Friday, June 24, 2016

Make Way for Compassion, Part 2

As salaam alaikum,

Lack of compassion and self-compassion can lead to hatred.

Some of the ways that I practiced Islam lacked self-compassion.

I can only speak for myself here, but I do predict that there are very many who will identify with me in their own practice and understanding of their faith, and not just among Muslims.

This entry is not meant to be a vendetta against Muslim scholarship or a commentary on ahadith. I am not on par with any authority to speak to that. I really just want to look at commonly held beliefs and rules at face value.

The moment I realized that my practice lacked self-compassion is when I wondered if my day's fast had been invalidated by a mistake.


This is the language that was used, that was taught to me and has undoubtedly been taught to others in the rules of Muslim fasting. Without going through the list of actions and events that will invalidate your fast, I want to highlight vomiting. Vomiting invalidates one's fast.

I never thought of it that way. I thought of it as--if you vomit, you are sick and it is better for you that you don't fast. To say it is invalidated with vomiting makes harsh self-judgment implicit.

Oh, stupid me, I vomited. Now the whole day's fast doesn't count!

Instead of, oh no, I guess I'm sicker than I thought. I'd better take a break and take care of myself and get some fluids in me in preparation for the mud butt that is about to ensue.

Or something like that.

I pause on invalidated because that's such a strong word. Not counting is duly a strong concept, not to get stuck on vocabulary. I'd like to believe that intent would have something to do with it, so if someone put something in their mouth or ate it accidentally and were not, say, sneaking food while no one was watching, that a pure intention for fasting would supersede the accidental ingestion.

I don't know, but I don't care to look up fatawa on the subject because those things are often traumatizing for me.

My mentor in residency preached self-compassion for physicians as we trialed the very restrictive elimination diet. For three weeks, we eliminated major foods that are often the culprits of food sensitivities through leaky gut pathophysiology -- corn, gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts, sugar, artificial sweeteners, red meat, oranges/grapefruits, vegetable oils -- effectively reducing us to a home-cooked diet. We had to be abstinent from these food groups for three weeks in order to reduce the inflammation in our guts enough to trial the possibly offending foods. For example, no seasoned salt, as it has both corn starch and sugar in it. Even with these restrictions necessary to make this health experiment work, she implored us to practice self-compassion if we slipped up in our diets midway.

I scoffed at that recommendation. I fasted Ramadan for over a decade and dietary restrictions were my way of life. It was easy for me to adhere to the strict diet.

In the end, I had no food sensitivities besides gluten making me really low energy, but I've approached every other diet I've had with a self-compassion script, and its made it even easier.

The Islam I learned is often devoid of a self-compassion script. Or, if there is a self-compassion script, there is often a caveat. It is human to err--but you erred, so you have to make up that whole day again. Sorry.

Of course, the fasting SNAFU was not everything. It was the turning point, the moment of recognition, the catalyst. It helped me to intellectualize what I has been evolving over the last 4 years, from the time I was still a fourth year medical student in Boston attending those conferences on woman and African American Muslims. This reminds me of my father, who, in his last attempts to convert me to Christianity 2 years ago, told me that Islam was a religion devoid of love. That Christianity taught love more than Islam did. I argued him down with Qur'anic citations of my own, but at the end of the day, while Islam is not devoid of love and compassion, the individual practice of Islam is many times lacking.

Again, I can only speak for my own, what I saw modeled, what I was exposed to. Others may identify, some may not. Feel free to counter me.

The Islam I learned was full of judgments, shaming and guilting from human beings. The Islam I learned was rigorous and sometimes unforgiving. A lot of my practice was based on God's obligation, not God's love.

And I know, God obliges us because God loves us, but obligation is heavy.

Obligation is heavy, invalidation is heavy. Both of those terms feel punitive.

Obligatory or what? Obligatory or you will be remote from God's mercy and excluded from Jannah? This does not breed self-compassion. It breeds self-critique and self-judgment.

To which someone may say, yes, self-critique is necessary. It's crucial to keep someone on the straight way. Whereas I feel like we kill our souls a little bit with that.

This is not my announcement of leaving the faith. As long as I believe in one God and submit to God, I will always be Muslim. That has not changed. I just find the level of self-compassion that I am currently living in my life at odds with my practice of Islam, and I've decided that the latter has to change.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Make Way for Compassion

As salaam alaikum,

It's been more than four months! It's about time for another entry!

This one was a long time in coming, and perhaps more is coming. The Orlando shooting generated a flurry of emotions that are hard to contain and hard to enunciate. The overarching feeling is hurt. Pain. Mourning, dread, anger. Frustration. Anger.


