I grew up observing Ramadan all my life and often had a mix of emotions that went a little like this:
dread and nervousness that I would mess up and not be able to keep my fast followed by intense guilt because HOW COULD I DREAD such a holy time?!
In high school I was usually able to observe all 30 days because I was underweight (a combination of an awesome eating disorder I developed after dreams of wanting to be a ballerina) and I was experiencing amenorrhea. Baba (my dad) would joke that there weren’t even men who could do all thirty days.
In college, I only had my friend Sana that I did iftars with. And although, I didn’t have much more of a community, I observed nevertheless. I knew what Ramadan was about and for… and the lessons I could learn from it, but I don’t honestly believe I ever felt connected to observing the month in a way that I do this year.
I have been anticipating this holy month in my heart for so long. I have been preparing myself for the task of observing my fast during a hot, humid NYC summer and downloaded two azaan apps to let me know when it is time to pray.
As an educator, I have been preparing my school community: prepping a prayer room for students and staff and thinking ahead to two/three years from now and hosting iftars at the school (when the entire school is in session and not just summer camp/summer school students).
As someone who is newly part of a queer and progressive Muslim community, I feel like I get to be the Muslim me for the first time ever. I don’t have to explain things to others; I don’t have to go to a separate space to pray; I get to authentically be Muslim with others who love Islam and we do it alongside one another.
“Ramazan is not about just keeping your mouth closed and not eating” Madar (my mom) would always tell me as she reminded me to pray five times a day and flex the muscle of my faith emotionally, spiritually and physically.
Yes, I am ready for the workout
I’m really excited to post my Ramadan reflections for the first time. After reading other folks’ reflections it occured to me that Wazina and I could share ours too. This will be the first year I intentionally keep a Ramadan journal. My goal is to post a reflection each day. Did I say that aloud?? Hello accountability!
Day 1 (Friday, July 20)
Ramadan is my favorite time of year. I love the sense of community and the sense of inner joy and peace. I was on my porch when maghrib came to mark the first night of Ramadan. I felt it, like a gentle but firm breeze blowing away the clouds of distraction that have settled in me over the last few weeks. It was like waking up from a fever dream and realizing everything is actually fine. That immediate sense of inner peace and joy, and the sense of being able to clearly hear Allah’s direction, reminded me (again, I forget so often) that peace, joy and receptivity are actually the true nature of our hearts. I’ve felt entitled to feelings of anger, resentment, impatience, sadness and myopia these last couple of weeks. It’s been rough folks–my partner’s mom passed away unexpectedly, my money hasn’t been right and I felt paralyzed from a deep-seated fear about living at my full capacity for the first time in my life. Those feelings, indeed feelings in general, are powerful. Sometimes I feel as though I am in their vice grip and no amount of not wanting to feel them loosens it. You don’t simply stop feeling because you want to. What I remembered, as maghrib set in on Thursday night and in my excitement for this year’s fast, is that Allah is always present in my heart. I can always be in the peace and joy of my heart. Things fall apart sometimes, sometimes we only think they’ve fallen apart. Things are amazing sometimes or sometimes we only think they are amazing. The famous Ibn Arabi scholar, Stephen Hirtenstein, talks about the distinction between accidental and substantial motion. He says accidental motion is the way we are bandied about by our emotions (i.e., I got that job, life is grand!!! or I didn’t get that job, life sucks.) whereas substantial motion is the steady motion of our heart toward a state of constant, conscious awareness of Allah. Substantial motion knows that our hearts are not defined by emotional highs and lows, but by our measure of awareness. This is why dhikr is so important–because it supports substantial motion, the unveiling of our beings.
My intention for this year’s Ramadan is to abide in my heart as much as possible rather than in the ebb and flow of my emotions. While I don’t think we get to decide when we feel what or when we stop feeling what, I do believe we can decide not to allow those feelings to trick us into myopia and forgetfulness. We are Allah’s creation! Quran tells us that all of creation glorifies Allah, consciously or unconsciously. Ya Allah, make me of those who adore You consciously!
