Ramadan Blog 2012, Days 19 – 23

Waz Day 19 – Jihad

Allahumma inna naj’aluka fi nuhurihim, wa na’udhu bika min shururihim

Oh Allah! We place You before them (our enemies) and we seek Your Refuge from their evil.

After hearing about the news of shooting at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and the arson at the Masjid in Michigan, I left my parents place and went to an iftaar with some new found friends and community on Sunday night. I cabbed it home, with a Muslim brother as my driver. Later, when I sat in bed it occurred to me: there are people who hate us/me.

…there are people who believe that the course of my weekend with my family, our Ramadan rituals, our time together is less than. That somehow we are wrong, incompatible with America and deserve to be treated like we are less than.

…there are people who would rather that our queer Muslim iftaar not happen and that I should/ought to live a life of isolation and self-hatred.  That somehow we are wrong, incompatible with America and deserve to be treated like we are less than.

…there are people in this world who take a different cab because of who is driving the cab or eye him with constant suspicion because of his dark skin, his beard and white kufi. That somehow he is wrong, incompatible with America and deserves to be treated like he is less than.

I identify as an activist – coming to a desire and realization that I can/ought to be/need to be an agent of change. The personal is political and there are too many injustices that are directed towards me, my family, my identities that I cannot stand by. I’ve learned this lesson from my parents, from my women’s studies classes, from the activists I’ve worked alongside of, from my inspiring friends and partner and from lessons from history and herstory…

We must.
It has to be done.

And yet, the realization on Sunday that people hate me shook me. My breathing, living, loving, struggling, smiling, doing – my being upsets certain people.

My existence causes others to die at the hands of terrorists.

Rabbi innee maghloobun fantas’ir
O Lord, verily, I am overcome so help me

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is oppressed.”
The Prophet was asked: “It is right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?”
He replied: “By preventing him from oppressing others.”

[Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Hadith 624]

And so, I will continue to take on the oppressors, the haters by continuing in a jihad – in a struggle and striving on many levels (not a holy war):

My Personal Jihad
The jihad of my soul is underway now and I will have to fight to make sure I continue after Ramadan. For me this means not just the spiritual aspect, but getting to the bottom of beliefs, undoing learned racism, sexism and hateful narratives. I am not the product of a pure society and I would be fooling only myself if I thought my internal work was ever done.

Patience. Understanding my limitations. Empathy. Solidarity. Love in the face of (self) defeat.

A Jihad of Words
The prophet told us, the most excellent jihad is the speaking of truth in the face of a tyrant. Justice happens when we speak up.

Integrity. Honesty. Questioning and asking questions.

Physical Jihad:
My faith is a religion of peace and non-violence. When I think about the physical jihad, I don’t mean warfare (the word for warfare is actually qitaal) – I mean action. I mean the in-the-streets action we wage in defense of all people against oppression. I mean the one-on-one conversations. I mean Plan Bs, Plan Cs and Plan Ds we create when we don’t succeed the first, second or third time around.

My jihad means going to bed tonight committed to:

knowing that I will do everything I can in my striving to honor my family and create more space and time to be with them and know them.

knowing that the biggest fuck you to my haters is to relish every drop of my queer Muslim community and our/their fabulousness.

knowing that the Muslim cab driver has a Muslim sister out there that has his back – whether I ever see him again or not.

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TTG Day 20 – To Slay or to Save

“if anyone slays a human being—unless it be for murder or for spreading corruption on earth—it shall be as though he had slain all humanity; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saves the lives of all humanity…yet, behold, notwithstanding all this, many of them go on committing all manner of excesses on earth.” (Surah An-Nisa, 5:32)

Greetings beloveds,

I was moved by Wazina’s post yesterday, particularly her writing about why activism is integral to her life and the ways Islam urges us to strive for justice and upliftment of humanity. I’ve been reading about the victims of the Sikh temple shooting and about the shooter. Yesterday I mentioned to someone that I wished the shooter was still alive so that he would have to give an accounting of his actions to the survivors. “Don’t you think God is holding him accountable?” came the reply. I was a bit stunned because I do believe in the ultimate justice that is the sole province of Allah. Quran tells us that everyone will get the justice we deserve. What I came up against in that conversation was my human desire for justice to look a certain way. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in restorative justice. I think about how important Truth & Reconciliation Commissions have been in the healing process of some communities around the world. For me, a key component of earthly justice looks like having to look those you have harmed and/or the loved ones of those you have harmed in the face, honestly, and account for yourself. I know it doesn’t always happen that way but I lament that those who remain after the shooting in Wisconsin will not have the opportunity.

