Monthly Archives: December 2010

From the Old Blog: Is it Enough?

In recent times I’ve contemplated what it means to identify yourself as a Muslim. Is there a bare minimum that one must adhere to in order to be within the fold of Islam.  We know that the word Muslim describes an adherent to Islam. Islam meaning submission and Muslim meaning one who submits. But what exactly does it mean to submit to God?  Specifically, what acts and beliefs must one hold to be considered fully Muslim. Is Shahadda enough? Following the 5 pillars? Is it only a label? Does one have to identify with the organized religion of Islam to be a Muslim?

The Shahadda is the declaration of faith, a statement that one believes in the existence of only one God and that Muhammad was his messenger. Is monotheism and the belief in the prophets, specifically Muhammad, enough? Does one have to believe in the hadith, or at least the one’s that the early collectors deemed sahih . Is that part of believing in the messenger? Is it enough to acknowledge that Muhammad brought the message of monotheism, or do you have to believe in the prophetic tradition, or at least the accounts that have been transmitted to us through time?

If find myself  far outside of the orthodoxy. The proper way to eat or use the bathroom doesn’t concern me in the slightest. I don’t consider black dogs to be the devil. I don’t obey my husband or feel the need to find another female witness when signing a contract. I don’t believe non-Muslims will burn in hell simply for their belief system. I don’t believe the Quran is meant to be taken literally in many, many cases. I believe it is a text of divine origin, as are many.  I don’t believe the prophet was infallible.  I don’t believe the mandates found within the Quran and Sunnah are applicable to all people in all times.

And yet I still consider myself Muslim.

Islam has become a way to express my spirituality, but I don’t believe it is the only way. All of the organized religions have flaws and truth. Islam is no different but I do find a certain superiority in certain acts of  Islamic worship. I find the salat to be a wholly appropriate and fitting way to ritually worship God. I also thoroughly respect the purity of the fast and the depletion of the self it inspires. Even ordinary Muslims can deprive themselves as a means of finding spiritual enlightenment, much in the way of the yogi’s and Buddhist monks. Naturally, the giving of charity, as is required of many belief systems, is a merciful and rightly guided way to live and share our earthly bounties. I do hope to make hajj one day.

So I’ve covered the basics. Am I still Muslim, despite that which I don’t believe?

The idea of submission does suggest something more than purely the act of believing. It connotes a yielding of something greater and more powerful than ourselves. It’s an understanding that our reality is molded and formed by something above and beyond our knowledge of existence.

But, does submission include the laws and seemingly endless rules that accompany the tradition? I find it frustrating that so much of what makes up Islam does not consist of ideas about God, so much as a code of living. However, in so many ways this code doesn’t serve to increase my God consciousness or even make my life any better.

If religion is supposed to be easy, why does it seem so hard?

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From the Old Blog: Myth and Religion

Even while entertaining the most conservative versions of Islam and Islamic theology, I was never a big proponent of reading religious texts, including the Quran, literally.  I believe some truths about human kind and our place within the universe are so profound, so bewildering, and perhaps even ungraspable that metaphor and myth are the only feasible way that they might be expressed in language.

In our modern times, the word “myth” has become a somewhat perjorative term. Many see something described as myth as being false, or untrue. I’d disagree. Just as poetry seeks to capture the deepest of human feeling and emotion, to capture something that is nameless but felt and understood by all of humanity, so is the case with myth and metaphor. Essentially, wrangling the darkness and chaos of the universe and forming it into something tangible, something distinct and formed, a manifestation of the Mystery, is perhaps the very purpose of religion.

As an example, the story of Adam and Eve.  I can understand why a literal interpretaion of this narration has perhaps led many away from religion as humanity’s worldview has changed profoundly in the light of science. For instance, in our understanding of the origin of life and evolution, the story can in no way ring true in the literal sense. It is a simple creation myth and these types of myths are found in virtually every religion large and small.

Indeed, it is the most basic human question, our origins. While science tries to answer the how, religion serves to bring a human element into the seemingly unknown. Adam and Eve were mere humans, like us, sinners, like us. God both loved them and punished them for their disobedience. The myth is powerful and hold truths about the nature of the universe and our place therein. Furthermore, it is a paradise myth, a way to look at our lot and imagine that it must not have been so difficult, this act of surviving. God must have made us with more mercy, free of disease, famine and pain. It was only by our own insolence, our insatiable curiosity and natural rebellion, that we “fell” from Eden.