Day 2 (Saturday, July 21)
I forgot how long a day fasting is. I am always amazed to notice how much more time I have when I’m not preparing, consuming or thinking about food very much. In that spaciousness I think the other elements of the fast, the fast of the senses and limbs. I think in years past I would watch tv shows that I thought were docile enough (Amazing Race anyone?) but as I’ve matured, I’ve become less interested in reading news or watching things to pass the time. Sometimes I would says things like “well, I have to stay informed of what’s going on in the world,” and proceed to read upsetting stories. Why? What if we were to really take on this month as a month of retreat in Allah? What comes up if I think of not reading the news everyday or finding something to fill my time? What comes up if I think of using that time to consciously be with Allah more than I usually am, to pray more or to take a walk (very very slowly mind you)? My first response is something like “ahhhhh! uh…” Fear followed by a feeling of ineptitude somehow. I am a Jin Shin Jyutsu practioner and my teachers always say “We are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS!” In American society there is such emphasis on doing. To live in that spotlight so much of time can make it hard to remember simply that we are, and to live in that space. Being with Allah consciously requires no effort and that is exactly why all the time fasting creates can be a challenge. So, today my aim is to BE a little more.
Day 3 (Sunday, July 22)
I’m going to a masjid I’ve never been to before tonight. I’m a little nervous. It’s been a very long time since I went to new masjid. I love my dergah in NYC and the masjid across the street when I lived in Astoria was so convenient. No such luck here in Philly. Thinking of going to a new spot where I don’t know anyone, don’t know the politics of the space is a little nervewracking though Ramadan is the best possible time to roll up to a new place. I’ve recently decided to start keeping my hair under wraps in public most of the time so I worry less about hearing that “some of your hair is showing so your prayer is invalid” comment when the scarf slips, but I do still fret–what will the women’s prayer space be like? (please don’t let it be a basement that doubles as the childcare facility), will the women be friendly? Will it be a monocultural space where my skin color makes me stand out? Etc.
The truth is I have no idea until I get there. The fretfulness distracts from BEING, so I’m going to set it aside for now, just in the corner of my mind. I am fasting for love, so I’ll focus on that and breathe before pushing in the masjid door tonight.
As 2012 is wrapping up, TTG and I, along with our lovely queer Muslim ally and producer LoMo are reflecting on an amazing year filled with blessings and community. As we prepare for 2013, TTG has started us off well with moving us to Word Press (yay!) AND most excitingly, comingoutmuslim.com will bring you directly here (double yay!).
To make this our official home, I’ll be moving our blog posts from (comingoutmuslim.squarespace.com) over to Word Press. The Ramadan 2012 blog posts will be chunked, although, I haven’t figured out how best to do it yet so that it’s easily accessible/readable.
As we begin to move in and settle ourselves into a routine of blogging, sharing writing, experiences and of course give updates about the show and all things Coming Out Muslim, please send us ideas, suggestions, feedback and input! You can email us at email@example.com or comment on the site!
For now, I will leave y’all with this post and transfer stuff to and from our other site in between painting a bedroom in our apartment blue!
“For me, being both has never been a source of internal conflict. I’ve never felt Islam asks me to be something other than what I am. If Allah is closer than my own jugular vein, is the creator of my heart–ya Khalaq! ya Bari! Ya Mussawir!–the source of its blood and beat, how could I despise myself?”
Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love, captures stories and experiences of being at the intersections of Islam and queerness and its relationship to family, lovers, one’s sense of self and relationship with our faith. Terna Tilley-Gyado and Wazina Zondon utilize traditional storytelling and conversation as the medium for exploring the broad range of their experiences as queer Muslims. The stories Coming Out Muslim tell range from tales about other people’s theories about where queerness comes from, the gifts of being queer and Muslim, the tension between one’s culture and religion, and love—romantic and spiritual. Coming Out Muslim is both funny and poignant.
As lovers of Allah and humanity, we are committed to liberation and freedom for queer Muslims, and all who stand at the intersections of identities, to be the shining souls we are, our light unimpeded by anyone s prejudices, threats, “you can’t”s and “you shouldn’t”s. We are real. We are.