Beyond the Confines of the Mosque: Islam in Daily Life

Beyond the Confines of the Mosque: Islam in Daily Life

One of the greatest struggles for Muslims is keeping our imaan from fluctuating from day to day. One reason for this, and this pertains particularly to Muslims living in the West, is the lack of an Islamic environment. When living in a socially secular society, it is unseemly to display one’s religion in public. There is an aura of shame when religion is mentioned in the presence of non-Muslims, as if it is something which should only be circulated in our own communities. However, as Muslims we should be proud in our ability to be openly religious and have our faith transcend the public and private domains. Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) said: “I fear the day when the disbelievers are proud of their falsehood, and the Muslims are shy of their faith.” Clearly, that day has come, and we are living it. The reality for many Muslims is that they suffer from low imaan because they are afraid or ashamed of being a Muslim in public.

The solution to this is to be unapologetically Muslim, and to be mindful of Allah in everything we do – to be a reminder to ourselves and others of our beliefs and values. Even though we have our busy lives, our regular nine-to-fives, it is essential to keep our attentions turned towards Allah, and when we do, the results will be palpable. Being faithful to the five daily salah is the first step in having a solid imaan. Salah is the way in which our whole day becomes grounded and rooted in Allah. By having set times to remember Him at regular intervals, it becomes easier to remember who we are and why we are here, instead of getting sucked into this temporary world. Praying salah on time therefore helps us to keep things in perspective. If you are struggling with the fardh salah, try to plan your day around your prayers, instead of squeezing your prayers into your day. Don’t be afraid to ask for a space to pray at work or school, and don’t be embarrassed to leave your friends or colleagues for ten minutes to go and pray. While it may seem that others will think you strange for breaking away from the norm, they will in fact respect your integrity.

Another reminder to ourselves is our manner of dress, and the image we choose to display to the world. A woman’s hijab or a man’s beard and modest dress are reminders to oneself and others that you are a Muslim. This constant, visible reminder helps keep us in check. Through our dress we become representatives of the religion, and while this doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to make mistakes, it can save us from engaging in sinful behaviour. In addition to our dress, we should keep Allah in mind in the way we conduct ourselves. The way we talk, our conversation topics, and the people we mix with are all part of our Islam. If we conduct ourselves in a particular manner for the sake of Allah, it becomes an act of worship, and a way of increasing imaan.

One practical way of being mindful of Allah is invoking Him in our everyday conversation. Simply saying “Insha’Allah”, “Masha’Allah”, or “Alhamdulillah” reminds us of Allah’s influence in every aspect of our lives. When praising a friend or family member, make a dua such as “May Allah increase your success.” This is a great way to consistently utilise the gift of dua, and to remind ourselves that all power lies with Allah. Changing your speech to include Allah turns even the most mundane parts of quotidian conversation into an imaan-booster.

While it may seem that Islam is something we only truly connect with while in the mosque or on the prayer mat, this does not have to be the case. By shifting our frame of mind to keep Allah as the primary focus, we can make every aspect of life a way of gaining the pleasure of our Lord and increasing our faith.

 

Abu al-‘Abbas ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas(ra) reports:

“One day I was riding (a horse/camel) behind the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, when he said, ‘Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of God, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of God. If you need help, seek it from God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if God had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if God had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry.’ ”

Related by Tirmidhi

Journeys in poetry: Migritude

The year 2017 so far has been a year of introductions. One introduction that was made to me this year was the world of poetry influenced by migration. This is not solely written by and about immigrants, but also poetry written by descendants of immigrants, and the continuing effects of migration in their lives. The first poems I read about migration were by Warsan Shire in her collection Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth and I was blown away (I’ll see if I can gather my emotions about that book enough to form a blog post.) I began to scour the internet for more of the same thing, like an addict searching for his next hit. I found nothing that satisfied me. Then one day, as I scrolled down my Instagram feed, I came across a poem someone had taken a picture of from a book. It was a fragment from Shailja Patel’s poem ‘Dreaming in Gujarati’ from her collection named Migritude. The fragment read:

