Everyone’s journey is unique. I tell myself this all the time. Especially when it comes to personal success– I mean it’s called personal for a reason right? And yet I sometimes find myself tangled in my preoccupations with how well others are performing, forgetting that everyone has their own measuring stick, as my mother would say. That said, I can understand why we get so caught up with how successful we are in relation to other people. Society has been built up in such a way that our brains are programmed to interpret success as equal to acknowledgement, display of public gratification, and figures. What I’ve never really understood though, is why people compare their own spirituality and tailor made journeys to others. How can something so largely intangible be manifested in material, and therefore be put in comparison with others?
I and another 1.8 odd billion people are Muslims by name, but by no means, shape or form are our journeys entirely parallel. I don’t wear a headscarf. I don’t know Arabic very well. I didn’t always eat halal meat in past. Despite what may seem to some as haram (sinful), I still pray five times a day, observe Ramadan, pay zakat, and try my hardest to lead an ethical life on a daily basis.
My spirituality is however like undulating waves which peak and then recede. Some days I am consumed with the daily happenings of right now that I forget to take a minute to step back, breathe, and reflect, and so I am always thankful for that twitch upon the thread that draws me back into contemplation. Often, I feel closer to God in times of need and perhaps postmodernists might see this as a ‘comfort mechanism’ but we humans are naturally quite self-centred in that we often search for love and reassurance from a loved one when we cannot give it to ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we don’t care for our loved ones in other periods, but it might just mean we need their presence the most then. I know I am guilty of this when it comes to my relationship with Allah.
And so in an effort to keep those waves culminating, I’ve been trying to read the Qu’ran every night before I go to bed, even if it’s just one surah and even if that’s in translation. Tonight when I was reading the Qu’ran I came across a beautiful passage, which has been lingering in the forefront of my mind for the last couple of hours:
“Those who are already firmly established in their homes [in Medina], and firmly rooted in faith, show love for those who migrated to them for refuge and harbour no desire in their hearts for what has been given to them. They give them preference over themselves, even if they too are poor: those who are saved from their own soul’s greed are truly successful.”
– The Gathering [of Forces] 59: 9-10
Although this passage refers to the Prophet Muhammad’s PBUH mission to spread Islam in 626CE, there is still so much that resonates with present day in terms of lessons to be learnt, especially in our treatment of refugees internationally. And so to go back to the beginning of this post, what it means to be truly successful is to not be controlled by your own volition and insatiability. It has nothing to do with the outward appearance of ‘success’ but everything to do with the battle and the victory over one’s own soul.
I often read the Qu’ran when I need solace, which I cannot find within myself, but tonight when I was reading it I in fact felt sad and hurt for the first time. How can so much beauty, both in meaning and language, so much peace and altruism be overlooked? How can so many killings be carried out in the name of Islam when the Qu’ran teaches that to kill an innocent person is like killing the whole of mankind (The Feast 5:32)? How can a book, which has the very purpose of “healing” (The Night Journey 17:82-83), be the cause of so much pain?
I’m currently reading Malala Yousafzai’s book, I am Malala, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone. As well as talking about hers–and many others’– on going fight for their right to education, it also gives a good insight into the complex nature of Islam, and demonstrates how easily a religion can be corrupted and used as a political weapon.
I know that some people see Islam as being an ‘oppressive’ religion, which has no place for respecting women or their rights. There is no denying that Islam means both peace and yes, submission. Islam is the ultimate form of submission, but for us Muslims, it is also the ultimate form of freedom, because this submission does not mean submission to material things and it most definitely does not mean submission to mankind. Islam teaches us to submit to Allah because by submitting to him we ultimately gain our freedom. We do not become slaves to our desires, to money, to corporal pleasures, to materialism, to another person.
I think we do a disservice to the Qu’ran to forget the historical context in which it was divined. Revealed in 609 CE in a patriarchal society, women of course got the bad end of the stick. The everyday women did not have autonomy in affairs such as inheritance; she had very little rights in marriage, and even less when divorced. What did the Qu’ran do? It gave women a chance to be self-governing when it came to inheritance, giving them the entitlement of half that of their male counter-part (Women 4) when previously they had none. It gave them protection against maltreatment in the case of divorce (Women 4; The dispute 58) and it showcased female strength. Maryam (Mary) is mentioned 34 times in the Qu’ran, and her strength, devotion and endurance does not go unnoticed. Hazrat Khadijah, an independent businesswoman and the prophet Muhammad’s PBUH first wife, is another strong female figure who both commanded and received great respect and has become one of the leading female figures of Islam. Perhaps looking at these examples in present day, might make them seem like a poor, sub-standard effort for women equality. Undoubtedly, it is ‘outrageous’ in our Western society that women in this day and age should receive half the inheritance of that of a man (that said, we only have to look at equal pay to really find out it isn’t that ‘unthinkable’ as we may think), but in a period in which society was essentially male-dominated, the establishment of these rights were perhaps more than a woman of that time could have hoped for. Yes, I know that for Muslims, the Qu’ran is a universal guide for all of time, but I think the essence of what was being realised can still be transferred and applied to the conditions of modern day society, without the need to apply the rigid law, or risking the lost of the meaning and sentiment– I’m still trying to figure out the balance of historical setting and cosmology so I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
Islam also gets a lot of backlash for Muslim women wearing headscarf. Now you might think I’m not really in a position to talk about this, given that I myself have chosen not to wear one in this period of my life, but since everyone seems to want to have a say on it (hjiabi or not) here’s mine. Firstly, I think it’s important to clear up the common misconception that ‘hijab’ simply translates into ‘headscarf’ or a piece of cloth on a woman’s head– although I have no illusions that there is no universal agreement of the translation even amongst the Muslim community. Yes, hijab means ‘barrier’ or ‘partition’ but it also has a much broader meaning– it is essentially the principle of modesty and not just for Muslim women, but also the conduct of Muslim men as well. In fact, the Qu’ran states that men need to observe the hijab even before women:
“[Prophet], tell believing men to lower their glances and guard their private parts: that is purer for them…and tell believing women that they should lower their glances, guard their private parts, and not display their charms beyond what [it is acceptable] to reveal.”
In essence, the burden should not fall on just one sex nor the other.
There are so many distortions and misconceptions about Islam and the Qu’ran– many of which are fuelled by the current climate of terrorism, the language of the media and unfortunately, also by the confusion which is caused by the lack of universality even within the Muslim community.
I cannot speak for all Muslims, and being a Muslim can only speak so much for me because each of our Islam are inevitably different, because each one of our spiritual journeys follow a slightly different course.
My personal efforts of trying to eat just halah, dressing more modesty, and making more of an effort to implement the teachings of the Qu’ran in my daily life are not the result of any human figure imposing these upon me, it is through my own free will that Allah has provided me with that propels me to want to do these things.
Everyone’s spiritual journey is unique, and we mustn’t ever forget it.