Islamic lessons from an ashram

Last weekend, I went to a Sivananda Yoga camp in Val Morin, Quebec. Sivananda has several yoga centres over the world, and a handful of ashrams: secluded environments where aspiring yogis or drop-in guests enact the yogic lifestyle on a full-time basis, whether it be for a few days, a week, or several years.

I don’t practice yoga, although I’ve dabbled in it throughout the years. I ended up going to this camp because a friend of mine had visited their ashram in the Bahamas and spoke very positively of it, telling me that by no means does one have to be a hard-core yogi to attend. I also liked what I read about Sivananda: the founding principles of this worldwide organization is that of peace and harmony and respect for everyone’s respective faiths. More than anything, I really loved the idea of yoga being something you uphold in all aspects of your life, no just for an hour prancing on a designer mat in the gym. So I signed up. Garden patch and meditation deck, both to be used in the summer.

Here is roughly what my routine looked like throughout my stay:

  • 5:30 am: Wake up
  • 6:00 am: Satsang – a period consisting of 30-minute silent meditation, devotional chanting, and a brief talk on yogic principles.
  • 8:00 am: Yoga class
  • 10:00 am: Brunch
  • 10:45 am: Karma Yoga (selfless service) – a brief period where guests help out with the upkeep of the ashram.
  • 1:00 pm: Weekend special program: sacred drumming workshop
  • 3:00 pm: Free time: I usually explored the area, said my prayers, or visited their sauna.
  • 4:00 pm: Yoga class
  • 6:00 pm: Dinner
  • 7:30 pm: Satsang
  • 10:00 pm: Lights off

I was surprised at the effect of the place on me. Two hours of yoga class whizzed by, whereas in my day-to-day life I have difficulty sparing half an hour for any sort of exercise. I experienced no longing for caffeine. It helped that everyone there was so friendly, that we were in the mountains where I devoured lungfuls of fresh air, and that the food was lacto-vegetarian, ayurvedic, and delicious. A recipe for healing…my own mini-Eat, Pray, Love, one could say!

There were plenty of moments of loneliness and confusion throughout my stay. At times, I was bewildered at myself for being there, and a part of me demanded justification. I had to do a great deal of self coaching and telling myself to just remain with the present.

One of the highlights of my stay was praying in nature, on top of a high-mounted deck usually used for yoga class.
One of the highlights of my stay was praying in nature, on top of a high-mounted deck usually used for yoga class.

Now, several days later, I’ve had a chance to reflect, absorb, internalize, and even enact some of the lessons I learned during my stay. Here are some of the lessons and key changes:

I can do fajr. I’ve had a lifelong battle to pray the pre-dawn prayer on time. I’ve always had difficulty either waking up, or (more often) going back to sleep afterwards. Given the awkwardness of fajr time–especially in the summer months–this meant that I neglected to wake up for it. I was dictated by my body’s need for sleep.

Seeing everyone up at dawn for satsang was inspiring and motivating for me in a novel way. It is not just my mind, but my body, my habit, that knows: It is normal to wake up and spend some time in spiritual activity. Not waking up for fajr is keeping me from being the best I can be. It can no longer be so.

I am now trying to get better at waking up for fajr, and even if I end up with less sleep, it doesn’t bother me the way it used to.

I absorb myself in my salaat. My salaat is my primary meditation. I’m a “doer,” someone who is happiest in the midst of activity and movement. So sitting meditation is not well-suited for me. It’s still worth practicing, but my priority will be being mindful of my salaat.

There were a series of instructions given to us gently prior to our meditation session: to deepen our breathing, to acknowledge any distracting thoughts and simply bring the mind back, to recite a mantra to ourselves internally if need be. These are all instructions I reflexively offer myself prior to starting one of my five daily prayers. I don’t just dive in with takbeer: I take a moment to ground myself and acknowledge that I am beginning a sacred act.

