Returning to Community

I have realized how vital a community can be.

It’s no mystery to me why people who immigrate to another country tend to band together, even risking isolation from the newly adopted culture. I understand the scariness of being surrounded by people who do not relate to who you are; where you come from, the languages you may speak, what you eat and how you dress. I have met immigrants who almost willingly push away their teenage children who assimilate, out of fear of loosing not only their cultural identity, but out of terror of being alone. One need not even be an immigrant to behave this way; teenagers are famous for abandoning the ‘self’ in order to belong to a group identity. And religious communities, of all faith traditions, promote community and group identity in order to reach out and bring in the lonely. Loneliness is a tough pill to swallow and most people will do just about anything to conform to some manner of preconceived group ideal in order to avoid it.

Most people realize this. I have known it all of my life, it seems. So it was no surprise to me that during my self imposed isolation from the broader local Muslim community that I would, from time to time, feel lonely. Because I got to the point where being in a gathering with Muslims made my physically sick, I actually looked forward to being lonely, if being lonely meant not having to deal with community politics or conservative religious agendas. This, of course, is not reserved for Muslims. I find people, especially groups with evangelical aims, to be terrifying. It comes from having grown up in the southern US; fundamentalist of all faiths are scary folk.

Over the past year I have gradually increased my community involvement. This has been for a variety of reasons, but in the end, I truly did miss the idea of ‘community’. Not because being alone is a bad thing, but because being part of a like minded group of people can be so satisfying, stimulating and just plain fun. I learned, from my time ‘off’ that being an active part of a community does not mean one has to abandon the ‘self’ or conform to broader group norms. In a community of Muslims, this is especially so. Time and again I have heard the maxim, ‘Islam is a deen for all time, people and places’. But by the time I walked away from the community, I no longer believed this to be true. Too many years of being surrounded by a conservative, patriarchal herd mentality killed this most beautiful of truths about the faith, in my mind.

What I learned about myself during my hiatus was that I have to be true to myself and to the person whom Allah brought to Islam in the first place. That does not mean adopting all my ‘bad old ways from the bad old days’ as my favourite sheikh likes to say. It means that I can be comfortable in my artsy and eccentric ways and not worry if I do not blend in with the broader Muslim community. There is no need to. Islam is diverse enough to embrace any and all people seeking the path to the Divine. So, seeking like minded people, I began to seek out groups who could nourish my soul and my yearning for community. I find great strength and spiritual calm when surrounded by sisters and brothers with whom I find commonalities; a desire to learn, a need to improve our current situation through social justice initiatives, love and acceptance for minorities, and general liberal ideals.

What I will always keep with me from my time away is the certain knowledge that there was a community out there for me to come back to when my healing time was over. I always knew, in the back of my mind, that there were groups and people I could be with, when I was sufficiently sound and healthy enough to reintegrate. Whatever that involvement were to look like, didn’t matter; it was the simple fact that the community was still out there, at some points thriving, at others struggling. Now, I try to be active with a few different groups on a regular basis and while I never stopped seeing friends, I make more of an active effort to attend small gatherings now, especially if I know everyone present or can be guaranteed of a safe space. **

Community is important. When scholars teach that Islam is a communal religion, they are not wrong. We can take strength and comfort in the presence of fellow believers. After all, these are people who understand our religious identity; those quirks and behaviours that may seem foreign to the broader population. And while isolating ourselves from the larger community of our cities is never a positive or productive idea, having the island of security that comes from having a small sea of people who, on some level, understand your general approach to life, is a peace inducing situation to be in.  I may never again be active in the broader local Muslim community to the extent that I previously engaged in, but I will never again take a three year break from community gatherings and activities. Community, I have found, is simply too important to walk away from.

Until next time, wishing you all…

Love and Light.

