Ramadan Reflections '13, Day 24: The Real Islam
We've got it all wrong.
As I've been reading the Quran over Ramadan, I've come to the stark realization that we, the Muslim community, are focusing on the wrong things. Our talks and dealings around Islam have been reduced to fear perpetration and making followers feel guilty if they don't follow every single little detail of what they "should" be doing (i.e. in our eyes) related to their practice of Islam.
I've heard too many khutbas (Friday sermons) that are fear-inflicting and not too many that left me feeling good about where I'm at. Lectures that I've attended mention the word hell more than heaven, and provide warnings rather than a gentle push to improve. Fear of Allah is fostered more than the love we should have for Allah. As if the shock and awe method is what will make us better Muslims.
Nowhere in the Quran does it state that a women will go to hell for not wearing the hijab. Nowhere in the Quran does it state that men are punished for not growing a beard as the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) had. Nowhere in the Quran does it state that women and men need to be divided by a physical barrier in the mosque or that they need to enter from different doors. So what has led us here?
If anything (from what I've read thus far), the Quran focuses on following the word of Allah as laid out in this holy book, believing in Allah as our Creator and Sustainer, doing good deeds, and repenting when one has wronged. Islam, as laid out in the Quran, is a beautiful and simple way of life. For every warning that is giving for transgressing Allah's word, there's reassurance about repenting and Allah's abundance of forgiveness. The smallest of good deeds are rewarded and there are a million ways to earn Allah's happiness and praise...so why are we so reductionist in our approach and focused on fear-infliction?
Our community has also created subdivisions within itself. Newcomers or those who don't abide by the majority way of doing things are given weary stares. If you don't follow the crowd, you're automatically dubbed as being a "Muslim on the fringe" and relegated to some "other" group. In our community, physical appearance is equated to piousness, as if a sacred relationship between a Muslim and Allah can be dubbed by the clothing they wear. Women are treated as second class citizens and given side doors to enter mosques and less than optimal prayer spaces. Women aren't given an equal space to participate in our community at a decision-making level when really, women have done a lot for this community and continue to do so, yet unnoticed. And the good men with good intentions to work for their community are shut down by the bullies. Our mosques aren't readily and consistently open to the general public unless they are given due notice. We should all be opening our doors to non-Muslims during the month of Ramadan (and beyond) and allowing them to experience what we love about our faith. Yet we don't hear this message too often.
Islam is a beautiful religion, but we're not doing it any justice. How many people can say that their love for Islam has grown from participating in our community? My love for Islam has grown from delving deeper into its teachings and from simply reading the Quran. It's grown by meeting incredible (but specific!) people from all walks of life since they exemplify the teachings of Islam and humanism that are simple and universal. But it hasn't grown from my dealings with the larger community and this is unfortunate.
With many things in life, it's very easy to become focused on the day to day smaller things and to lose focus of the bigger picture. The bigger picture is Islam from the words of the Quran, the one pure and unchanged source of knowledge Muslims can refer to for guidance. How can you not be in awe when you read its words and realize that what you're reading is what was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) from Allah himself? Once you become absorbed in Islam from this perspective, nothing else trivial or reductionistic around you should matter. There is simply no justice in treating Islam this way.
So let's stop waiting for people to make mistakes so that we can correct them. Let's stop trying to get women to be quiet during Taraweeh transitions after 8-rakats of prayer. Instead, let's be happy that we have this problem of "transition chatting" due to the sheer number of those attending prayer during this month. Let's stop passing judgment on those don't fit the mould of the abaya or sporting a beard. Let's stop reducing women to the housewife and "sisters affairs" role when we are capable and want to do much more. Let's not reduce our faith to this and let's not sweat the small stuff. This is not Islam.
Instead, let's turn back to what Islam really is which is a simple and beautiful religion whereby our Creator is loving and forgiving, and each of us are on our own journey to being the best Muslim we can be. If we all forgot about the reductionistic approach and focused on supporting one another instead, our community and spirits would be in a much better place.
And Allah knows best.