Today I woke up dead
Then a presence.
a wandering spirit
in shifting images
and lethal fumes
in smoky planes
of every desire and
to the pit
He found me
h a n g i n g
by a flimsy thread
and pulled me out
of moral death
my tired soul
switching on the inner lights
‘Verily, in the remembrance
Do hearts find rest.’
small things point me to you.
A frail leaf floating down
And you tell me
that you know of each
such falling leaf
A silent breeze
with soft hands
smoothing my face
Easing in a smile
And you tell me
you send these
peace scented gusts
just for us.
A young mother
embracing her child
holding him to her heart
whispering a lullaby
into small ears
till signs of slumber
make way into the tiny face
And you tell me
You love me even more
You let the small things
put the big things in place
A solved jigsaw puzzle
You make the lock
and toss us the key.
You see us drown
and throw in the rope
You know we sin
and yet you forgive
Again and again
till the last breath.
And for that,
I am a little more grateful
Away from the world
Unfinished battles now behind
Pain cruising through me,
crushing me in measures
taking pleasure in my misery.
I cry, I scream
My anguish in vain
Salty droplets trickle down my cheeks
And when despair drills deeper
I hear a faint voice
from a strangely familiar place
The echoes find me
And tug at my heart
‘Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar’
‘Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar’
‘God is great’ says a resounding voice
No, he is greater
Greater than my worries
of losing battles, and fleeting pleasures
Greater than those pursuits which never really mattered
The distant voice now comes from within-
‘Ash-hadu an la ilaha illa allah’
I testify there is no God but Allah
The chain snaps
and my heart is set free
Million little things placed on a pedestal,
And worshipped night and day
Now seep out and instead,
Resides a growing flicker of belief
In Al Ahad, The One
All knowing, creator of each atom
‘Ash-hadu anna Muħammadan-Rasulullah’
I testify that Muhammad is his prophet
A mercy to the mankind,
His life an example
His battles bigger, sorrows deeper
Trials endless, night and day
Then came a time, when his wife-Khadijah-was no more
Still mourning a lifetime of love now lost,
news came that his uncle too was gone
His grief was immense but his submission was greater
He let the tears flow but with them to Allah he turned
The echoes now get stronger
‘Hayya ‘ala s-salah’
It invites me to submission
To take my heart to it’s Protector
The Giver of Peace can rejoin those pieces!
Hayya ‘ala ‘l-falah
And now a call to success
Success- which I yearned for
never rested in this dunya
It lay in a greater purpose
And here was a reminder
‘Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar’
‘Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar’
‘La ilaha illa allah’
The voice ceases but leaves a seed in my heart
A prayer escapes my lips,
‘Oh Allah, I need your help!’
Before a blink the seed sprouts
It’s spring so soon!
Now firmly rooting itself in that vulnerable flesh
Tiny tendrils of faith now burst out,
Wiping away years of neglect,
mending gashes that the dunya gifted
You see after the world I ran
A mirage, always out of reach
A tantalising illusion, toying with my fantasies
A perpetual game of hide and seek where I was the loser
What happiness I had, I lost it in its chase
But now with this seed came new hope
A new leaf, a new life
A path too pure
Cool water on my hands and face,
Up till the elbows and above the ankles
I watch the drops as they fall off my face
With them go my sins
And my fears slink away
I stand now
United with my new family,
Transcending boundaries, ignoring colours
A tie stronger than blood, bound by faith
One Lord, One direction
A straight path now illuminated
I raise my hands- Allahu Akbar
Now forehead on the ground,
Acknowledging his greatness
I’ve now submitted.
My journey has begun
And peace, is now here.
Something I realized over the past few weeks is that keeping an open mind is not about just listening to what other people have to say, it’s about taking what they said and thinking about it and comparing it to what you believe in. It’s difficult at first to look at what you have grown up believing in and practising with a critical eye. But I think it’s something we have to routinely engage in. Re evaluation is necessary if we want to avoid intellectual stagnation.
I am a communication studies student. Not, it’s got nothing to do with engineering and no, I don’t learn all the languages in the world. What I study about is culture, with a small ‘c’. I study why some cultures are given more importance than others and why some of them end up becoming ideologies. One of the modules,Cultural Politics, involves looking into a lot of Western Critical theories and at first, I must admit, I was a little worried about it clashing with what I believe in (in terms of faith). However, what has happened is that studying a lot of them has only reinforced my faith and even cleared some doubts I had about it! I know you maybe a lil’ sceptical about it, but it really did something to the way I think. So many concepts of faith that I was grappling with, were put into perspective! Especially while studying Feminism! Though I do not agree with some of their arguments and the way they set about addressing gender inequality, I do get the essence of it and understand where they are coming from. And as a muslim woman from India, who chooses to add an extra piece of clothing to her wardrobe, I feel have something different to offer to the ongoing discussion.
