Reclaiming Our Voices: A Look at Muslim Women

I highly-recommend everyone to watch this video. I watched it a few months ago and loved it. I definitely believe that Muslim women and women in general should reclaim their voices. I believe that women are sometimes silenced and kept from speaking, but women must not be scared to vocalize themselves. Every single woman have her own narrative, her own story to share. This story should be seen as valuable and special. We have to learn how to appreciate narratives. Once we appreciate the power of the narrative than we will be able to break down barriers and start solving problems.

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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.

Dr.Sheppard, Thank You For Teaching Me About Philosophy

Over the summer, I was exposed to a different world and at some points I was even driven to insanity. My class on Philosophy was life-changing  and inspirational. In the class, Dr. Sheppard caused us to look at the world for what it is and to analyze our interactions within it. We all came to the class with our own personal backgrounds and experiences. However, he forced us on the first day to build a community, a family, within our classroom. We were no longer strangers to one another, but we were members of a family. We would would soon learn how to struggle, how to preservere, and how to overcome together, as one.  We would come to class on a daily-basis for a whole month interrogating and questioning our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. 

In many of our dialogues about the world, I found myself being stripped and naked. I was exposing myself to being criticized. In some instances, I felt guilty for the things I was questioning but I soon realized I shouldn’t feel guilty. I was doing what I should’ve been doing the whole time. I should know who I am. I should know how I get knowledge and why I believe in such and such. And if I find another truth then I should accept it without feeling the least bit of opposition. As Sigmund Freud stated, “You can’t unknow what you know,” and this is the reality that I now face. We sometimes want to turn back on our heels and try to escape the truth, but we can’t. 

In the class, we discussed “big things” as Dr. Sheppard would say. He told us that this world need people with “big ideas” and I didn’t quite understand that until I finished the class. We discussed: why philosophy, knowledge, freedom, and the meaning of life. I thought I had it all figured out. I was most certain in my heart that I knew about these various categories. I had taken courses in Philosophy before and most definitely knew about purpose. However, my assumptions soon turned into barriers until I allowed myself to rid itself of it’s arrogance. I thought I couldn’t be taught. In addition, I was just there to earn a grade for graduation. Unfortunately, I was soon faced with confronting my own identity. Why was I holding up a barrier between me and philosophy? In my past, I was constantly told I should avoid this field of study like the plague. This field of study can turn you away from God, from truth, from being rational, and from knowing what you already know. And I most certainly can say, I never felt so uncertain about many things until that class. I was looking at myself and constantly felt as if I was shattering over and over again, but it was well-worth it. I felt as if I had finally started living outside of dogmatic routines. 

One of my classmates came into class with a dollar-soda from McDonalds. At the time, we were studying about freedom. The questions that Dr.Sheppard posed us were the following:

1. Do we have freedom?

2. What does it mean to have freedom?

3. What do we do with our freedom?

4. What should we do with our freedom?

And for many of us, we sat there in amazement at these most fundamental questions. I felt inclined to to really sit back and listen to what would come in this section of the class. So, when one of our classmates came into class with her big soda from McDonalds, the professor told us that she had made a choice to buy a soda for one dollar at McDonalds and off of that soda, McDonalds probably made a 1000% profit due to the fact that it probably cost them minimum dollars to create a carbonated drink with syrup in a cup. And on top of that, we could easily take our one dollar and use it to help starving individuals who live with $1.25 a day according to the United Nations’ statistics. We all sat there in awe. There are millions upon millions of people suffering to stay alive due to poverty and hunger, but many of us use our money so frivolously without thinking. We sometimes get caught up in purchasing, accumulating wealth and becoming status-symbols that we forget that people are barely able to put food on the table for themselves and/or their families. So, when I realized this I stopped buying my daily iced-tea from McDonalds. Furthermore, he had us watch a movie called ‘Barakah’ by Robin Fricke. This movie made me cry and it caused me to think alot. So many times we think that we are isolated from the other side of the world, but we aren’t. Prior to the class, I would read about sweat-shops and think about big-corporations and the way they made their profits. In many instances, they would have low-wage paying individuals to create their products in factories that weren’t equipped for fires or mishaps, thus endangering workers. The most memorable instances of this was in Bangladesh. I remember reading this on my way home on the bus one evening. There was an explosion in a factory in Bangladesh and people were unable to get out due to a lack of safety-procedures in such instances. So, many people died…all for the sake of trying to provide for themselves and their families off of wages that are unimaginable for most Westerners. So, why do we support these corporations? Every time we buy something at a cheap price, we have to understand there is a cost to such a choice as a consumer. However, I raised the question to Dr. Sheppard, “What if you have no other choice but to shop at these stores because they are affordable for you?” and he told me “Things aren’t always black and white, but you keep thinking and analyzing”. He told us at the beginning of class on the first day that he wouldn’t have the questions for everything we would soon began asking, but apart of philosophy is asking those questions to further understand ourselves and others. 

