My Moroccan Interfaith “Aha” Moment

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

Morocco, Hijab, Interfaith

At the beginning of this month I really knew nothing about modesty. As I wrote in my post about preparing for my trip to Morocco, I wasn’t all that sure about modesty and religion, or modesty’s relationship to hijabs and other coverings. I also had absolutely no idea how modesty might relate to my own spiritual journey.

However, since wearing a head covering in Morocco, since reading our own Nermine Mohamed’s post about hijabs, and since encountering The Hijab Project by the amazing Amara Majeed, I feel like I have a much better understanding of modesty.

My experiences in Tangier, Morocco were enlightening and important. I saw women and men  with their own version of modest clothing. Some women covered their heads, others didn’t. Some men, mainly students of the Koranic schools, covered their heads too. Some people wore traditional djellabas, others wore modern interpretations, still others wore jeans and t-shirts.

Although Morocco is a Muslim nation, there was a Spanish Catholic Mission in Tangier as well. When I saw several nuns walking in the Petit Soco in the center of Tangier, for the first time, I saw their habits as a form of hijab. Now this may seem like an obvious connection, but despite my years of interfaith work, I had seen head coverings as something primarily associated with the Muslim and Jewish faiths. This was for me a mix between an “aha” moment, and a startling realization of my own ignorance.

Although I had no judgement on head coverings prior to this moment, afterword I felt a deep spiritual connection with my head coverings. I felt suddenly perfectly at home with my head covered as a Christian in a Muslim country. I also saw the deep and abiding connection between what are referred to as the “Abrahamic religions” meaning Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i. These religions share a common bond, and to some extent a common practice of head covering.

For me this is why travel, and the sharing of spiritual journeys from around the world, is so important. No matter how different our spiritual journeys look from the outside, when we see people not religion, when we share experiences and not ideologies, we can find striking similarities, and fonts of wisdom we would have missed otherwise.

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What is Modesty for a Muslim Woman?

Since this month’s topic seems to have a lot of people stumped, we decided to have each member of our staff reflect on the question: What is Modesty?  Our Writing Intern, Nermine Mohamed, offers her perceptive today as  Muslim and as a woman. Her answer shows incredible wisdom and gives us all a touching image of modesty to consider. 

Our Writing Intern

When I think of the word “modesty” what comes to mind is not a specific appearance, dress, or behavior, but more like a combination of everything: a certain lifestyle, a certain aura that surrounds and frames a person. It is a tone that is never too loud or too self-assured, it hovers between confidence, uncertainty and accepting that you can always be wrong. Being ready to listen more than talking, feeling no need to stress your own ideas among a group, always thinking before speaking, making sure that what you say is of value and not just noise to fill in the silent gaps. It is knowing when to talk and when to be silent and also knowing that silence is not a bad thing at all! Not everything has to be spoken. It is being comfortable with oneself. The way we look, the way we talk, the way we behave among people. Modesty does not mean not drawing any attention to ourselves, but it means drawing attention to the right things, the meaningful things. It is how we behave as if no one is watching us, seeking no praise or compliments for being who we are: natural, unassuming, effortless, no need to be anyone but ourselves. It is like a breeze, caressing one’s skin. Always soft, nice, kind, and caring, it spreads out positive and good feelings and makes you feel at ease, never making a fuss, but simply passing by without you even noticing.

Want to share your ideas about what modesty is? Share them with us by submitting!

Silence is Golden

We are excited to feature a guest post today from Abd Al-Rahman Wally, who is an Engineering student in Egypt. His post invites us all to see the wisdom we can gain by seeking silence in ourselves and our lives.

ما ندمت علي سكوتي يوما و لكن ندمت علي كلامي مرارآ

This is a very common saying here in Egypt, which apparently originated from Roman writer Publilius Syrus’s quote : “I often regret that I have spoken, but never that I have been silent”. Despite its popularity I honestly doubt that anybody actually uses it. Silence has been mistakenly understood as a sign of weakness or ignorance, but I think it’s quite the contrary. Silence has always been a sign of wisdom, and many ancient civilizations have praised silence.

No one, including me, can deny the mysterious aura that surrounds a silent person, but I could not find a trace of this kind of people in modern life, at least around me. I could only find them in novels and history books and when found them there, I was taken by them. I found that these people are often the most respectable and successful. These guys are the ones who come up with the greatest ideas, because silence gives them the time to process things correctly.

So I decided to become more silent. I decided to suspend my eagerness to react immediately towards different situations and instead to wait silently and have patience even in the simplest situations.

When I chose to be silent, I gave myself the opportunity to see life differently, to watch how people act and react with each other during different situations, to notice human interactions.

Now that I am more silent people treat me differently, and I struggle less during conversations. People now tend to ask me about my opinion and invite me to participate. Because after I listened, understood and processed, my opinions now make more sense and carry more weight. When I’m in a group and begin to talk, everybody just stops talking and listens to me, because I’m the silent one, everybody wants to hear from me.

