Waz Day 9 – Mercy in You
I have a confession: I am not fasting today. I have my reasons – social in nature, entirely and I feel guilty about it.
Guilt is my frequented place of my human and sp iritual darkness. And as I’ve been sitting with TTG’s blog from yesterday, I’ve been thinking about my own cloudiness and humanity:
In this last year I have come face to face with many dark and difficult internal moments in my roles as a partner, a daughter, a friend, a sister, an activist, a Muslim, a human…
I’m not good enough
I can’t do this
I don’t know what I’m doing
Why can’t anything be easy for me?
I don’t know where I’m going
I don’t want to
Please don’t make me
Does my teacher/lover/sister/daughter/human/Muslim journey actually have an ending? Do I actually ever get to whereever it is that I am going? No, not really because I’m still going. With darkness there is bright light… but there are also cotton candy sunset skies and dimly lit afternoons. In between point A and point B there are many spots in between/in the process too.
And to be honest, I don’t believe in binaries… binaries minimize actual existence, ignore diversity and reality.
Binaries tell us:
and we all know there is so much more in-between.
And so, if in my darkness there isn’t actually one moment, just ONE LIGHT at the end of the hackneyed tunnel… I can create light, bright smiles, small/medium/large/HUGE successes everywhere. In my anger, I can still love you.
When I don’t think I am good enough, I still have to do whatever it is I have to do.
When I can’t do it, I still do… and I get half of it right. But I did it.
When I can’t… I don’t and I do something else or do it tomorrow.
In my guilt, in my shame, in my guilt, in my darkness, in my wrongdoings, all I can do is ask Allah for forgiveness and let there be light again… and start again from there. If Ramadan is the month of forgiveness, it is far too easy to just ask for forgiveness, for mercy; I must also practice mercy, forgiveness and compassion.
His mercy is greater than His wrath.
TTG Day 10 – Unvarnished Commitment
I am feeling rough today, after a beautiful night spent in the beautiful light of iftar and an unexpected visit with my dervish companion ZemZem, who will be moving to Beirut in a few weeks. F. and I didn’t get to bed until 6am! We then got up earlier than we would have liked to drive back to Philly for some afternoon appointments. When I got home I moved around the apartment in a kind of happy fog—spirit enlivened, body dragging, and then came the call.
I was a public high school teacher for five years. I absolutely loved my students and build lovely relationships with a number of them, which still flower. I got a call from a student I’d only taught for a year when he was a Freshman. He graduated in June and rang me unexpectedly. “I just needed someone to talk to,” he said. We had a good chat, talking about striving to be a person of faith, to be good, to be better. He and I haven’t talked in at least a year I think and it moved me that even after all that time, he wanted to call me today. I apologized to him for letting so much time collect without reaching out to him.
“My intention, going forward, is for us to check up on each other monthly.”
“That would be good Ms. T.”
I thought about how eager I was to keep in touch with a few of my students when I first left the classroom. And I did, for a while. I am wonderful at starting things, not always so great about finishing them. How many beginnings of stories, of drawings, of films are sitting uncompleted in notebooks, sketchbooks, this computer? Many. Having ideas is never the issue, actually staying with them from start to finish is the issue. How many half-baked intentions have I not followed through on? As I spoke with my student, I realized I had not thought about the impact my failing to honor my commitment to keep in touch with him had. I don’t mean that in some grandiose “I could have made the difference…” kind of dramatic way. I mean what did we miss out on learning, sharing with each other because I didn’t do what I said I would? I am grateful that he was generous enough not to hold my failure against me.
How many times have I failed or fallen short in honoring my commitments I made to God? How many times have you? Allah does not demand perfection of us. Allah is generous in seeing our striving. Sufis say that if we take one step toward Allah, Allah runs to us.
So on day 10 or day 13 or day 16, when the bright lights of IT’S RAMADAN are less bright and you are fasting quietly, just keep going. When you fall off the horse in thought, word or deed, get back on. Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate).
Joy At Sudden Disappointment (Rumi)
Whatever comes, comes from a need,
a sore distress, a hurting want.
Mary’s pain made the baby Jesus.
Her womb opened its lips
and spoke the Word.
Every part of you has a secret language.
Your hands and your feet say what you’ve done.
And every need brings in what’s needed.
Pain bears its cure like a child.
Having nothing produces provisions.
Ask a difficult question,
and the marvelous answer appears.
Build a ship, and there’ll be water
to float it. The tender-throated
infant cries and milk drips
from the mother’s breast.
Be thirsty for the ultimate water,
and then be ready for what will
come pouring from the spring.
A village woman once was walking by Muhammad.
She thought he was just an ordinary illiterate.
She didn’t believe that he was a prophet.
She was carrying a two-month-old baby.