Housework is karma yoga. Karma yoga refers to volunteering in a selfless, spirited manner, without any dislike for the act. In the ashram setting, it was a way to make guests a part of the ashram. In my case, it was fairly small-scale work: helping set up for the workshop and sweeping the front entrance, neither of which took more than fifteen minutes. (I think they start you off easy to not be off-putting.) Doing those activities and seeing the hustle and bustle of the full-time volunteers cooking and cleaning filled me with love for this type of yoga. It is me, because, again, I am a doer. No wonder it is thought to obliterate one’s selfishness!

Witnessing karma yoga in the yoga camp showed me the kind of loving attitude required in one’s housework. Since I came back, such work has felt less like a drag and more of an opportunity to be mindful, to know that one’s actions mean something.

I will make an effort to recite the Quran out loud as often as possible. A kirtan was an impressive thing to observe, but for me personally it did not contain the positive energy and vibrations everyone referred to. However, I knew what they were talking about when they referred to positive energy and vibrations, for I feel the same when reciting or hearing the Quran read out loud.

Just like there is special virtue in reciting chants in Sanskrit, there is virtue in reciting the Quran in its revealed Arabic. In both traditions, there is an emphasis on the benefits and power of these frequent recitations, even if one does not understand the meaning of what they are saying.

Brunch was the best. They made their own bread, and it was heavenly.
Brunch was the best. They made their own bread, and it was heavenly.

When possible, food should be austere. The food at the ashram was vegetarian, deeply nourishing, and omitted the use of garlic, onions, and sugar. Thanks to being a vegetarian I was already in sync with one aspect of it. However, I realized that “normal” food tends to work too hard at stimulating the senses. Another maya, another trick to distract oneself in this dunya. Partaking in their food was a lesson in austerity

I am not my thoughts or my emotions. This is a lesson I learned from a talk delivered during my first Satsang session. The speaker gave us an explanation for the role of the ashram and the human spirit. “Your mind is like a vinyl record,” she said. “Every thought, feeling, and action you have creates a groove in that record. The more you repeat it, the deeper that groove gets.” Boring as the ashram’s routine may seem to some, she said, following it is the process of creating new grooves, filled with positive action and energy. Focusing on deepening those “good” grooves means letting go of old patterns of negative thinking and behaviour.

This description was empowering and illuminating for me. It fit right in with the readings on meditation I have been doing nowadays.  Hurts from my past, I realized, may be nothing more than a story I have kept telling myself, on repeat. Everything, good or bad, ends. It is to God we return. “A person who is enlightened,” said another karma yogi, “still feels emotions. However, they do not get attached to those emotions.”

The more I think about the ashram–both in theory and in my lived experience–the more I realize how much I learned about willpower, personal restraint, and inner peace. It has given me a blueprint for continuing life as a Muslim, no matter what happens ahead. Something’s kicked in, and my lifestyle, intention, and outlook are visibly improving, for the better.

Waiting for the spring planting. A couple of karma yogis were doing outdoor work all day.

I end this post with the prayer delivered at the closing of Sivananda yoga classes:

Auspiciousness be unto all; peace be unto all;

fullness be unto all; prosperity be unto all.
May all be happy!

May all be free from disabilities!
May all look to the good of others!

May none suffer from sorrow!

(Oh Lord) Lead us from the unreal to the Real
From darkness to Light

From death to Immortality.

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As I Am

“Ya Allah, we come as we are,”
She said,
Adjusting her large spectacles,
Her large dupatta hugging her shoulders through her abaya,
Large, burr-covered men’s socks in bunches around her feet.
“However we are,
We come as we are.”

Her words glimmered from afar,
For I now think I know.
When I wash to pray,
The pigment used to cover the darkness beneath my eyes dissolves.
And I go back to work.
As I am.
Ya Allah,
I come as I am.