I have also found that when I became silent I actually narrowed the area of mistakes in my communications. As a Muslim, Islam strongly emphasizes the importance of a word, and how people should weigh their words before spilling them. As prophet Mohammed says: “A word can mean the difference between heaven and hell”.

In addition to that, I really started to enjoy life more. In transportation, even with my friends, when I cut the chit-chat and listened to them talking, I discovered more and more about my friends, good things that made me understand them better and more deeply.

I can never forget the one day trip to Fayed, Ismailia. I asked all my friends to just stop chatting for 5 minutes, and just lie there on the grass. Feel the breeze and listen to the whispers of the air running to us across the Suez Canal. 5 minutes passed, another 5, and for 30 minutes we sat there smiling and relaxing.

If you are living in a big noisy city and have ever been to the wild, hiking, camping or whatever, the very first thing that you may have noticed is the silence, the beauteous silence. I find that silence in nature is always connected with beauty, peacefulness and serenity. It is that silence that I try to parallel in my daily life.

Desires and Prayers

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

Whenever I find my heart overwhelmed with desires; I seek solace in this prayer:

آلَلهُمَ لاَ تُعَلقٌ قَلبىٌ بمٌا لَيْسَ لىٌ واجعَل لىْ فيمْا أُحَب نَصٌيبَ

It means “God, don’t let my heart get attached to what’s not meant for me and make what I love a part of my destiny.”

There are times when I fear that what I desire is not good for me, when desires control me and blind me from what truly matters. Maybe we all have desires that drive us away from God, and maybe too we all have times when we lose hope and our hearts cease to desire anything. I think there are times when we all desire too much and give thanks too little.

So for all of us, and for myself, I pray:

God,

My heart is an open book only to You. You know what I desire.

My knowledge is limited and my sight is short and You know what lies ahead and what’s best for me, make my heart desire what’s good for me.

Help me not to cling to futile hopes and false desires, let my heart see what matters.

Make my desires a road that drives me closer to You and not further away.

Help me find patience when my desires are unfulfilled and my prayers unanswered.

Sow satisfaction and gratitude in my heart.

Help me restrain the anger and disappointment I feel about what I lack and what I cannot get.

Let me be grateful instead for the countless blessings I have and those that perhaps didn’t deserve, for I’m seldom thankful enough.

Let my heart always be full of desires, full of hope, full of love. Let me live and trust in You, in myself and in those around me.

Amen.

The Ritual Of The Top Ten

We would be remiss to end this month of exploring the ever-evolving ritual of the “Top Ten”. As 2014 comes to an end we all want to look back at what the year has held. We have selected ten posts, not because they are the best, or the most popular, but because they have represented some important moments from 2014. Even though we have only selected ten, we have been honored by every post and every comment. We hope each of you has found lots of wisdom, love …and even a little lint on your spiritual journey this year. Happy reading and Happy New Year!

  1. A Prayer for New Beginnings— A prayer for anyone starting a new journey
  2. Millennials Strike Back with Professions of Love— A post from Jenni Taylor about the value of Millennials
  3. Ferguson: We Are Praying— A spiritual reaction to the racism in Ferguson and across the USA
  4. Fear Vs Self Worth— A post about bullying by a former Miss Arab America and a notMyKid volunteer
  5. The Choice of Leaving Syria–A post about one woman’s choice to leave her home in Syria.
  6. For the Love of ElephantsJenni Taylor thoughts on justice for all of God’s creatures 
  7. It’s Your Church Too— Patrick Cousins,a campus minister at Saint Louis University, writes about LGBTQ justice
  8. Secular Spirituality: Is That a Thing?–Hailey Kaufman’s eloquent post on atheism and spirituality
  9. Strength To Endure–a reflection on sexism and strength after the shootings in Santa Barbara by Autumn Elizabeth 
  10. Fear and Hunger for Justice–Hafsa Mansoor writes about fear and justice as a Muslim

Re-kindling The Magic In The Ritual

Today’s post comes from Nermine Mohamed, who like John Smith in his post on the prayer in ritual, and like Jenni in her post on the ritual of prayer, looks for the meaning behind rituals. Nermine gives us all great insights on how we must never take our rituals for granted, for they offer us a special kind peace and love.

I am a Muslim. “Ṣalāt” or Prayers are a cardinal doctrine in my religion; the second of the five pillars of Islam. It is a daily ritual that I am required to do five times. All my life I have been taught that I should pray, without knowing why I should. I would pray because I had to, I am obliged to, thus often I would just do it nonchalantly, absentmindedly, just to take it off my shoulders. I would recite the verses which had become meaningless because they have been said countless times without ever pausing to reflect on the meanings behind these words. My mouth would say them, but my heart never felt them. I would stand in prayer while my heart and mind are elsewhere.

Now I am trying to look at my daily prayers in a different way. It is true that prayers are a duty, an obligation you have to perform as a Muslim, but it is only for my sake, not a pressure or a burden, but a relief, a time-out from the big and stressful game of life. As Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) has always referred to Ṣalāt as a relief from all the pain and worries of the world. Now I feel that I need to pray. I need to stand looking down humbly, for I am full of sins, full of flaws, yet God never pushes me away, God is always eager to hear me out, eager to direct me if I am lost or confused, and ready to forgive if I only ask for forgiveness.

I need to glorify God and give thanks for my countless blessings which are benevolently and bountifully bestowed upon me every single moment, even though I so rarely appreciate them and so often take them for granted.I need to kneel down with my nose on the ground, for I am always holding it up high, letting my human ego consume me, thinking I am smarter, I am better, that I do not need help. Thus it is a reminder that no matter how knowledgeable, smart, or successful I become, I owe it all to God.

I am constantly looking for peace, for guidance. I want to be more humble, more thankful and more compassionate. I found out that all of this is part of one single ritual that I was doing out of obligation without letting it affect and change me. That’s why rituals can be tricky. Sometimes, without even noticing, something very special, unique and spiritual can turn into a mundane habit, which often loses its meaning, its uniqueness, because it has been repeated countless times.

I am daily trying to re-kindle my spiritual connection with God through my daily prayers. It is not always that easy. It is a constant battle between the sounds of the world buzzing inside my ears and trying to listen to that voice within. Sometimes that voice fades away amidst all the noise, and sometimes it is not even there, but some other times I feel it, I hear it. Sometimes it is as loud as thunder, sometimes as low as a murmur. But when it is there, I find the magic in the ritual.

Fear and a Hunger for Justice

We received this post too late to put it in last month, but it is too good not to share. It deals with an issue we have seen here more than once, fear, prejudice and being Muslim. Even though it mostly focuses on last month’s topic of fear, there too is a hunger for justice, for equality, for understanding, that underlies this great post from Hafsa Mansoor.

I’m afraid. A lot. I’m afraid that my faith is the defining characteristic- in the most negative way possible- of who I am. Don’t get me wrong; I am proud to be a Muslim, and I am proud to say that. I’m afraid of what people perceive as my religion. I’m afraid that the actions of ISIS and Al-Qaeda will be what people see as Islam. I’m afraid that the cloth I wear on my head will be interpreted as a sign of oppression and not the choice I made of free will. I’m afraid that the Islam FOX News pastes across headlines is the Islam people will think is the actual truth. I’m afraid people won’t bother trying to learn more about Islam because they think they already know what it is… but too many people don’t. I’m afraid that this all-too-popular perception of my faith will bar me from any political position and I will never be able to make institutional change because of it. I’m afraid every time I go somewhere new that I will be assaulted in a hate crime. I’m afraid the horrible things happening across the nations featuring Muslims- or Sikhs mistaken as Muslims- are not isolated incidents but indicators of a growing problem and misconception. I’m afraid.

But that fear empowers me to make change. It forces me to confront the problems I see in society, not just from a “humanitarian” perspective, but also from a sheer need for self-preservation, and don’t think I’m being dramatic when I say that. I aim to confront bigotry of any kind whenever I encounter it I am emboldened to take measures I would not otherwise I would have the courage to embrace to stop Islamophobia in its tracks- from starting a blog on what Islam is and writing this post to setting up a series of talks at my university about Islam and joining the Webster Muslim Students Association so we can educate, inspire, and empower people.

One of the things that has helped me the most in my journey to courage has been my faith- especially the hijab. Now I know that strikes a lot of people as counterintuitive because a headscarf is seen as so intrinsically oppressive in today’s society. But it’s not. It’s actually extremely empowering. I have such an immense amount of control over what other people see of me and how they view merely because of this cloth I wear on my head. And suddenly I don’t feel like I have to spend immense amounts of time every morning trying to conform to the beauty standards and new hair and clothing trends. I also don’t have to feel like I need to count my appearance as part of my charm and thereby sexualize or objectify myself;. I feel like because I’m willing to hide parts of my exterior, people get the message that it’s because I respect my interior. And it shows.

People tell me that I’m “intense” because I am so purely me and so comfortable with myself. I respect myself and my opinions and feel like I am worth something, and Islam has helped me to reach an accord with myself. The Qur’an has innumerous verses on women’s equality and promoted respect for women at a time when women were ordained second-class citizens and innately inferior to men; Islam championed women and gave them rights and worth as human beings, establishing them as queens over their households and men as mere providers for them. She can work and gain an education if she so desires, but it is for her betterment, not to earn money for her husband; if she earns any money through her career, it is hers to keep; her husband will still have to pay for all the expenses of the household. This is the power and respect Islam gave women- the self-respect Islam gave women.

So when I see on the news the bigotry and hatred, it is Islam that urges me to fight it and strengthens me to be able to make changes and join the cause to end the injustices committed on both sides of the debate, and it is Islam that helps me to conquer my fears and do what needs to be done in spite of any hesitations or insecurities that could hold me back.