(Re)discovering Beauty in the Ugliness of Life’s Chaos

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Over the last few years of my life, I have met many people. Some stayed and some left. However, in the passing of time, I have learned a few life-lessons to keep in my pocket for the long-haul. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the encounters that I’ve had and the experiences that I’ve been through. Sometimes life just seems too much of a mess to contend with, but there is beauty in it. Yes, I am saying that there is beauty in the mess of it all. 

I graduated only a few months ago in December 2013 with my degree. I was in total bliss. I knew I would quickly find a job that paid more than the part-time job I was relying on for sustenance. However, this was not the case. Not only this, but I was experiencing a crisis in my belief in God. This crisis drew me into a phase of questioning everything that I once knew was stable. I questioned everything from the existence of God to the issue of scripture being truly divine. I was dancing on egg-shells, but I didn’t care. I was at the crossroads. I was struggling to know God, myself and the world around me. I was dealing with financial-instabilities and family-problems. I was dying daily. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. I would frequently isolate myself from people. Some people would fight to stay in my life during this period of isolation, while others simply didn’t care. I don’t blame them. I was probably too far away from reality to even be contacted. 

Not only did I find this time of uncertainties troubling, but I had suitors in the midst of it all. These suitors never impressed me. They seemed to want the typical “perfect” Muslim-wife that would ‘cook, clean, obey’ them. I wasn’t going to stick around for this. Not only this, but the pressure of getting married by friends and the external Muslim community sent me further away. There would be the occasional, “You’re so beautiful. You’re young too. Why aren’t you married?”. I must admit that I was pushing hard for a good period of time to get married, but I never found contentment in this towards the last semester of school. I was still…young. I hardly knew what I really wanted. I thought I knew what I wanted, but I don’t think I did at that point. I knew that I could be the “perfect” Muslim wife for any man, but I don’t think I had come upon anyone that truly understood me. However, I did yearn for the Muslim-family that I would see at the Eids (twice a year celebration after Ramadan and during Hajj-season). I wasn’t raised in a Muslim-family and would practice Islam alone without anyone else. I wanted that, but I didn’t want to get pressured into just marrying any person. Furthermore, I started to question the institution of marriage. I didn’t like the fact that I would need my wali’s permission (guardian of the woman) to get married. I was perfectly capable of choosing my own spouse on my own terms. I thought that my guardian (father) would totally void my agency, my own voice. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) certainly warned the men of the Muslim-community that a female’s permission is needed in order for any marriage to be valid. However, I was at odds with this when learning that I needed my guardian’s permission to marry a man. So, does my permission even matter if my father’s ‘no’ was good enough to stop a marriage? Yes, the purpose of the wali (guardian) is to check out the man’s credentials, his background, his income, his mental state, and etc. Some would even explain to me that a man knows another man. I’m not saying that marriage shouldn’t be a family-affair, but I most certainly am not going to give away my right to having a voice. Women have had their voice continuously stripped from them in history, through patriarchy, and in various communities. I will not have this happen to me. I will not bow down to a role that oppresses me. I will never teach my daughter(s) to succumb to a system that isolates her participation in her community, her society. As long as a man can determine and choose what is right for me then I should not expect to have a voice. Unfortunately, this view of mine’s may be in conflict of the Islamic-tradition, but I will maintain my stance on this. At the end of the day, this same woman will be with this man, romantically, sexually, mentally all throughout the marriage alone. There will not be anyone within their household day-in and day-out except for them. They will be the only ones determining solely the situation of their marriage. Sure, you will have arbitrators to help resolve marital-problems, but generally it will just be them. Not only this, but I have an issue of having a guardian. It is said that the woman’s guardianship transfers from her father to her husband. I’m sorry, but this is not the case for me. I will always maintain my own identity. This identity will not be compromised…at all. I am not a part of a business transaction. I am not to be passed off or transferred to. I will empower myself by denouncing this guardianship. I understand that some women are definitely okay with this and will delight in this. However, I am not one to delight in this. The role of the guardian is to: protect, provide, and maintain the woman. Now, once again…this is not for me. I will leave this for the next woman. The issue of a woman’s place just always give me chills. Brrrrrr! 

Nonetheless, I will express the positive side(s) to these last few months. In trying to find my place in the world, I had entered into a close friendship/relationship with someone. I’m liberal. I started seeing another world outside of the one I was living.  I was treading on a path of: spirituality, love, lust, sexuality, education, identity, and etc. I happened to have stumbled upon another person, similar to myself, having questions about religion. I didn’t suspect that I would find answers in the midst of finding another person like me, confused. However, I did. In the poverty of my own life, I was spending most of my time reading about religion. I would stay consumed in religious-studies. I would visit my college to talk with professors about life. Yes, I am a bit…extreme. However, I was dying in this crisis of my life. I was broke. Starving for answers about God. On the fence about feminism. I was suffering a minor-depression. Nonetheless, I soon found a close companion to share some of the intimate parts of the pain I was struggling with internally. The simplicity of the friendship/relationship was the real beauty of it all. The occasional bilingual conversations in Spanish. The occasional meals at a local restaurant. The frequent bike-rides alone or in a group. The long conversations about: faith, poverty, dreams, sexuality, feminism, and problems. Very simple pleasures. Nothing expensive. Simply simple. I must admit that this quote is true:

“Living simply makes loving simple.”― Bell Hooks

I didn’t intend on engaging in a companionship, but I did. I would say that I regret doing this because this isn’t acceptable within the Islamic-tradition. However, I did engage in this. I certainly did grow from this encounter. Interestingly enough, I realized the importance of taking risks. 