Even more unlikely to be based in reality, is the story of Noah and the arc. It doesn’t take a thouroughly rational mind to reason that the story is impossible as it is written. Firstly, a global flood did not happen, at least as much as is know about the geographical record. Secondly, it’s ludicrous to think that a human could collect a pair of every known species and put them in a boat for 40 days and 40 nights. This is not to mention the number of species that isn’t known to man. And what about microbes?
However, there is greater meaning to the story. It’s a story of a man standing up for monotheism and moral values in the face of dissent and corruption. It is also a story of God destroying His creation, because of our disobedience. It’s also a metaphor for rebirth and salvation in God alone. Do you see a theme here?

While you do certainly find Christians and Jews who read the texts literally, you also are just as likely to find those who accept the myth and the truths found within. Unfortunately, Islam, has not entertained as high of a stature of scholarship than the aforementioned faiths.  In fact, I don’t know of one mainstream Islamic thinker who has dared to suggest that the truths held in the Quran might be metaphorical, mythic, yet still within in the realm of truth.

So what do you guys think? Do you take it all, every last word of the Quran and hadith literally? If so, how do you reconcile the most exhorbitant and fanciful stories juxtaposed with what is known as physical reality. Do you accept some stories as metaphorical and not others. Or do you, essentially think all of the antedotes found within the texts are the stuff of myth?

Or, is it just easier not to think about it?

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From the Old Blog: The Hijab and Patriarchy

I was hoping to get back to the regular scheduled programming on this blog. I’ve never intended it to become a forum for intellectual discussion and critique of Islamic theology.  It was just a blog with some pretty pictures and some soothing platitudes and it was my hope that it would enable Muslims to ponder the middle way and allow non-Muslims to see a “sane and normal” Muslim out there doing sane and normal things.

That is still my hope for the blog, I guess, but I’m not quite ready to return to that. Not yet.

There have been some comments regarding patriarchy and hijab that I would like to explore a bit further.

Taking off the hijab, has for me, been a liberating experience.  Often times, women wearing hijab (including me) will make the statement that going out without their hijab is akin to going out naked.  I’ve come to see that this is an extremely flawed viewpoint. To make that statement is suggesting that our hair and necks are somehow equal to the breasts and genitalia.  While the breasts, and especially the genitalia, are linked closely to sex in both the psychological and physical spheres, the hair and neck simply are not. Or maybe perhaps this is purely cultural.  In a society where a womans hair and neck are not regularly seen, such as Saudi (I hate using them as an example for anything!), maybe the hair and neck are sexual. But is this acceptable? It’s as if on one hand we are saying women are not sexual objects so we cover them because they are sexual objects. Do you see the circular argument and flaw in logic here?

Society and religion certainly have always dictated what is acceptable to reveal of our sexuality in the public sphere.  In Islamic thought the concept of awrah, or what must be covered, is the primary concept dictating what can be shown to the world. For women it is only the face and hands, although the most conservative interpretations also dictate that she must also cover her face and lower her voice. The latter mysoginistic interpretation not withstanding, I’m coming to believe that what the Quran refers to as the “adornments” does not refer to the hair. 

I’ve felt no shame showing my hair, although there has been some embarassingly self conscious moments that were tempered by humor.  The most comical was me walking into a room full of workmates, who were,  for the first time seeing me without my head covered.  There were several double takes as recognition set in and then I recall hearing an uproarious raising of voices and even a few screams. A hilarious and memorable moment! 

My interaction with the Muslim community has been somewhat less, but I have picked up my daughter from school and recieved a few dirty looks from women, but the men didn’t seem the least bit phased by my uncovering which is surprising to me.