The Quran says that to slay one person, it’s as if you’ve slain all of humanity. That is incredibly profound. In our weeping, in our sorrow over the Wisconsin shooting, and all the too-many instances of murder, what’s happening in Syria, in Nigeria, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Mali, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in America, in…we weep and we sorrow for all of us. A moment of pause please…

II.

We take responsibility for ourselves. The word “slay” hold many levels of meaning. In addition to the obvious physical death, we can talk about slaying the spirit. Speech is a powerful tool for hastening such death. I had a friend in college who used to routinely, jokingly, refer to me as “bitch” and every time I heard it, it took the fun out of a simple conversation. For me, the damage we do with words, even where culturally sanctioned to insult and demean each other (for example, think of all the reality shows which some viewers then feel fine about making fun of participants, think of “playing the dozens”, think of the conversation around reclaiming words like “nigga” or “bitch” or…). I know lots of people use insults as terms of endearment. I understand the arguments but hear I endeavor to cleave to Islam’s urge against backbiting. What an image—imagine yourself biting someone’s back for your own amusement. At what quiet cost do we wither one another? Ya Allah, may our speech and the intention behind our speech be pleasing to you, and increase us in nearness to one another and to You. Amin.

Our hearts are big enough to break many times, and then to mend, with scar tissue to make them bigger.

III.

The Quran also says that save one life, it’s as if you’ve saved all of humanity. We could discuss the many levels of meaning in the word “save”. I would like to suggest that this notion includes them all, the myriad ways we lift each other up in body and spirit. I can say that Wazina is one of the most generous people I know, for example. The flower someone stopped on the sidewalk to give me, the jokes we tell to elicit healing laughter, the food we cook for others, the many ways a helping hand can look, a loving hand. Ultimately, love is the sovereign truth that saves. May we endeavor to be servants of the Source of Love, Ya Wadud (the Loving). Amin.
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Waz Day 21 – Half the Sky

I have to be honest – growing up, I was not a fan of my mother because I didn’t know her. My ability to understand her and actually know her was compromised by misplaced anger and selfishness. Our relationship was strained as a result of outside pressures and demands and looking back, we were both quietly suffering internally from emotional upsets, unmet expectations for our lives and likely depression. The beauty of our hearts is what I read from TTG last night: our hearts are big enough to break many times, and then to mend, with scar tissue to make them bigger.
I have no doubt that the hearts beating inside of my parents are enormous – and my mother’s for certain, has a capacity for love that I cannot fathom.

On Monday I read the title of a blog that got me excited! It was a letter from a Muslim brother to his mother, My dear Ramadan Stay-at-Home Mom, I Salute You. I thought it would be the perfect article to read after a bittersweet weekend where I could use some solid parent-affirming words of wisdom. And let me tell you how wrong I was! The article pissed me off. I found it condescending, sexist and reducing a mother’s role to simply child-rearing. If you would like to read it, please do and let me know what you think:http://muslimmatters.org/2012/07/27/my-dear-ramadan-stay-at-home-mom-i-salute-you/
And so, I have decided to write my own version of this letter to my mother and all of the other Muslim mothers out there:

My dear Ramadan observing mom.
My dear Ramadan observing working mother.
My dear Ramadan observing, busy, tired, God-loving teacher and mother.
My dear Ramadan observing, over exerting, in-demand and under appreciated mother.
My dear Ramadan observing, dynamic, beautiful mother, daughter, sister, friend and wife.
Dear Madar Jaan,

I only think I know how hard you work – and I say I think because there is no way for me to know because you do more than any of us will ever see.. because you are up before I am and I know your prayers on behalf to Allah continue after I fall asleep. Working hard to keep us comfortable, in this life and in the here after.

I can only imagine what it was like to send us off to school, not knowing if we would be proud of our faith or the bright orange on our hands on the days after Eid. You fought those battles, listening to the whining and took on the brunt of the ungrateful looks when you hauled us to the masjid on all those afternoons to learn how to pray the duas that prepare a spot in janaat for us.

For all that you juggle and more, I salute you and may Allah reward you.

Dear Muslim Mothers, you are the means by which Allah exercises His creation. You are the Prophet’s modern day vessel, interpreting hadiths in your lessons and warnings.

I want to tell you that…

… that you are part of the historic women in our faith. You are to me, among the ranks of the wives and daughters of the Prophet (pbuh). You are my mother, joining the foremothers – Aisha, Khadija, Zaynah, Fatimah and Maryam… even Eve. The pathmakers were not alone in their successes nor in their struggles and so I do not allow her to take the blame alone.

