Finding Islam: Looking at the Parts in My System of Life

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Assalamu Alaykom (Peace be upon you),

Recently, I had to come to the sincere reality of my life. We can sometimes get so wrapped up in the immediate issues facing our everyday survival that we forget the bigger picture. I remember my Philosophy professor telling my class that we are all a part of a system. Life is a system. We are parts that make up the system. So, we have to understand the importance of parts. As I began to think about this, I knew there was wisdom in this.

As a Black American Muslim Feminist, I know very well the importance of understanding systems. Every piece of the puzzle plays a vital role in the proper functioning of the system. For example: The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would remind the people that the heart is the source of goodness and once this source is corrupted then you become corrupted. It isnt something to take lightly. For a very long time, my heart became hardened to Islam. I stopped going to the mosque, praying the five daily prayers, stopped participating in Islamic events because my heart was so hardened in sin. Yes, Allah (God) is the only one that Muslims confess their sins to. There aren’t intermediaries in Islam. Muslims go straight to the source. In understanding this blessing, I will not confess specific sins, but I will talk about the reality that many of us go through, Muslim or non-Muslim.

We all deal with the issue of finding peace in our lives. We all desire things and maybe even people. However, desiring something or someone may not be the best thing for you. For example: In the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), a young man wanted to go out and fight in a battle, but the prophet Muhammad asked him if he had parents and the young man said yes. So, the prophet redirected the young man to go back home and to take care of his parents since this is a better act than fighting in a war. In this instance, the young man understood that helping the prophet establish Islam was important, but he didnt understand that one’s parents are more important. In another example, the prophet Muhammad’s close friend, Abu Darda, would often pray and fast frequently. In being devout, he didn’t find fault in this. However, Abu Darda was a married man. Yes, he was married. So, from an Islamic perspective, Muslims are reminded to give everyone, including animals their due rights. In the case of Abu Darda, he would forget that his wife had rights over him. His wife was owed the right to spending time with her spouse, along with having sexual intimacy. The Prophet Muhammad told the people that if they commited a bad deed then this would be a sin and punishable, but if a spouse had sexual intimacy with their partner than Allah (God) would deem this as a good deed and a reward. So, Abu Darda, in having good intentions, was stripping his wife of this. So, the Prophet Muhammad reminded Abu Darda that he wasnt fulfilling the rights of his wife. He must balance his religious acts of worship with his marital-life. He must strike a balance and take into consideration the whole picture. He must remember that his wife is a part of the system within his life. If he disregards his wife then the system will not function properly because she will be unhappy with her husband. In pulling some stories from the Islamic tradition, it makes me realize the importance of looking at the bigger picture. In both stories, the young man and the husband were thinking small and not large. As people, we sometimes focus on the small and we should. However, we should look at small parts in relations to the bigger picture.

As of late, I had to remind myself that the world we live in is a system. The lives we live consists of being in a system. In documenting the various stages I have gone through with Islam, I can most certaintly say that true conviction sometimes mean waging war against yourself. You have to perform jihad of the nafs. I am a person of definitions. I think we should have a working definition for a few terms:

Jihad: to struggle for or in the path of God
Nafs: lowly desires; temptations

One of the things I decided after some intense thought is that I am the only one that can determine the proper functioning of my life, by the will of Allah. I have control over the parts within the system of my life. I can determine the happenings of my very being. I am the captain of my own ship. Allah constantly reiterates in the Qur’an to reflect, to ponder and to think. One of the reasons that Islam doesn’t have a true hierarchy of clergy people is because Allah gave people the ability to think and to formulate their own lives. Yes, the Quran (including the past scriptures revealed to the People of the Book) are given to people as guidance. However, the ultimate person to determine your life is you. After years upon years of being Muslim, I never really thought about this. I was solely focused on small matters, such as: color of my headscarf, wearing makeup, wearing jewelry, and trying to do every last thing perfectly. Yes, a Muslim should aim for perfection. Nonetheless, the Prophet Muhammad reminded the people to not overburden one’s self or others with the religion. The religion is easy and simple. Not only this, but Allah tells the people in the Qur’an that there is no compulsion in Islam. You cant force anyone to practice Islam. It is forbidden to force someone to practice because at the end of the day it is between them and God. Simple.