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” — Anaïs Nin (The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934)

The world we live in is not black and white. It is not as simple as we may think. Its complicated. I’m sure someone that is reading this is shaking their little finger at me and threatening to forever label me as a ‘sinful’ and ‘impure’ woman. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Settle down. Life is what we make of it. In a time in my life when I wanted to just fold up under the covers and cry, I didn’t. I reveled on the beauty of what I had discovered at the most unlikely of times. I would frequently stay away from people because I was broke and didn’t have money, but with the friendship/relationship I was engaging in, I didn’t have to always have money. I learned that living doesn’t have to always mean spending. You are not what you own, can spend, and can display. I didn’t feel like going to another all-women’s party/gathering and putting on a front. I didn’t feel like putting on a prom-dress to just attend a dinner at another woman’s home. I’m not that shallow. Yes, I can isolate myself, but I am not shallow. There is this pretentious secret that happens too frequently for me. For many women, the whole women’s only scene is a battle-field. Women would dress up in ostentatious outfits that they would only wear once to show-off. I’m usually not at such events. For one, I’m not going to fake as if I have money by wearing something I may never wear again. Secondly, I can’t afford to go to a high-end restaurant every week. This is just my reality. I’ve experienced the whole ‘women’s only’ scene and do not find joy in it. If I know someone that isn’t into the whole ‘let’s-show-off-our-wealth’ then I will attend her gathering. 

Well, I definitely did go on a long rant there. Back to what I was saying, I didn’t have to contend with this reality when I was in this close relationship/friendship. I was me. Simply me. I didn’t have to dress-up or put on a front. I was simply Lauren. It was the simplicity that kept me in engaged. It was living simply to love simple. 

In the midst of it all, I experienced new places within my own backyard. I went to many places that I never knew existed in my city. I traveled to several places on my bicycle. I discovered new cultures. I experimented with various religions, philosophies and ideologies. I was confused, but awakened at the same time. I didn’t feel the pressure of getting married just for marriage-sake. I didn’t feel like I had to put on a mask to fit in. I was just taking my life day-by-day. I was and is broke as hell. There is no shame in that. However, I am living. Before, I was just existing. I was going about life in a routine. I started to see that we all are struggling with something. We aren’t perfect. We all are dying a death internally because of someone or something. We just have to find beauty in the midst of ugliness and chaos. 

“And sometimes I wonder, why we care so much about the way we look.
And the way we talk and the way we act and the clothes we bought, how much that cost.
Does it even really matter?
Cause if life is an up hill battle
We all tryna climb with the same ol’ ladder
In the same boat, with the same ol’ paddle
Why so shallow? I’m just asking
What’s the pattern to the madness
Everybody ain’t a number one draft pick
Most of us ain’t Hollywood actors” -B.O.B. “Both of Us”

 

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Assalamu Alaykom (Peace be upon you),

So, I thought I would attend the Friday-prayer( Salatul Jumu’ah) with another Muslim-woman that lives around the corner from me. In being indoors for the last few days, I invited my dear friend to attend the khutba(lecture) with me. She accepted my invitation. So, we departed from our apartments, got into the car and was on our way. We were definitely excited about this. In going to the mosque, we found ourselves in a long line of cars awaiting for a chance at a parking-spot. In our short wait, we giggled and chatted about trivial matters. Once we were able to get a parking-spot, we quickly jumped out the car and headed towards the women’s entrance. We finally made it removed our shoes.

Once the lecture started, we sat quietly in anticipation for an enlightening afternoon. However, this quickly changed. The lecturer began with a narration by the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stating that:

“A Muslim community will stop being on the straight path once the: youth go astray, rebellious women appear, and men stop going out to perform jihad”

So, my dear friend and I sat flabbergasted and in awe. This particular lecturer went on and on about ‘astray youth, rebellious women, and men going out to perform jihad’. However, he failed in refusing to discuss the causes of the youth going astray or the reason(s) behind rebellious women appearin. I’m still not sure what ‘rebellious’ women are. Also, jihad in the context he spoke of was inappropriate. Jihad is Arabic for struggling for the sake of Allah (God). The biggest struggle we can undergo in battling is our own individual selves, our desires. We struggle everyday in being upright people. We struggle everyday in giving everyone their due rights. This is true jihad. This is more of an appropriate form of jihad that should’ve been dealt with, instead of talking about going out to fight.

I’m sorry, but some of these lecturers need to get themselves together because American Muslims are living in a different culture that is distinct from other places. The problems that an American Muslim will face will probably be different than an Afghani or Pakistani Muslim and vice versa. It is this constant rhetoric from these lecturers that throws me and others for a loop. Why don’t these men understand that second, third, and fourth-generation American Muslims do not hold the same cultural-baggage as recent immigrants. The happenings of now should be attended to. There must be a new look at how Islam is practiced in America. We cannot continuously bring along cultural-baggage to a country that is different than ‘back home’. So, many American Muslims continuously sit through countless lectures hearing things that they can’t relate to due to this cultural-barrier. The youth isn’t going to listen to some random person that is ranting about things they can’t relate to in their daily lives.