As she came near Muhammad, the baby turned
and said “Peace be with you, Messenger of God.”
The mother cried out, surprised and angry,
“What are you saying,
and how can you suddenly talk!”
The child replied “God taught me first,
and then Gabriel.”
“who is this Gabriel?
I don’t see anyone”
“He is above your head,
Mother. Turn around. He has been telling me
“Do you really see him?”
He is continually delivering me from this
degraded state into sublimity.”
Muhammad then asked the child,
“What is your name?”
“Abdul Aziz, the servant of God, but this family
thinks I am concerned with world-energies.
I am as free of that as he truth of your prophecy is.”
So the little one spoke, and the mother
took in a fragrance that let her surrender
to that state.
When God gives this knowing,
inanimate stones, plants, animals, everything,
fills with unfolding significance.
The fish and the birds become protectors.
Remember the incident of Muhammad and the eagle.
It happened that as he was listening
to this inspired baby, he heard a voice
calling him to prayer. He asked for water
to perform ablutions. He washed his hands
and feet, and just as he reached for his boot,
an eagle snatched it away! The boot turned upsidedown
as it lifted, and a poisonous snake dropped out.
The eagle circled and brought the boot back,
saying “My helpless reverence for you
made this necessary. Anyone who acts
this presumptuously for a legalistic reason
should be punished!”
Muhammad thanked the eagle,
and said, “what I thought was rudeness
was really love. You took away my grief and I was grieved!
God has shown me everything,
but at that moment I was preoccupied within myself.”
“But chosen one, any clarity I have
comes from you!”
This spreading radiance
of a True Human Being has great importance.
Look carefully around you and recognize
the luminosity of souls. Sit beside those
who draw you to that.
Learn from this eagle story
that when misfortune comes, you must quickly praise.
Others may be saying Oh no, but you
will be opening out like a rose
losing itself petal by petal.
Someone once asked a great sheikh
what Sufism was.
“The feeling of joy
when sudden disappointment comes.”
The eagle carries off Muhammad’s boot
and saves him from snakebite.
Don’t grieve for what doesn’t come.
Some things that don’t happen
keep disasters from happening.
Waz Day 11 – Devotional Downtime
(this is my second version of this blog entry; the internet swallowed my last one and instead of getting angry I will just accept it as a fate and offer you an abbreviated version of my original blog)
I’ve had a lot of time alone in the last couple of weeks. Time to think, be, sit, eat and just be without company… it’s been a little scary and lonely because I’m not used to it. Normally, my days are spent saturated with students, people, talking, doing, meetings, drinks/dinner with people. And in honesty, I’m pretty sure I purposely occupy my time and thoughts to avoid the more difficult internal queries.
I’ve had to ask myself why so much resistance to being alone? I guess it’s because I’m the product of my mother and NYC: there is always something to get done, clean, sew, fold; somewhere to go, something to see, someone to meet up. Even if I watch TV, it’s while I do emails or lesson plan. I realize, I am rarely present – like full on present and calm.
During Ramadan I feel a calmness like no other time. I take my time. Where I go is deliberate. With whom I will spend my time is intentional. I am wherever I am at any moment and I feel it… people, energy, sights and sounds. The smells – especially if I’m hungry! I’ve also been doing a lot of dhikr/zikr.
It’s like what TTG says in the show, Allah is in the things I do and the things I don’t.
Dhikr/Zikr is literally translated as remembrance for invocation. It is a devotional act, reciting the names of God or other Quranic verses. For me, it is about speaking with and to my heart. It is for no one else but me and Allah. For me, it’s different than salaat and the prayers I pray because unfortunately, I do not know (just yet) all that I am saying when I pray salaat. I learned the duas and I say them, however I never learned what they meant. Zikr is different because it has a different intentionality, assertion.
I am familiar with zikr after prayer, repeating subhanallah (Glory be to Allah),Allahamindullah (All praise is due to Allah), and Allah Akbar (Allah is the Greatest) 33 times each on my fingers. Knowing full well what it is that I am asserting. When I am purposeful in this way, amidst all of this NYC movement, I am calm and present and the silence around me is simultaneously deafeningly loud and like a coocoon. This is the quiet and the calm that I imagine pilgrims experience when they stand on Mount Arafat and everyone around them is in a conversation with Allah at the same time for forgiveness and mercy.
Tonight, I went to one of the Islamic/Arab stores on 4th Ave over by Atlantic Avenue and bought my own tasbeh, as an adult to zikr with. I walked the two miles home, blissfully running my fingers over each bead in remembrance and felt more purpose than ever before.
TTG Day 12 – Taqwa
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim
Allah is truly awesome, worthy of all awe and praise. I spent some time last night and today thinking about taqwa, most commonly interpreted as fear of Allah, sometimes interpreted at piety or as God-consciousness. Those who have taqwa are called the muttaqeen. The Quran uses the word taqwa 151 times in all.