 

**(There are an increasing number of local groups that honestly and diligently aim to provide safe space for Muslims to explore what it means to be part of this most wonderful of communities. One such group that i would recommend without pause is the New Muslim Circle at the UCalgary on thursday evenings at 6.45)

When a Muslim Girl Goes Retro

When a Muslim girl goes Retro

As one of my last posts was on the heavy side, and really forced me to contemplate an issue that is ugly and dark, I thought maybe I would lighten the mood with today’s offering. It’s not deep. And it won’t appeal to most who stumble across it. But that’s okay. I am writing it for the one person who may enjoy it… she knows who she is…

Back in the day (as in twenty years ago) I collected vintage clothing. And by vintage, I don’t mean 70’s bell bottoms. I mean true vintage, 1930s and 1940s dresses, skirts, suits and accessories. Through the years, most of these items have been lost, given away or otherwise no longer in my charge, though I still have a large vintage and antique purse collection. I deeply miss my clothes. As self centered and ridiculous as it sounds, I truly miss wearing clothes with a history. Now, back in the day I wore a size 8/10. This really is no where near reality these days, and most authentic vintage clothes wouldn’t fit my curves anymore. About four years ago I really started aching for retro- you know; pencils skirts, twin sets and circle skirts, garters and stockings (for any haram police out there, get over yourself, I may be Muslim but I can surely talk about unmentionables on my own blog site…)

I really didn’t know where to go to hunt down these styles while being true to my Goth/industrial roots, styles that would be edgy and alternative (rather than just banana republic’s mad men version of retro, as lovely and vanilla as their offerings were…)  I started searching online and fortunately discovered a plethora of online stores (as well as our local Blame Betty)  Many of them, including Pin Up Girl Clothing, Rockabetty,  Betty la Bonbon and others, manufacture their own clothing, in their own locations, which means no overseas sweatshop labour. Sort of ‘ethically inspired retro’, if you will. Many of course do manufacture overseas, so check labels well if this is an issue for you. Many shops even do custom designs fitted to your size and fabric preferences, so it is nice to try to reach out to shop owners to see if they offer custom.

In the process of sussing out retro inspired finds, I came to realize just how many sources there are. Literally dozens of online shops (as well as local brick and mortars such as Blame Betty in Calgary, Rowena in Edmonton and Rockabetty in Winnipeg) exist to sell amazing retro recreated goodness. And what really got me going about the modern retro styling is how fabulous it looks on curvy girls! So many companies manufacture with plus size in mind that there really are options for all girls out there, which is not something that can be had if one sticks only to scouting authentic vintage and antique items. I found certain companies and brands carry styles that are friendly to a broad variety of style comforts, where some are truly inspired by subculture. And literally everything can be found – retro inspired clothing, shoes, purses, hair accessories, jewellery, stockings, housewares and even makeup. Quality varies and you often get what you pay for, just as with everything in life.

Personally I found that while I love to wear the occasional circle skirt in a quirky pattern (think spiders on webs, technicolour hearses…) I really enjoy pencil skirts and twin sets. It sounds boring and it probably is. But worn with some edgy platform shoes, shocking stockings, maybe a bit of retro red lipstick and modern heavy cat eye frames, it really speaks to who I am. I find retro to be very feminine and it can certainly be maintained for modesty, if a sister wishes to experiment but not leave hijab. Circle skirts can regularly be found in tea length, cardigans are usually full sleeved. And not everything has to be in black (though I can not usually be convinced of the overall purpose of this…)  

I strongly encourage women to connect with their personal style, I believe that finding one’s style can really boost self esteem and can help women pursue healthier and more active lifestyles. Developing self confidence in style takes time and it is a bit of a never ending process, which is really half the fun of it all! Tastes will shift and so will what’s on offer at various stores, and that is also part of the process. Rediscovering retro has been a process for me, and it’s been lovely. While I no longer wear actual original vintage items, wearing the recreations is a lot of fun and still gives me that kick of dressing out of a time passed. My focus now is 50s, and I love it in all its kitsch and girliness. Even if you don’t particularly love standing out in your fashion choices, a well placed retro inspired item in your wardrobe can bring a sense of whimsy and fun into your routine. I strongly encourage checking out one of the many small businesses online, or local, that purvey retro goods!

