Ramadan 2012, Days 4 – 8

TTG Day 4 – Slow

The beast you ride is your various appetites.

Change your wantings. When you prune

weak branches, the remaining fruit

 gets tastier. Lust can be redirected,

so that even when it take you backward,

it goes toward shelter.

A strong intention can make “two oceans wide”

be the size of a blanket, or “seven hundred years”

the time it takes to walk to someone you love.

 

 True seekers keep riding straight through,

whereas big, lazy, self-worshipping geese

unload their pack animals in a farmyard

and say, “this is far enough.”

 

“New Moon, Hilal”—Rumi (Coleman Barks transl.)

I didn’t make it to the new masjid I was going to check out y’all. My partner got really sick, so I decided to stay home. I’ll go for taraweeh, I thought–until the post-iftar and walking alone at night in a city I don’t know that well kept me at home. And I missed suhoor and fajr.

I forget the amount of time one can safely sleep and still be able to wake up. Is it 2 hours?  I wanted to get a little call tree going but there were no takersJ

Missing the morning has thrown me off today and I am moving more slowly. I’m walking slowly, thinking slowly, being slowly, which gives me the opportunity to notice the voice that says “move faster, get more done, push push push…” When I really think about it I realize that that isn’t my voice so much as an internalization of the constant messages I absorb that I must always be doing and/or striving to do more,work harder, keep extremely busy, anything else is laziness. This year I transitioned from working in an office full-time to working from home. The first two or three months I felt like a loser sometimes because it was really hard not to feel lazy—though I was working sometimes harder than I had in an office. In fact, I did feel lazy. The double whammy of this was to hear that other voice that says as a black woman, you have to clearly be working hard to prove that you, black person, are not lazy. That internalized stuff is nasty. I’m still working my way through it. Accidental motion?

But today is Ramadan, and so today I say to that pushing voice—we’ll call it the Pusher—chill bruv, chill!Today I get to take my slow time, gaze turned inward, to notice where I have need of healing, and to appreciate my inner riches, the inner riches of being human, to abide in a state of gratitude. Ya Shakur!

Shayka Fariha writes:

As the mystic lovers recommend, put a joyful face on the fast. Do not go around looking sad and depressed. Your limbs might become weak but you can still give a smile.

May we continue drinking from the endless fountain of Allah’s boundless Generosity!

Inshallah and amin!

—–

Waz Day 5 – Actions are but Intentions

Today is my Day 1 of fasting… I’ve noticed a little bit of a theme in the testing of my will…

5am
I snoozed my alarm this morning too many times and missed my window of opportunity to eat before sunrise and pray. What’s interesting to me is that shortly after 5:45am, I started dreaming about eating cereal so intensely that I considered getting up and eating even though sunrise has started. My (irrational? devil-inspired?) thought process went a little like this:

What’s the difference between eating a bowl of cereal at 5:35 or 5:50?! I mean, I’ll still NOT be eating alllll day!

I did not eat after sunrise. I had made my intention before going to bed and would not submit to cereal.

7am
After I got out of the shower and was preparing for work, I realized I was still menstruating ever so lightly (the ‘sneak attack’) and asked myself if it it was worth breaking my intention for my fast.This was actually a very hard internal back and forth – an odd combination of hating my uterus for it’s slow release of lining; despising myself in the moment for being indecisive about if my fast would be valid; and hating the fact that I would consider giving up my fast so quickly.

I did not break my fast and went on with my day.

9am – 11:30am
My school runs a Summer Camp for some of our middle school students (ages 11-13) and today, without coffee/caffeine in my system for the first time since last year during Ramadan, I was running on empty the entire time. When my lunch break came around, I sat outside debating whether I would have a cigarette or not. I literally had to tell myself: NO.

I have to be honest, in prior years, I have let myself have a cigarette every so often. This year, I decided that I would not… but again, the devil inside kept saying: so what? Who will know? GIVE ME A CIGARETTTTTEE.

I did not.

3-5pm
I thought it would be a great idea to lay out in the sun and reflect today… read a hadith on intention… tan. As a result, I was a sweaty, thirsty and sticky mess. All I wanted on my walk home from Prospect Park was a cherry icey… and all I wanted in the shower when I got home was to drink all the water from the showerhead.

