Friday, 24 June 2016

On Belonging - Wasi Daniju

This is the sixteenth post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

Credit: Wasi Daniju

“this glib-gabbit, mony-littit tongue            “this slippery, many-coloured tongue
snacks at identity as tho hit wis                 snaps at identity as though it were
a gollach piecie sappit wi                      an insect morsel lathered with
the sweet-n-soor o BELONG”                  the sweet and sour of BELONG”
    Visa Wedding #1                                       Visa Wedding #2

                    Harry Giles

Growing up, I lived between two very different households - one with my parents, in which Islam and Nigerian traditions co-existed; the other with my English foster parents, paid by my parents as full-time nannies in a private fostering arrangement. My foster parents practiced no religion, but were always respectful and affirming of our own.  

I’ve always considered myself a proud South-Londoner - I lived on an estate in Brixton, went to a comprehensive primary school just around the corner from home, and knew Brixton mosque before it existed (my dad was one of the founders).  But I actually spent the majority of my childhood in a small town in Kent where I attended a somewhat different primary school, set in the shadow of the town Castle, and later went on to the girls’ grammar, the only black girl throughout my 7 years in the school.  As I divided my life between these two worlds, I learnt to be the definition of adaptable, a chameleon making the appropriate changes to blend into whichever environment I found myself in - I even spoke with different accents (and eventually different languages) between my two homes.  

When it came to my practice of Islam, earlier life was simple - given that my weeks were spent in Kent, my only interaction with other Muslims was at our local mosque at the weekend, and of course, other Muslim family members.  As such, anything we did at home and in our community was the only Islam I knew, whether that was sitting reading surahs (Qur'an verses) and hadith (words attributed to the Prophet) with my dad after fajr, or going out to parties celebrating births, birthdays and marriage, with all of the reveling that entailed.  It never occurred to me that not all Muslims lived as we did and that there could be different Islams to the one I knew - this was the 90s, so there was no Google, and until I got to Uni, no such thing as the internet at all.

Pre-university, my two homes and two very different environments set me up for what was at times a confusing but fairly proficiently managed double life.  At home in London I attended madrassah, learning Arabic and memorising verses of the Quran. In Kent, I learnt RP, joined my first choir, and was introduced to stand-up comedy.  Travelling between the two locations, I exchanged one personality for another, often longing for some permanence, but generally accepting that was the way things were, and I was simply destined to always be a little in-between.  It often felt as though, no matter how well I seemed to fit into each place, I never really belonged in either. 

I expected university to offer the chance to reconcile what I thought of as my two identities; instead, without the delineation of those two selves by geography, I found they collided within me, and I began a struggle to determine who I really was.  I started to question which parts of my lifestyle fit with being Muslim, and my introduction to the university’s Islamic Society added to my trepidation, convincing me that certain things I did (praying salaat, wearing hijab, not going to the pub) made me a ‘good Muslim’, while others (having male friends, listening to music, being somewhat inclined to profanity) did not make the grade.  Used to a friendship group made up entirely of non-Muslims, and with the judgement that I felt came from the Muslims I was now meeting, I chose to stay away from Muslim spaces at uni.

But of course, it wasn’t quite that clear cut.  At school, my faith had never really played any kind of active role - except perhaps for that time me and a couple of friends skipped assembly and hid in our classroom’s book cupboard; when we were discovered we told the teacher it was because I was fasting, and it was cooler in there... On the whole, my faith was fairly invisible until I got to university, started wearing hijab, and had to contend with all the questions and assumptions that came along with that.  Even well-intentioned friends felt at ease telling me they thought organised religion made no sense - not helpful, as I grappled with making sense of my faith myself.

Wasi's Mum and Foster Mum 

In the years to follow, as I explored Islam more (mainly through meeting more and various Muslims), I discovered many different iterations, and my own practise evolved in fits and starts.  I swung from tradition to (self-described) heresy, back and forth, and sometimes around and around, as I attempted to incorporate different learning and my gradually and relentlessly widening world-view.  And throughout my transformations, there was this constant worry of being judged - a worry that I was not quite Muslim enough for the Muslims I encountered, and far too ‘religious’ for those who didn’t share my faith.  I always felt certain parts of me needed to be kept concealed, different depending on the group I was in.  For the most part, I am now far more self-assured in my self and my beliefs, (supported by so many Muslims - post first year ISOC experience!) and with that my fear of judgement has abated somewhat, though my questioning of my personal faith, and what it actually means, continues.