Wishing you Love and Light,

 

t.

Self Esteem and the Western Muslimah

“It’s so lonely when you don’t even know yourself… It’s so lonely.” The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Knock Me Down.

I know a lot of sisters who are struggling these days with issues surrounding self worth, confidence and physical direction. Some of these issues surround the ever present, over discussed narrative of hijab. I have written about this before, more than once, and know that no one wants me to revisit the topic. It is what it is, as they say. And in the west, it is the focus of a Muslim woman’s self identity, value to the community and her personal self worth within the Muslim community. It is a symbol to others of her piety and belonging. It has become, to too many, the 6th pillar of Islam. Something so important and so vital, particularly to men, that just seeing friends struggle with the issue makes me want to weep. So I say, screw all that, let’s talk about clothes instead.

It took me years to get re-acquainted with myself after becoming Muslim. I truly lost myself for a number of years and it was a painful process of rediscovery. Many sisters that I know, whether they are converts or born into Muslim families, also go through this process. It’s an ebb and flow and seems to be fairly natural to a lot of women, but it can be a particularly difficult process when we let others intervene and tell us how to be. Certainly I am referring to how we approach religious practice, to what intensity we tackle various obligations and recommendations. But as a woman, I am also referring to our personal style, and how we present ourselves to the world. It may seem shallow to some, but how you ‘put yourself out there’ really has a direct affect on one’s self esteem and confidence. I believe this is universal, to women and to men, of all faith backgrounds.

A lot of sisters are told at some point in their journey that to be concerned with fashion is a weakness of faith or practice. Most women I know are told this, or something similar, along the way and many take it to heart. I certainly did. And in the process I completely let myself go. Not just weight gain (70+ pounds of it, which I am still shedding) but in general appearance. This is not an uncommon phenomenon and many sisters complain that they just can’t feel good about themselves when they are walking around in a tent (read: oversized Arab cultural attire) aka ‘an abaya’. Let me tell you, when Omar the tent maker is making your wardrobe, you feel like shit about yourself; stripped of your femininity, of your sexuality, of the essence of yourself. No wonder I let myself go.

How to reboot? Well, for some women it means re-evaluating hijab. If wearing it or not wearing it is causing you intense emotional anguish, I strongly recommend some deep self evaluation about why wearing it or not wearing it is causing you grief. If your relationship with it, and let’s assume we are talking about those of you who are wearing it but not loving it, if your relationship with it is painful or causing you stress, it is not the end of the world. Can you wear it in a manner different to what you are doing now? Can you wear it part time? Wear it only for religious practice and participation? Evaluate what your own personal needs are and go from there. Please do not let the opinions of all your facebook or twitter friends influence your decision. This is personal. It has nothing to do with any one but you. If you are going to own the hijab, if you are going to rock it and kick ass while wearing it, you have to be feeling it and loving it. If it’s causing you stress, you need to take stock of your own situation. No one else can tell you what to feel or what to do in this situation because no one else knows exactly how you feel. (It caused me so much grief that I happily dejabbed. Now I am, finally, a happy muslimah.)

Regardless of what you wear on your head, or how you wear it (fully wrapped, partially wrapped, curled, straight, bobbed, long or in a pony tail) what you wear on your body can speak so much more to how you are feeling on the inside. I spent a long time realizing that I didn’t have to be someone else to be a practicing Muslim, that I can still be the same woman I always was. That realization alone caused me tremendous joy and a profoundly deep reconnection with God that had been missing from my daily life for a long time. And for me, I had to go back to basics. How do I want to present myself to the world? What makes me comfortable? What makes me uncomfortable? Can I compromise or am I in this all or nothing? I wrote lists, I evaluated, I consulted my very own personal style guru (my mum) and I prayed on it. A lot. I know who I am, so I just needed to make sure that I was presenting ‘who I am’ to the world. And it took time and patience and I made more than a few mistakes. And I took a hell of a lot of criticism along the way. I lost ‘friends’ and have made new ones. The sisters who loved me for me are still in my life, and they are more than a couple. The sisters who were with me because of my outward ‘piety’ are gone from my life and I feel much richer and freer because of their absence, though I wish them joy in their journeys.