As a human being, I mourn the loss of innocent life at the hands of Hatred armed with an assault rifle. As an ally and a person of color, I hurt for the attack on one of the few safe spaces for this very marginalized group of the community.

As a Muslimah, I am the most angry and the most afraid. I was of age post-9/11. I'm even more angry and so much more fearful than I was back then, and this is not because I've shed the ignorance of youth.

I remember going to a college football game with my high school band director, and I didn't know that I could not bring my purse into the stadium. I cried as they made me throw away my new purse, stuffing my belongings into my down coat pockets. I thought the whole exercise was ridiculous, because everything in my purse was in my coat pockets now and the leather posed no additional threat, and besides, who would want to attack a college stadium in the breadbasket of America? I thought terrorists had bigger fish to fry.

Flash forward 14 and 15 years, and this is precisely what these terrorists are doing. They are attacking stadiums and busy tourists squares, office Christmas parties and night clubs. Especially with these American sympathizers, their motives are random and no where is safe.

As an American Muslim, I am angry in some of the same ways that the non-Muslim population is angry, and then some. Terrorists are the foremost attackers of my faith. With each act of terror, with each vitriolic sermon, with each evil intent, in addition to their murders they are smearing the religion of millions of peaceful worshipers as well. Idle American Islamophobia have nothing on the years of heinous activity of these groups.

I am also afraid in some of the same ways as non-Muslims are, but I also fear retaliation. Two mosques in my community were threatened within days of each other after the Orlando shootings and one arrest was made. This is the first year I'm actually afraid for Eid.

Hatred abounds in so many ways, and fear is paralyzing. So I implore everyone reading this to counter with the best self defense: love. Love and compassion.

There are a lot of ways how, and I won't get to them all in this entry, but I'll share a bit of my personal journey.

It wasn't just because of residency and HIPPA that I strayed from this blog. A lot of things changed in 2012. The primary event was the beginning of the relationship with my now-fiance, who likes the term "culturally Muslim" for himself. This relationship transformed the way that I think of myself and the way I envision my religion, and for the sake of our privacy, I have not included details here.

It's mainly in positive ways that the relationship has changed my blogging. I am a lot happier and many of the writing topics born out of angst have no longer come to be.

But the ways in which I practice and believe have changed so rapidly at times, it's like whiplash. Sometimes, I couldn't put it into words.

Residency itself was still a major reason I have not been as prolific as earlier. I struggled my intern year, not only with the rapid changes in my faith but also in tussling with impostor syndrome and not feeling supported in my residency program. In spite of this, one of the gifts of my residency program was a curriculum in self care. "Heal the healer," I often remind myself, which not only reminds me that I need to take care of myself before I can fully take care of others, but that I am a healer. Or at least a healer in training. Not all physicians think of themselves as healers. I certainly didn't for much of residency and didn't intend to when I started.

With the curriculum came teachings on compassion, among many other things. I listened politely as my mentor presented data from randomized control studies showing the power of prayer. I was smug. I didn't need a study to tell me that. And as she taught us about the different types of meditation, I reflected on the aspects of salat that corresponded to each type of medication. God, indeed, knows best.

The study of compassion, particularly self-compassion, was more challenging for me. I learned to quiet the nay-saying voice that rejoiced in my perceived inadequacies and replaced my despondent negative self-talk with mindfulness and the RAIN technique. Until last week, I thought that I was primarily rid of negative self-talk.

Then, I accidentally put something into my mouth during Ramadan.

I have fasted consistently since I was 18, and that first Ramadan I accidentally put a piece of candy I was offered by a well-meaning friend into my mouth. Realizing one second later what I had done, I spit it out and drowned in guilt and shame the rest of the day, wondering if my day's fast had been invalidated.

That happened last week, as my clinic was celebrating Juneteenth and I had painstakingly avoided offers of food all day and reminded each person I was fasting, from the staff meeting breakfast in the morning to the barbecue, at which I was a scheduled speaker. I packed food that I would be eating 6 hours later when the sun set, and somehow, in the midst of that, I was offered an edible flower and I placed it into my mouth before realizing...

...and all those same feelings came back to me as that day 13 years ago.

And I realized why I had imperceptibly started to feel distant from my religion. I had cultivated a personal religion that was often devoid of self-compassion, and it was no longer nurturing me.

And it's lack of compassion and self-compassion that can breed hatred.

I realize this is a weighty claim. More on this later.