So, I had to put this into perspective. I was constantly focusing on the small things. I had failed to realize the big picture. I was getting lost in my own desires coupled with external pressures that I was slowly backing away from Islam. I felt so disconnected from my identity as a Muslim that I began to forget the bigger picture. One thing that every Muslim should know at the minimum is that God is Ar-Rahminir Rahim, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful. God is more merciful than our own parents. I had totally forgotten all of that. The system (my life) was no longer working properly because the major part (Islam) was becoming separate from me. This part of the system was providing me with peace, guidance and stability. However, as my Islam began breaking down then the system, my life, started falling a part into shambles. I will be honest and say that I had other immediate issues facing my life which in turn, caused me to distant myself from Islam. I had failed to realize that I shouldve leaned on Islam to provide me with strength. So, I had a variety of parts breaking down in my system. I was most importantly losing Islam. Islam was my life and is my life. Now, I have to fix the system at-large and make the appropriate alterations to get the gears working again. In a bit of my nerdiness, I need to make some adjustments.

So, I hope this will help someone just as much as it has helped me. Sometimes it just takes self-realization to come to terms with yourself and your reality. It doesnt mean you are inadequate. It doesnt mean you are a bad person. It just mean we have some adjusting to do.

Now, I will not say I regret the past because I have learned from it. I just know now that I have to advocate for myself, and you do too, as well. We just have to advocate for the life we want. The hardest thing to do for many of us is to deal with our internal desires or issues. So, we end up getting further and further in the hole. We never end up getting out. So, take a moment out of your day and find out what part(s) of your system isnt fuctioning well. It may be the best moment you could have ever taken in your life.

Life After Death by:Deepak Chopra

One of the scariest things for most human-beings is death. Death is one of the most feared act in the world. For some people, death means the end of existence. For others, death is just the beginning. Nonetheless, death is something that awaits all of us. Chopra stated that ” no matter how rich and gifted you are, death is the great equalizer”. Now, how true is that? Interestingly enough, Chopra believes that if one regards death as final because it sees life only in the physical body then this is materialism. Is this true? Possibly.

So, what does it mean to die? Furthermore, Chopra continued to say in his book that “we fear death because it tests our wishes and dreams. We fear to be tested because if we turn out to be wrong, then all of our aspirations feel empty”. Is this really true? What do we expect next? Why do we expect it? Does life begin or end? Or does it just continue?

In the text, Chopra cited a poem that really made me think a lot about the nature of life:

What Will You Give?
What will you give
When death knocks at your door?

The fullness of my life-
The sweet wine of autumn days and summer nights,
My little hoard gleaned through the years,
And hours rich with living.

These will be my gift.
When death knocks at my door.

A Calm Awakening

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The smell of lavender outstretched itself across my room as the morning’s tender breeze caressed my body just slightly, intimately.

The blue sky enticed my eyes, causing my mind to race, stirring to know more about its Creator

How beautiful is its Creator? How great and magnificent is the entity that created it?

My eyes were left in a trance, enticed by sight

The birds sung their usual melody, unadulterated, full of life
Every chirp was a beautiful note, an unsung song being told

My body swayed like the wind, eyes closed, feet dancing in the carpet underneathe

Madness. Utter madness. Calmed.

Nothing Left to Say

The faint sound of the voice on the other end spoke softly
This was unusual
I could feel the struggle of them pushing words through teeth
They were choking on fear
The phone became heavy
Knees buckling
Slowly did words escape
Travelling, making their way to me
Surely, there was an interruption within the cosmos with this info
There was a death, an awakening
A painful awakening of life
The bloody and surreal reality of choices
Scarred, there would be the permanent scar of a choice made years ago hidden beneath skin and tissue
A fierce jolt raced, scandalously creeping within every inch and crevice of my heart
The air was heavy
Too many thoughts unsaid and not many words to say
Speechless

The Authentic Self: Facing the Person In The Mirror

All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer.

In beginning to read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, I came across this quote. All through school I was told about this book, but never struck gold and read it. In being amazed at the quote above from the first chapter, I knew I had a winner. This would be an excellent read.

