Posts Tagged low self-esteem

Ramadan question #2 — how can I know what God wants me to do?

The interpretations of Islam that I was taught had pretty straightforward answers to that question.

At the most basic, the answer was that God has provided detailed and authoritative guidance to all human beings (including me) in the Qur’an and the sunna.

Possible answers to the question of how to access that guidance and apply it to my life varied: Do you need to follow a scholar or scholars? If so, which one(s)? What about madhhabs? As a convert, how would you go about choosing which madhhab to follow?… and so on.

But whatever the answer, it was the sunna that in the end was central. Even the Qur’an was read and interpreted through the sunna. And out of the sunna came a template—a pattern that we were supposed to live our lives by.

What exactly following the life-example of the Prophet meant in reality depended on the interpretation and the community. There were those men who tried to follow it down to the last seventh century Arabian detail—peppering their everyday speech with Arabic words, carrying miswaks in their pockets, wearing short thobes or even turbans. (Mind you, their poly-cotton blend thobes had been made in China, but let’s not get overly technical here….) Then, there were other men who argued that this is taking things too far (especially in North America), but they had their own pet aspects of the Prophet’s example that they saw as non-negotiable, whether it was praying tarawih or wives being forever held hostage to the appearance of her husband’s guests (who would drop by without calling and who would of course have to be fed and served and might even elect to stay the night, regardless of whatever other plans she might have made).

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Entitlement… and identity blues, and persecution complexes

In the last post, I talked about how “The Thaw” reminds me so much of similar North American Muslim discourses that I encountered when I converted. In particular, “The Thaw” reminds me of a particular Muslim rap song by Native Deen that I encountered well after I converted, but when my kids were young and thirsting for all the worldly things that we were trying to censor or prevent their access to.

For us, worried about keeping our kids Muslim (meaning, very conservative and inward-looking Muslim), the cassette tapes of “Muslim rap” and nasheed boy-bands and folk-y stuff that were slowly becoming available in the place we were living in the late ’90’s and early 2000’s seemed like a godsend. At least, Muslim songs with English words for a change that went beyond kindergartener-sounding stuff like “A is for Allah.” Music that sounded cool enough that it could engage our increasingly restless preteens and teenagers. We were perennially short of money, true, but we bought those tapes whenever we could get them, and played them for the kids (and to be honest, also for our own musically-starved selves…) at home and in the car.

Some of the lyrics of these songs disturbed me to varying degrees, but I tried to shove my reservations to the back of my mind. Here we were, after having endured years of music drought, making do with a few Arabic and Urdu nasheeds that we either didn’t completely understand or understood too well (and didn’t like their message…). We now had something half-way decent in English, that the kids would actually listen to. Far be it from me to start raising picky questions about lyrics. I’d better just be grateful, and hope that they’d keep on writing and performing, and that the writing would get better.

We didn’t have that many tapes, so as we played them, the same songs would come up over and over. I soon unwillingly learned the words to Native Deen’s “M.U.S.L.I.M,” and tried to suppress a twinge of… I wasn’t quite sure what… whenever it came on:

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“As my shaykh taught me…”

On the last post, Bebe g commented:

“…We were even taught by our pakistani sheik that all white people where naturally evil and would never convert to Islam because they naturally have dark hearts. But he was quick to marry a white woman 1st chance he had. Good thing I never believed him.. To many people who are donned leaders of the community and are followed by the ignorant non reading locals….”

Hoo boy, did that part of her comment trigger memories! Things that people’s shaykhs taught them. Or, things that people claimed that their shaykhs had taught them, anyhow. Things that people we looked up to as “scholars” and “shaykhs” taught us, and that we felt that we had to believe. Things that people claimed to know because they were following the Sufi path….

My earliest memory of that sort of thing falls into the latter category. We were visiting the family of a friend of my ex. This friend (and his family) were from the same ethnic background, but that was about where the similarities ended, because the friend (unlike my ex) was a devoted Sufi who followed a shaykh from back home. (My ex told me later that this shaykh was a charlatan who was well known for his shady financial dealings and lavish person lifestyle… but anyway.) While we were at my ex’s friend’s house, we met another of that shaykh’s murids. When the murid realized that I am a convert, he immediately wanted to know what my ethnic background was.