Also, we must turn away from this obsession over obedience. Submission belongs to God and God alone. A fruitful and well-grounded relationship is rooted deeply in mutual partnership. If a relationship is built upon tyranny, obedience, and a power-struggle then it may not last long. There should be equality between the two individuals. If not, then you may have someone within the relationship rebel against the other. It is rather absurd to believe that someone rebels for no reason. No, there is a reason behind this. Instead of ranting on and on about rebellious women, why not talk about why a person would want to rebel in the first place. Let’s talk about the behind-the-scenes stuff that occurs. I’ve heard some dynamic lectures from some great imams discussing: domestic violence, sexual assault, women’s rights, marital love, and etc. However, there aren’t enough of these lectures happening. Unfortunately, there are many communities that are firmly rooted in compliance. Compliance doesn’t cut it for me. It isn’t about blindly obeying or submitting to anything or anyone. One must ask questions and seek for those answers in order to be at one with themselves. If an answer isn’t satisfactory then you continue on in your search. You don’t just sit back and accept something. Oh no, never that. The first word that was revealed to the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was ‘iqra’. Iqra means to read in Arabic. So, we must move away from this blind-following of individuals, no matter what their title may be. In Islam, one turns to the Qur’an and the example of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In Islam, there isn’t a central authority. The Qur’an legislates for one to use their reasoning, their logic, the example of the prophet Muhammad and the ayats(evidences) from the Qur’an to live a satisfying life. Islam doesn’t restrict one from being an active learner or from asking questions. No, you are told to bring your questions. You are told to reflect and to ponder. You shouldn’t just sit back and listen. You must not be like heedless cattle in a herd. No, you use what God has given you- your intellect. So, I am saying right now that we have to move away from simply complying to lectures that aren’t applicable to right now.

As an American Muslim, my experience(s) are centered on my daily life in America. It isn’t dependent upon anything else other than my experience(s) as a Black Muslim American woman. I’m sorry, but I can’t accept someone’s cultural-baggage from elsewhere as being my baggage. This can’t be the case for me. I just hope that some of these imams and lecturers will begin to understand that the American Muslim experience is different from a Muslim’s experience(s) in another country. American Muslims have their own problems and qualms to deal with on a daily basis. It is time to allow for American Muslims to create their own narrative. There’s nothing wrong with being an American-Muslim. It is just problematic when American Muslims are being told as a collective body to abide by cultural-norms that aren’t applicable to right now. This is America and American Muslims are trying to find their way. The last thing we need to hear is how things are ‘back home’. I’m sorry, but your cultural-baggage doesn’t cut it here. So, don’t try to spin Islam to make your cultural-baggage legitimate. Islam doesn’t oppress. Islam liberates. So, take that crap you think is Islam and throw it in the trash.

Anyways, I will go back to the hadith that he selected for the lecture. If he really wanted to do something beneficial, he should’ve elaborated on this issue of youth going astray, women becoming rebellious and men going out for jihad. In too many lectures, I hear about problems, but I rarely hear about solutions. Or I hear about consequences of actions, but never the causes. We shouldn’t dance around issues, but we should have a well-rounded talk about them. Instead of constantly complaining about this, that and the other, we need to just cut to the chase. We need to develop better ways of handling issues instead of giving things a cultural-slant. Why can’t we just focus on being good people? Islam is a full way of life, but someone too many lecturers focus on these trivial things. And too many times, people walk out of mosques not learning anything because the lecturer was so far from the reality of the people. Let’s get things in check the next time we want to go to the minbar to speak about something. Let’s have a real conversation that talks about causes and effects. Let’s discuss how we can help alleviate these problems and how this is apart of Islam. Islam is about being a mercy to the people. Islam shouldn’t be a burden. Islam should never be burden or else we’re doing something wrong.

So, our Friday-prayer experience was interesting. It was only one experience out of several, but hopefully from this one experience someone can think about the importance of connecting to their audience before speaking to them. It is very important to understand the reality of your audience before delivering a message. I mean…what good is a message if you’re not conveying it and your audience is unable to connect to it? So, let’s look at Islam as a way to alleviate burdens instead of being a burden. Islam is a way of life that is beautiful, but when a man/woman takes it upon him/herself to educate a group he/she should think twice about the message he/she intends to deliver.

The Cycle of Mercy in Islam

ALLAH SAYS: “O SON OF ADAM, SO LONG AS YOU CALL UPON ME AND ASK OF ME, I SHALL FORGIVE YOU FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE, AND I SHALL NOT MIND. O SON OF ADAM, WERE YOUR SINS TO REACH THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY AND WERE YOU THEN TO ASK FORGIVENESS OF ME, I WOULD FORGIVE YOU. O SON OF ADAM, WERE YOU TO COME TO ME WITH SINS NEARLY AS GREAT AS THE EARTH AND WERE YOU THEN TO FACE ME, ASCRIBING NO PARTNER TO ME, I WOULD BRING YOU FORGIVENESS NEARLY AS GREAT AS IT.” [TIMIDHI]

One of the biggest mistakes that many of us make is believing that repentance is unobtainable. We may find ourselves doused in sins and scared to simply ask for forgiveness. However, one of the ninety-nine attributes of Allah (God) is being Ar-Rahman (The Merciful). Human-beings were created with free-will, thus having the ability to choose their decisions. And in these decisions, human-beings will sometimes sin because they are weak in the flesh. The Qur’an tells us that:

“God wants to lighten your burdens: for man has been created weak”-an-Nisa 4:28

As being individuals created in weakness, Allah has granted us his mercy. It was said by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that ” Allah divided mercy into one-hundred parts and He kept its ninety-nine parts with Him and sent down its one part on the earth, and because of that, its one single part, His creations are Merciful to each other, so that even the mare lifts up its hoofs away from its baby animal, lest it should trample on it.”