Now back to this connection between hijab and patriarchy. While most would agree that the cloth itself isn’t inherently patriarchal, there are patriarchic implications to the entire matter.  The fact that women’s sexuality truly is at the heart of the issue, and it should be covered in the most extreme way; the fact that the interpretations and body of scholarship which has deemed it absolutely necessary, even the 6th pillar, were all handed down by Arab men; the fact that the extreme pressure to wear it come from the masjid, the masjid still run by men.  These are all considerations. But perhaps, the most troubling is that women themselves have bought into it, hook, line, and sinker.  Certainly not all. I’ve been humbled by the number of women who have told me on this very blog that they can empathize greatly.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about: How and why the hijab has become such a repressive issue for many of us and why did it ever reach this level intensity, given it isn’t even close to the most important aspect of  Islamic spirituality.  What is this obsession with women’s bodies and how do we cure it?  Is it patriarchy looking to control our bodies and even our voice and thougths?

P.S. Comment moderation is off! I feel that makes for a better flow of dialogue.  If you get nasty you’ll be deleted.

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From the Old Blog: More Thoughts and It is Done

Disclaimer: I’m functioning on two hours of sleep as I had two large research papers and another smaller assigment due this morning, followed by six hours of classes.

I truly appreciate those of you who have supported me, if not my decision, then at least the exploration of the subject of hijab and it’s gravitational force over every Muslim woman and what it means.  ‘

If you truly feel that I am commiting a sin and am risking my immortal soul to hell, then by all means make mad dua for me.  This is appreciated also.  In fact, differing opinions are very much valued by me and I applaud and  love you sisters for keeping it civil in your disagreement.

Yesterday I walked outside with my hair blowing in the wind for the first time in seven years and it felt magnificent.  There is no guilt and no remorse.  I’ve made this decision and am truly at peace with it. Life continues and I am thankful and happy.

I’d like to address a couple of comments that were made both on this blog and on FB.  Some of them were thought provoking and beautiful: 

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“Maybe we’re on the track of something that happens to folks regardless of religious/philosophical context–the losing of the ways one has “defined” oneself while continuing to search for the roots. Interestingly, I keep coming back to a line in a song by Ani Difranco: “People talk about my image like I come in two dimensions/Like lipstick is a sign of my declining mind.”

Me: Yes, birth and rebirth is perhaps the gift/curse of the introspective mind…and so many Ani lyrics could apply here.  That alone makes me smile.

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“My advice is to do what you want. Follow Islam the way you see fit, and leave others behind. You will never be good enough for this person or the other. It is between you and Allah. Like you said hijab is not the main focus right now … if you feel that it hinders that relationship with Allah; then I would say take it off. Maybe you might want to put it back on, maybe not. But you will feel better about yourself if you make the decision for YOU and GOD. No one else has the right to say anything!”

Me: yes it has definitely become a hindrance to my spirituality. I have begun to resent it. It’s exhausting to always have to be an example of something pure and pious, a “symbol” of modesty, ever present.

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” I promise that when I read your blog, I felt as if those words could’ve come from me. When I read the words “salafi burnout”, I got tears in my eyes.”

Me: it’s a very real and genuine phenomena.  It’s best to face it head on, be honest, and come out of it with my faith still intact.

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“Dear sister, you are going through an Imaan crisis, this is a serious matter, I’ve seen reverts going through such a phase and they have left Islam (May ALLAH SWT guide them, Ameen).”

Me: My imann crisis is past alhumdulllilah.  The connection between the two concepts of hijab and faith are not interlinked in my opinion. In fact, as odd as this probably sounds to you, I’m taking off to increase my iman.

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“Exercise your choice, take it off and if it feels better so be it. If you miss it then by all means put it back on. It is a choice to be made and it is not black and white. There is gray in-between. Removing it does not have to mean forever, just as putting it on does not have to mean forever. Hijab is all about what it means to you, what it symbolizes for you.”

Me: Rarely are things black in white in this life. You wouldn’t know this talking to your garden variety Muslim though.