So, the movie ‘Baraka’ was most compelling to me for many reasons. First off, the movie is completely silent except for the music that may be played. Yes, the music is most important in understanding the movie. There’s meaning to the music. However, as you watch the movie you quickly see how interconnected we are as individuals. And how interconnected we are with all forms of life. We can’t disregard animals or nature. We have to respect these other living entities. The movie showed the fast-paced life of Western-cultures, the rich-cultural traditions of ancient lands in Africa and the East, factory-farms and their cruel treatment of animals, capitalism and it’s consequences, religious-affiliations, war, poverty in India, and etc. You saw the binary-systems in our daily-lives and throughout the world. It almost became unbearable for me to watch because it showed how guilty and selfish I was in interacting with the world. Dr. Sheppard always told us that the world is a scary, confusing, and chaotic place and we have to figure out how to live in it. And the movie showed this.  So, where did I go after that? I started to reconsider the way that I lived. After the movie was over, we were dismissed from class. He didn’t say anything further, but dismissed us. Yes, we were quite disappointed from such a dismissal but it made us think. He knew what he was doing. We all left in a trance almost. We were speechless and contemplative. As I was walking to the courtyard outside, I was stopped by one of my classmates. She was interested in knowing how Dr. Sheppard lived in his personal-life and why he wore the same clothes daily. And I was interested too. He always wore his blue jeans, t-shirt and boots. So, one day after that she came to me and told me that Dr. Sheppard told her that clothing was secondary for him. I found this whole phenomenon on knowing about this particular professor very interesting. I’ve never wondered about the personal-life of any professor until then. In many instances, many of my classmates and I would talk after class about the things we had learned for that day. Once again, this was something I never really had done before because I would be too busy and had to do something after classes. However, this class made me stop and slowdown. I honestly didn’t care about other facets of life at this point in my life because this class was compelling me to know about myself to such an extent that I would go to sleep worried and intrigued about the next day of class. This class was forcing me to think outside of the box. 

In addition, we read the speech that Malala Yousefi gave to the United Nations in regards to education. As we read her speech, we thought how privileged we were in being able to sit down in a class when others all around the world are struggling to get an education. This young woman stood in front of the entire global-community to combat a problem not only in her country, but throughout the entire world. She stood firm upon a belief that everyone should get an education and those that prevent children and women from getting one is wrong. Her stance penetrated me deeply because her life remains on the line as she vocalizes her opposition to these gangsters that continuously seek to imprison people intellectually. And I am guilty of sometimes skipping class because I just do not feel like going, but as I write this I am sorry for not taking education more seriously. After that class, I was reading how many children in Africa would travel several miles and in tumultuous conditions to just get to their school. So, what was I doing skipping class because I just didn’t feel like it? May God forgive me. 

Another observation that we made was sort of life-shattering to me. We made the observation of how our lives are very much always on-the-go. We leave so many things to being unexplored. Many of the students around my campus, including all across the world are interacting with their electronics to the extent that they lose touch with the world around them. Dr.Sheppard was telling us how he would see so many students walking around campus with their cell-phones/iPads/iPhones and would accidently run into people and things because of this distraction in their hands. And I laughed because I am guilty of this. However, why is this funny? Why is it funny that we lose appreciation for the things right under our noses? We sometimes look so far off when the beauty lies right in front of us. Dr. Sheppard told us about Ralph Emerson and how we was a popular Puritan pastor in early America and how he came from being a pastor of Christianity and just became one to reflect on the concept of God. He felt that the concept of God was too restricting and that the beauty of God was manifested in nature. I felt this was interesting. As a Muslim, I sat and thought about this because Islam tells us to reflect and to read the signs of God through his creation. And throughout his creation, we can see the magnificence of Him. So, I truly understood felt connected to his new found reality of Emerson. In addition, our professor told us to do something different in our lives to escape monotony. He told us how he would sometimes go to the local museum and look at pieces of Buddhists’ artwork to reflect in meditation or how he would go bird-watching with his partner. So, in these different activities of his, he would find contentment and beauty in life. While the class was very much refreshing, it was life-changing too.