In many ways, we are granted mercy from the Most Divine and granted mercy by each other in this world. In Islam, rights are designated for everything and everyone within the world. Islam have guided the people in understanding the importance of being thankful and merciful to individuals and animals. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said “Allah will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to the people”. So, in the brief time that we have on this Earth, we should spend our time with a lowered wing for others. Additionally, animals must be treated with the same kind of mercy that is directed towards human-beings. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Do not use anything in which there is a soul as a target” (Narrated by Muslim).

Islam offers individuals with endless mercy from the Creator, but the Creator also directs human-beings to treat all living-things with mercy. This beautiful concept of mercy is all-encompassing. One must remember that mercy should be extended to all beings upon the Earth in order to receive mercy from the Creator of all that is created.

She Found Herself Coming Back to the Divine

Tears danced, dripping from her eyes in need
in want/in search for the Creator
Hands outstretched/open-wide
Trembling in the offering of her heart
The world disappeared/fleeting to only leave her alone
in the meeting between her and her Lord
The mumbling of her words/her silent prayer
said in tears/prounounced in hurt/in search of the One
became the vaccine for the sickness
that resided in the broken parts of her soul
the most intimate parts of she that cried out in rebellion
against the darkness that prevailed through every crevice of her internal self
For too long she lost touch with the Creator
the Truth
Her sealed-shut heart beckoned to be explored
to become a playground of exploration
to be set aflamed
ignited by the Divine
Her brown, almond-shaped eyes/windows of her soul
watched the clouds saunter across God’s heavenly skies
with the sun’s rays peeking through/kissing her paralyzed body
Her feet/dug beneathe the beach’s warm sand/felt worms cuddling their way between her toes
she sat in the midst of her broken self departing/
reaching far within her innermost self to trust the One
the Haqq/the Truth
to create distance between her and that which brought doubt
the ocean’s breeze seduced her to open her mouth open-wide
to taste its beauty nestled in the salt particles of the sea
with her ears entranced in the sounds of ocean tides rushing upon the beach’s shore
She/a soul among many/ in search of Truth
Leaned into/reached within/ her former-self
The roaring ocean tides in the deep depths of her soul settled
quietly/quiet was the sound of the world breaking free in the prison of her soul

Is There Space for Religion in Secular Societies? Is Secularism the True Reason for Misguidance?

Recently, I attended a religious-conference and one of the speakers stated that one should stay away from secular philosophy. Additionally, the speaker continued by saying that secular philosophy can cause an individual to become misguided in their faith. As I listened to this attack on philosophy, I kept an open-mind and continued listening. The speaker warranted this claim by one example in which a religious-man turned away from his religion due to the secular philosophy he was reading in his leisure-time. In this warrant on why we, the listeners, should turn away from such secular-studies, many within the audience nodded their heads in affirmation that secular philosophy was the “end-all-be-all” to misguidance. Now I can’t give a reason for this man’s decision in leaving this former-religion, but why is secularism the scapegoat for a person’s lack-of practicing of religion?

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.”― Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

In studying Heschel briefly in one of my past philosophy courses, I agree that we can’t always blame secular science or secular philosophy for a person’s disinterest in religion. In my past experiences, I’ve had people push a very legalistic form of Islam upon me. For some time, I would live in a way that was sterile, without meaning and lifeless. I felt drained by this legalistic form of practicing. There wasn’t any splendor. There wasn’t anything keeping me grateful for the religion I had embraced. I never left Islam, but I was beginning to lose touch with its beauty. However, I would soon run across others like myself that were seeking the beauty, splendor and ease of Islam. In being around these individuals like myself, I found the religion becoming a way of life for me. I felt certain that Islam most certainly made sense to me. I understood that I needed to strike a balance between being Muslim and living within the world. I took what I had learned of the Prophet Muhammad’s life (peace be upon him) and began implementing his teachings into my life. One example that brings a smile to my face is when two companions of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) talked among themselves stating how they would enjoy the worldly life, but in the presence of the prophet they would remember the hereafter. In feeling guilty for enjoying worldly endeavors, they went to seek out the advice of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In approaching the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) about their concern, he told the two men that they were human-beings and that as human-beings they had to strike a balance. They had to understand that they weren’t created to be in constant worship like the angels and if they engaged in constant worship like the angels than the angels would shake hands with them. In hearing this, the two men were reassured that it was quite okay to enjoy themselves as Muslims as long as they maintained their religious-obligations. So, In learning about this story within the Islamic-tradition I wept. I finally understood that being an adherent of Islam wasn’t hard. I mustn’t think that I couldn’t live my life.

In addition, we have to realize that one has to seek meaning within their own lives and to stop placing secular philosophy or studies as the scapegoat for people leaving religion. If anything, I’ve found more people leaving religion due to the ‘religious-police’ which plagues all religious-affiliations. If someone criticizes secular science and secular philosophy because of the questions that are often raised and brought to the table then I would rethink this criticism. The purpose of attending an educational-institution is to expand one’s knowledge-base. In my personal-experience, I’ve found myself disagreeing on many occasions to the things that were being taught in the classroom. On the other hand, I’ve found myself in total agreement with what was being taught. So, I believe a person will have to keep in mind why they are seeking out education. I don’t believe education, especially at the collegiate-level should be about making everyone feel comfortable. I believe questions should be raised that will make people think and question. If secular science and secular philosophy causes individuals to think about themselves and the world around them then I am all for it. I believe it’s vital for any person to do this. However, if a person happens to become disengaged from their religion then this is a decision that they have made. We can’t always blame education. Why do we encourage education if we can’t accept the simple notion that our knowledge-bases will be questioned and analyzed? What exactly do we expect out of educational-institutions? As a seeker of all forms of education, I welcome the various discussions that take place within the classroom-setting. In many ways, I feel that individuals usually leave their religion because they aren’t finding truth and purpose in it. So, how can you blame a person’s choice in leaving their religion on education? If an individual doesn’t find purpose in their religion then education isn’t the problem. The problem lies within that individual’s heart.