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As I progressed on my journey, was inundated and admonished with rules and regulations, after the euphoria of having found my enlightenment and a faith that seemingly answered all of my unanswered questions, I began to feel a little spiritually bankrupt. Why was everyone so concerned with the rules, so willing to treat you decently if you merely “looked” the part? This drives some to live “two” existences, donning the hijab/abaya while around other muslims and discarding at other times. Why do some find it so threatening when others seek knowledge and education instead of blindly following, isn’t this what the Quran and the Prophet (pbuh) encouraged us to do? I began to wonder why some where so critical of those who sought to have honest thought and discussion, those who wished to put the principles of our faith to work in the community, to have a dialogue that was not based on a “my God is bigger than your God” but on the commonalities that draw us together as human beings. I began to see that sometimes those who might have “looked” the part, those who were often the most judgmental and critical, were hiding behaviors and actions which had nothing in common with the character of our beloved Prophet (pbuh). If you beat your wife and kids but show up in public for every prayer does this make you a good Muslim? If you wear a scarf and abaya but never learn how to pray does this make you a good Muslim? If you don’t celebrate birthdays, Mothers Day or Thanksgiving but collect welfare, steal cable or cheat on your taxes does this make you a good Muslim? If you wear niqab and spread rumors or insinuate haraam about others children, if you try to cast doubt on other Muslims who may wish to serve the community or their families in a way that you don’t understand, does this make you a good Muslim?

Me: I’ve got nothing to add. It’s perfect as written.

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“You know, that time when one believes that muslims are perfect and its so easy to play the part of the salafist without question? Music haram? no problem. Mother’s day haram? no problem.
Until the day you wake up and, as you’ve mentioned, you’ve lost yourself. Then there’s the long path back to finding yourself and navigating the religious/political/cultural trappings…while desperately trying to hang on to that innocent faith you once had. This is my struggle.”

Me: Yep, mine too…but I just quit fighting.

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‘What you wrote was like a reflection of myself. I too have been thinking about a lot of things, just as you have, and what you wrote was like a reflection of myself. I am paralized by shame to speak about it. However, your speaking out inspires me. I really appreciate the thoughts and ideas and advise you have received in response to what you have shared.”

Me: I’ve thought about being or not being the “role model” and how others will perceive me as a bad example.  And yet, I believe that we should all be able to express our thoughts without fear and shame. Sometimes being brave is simply going forward with something that you believe in, especially when you know you’ll face adversity and resistance.

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“When we want our Imaan to get higher, we should think about the punishment of the grave, and the Day of Judgement.”

Me:  Wow somehow that didn’t increase my iman. If you reread what you wrote, perhaps you can see why.  It’s essentially saying in order to increase our love for Allah and Islam we should focus eternal damnation and hellfire. I prefer to focus on his love and mercy and make dua that our creator, the All forgiving, can overlook my bare head.

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“if you take off the hijab, you will please the ennemies of Islam, Shaytan and your nafs (your own desires), but you won’t please ALLAH SWT.”

Me: I really can’t comment on the “enemies” of Islam or Shaytan, but you’re right I am following my nafs. Sometimes, when something causes such a rift in your consciousness and the thoughts surrounding it are so heavy and abject, it’s best to discard that thing for your own sanity. I will not sacrifice happiness in this life for some abstract idea of what the ideal Muslim woman should be. I am not a martyr for all womankind. I am only myself and I will not allow myself to feel like a hypocrite.
Sorry sister I’m truly not trying to pick on you but it’s this mindset that I’ve come to dislike.

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Oh and it hides my double chin. LOL 😉

Me: Yep, gonna miss that one!

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A couple of you suggested I seek nasiha from a “respected” sheik or imam.  It’s as if you are assuming that I don’t know what he would say! First he would say that the hijab is clearly obligatory and then give me some very unclear verses.  The irony of the fact that this “expert” would most certainly be a man, well equipped with a patriarchal interpretation, having absolutely no idea of what it’s really like to wear the hijab.  I really can think for myself, weighed my options and came to a decision.

Several of you expressed concerns for my utterance of allegiance to the “progressive” or “reformist” groups and told me to be myself and not feel the need to belong to a group.

My statement that I now “belong” to these groups is purely ideological. i don’t believe that conservative Islam is compatible with my life and I definitely feel that the community as a whole is sorely lacking in the spirituality that is so intrinisic to any exploration and attempt to understand our Creator. If that makes me progressive or reformist then so be it.

I don’t follow any group anymore. I’m too old  for that. Part of  my initial attraction to Islam and even more so to the hijab was to belong to a group, to feel some type of commraderie with an entity larger than myself. 

And as is easily seen, that really backfired.  So yes, I will always try to be myself. I truly don’t care much about what other humans think anymore.

 

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