On Spoken Silence

silence

A period of silence from verbal speech is one of the greatest gifts a person can give to themselves. I have found that people are very intimidated by this notion and say that I am introducing a bidah–innovation. I’m not sure where they are coming from. This practice is not without precedent in the Islamic tradition, as you will see in the following:

  • The practice of Itikaaf–designating a time and space to focus on remembrance of Allah–includes refraining from frivolous speech and arguments. If one is especially prone to such manners of speech (thanks to information overload and engagement in online communities, which can make us very reactionary), the way for them to uphold Itikaaf is not to speak at all.
  • Many know that Istikharah–the prayer for guidance–is supposed to be made after Isha (the night prayer) and before sleeping. In some traditions, however, it is emphasized that the supplicator not speak to anyone after this prayer and before bedtime. (I wasn’t able to find a decent source for this claim.)
  • There are several times in the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace and blessings me upon him) life when he consciously disengaged from everyone and either took the company of very selected people, or worshipped Allah in solitude.

If the idea of a designated period of silence is still too difficult for you to digest, perhaps you can start by watching the film A Thousand Words. It’s a light and entertaining watch that will give you an understanding of how excessive use of words can be toxic.

I pray that we cultivate a culture in which vows of silence are as understood and respected as voluntary fasting, memorization of the Quran, philanthropy, and Itikaaf.

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On Writerly Silence

I am now conscious of words the way I started becoming conscious of animal products about a year ago. They feel heavy on my system. I’m sensitive to excess. They make me feel uneasy, the way something might feel if it’s makruh.

At first I thought the solution was silence from speaking*, and I tried it for a few days. It was not without its benefits. I realized how much I talk over my sister. I slept better. My prayers and meditation deepened.

However, I also realized that my spoken words do not hold a candle to my internal dialogue. When I talk over people, I feel as though my head is going to explode from everything I have to convey. I have over twenty unfinished blogposts. I write long, detailed emails that don’t necessarily meander, but they delve into so much detail that writing them exhausts me. In my spoken speech, on the other hand, I suddenly go on tangents, causing others to look at me quizzically. Every conversation is a matter of trying to catch the slippery fish of my thoughts. And then there are the worst symptoms: I haven’t finished a book in months. I would start a thread of supplications, and then forget I was doing it halfway.

To sum it up: I am constantly in a state of writerly rehearsal, thinking of thing after thing to write about, to say.

There was a time when I would have loved to have this problem. But this immense gift of Rumi-Quotebarakah in writing goes hand-in-hand with the necessity to keep listening, keep reading. If I don’t uphold the latter two, I am no longer fit to receive this barakah. Hence all the symptoms. 

And so I declare my writerly vow of silence for the next forty days, so that I may to purge myself of internal writing oriented dialogue. There will be no drafting and publishing of blogposts. No journaling. No long emails. A conscious restraint in spoken speech. I may check into Facebook from time to time for reading purposes, but I won’t engage. 

Ya Allah, let a space open within me, so I may absorb more of Your Wisdom.

*In two days’ time, I will publish a short (pre-drafted) post that discusses vows of silence in light of Islam.

Everything is Sunnified

In between bodily sickness, word sickness (more on this shortly) and the dozen other things going on with me, I was struggling to write a proposal for “sect neutrality with caution.”

It turns out that no effort is needed on my part. This fellow describes exactly what I was trying to, only better:

Many Sunni Muslims today will rhetorically ponder “why do we have to create divisions of ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia,’ and why we can’t we all identify simply as ‘Muslims’?” . . . As Omid Safi puts it, “it is vital that mutual respect and coexistence not be a license for eradicating real historical grievances and particularities.” . . . Shi’is, like other minority traditions, must preserve and maintain their identity, legacy, and historical narrative among the eclipsing dominant Sunni tradition. Reflecting on the Battle of Karbala is also a way for many to call attention to the ongoing oppression of Shi’as and other minority groups (seriously though, the oppression of Baha’is in Iran is highly hypocritical) around the world (e.g. Gulf States, pre-war Iraq, Bahrain, etc). Neither Shi’i Islam, nor Sunni Islam, can lay claim to an absolute truth of Islam, but together, and within each respective tradition, Muslims are able to achieve a more holistic picture of truth. Being completely unaware of epic events such as the Battle of Karbala, causes us to sacrifice a comprehensive understanding of our religion and tradition.R

I implore you to study the religion to which you subscribe, and fight for a more robust, anti-hegemonic retelling of Islamic history. . . Familiarity with what is out there will inform our understanding of what we believe and why we believe it.

There’s much more where that came from. Please read Abbas Rattani’s original piece here and a follow-up piece here.