So, I believe that secular education isn’t truly the problem to a person’s choice in leaving religion. I believe it lies in an individual’s personal connection to their religious-affiliation. If a person finds their religion as purposeless and meaningless than they’re more apt to leave it than to stay a practitioner of it. I’ve practiced religion all of my life and never stopped due to secularism. However, I am not discrediting that some people may have left religion due to the influence of education, but this can’t be the claim for every adherent that leaves religion. Education has become another scape-goat for keeping people from critically-thinking. In choosing to live Islam, I’ve found myself constantly thinking about the Quranic instruction of pondering and reflecting upon the world. In being an adherent of religion, I believe it is essential to critically think about my role as an individual within the world and as an adherent of a particular religion. I’ve never been told by Quranic text to simply believe without reflecting. So, in my journey of living Islam and being a student of secular-education I don’t find myself using education as a scapegoat. I will never claim that secular education is bad essentially. I find it useful and an important tool in being critical of ourselves as consumers of our global-community. Additionally, I believe an adherent of religion can easily find themselves practicing religion and learning secular-knowledge.
In going back to the original argument, I believe that the speaker at this particular conference was wrong in saying that adherent of religion should avoid secular philosophy. Why? What is bad about secular philosophy? Can we be sure that secular knowledge was the reason for this man’s decision in leaving his religion? However, these questions are irrelevant because we can’t claim that every adherent of religion will apostate due to secular knowledge because at the end of the day the question of religion and its place within society depends upon individuals. We have to understand that a person’s choice of leaving or adhering to a particular religion is dependent upon their connection/adherence of it. For many people, the choice to leave a religion is due to its lack of purpose and meaning. So, if religion lacks meaning and purpose than individuals will most likely turn away from it due to its ineffectiveness. In understanding this, it is important to see how secular-knowledge is a poor excuse for a scapegoat when bigger questions are being raised about the role of religion within our lives and within societies globally.

Saturday Night's Final Thoughts

Assalamu alaykom (Peace Be Upon You),

Over the last week I have found myself going skating on a daily-basis to let off some steam, but it wasn’t until I pulled out my prayer-rug and read Qur’an that I found true contentment. It was a different kind of contentment. It’s a kind of contentment that is reassuring. I’ve thought about the Eid and how I may have to pass on attending the Eid-prayer on Tuesday, inshALLAH due to a science-lab that I have on the morning of the Eid. I’ve never missed an Eid’s prayer since I’ve been Muslim, but I guess this time will be an exception. It kills me, but it’s just a choice I may have to make, inshALLAH. I absolutely love celebrating the Eid (the day of happiness/festivity) with others. I usually get a new outfit, go out to attend the morning-prayer, and do things afterwards in celebration of the day. InshALLAH, I will still celebrate the Eid, but I may just miss the prayer- which is the best part for me. It’s so moving and exciting. I absolutely love it. It’s a beautiful beginning for the start of an Eid. So, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Allah knows best! I will pray about this.

However, I read Surah Hajj and Surah Muminoon over the last two hours and found myself just startled. Why startled? I don’t know. Just reading Qur’an just makes you slow down and think about the bigger picture. We are all going through our own issues and problems and Qur’an reminds us that life on Earth isn’t a paradise. We are here to strive and worship. However, don’t get it twisted and think we have to be angels because we aren’t. We are human-beings dealing with the trials and tribulations of life.

“To Him (God/Allah) belongs what is in the heavens and what is on the earth. And indeed, Allah is the Free of need, the Praiseworthy” -22:64

I’m not perfect and will never claim to be, but I am very much an individual that seeks to live a life in a way that offers meaning. There’s this reality that while we enjoy the life of this world there is the life of the hereafter. In Islam, there aren’t saints. There aren’t monasteries or convents. So, there is no such thing as withdrawing from the world because a Muslim should be able to balance the world and their spiritual-life. And this is a trial for many because some have taken much of this world as their final resting place when it’s not. In between living life, there are the five-daily prayers. In between having a good time, there are obligations we must give to others. Our spouses have rights over us. Our neighbors have rights over us. Our children have rights over us. Our parents have rights over us. Our pets have rights over us. Our Lord have rights over us. We have to always strike that balance, so right now…I’m trying to strike that balance.

Sometimes I find myself dipping my hands in too many things at once. In doing this, I cause myself to get burnt out and to just withdraw from people. Many times when I get overtly stressed out, I just write, skate or just listen to something. It’s my therapy. In many ways, this is my reason for blogging. It’s a form of therapy. It’s a form of self-expression. Not only is it self-expression, but it’s something that I enjoy. And sometimes, I just like to be by myself. I like to sit out in nature and just watch the world around me. I do many things, but I also isolate myself too. I like to seek that balance between my social and personal-life. It’s quite important for me to reflect on my personal-life. I believe I am like this because of Islam. Islam really humanizes me. It makes me look at the world as a whole. Also, it causes me to look at my own life and the relationships that I have with others. It strips me of everything and causes me to think critically about myself. And this is what I need. This is what we all need. We just need to sometimes be real with ourselves and not lie about the reality of our lives and how we live them.