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Part of the appeal of this poem for me was the ‘solid ancestral pride’ Patel wrote of, my mother tongue, Gujarati. It is a language I rarely see mentioned, as South Asian focused literature mainly uses Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. Gujarati is a minority language, with “only” 46 million speakers, and as my uncle once told me, it is a dying language. In the poem, Patel talks about how she struggled to speak the language, being mocked by elders as a result. This was something I could relate to deeply, feeling as if I am missing a part of my voice. She touches on the internal identity crisis caused by not being fluent in one’ mother tongue, but being fluent in the language of the people who colonised her ancestors, the people who attack her for her race.

Their tongue – or mine?

Have I become the enemy?

 

In her poem ‘Shilling Love’, Patel portrays the grim realities of the migrant experience, explaining how her parents displayed love to their children.

 My mother propels us through / tutors, exams, scholarship applications / locks us in rooms to study / keeps an iron grip / on the bank books

Fifty shillings to the pound / we cry over meltdown pressure / of exam after exam / where second place is never good enough

 They snap / their faces taut with fear / you can’t be soft / you must be strong / you have to fight / or the world will eat you up

Although their parenting methods may seem harsh, for migrant parents, harshness is a necessity. To ensure their children had a better life in the long run, they had to be tough with their education to ensure they held high qualifications. Education meant opportunity in the West, meant that their children would never have to have hands callused by decades of hard labour. The love of migrant parents is sharp and hard to swallow, because they did not have the security that many of us enjoy.

Love is a luxury / priced in hard currency.

 

In her poem ‘The Making (Migrant Song)’ Patel fuses the immigrant experience with musings on colonialism and modern imperialist culture. She reveals the bleak moments of cultural integration (We cringe in silent shame for you when you don’t offer food or drink…Insult us without knowing.) Her rage against the exploitation of black and brown bodies is almost tangible, and she does not shy away from recognising injustices that still exist in the world today.

We all love to see bodies from Africa that move. We all love to move our bodies to rhythms from Africa. But we are terrified of African bodies that speak.

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Migritude draws from history to form a collection of creative work on race, ethnicity, immigration, and colonialism. It is at once a work that one can relate to as well as learn from, and even if that is not what you are looking for, it is still a shining example of stunning poetry and prose.

 

Calm down about the hijab: It’s not that scary

One of the first images that come to mind when we think of Islam is a woman in a headscarf, a symbol which Muslims offer to the rest of the world. Now, the hijab is a cause for much debate which I’m not about to delve in to, but suffice to say that the hijab is held up as a symbol of oppression by people who claim that Islam does not respect women. In a way, you can understand why people think this way, it seems that by covering up, a woman blames her own body for the desires of men, that she feels she needs to be hidden from view because she is worth less than a man. For others, the hijab is liberating as it rebels against the notion that a woman is only worth the attractiveness of her body – a revolutionary act considering how much a woman’s sexual allure is valued in the world today.

Veiling of the head is a custom amongst women of various cultures and religions. For some, veiling the head is merely decorative, like a hat, while for others it holds a deeper meaning. In India, many women cover their heads with a dupatta or the pallu of their sari. Covering the head with cloth is a tradition that goes as far back as 3300 BCE, to the Indus Valley Civilisation where women often covered their heads with an uttarya, or upper garment. In modern day India, head coverings are seen more in remote areas and less in the larger cities like Mumbai and Delhi, where Western culture has more influence. Sikh women wear a chunni on their heads when visiting the gurdwara, as it is seen as a way to show modesty and respect before God. In Nigeria, women’s traditional dress includes a gele, a head wrap, similarly to the traditional clothing of Mali. Women in some Christian sects cover their heads when praying in church, and more commonly, nuns cover their heads to show their devotion to God. Traditional Russian clothing for women includes a headscarf and headdress. A headscarf is part of the traditional garb of Romanian women too. The inclusion of a head veil in the cultural clothes of women around the world is evidence that the headscarf is a sign of femininity for many people, and if a woman chooses to dress that way, it is nothing to be ashamed of.