Of course, I havent read the book yet so I cant really unpack the quote I cited in the context of the plotline. However, I think this quote came right on time for me. The mere substance of the quote compels me to think about its relevance in all of our lives, especially my own.

In looking specifically at the quote, I believe it is true that we ask people questions that only we can answer. I believe this is one of the realizations that I have discovered about myself. I always ask people questions. Sure, there isnt anything wrong with this. However, when do you begin to trust your own answer? We have to trial and error to grow, right?

Recently, my father told me that at my age I will make decisions that arent the wisest and I should take more heed to what he tells me. Yes, I will agree to an extent. I think there is wisdom sometimes in listening to someone older than yourself. Nevertheless, wisdom doesnt always come with age. So, it becomes up to us to decide what is best for us. We can be advised all day and night, but it up to us to sort through the advice we are given. We are the authors to our own lives. One person’s experiences may not be true of yours.

The life we live is the life that we live. Yes, we all come from various situations and circumstances but we can definitely say that we have a say about our lives. Im not saying that living life is easy. It isnt. Life is hard and can be hard. I know all about it. Life is forever unraveling in a milliom different directions. Nonetheless, we have to trust ourselves in whatever decisions we choose to make.

A few months back, I was invited over a friend’s house to get my hair braided. As she was preparing dinner she told me how she was seeking her authentic self. She wanted to be herself, no strings attached. She told me about her trips to Philly and how the Muslim man’s beard, the Muslim woman’s abaya (long concealing dress) and niqab (face veil) was just a trend. It didnt neccessarily mean piety or righteousness. She insisted that one must also be righteous internally, no matter what one wears. She told me how she would be invited to all-women gatherings and these women would gather to simply gossip. As a mother of two small children, she told me that it is important to always strive for the authentic self. Never strive for anything less than your true self. This struck gold to me. In going back and forth in wearing the traditional dress of Muslim women, she openly told me that she is struggling. She wanted to do it for God and God alone and not for the sake of the community. I think many of us negotiate our personalities for the sake of our communities. So, is it worth it? Should we compromise ourselves for the community? Is this going against our authentic self? This is really important to me. When does a person remain an individual or negotiate it to fit-in with our communities?

I believe these are the biggest questions that I frequently ask myself. In this pursuit of trusting ourselves, we must maintain our authentic self. We must determine when we should either compromise our individuality for the collective. Maybe this issue isnt as simple as I have made it, but it is important to think about. These are questions that we have to ask and answer ourselves, as Ralph Ellison would say.

When do we begin trusting ourselves?

The World She Created Within

She loved herself deliciously without the need of a lover. She was her own lover. Dancing freely in the midst of her own journey of life. Delicate and broken in the intimate parts of she. She, a raging beast and a prisoner of her own isolation. A heart in shambles, in need of answers.

In the wake of her own womanhood, she appears as a strong soldier that is deeply wounded in the battles of life. She is a wounded soldier.

I wonder if she will ever know the beauty of her woundedness. Will she ever fly with expansive wings open wide cascading the horizon? Or will she forever sulk in the pains of her yesterdays? The world screams for her. It stands up in an applause for her. For her courage in getting this far. For the risks she’ve taken. To be different. To question. To doubt. The world is ready. They are all ready to see her magnificence manifest itself in greatness.

Even in the spaces she tried to fit in, she is deeply bruised. She is her own success and failure. The world continues to look at her in admiration, in a daze, but she is too many light-years away to take notice.

The Act of Dreaming

Last night, I had a dream. Usually, I don’t remember or can’t recall my dreams. However, the dream that I had last night was extremely lively and real. I can recall every facet of it. It is a bit scary because the dream was about something that was on my mind about an event that occured earlier that night before I went to sleep. So, I was really interested in my dream.

My dreams are usually telling. They deal with my subconscious. They deal with issues I repress and things that are bothering me. I hardly ever have silly dreams. Almost always, my dreams are significant in one way or another. My dreams are more complex than the issue of good and evil. They’re deeper.

I dont really know how to approach my dreams. When they happen they just happen. Maybe I will look into the types of dreams that I have. My dreams are pretty straightforward with little symbolism. They arent abstract in nature. So, I may just pursue an analysis of what is going on internally with me.