The Men Who Are: On Reading Salaam, Love

mattu-salaamlove

Title: Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy

Editors: Ayesha Mattu, Nura Maznavi

Publication Date: February 2014 

Genre: Sexuality / Religion & Spirituality

Source: eGalley from publisher 

Without a doubt, I am a different person from the time I read Love, InshAllah. Curiously, though, I put off reading Salaam, Love for the same reason I put off reading its predecessor. As someone as disconnected from the Muslim community as I am, I thought, wouldn’t this make me lonely? As someone struggling as hard  to find love now as I was two years years ago, wouldn’t this be a reminder of what is lacking?

Just like I was with Love, InshAllah, I was proven wrong. Through these beautiful, intimately-crafted essays, I met Muslim man after Muslim man who shared his experience with love. Mind you, I don’t use “meet” in the metaphorical sense of the word, or even the usual, everyday sense of the word. Rather, I feel like I was let in and given glimpses of the deeply personal, these men at their most vulnerable.

To look at it one way, the fact that these stories were told by men is almost irrelevant. More often than not, I was reading these stories with the sensibility that they were Muslims’ experience of love; gender didn’t matter. On the other hand, there is something original about men telling such stories. I have a considerably rich understanding of Muslim women’s experiences with love, thanks to having read Love InshAllah, Love in a Headscarf, and my day-to-day work at Altmuslimah (including a recent piece in which I discussed how to make the rishta process work for Muslim women). With this personal context, however, I needed to round off my exposure and personal experience by listening to the brothers in the Muslim family.

Hence, in this review, I want to acknowledge and celebrate the kinds of male Muslim-ness I came across in this story. Choosing which stories to focus on was an especially difficult task, but necessary for the purposes of in-depth reflections.

The Men Who are Imperfect:

No one’s perfect: that’s a given. Those of us who open ourselves to love have often failed on small or grand levels. Hence, no collection of this nature would be complete without the inclusion of a story that included a story of a major failure on the part of the storyteller. In this collection, one of those stories would be Maher Reham’s “Just One Kiss.” In a very candid, almost blunt account, Reham recounted the story of his hasty, lust-driven marriage and the confusion and hardship that followed afterwards. His marriage became so rocky that his friendliness and closeness to a co-worker evolved into an full-fledged extramarital affair. The admission of this story may be shocking and disconcerting to some. However, it is important to remember that such occurrences don’t just take place in the Muslim community–oftentimes, the betrayer excuses themselves for their actions. In this story, however, the complexity and depth of the issue is revealed, in which Reham holds himself accountable while making me seriously question the phrase: “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” In a strange way, this magnitude of imperfection becomes beautiful, giving me great appreciation for this story.

In “A Grown-Ass Man,” Alykhan Boolani gives the story behind his once being the “Asshole [from the jamat khana] who didn’t call.” (Which is probably not how he would explain the reason behind writing this story, but for me, that’s what it boils down to.) So Alykhan meets a lovely girl who, like him, also happens to be Ismaili. There don’t appear to be any issues, just the promise of a beautiful romance. However, their local community is, to put it lightly, extremely close-knit, something Alykhan finds, again to put it lightly, suffocating.

Through the very rich and ornate prose in this story, what I managed to make out was this: while the author was walking on air for the time after that first date, something didn’t seem right, and he couldn’t place his finger on what it was. A friend then brings him face-to-face with the fact that she looked like his sister. I am not sure whether this was meant literally, but in any case, it makes it clear to him that he can’t go on with this. In the meantime, thanks to the very “small town” nature of their community, his sister, father, and eventually his mother have found out about his date with this girl. Then, after some time, there is a run-in with the girl after one of the Friday sessions at the jamat khana, and what goes through his mind, by way of explanation, is this:

I can’t deal with the way in which the ‘ism looms so large. . . I want to stand up from prostration and speak directly into the big, scary face of Tradition, and say, Hey, bow toward me a little bit, like I bow toward you! Just give me some room, and I’ll do this my way, and I’ll do it with good heart and a right mind, like you taught me! But is this really a conversation to have with an institution? Or is it really about my mother? As in Ma, I love you, but I’m a grown-ass man and you can’t play a major part in my love life, albeit by utter cosmic accident.