Reading some of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s teachings, I came across a passage about how every thought, word, deed and feeling is recorded and remembered. When we do salaat we give salaams to the angels on our left and right shoulders who record all of our deeds. Quran says that on the Day of Judgment our feet and hands will testify about all that they did. Laying on the couch, I wondered if my arms would testify about that too—the times they were laying in repose, or procrastination, or contemplation. What does it mean to say that every moment of our consciousness, of our being in human form, is recorded? We speak often of the importance of our deeds and, being in the field of education, the importance of our words in how they impact those around us, but how often do we speak of our thoughts? I know for me, though I’ve read, thought about and discussed the power of thought—positive thinking for example, the way our thoughts can impact our bodies, or contribute the sudden appearance of a parking spot—I’ve not contemplated as deeply what it means that every thought has impact somewhere, is remembered and recorded somewhere in the universe, primarily out of a sense of wonder and fear. If all our thoughts are recorded, that includes all of my negative thoughts as well. It confuses me that negative thoughts are natural, unavoidable really and pop up whether we want them to or not. I know that balance in the universe is the order of the day—no light without darkness, no day without night, no beginning without end—and yet I find myself fretting sometimes about the impact of my negative thoughts. Is a tree falling somewhere because I am angry? Am I contributing to an accident happening somewhere because of my judgment about someone else? Don’t get me wrong, on the whole I am not overcome by such thoughts, but if our goal is to be people of taqwa, to be God-conscious how do we master balance in our thoughts in a dunya (world) so full of mixed messages and distractions? Dhikr/zikr is one answer, as Wazina wrote about yesterday. Is it the one answer? What are some strategies you employ in search of such balance? What does it mean to you to consider that every thought, word, deed and feeling is recorded? Discuss!
Waz Day 13 – Legacy
All around me people are having children. I am approaching 30 this year and frankly, very excited to leave my twenties. Not because anything was wrong with them or that anyone who is in their 20s has something wrong with them – simply, I am excited. For years, I thought I would not make it to 25 years old – I had no vision for what 25 years old in my family and culture could look like and so I had no future in store for myself. I remember telling my best friend in college, Julia, that I wouldn’t be alive. It’s sad how with no vision, no role models, there is no possibility for us and our lives. I did NOT want to be living if I would be married off to some man after college – I would rather be dead.
And so, like I said, people around me from college, friendships, former relationships are making babies. Its crazy to me! Bringing in a new life to this world and leaving a mark with a new life.
Last night I went to see Clybourne Park on Broadway. Generally, I think people would tell you it is a show about gentrification and picks up where A Raisin in the Sun ends… but I do believe it is more than. It is about tragedy, change and legacy. It is about that ways we carry the stories of our families, their resilience and their struggle… how we fight to remember the good and bad stories that make up the backgrounds of our lives no matter how elaborate, sexy, mundane or otherwise.
To me, legacies are the memories we leave behind. Memories on their own are what we remember for ourselves – how we remember ourselves and the people who made up our lives.
There are babies being born around me left and right; The Olympics are happening right now in London – teams of individual or just pairs of resilient people fighting to do their best and to win; My ancestors, living their life at some point in time right now – in this moment but 50, 100, 200 years ago. Each one: new parent, hopeful Olympian, great, great, great grandparent creating memories to leave a legacy. A mark. A small bit of cleavage in the bosom of life and humanity.
This blog, my facebook, my instagram account, even the paper journal I keep is an account of the life I lead… but it’s simply the MODIFIED version of the story of me, the life I choose to tell, the pictures I want people around me to see and it’s what I can control. I am afraid of children and making a family because what if it is a narrative I CAN’T CONTROL?! What if my life spirals in directions I cannot control, I cannot impact – that I cannot leave in the way that I would like to? What if I fail? What if I feel helpless and hopeless the way I think my parents feel?
I know that as a Muslim, my task in this life – simply THIS LIFE, is to live in a way that ONLY impresses Allah. The purpose of my life is towards the eternal life that is offered to me after I die: heaven or hell. I fear though, that the legacy I might leave is one that may not grant me access to goodness in my afterlife.
… I’m just being as honest as possible.
According to Islam, I must examine my life through alllllll of the tests and exams I experience… in my doing, in my striving and of the context around me. In my effort to pass the tests of life and the ones that Allah puts forth, I try: I work to contribute to efforts related to Islam, my Afghan culture and queerness, I work on efforts related to education, the school to prison pipeline, to justice, to equality because I can make a deliberate and intentional difference. My purpose in this world is Allah’s goodness which I work to express in my actions.
I just hope that the legacy I leave is one that He accepts.