I barely have had enough time to even write this, but I did want to make it official: it is time to bring this blog to a close.
Reasons: The connection between faith and books no longer burns in me the way it used to. Some of it relates to why I left Altmuslimah: many people are saying many things, and I’m becoming certain that my voice does not need to be in the mix any longer. I am more than happy to retreat to the world of books, family, and (hopefully) more physical and spiritual activity.
This is what looks like a book that took commendable effort.
By someone with good intentions.
But it is not the Quran.
I long for the Quran the way a hopeless drunkard longs for a saintlike jewel of a being.
The way Devdas longed for Paro.
I long for the Quran while knowing
That I am not worthy of it.
That I am polluted with worldliness, selfishness, gluttony.
To read The American Quran is not to read the real Quran.
For is it not supremely better
To have just the Quran?
To have its verses echo inside me as I walk?
To have them run repeatedly in my mind,
Without knowing that is what I am doing?
The munafiq I am, I am disgusted.
That they dare attach their own images, their own projections
To the dark, glorious tresses of its calligraphy.
That contain universes in its every vowel.
Fathah, dammah, kasra, the smallest marks ever so beautiful.
Maybe if people like me didn’t shroud themselves with the dunya
Its glory would shine brilliantly
And no one would dare project images—
(Oh I laugh as I write this)
—In “juxtaposition” to what it is saying…
“What it is saying?”
It has come to this.
It is one thing to be given a translation that collects dust on a bookshelf
It is another to own this “collector’s item”
To shuffle a few pages while having your wine.
And think you have some idea of what it really says.
You can dress up this text in whichever way you like
For it to be palatable to you.
But there are still a few who know
What it feels like when it brushes your soul.
And the rest falls away.
FYI: I didn’t make this post “outsider friendly.” I am assuming the reader has a basic understanding of female menstruation and prayer in the Islamic tradition.
I used to be the kind of Muslim who didn’t care much for rules. Matters such as how you fold your arms when you pray seemed to be a way to divide and police people. Isn’t it the spirituality, the intention, that matters?
I have learned, however, that fiqh—the part of Islamic faith that has to do with legal rulings—IS a way of enacting spirituality. Rules are like rituals. They make the processes and methodology absolute so that one cannot be distracted, uneasy, or meek in their workship.
It was due to this newfound respect and adab for fiqh that I attended a workshop on the Fiqh of Taharah (Purity) at a mosque in Markham. It was specific to the subject of menstruation and was for females only.
What I grew up knowing about menstrual purity was based on what my mother told me and some scattered readings of religious texts. It had been over a decade since I received any formal instruction on the subject, and it turned out that there was much I hadn’t been aware of.
Overall, I learned that Islamic legal rulings give a holistic, universal treatment of female bleeding that can be applicable to all women. For example, in the Hanafi school of thought, a period is only considered a true menstrual period if it is at least three days, and if the time that has passed since the last period is at least fifteen days. There is a specific way a woman is supposed to monitor the start and end of her period—for example, her period doesn’t start from the time she starts the bleeding, but the time she sees the blood. It may seem like common sense, but to know that this was the conclusion that legal experts sanctioned provides a strange kind of comfort and ease.
It was a revelation to me and many others that it is almost essential, religiously speaking, for women to track their periods and to know their normal cycle. The instructor (who happened to be a male using the audio system form a different room) emphasized that many of the Islamic legal implications on menstruation had to do with the women knowing her “habit,” or the usual course her cycle takes. Having this information is key for some of the conundrums that may come up when her bleeding is irregular, for she could be confused as to whether she should pray. We went on break not long after that point was made by the instructor, and I saw the room come alive with women discussing the lessons and sharing their experiences with one another. As part of this, we started talking about if/how we tracked our periods, and my sister leaned in and ended up showing me which she considers “the best app” for period tracking.
The user experience is seamless and the app itself is a mini encyclopedia of facts related to things like menstruation, birth control and PMS. Without exaggeration, it has allowed me to get in touch with my body by observing and getting to know it.
I am one of the more fortunate women to have learned about reproductive health and menstruation in my biology and health classes. Even so, I was not given the tools to apply the facts to how my body worked. Clue, for me, serves as that missing tool. It encourages me to pay closer attention to myself. And, best of all, it gives me the means to uphold and apply the “fiqh of Taharah” by completing its most fundamental requirement—knowing my cyle. Thanks to its graphical representations, I know at a glance the length of my “tuhr,” or time between my periods.
Should my body behave differently, I will have my reference points for knowing my habit, knowing what is natural for me, because my body is not a machine.
Rituals and rules give us certainty and knowledge gives us power. Thanks to these beautifully simultaneous occurrences: attending the course and beginning to use Clue, I now have a growing understanding of my body I didn’t have before, both in the worldly and in the spiritual realms.
If I were to be an official-ish, published writer, I would be a nonfiction writer. I would hope to be the kind of writer who writes a book like this. Zakaria’s book illustrates a private, painful family story in parallel to the story of Pakistan as experienced by the swollen, violent, disturbed, distorted city that is Karachi.
Nothing is perfect—in true journalistic fashion, things are simply conveyed as they are, yet artfully so. Islamization campaigns in Pakistan are shown as no worse than the corruption and hypocrisy of secular leadership. (One exception: I couldn’t help but feel that there was a bit of sympathy on her part towards the Muhajjir Qaumi Movement—MQM, but that could be just me.)
