As salaam alaikum,
At the "Expressions of Islam in Contemporary African American Communities" conference (yes, I was conferencing it up before I left Boston!), we touched upon so many topics. Feminism in Islam was not excluded, nor were issues of race for non-black converts to Islam, the so-called immigrant vs. indigenous dichotomy, cultural imperialism, Muslim chaplaincy and the future of Muslim leadership...it was awesome.
One thing we talked about after Mustafa Davis screened his film was the Ta'leef Collective, and how an organization that was established to support converts came to be made up of a vast majority of what I call "Muslims on the fringe" who come to weekly sessions to find open places to discuss their place in Islam.
In discussing the film and discussing Ta'leef, we discussed the inflexibility of many of our communities and probably many of our world views to accept weakness in Islam.
What do I mean by that? I was raised differently, but in college I came up in Islam believing that any emotion that was not happiness, any of the DSM-IV diagnosable psychiatric disorders were actually diseases of the heart. Diseases of the Heart. I read that collection before medical school, earnestly seeking a firm backbone for my spiritual support of my mental health, believing that this was the way. Depression, I believed, was at its root ingratitude. Ingratitude or otherwise some sign of low iman. There is much to be done. There are special duas, fasting, charity...there is so much to be done.
For less pathological emotions, like loneliness, as discussed in the conference, many Muslims are afraid to pronounce. Some of us feel afraid to admit in our communities that our faith isn't satisfying all of the time. I can say personally that I was afraid to express any discontent with Islam before my father, lest he uses that crack in my faith to try to squeeze Christianity in.
And I also know that I've felt that any loneliness I feel is my own fault, because the religion is perfect. My loneliness in undergrad in the face of a very ethnically divided MSA was my fault for not "putting myself out there" to meet with other sisters, because everyone was busy and everyone was a student and I couldn't expect anyone to just embrace me. And so on...
Okay, well, maybe it's not all our faults, the feelings that we feel. Maybe not every negative or disordered emotion we feel is reflective of weak faith. Maybe it's okay to admit, I feel lonely in Islam so much.
Because I do. I feel lonely more often than I feel any benefit of brother or sisterhood. But God told us in the Qur'an that for the believer, we are bound to encounter lonely roads, as well as life abundant, so I keep on trucking, but that does not take away the fact that being Muslim can be a very lonely, isolating experience.
And this conference gave me permission to express this, and be loud about it!
With Mustafa Davis and with contributions of a great audience, we discussed how it's actually empowering to allow people to talk about their loneliness and their discontent with the religion. So often, for whatever reason, people don't feel like their allowed to express such sentiments. Like we're somehow afraid that admitting such things will send us down a spiral of religion rejection.
Or we're afraid of others questioning our faith.
While, quiet as it's kept, we all struggle. I don't think any of us have found that perfect faith sweet spot. I guess that's just one of the things like evil and the otherwise haram that people are afraid to noise about. But when it's for the purpose of helping a fellow human being, or self-discovery, or strengthening (yes!) one's faith, then...I don't see what the problem is.
I felt stronger in my faith when I felt free to admit the down times. Thereafter, I was more free to reflect and discover that Islam, in its perfect form is never at fault because that Islam has never existed on the face of this earth. It did in spirit during revelation, but as all the reforms the Qur'an called for were not fully implemented by the end of revelation, even then did Islam in its perfect form not exist on this earth. We've had generations do the best they can, and generations do less than the best that they can, and that conglomeration of ancestral tradition (yes) and consensus interpretations of the text is the Islam we have now, as imperfect as its human vectors.
The loneliness I feel is in part due to relative dysfunction that results from people attempting to but not achieving the practice of a perfect faith. It is not unique to Muslims and can be found among other groups of people approximating the form of the perfect faith that cannot exist in our realm. That itself makes me feel a whole lot less alone, and expands my community of believers in one way of many ways that has helped to expand my world.
And I am unapologetic.
There is strength in admitting weakness, laying it out bare. I'm not reveling in it, flaunting it as one would do, say, ignorance. I'm not laying it out there for judgment or begging for it to be fixed. It's admitting to ourselves that in our striving for that perfect faith all of us know we can't attain, we're not only going to be imperfect sometimes, but we're going to make mistakes, have setbacks, lose spirit, lose faith, miss prayers, pray on empty, commit haram, repent and fall into sin again...and we don't have to be lonely or noise too much about it to know that we're not the only ones, and we're not bad people for doing so. We are humans, God is Merciful beyond any mercy we can imagine on earth, more merciful than any jurist, no matter how versed, can be, more merciful than any fiqh said jurist can decree for order on this earth, His order is infinitely more just, and...
Realizing that even at our worst, we are realizing our creation, realizing the purpose that God put us here for (yes), being exactly as He created us, as the angels questioned God why He'd put us on earth, with our tendency to rape, pillage and spread corruption in the world whereas the angels are perfect in exhaulting God. Like Adam, we are cast down, but His guidance never eludes us. The Prophet (saw) told us to try to be as perfect as we could while recognizing that religion is very, very easy.
Very, very easy?
There's strength in admitting weakness. If something of Islam is too hard, if something of religion doesn't satisfy, then there's another way to approach it, there's another way for it to be done. Just as we don't thrash our children with the thought that it will make their studies any easier, we should not thrash ourselves into making religion easier. It won't in either case. We may get better, but not without a healthy dose of fear and the need for negative reinforcers to keep us on our way, and that was not God's intent for us on this earth.
And that is not the path to God.
There is strength in admitting weakness, in being mindful of it, in recognizing that it's a natural part of our existence as God created us. Acknowledging it is submitting to God in a way. Submitting that He is Greater. Submitting that we need help.
As soon as I admitted I was lonely, people in the conference came up to me and provided me with contacts to the Muslim community in Seattle. I met a Muslim/Unitarian Universalist chaplain who offered to be my mentor. I prayed beside an older woman who practices much like I do, giving me a vision into what my future could be as a practicing Muslimah, and I was encouraged.
This ended up more flow-of-consciousness than I initially had hoped. Oh well. I was inspired after watching an episode of Colbert Report in which he, once again, criticized the Catholic Church while being what some would consider a devout Catholic himself. I thought about where he must be in his faith, teaching Sunday school and meanwhile creating parody that criticizes policies and sometimes the very structure of the Church. I wondered how he could exist so comfortably and fluidly in a state of such critique of his own religion...
And then I realized, oh snap, I think I'm there!