Tuesday, July 7, 2015

An Honest Post

Normally my Ramadan posts involve a lot of complaining about supermarkets, and gushing about spirituality.

This Ramadan is a bit different for two reasons.

Reason One: I meal-plan very carefully in order to ensure that I venture out for food once a week early on a Friday morning before the food-crazy crowds make it to Lulu. Trust me, it works. I plan the meals down to the very last cup of coffee.

Reason Two: The word Islam is depressing me. Don't misunderstand me. I love my faith, but the filthy horrible inhuman behavior of those whose name happens to be the Islamic State almost puts me off the word 'Islam'. I know it's not a positive thing. I'll find my way back, but for the moment let me share with you some minor rants.

The moderate, the peaceful, and the liberal Muslims out there all cry out 'but the Islamic state doesn’t represent Muslims!!". Oh but it does! It may not represent the faith that we believe in, but it represents a large majority of Muslims who have made a huge effort over centuries and centuries to misinterpret and screw up the message of this religion for purely political or otherwise greedy purposes.  They do not represent us. But their teachings have reached us and in many ways continue to govern our lives. Don't turn a blind eye to this. And don't act helpless. Start asking yourself difficult questions.

I'll give you an example. A couple of years ago I was invited into a WhatsApp group by a relative of mine whose purpose was to 'educate' women about Islam. Naturally, men in our societies still think women need to be taught about religion. So, I joined the WhatsApp group out of curiosity to see what they were up to and how this man intended to 'educate' women. The group consisted of 50 women, mostly housewives. After a year in the group I learned that the purpose of the group was to brainwash women. It was to spread the teachings of extremist Saudi scholars. It was to remind women that their place in the world is behind closed doors. It was to teach women that God will love them if their hands are gloved, if their faces are covered, and if they never met or spoke to strange men. The group spent hours discussing how corrupt and blasphemous normal people (like me) were. They spent hours discussing how God would punish women who drove, women who worked and interacted with men. They thrived on these conversations. Of course, I remained anonymous in the group as did everyone else. I knew none of these women.

After a year, I couldn't take it any more. I removed myself quietly and resumed my normal corrupt life (as they put it).

But you see… these women supported ISIS. Everything they were taught in this group supported extremism. These ignorant uneducated women were being groomed. They were being taught that the purest version of Islam is the extreme version. This dangerous school of thought (originating in Saudi) is what causes people to join organizations like ISIS (whether developed by western conspiracies, or locally groomed in the Arab world).  ISIS and mainstream Muslims share the same mindset to some extent and similar attitudes. This is reality.

These types of extremist schools of thought are messing up any chance we have as Muslims of promoting peace.

When you cry out 'They do not represent me!', think again. Anyone who goes around beheading people and blowing up people's lives in the name of any religion is damn well representing that religion whether you want to admit it or not. They are damn well representing the fact that something is screwed up in some of our teachings.

What are we doing wrong?  Where did we go wrong? And what can we do to collectively turn things around? I was asking myself these questions at Suhoor this morning. A little heavy for  4 AM but what can you say? 

I was listening to an interesting program on Oman FM this afternoon on living a 'life of worship'. I didn't listen to the whole thing, but it got me thinking about other things… about Ramadan. About what I perceive as hypocrisy while others perceive as piousness.

In my community, regardless of whether you do it or not, there is always an expectation that you will suddenly become a deeply pious hermit in Ramadan. It is expected that you'll go around holding prayer beads, pray all your prayers at the mosque, and spend hours on Taraweeh and Qiyam Al Layl (both forms of prayer and worship). It is expected that you will read the Quran cover to cover once if not twice.

In reality, I'd say a large number of people here would like to think they're doing all that, but in fact they're spending a third of Ramadan in bed, a third in the kitchen, and a third watching scandalous MBC soap operas.

In all cases, it is not what Ramadan should be. Not to me at least. This Ramadan I'm not tolerating any of the Holier than Thou drama. This Ramadan I'm focusing on something different. How can I be a better human? Will spending three hours at the mosque every night help humanity? Probably not. Should I be out instead actively trying to make a difference? Yes I should. With every step I take (in work and in my personal life), I am trying to ask myself "How can I be kinder?". With every phone call, message, meeting, conversation, email, and word I utter I ask myself 'How can I be kinder? How can I help this person? Let me put myself in their shoes. How can I go the extra mile for this person today?  It's hard, trust me. It requires one to slow down and be more conscious, more aware. Does God need me to spend all day praying? Doubtful. How am I helping others this way? Surely we can start comprehending the fact that worship is not restricted to prayer and reading the Quran. Worship is action.