… I am sorry you have been relegated to Eid Salaat alone on the mornings that the men went to masjid. I know you wanted to go and the excuse was that you take too long. The truth is, his piety was an excuse for being too lazy to help you.

… I regret that the divine breath that created both my father and you, has been altered with excuses for your relegation and marginalization… from walls outside of the masjid to the musky basements within it’s four walls.

… I dare to say the azaan under my breath because I believe there ought to be room for us for taraweh. So that you can proudly bring your grandchildren into the masjid without shame, guilt or the need for curtains to separate them from their grandfather.

… Your womb, your uterus, your breasts, your hormones, my success, how much or little you cover do not make you or measure your piety – it is your imaan.

To my dear mother, my paradise, my heaven, lies at your feet.

Your #1 fan,

Wazina

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TTG Day 22 – Inner & Outer Self

“You must…improve your inward aspect until it becomes better than your virtuous outward appearance, for the former is where the gaze of the Real obtains, while the latter is where the envious gaze of creation is to be found. God never mentioned the inward and the outward in His Book without beginning with the inward. And the Prophet used to pray, may blessings and peace be upon him: ‘O God! Make my inward better than my outward, and make my outward virtuous.’

Beware of doing in secret that which if seen by people would make you ashamed and worried about being censured. A gnostic once said: ‘A sufi is not a sufi unless, were everything that is in her/him to be exposed on a plate in the marketplace, s/he would not be ashamed of anything that came to light.’  (From The Book of Assistance, Imam Al-Haddad)

 

Greetings beloveds,

I love and recommend Imam Al-Haddad’s The Book of Assistance, because it is divided into bite-size essays about topics ranging from certainty, to fortitude, to divine love and contentment. I find it challenging to read long books full of amazing mystical teachings. I find I can really only take in a few sentences at a time of such text.

Considering the snippet above, I am reminded of how simple it sounds, something like the equivalent of “get your soul right and the rest will follow” or “if your soul ain’t right, doesn’t matter what appearances you are putting on”. What do you imagine when you think of having everything inside you exposed? What would we behold? Would you be glad to claim all of it? Would you be glad to claim responsibility for all of it? I like to think I could do so without shame (though that could be my pride talking, ha ha!) Shame is powerful, so powerful that some of us form our entire identity around its avoidance. How do we live and nourish our inner and outer selves in such a way that we are in divine alignment? Alignment brooks no shame because it supports us in a life that is not without mistakes or missteps, but one in which we do not fear to claim what is beautiful and ugly within us, a life in which we do not fear our own humanity.

Quran tells us that Allah sees, hears and knows everything within us, whether we speak it aloud or not. Allah is closer to us than our own jugular veins. Every time I think of that I tremble and am astounded and know that it is beyond me to really comprehend. It makes me think of the idea that to hear the voice of God, unmediated by a burning bush or a mountain, would cause our human hearts to explode.

Question to the audience: how do you nourish your inner self?

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Waz Day 23 – From the Heart

A week before Ramadan began I was walking home from the park and a man stopped me to ask for change. I didn’t have any bills but told him I’d give him any change I had. As I reached into my bag for change he noticed the tattoos on my arm and the Arabic script had him inquire about where I was from and if I was Muslim. I was hesitant for a moment – not because I would ever say No but because I always wonder what people think about me, how they might judge my outside after revealing something about my inner self – a faith, particularly as a woman, that has so much baggage, expectations and assumptions.

It was a hot and sunny day and I was dressed for it: in a cut off tank top and shorts for maximum cool off and tanning.

Anthony and I talked about our faith and his experiences with how angry people are towards him when he asks for money. He also said something that surprised me – he told me he was struck by my modesty – that there was something very modest about me and my spirit.

Shortly afterwards we parted ways and I haven’t seen him on Eastern Parkway again although I look for him each time I walk it.

My interaction with Anthony came at a time when I needed it… A moment where I was needing someone to see something inside of me that I want to be there. What I WANT to be noticed for… To notice the work I do inwardly and what exists in my heart or my qalb.

So many people bring out different parts of me and I bet this is true for many…

The way some of my students bring out my cranky, less patient self; the way TTG makes me feel mellow and insightful; the way Steve makes me hyper and giggly… You get the idea.

Allah, by way of Anthony presenced me to something more important than how I’m perceived physically or received by others which is how Allah receives me based on the most important place within me – my soul, my ruh, my core. Ramadan is the training grounds for this – a time sit and reflect on core values with the space to read, zikr, test, and develop taqwa.

I get down on myself often for the missed opportunities to be my ‘best self’ – to be a good friend, partner, sibling, teacher or daughter. What I need to remember is that what’s most important is what’s in my heart – whether others see it or not, Allah knows its there.

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