My dreams have always struck me as weird and interesting. They are neither about good/bad or abstract concepts. Maybe I will just look into this matter.

In Search of You

I was told I was redeemed, as it would seem
That la ilaha illallah would forever keep me under the protection of the divine
And everyday is like judgment time when I face the image in the mirror
Fear looking back
Track/ have I lost track/gone off of track because of the crust suffocating this beating heart
Personal desires is like tyranny/trapping you/keeping you chained up/ am I my own worst enemy?
Tragedy, this is a tragedy
In between the lost prayers of yesterday and the surahs that pass my lips today, I dance on eggshells
I was never out of the Divine’s sight/fight/ I have put up a fight to find beauty in ugliness
Never giving up on you/the spirit of what you sent to your prophets by way of Gabriel
A heart shackled to desires/in seek of the love and justice of sincere submission
I seek not the carnal desires of men I seek not the seduction of late night conversations
I seek only the grandeur of the Divine
Even in the midst of my own confusion/I seek repentance from the days of before
Never will I claim innocence/since I  am far from a saint or an angel/ I offer up this tainted soul and offer you the rest I have of me

Letting Go: The Ultimate Choice

One of the many things that is hard to do is to let go. Many of us are unable to let go of something or someone. We try to figure out every reason why we can’t let go. Also, letting go doesn’t always mean a negative. We sometimes imagine a bestfriend betraying us or a partner going out to cheat. However, this need not be the situation for letting go. We don’t have to imagine extreme scenarios. Of course, betrayal and a lack of trust are good reasons for me to leave. Albeit, sad reasons to leave. Nevertheless, we mustn’t think always in the negative.

Last year, I had a close friend of mine’s tell me that she was holding onto anger because of a friend. She was tired of the constant negativity from her friend. Her friend would constantly say sly comments and hurt her feelings. So, she asked me what she should do. I simply told her that she knew her friend better than I did. She had to decide when enough was enough. Additionally, I told her that she could certainly talk to her friend about these negative comments instead of holding all of the anger inside of her. We usually do not let go until we are fed up. Now, this is a negative situation in which we may choose to let go.

In the midst of all of this, she asked me if I knew about a book called The Art of Letting Go. I knew that I had heard of it, but I had never read it. So, a few weeks later I went to Barnes and Noble with a few friends on the night of my graduation and saw the book that my friend asked me about previously. I couldnt believe it. It was right there. It was a book based in Buddhist philosophy. It was about letting go of negative energy, living in the moment and suffering less. I flew through the book. It was an awesome read. I had began meditation to find mindfulness in my life. I was letting go of the unneccessary things in my life. I was learning to live in the moment. I was learning to live. Many times we hold onto things that weigh us down emotionally. This emotional burden can feel like the weight of the world.

In being fair, letting go is not always in regards to something negative. Two years ago, I was volunteering in teaching ESL to Somali refugees in my city. I would go a few days out of the week after school and work to volunteer. It was really a learning process. I thought I had enough knowledge to teach, but that wasnt the issue. I never had training in teaching English as a second language. I would plan lessons and try to learn their language. This was my first exposure to Somali-culture outside of the Somali-woman I had met in one of my classes. I would look forward to seeing the kids I would teach. We would pray Meghrib, the prayer at sunset and talk about other trivial things. Also, I had my first cup of Somali tea which became my favorite. It reminded me of Chai, Indian tea. Unfortunately, I lived too far and couldnt travel that far as frequently as I did. So, I ended up letting go. I didnt want to, but I knew I should. Not only that, but I wasnt trained in what I was doing. To me, it was a bit selfish to continue. Teaching is serious and the fact that someone may need to be retaught something because of my lack of training wasnt okay with me. So, I made a conscious decision to stop.

We all have to decide what is good or bad for us. Also, we need to know our personal limits. Many people are selfish and do things out of their own desires. It is simply true. No one can stop us from being selfish except for us. Selfishness can hurt you and others. Satisfying yourself for short-term satisfaction can cause harm in the long-run. So, you have to be honest with yourself in deciding to let go.

Only you can decide what to give up.