So here is my twofold reaction to this:

It strikes me as odd to think that something like this didn’t work out just because it was too close to home. Seriously? People are fighting to marry their soul mates when they fall outside their sect, race, or religion, even, and you don’t follow up with someone because she is too much like you? 

That said, this story is just one example of the many forces in play in the Muslim love scene. As is the case with many first-second generation immigrant families from the East, now living in the West, there is a serious struggle between the social and the personal, collectivism versus individualism. I can certainly relate to being put off by a suitor simply because they were being shoved so hard in my face–a suitor I would have gotten along with perfectly well had I met him on my own.

The Men Who Are Like Us:

…and by “Us,” I mean women. It can be delusion-ally comforting to think, especially through online discourses in the Muslim community, that male privilege is the reason for women’s struggles with love. While it is important to point out trends that favour men, it can become too easy for such explanations to become a safety blanket. By placing the blame elsewhere, we don’t have to take action, or face the truth of the situation. Truth being: we are all damaged. We are all struggling with love in this crazy, busy world, all the while fending off pressures from the community while trying to heal scars from our past.

Take Yusef Ramlize’s story “Who I Needed to Be.” Having suffered severe abuse and emotional neglect at his father’s hands, he had to find it in himself to forgive his father and “let go of the fear and pain” that had held him back for so long. This account was followed by his journey to love and a blissful union with a woman named Samira. The beginning and ending of the story are major contrasts  It was so heartwrenching in the beginning but ended beautifully, leaving the reader with much hope.

The title Arif Choudhury’s story asks a question many women ask themselves: “How did I end up here?” As an average-looking man of Bangladeshi descent who doesn’t follow a career path prized by parents of Bengali girls, he has been struggling to meet someone, a process that has left him “lonely and demoralized.”

To me, this story illustrates two key points. One: it’s not just Muslim women who have to pay the price for being original and going off the beaten path. Two: one can have the right attitude, pursue whatever paths are available, and have a very basic set of criteria, and yet still be unable to find someone. After reading this story and recalling others like it, I will never make the mistake for thinking that things are somehow “harder” for women.

Arif alluded to loneliness and demoralization; states none of us are strangers to. There was a much more sober take on loneliness in Haroon Moghul’s “Prom InshAllah.” In this piece, Haroon relates the story of a soul-shattering heartbreak he experienced when he was seventeen. His reflection: “My religion says a man should not be alone with a woman. But somebody should have told me a man should not feel so alone that being with a woman is the only way he can feel life is worth living.”

Women, more so than men, are conditioned to believe that their worth is derived from their having a spouse. But that demon of need that Haroon talks about does not discriminate. Only the luckiest men and women are immune to such a mindset. In immigrant families like Haroon’s and mine, alienation from one’s parents only deepens the need for someone to communicate with, someone who already understands your view of the world. When you happen to cross paths with that someone and they can’t stay, the devastation can really take its toll. I could thus completely relate to his taking eons to recover from a short-lived relationship at such a young age.

The Men Of God:

There were some pieces in this collection in which the respective men’s faiths shone especially brightly. The ones I will focus on  were shared in the the third section of the book, entitled “Sabr.” This section contained stories related to health-related crises. Without coincidence, it was here that the depth of the authors’ faiths could be seen. Take Alan Howard’s “The Promise,” his account of meeting, marrying, and caring for a woman who had cancer–until the day she passed on. His experience God-consciousness touched me incredibly deeply:

Through Joan’s ordeal, I learned to accept that there are things that happen in this world that I do not understand and cannot control, but must face with sabr anyway. Joan’s embodiment of Islam taught me how to understand and survive the tests I have been given in life, in order to grow and change and become more beautiful….my wife’s test in this life was cancer; it changed her and made her strong. My test was to take care of her, to never turn away. It was my duty to stand by her, but it was also my love. It was the core of my humanity.