When you are living your life for someone else’s comfort, praise or enjoyment, you are actually not living your life. You are living their life. Stop doing that. Life is short and while the process of self discovery and acceptance is ongoing and often painful, it is worth it to know who you are and how you want to be. Experiment with the direction you want to go. Be brave and take risks. You may make a few choices you regret; maybe you really do want to wear ankle length skirts because that is your personal modesty comfort level, or perhaps tee shirts and jeans really make your heart sing. Try different styles and always personalize what you wear. Take inspiration from anywhere you want, but make it your own. Own it and wear it with confidence. When you are connected with your personal style and you are happy with the clothing choices you are making, you will be much happier with yourself. And that happiness really will radiate, and that new found confidence is some of the best dawa around…

Wishing you Love and Light.

t

The Week I Had a Black Eye

Peace and Happy New Year,

A few weeks before Christmas my son, almost 4, called me into his room very early with a familiar call of ‘Mama, I’m inviting you to come cuddle me,’ to which I always answer in the affirmative. He’s sweet and gentle and smart and filled with laughter. I went into his room and bent down to give him a cuddle, just as he was sitting up. Fast. The back of his head connected with my right cheek bone and it was an instant Pop! My right eye watered for ten minutes and I had to pop extra strength Tylenol for two days to bring down the pain and swelling. Needless to say, I had a black eye that took a full 15 days to disappear.

Now, I have never in my life had a black eye. I was raised in a non violent home, participated only  in non contact sports in my youth and have never been beaten by a significant other as an adult.  Alhamdullilah. Too few women can make that claim these days and too few of us are speaking out against the violence that causes these physical markers of pain. Mine was caused by a loving three year old that I didn’t see in the dark.

What I did not expect, and what shocked me greatly, about my time with such a display on my face, was how people reacted. If I saw a woman with a black eye, I may assume she had been beaten by a spouse or lover. It’s probably a safe assumption in any society today. If I saw her, I wouldn’t give her the pity smile, but I sure wouldn’t scowl at her, stop and stare at her, drop my jaw at her or in any other way cause her to feel small or further abused. All of these things routinely happened to me during the darkest week of my bruising.

It is popular myth in our society that women who are battered are somehow lesser. That in some way they deserve it. They are viewed as weak, and therefore losers and not deserving of a way out of the abuse. We commonly assume that they are economically impoverished, with low education levels. We also often assume that they must be ethnic minorities. Since these assumptions are based on elitism, racism and misogyny, we need to work to correct the misinformation. Women who are battered are often abused at the hands of fathers, husbands, boyfriends, mothers, girlfriends and wives. Women living with this barrage are regularly middle or upper middle class, educated and their abusers are often educated as well. The stereotype of the drunk high school drop out in the tank top wailing on his spouse is an over the top characture that does not benefit anyone and we must move past the stereotype to understand the reality.

As the black eyed tourist in all of this, I saw my doctor (for an unrelated issue) and after he noticed the black eye, he avoided eye contact and hustled me out of the office. This is a doctor I have seen for over a decade and whom we have a very good relationship. An appointment for a prescription refill regularly lasts twenty minutes as we shoot the breeze. Not this time.  Then, on boxing day, I went to shop at a well known clothing store owned by a young, activist couple. One of the couple stopped three feet in front of me, and stared right at me, at my bruise, scowling. She returned five minutes later (I was still waiting in line for the change room) and repeated her efforts. No smile. Just an unrelenting look of hatred on her face as she stared me down. It was so unnerving, so offensive, that even though I had been standing in line for 25 minutes, I left the shop without trying on the items I wished to purchase.   These are two quick examples of many rude glares, refusals of conversations and similar that I endured during the height of my ‘disfigurement’.