I replied that my mother’s side of the family is originally from X, and my father’s side from Y.

The murid loudly objected, telling me: “No, you are only what your father is, not what your mother is! Your essence can only come from your father.”

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Some unhelpful things to say to survivors of religious abuse (convert edition)

Well, nobody forced you to join that group/mosque/community (or to marry that person). You chose to join it (or, to get married).

In other words: What happened is at least partly caused by you. So, stop blaming the group/mosque/community/your abusive spouse, and focus on what you did wrong.

But the thing is, sometimes religious authority is misused. And sometimes adults do get drawn into things against their better judgment. Female converts in particular have often been pressured by people who supposedly had “Islamic knowledge” into getting involved in controlling or cultish communities—“satan attacks the one who is alone,” and all that—and even into marriage with people that they hardly knew.

Saying this sort of thing handily shifts accountability for whatever happened away from the shaykh/mosque leadership/community leaders or husband—meaning, away from those who had more knowledge and power, and who the convert was led to believe that she had to listen to “Islamically”—and onto the convert herself. And what it sounds like to the survivor is something like this:  No matter how badly you may have been treated, your life just don’t count nearly as much in the greater scheme of things as the reputation of that group/mosque/community/man does.

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Musings on Muslim identity (IV)

Recently, I was talking to a secular Muslim, who doesn’t practice and who regards the antics of North American Muslims of all stripes (convert and otherwise) with some amusement.

He mentioned something about admiring the Muslim ideal of humility.

And I thought, “WHAT?? What humility?”

I wondered, do you mean the “humility” of the rock-star imams who charge large speakers’ fees and stay in five-star hotels? Or maybe the faux “humility” of that shaykh or study circle leader who says that oh no, they don’t know anything at all compared to the great scholars of the past… but they do know more than enough to tell everyone around them how they should live their lives, down to the last detail? Or maybe the “humility” that I was taught that I should have—which amounts to being grateful for what you have even if it’s awful, because you don’t merit anything better.

But I knew that he didn’t mean any of those things.

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Musings on Muslim identity (I)

As God says, “Fa-aina tadhhabun?” (Where are you going?)

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In the beginning, it seemed quite simple: belief that God is one (as opposed to belief in a trinity), belief in the prophets with Muhammad as the last, reading quranic passages in my personal prayers more frequently than Bible verses… I couldn’t even pretend to fit into any Christian church any more. My religious beliefs, my ritual language, were undeniably becoming more and more Muslim.

But that was before I had encountered a Muslim community. I had met individual Muslims—most of whom were students who weren’t very practicing, although a few nonetheless plied me with dawah literature. But they were not an organized conservative community, with clear ideas of who was “in” and who was “out,” or an interest in policing what people believed or did. So at that point, gradually becoming a Muslim was primarily about my own individual, private spiritual practice.

Once I married my ex, however, the specter of community slowly began to rear its head now and again.

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Awesome

Today, I tripped across a Muslim woman’s letter, asking for advice on how to deal with the fact that her pious, Muslim husband had cheated on her.

Don’t read it, every instinct told me. Don’t read it. It will only trigger you.

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Because I thought that I knew what the answer will be. Some slight bits of sympathy will be tossed this woman’s way by the advice-givers (so as not to seem too harsh)… and then the words of blame would inevitably follow: Hints, perhaps tactfully delivered, that she probably hadn’t been doing her wifely duty “properly.”

That she needed to try harder to dress up for him at home, to cook nice food for him, to keep the house even tidier and the kids even better behaved… and that she needed to make sure that she never, ever denied him sexual access within the limits of Islamic law.

That she needed to look critically at herself in the mirror: Maybe she needed to lose weight? Get her hair done? Join a sisters’ exercise class and tone those flabby arms? Do more crunches and reign in those sagging stomach muscles? Or that maybe the problem was more about her character: She needed to be more feminine, more content, more grateful for everything he does for her, and never let a complaining word cross her lips in her husband’s presence.

Or even, that she needed to just accept that her husband was the sort of man who could not be content with just one woman, so she needed to encourage him to marry another wife rather than committing zina.

I braced myself for some or all of that… and didn’t find it.

I was astounded that the advice given to the woman was actually reasonable and compassionate.

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