Throughout the course, we would be given quotes about the various sections we would be studying at the moment. It’s been two months now and I have found my life developing on a daily basis. In some ways, I have progressed and regressed but it’s all apart of the human-experience.  However, I have yet to stop seeking self-realization. Self-realization only comes through challenging yourself and your beliefs about everything. Many of us are very much afraid to question why we think the way we think and why we believe what we believe. I personally thought it was insane to believe that a person could live without indulging in philosophy, but I was quickly set straight because we do have a choice. However, the person that doesn’t indulge in philosophy will find themselves in a dark and possibly scary place.

Bertrand Russel said “The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason”. 

So, I felt most certain that I had an obligation to engage in philosophy the same way the people before us felt obligation to do so. It’s this feeling of actually engaging with one’s life in order to sort through the questions of life. Many people of religion/faith are sometimes quick to denounce philosophy as a whole, but I would ask you why? Does one’s analysis of personal beliefs on life, belief-systems, interactions cause one to step outside of dogmatic thought? Possibly. However, I can only concur with Russel in this statement because it speaks such truth. We sometimes are accustomed to the way we think because we were never asked or told to consent to the things we think we have a conviction to.  

As Socrates once said,“The unexamined life is not worth living”

So, when do we start examining? Why haven’t we examined? What are we afraid of? Sometimes we assume that philosophy will take us to a certain end, but this logic is flawed and a slippery slope. In my own experience, I came out a better person than how I entered. Yes, I struggled with some questions. Yes, I still have some unanswered questions. However, I am okay with that because philosophy isn’t there to always give answers. It’s there to provide you with things to think about. 

Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “Awakening is not a thing, its a process”

This is exactly right. We have to quick always yearning to get a quick answer to a question that took years to even get to. We are all developing and gaining insight in different phases of our lives. We can’t expect to gain instant enlightenment. Everything takes time. We should enjoy the process. The process may be tumultuous, hard, bloody, sweaty, scary,but well-worth it in the long-run. And once again, in order to find truth(s), Schopenhauer stated that 

“All truth passes through three stages:

1st: It is ridiculed

2nd: It is violently Opposed

3rd: It is accepted as being self-evident”

So, this mentality that everything must come in an instant isn’t true. We have to seek out truth(s) carefully. We have to let time take its place. It’s not good enough to simply expect a quick answer. No, we must allow the process to unfold. We must be patient in this quest of figuring out life. It’s not until we acknowledge that a process must happen that we will reach this nirvana. 

And maybe this is something to think about as you’re out interacting with the world:

“Every person takes the limits of his or her own field of vision for the limits of the world” -Arthur

Schopenhauer

I’m not studying Philosophy in college or anything of that nature, but I have found myself being a student of Philosophy just in life. I have found myself being more open to knowing and gaining information. Yes, I do believe in religion, but I also believe in a way of life that allows me this choice. I am not one to say that Philosophy will not take you away from whatever truth(s) that you may hold, but I will say that it will bring you to a different place in how you view yourself, others and the world. I came into my class as a person with my own biases, background and experiences. I didn’t really have an agenda up my sleeves. I just came with assumptions of what I was to expect from the course, but I soon had to deconstruct my view(s) on philosophy. I came out a new person. I think I found my approach to religion even better than the way I came in. I am really in awe of my own religious-affiliation. I know everyone may not agree with my particular religion or way of life (Islam), but I find it to being my Truth. In dealing with things in life and seeing how Islam deals with various issues, I feel this form of liberation. How can philosophy do that? Well, It did. It caused me to think about God, who is God, and why I believe in God. Yes, I had to think deeply. We all do. Well, some of us. And this whole act of stripping yourself of what you hold dearly can be painful but this was necessary for me. I had to think about the things I hold as fundamental truths. And I would always come from class with unanswered questions and sometimes feeling confused about personal beliefs about the world around me. However, I would go to class everyday with a open heart ready to learn. You don’t have to believe that philosophy is isolated from you or that it doesn’t make sense. You just have to strive to understand and you have to put all of your cards on the table and just be honest with yourself. 