Throughout my growth and development as a Muslim, my life choices took me to may different places - I completed 4 degrees in 5 different places (including a couple years in Belgium), and moved for work a few times.  In each new city, I was forced to start over, and in searching for some kind of community, I would seek the local mosque and try to become a part of the congregation.  Again and again, though, I found it difficult to find a mosque that I felt comfortable in.  In some cases, it was the usual sisters-as-second-class-citizens feel - I remember once in a mosque the lights being turned off as myself and a few other sisters prayed; not a deliberate sabotage, but there just being no idea there were women there, as we were hidden away behind a curtain.  In other cases, practicality meant I was unable to really integrate into new congregations - I’d have work or class during juma’at, and taraweehs were too late for me to attend.  As such, I spent a number of years experiencing mainly solitary Ramadans, homesick for family suhoors and community iftars and night prayers. 

Once I finally moved back to London, I realised that actually my Islam had moved on from that of my family’s mosque, so that even if I had this potential community to fall back into, in actual fact, it was no longer really one I felt I belonged to. Once again, I found myself unmosqued, with no regular place to attend for worship and community. Things weren’t as lonely as before, though, as I found groups, such as Wisdom in Nature (an ecology group I was part of for a number of years) and Rumi’s Cave (Muslim community centre) where at least I felt my Islam was understood and completely accepted.  I no longer felt like the different parts of my life made me some kind of mongrel or even strange - however I practised, it felt OK in these arenas.  

Early last year, a request from the Inclusive Mosque Initiative (IMI) to come photograph their inclusive juma’at (Friday prayers) led to what felt like some kind of coming home.  The group did exactly what its name suggested - I felt a really active inclusivity, an intentional openness and acceptance that fostered that same feeling in me. The liberation of feeling I could come to this space and be completely myself, with all my various beliefs and behaviour, was massively liberating, and remains so. The only thing still missing is an actual mosque, and the constancy that this could bring.

For now, then, my permanency and the space in which I can be fully myself comes from a few very good Muslim friends, including my siblings. This freer faith is bolstered by infrequent but still heart-strengthening contact with IMI and Rumi’s Cave, and contact with certain Muslim folk on twitter (e.g. Zaynab Shahar and others). I’ve gotten to a place where I feel much more like one self, and am continuing to grow in confidence in my own interpretation of faith. The only thing still missing, though, is a constant community linked to a mosque. After years of being a bit of a loner, more than just a part of a community, I’d like to be part of a congregation.

Wasi with friends

Wasi Daniju is a counsellor and a photographer, and one of those people that sings all the time.  She has a penchant for hanging out in libraries, and bringing disparate groups of people together, normally via the medium of picnics.  You can find her photos on 500px and flickr, and can catch her (mainly retweeting) on Twitter.

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Interfaith Ramadan Vignettes From Around The World

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Interfaith Ramadan Vignettes From Around The World

This is the fifteenth post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

My mother in law, who is Catholic, is so involved with our Ramadan celebration. From buying the best dates to helping read Ramadan stories to kids. She was even excited to see the Ramadan moon. She helped me with a Tree of Good deeds, where we write things the good deeds we did for every day of Ramadan. She has even told the kids to decorate her house for Ramadan/Eid. We will be doing that for Eid. Ramadan is a great time for finding similarities and connections between our religions. She talks about the fasts of Jesus (PBUH) and how being mindful is a Christian belief too. Her acceptance has made Ramadan so much richer. She is a truly amazing human. I love her so much.

Sabina Khan-Ibarra

Yesterday with a group of my friends, we made a meal for the most vulnerable and homeless in our town. The meal was served at the Baptist Church to about 60 people with more meals packed for them to takeaway. Three fasting women and 5 fasting children serving food to non-Muslims. At the end of which my friends turned to me and said "can we do this again?"  A real honour and something that gave us all a sense of unity and friendship. It very much reminded me of Al- Muam "[1-7] Have you seen him who belies the rewards and punishments of the Hereafter? He it is who drives away the orphan and does not urge giving away the food of the poor. Then woe to the praying ones, who are careless of their Prayer, who do good to be seen,and withhold small kindnesses (from the people)".

