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.

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