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Originally intended to be posted in the start of Ramadan, this post has taken an unusually long time. The first draft was cathartic, yet it took longer to go into depth and dig deeper. I am left in a position where I unapologetically want to share my truth – a truth that may, with Allah’s will, resonate with another person in Islam or in humanity, and help them feel okay good about the spiritual state where they finds themselves.
My choice to write a personal piece comes from the fact that at this moment in time, I don’t have the capacity to write a conventional post about Ramadan detailing iftars, and visits to the mosque. Ultimately my energy is devoted to trying to assess what is my Islam.
The night before the first day of Ramadan, I was overcome with a wave of spiritual emotion. In the midst of being a nomad between places, and trying to find an apartment after months of what seems like floating in an abyss, stress had become a constant reality. In comparison to my Ramadan last year, which resulted in a spiritual high that I’ve been chasing after ever since, I had been feeling spiritually disconnected for months, yet I recently began to feel a renewed need to connect with my faith, as Allah is what grounds me, connects me to my inner potential. As I grapple with spiritual possibilities, and come to acceptance of areas of my being that I previously disliked, my fear of Ramadan doesn’t come from fear of displeasing the Most High, our Creator, Allah; it comes from the unsettling conclusion that my observance of Ramadan this year wasn’t going to be conventional.
My focus this month wasn’t attaining spiritual growth from fasting, or restraining my desires and wants. Instead, it was through indulging with wise intent; an intent to learn more about my spirit that I wasn’t aware of before. My intentions were not a means of spitting in the face of my Creator, in fact, it was a means of gaining more insight and wisdom about the Light that They* instilled inside me.
I have tried to make a point to listen to my soul and not get caught up too much in trying to be “perfect,” while attempting to avoid being distracted by unnecessary things in life. Right now I am undergoing the process of (re)discovering my sexuality and developing a strong sense of how I want to engage as a sexual being, and most importantly as a black woman, a woman of colour – a woman that can harness the erotic as a means of personal power and determination. Sexuality and sensuality, I believe, are powerful tools and gifts given to us by Allah, and I’m taking the road to explore it. These identities (as a black/woman of colour) are carried with me as points of political location and inform my writing and activism, which work to create my perspective on many aspects in life (spiritual, social, cultural and mental) both inside the Muslim community and the society at large. I am recognizing the strong need to pull strength from the blood that courses through my veins, as a black woman, and as a woman from one of many communities that has been and continue to be colonized, regulated and controlled by the capitalist forces that attempt to kill our creativity and souls.
My (re)discovery process is occurring alongside a backdrop of understanding the role of women in Islam, fueled by my frustrations with the strand of Islamic scholarship that avoids the discussion of female sexuality and the power that a woman holds as an agent, an equal in the sight of Allah and an equal in responsibilities and worship. The works of such writers as female scholar Amina Wadud, or AQSAzine, the zine created by women and trans-identified Muslims, are proving to be an integral resource when trying to reconcile the various parts of me, as a woman, and also as a human, within the realms and frameworks of our deen (faith).
As a person who is among many who envisions a society where “there is no shyness in matters of religion” (Bukhari), as the Prophet asserted, a hadith often quoted when discussing sexuality in Islam, I believe we need to unzip our lips. We need to speak and feel freely, along with recognizing that interpretations of the Holy Quran and hadiths (traditions and sayings of the Prophet) have often downplayed issues of female sexuality, pushing the line about how men supposedly are the only ones possessing overt, open sexual desires. This is hurting our sisters, our mothers and our daughters. There should be no shame or contradiction in claiming our sexuality with confidence and within our own ideas of modesty.
Further, I’m making the conscious choice to engage in healthy self-love, a love for myself that is deeply embedded in being comfortable in my own skin and flesh, and seeing myself as an intelligent creature who is ready to use the gifts of Allah for a greater purpose. My seeking for self-love is strongly attached to the exploration of my sexuality, in that I’m coming to terms with my physical and biological identity as a black woman. And so I recently decided to return to natural hair, a process that for some black women leads to a radical shift in how we see ourselves and the unreal expectations society places on our bodies. I believe that more than any other race, that the most unique connection to hair is felt by black people, and more specifically by black women. What we choose to do with our hair is a political statement, whether we are conscious of it or not. A black woman’s journey with her hair is a life-long commitment, one that is doused with love, hate, shame and pride. In doing this, I removed the hijab, a decision that was riddled with fears of how the Muslim community would judge my relationship with Allah, especially as a revert, and how society would accept the tight curls that have through time, been considered unsightly, inferior to silk-like hair. This Ramadan, I worked towards overcoming the need to succumb to the pressures of society to mask my natural and beautiful blackness. Mind you, the denigration of black skin is not just an issue in North American society, but is entrenched in many systems and societies, even within Muslim communities, in the forms of skin-ligthening creams (in black and other communities of colour), the favouring of white converts, as well as shadism – and the list goes on.
I strongly feel that asserting sexuality and engaging in self-love are two things that are in themselves spiritual processes: processes that provide depth in connection to self and to the Most High. I strongly feel that Allah wants me to follow my intuition, which is yet to fail me. They* want me to find solace in my skin, to be in touch with my individual, unique essence. I believe They want you to as well.
With that said, the traditional notions of how Ramadan is supposed to be observed by a Muslimah aren’t necessary in line with my need to come to terms with myself, my voice, my skin and my body, all things blessed and given by the Beloved – well, at least how I’ve decided to go about it.
I’m a person of extremes. One of the most pressing questions I’m trying to answer is: how can I love Allah without either falling into the rigidity and zeal that ultimately leads to denying essential parts of my being, or losing sight of the importance of communicating to the Most High? After years of convincing myself that when I “strayed,” I was evoking Allah’s displeasure, which at times led to guilt and shame, I have come to a space, where I strongly feel that Allah won’t condemn me. It is counterintuitive to indulge in shame, a prescription that our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) wouldn’t recommend, at least not in the way that we feel ashamed in this era. I believe that Allah would want me, and all others, to grow into loving who they are, and who they are made to be.
For me to express myself publicly in a forum such as this, I’m placing myself in a position of vulnerability. I know I’m going to potentially open myself up to the judgmental gaze of a few, and perhaps many, but this is my truth and quite possibly, it may be the truth to someone else who the Most High may have guided to this here site. Or perhaps to my future daughters, who may be compelled to know their mother. Whatever it may be, I want others who empathetically care and can relate, to know that all things that are placed in our lives, come from the Creator.
Alhamdulilah. Even though my Ramadan will be unconventional, I feel an element of tranquility in that Allah knows my intent. And so my duty and obligation during this month of spirituality was to tap back into the essence given to me by the Most High.
* I’ve made the recent decision to refer to Allah with the gender-neutral pronoun “They” instead of “He” or “She.” Since Allah transcends gender, I’m attempting to use the words and devices available to me through the English language to recognize this.
For more on Ramadan, and to read the rest of the posts in MMW’s Ramadan 2012 series, click here.