Not a single person asked me if I was ok. No one asked if I needed help. No one even asked what happened. So it’s no wonder women in our culture who are actually being assaulted get caught in a vicious cycle of abuse. Not only does no one care, people are really fucking rude about it. As though the mere sight of an assaulted woman is an offense to the viewer- and it IS offensive that some degenerate pummelled her, but because we seem to not want the reminder that as a society we are not doing anything on a large enough scale to end violence against women.  We act embarrassed by an abused woman, not by the abuser. We should be outraged and angry, embarrassed and offended, but not towards the woman who has suffered the assault.

Until we no longer welcome abusers in our community centers, Mosques, Churches and Synagogues, until we speak out and denounce, publically and loudly, anyone who assaults a woman, we will make no strides in shaming the offenders and ending their acts of hatred. We need to always offer resources to women who may be being abused and we need advocate on their behalf if they are too broken, too terrified to do so on their own behalf.

My eye has healed, the pain and swelling long gone and the colour is back to my usual pasty pale hue. But the whole experience was a reminder of how society really feels about women as a whole, but marginalized women in particular. It matters not what a woman’s background is, violence towards women can and does happen to women of all socio-economic backgrounds, education levels, religious persuasions and ethnic makeup. It is a societal disease that this still happens so routinely in the 21st century with so few speaking out against it. If you or someone you know is being battered, please seek assistance for them. I urge you not to go to your church elders, imams or rabbis, unless you know them to be active and vocal feminists. Seek out your local women’s center to inquire about ongoing resources (Calgary women’s center… (403) 264-1155), or contact a women’s crisis shelter about emergency assistance (403-234-SAFE (7233) or online at http://www.calgarywomensshelter.com/)

I was accidentally walloped by my three year old. There is no lasting physical damage and absolutely no emotional damage whatsoever. This is not the case for the thousands of women in our city, and across the country, who are assaulted by loved ones every day. It’s time to stop ignoring the situation or wishing it would go away. We need to actively volunteer and donate our time and resources to eradicating this problem. How am I going to do this? For one, I will publically write about any imam in my community who tolerates abusers in our mosques or public spheres. Anyone who makes excuses, particularly anyone who attempts to root such evil as permissible in the religion, will be vilified.  As a Muslim, that’s the least I can do. Furthermore, I am going to seek out work in a situation that directly assists women who are trying to leave or recover from such evil. Small steps, but it will be worth the effort.

 

‘Check Your Brain at the Door’ Islam

Asalamu alaikum,

Today I want to talk about how we have relinquished our collective responsibility to think. As Muslims we were never meant to stop thinking for ourselves and hand over every decision we make to ‘scholars’. If we look at historical Islam, the early years were filled with thinkers and people who pushed boundaries and asked questions and generally made intelligent, logical choices. Somewhere along the line we lost all that. We decided, as an ummah, that it is somehow forbidden to employ logic, to use our God given intelligence, and to think things through. We have stopped the running internal dialogue with God and have handed our thoughts over to ‘scholars’. We’ve given up being intelligent human beings and have become subservient to a class of men who, by and large, do not deserve to make decisions for us and our relationship to God.

Have you ever sat with friends or acquaintances having a conversation about the deen and heard the ‘ruling’ about who one is or is not permitted to make dua’ for? Or how one is guaranteed hellfire if she plucks her eyebrows? Or how if a man misses a single hair on his head when making ghusl that he will spend a span of time in the hellfire for the omission? If you have ever been present for such ridiculous and insulting conversations, you know why I feel that the ummah has become devoid of thought, and utterly devoid of inner spiritual conversation. Clearly, we have stopped thinking logically, stopped actually conversing with the Almighty, and have spiralled down into a state where if some ‘scholar’ proclaims something, we take it at face value and don’t ever question the absurdity of such statements. We have become so rigidly rule based that we no longer even think it’s abhorrent that someone tells us what we can talk to God about in our private moments. Or that private personal grooming can wipe out years of dedicated worship, charity and good deeds. Or that God somehow doesn’t know our intentions when we purify ourselves. Are you recalling such conservations in your own life? Are you insulted yet? You should be.