As Aurdre Lord said, “Change means growth, and growth can be painful. But we sharpen self-definition by exposing the self in work and struggle together with those whom we define as different from ourselves, although sharing the same goals”.

And I believe this was the message of the entire class that Dr. Sheppard did. He made us understand that change is growth and can be painful. And he forced us to understand that. We would listen and read various lyrics from songs, watch documentaries, hear stories, go over quotes, and read different philosophies. Why? All for the sake of discovering ourselves and trying to reconcile what we know and how we hold the world to be internally…within ourselves. 

So, remember to “be kind for everyone is fighting their own struggle”. 

My professor said he would travel with this quote in his binder for the classes he would teach on a daily-basis. I just thought…”what a wonderful way to think about life”. We need to keep such thoughts in mind as we travel in the world. We are all struggling in various ways and so as others. So, why not seek to be kind? Why not just remember that everyone is going through some personal issues? And that “love is the only way to grasp another human-being in the innermost core of his personality, “ as stated by Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning. We are all going through this world together…sometimes feeling isolated. 

So, the last words our professor told us was this:

1. Stay open to the wonders of the world.

2. Make note of compensation

3. Be a voice for honesty and integrity

Change the World, My Friends!

Assalamu alaykom,

I am trying to move away from just wishful thinking and sometimes nonsensical postings on my blog. I believe the world is more than just a post on a blog or a status on Facebook. The world is always moving. There is not a second that there isn’t something happening- good or bad. In these seconds there are things occurring to something or someone. Some of these things you may or may not hear about in your daily newspapers or media-outlets. So, what does this mean to me or to us as a whole?

It means we have a responsibility. Our responsibilities are so great that it means we will have to give up some of the ways in which we live and how we think. The world is in such a wreck that we cannot afford to dismiss the issues that are happening right before us. 

According to BBC NEWS, “In pictures: Tanzanian girl’s long walk to education,” it is ” estimated that 29 million primary school-aged children, more than half of them girls, are out of school in Africa”.  This is a real issue affecting millions of families and girls. Furthermore, this affects us. We are all connected as a global-community.  Education is the one thing that many Westerners take for granted because it is so readily accessible and a changer of lives. However, if education is not accessible then what do you do? How does one view the world differently? What are other possible options? Many times, young girls are quickly wed at an early age when education is not accessible. Yes, this is only one issue out of many, but it is quite valid and important to discuss. 

I must admit that I do feel guilty to know that I sometimes skip classes at my university just because I didn’t feel like going. However, I understand now that this view of looking at education is egregious. I have a duty to understand that education is a privilege and not necessarily a right. And that I shouldn’t take education for granted. And if I do see a wrong I should strive to fix it.

The prophet Muhammad peace be upon him) said “If you see a wrong/evil then you have a duty to 1) stop it by using your hands 2) stop it by using your voice 3) stop it by hating it in your heart and this is the weakest of faith”

As a consumer of this global-community, I have a duty to change the world by first looking at the way in which I view the world. I must change myself. I must understand that my thinking is flawed because of the luxuries I have been given due to my place of residence. I’ve never had to walk for miles to get an education or walk for miles to get clean running-water. I’ve never had to deal with the strife of war in my home-country. I’ve never had to deal with being hungry. These have never been my own personal realities. However, these are the realities of individuals every single day on our planet. Yes, our planet. We are responsiblity for this planet. We have a duty to help and to shape the outcome of this place called our own. This planet is a shared space. A space that we all use and utilize. This is not a political post. This is not even a rally on wordpress. This is simply a stand against injustice. This is simply a call for equality. A call to change the world.

So, my friends…change the world. Have big ideas and go out and execute them!

For further enlightenment, please watch this beautiful video called “Baraka”. I watched this in my philosophy class. I think the video will spark something within you and get you thinking about the world around you. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQTkbThIlSs