Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Musings on Ramadan, Faith, and Being Human

Every year I get so excited for Ramadan. I start talking about it months in advance. This year, I even bought lights to decorate - including the oh-so-shocking (to the pearl-clutching crowd of Islamophobic evangelicals) moon-and-star tree topper that Walmart sold over Christmas, which I put in the window. I have a nice cloth calendar to count down the days of Ramadan to Eid al Fitr. I even made a "Happy Ramadan" banner in an effort to create that holiday feeling that everyone here tends to enjoy around Christmas. I got a journal to write in during Ramadan and signed up for a Productive Muslim Ramadan course online.

And yet... I wake each day, dreading the fast. I hate the feeling of weakness, of exhaustion, from not eating and the pain of headaches from dehydration. I hate that even sweeping the floor is too monumental a task for me when I'm fasting. Doing nothing (when not in school or work) makes the time go by SO slowly during the day, but I have no energy to do more. I get mad and frustrated that I'm not supposed to drink or eat anything (although not being able to drink a nice cold beverage is definitely worse in my book, especially considering the "over 100 with heat index" wave we've been going through and will keep going through for another week or so). I hate feeling so useless. I have no motivation to read Qur'an or do that web course I spent $100 on. I don't even believe in the whole "women can't fast when Aunt Flo is in town visiting" thing (because it's not in Qur'an, so don't even try to twist Qur'an to fit that misogynistic interpretation, mkay?), but I will break fast just to get a break from fasting (and because cramps can be agonizingly painful for a day or two and without meds, I'm a miserable lump on the sofa).

I go through the fasting day trying so hard to ignore it, trying to cultivate this sense of productivity and enhanced spirituality that pretty much everyone else claims to experience, and nothing happens. It's not there. Is it me? Am I not doing enough? Okay, given how I basically turn into a lump on the couch in Ramadan, that's probably a big part of it. But even when I try... it feels like I'm forcing something that just isn't there. Like I'm whistling into the wind, you know? Not that my belief is lacking. I believe in Allah, in Islam, 100%. I just can't seem to make this connection that everyone else claims to do.

It's really frustrating. It makes me wonder if I'm a hypocrite. I mean, if I'm a "good Muslim/real Muslim", then I'd feel some sort of fulfillment in Ramadan, right? I'd feel some extra special connection that makes my heart and spirit sing and reaffirm what I believe to be right. Why is standing up for prayer so hard? Why do I miss more prayers, even in Ramadan, than I've ever actually made? How is it that the promise of Allah's pleasure with me not enough to motivate me to overcome fatigue or sheer laziness? Why does my nafs trump my desire to please Allah, even in what is considered to be the most sacred month?

Sometimes it feels like the only thing Muslim about me is the scarf on my head. :(

Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review: "Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace" by Patricia and Alana Raybon

I mentioned this book last week. Well, I got an advance copy for free (yay!), so I spent the last few days reading it.

For the official stuff: I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

And now... on to the review!

I was really really excited about this book when I first heard about it. "Finally!" I thought. "A real book about a Christian mom and her Muslim convert daughter and how they got past the hurdles of interfaith issues." It is so relevant to me (being the Muslim convert in a family of Christians) and I thought it might have some good tips or show how Patricia was able to resolve her struggles with her daughter choosing another faith.

I was wrong. What I found in this book was frustration. I was frustrated at Patricia's rambling, nonsensical way of writing. She jumped from topic to unrelated topic. Maybe I'm just not accustomed to evangelical histrionics, but it seemed like a lot of the drama getting in the way of their relationship (at least in the last few years) actually came from Patricia, not Alana.

Allow me to give a few examples:

Patricia refers to her daughter as a Christian (rather than a Muslim) throughout the book - as if "Muslim" is "just a phase". She constantly invalidates her daughter's spiritual path by mocking it as a "copy", a "knockoff" of Christianity.

She also says multiple times that her daughter "no longer believes", a notion that Alana soundly rejects, stating that she "believe(s) stronger than I ever have in my life. I struggle with the frustration of conveying to her that my walk in Islam has filled my heart with so much faith and love that I no longer feel the empty void that I once felt. Then after she hears this, I wish she could be content and happy for me, that I found a love like no other. A love for God."