We should not be passive when people attempt to define or control our relationship with Allah. We should not be bystanders in our own religious expressions and aspirations. We should not lie down and let a group of men, often influenced by culture and unable to issue modern and contextual rulings, tell us how to live our lives and approach our God. When a ‘scholar’ lays down an opinion, usually not one they have actually thought of themselves but quote from a long dead ‘scholar’, we never question whether it is a) sound or b) remotely relevant to our lives today. As Reza Aslan so aptly explains legal judgements and schools of thought in No god But God, “… as these schools became firmly institutionalized in the Muslim world, so did their legal judgements, so that eventually the consensus of one generation of scholars became binding for successive generations, with the result that the Ulama gradually became less concerned with developing innovative solutions to contemporary legal problems and more occupied with what in Islam is referred to derisively as taqlid- the blind acceptance of juridical precedent.” Page 165.

Let me give you an example from a modern day scholar. This is not the only example out there, I could cite dozens with ease. Recently I was in a discussion with a group of people about marital rape and someone suggested that a well known western modern scholar, a man beloved to thousands, had ruled that raping one’s wife is permissible in Islam. I was incredulous. I have studied with this man and know who he has studied with. I have tremendous respect for the work he is doing in traditional scholarship in Toronto as well as the US and Australia. So I researched where the professor who made such a claim got her information. She was not wrong. This sheikh to whom she had referred used what some call ‘scholarly bypassing’. Similar to ‘spiritual bypassing’, he completely refused to come up with a ruling himself, so he simply quotes dead ‘scholars’ and let’s people come to their own conclusions. I will paste here what he says…

“The fiqh texts … mention that it is the religious duty of a women to obey her husband in everything permissible (from that which relates to their marriage). This includes cooking, housework, and bedroom matters.
This is not a legal right, though, insofar as it is not something that can be enforced in court.
However, the non-fulfillment of religious rights is sinful, and the husband has the right to take disciplinary measures, within the guidelines outlined by the fuqaha, in such cases. [Radd al-Muhtar, al-Ahkam]
As for the right to sex, the fuqaha distinguished between the woman’s right and the man’s religious right:
The man has the “right to demand such that the wife is obliged to obey, unless genuinely unable (e.g. due to sickness, and the like). However, Umar Ibn Nujaym mentioned in his Nahr al-Fa’iq Sharh Tanz al-Daqa’iq (an important and oft-quoted late commentary that was published only recently) that the husband cannot make sexual demands that are genuinely harmful to the wife [also quoted by Ibn Abidin in his Radd al-Muhtar]

http://spa.qibla.com/issue_view.asp?HD=12&ID=521&CATE=10

So, because he is unwilling to make a rational, logical statement condemning marital rape as the abhorrent and foul act that it is, he has basically said that there really is no such thing. Or perhaps what he is saying is that it’s better not to do it, but legally permissible to do it. Or maybe what he is trying to get across is that if whatever the husband is demanding will hurt his wife, he shouldn’t do it. The point being, he is putting multiple view points out there that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, by obviously sick minded people who need a ruling on such an issue. Instead of taking responsibility and being a true scholar and issuing a ruling against marital rape, as if any sane person would actually need one, this sheikh has basically relied on long dead opinions, obviously culturally and generationally influenced, to say that it may in fact be okay to commit such an offense. Such ‘scholarship’ can no longer be accepted by any thinking Muslim today.