The idea of veiling being synonymous with oppression is not simply a twenty-first century notion either – it has existed ever since Westerners started travelling East and encountering cultures that were new to them. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British ambassador to Turkey in the early 18th century, was known for her letters detailing her travels to the Ottoman Empire. In one of her letters, she describes the clothing of Muslim women, noting that every part of their body but the eyes is hidden, and they are totally unrecognisable, even to their own husbands. She writes that “this perpetual masquerade gives them entire liberty of following their inclinations, without danger of discovery.” She then goes on to explain how Turkish women were able to have affairs with men other than their spouses, without fear of discovery. As these women had “all their money in their own hands” they relied on their husbands for little. “’Tis very easy to see that they have in reality more liberty than we have,” wrote Montagu. Reading this, I was astounded to see another opinion of veiling – that covering herself offers a woman an type of agency rooted in mystery. Not that I condone cheating, but you see what I’m getting at.

For many Muslim women, the headscarf is worn first and foremost because it was commanded by God. What the hijab signifies is different for each individual, but I think I can speak for all women who choose to adorn the hijab when I say there is nothing more frustrating than when others try to tell us how we should feel about the way we dress. The view that wearing a piece of fabric on your head means that you are oppressed is frankly ridiculous, and is exemplary of an attitude that cannot comprehend cultures other than one’s own. In a world of increasing globalisation, culture shock is inevitable. But by making an effort to understand other cultures and traditions, the response to multiculturalism can change from fear to tolerance.

The Book Thief: A Review

“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

bookthief

I’ve changed my blog name from ‘ecrivante’ to ‘wreaderwriter’, because first of all, I wasn’t keen on the original name anyway, and second of all, I want to start doing book reviews on this blog! I think it’ll help me to think more about the things I read.

Rating: 5/5 stars

I picked up The Book Thief by Markus Zusak in a charity shop over a year ago, and have finally gotten round to reading it. The story takes place in Nazi Germany and follows the tale of Liesel, a young girl sent to live with foster parents in the town of Molching. One of the many interesting things about this novel is that it is narrated by Death. Not the most common omniscient being to tell a story, but it made for a morbid reminder just how prevalent death was at the time. Death is a great narrator, witty and poignant in all the right places, but for large parts of the novel you forget that he’s there. We see Liesel growing up in the midst of a war, with her awareness of her situation growing alongside herself.

Spoilers from here on

If I told you that the first chapter has a death and the last chapter has a death, you might guess from the cyclical storytelling that the book is about death, death, and more death. And you’d be right. But although it is about death, death, and more death, this story is far from depressing. In fact it leaves you with a sense of hope for those facing adversity. The reason for this is because Liesel finds strength in words.

When Liesel arrives on Himmel Street, to the home of her new foster parents, she is illiterate.  Her foster father, Hans Hubermann teaches her to read and write. It is a long and arduous process, and at the age of nine, being unable to read is embarrassing. Despite this, Liesel is unfazed by the difficulty of learning to read, and tries her hardest because she had lived without words and knew how powerless she was without them. She eventually grows to love books and reading. She learns the importance of words, how they can be used for good and evil. She learns how bad words can be used to mean something good from her foster mother Rosa, who constantly throws around ‘saukerl’ and ‘saumensch’ (translation: pig, for male and female respectively) often enough that Liesel starts to call her friend Rudy a ‘saukerl’ affectionately.

The use of her words ranges from petty to powerful. Her peaceful fight against the hate in Nazi Germany begins when Max Vandenburg, a Jew, comes to live in her basement. She and her foster parents keep him hidden, in return for Max’s father saving Hans’ life during World War One. Max is Liesel’s first real introduction to the dark end of the Nazi regime. It seems silly to say that now, when we know that the entire regime was dark and terrible, but most Germans were unaware of the realities of it until the war was over. Max turns up on Himmel Street holding a copy of Mein Kampf. As Max and Liesel’s friendship grows, he paints over the pages of Mein Kampf, and writes stories for Liesel. In the first story he makes, he details his own ‘kampf’, and in the last, titled The Word Shaker, he writes how words have affected his life, from the hateful words of Hitler, to Liesel’s words of love and friendship.