Just some Saturday night’s thoughts.

Warning: The State of Affairs of Women- Why Are You Broken For?

I think this poem is really powerful and much-needed for those women that are broken and needing a smile to cross their face. It is known that women go through alot of things in their daily-lives and sometimes from these experiences they are broken. However, it should be known that these women are indeed essential to the operation of this world and they hold importance in our daily-lives. They are more than “a breeder or a hand-me down or a leg-stand, but she is the backbone of a family and relentless and she never gives up”. This is important to understand as we deal with the women in our lives. Also, “do not romanticize her or write her a love-poem, but she is a poem on the brink of breaking in your eye. She is your queen and you are her king. You are apart of her queendom”. It’s important that we take what Islam has taught and to actually apply it in our lives. Many times we hear the same rhetoric from Muslim-men and women that “Islam liberated the woman,” but what does this mean if women are still being enslaved by backward-ideologies and oppressive regimes? Let’s put what we learn into action. It’s not good enough to take a line out of your pocket and to think it’s going to make everything okay when women are struggling and broken behind these lies that we tell. Yes, Islam liberated the woman but have you? Are you treating other women in a way that is appropriate? Are you dealing with your mother, daughter, niece, and aunt in a way that praises her “queen-ness”? We should remember that the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) never laid a finger on a female. He never slapped his wife(s) for not making him dinner. He never took sex from his wife(s) because he felt as if he owned her body. He never prevented his wife(s) from gaining knowledge because he felt that knowledge was only for men. He never told his wife(s) to stay quiet because women should know their opinions aren’t needed.

So, what are we doing? Why are so many women broken? Bloody? Dead? Why are we slaying our fellow sisters across the world? Why aren’t we respecting them? Why are we making them into second-class citizens? What’s your problem? Where’s the teachings of Islam? Islam has never taught you to abuse/sexually assault/violate/ or oppress other woman or the women you interact with on a daily-basis. Remember that we are all one. We are all trying to stay above water, but more importantly that we will all stand before Allah and will be told to “iqra”- to read our book of deeds. So, stop feeling as if you are entitled to break the spirit of a woman. No matter if you are a woman yourself or if you are a man. You have no right to break a person’s spirit because she bleeds the same blood as you and we are all heart-beats and breath breathing.

However, my fellow woman/sister/mother/aunt/niece/grandmother remember that you are more than broken-hearts and broken-spirits but you are powerful. You are experiences lived and gone-through that only you know about. You may be tired, but you are not alone. We are all going through the battles of this world. We are very much real. And our experiences are real. So, remember I am always thinking about you even if the whole world has drugged and drenched you in tears and sweat.

The Issue of Identity and Acceptance: Muslim-Communities Globally

One of the issues that I constantly have to sort-through personally is the issue of identity and acceptance. In many social-circles within different Muslim-communities, people choose to stigmatize converts for various reasons…many of which are ridiculous. These stigmas are very much hurtful and even damaging for the psyche of the convert. I’ve been Muslim for the last six years and I still continue to get the same question about me changing my name. I’ve always been of the opinion that my name doesn’t classify me as being pious or impious. I am my actions and words. It is known in the Islamic-tradition that faith is seen through the acts that you perform with your limbs. So, I continue to believe this. Many people fail to realize that the prophet’s (peace be upon him) companions were indeed converts and their names were Arabic and they were in Arabia, so their names matched the place they lived. Their names were specific to their geographical location. Yes, this may not be the case for everyone but it was definitely their case. So, why do people still ask why I have yet to change my name? Many individuals through the Muslim-community have even went so far to say that I am imitating the kuffar by not changing my name to a Muslim-one. I’ve even had someone tell me that I should name my child an Arabic name when I have one to differerientate him/her from Western society. I’m sorry, but I am a Western Muslim and I do not feel the least amount of guilt for being so. So, let me stop right there. Whenever someone tell me to change my name I simply ask them if they mean I should change my name to an Arabic one. Why do so many equate being Muslim with being Arabic and looking a certain way?

However, I would say that we have to stop stigmatizing people for wanting to keep their identity, especially when it doesn’t pose any problem to Islam. The only time the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would change the name of a companion is if it meant something bad. And I’m not trying to do extensive research about my name. It’s not that serious. If only we could move beyond superficiality. What is a name, anyways? Just something that you call yourself and identity yourself by for identification purposes. Why not look at me from my actions instead? Telling a convert that they should or is encouraged to change their name is troubling to me. It’s troubling because it shows this incessant obsession with outwardly appearances. In the Islamic-tradition, Allah doesn’t look at our bodies or our clothing but our hearts. So, what does that mean? It means exactly what it says. Allah looks at our actions and what is within our hearts. So, why do we seek to box people up into categories?