It took many years for me to become fed up with a rules based, scholarly interpreted Islam. Part of me truly loves the nit-picking detail of legal minutiae, because that is my personality. I have hundreds of ‘rulings’ memorized and have studied with some lovely traditional scholars who are doing their best to pass along the past to future generations. I even follow a traditional madhab for a general outline of my religious duties. I am not advocating a free for all ‘invent the Islam of your dreams’ manner of approach to the deen. However, I am tired of Islam being reliant on the ulama for every little detail, every aspect of our Muslim lives. They do not have the right. It is bida, make no mistake, for the ummah to rely on the rulings of so few, usually deceased, men to decide the complexity of our individual lives. And in handing over these responsibilities of intellect, we are continually travelling down a path that is dumbing us down, pushing us away from the bright history of mathematicians, artists, writers and scientists that we lay claim to. Too many of today’s ulama are satisfied with this, and for that we should be ashamed, because we’ve collectively handed them the power to make us so reliant, and so utterly devoid of reasoning and spiritual striving. When dealing with ‘scholars’ we must demand modern, educated and contextual rulings and discussions. We can no longer be a passive ummah that allows the thoughts of a few to dictate the actions and expressions of the many.

Masalam.

Forgivness…. a short one.

Asalamu alaikum and a warm Ramadan greeting to you all!

 

I haven’t written anything in months now and intend to keep up a little better in the coming weeks, when I have things to get all soap-boxy about. I’m not much of a preacher, but from time to time, certain things stick in my craw. Today, I just wanted to write something about the art of forgiveness.

The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu ALaihi Wasallam) was seated in a gathering with the Sahabah when he looked towards the entrance and said, “A man of Paradise is coming.” At that instance someone who seemed to be very ordinary entered the mosque where they were seated. A Sahabi was curious as to why the Prophet had said this, so he followed the man to his house. This Sahabi told the man that he was a traveler and stayed as a guest. For three days the Sahabi saw nothing unusual, so he finally told the man what the Prophet had said and asked him what was so special. The man thought for a long time and said, “There might be one thing — before going to sleep every night I forgive everyone and sleep with a clean heart.”

This is one of my favourite ahadith. It always gives me pause and makes me stop to contemplate what I am forgiving and what I am holding on to, and why. If we can’t forgive those who have hurt us, caused us emotional pain, how can we expect forgiveness for the wrongs we commit? Now, I am in no way suggesting that serious harms or abuses or criminal acts shouldn’t be punished, and that the emotional and physical by-products of such hurt should automatically be forgiven. Sometimes forgiving such acts isn’t actually the best path. What I am talking about letting go of are those little things, those which don’t cause physical injury, loss of health or wind us up in some manner of expensive therapy for years to come.

What I am talking about are the words and actions- gossip, slander, being marginalized, or being purposefully left out. I mean the stuff that might make us sad, might make us feel insulted or put out. These are the little nagging things that can drive us crazy if we let them. They can make us isolate ourselves out of fear of being hurt again. Of being ignored again. Of being gossiped about, left out of gatherings or slighted in some way.  Now obviously I am not mentioning some radical new idea or thought. This topic has been written about, discussed, encouraged and preached for centuries. It’s just that I am not seeing a lot of it lately, even within myself. I don’t know about y’all, but sometimes I hold onto hurts, like some sort of currency that will help me do God knows what. But when I remember this hadith, I always seem to be able to let that little something bad go.

Maybe it is enough at the end of each evening to just sit and contemplate our day, and when we remember a hurt against us we purposefully ask God to remove the memory of it and to forgive the one who hurt us. And when we remember a hurt we have done to another, we can ask God to forgive us and then work to make amends for the hurt, if possible. In the end, we just need to forget the hurts against us and let them go, and forgive the one who did the hurting. Maybe throw in a nice dua’a for them while we are at it…

This is probably a much discussed issue simply because for some it can be so difficult to accomplish. But since this is Ramadan, a month in which we seek Mercy and Forgiveness and Love, I just wanted to write a few reminding words about making sure we take time to tend to practice a little of it ourselves, so as to help us seek that Divine Favour, inshaallah.

