Posts Tagged self-acceptance
It’s the end of Ramadan, and I spent it thinking (at least, when I could).
I have considered some difficult questions—some I have blogged about, some I have not.
I was hoping to arrive at more definitive answers, I suppose. Though, I suspect that it’s the process of questioning that really matters, and that that’s something that shouldn’t come to an end.
Remembering back to those days when I rarely if ever questioned—I thought that those leaders we looked up to, who pontificated on everything from “Islamic psychology” to architecture and spoke in pompous tones as if they knew what they were talking about… knew what they were talking about. And that they held the keys to our salvation. So, I felt duty-bound to stifle any questions that bubbled up from my sub-conscious before they could possibly contaminate my faith. I wasn’t really being honest then, deep down. The results of that were destructive.
Moving on… I am trying to put the shards of what is left back together. That which seems to be worth keeping. And trying to find antidotes to the flashbacks and lasting effects of the past. And I can see from some of the search-terms that people use and arrive at this blog that there are some others out there who are doing similar things. Who knows how many of us there are out there.
Three things seem to help somewhat in the moving-on process—humor (even if it’s more like gallows humor…), art (other peoples’ art, not mine—I can’t draw or anything worth beans) and being in nature. More on those things anon.
In Islam as I was taught it, following the sunna in the literal, mimetic sense was the goal. Belief wasn’t separate from physical practice. Sure, our intentions, as well as having sound belief (aqida) were seen as absolutely essential, or one’s actions wouldn’t be accepted or rewarded by God. But it was the physical practice was the focus, really.
And the sunna as it was presented to us was all about the body. Molding our daily physical habits—how we slept, woke up, used the toilet, bathed, ate, drank, dressed, left the house….
But this focus on our bodies worked out differently for men and women and genderqueer folks: Men were to follow the life-example of the Prophet. Women were to follow his example too, except when it came to the (numerous) points when gender affects the law, and then they were to follow the example of the Prophet’s wives and female Companions. Genderqueer people… didn’t have a pattern to follow at all, because their existence wasn’t even acknowledged. The bodiliness of the practice of the sunna effectively erased their very existence, forcing them to lie daily to themselves as they attempted to live a gendered pattern that wasn’t their own.
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).
Years ago, what I would have meant by “Ramadan questions” are questions about the technical minutiae of Ramadan, and particularly, the fast: Has the moon been sighted yet? Do we start fasting if some people are saying that it has been sighted, and some people are claiming that it hasn’t? Does swallowing one’s spit by mistake nullify the fast? What if you eat thinking that it is still night, but your clock is off by a few minutes and it’s already fajr, and you find that out later in the day—is your fast null and void? Should tarawih prayer be eight rakats or twenty?… and so on.
There’s an endless supply of questions of that kind. They kept us so busy that we seldom got around to asking the kinds of questions that I ask now. But that was just as well, I suppose—because in the communities that I was involved in, Ramadan wasn’t the time for asking the kind of questions I ask now. Ramadan was not a time for questioning (aside from asking the technical, legal kinds of questions just mentioned…), but a time for strengthening one’s faith—which to us meant fasting, feeding fasting people, praying extra prayers, reciting the Qur’an and listening to it recited, giving charity… and for us women, doing all the cooking and housework and other “support work” required to enable husbands and kids to fast, in addition to fasting ourselves.
We didn’t have time to question, and anyway, we were far too occupied with attempting to rack up as many good deeds as possible. Asking searching, existential questions wasn’t really compatible with that. What if we unknowingly slid into heresy, or even kufr by questioning, and then unintentionally nullified our fasting and our good deeds?
We wanted to be able to sit in the congregation on the morning of Eid in our Eid clothes (if we got the time to sew them…), with our freshly-scrubbed kids in their new Eid clothes beside us, and feel at least some sense of accomplishment: We had fasted x number of days, prayed tarawih prayers x number of times, put on x number of iftars and brought food to x number of iftars that we had been invited to, read through x number of juzes of the Qur’an, managed to stay up watching for lailat al-qadr at least once…. Even though our kids and our heavy domestic responsibilities made it very hard for us to carry out such acts of worship, we tried hard to do them. Because wasn’t that the point of Ramadan?
But somewhere in the back of my mind was a hadith—something to the effect that a believer’s meditating for an hour is better than praying all night. But meditating on what? And why would meditation be superior to prayer?? I asked that question once—why meditation is better than prayer—and was told by the shaykh that what it means is that a worshipper who understands what he is doing and how to properly do it is superior to someone who doesn’t know the details of fiqh or aqeeda. This didn’t satisfy me—in that case, why didn’t the hadith praise the man who seeks knowledge or asks legal questions? Is learning the fiqh of worship really the same thing as meditating? Isn’t meditating more like asking oneself questions, and thinking deeply about things? But I didn’t pursue the issue further.