In many ways, it is us that strip people of themselves. It’s not Islam. Islam is quite clear in how it deals with personal-identities. Islam never forbids an individual to stop being Bengali, Sengalese, Black, White, Spanish, Chinese, Indian, or etc. So, why do we seek to bid identity? The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was an Arab man, so he had his own culture. Sometimes people will get culture confused with Islam and will seek to correct you about something that isn’t even Islamic. Some people will tell you that we have to eat with our fingers, but this is incorrect. We can if we would like, but it’s not an obligation. Or if you’re a sister you have to wear a black abaya with a black hijab. Correction, if this is what you’re wanting to do than go forth in wearing it. I typically wear my abayas on a daily-basis, but I may switch it up. The abaya is Arabic and it doesn’t have to be the daily-attire of a Muslim woman. So, where is all of this coming from? Why must we infringe upon someone else’s culture to impose another? We have to respect the diversity that we have within the Muslim-community. If someone doesn’t speak Arabic, look Arabic or have an Arabic name than you should quickly get over it. If someone doesn’t appear as Muslim as you like than you should quickly get over it. It’s you that is wrong for stripping people of their identity. It is you that creates hostility and division. It is you that is seeking to maintain racist ideologies from the days of Jahiliya (pre-Islam/ignorance).

An American-Muslim is simply American. What does it mean to be American? It means that this Muslim is coming from a society that is specific in certain traditions, cultural-norms, ways of viewing and living life. This is no different than the person coming from Japan, Spain, Senegal, Ghana, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. We are all from different places, but we unite under Islam. We should embrace the diversity that Islam gives us. We shouldn’t take it for granted. Instead of trying to measure someone’s Muslimness….how about trying to understand how we can come together to better ourselves and our communities through practicing Islam? Why does that seem like a better option than the option of simply judging someone based-off of superficiality? I am not pointing fingers at anyone specific, but this is just a needed wake-up call for those that seem to feel troubled to see or know of a Muslim that doesn’t necessarily look or sound like them. In case you’re seeking daleel or evidence for why I am opposed to racism, please continue to read:

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, God will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge. The inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and (even) the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man. The superiority of the learned over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave (no monetary inheritance), they leave only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion. – Sunan of Abu-Dawood, Hadith 1631

The prophet Muhamamd (peace be upon him) is telling us that even God(Allah) understands the fish in the sea, so what does that tell us? This tells us that language comes from Allah and that if Allah understands the fish in the sea than the diversity of languages that we see in our world is from Allah. On top of that, no person should feel sad that they don’t speak Arabic or another language. Allah gave us the language(s) that we have, so feel at ease. Easy, easy does it!

If this hadith isn’t sufficient for you in regards to why we shouldn’t feel the need to be racist and ethnocentric than please continue reading:

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (49:13)

This is indeed the ultimate proof for how we have to move away from these racist and ethnocentric ways in which we carry with us to: mosques, events, gatherings, and parties. So, please just leave people alone. We have to realize that enjoining the good and forbidding the evil should only be done by an individual that has knowledge of that which is halal (good) and haraam (good) or else we may speak things that are false and untrue.

“Ibn ul Qayyim said that it is the greatest sin. Ibn ul Qayyim said that speaking about Allaah swt without `ilm is the greatest sin that you could commit. He bases it on this verse”:
“Qul innamaa 7arrama Rabbi-l-fawaa7isha maa DHahara minhaa wa maa baTan, wal-ithma wal-baghya bi ghayri-l-7aqq, wa an tushrikoo bi-Llaahi maa lam yunazzil bihi sulTaanaa, wa an taqoolo 3ala-l-Laahi maa laa ta3lamoon.”

“Say: The things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are al-Fawaahishah (great evil sins, every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse, etc.), whether committed openly or secretly, sins (of all kinds), unrighteous oppession, joining partners (in worship) with Allaah for which He has given no authority and saying things about Allaah of which you have no knowledge.” [The Noble Qur’aan, 7:33]

So, we just have to be careful in how we choose to direct our concerns. If we are speaking without knowledge then this is extremely serious and should be cautioned against to the best of our abilities. So, remember the next time you feel compelled to tell someone that this or that is haraam (bad/unlawful). So, remember this the next time you choose to tell someone their name is haraam (bad/unlawful) or because it seems too Western. Just remember that Islam came as a mercy not a burden and you shouldn’t make it into a way of life that is unbearable for the next person. Islam is a moderate way of life. It’s the middle path. It’s not extreme. It’s easy and simple.

So, I will leave you a few lasting words to think about as we travel through this beautiful religion and way of life:

“Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that ye may be witnesses over mankind, and that the messenger may be a witness over yourselves ..” Quran 2:143

The Islamic-Perspective: Am I Really Sinful For Loving Outside of Marriage? Are There Multiple Ways to Love in Islam?

This thing called love is one that penetrates deeply for everyone. This emotion, action, concept, need or want is seen throughout all cultures. This thing called love is so special that it is needed and wanted by every single person. I will not limit this conversation about love nor seek to define love. However, it is important to ask ourselves, “What is love?”. Why do so many of us frequent this topic in our conversations, social-circles, music, literature, and etc? What does it mean to yearn for love? Is love about being with another person? Is it about having someone there to listen to you? Is it about having respect for another individual? Is it about being with someone intimately? What is it? In thinking about all of the ways in which we display love or go about in loving, what defines love? One of the many things that I hear, see and read about is this notion that love is only possible in the marital-bond. Love must not be before. Love must be within marriage and if one experiences love before marriage than it’s sinful. I’ve always wondered why people would say that. How does love become boxed up in one category? Why is love such a narrow thing for so many people? Maybe we should analyze this thing called love and figure out if it is truly sinful to love outside of marriage. In Islam, love comes in various forms that isn’t restricted within the marital-bond and these various forms of love is required of all Muslims.

