There are times when I read the Quran and I am convinced that there is no way the majority of Muslims (and non Muslims) that pontificate endlessly about Islam have actually picked it up.
Every time I pick up the biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him) I weep. The living, breathing, sensitive, just, principled man has been reduced to a shriveled, disemboweled caricature whose sayings (forever out of context and never making full sense) are always pandered and pasted on mouths bent on justifying their incoherence.
I have read of many Ex Muslim accounts that really distress me. It’s not the fact that many of our youth are quickly becoming disenchanted by the religion; and viewing it as something archaic, restrictive and unable to answer their daily practical needs of existence; I already was aware of that part. But it’s the sadness on the sheer amount of misinformation that exists out there regarding Islam. And as a mother this scares me, how do I pass on these few precious pearls I have collected, without them being scattered by the winds and rendered worthless and fractured on my broken palms?
“Who is this Islam? Bring him forward so that I might question him on a few things he has proclaimed” One of my teachers said this in an ironic twist of tongue. It’s funny how many people claim what Islam says about this or the other. This “Islam” has become personified with a voice that is decidedly “good” or “evil” depending on who holds the center stage.
It is even worse for women. Searching through the barrage of cultural misogyny dressed in religious garb; how do we even begin to find ourselves? How do we carve this spiritual space that empowers women to become intellectual luminaries in the path of Aisha (May God’s Grace be upon her); or the solitude that nurtures mystic saints like Maryam (Peace be upon her); or business acumen that enables us to finance good causes like Khadija (May God’s Grace be upon her).
And why do I have to excavate an archeological dig to find these women turned to stone, in order to justify my own existence?
More than one person has asked me how I see so much beauty in Islam. This same Islam that has given rise to such corrupt oligarchic “Muslim” states; coining new meaning to words like injustice and perversion. This same Islam that women gives credence to men who are batterers, abusers, and keeps women crouched, weeping, and forever waiting in a macabre dance of twisted religiosity. This same Islam that commissions suicide bombers, rampant killings and disfigured henchmen bent on capitulating the whole world to its unique brand of tyranny.
This same Islam that even in small day to day interactions, encourages subtle forms of cruelty and meanness sugar coated as “Naseeha”; small doses of contempt served to put the “lesser” Muslim in place; and gossip disguised as illustrative stories to learn from.
By the time I went searching for an intellectual backdrop to this religion that I have lugged around for more than two decades; blindly defending and alternatively frustrated by it; I had reached my end limit. Within the throes of this particular darkness I had been thrown in, I beseeched God to heal me, to wrap me in His folds of Mercy and never let me go.
I needed to put things in context, to remove the layers and layers of misunderstandings and clear the accumulated cobwebs from years and years of half formed opinions dressed up as truths. Perhaps it was luck that put me in touch with so many amazing, deeply insightful Muslims each doing incredible work in their respective fields; to just gain that little glimpse into a field that is so complex and fraught with historical experiments and failures it helped me understand at least a few key things.
Nothing is ideal in this imperfect broken world, there was never a “golden age” of Islam for each age had to deal with its own unique set of struggles, oppressions and wars. When I unlocked this myth in my brain, I was at least able to see the other side of the coin.
Beauty, Truth, true sincere believers struggling on this path, have existed since the beginning of time. Amidst all the bloodshed, the propaganda, senselessness; above the din of theological debates and madness; below the surface of the mundane there has always been the quiet spirits armed with ready acts of kindness, souls familiar with the constant work of nurturing and remembrance, and a disposition that may not have earned them worldly glory or fame, but had nonetheless attracted the attention of the Beloved and His Angels.
One of the things our teacher stressed over everything else is establishing a connection with the Quran. It seemed such a simple obvious instruction, I mean we were here to study the “deen”, the endless complicated fields of various Fiqh classes, Hadith Sciences, Quranic Sciences etc And while we were exposed to the intricacies in all those fields, the emphasis remained on the Quran. “How many of you actually take the time to read and reflect on its verses every single day. And I don’t mean just reading by rote as a musical recitation?” Not a single person, out of all of us sincere knowledge seekers (or so we thought we were) was in the habit of doing so.
It’s so easy to get lost in the quagmire of irrelevancies out there; having that connection with the Quran gives us a prism to filter things with; a measure to weigh what is important and what is trivial. In the beginning the companions spent an inordinate amount of time, studying, reflecting, memorizing and more importantly implementing the Quran. Nowadays, we have too many books, specialized fields, debates, a plethora of Fatwas and in the age of instant gratification numerous commentaries and analysis on any given topic of the day.
This beautiful vibrant Deen has been essentially fossilized and specialized in the hands of a very few good (and not so good) men. And while the average adult may continue to pray, fast, give charity (all in the ritualistic devoid of meaning sense); the average youth is not quite immune from the barrages of negativity not to feel (in the very least) conflicted (at worst) leading a double life or completely walking away from it all.
And who can blame them? Where are those working functional models of what a real Muslim is supposed to be?
When it all gets too much for me, I retreat into the earth, letting my toes feel the muddy banks of the lake and my fingers turn to branches and stems reaching up for Divine Mercy. I go back to the verses dipping my soul at the shores of its boundless oceans hoping yet fearing the waves that seek to plunge me into their depths. I seek solace in the innocence of my baby’s laughter and delight; hoping against hope that with careful nurturing and a mother’s love I can perhaps defy the Goliath of ugliness and tower of incoherence to cultivate that which is beautiful and focus on staying in touch with the sacred, in spite of the madness. Always.(amin).