Be well, be forgiving and may Allah subhanahu wa tala grant us all tawfeeq. Ameeen.

 

 

 

 

The Power of Asalamu Alaikum

Asalamu aliakum, y’all,

I really want to think about that greeting. Asalamu alaikum. It is such an integral part of being a Muslim. We use it endless times during the day, in our prayers, our dhikr and in our dealings with others. It is a tool of peace, words of kindness and good wishes. With this simple phrase we are making a dua, a plea, to Allah, asking for peace for whomever it is we wish it towards. It is profound and when returned upon us, it is a form of deeper communication than mere words can express. Exchanging this greeting with another is a means of tying us back to generations past, leading all the way to The Prophet salahu alaihi wa salam. It encompasses the very hope that many have when coming to Islam and it provides the comfort of inclusion when lonely and needy. Thus I would like to start with a Command from Giver of Peace about the greeting of peace…

“When you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with what is better than it, or (at least) return it equally…” (Surah An-Nisa: verse 86)

Contemplating this quote, I am reminded that not returning the salams one is given is haram. And I suspect that it is none too difficult for most to ascertain why this is, and here we get to the negatives of this powerful greeting. How many times have I been out, with my young and impressionable son in tow, and have given my salams to a muslimah only to be given a dirty look or ignored completely? How many sisters do I know who have been through the same experience, or worse? I know sisters, yes more than one, who have been asked to recite the shahada before a salam was returned. Or told outright that they couldn’t be real Muslims because of: their race, their clothing, their ‘sect’, the scholars they study with, the list seems endless.

So when my son and I went to a Tim Horton’s yesterday before hitting the meat shop, I was hesitant to give salams to an older woman who was working there. Sulay and I walked in and she was the first person we saw, and we smiled at each other, but I just didn’t have the strength to put myself out there, especially with my son in tow. So I just smiled. Smiled and regretted not giving salams, but also regretted not giving this sister the benefit of the doubt, which is one of her rights over me, as her sister in the deen. Ten minutes later, enjoying a cuppa while Sulay ploughed into a bagel and crème cheese, over she walked and in a very strong voice said ‘asalamu aliakum sister’ to which I gratefully replied and had a short conversation with her. When I asked her how her day was going, she seemed genuinely surprised, and gleefully happy, that I had asked. I wondered how often she is overlooked. How many times have her salams have been ignored? Probably, if she is like too many sisters I know, it’s too often.

The harm in not returning a greeting of salam is obvious. And we can level all of the spiritually bypassing platitudes of ‘well, it’s her haram and she will have to atone for it’ that we want, but it doesn’t actually repair the hurt, or the damage, that this ignorance creates. Not returning a salam seems to me almost as though the offender is making a takfir upon the greeter. It’s not much of a stretch of imagination really. If someone refuses to return your salam, based on whatever reason, they must on some level think you are not actually Muslim. And this is a scary thought. It’s bringing the worst of Islamic extremist thought, based upon the teachings of the so called salafi ‘scholars’ (I use the word scholar so hesitantly that I almost gagged while typing it) into our daily life, our daily actions. I have known sisters who have literally removed themselves from community life completely as a way to avoid this brush off, which at best is embarrassing and at worst so much more. It damages the spirit, it isolates, and it suggests that the one giving the greeting is somehow unworthy or lesser. It suggests that the one whose salam is being ignored is not actually part of the Ummah.

What’s the solution? Education, of course. That’s always the easy answer, isn’t it? I for one have decided, thanks to that sister at the coffee shack, that I am always going to give salams from now on. I took that kindness at Timmies as a sign from the One Who Gives Signs, and I am going to roll with it. When I am ignored I am going to call the sister to task. I may not make a scene, but I am going to chastise the sister who ignores me or gives me the dirty look. I am going to quote Quran at her and I am going to remind her, in as diplomatic a tone as I can muster, that it is part of our deen, part of loving the One Who Loves, to return the greeting. It’s all I can do.

Wishing you Love and Light…

t.k