In the Islamic-tradition, love can come about in various ways. It isn’t restricted to just marriage. Furthermore, it isn’t something that one would have to wait for in the marital-bond. The prophet Muhamamd(peace be upon him) said: “By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, you will not enter Paradise unless you believe, and you will not believe unless you love each other.Should I direct you to something that if you constantly did it, you would love each other? Spread the greetings of peace among you.” [Muslim]. In this context, what does it mean to love someone for the sake of Allah? It simply means to love them for the good that Allah sees in them. This person could be charitable, kind, generous, and etc. These are good qualities that are praised in Islam because Allah loves them. So, we could indeed love another Muslim man or Muslim woman for the good that they do. Furthermore, this love isn’t necessarily in a marital-bond. So, what kind of love are we talking about in the marital-bond? What makes the marital-bond different? Is this a differenty type of love?

In Islam, marriage is a bond in which two individuals come together and become lawful for one another. They are lawful for one another physically and lawful for one another in the context of being alone together as a man and woman. It is from this bond that families are created and companions grow together in their knowledge, their understanding of the religion and their love for each other. In showing the context of this specific love, I would like to pinpoint one of the verses that are commonly read for one’s nikkah (contract). It specifically states the type of love that is different from the first type of love that I spoke about in regards to having a brotherly/sisterly love. In order to understand this verse of the Qur’an, I have chosen to give the Arabic transliteration and the English translation.

Wamin ayatihi an khalaqa lakum min anfusikum azwajan litaskunoo ilayha wajaAAala baynakum mawaddatan warahmatan inna fee thalika laayatin liqawmin yatafakkaroona

And among His Signs is this that He created for you mates from among yourselves that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts); verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. (Surah 30 Ayat 21)

This love is specifically mutual, it’s one of giving and receiving and it’s one in which Allah places between the spouses. Allah is telling those that are seeking to be in the marital-bond that he will place between the spouses a rahma, a mercy and mawaddata, a mutual love. This mawaddata is a proper love. A love that is affectionate. Furthermore, this love is specific to the ties held within the marital-bond and can only be sought after in the marital-bond.

Another form of love in Islam is to love Allah and the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) more than anyone or anything else.

It is narrated by Anas bin Malik : The Prophet said, “Whoever possesses the following three qualities will have the sweetness (delight) of faith:

1. The one to whom Allah and His Apostle becomes dearer than anything else.
2. Who loves a person and he loves him only for Allah’s sake.
3. Who hates to revert to Atheism (disbelief) as he hates to be thrown into the fire.” (Sahih Bukhari)

In this form of love, there is obedience and required knowledge in order to truly love Allah and the prophet Muhammad. Allah is the creator of the heavens and the Earth and everything in between. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the example in which Muslims follow and is guided by in living their lives. And in order for someone to truly grasp faith, one must love Allah and his prophet before themselves and others. This love calls for an individual to set aside their own desires while striving to do what is acceptable to Allah and his prophet.

Also, Islam calls for one to have love for parents. It is in this love that a child honors their parent(s), respects them and consoles them in their later stages of life especially.

“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor reprimand them but address them in terms of honor. And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: “My Lord! Bestow on them Your mercy as they did bring me up when I was young.” [Surah: Bani Isra’il (17); Ayah 23 , 24]

Allah tells everyone that apart of faith is loving and being dutiful to one’s parents. Why? Well, we were all babes, young and in need of someone to help us when we were helpless. We needed someone to be patient with us and to be there for us. We simply can’t say that our parents didn’t play a role in our lives. Yes, for some of us we didn’t have parents there so we give this due love to whatever individual gave it to us. And in this, we are humble and we lower our wings to that person or those persons. We thank them for being there and for helping us.

In addition, Islam doesn’t restrict love to just individuals or the creator, but Islam commands individuals to love animals. Not only love animals, but to honor them. Many people do not take this seriously because they somehow believe that animals are separate from other living things and entities. However, this is not the case in Islam. Islam has strongly prohibited torture, hatred, abuse and mistreatment of all living things, including animals. It is from the Islamic-tradition that we learn that animals should be resepected, loved and treated kindly.

It was narrated by Abu Hurayrah the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told his companions of the virtue of saving the life of a dog by giving it water and quenching its thirst. One story referred to a man who was blessed by Allaah for giving water to a thirsty dog, the other was a prostitute who filled her shoe with water and gave it to a dog, who had its tongue lolling out from thirst. For this deed she was granted the ultimate reward, the eternal Paradise under which rivers flow, to live therein forever. [Muslim]

As individuals, we should be mindful that love comes in so many forms and one form of love is by remembering our four-legged friends. We should remember those friends that may crawl on their tummies, swim in swamps, climb trees, or just like to lay lazily on the lawn. This is a love that is truly humbling because it makes us recognize that life isn’t restricted to just humans, but to all things in which there is life.

So, after reading all of this…what is love? I haven’t quite defined love. I have shown various forms of love and what to love, but necessarily what is love? Why does Islam preach about loving: parents, animals, spouses, friend, and others? Why does love bring us so close to others? Why does love make us draw near to that which is good…in most instances? What is good? Well, in Islam good is defined by Allah and the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). So, what exactly is love? I’m not sure if I have the answer to that question. This thing called love is one that I do not believe can be defined because of its abstraction. It is in this thing called love that people grow to learn about themselves and others. Love comes in so many forms and is given/received in so many ways, yet many of us are constantly trying to box up a sure definition of love. In love, we can all agree that we somehow feel grounded, complete and nearer to others. Maybe this discussion on love isn’t fulfilling anything that are seeking on the topic of love. However, how does one start a conversation about something that is very much abstract? How can we even start to define love?