I loved the symbolism of this, how words of hate are simply painted over to create peace. But this wouldn’t be a great book if it had a happy ending, so of course one day Max is forced to leave for fear of the house being searched by Nazi officers. They hear nothing from him until one day, when a parade of Jews are being marched down Himmel Street towards a concentration camp, Liesel spots him amongst the crowd. Transformed from a man who dreamed of fighting Hitler in the basement, to a bedraggled, malnourished thing, Liesel’s reunion with him brought a tear to my eye.

The bombs fall in and around Molching, never hitting Himmel Street until…they do. And that heartbreaking moment begins the end of this book. Liesel, sat in the basement reading through the story she has just finished writing, survives the bombing, but her mother and father, her best friend Rudy, and all her neighbours do not. Here is where the beauty of Zusak’s writing truly shows itself. When Liesel is rescued from beneath the rubble, Death’s narration is slow and dreamlike, much like Liesel’s initial thought process before she realises what has happened. It is utterly realistic, and in reading it you can’t help but throw yourself entirely into the story. You walk down Himmel Street  alongside Liesel, you cry with her as she sees the dead, tangled bodies of her foster parents, and you grieve with her for the life she had gained and lost.

April 2011

The clocks in my granddad’s house stopped working after he died. I was lying on the sofa trying to make sense of what had happened when I noticed it was a few hours behind. Someone might have noticed it sooner on a normal day but today everyone was in various states of shock. I blinked at the frozen clock face for a moment and almost burst out laughing at the literary significance of it. It was like a real life symbol of how our lives had been paused. The clocks felt it too.

The night before, my grandma, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren piled in the room where granddad lay unconscious on the bed. His breathing was laboured and heavy. It looked like each breath took all his strength. It was hard to see him looking so fragile and powerless, the man who was the centre of our little solar system. We recited prayers under our breath, watching and waiting. The nurse came every so often to check on him and when asked she would tell us he didn’t have long left. Despite all this I didn’t actually think he was going to die. I feel bad saying it but we all thought grandma would go first; after all, she was more ill and had been for a long time. For ages afterwards I kept expecting him to walk through the door and for us to carry on as normal.

After the funeral, around fifty of us piled into granddad’s house and dispersed into different rooms. We were quiet. Sleep-deprived and grieving, no one had much to say. As I lay on the sofa before noticing the clock, I began to sort through my jumbled thoughts. I realised I wasn’t as sad as everyone else because reality hadn’t hit me yet. I kept expecting it to slam into me at some point but much later found that realisation comes piece by piece, until you realise you’re living life with acceptance. At first I went through the motions. I cried when he stopped breathing, I cried at the funeral, I cried when everyone else did. But during those first days I didn’t really feel anything. I kept asking myself: ‘is this what shock feels like?’ But it couldn’t have been because I didn’t even feel shocked. At least that would be something.

In hindsight, lying staring at the clock face was the perfect snapshot of what my granddad’s death did to me. I was living, but without going anywhere. If life is a road we all run down then I was stuck in a ditch on the side of it. Those first few days after his death I was going round in circles, keeping myself busy as the hours went by. Noticing the clock was a few hours behind interrupted what would have been a long train of thought. Of course in that moment I didn’t think that the clock was a symbol for how our lives had been paused. I thought that we’d have to get it fixed, then went into the kitchen to make tea.

This is a personal piece that I wrote for a non-fiction assignment. I was holding off posting it for a while because I wasn’t sure how I felt about people reading something so close to my heart, but today is the fourth anniversary of my granddad’s death and I feel it’s appropriate. So here’s a hazy memory of that period.