I did not.

You see the theme here right?

It could be that I am weak-willed person (and you would be correct).

or it could also be the latter: I need to constantly remind myself of my intention to keep my integrity in check in order to strengthen my will/self-discipline.

More and more, prayer to me is putting our intention into the universe and the more we say it, share it, believe it… it is what we live in this world as or work/fight/stand for.

When I pray, it’s putting my dreams, my hopes and my wants out there into the universe. As a Muslim, I do believe that Allah grants my prayers when it is in my destiny, my faith and what is right for me on my path.
I also know that when I pray and I allow myself to admit to what it is that I want, I will work as hard as I can to make it happen.

And if I want something to happen, I need to know that if I say it, I can fulfill on it.

That I am a woman of my word.

(Not always, but I am working on it… that is my intention)

From the hadith I was reading earlier:

Actions are but intentions and every man will have only what he intended.

—–

TTG Day 6 – Guarding My Faith

“My Worst Habit” (Rumi)

My worst habit is I get so tired of winter

I become a torture to those I’m with.

If you’re not here, nothing grows.

I lack clarity. My words

tangle and knot up.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.

How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

When water gets caught in habitual whirlpools,

dig a way out through the bottom

to the ocean. There is a secret medicine

given only to those who hurt so hard

they can’t hope.

The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.

Look as long as you can at the friend you love,

No matter whether that friend is moving away from you

or coming back toward you.

Don’t let your throat tighten

with fear.  Take sips of breath

all day and night, before death

closes your mouth.

Salaam beloveds,

I made it to not one, not two, but three masjids in one night! I was so thrilled to finally get out for iftar on Monday evening. I prepared with great anticipation. We rolled up to Bawa Muhaiyadeen’s Fellowship about 45 minutes before maghrib. The Fellowship space is set up like a movie theater on the ground floor and so people were arrayed, watching a video of one of Bawa’s talks. We decided to sit in the row closest to the foodJ Unfortunately, the translation in the video was poor so we didn’t get much from the video, but it was wonderful to see Muslims of many stripes and hues gathering, and to see all the children. Being in that place fed me a spiritual snack…The masjid itself is just next door to the Fellowship and is a very well-kept peaceful space. I am always a little nervous in a new masjid, and at Ramadan especially, that the women’s prayer space will also double as the play area for children. At this masjid, there is sign to tell folks that if their children are not able to sit quietly or pray they should stay in the classroom space rather than go upstairs. There were still children running up and down but it was better than other places. And there was a partition separating the men and women. While partitions raise my hackles, at least this one was lace supported by plastic piping so that at least we could see the imam. Salat was beautiful, as always.

The other essential part of the masjid-during-Ramadan experience, once you understand how the prayer/spirit-food space works, is understanding how the food system at a given place works. I noticed most people got their dinner plates before salat. There was a long line and then loads of people appearing with cups of watermelon and full plates. I thought oh it’s cool, I’ll wait until after prayer. BAD IDEA! By the time I came down, I had to scrape the bottom of the rice pot, no watermelon, no cake. Ha ha! I now understand the Ramadan food system there. I will not be caught unawares next timeJ

So feeling pretty good and jonesing to check out the masjid nearest to home, we got in the car and rolled to 43rd and Walnut. We ended up at a masjid just across the street, not the one I’d been thinking of, and decided to give it a go. Dear reader, nary were we inside before deciding to turn back. It was a classic case of giant, well-lit, peaceful space with 5 or less men in it and then an opaque, heavy partition and 6 feet of dimly-lit space from partition to wall for the women. We turned on our heels after giving a few salaams.

On we went to the masjid about 2 blocks down, a gorgeous building on the corner of 45th. In we went, only to find it empty except for one woman sitting just inside the door, Hadiya. She was an older woman, wearing a turquoise, black and white tartan burqa, with the face part tied back so she could eat. She gave us the details of when isha and tarawih began, the iftar schedule and then began to talk to us about the importance of guarding our shahadah (the testification of faith, the first pillar of Islam: There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s messenger.) and our iman. She told us the story of two men who had been muezzins in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him). One had given the call to prayer for 40 years. On his deathbed he renounced his faith. “Why would he do that?,” she asked. I had no answer.

