The Jews and Christians!

So why is the food of the Jews and Christians halal for Muslims?

Because they both followed the instructions of God’s prophets on how to slaughter, as well as what foods are good to eat and what foods to stay away from.

So what God has made permissible before, in terms of food, is still permissible today.

So I can eat Kosher meat and that is halal for me. The Christian’s food should also be halal, but today Christians, (at least the majority in the US) do not continue to follow the laws in the bible.

Deuteronomy 14:8 and several other biblical verses, forbid the eating of pork for example, so if the Christians were to continue to follow the law, as Jesus said to do as reported in the bible of today:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” – Matthew 5:17

Then the food including the meat of the Christians would be perfectly halal for me.

So although it may seem strange that there are restrictions on what Muslims eat, similar guidelines exist in the traditions of the Jews and Christians as well.

I won’t go into too much detail in this post, but generally the reasons things are permitted are because they are beneficial for us, and things that are not are usually harmful or potentially harmful in some way.

When it comes to animals for example, they are beings with souls. We aren’t taught by our creator to just go ahead and kill them any old way. There are guidelines and methods to follow to ensure the life is treated with respect. We can not take a life without permission. In this case, permission is given so long as certain criteria are met.

We do it invoking the name of God; feeling the gravity of that act… not doing it frivolously, but only for the purpose of nourishment and sustenance.

In the authentic teachings of Islam it is even discouraged to sharpen a knife in the animal’s sight. Nor should one animal be slaughtered in front of another.

The Prophet muhammad is reported to have said, “If you must slaughter, slaughter in the best possible manner, sharpen your knife every time before you slaughter but not in front of the animal to be slaughtered. Do not slaughter an animal in the presence of other animal, and feed and rest the animal before slaughter.”
When Prophet Muhammad was asked by his Companions whether kindness to animals would be rewarded in the life hereafter, he replied, “Yes, there is a meritorious reward for kindness to every living creature” (Al-Bukhari).

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Who is Allah?

When you hear the word Allah, what do you think? What comes to mind?

When you hear the word God, what comes to mind?

Before I was Muslim, I didn’t like religion. When I heard the word “God” I used to cringe. After a lot of reflection though, in my late teens, I decided there must be some kind of “force” out there- but I wouldn’t call it “God” (even in my private thoughts)… Just because I didn’t know what it was- or how I could know.

Now, even though I commonly use the word God in order to explain aspects of Islam, I prefer to say Allah.

Here’s why: Allah is the name of God.

If you look into history, you will discover that not one prophet or original religious scripture that we know of, referred to God as God.

Abraham, Moses and Jesus did not use the word God. Look up the etymology of the word yourself and you will see it’s origin is not from God as far as we know.

An additional issue with the word God is that it can be made plural. There can be one God or many gods. So often when I refer to God this way I will qualify it with a description such as “the One and Only God, Who created everything”.

Some assume when we say Allah, that we are referring not to their God, but some other concocted god. But I assure you that when we say Allah, we are referring to The One who created you and me. It is the same word Christian Arabs use for God, and similar to what we know that Jesus used to call God.

Other reasons I prefer to say Allah are because that is the name He has called Himself and the word itself embodies the meaning of who God really is.

The word Allah is formed as a combination of “al” (the) and “ilah” (one who is worshipped). So in English if you were to say “THE God” or “the One true God” or “the only One worthy of worship”, all of these describe the meaning of the word “Allah”.

So next time you hear someone say Allah, remember it means the One True God, the only One worthy of worship. Not the moon, or a building in the desert or a “god of another religion” but our Creator. The One who sustains us and provides all our blessings.

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