R'11 Day Twenty-Six: "Thou Shall Not Judge"

About a year and a half ago, maybe a little more, I decided to head to the SW Mosque to pray Asr on a Saturday. There were no other sisters praying, except for one, and she was huddled over a Quran, reciting quietly to herself. As I approached her to stand for prayer, I noticed she looked visibly upset, and burying her face in her hands as if she crying, sobbing quietly. I thought I'd allow some time to pass before asking her if she was OK, so I prayed Asr and then sat down beside her and asked if she wanted to talk. Without going into details to protect identity and confidentiality, the sister told me her long story of recently being divorced, and the resulting cold shoulder with which the community has treated her with. She spoke of being socially isolated herself, as well as her children having a hard time with the lack of social support. Overall, it was not a pretty story.

For those of you who know me personally (bless you, by the way, HA!), you'll know that my job entails work solely within the Muslim community. Which I am very blessed for since how often can a Muslim work within their 'hood, so to speak?! Yet what I have come to notice that I did not know before is the rapidness with which gossip, rumours, and judgment calls spread right down the middle of our Ummah.

The example above provides a good starting point to examine this evil phenomenon. Divorces among Muslim couples are skyrocketing, and are actually closing in on  Canadian national averages. Making the decision to separate from one's spouse is challenging enough, let alone the emotional turmoil it causes children if they are involved. Yet there's an added layer that the community contributes which only increases the overall burden. That is, those who KNOW the family and even those who DON'T know them start gossiping and spreading rumours about the wife (husbands are usually left unscathed and embraced by the brotherhood), either about the quality of wife or woman she is, how horrible of a mother she is to her children, the embarrassment she's brought to her family, etc. This happens to a point where I have SEEN and HEARD of women isolated from the community overall because of this circle of judgment. Women who say they have no one to talk with and no other families who will allow their children to play with theirs. Ridiculous.

Working within the Muslim community, I've realized how scathing people's tongues can be. One small thing I mention in passing to a family friend all of a sudden comes back to me when my MOM tells me the same news that I already know about myself. But with an added twist. And then I kick myself and vow never to say anything even remotely personal to anyone in the community. It's as if people don't realize there are boundaries. And because they don't, I've set up firm ones with whom I interact with on a personal level and what I reveal. Less is more.

And there's another observation I've noticed. Families who often appear to be of lower socioeconomic status are more isolated than those who seem to carry around their bank account in everything they do and own. Not only isolated in terms of the number of families they have for support, but you also rarely see families from different socioeconomic status interact with one another. It would do WONDERS for a new immigrant or refugee family to have the support of a stable family, from basic necessities to setting up family members with schooling, employment, and mentorship connections for children and youth. Yet I rarely see cross-socioeconomic status and cross-cultural interactions happening. But I'm not quite sure if there's an elitist mentality among some families in the community about whom they want to be seen with, or if because they have nothing better to do with their time that they insist on making people's personal lives front page news. There's a difference between being friendly and just plain snoopy. And when I hear other women tell me news about MYSELF that I told one other person, it shows that the circle of gossip is very much alive.

Islam is very clear about gossip and backbiting, to the point in which is it likened to eating the dead flesh of another Muslim. That's how wrong it is. And forget about right and wrong for a second, if you can gossip about another person and still feel MORALLY OK with it deep down, then there's something serious wrong.

So to all of the gossipers out there: let's stop the games of "telephone" that are being played, and let's not pry information out of people whom (a) you barely know and (b) don't want to reveal anything to begin with. If there's not enough going on in your own life to keep yourself busy, then perhaps you are blinded to what's going on in the rest of the world. So let's focus our energy where it is needed instead of participating in spiritual cannibalism. 

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