“Once you have your shahadah, you have to guard it,” she said several times.

I began to wonder: what does guarding your faith mean? And for Muslims, though it may be a fine point, is it completely synonymous to guard one’s shahadah and to guard one’s iman (faith)? I thought about what guarding my fast means—it means I seek to increase my spiritual consciousness through contemplation and practices of prayer, remembrance and reading Quran, and it also means that I endeavor to avoid taking in media or hearing/seeing things that point primarily to our capacity for lust, for anger, to let our egos dictate our actions. Guarding my fast also means that, more than anything else, I wrestle with my own nafs (the lower self). Sufi stories sometimes describe the nafs as a donkey or horse that won’t go the way you want it to. The donkey/horse has to be trained so that it can convey you to the Beloved, like Majnun to Layla. I’ve been thinking a lot this year about the duality of our humanity—our light and our darkness. I spent many years simply ignoring or denying any anger I felt or any emotion I deemed too negative to be in alignment with my desire to be a servant of the Most High. I have expended much energy to ward such ignorance. As life unfolds and I understand surrender a little better, I begin to understand that self-honesty is critical. We cannot surrender, cannot live in a state of surrender to Allah if we do not accept, truly accept, our own feelings, particularly where they feel dark.  Today, guarding my shahadah, guarding my iman means striving to abide in surrender, which includes accepting myself. Inshallah accepting myself increases my capacity for empathy and compassion and thereby ever expands my capacity to love until “I” disappear in love, until “I” die before I die.

What does guarding your faith mean to you? Please share!

—-

Waz Day 7 – Culture of Faith

I’m pretty certain the 15 year old me would not recognize the present-day me… and this is probably true for lots of people.

The former me swore certain truths:
I would never wear anything other than black
I would always be true to lunch boxes as my purse/bag of choice
Brad Pitt would be my #1 crush (well, this is still true) with Kaia Wilson in close second
Depeche Mode would always be the soundtrack to my life (still true)
I would one day work for the UN
… you get the idea.

The 15 year old me was frustrated and angry with being cooped up with lots of restrictions on when, with whom, where and with what frequency I was allowed out of the house. I never understood the double-standards between my younger brother and I. And sadly, because my faith and my culture were so muddled together, I also held another truth:

my faith was oppressive and when I could gain power over my own life, I would put an end to the source of my oppression by likely leaving it.

When I was 16, there were a pair of visiting teachers from Egypt at our school. For months, I would see them in the library during lunch and often talk to them. One day, religion came up and they asked if I was also Muslim and I told them something about being ‘culturally’ Muslim – I wasn’t you know, a Muslim-Muslim. 

The man took a patient, kind look at me (black cape, eye liner, red lipstick, spiked collar and all) and generously said:

You’re always a Muslim. 

At age 15, I made the mistake of collapsing my faith with my culture and although the two are not the same, elements of my faith impact the cultural expectations my parents had/have of me.

In 1999, shortly after meeting the Egyptian teacher pair, I had the opportunity to travel to China and Inner Mongolia as part of a delegation of NYC teachers and students. As part of the trip, we visited the Great Mosque of Xi’an and learned about the intense, rich and long history of Islam within the community. As the only Muslim in my group, I was the only one allowed inside the mosque – I had brought gifts from home for the mosque and the Imans to give and had an opportunity to pray.

Standing alone inside the thick and luxurious walls of the mosque and Allah, I cried. I had felt so alone that summer, away from my family for the first time ever. In the familiar presence of the otherwise stranger to me, the bearded Chinese men with kufis reminded me of home.

I understood something in those moments that I have not been able to put words to until more recently: ummah.
The worldwide community of Muslims. A family. A bond. A common thread of faith in Allah that weaves through each of us and ties us together and that I do not want to leave or lose.

As Muslims we do not share a common food, one language or even a standard set of cultural norms dictated based on geography or boundaries on a map. I reject the generalizations that are made about my community and my faith based on the actions of a few.  However, I do believe there is deeper place from which the universal familiarity, goodness, commitment to love, justice and kindness in each Muslim comes from and this is what ties us together. This is the culture of my faith – as a Muslim.