It was also a privilege today to go and speak to a group of Theology students about my faith. It was very much a "conversation" about me as a Muslim, how I viewed the world, and the impact my faith has on my life. I love these interactive sessions as it gives me the opportunity to allay so many misconceptions and fears people have about Islam and Muslims. But also, because I was talking to Christians, it's just so fantastic to see when people suddenly realise that, hang on, there's really not much between you and me! It renews your faith in humanity and especially in people of other faiths. There was an amusing and very sweet point during the session. After I'd been talking for about 40 minutes (during which time I had spoken  about the fact that I was fasting) I said to the group "right now over to you because I need a rest as my mouth is getting very dry". I suddenly became aware that a lady had jumped up and was heading to the drinks to pour me some water! However I didn't say anything and then realised that I didn't need to because about half a dozen other people were waving their arms at her frantically to remind her I was fasting! A wonderful couple of days sharing and caring with my Christian brothers and sisters!

Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal MBE DL

Personal views personal opinions -

Credit: Sarah Ager

I always enjoy reading the posts on Interfaith Ramadan.  I have gained much insight into the spiritual lives of those of other faiths.  I particularly liked (so far) the one by Vicki Garlock 'Forget about the Fasting. What about the Food?'  It was interesting to see various faiths that had stories about how a little food miraculously fed a great number of people. The point Vicky made was, and I quote, 'Tales such as these – where a common theme echoes off differing historical and cultural frameworks – are the tales that bind. They bind us to our ancestors. They bind us to one another. And they bind us to the Great Mystery.' I was born into a Christian home and grew up to serve God as a Christian church leader.  About 8-9 years ago I stopped attending worship in a Christian building, feeling the need to seek God through other means, looking into the beliefs of other faiths. I still consider myself a Christian but one who doesn't attend or take part in organised gatherings. I have learned to seek and find God through creation (I love my garden and wildlife), through reading things written by people of other faiths and following them on social media.  I feel that the God I serve is bigger than any one expression and encompasses and includes all in His great love. I receive much blessing and encouragement on my spiritual journey through the lives and words of many with differing spiritual practices. We enrich each other's lives in sharing our experiences.  Thank you Vicky for reminding me and thank you Sarah for the work you do through Interfaith Ramadan.

Mavis Andradez previously wrote When Interfaith Ramadan Goes Meta for the 2015 Interfaith Ramadan series and also happens to be Sarah's cousin twice removed. 

This year I have been receiving iftaari (plates of samosas, fruit salad and sweets common in South Asian diaspora) from my neighbours. Before I had a chance to reciprocate, my next door neighbours, lovely Hindu family, also sent over plates with dates, Rooh Afza milky sherbet drinks and samosas. It doesn't surprise me at all because they are like family. But it is heartwarming and exciting to share this joy with them. And it's so nice to get food at your doorstep when you are hangry and tired at 8 p.m.

Shireen Ahmed is a sports activist and a freelance writer who focuses on Muslim women and the intersections of racism and misogyny in sports. When she isn't watching soccer, she drinks coffee as a tool of resistance. She tweets at @_shireenahmed_ and her website is

Credit: Anwar 

I love reading the sign board on my nearby Lutheran church. This year for almost 3 full weeks they kept the sign up "To Our Muslim Neighbors Blessed Ramadan". The sign is now replaced by "Tell someone you love them today". I think I will pay a visit to the church this Sunday to tell them how much I love them for being so progressive in this climate of hate and Islamophobia.


