Ode to the Qur’an

Your navy leather skin was among the first that touched mine.

I traced the gold designs with my fingers, round and round,

Round and round, intricately until the teacher banged her hand on my desk because I had stopped repeating after her.

The mind does wander when one pronounces your words over and over.

It becomes like breathing.

Such a beautiful presence in my life, you were. And you are.

The letters that make up your timeless message were forever enchanting my ears when I heard, my eyes when I read.

I sat in silence, sometimes rhythmically swayed—by accident—and sometimes rocked, back and forth as I recited your stories

Like incantations on my lips.

It was fun to read; like a song you sounded—but no, a song you weren’t.

Passages like poetry that no human could ever write, the twists of your words forever imprinted

In the deepest chasms of my heart.

Sometimes my eyes would close and I’d remember you. In my half-sleep, I’d murmur

Your secrets so that you’d become a part of my dreams.

I held on to you; put your miniature cousin in my school bag,

Your gigantic one on my bookshelf.

You kept climbing the bookshelf,

Higher than I ever intended.

Now you’re a little out of reach. How you managed to achieve that great distance is a mystery.

The flipping of your pages makes a distinct sound—I want to be able to flip them slowly, without

Haste in knowing what you will have to say next.

I want to be able to know without looking at print what messages you want to deliver to me; from my heart

To my mind.

From my mind to my heart.

I long to preserve you forever in the core of my being—not just one part, not two, not three, but all of you.

I wish I could get over myself.

I wish I could control my emotions enough to stop hurting those I love the most. But I can’t. Because I’m irrational. After all the efforts I make, I ruin them in an instant. I spend so much time fighting against the forces that try to destroy my sand wall only to take the bucket of water and dump it myself.

I am imprisoned by my freedom, hindered by my obstacles. I can free myself but I don’t have the courage to. And it’s so much easier to hurt those who hurt me.

But I don’t want to hurt them.

Diversity

There was a time when I couldn’t differentiate between people of different Arab countries, i.e. I couldn’t tell just by looking at someone whether he or she was Saudi, Palestinian, Syrian, Egyptian, etc. I also couldn’t tell the difference between Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc. Now I can.

I thank the diversity of the people around me for this gradual (but new found) knowledge that makes me more in tune with my fellow human beings.

Now my goal is to also learn how to identify people from various countries in Africa, some remaining ones in Asia and in South America.

Allah says in Surah Al-Hujurat: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another…” (49:13)

Let the knowing begin!

The Gaze and the Cover

There is a deeply embedded and intricately weaved rhetoric about gender roles in Islam, especially as they relate to men and women’s rules of social interaction.

Surah An-Nur was revealed with many of these rules:

“The [unmarried] woman or [unmarried] man found guilty of sexual intercourse – lash each one of them with a hundred lashes…” (24:2)

Many scholars of the past have interpreted this ayah and have derived an understanding that in our society would probably be considered “sexist” or “misogynist” and that is this: Allah mentioned the female fornicator (in Arabic: “az-zaaniyah”) in this ayah first because females are attractive and carry the power to either entice a man with their charms and lead him into fornication or to help control his gaze by covering up, as is later instructed in the surah.

Hold that thought. And let’s move on to the ayah of lowering the gaze.

“Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them…” (24:30)

About this ayah we always hear from females (or from feminists) that Allah has told men to lower their gazes first because they have a harder time controlling their gazes. And many misinformed people like to add that a woman’s hijab has nothing to do with gaze, and that men are solely responsible for their actions, regardless of a woman’s hijab. 

Hold that thought, too. Let’s move on to the ayah of hijab.

“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment…” (24:31)

Here, Allah tells the women to also lower their gazes because afterall, men and women get attracted to each other by looking at one another. But Allah knows that He has made one of His creatures attractive (women) and one weak, or should I say passionate (men)? So He ordered the women to wear hijab. And this protects them from ogling men (at least to a certain degree) because some men will ogle no matter what.

Now, my point here:

Allah is trying to tell us (from the first ayah and the third ayah’s interpretation-quoted above) that a woman does have in her power whether to entice a man or to keep him at bay. This is achieved by her hijab first and foremost and then by her manner of speech and behavior in interacting with men. It is as if Allah is saying to the Muslim women: “I have created you as attractive so cover yourselves up for your own protection, and save yourselves from sin by guiding others to sin.”