—–

TTG Day 8 – Allah is the Only Healer

“The Core of Masculinity” (Rumi)

The core of masculinity does not derive

from being male,

nor friendliness from those who console.

Your old grandmother says, “Maybe you shouldn’t

go to school. You look a little pale.”

Run when you hear that.

A father’s stern slaps are better.

Your bodily soul wants comforting.

The severe father wants spiritual clarity.

He scolds but eventually

leads you into the open.

Pray for a tough instructor

to hear and act and stay within you.

We have been busy accumulating solace.

Make us afraid of how we were.

I honor those who try

to rid themselves of any lying,

who empty the self

and have only clear being there.

Greetings beloveds,

Before going to be last night I began reading a talk from Hazrat Inayat Khan about the soul. What is the soul, the ruh, the divine breath which is the mirror, the consciousness that animates the body? I thought I would write about that today. And then I slept and dreamt.

A little over a year ago I had a falling out with two friends I felt sure would be lifelong friends. Our falling out resulted in the complete loss of friendship. I felt sure I was on the right side of it and they clearly on the misguided side. “I can’t have you in my life as a close friend,” one said. We stopped speaking entirely. Since then, much to my chagrin, I’ve had dreams about them, dreams insisting that the tale was not as finished as I wished it to be. After each dream, I would wake, full of anger, full of sadness, full of grief. Once, the sadness and grief, along with a deep sense of incomprehensibility, kept me in bed for a day. Last night’s dream was different. In it, I spoke with them for the first time since our falling out and I was not angry. I could feel the essential light of our souls shining clearly through.

Earlier this year, Allah gave me my vocation, my calling, in terms uncertain only if I wished to engage in willful blindness: I am a healer, or rather Allah is the only healer and I am simply Allah’s instrument.

“There is a believer in God who may be called pious, but it is the God-conscious who become spiritual. It is the belief and realization that, “I do not exist, but God,” which gives power to the healer to heal…” (The Heart of Sufism: Essential Writings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, p. 214)

All my life, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been compelled by an overwhelming sense of purpose. The details remained shrouded to me. So, I followed my intuition, making choices that took me closer to it, like a blind woman making my way down the hallway of my life, in search of the door to crystal clarity. For example, become a UN employee for life? No, intuition said,teach. Now I know Jin Shin Jyutsu is my modality, social justice education is my modality, Coming Out Muslim is my modality, making things is my modality. Ya Alim! Ya Hadi! Ya Rashid! Ya Razzaq! Ya Barr! (The All-knowing, the Guide, the Director, the Provider) Since finding this door, fear has had its way with me. There is everything I don’t know, there is my own self-fretfulness, its distracting and persistent song in my ear. There is also the steady voice of Allah telling me, all you seek is already inside you. Look there, find me there. And it becomes clear that I can only be an effective instrument by emptying myself, by forgetting myself so that dissolution into Allah is all there is. Love.

It is an irony of being that what you seek to intentionally forget, you remember all the more. I had not wrestled with anger as deeply as I have this year. It turns out that I do not know myself as well as I imagined. In taking stock of all that is within me, I find feelings I am uncomfortable having, anger in particular. There is the conditioning of society for women to be sweet and nice most of the time, all the shoulds of embarrassment and apology if you don’t always feel that way, the ways I feel bad when I do not feel transcendent and benevolent. It turns out that part of being human is embracing my own darkness, my own cloudiness, that dark spot on my heart. In thinking of my two friends, I wanted to skip over the anger directly into transcendence, but no amount of wishing made it so, no amount of thinking made it so. A quivering caterpillar does not become a butterfly simply through its yearning. I do not become a healer by skipping steps to the removal of the veils of human life, to disappearance into Allah. Last night’s dream was a gift, to feel the burden of my anger removed feels miraculous. I still feel the sadness and grief, yes, and I am certain that I did not think my way beyond the anger, no. I prayed. I know that every prayer is answered and that Allah is the Most Generous. Ya Shafi! Allah alone is the healer of hearts.

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