The last story in this section and the collection is Randy Nasson’s “Becoming Family.” This harrowing tale opened my eyes to the trial he and his wife (one of the co-editors of this collection, Ayesha Mattu), went through. This made me ashamed of the assumptive reflections I had made in regard to Ayesha’s story in my review of Love, InshAllah. I’m grateful that the rest of the story was shared by means of her husband’s perspective, showing that “happily ever after” requires a great deal of work, more for some couples than for others.

To drive home why this book is relevant to everyone, we must visit the original question: “Why love?” Romantic love–whatever form it may take–can bestow one unimaginable bliss, while also forcing them to confront their demons and contend with underlying issues in their broader communities. In the case of an enormous, decentralized, and often dehumanized community like the Muslim community, all those “usual” elements of love stories are increased by tenfold.

I am not sure Salaam, Love is as revelatory or groundbreaking as Love, InshAllah was, and that could be a very good sign of how far along this enterprise has come. Yes, there are stories that could make some of a certain slant uncomfortable, but to someone like me, that isn’t news anymore. It is for this reason I took it as a continuation of conversation, rather than its beginning. At the time I read Love, InshAllah, I was bearing witness to my personal stories. I was learning that what happened with me were not anomalies or freakish incidents, but part of my personal growth and journey in faith.

Recently, however, I am becoming especially conscious of the shared struggles with love in the Muslim community, and this book assured me that I am not alone. I’m not the only one who had to overcome a lifetime of conditioning to learn how to love myself. I’m not the only one who is confused by inter-generational conflict. And should something work out for me, sooner or later (InshAllah), I will harbour no illusions about that being an end in itself.

Back.

The last 40 days held the expected and the unexpected.

I’ll admit, the first two weeks felt less like writer’s a vow of silence and more like a vacation. It just felt so good to have one less thing to do. My mind would start composing, but I would stop myself and focus on something else. Yes, there were times I gazed blankly into the distance. But maybe my mind needed those moments to detox. Maybe it’s these blank, dull moments of emptiness that I was craving.

My father recently retired from his permanent position. When it became official, he felt a strange sense of disembodiment at not having to check and respond to emails. In a similar fashion, I suppose, my writerly self felt like a phantom limb. Knowing that I could not write, even if I wanted to, I could only ignore the twitches and move on to reading, to work, to dhikr.

It was towards the end that I truly felt a sense of emptiness and began to long to come back.

I guess the muscle has weakened. As I write this, for example, the words are not flowing as they used to. But that is all right. Better to start from scratch.

In terms of lessons learned and strengths gained:

  • Not everything that can be said needs to be said. This is something I already referred to in my previous two posts, but experiencing the truth of the statement by refraining from writing took it to a new level.
  • If a thought comes to me and I have the urge to express it, I’m better off waiting to see if it recurs a couple of more times before I try developing it in written form.
  • There is so much to listen to, both in person and by reading. One of the seven effective habits is to seek first to understand, then be understood. Now that I look back at this period of silence, I can definitely see a decrease in the number of occasions where I interrupted people with my own take on a situation. So written silence did end up influencing my habits in speaking.

Man, writing that was tiring! But my system has definitely reset itself, and I’m primed for a joyous, creative 2014, InshAllah.

Wishing all of you a wonderful one, with thanks for your continued support!

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.

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.

This lady's intrafaith shop

Warning: dangerous levels of abstraction lie ahead, along with poorly-photographed drawings.  

Recently, I found myself needing to visualize the paths people take when it comes to their faith. So much so, that I took out a pen and paper.

Here is what the path of a single-tracked holy person may look like, whether they are Sufi shaykhs, rabbis, swamis, or shamans:

journey1
Figure I: The “monogamist” model of faith.