This Ramadan, I am setting aside religious traditions. This Ramadan I choose to be kinder, I choose to be conscious, I choose to read about common human values (Karen Armstrong anyone?), this Ramadan I am focusing on bettering myself as a human, not according to others' expectations, but according to my internal moral compass. I refuse to feel guilty. This Ramadan is about family, about the bigger picture, about empathy, awareness, strength, freedom, charity, and peace. This Ramadan my religion is humanity.

So there. 


  1. Good for you... and tarweeah as a group activity wasn't a sunnah anyways, but a thing people did on their own, because God/Allah was that important to them... and because they spent ALL the rest of the year doing what you describe already...

    ISIS makes me so angry... While I understand veiling, I don't understand the extremism behind it all, leaving examples of men and women who worked together, spoke together, studied religion together. It wasn't a "closed grouP' where one man dictated everything in the Prophet's lifetime, and it should never be that... although, I guess you are right....

    These people are trying to represent Islam. But they don't represent me or the original Muslims or anybody who cares about how the early Muslims lived... It is just... so heartbreaking. How to fight it? Beyond internally, within ourselves, I don't know. When I speak to others involved in extremist ISIS style veiw points... if I come p with history or hadeeth as valid as their own and beyond theirs in evidence... they block me, or remove me from groups or talking to me.... Sadly.

  2. I feel the exact same way! I've been so confused about Islam and religion in general since this ISIS stuff started getting out of control. I'm stuck between "Islam is what you make it" or "Islam is inherently violent". I just don't know anymore.

  3. Thanks for the comments! I've been reading about the history of Islam at the time of the Prophet (PBUH) in Mecca and after the Hijrah. Life was so different. His focus was on building a community (ummah) where poor, rich, black, white, are equal. His focus was on social justice and compassion. When did it become all about politics, obsessive gender-segregation, obsession with haram-halal, and bloodshed?

  4. I really appreciate your honesty on this post. I have so many dear Muslim friends, and many aspects of Islam are very appealing to me, but I have seen too many be led in this direction as well. I can see how it leads you to practice on your own little island. On the other hand, the Muslim world needs more like you to have enough bravery to speak out against that Saudi pushed Salafist agenda that's affecting so many communities. Ramadan Kareem to you Nadia!

    1. Stacy
      I totally get what you are saying. I lived a long time in the Gulf and in Oman and even after I left I felt in my heart "I was Muslim" but so many recent terrible events have pushed me so far away from it.
      Until the religion returns to its original beauty I am finding difficulty in finding any appeal and that hurts.
      Salafists and their ilk around the world have done insurmountable damage to what is a beautiful faith.
      Ramadan Kareem.

  5. What a great post and so well said.

  6. Um, yes Karen Armstrong <3. Love your blog makes it a little less lonely out here in the mid east. I'm next door, UAE, American.

  7. Hello
    I loved this post. It has been months and months since I have read any of your stuff. I am so glad I came back today and read this one post.
    Well said what you write here.
    Ramadan Kareem...

  8. Thanks for daring to share what many of us want to "say" and can't find courage to "express" in words!

  9. Slow clap. Fucking brilliant Nadia, Couldn't have said it better myself.

  10. After long time I visited ur blog. Since u were irregular, I too was irregular.
    Fantastic Nadia! Bravo! On right direction, exploring self first. Realizing that inner awakening is the answer to peaceful life which could serve the world. In this world, everyone has to live. Live let live - is the mantra every one has to follow.
    ISIS is unfortunately agonizing and unbearable.
    Slaughterers, hidden agenda, politics...where are we? Are we not human beings? Are we surviving alone without any one's help. Faceless people out there had given me the cloth, prepared food, given me the knowledge, gave me medicines, point out anything, everywhere we are helped by the others.
    We cant live on our own. We are social animals.
    Though we throw money and buy things whatever we want.
    but no, we fail to understand that all are helping us. So let us be kinder to the dispenser at gas station, the grocery store boys, servers in the hotels, the tailor who has delayed a bit.. the poor teacher, the packer at hyper counters.... God bless all to have a kinder heart. Belated Best wishes of Ramdan - Netizen