This is also the story of how Zakaria’s paternal aunt’s husband ended up taking a second wife. This is not an Orientalist horrifying tale of how Islam allows polygamy and how it is terrible. It is an examination of the social realities of arranged marriages, women’s roles in society, love, and the tightrope a middle-class Pakistani family must walk to maintain its respectability. It is also the story of human nature, how easy it is to hate for the sake of hating, and how the most negative sentiments can become lifelong companions. It is the story of how vulnerable a woman is when her sole role is to serve her husband, when her life is built around him. This is not just Aunt Amina’s story: it is the story of millions of women, married and unmarried, whose worth is measured by their marital status, whether they are mothers, whether they work or are taught to have aspirations of their own. Aunt Amina is the chronically bereaved family member you will desperately want to avoid, to avoid all that negative energy, while fully understanding that she is the way she is because that is all she knows, and that is her reality.
On a different note: I kept wondering, as I read the book, what or who emboldened Zakaria to write so many details about her aunt’s life. No one would want their life put on display this way. In the Western context of publishing and the accountability of telling stories, “consent” wouldn’t come close to describing the kind of license the subject of a story would have to provide. Nothing is more powerful than a private, true story, but shouldering the responsibility of sharing this kind of a narrative has both serious legal and (I feel) spiritual implications.
Allah knows the author’s intentions best, and is the judge in all matters.
This is NOT meant to be a commentary on the spiritual state of people who love wedding planning and are fully invested in it. I have found spirituality in far too many unlikely places to think that weddings are completely devoid of it. This is only my subjective experience.
To those who have been through the process of a South Asian wedding, they know it’s never as simple as: “It’s your wedding, you should do it your way.” There are people to engage, norms to follow, and expectations to fulfill. It’s about something much bigger than you. So the onus is on the couple to honour their parents’ wishes and ways of going about things.
Plus, I acknowledge the importance of a milestone event like this. It sets clear in everyone’s (including the couple’s) minds that a transition is taking place, and it’s a big deal.
All that said: at the end of the day, wedding planning gives me a strange kind of sickness. It feels like I am indulging in something that is spiritually depleting. In terms of negative energies, it gives me same kind of queasiness that the following things do:
Too many tv shows/movies in a row
Too many social outings in one week
Working too hard
In short, I’m not the nicest person when I am wedding planning or doing any of the above things. Just like the woman who wrote the vent “My big day? Yeah right…”, my bridezilla flares up, but not because things are not turning out as I want them to. Rather, it’s because I have to undertake an endeavor I couldn’t be less interested in undertaking.
Since I got engaged, most people I am surrounded by can be divided into two camps: those who wish me well and then continue talking to me as they always have, (thank you, bestie) and those who think I spend my evenings and weekends contemplating the event from every angle. The latter folks always end up giving me loads of unsolicited advice (an experience also bemoaned by a fellow writer in her piece “Bad bridal priorities”). Just…why?
Moving on to a solution: to keep myself intact from the wedding industry complex, I have devised a strategy to do the work of wedding planning while not letting it get to me:
I won’t linger over any decisions for longer than I have to. I know that I’ll be equally happy on the day whether or not the décor or dress turn out as I’d like them to. Why spend time fussing over the details?
I’ll focus on planning something else to take the focus away from wedding planning–honeymoon planning, for instance.
I won’t bring it up with people (which I don’t) and try to change the subject if anyone else brings it up with me (which I could do better at).
I’ll continue life as normal and enjoy the usual old stuff and new stuff like cooking and skating, since life will continue long after that day is done.
I’ll plan and look forward to my marriage: from financial planning to brushing up my cooking skills to enjoying the growing bond I have with my fiance.
I’ll practice mindfulness and remember death, for it’s a bigger challenge to do that when life is treating one well.
May Allah save us from weddings being nothing more than a money-sucking plight.
This book seems awfully scattered at times and I am sure it could have done its job in two-thirds the number of pages it takes up. I didn’t read all of it. But I did come across a review of it and wanted to share a key point:
Guard your mind. Yes, it’s cool to live in the dazzling array of electronics, but while it’s convenient that you can instantly find out how much the Empire State Building weighs that doesn’t mean you always should.
What could be more purely Islamic than the notion of guarding your mind?
I am doing my best to prepare for my marriage every bit as much as prepare for my wedding. As part of the former, I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed. I had heard about the book’s topic, but was never interested enough to read it until recently, since its relevance has increased by a hundredfold.
I am glad to be reading it now. The book is a researched meditation of sorts on the subject of marriage. Gilbert writes it on the eve of her own impending marriage, weaving together history (Western history, that is), research, and insightful personal reflections on the topic. It’s good. And much, much better than her last book.
Halfway in, I read something which was glorious, but of course did not make the connection with Islam—which is why I am sharing it here. It is the perfect explanation for why Islam discourages monasticism and celibacy. It explains why the Prophet urged his followers to marry and establish households. It’s also a much beautiful and precise version of what I was trying to convey in my previous post.
With all respect to Buddha and to the early Christian celibates, I sometimes wonder if all this teaching about nonattachment and the spiritual importance of monastic solitude might be denying us something quite vital. Maybe all that renunciation of intimacy denies us the opportunity to ever experience that very earthbound, domesticated, dirt-under-the-fingernails gift of difficult, long-term, daily forgiveness…Maybe creating a big enough space within your consciousness to hold and accept someone’s contradictions—someone’s idiocies, even—is a kind of divine act. Perhaps transcendence can be found not only on solitary mountaintops or in monastic settings, but also at your own kitchen table, in the daily acceptance of your partner’s most tiresome, irritating faults.