If you are a deeply religious person and/or know very devout people, you might have noticed that such individuals’ beliefs are hardly ever static. Their progression through their religious journey isn’t stagnant; they deepen. Muslim alims, for instance, may read the same verses in the Quran in dozens of different ways. Buddhist monks spend their entire lives in deep meditation. The further they go, the greater their realization of how infinite the universe is.

This monogamist path has the potential for union with the Divine through  increasing self-realization by means of a (mostly) established framework. It’s a model that most people are most familiar with and most religious people aspire to.

Now, here is the path of a very different scenario, one in which the traveller journeys through two or more different belief systems. Each point in the constellation represents a state of rest within a mode of faith, a point that, upon a closer look, may constitute some of the inward intensity I showed in Figure I. I see this model as the opposite the monogamist model and call it the polyamorous model of faith.

journey2
Figure II. The “serial monogamist”/”polyamorous” model of faith.

As the traveller goes from one belief system to another, perhaps they ultimately realize that they all lead to the same Truth.

journey3
Figure III. The polyamorous-and-yet-ultimately-monogamist model of faith.

And it is in this that they find bliss, mercy, release, nirvana. In doing this, they start out as “polyamorous” journeyers, but then, in a way, become monogamists in reference to the entire framework. (Aside: It is a possibility like this that puts me in awe of the manifestations tawhid can take. Things appear to exist separately, but are truly One.)

Now that I’ve presented those two models, here is what the visualization of my journey may looked like.

journey-4
Figure IV. What my journey looked like during December 2012.

 When I first started as a devout (and Sunni) Muslim, I started on that inward spiral. Sometimes the path halted, when I found myself looking towards resources (primarily people) to inspire me and provide me fuel to continue. That point in the middle, where the black spiral ends—that is where I felt like I simply could not go any further. I went as far as I could, with my existing framework.

And then, about a year ago, I let go. It was only then that my path continued, in a way I could have never anticipated.

journey4
Figure V. My journey up to a couple of months ago.

It veered to the outside of the centre, but not completely. It deepened and darkened the outline of that centre, and then started tracing lines dow my earlier paths

This continuation, for me, was Shia Islam.

In worldly definitions, it is called a sect of Islam. For me, it was a saving grace that made me reaffirm my deen.

I tell this story much later. I have—for lack of a better way to put it—moved on from Shi’ism. Now my journey has veered away from the center. Like petals of a flower, I reach outward. And then, by force of that centre’s gravity, I get drawn back in.

journey6
Figure VI. Where I stand today.

At heart, I am a spiritual monogamist. (And in case you are wildly curious, I’m a monogamist when it comes to romantic relationships as well.) But to survive in these strange times, I have to have little tastes, explorations, of other beliefs in order to continue on my own.

Here is what I have come to realize:

  • That centre may not have had such a stronghold if it didn’t become strong by a different means. A system that was my own, but not quite.
  • True-blooded intrafaith and interfaith work happen as miracles, sometimes requiring no more than one person and a loving, brilliant God who says, “Okay, let’s throw something else at her.”

This Muharram, I think back to this journey and will share the intrafaith reflections I derived from it (from the Sunni vantage point). I do so out of the deep love and respect I have developed for the Shi’i tradition and the timeliness of this sacred month, a month that we all must observe as a time of sobriety and reflection on where we went wrong as an Ummah.

Perhaps this could be a month to think about our shared humanity not just with all other Muslims, but the rest of humankind. Our journeys in respect to belief may be very different. But if done in earnestness and and open heart, they can be equally glorious. Sharing and learning from each other, and seeing where the paths intersect, open miraculously infinite possibilities in mental models.

That is how I have realized that I have so much to live for. Even if I will never fully belong in any one community of faith.

Note: A big, loving thanks to my closest companion Sara Isis Mikaal for the amazing discussions that lead to this post. Our paths are extremely different, and yet they blissfully intersect, over and over, in ways that only the ultimate Artist can depict.