Then, it’s as if Allah is telling the men: “You have been created weak. You have certain desires which are so strong that you may or may not have control over them. So lower your gaze. Stop the evil before it begins. Respect your sisters; don’t treat them like a piece of meat. But recognize them as believing slaves of Allah who have respect.”

One Sided Rhetoric:

People love to quote the story in which the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) saw a young companion looking at a woman who was not properly covered and they say: “Look, the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) didn’t tell the woman to cover; he told his companion to look away!”

And I say fine, okay, but why ignore this story then?

Umm Salamah (May Allah be pleased with her) said:

I was with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) along with Maimunah (May Allah be pleased with her) when Ibn Umm Maktum (May Allah be pleased with him) (who was blind) came to visit him. (This incident took place after the order of Hijab).The Prophet (ﷺ) told us to hide ourselves from him (i.e., observe Hijab). We said: “O Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), he is blind and is unable to see us, nor does he know us.” He replied; “Are you also blind and unable to see him?”

[Abu Dawud and At- Tirmidhi].

So when talking about men, women and hijab, let’s try to be fair in our approach. Let’s remember that Allah reveals His Laws not from a patriarchal nor from a feminist perspective. He is Al-‘Alim (All Knowing) and Al-Hakeem (All Wise).

So let’s put our trust in Him.

Many of the lifestyles that people want to live are made impossible because of the need for money.

I’m not at all talking about the “better lifestyle” that is achieved through a higher salary. I am talking about our collective enslavement to a society that values only money. If there is a reason that we cannot leave work and just go live on a farm or in some remote (poor but peaceful) village is because life is harder over there. The way we have grown up in first-world countries has made us believe that we cannot survive without money, that simple living is difficult and hence, something to be feared. That a modest living won’t be enough.

And in some ways, it’s true. The poor cannot afford healthcare. They cannot afford private schools for their children. They cannot go on vacation. They cannot even leave their hometowns sometimes to go see the beautiful world that Allah has created. In the past, travel was physically difficult, yes. But you didn’t need huge sums of money in order to travel. People could hop on their camels, horses or whatever it was and go to different places. We all know how the Sahabah and the Tabi’een traveled the world in search of knowledge and to spread the Deen, and many of them were very poor.

It’s disturbing how much of our life revolves around money. We make money in order to live a “better life”. But we spend the money. So we have to go back and make more. And then we spend our lives making money and forget to live.

I don’t want to do that.

This year, I didn’t look for it. This year, I was busy looking for myself, looking for what I was doing wrong, and why I was doing it. Looking for something that would bring me closer to Him. In the depths of the night, I was clueless. My mind was right this time, my heart was wrong. I made decisions that I regretted immediately and then immediately went back to. I felt lost. It was because I remembered Him but pretended to forget. I pretended to be weak so I became weak. I knew I was deluded so I went further in delusion.

I didn’t go out to feel the air at night—to make sure it was just a little chilly. I didn’t stand on my tiptoes and try to feel the breeze on my face at 12 am. I didn’t straighten out the prayer rug and place my face on the floor. I didn’t keep the water bottle next to me in case I get thirsty after reading some of the blessed book, because the blessed book I didn’t really read. I didn’t slide the purple prayer beads between my fingers, nor the yellow ones, nor the red ones. I lay dead sometimes, sometimes my heart was dead. I was heedless in a strange way that made me consciously heedless. I was a monster sometimes. My heart tried to push open through the deliberate barriers that I had put in my chest. It knocked gently and I heard it. I tried to get it to stop, but then it started thumping. It told me that it wanted me to be human. It told me that it wanted to be Muslim—one who submits, one who gains peace.

I quietly locked it up again before it could get too loud, before its voice could reach deeper into my ears, before it could pierce my soul. But my soul already knew. It had been communicating with my heart outside of my knowledge and they had made a plan. My soul had been stifled for so long that it wasn’t able to speak, but my heart’s voice had given it courage.

And now my soul is telling me something, and I cannot ignore it. Despite the way I treated it, it’s helping me, giving me signals, nudging me, encouraging me.

On this final blessed night, I’m being forced to find it. And I will go out after Fajr to see the ray-less sun making its way back into my life.