Patricia describes Islam as her daughter's "defiant choice of faith" (this is a verbatim quote) - as if Alana went to Islam to spite her mother, rather than because she found spiritual fulfillment there.

She also consistently links Muslims and Islam with insanity and violence. Example: she says "Muslims get crazy" when Christians say anything about the Qur'an, after stating that the Qur'an doesn't resonate with her (as if that alone is enough to set off a firestorm in response) - although she and her husband also "got crazy" when the veracity of the Bible was questioned.

Patricia talks about her fears that her daughter

"if...granted a reason and platform to defend her chosen religion, she'll use it as ammunition, to put down her family's faith. Even more, I feared she'd do a good job. That she'd make Islam look good - while I'd fail to life high the Cross. That pressure I feel - to make Jesus and his good deeds and perfect life and extraordinary sacrifice look phenomenal and far better than Islam - weighs me down the most."

Ironically, it's Patricia who uses her faith like ammunition, who puts down her daughter's faith. If she is so concerned about making Christianity "look good", then why doesn't she trust God to do the job? Why does she make it her own personal job?

Patricia intends to fix the relationship with her daughter - the end goal of that repair being to get her daughter back in Christianity. She dismisses the notion that belief in Islam can be just as deep and satisfying for Alana as she finds in Christianity.

In short: Patricia makes Alana's conversion all about herself, rather than about Alana. She takes it personally. She keeps wondering "what did I do wrong?" and moaning and gnashing her teeth and crying, rather than realizing that Alana choosing Islam had NOTHING to do with Patricia in any way.

Alana's parts of the book, however, didn't ramble all over the place. She actually addressed the issues at hand in a fairly straight forward manner - why she became a Muslim, what she sees in Islam to this day, her frustrations that her mother refuses to accept that she does, in fact, believe in God - she simply doesn't called Him by the name of "Jesus". Her worries that her mother will try to teach her kids Christianity, after Patricia states that she wants her grandchildren "to know Christ" (although I will give Patricia props when she actually attempts to respect her daughter's wishes and not teach things that are contrary to Islam). The way she feels like she has to walk on eggshells around her mother, like she can't be "too Muslim" around her family. I'd love to quote whole pages of Alana's words - she's open and honest, but without the drama her mother brings.

In many cases, as I read Alana's sections, I felt like I was reading dialogue from my own head. Things I've thought, felt, and said. We have many of the same frustrations in dealing with our Christian families (even when those families are, in many cases, nominal in their practice of Christianity, they rarely waste time jumping up on the soapbox to preach to us of how "wrong" we are).

In the end, I wasn't convinced that there was any peace, any sort of resolution in their relationship. Patricia has decided to hold her tongue (for now), to grin and bear it, but that's far from peace or acceptance and her thinking about Islam hasn't changed even a bit.

This book was an exercise in frustration. If I'd read it in hardcopy, I would likely have thrown the book at the wall. I was going to give a copy of this to my mom, but now that I've read it, I may go with "Daughters of Another Path" (written by a Christian mother after her daughter converted) instead. I wish Alana would have written this book on her own - it would have turned out much better.

Still want to read it? "Undivided" releases on April 28. Purchase it at your local Christian bookstore, Books A Million, Barnes and Noble, or at Amazon. Then come back and tell me what you thought of it!

Monday, April 6, 2015

I'm Baaaaaaack... and What I'm Reading

Salam aleikum! After going MIA last summer, I'm back. Sort of. I went back to school, so that (with the assistance of employment) has been consuming my life.

I'm going to try and post more often and actually think of something to say (not that any of you probably even give a hoot, but whatever). There's a book coming out here at the end of the month called "Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace" by Patricia and Alana Raybon. I've read the first seven pages (gracias to The Today Show's link) and really can't wait to read this book. I'm wondering how much it's going to tread the "you're my kid and I love you but I disagree with you and think you're wrong and going to Hell because you aren't Christian" line, largely because it's being published by Christian powerhouse Thomas Nelson (which seems to publish 3 out of 4 titles, fiction and non-fiction alike, in the Christian market). I guess we'll see. I'm gonna get it ASAP and will review it here, inshAllah.

Click here to read a sample

Click on the picture to go to Amazon: