(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”

 

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.

A Boy of  Unrelenting Desire

Walking busy streets
Crowded shops
Dark alleys
Finding his way among cultural expectations
Seeking answers about a religion he had routinely practiced
Starving for the truth
Thirsty for more than tribal customs
Jinn-obsessed clansmen
Hand-reading aunts
Black-magic uncles
and far-from-practicing parents
His world was confusing
Difficult to understand
Searching the faces of shop-keepers, imams, and the elders
Begging and pleading to his lord for an answer
dying to know Him and to understand why earlier Muslims would sacrifice so much for this way of life
He felt as if his world was a prison
always confronted with walls and barriers
between him and the truth
that laid out there somewhere
in a far-off place that hummed the words of dhikr
that cried ayats
that bled the soul of an Islam that lingered with love, beauty, and purpose
The taste of Ramadhan’s sweets weren’t as tempting as this need he was searching for
The Friday’s prayers were just another reinforcement of twisted cultural traditions
His heart was pumping more than blood
it pumped Islam
His heart had long left the place he called home
Quranic verses were only twisted into misconstrued interpretations for misguided acts
His country was hit severely by the jahiliya
Stories of the companions and the prophet Muhammad traveled with him for years
A brother that once told him of the things he learnt in America about Islam during his days of university
With a family that had rejected everything except for cultural traditions
As he traveled down roads leading to different places
He found a young man only a a few years older than himself
Reciting verses of the Qur’an
Saying words of remembrance
Crying
and the young teen couldn’t understand
how a man could praise his lord for he had only a shabby garment and food that would barely suffice for a day
The man felt the presence of an onlooker but did not turn around
He simply said
“Allah is sufficient for me. I am his servant. He is my master. There is no power or might except for He. Do not feel sorry for me. Do not cry for me. From Him we came and to him we return”
The young teen cried for he had finally understood this religion
this way of life that he had longed to understand
to love
to cherish
He took company with the man until his death
For the raised hand will never come back empty