Another reason I want to add something to the discussion is because there aren’t really many muslim women’s voices talking about these issues. It’s usually a western, non-muslim woman who talks about the headscarf or the veil. Very few people turn to muslim women to know why they really wear it. And if there are muslim women out there who say something about it, their voices aren’t pushed into the public eye with the same enthusiasm as someone who criticises the hijab. .
I’ve been wearing the headscarf for some years now and over the years it’s come to something which defines me. It’s a public declaration of my faith and something which arises out of my desire to place God as my guiding point rather than the culture or society
Even though I’ve been wearing it for some time now, I really understood the wisdom behind dressing modestly only when I read about the objectification of women in the past (even now). The hypersexualization of woman’s body to sell things to the male audience, it disgusts me. Why do shaving cream adverts require a half naked woman to prance around the man? Why does a sleek sports car need a bikini clad woman to lie on top of it, in order to sell it?
Aren’t they catering to the male gaze? The camera is looking at the female body from a male eye. That’s why in movies we have the extra focus on the woman’s curves and the man’s eyes eroticising them. I can’t even count the number of times I have seen the camera lingering on the woman’s cleavage. Laura Mulvey, when talking about the male gaze in cinema, says he representation of women in cinema has been through projection of male desire on her body. “The determining male gaze projects its fantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly.” By herself, she doesn’t stand for anything, her character is usually that of a seductress, someone who through her sensuality toys with the male lead’s emotions.Her body has become the plane where she interacts with the society.
It’s at this juncture I fully appreciate my hijab. It shields me from this objectification. I am not instigating that the entire male population is out there fantasising over the female body, but what guarantee do I have that when I walk out, wearing whatever I want, none of them would do it? I am in no way justifying the whole notion that ‘she asked for it’. She never did. No woman in her right mind ever does. But what Islam has given me is an option guard myself against the gaze. Doesn’t the requirement of modest clothing, in effect, repel the current patriarchal system which makes women feel they have to dress a certain way(sometimes even at the risk of discomfort, eg: high heels, tight tube tops) to feel attractive and admired?
And the woman is not the only one responsible for avoiding the ‘gaze’. The Quran, in the verse before the one which asks women to cover, says “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things) and to protect their private parts from illegal sexual acts, etc.) That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All Aware of what they do.” (24:30)
Hence, the primary obligation is on the MAN to avoid looking at the woman in an inappropriate manner (No matter how she’s dressed).So it’s not as though the burden lies on the woman’s shoulders alone the man is also accountable for the gaze. As a ‘believing man’ HAS to lower it. And only then comes the verse about the believing women covering themselves. And I understand why we have to be particular about the way we dress because no matter how civilized, modern and progressed the society is there will be people out there who will still objectify women with their gaze.
Now, coming to the problem at hand. What has happened is that the majority of the muslim community places more emphasis on the part about the woman covering herself than the man lowering his gaze. Which is why most people end up believing that Islam asks too much of women. In muslim majority areas, a woman not wearing hijab faces more criticism than a man who does not control his gaze. This maybe because by its nature the hijab is a very physical act, the gaze, on the other hand, is more capable of escaping the public eye. Again, can we hold religion accountable for something which man is accountable for. So the focus should be on reformation of cultural notions which cause people to twist religion rather than the religion itself. In order to get the essence of the any religion we have to look at it in isolation of the cultural baggage it has come to accumulate. So to understand Islam we don’t look at Afghans, Pakistanis, Malaysians or Arabs. We look at the scripture. We then hold up what it says against the wider social context and see how and where religion and the present day practises deviate. So we look at Honour Killings- Culture. Female Genital Mutilation- Culture. Female infanticide- Culture. Racism- Human idiocy. More often than not, it’s these deviations which the media have been pushing as ‘Religious backwardness’.
Islam asks people to think, to reason, to ponder. It tells us not to blindly follow everything our fore fathers did. So even those of us who are born muslims, we have to ask questions. We need to know the difference between what our book says and what our people practise We need to question whether what we have grown up believing in is cultural or religious. We have to open our critical eye.
Marx said religion is the opium of the people. I think not. I think religion in general and Islam in particular was very counter cultural when it came to the mankind.
It opposed most of what culture dictated. Example? In pre-islamic arabia, female infanticide was a common practise. But Islam strongly condemned this and questioned the idiocy of the practise.
“And when the girl [who was ] buried alive is asked. For what sin she was killed.” (Quran, 81: 8-9)
During those times there were also clashes between tribes and there existed this feeling of Arab superiority over the others. What does Islam say about this? “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is knowing and Acquainted.” (Quran, 49:13)
What did the Prophet say about racism? “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a nonArab over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”
The rich are obligated to look after the poor. Neighbours have to look after each other. The society has to take care of its orphans and widows. The husband has to treat his wife kindly. The environment has rights over the people. We have to fight for the oppressed. Justice inspite of class or familial superiority…
Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous. (Quran, 2:177)
Replacing the million little things in this world which enslave us (Family, friends, peers, culture, society, career, fashion…) with submission to just One Master.
This is what religion is about.
And if this is still opium for you then yes, I am an addict.