I’ve written before about Fast to Feed, an annual interfaith Ramadan tradition on my campus, and how much it means to me. This year’s was particularly special. It was just a few days after the tragedy in Orlando, and as a queer woman, my heart and soul were especially weary as I walked into the event that night. Fast to Feed, always inspiring, was this year a place of healing. Breaking the fast alongside my Muslim students and guests were more non-Muslims than usually attend. Among them were a Jain alumnus; a female incoming first-year student who identifies as a gay Christian; and even the new priest for the local Catholic church, who was warm and gracious and genuinely happy to be present. Together we remembered and mourned lives lost, raised money for Chicago’s hungry, and formed new friendships. Fast to Feed was a powerful reminder of love and community and best of humanity.

Lynne Marie Meyer serves as the Director of Spiritual Life and Diversity at Illinois Institute of Technology, where she works with IIT’s richly diverse population to make interfaith service a social norm. She previously wrote The Repair Of The World for Interfaith Ramadan and can also be found on Twitter at @Lynne_M_Meyer

Credit: J Robert Eagan

This year I decided to create a Ramadan Conversations series on my podcast (linked below).  The goal was to hear from my Muslim friends around the U.S. about the what and why of Ramadan for them.  Through these conversations, I learned that each of them find Ramadan to be an intensely spiritual time of connection with God, which ran counter to what I experienced when I lived in the Middle East.  I was inspired to create rhythms in my own life to slow down and make space to listen to, and search for, the voice of God. 

J Robert Eagan is the author of Of Strangers & Enemies and the co-founder of SE7EN FAST, a hub for connecting non-Muslims with interfaith Iftars during Ramadan. Eagan can be found on twitter at @Se7enFast, on both and, as well as on the podcast

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Dear Christmas, Meet Ramadan and Eid - Kristin Garrity Şekerci

These reflections on family, identity and holiday traditions by Kristin Garrity Şekerci are part of the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

credit: withaspin 

I was recently asked what my favorite holiday was. My kneejerk reaction?


Wait. I mean…Eid?

I have been celebrating Christmas my entire life, but Eid, and its lead up – Ramadan – for only the past few years. Don’t get me wrong, Eid is an incredibly important holiday to me, but it still does not hold a fanoos, I mean candle (just kidding), to Christmas. At least, not yet.

The question came at a poignant time. It was almost Ramadan, so that meant I was trying my best to get into the spirit. I was hanging up lights in my home, scouring Amazon for “Islamic” cookie cutters and Eid Advent calendars and considering sending out, for the first time, Eid holiday greeting cards to friends and family. And, of course, making sure our home was well-stocked with the latest Ramadan and Eid children’s books. Thanks, Curious George (and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt!!).

I was reminded again of that question when I stepped into a neighborhood church for Taraweeh prayer, the special night prayer that takes place during Ramadan. Yes, I said church. And, no, it wasn’t a Freudian slip. When I first stepped inside that marble-chilled church, I was immediately met with a lingering fragrance of incense and happy Sunday mornings. To hear Qur’anic recitation reverberate throughout its walls was powerfully evocative. A convergence.

As the years go by, Muslim reverts/converts are finding their footing and shaping their own traditions for Ramadan and Eid. These newfound holidays and holy days are growing on us. But maybe they will never hold the same place in our hearts as Christmas. Because Christmas, just like Ramadan and Eid, are really all about celebrating in community. With family, friends and loved ones. 

Sadly, many American Muslims do not have loved ones to celebrate with. More often than not, reverts/converts are met with soured or tense relationships with family members after deciding to join the faith. Navigating these new and old traditions, therefore, can become a delicate, tricky balance. We try our best to firmly root our new holidays and traditions, while still respecting and loving the traditions we’ve celebrated our entire lives. Traditions that are inherently tied to familial bonds. 

To say that today’s toxically saturated climate of Islamophobia exacerbates this fragile footing is an understatement. For many American Muslims, navigating these traditions – and the identities and relationships that are bound within – is an isolating (and even psychologically damaging) experience. Dangerously irresponsible and hate-inciting rhetoric by some of today’s leading figures is ripping families apart. Believe me, you don’t need a ban on Muslims to destroy families. Islamophobic rhetoric is already doing that.

But, in the spirit of Ramadan, I don’t want to end on a bad note. Personally, I can’t wait until Christmas and Ramadan/Eid sync up. We’ve got a ways to go – 15 some years – but what a convergence it will be! I hope and pray that, by then, as a national community, we will be able to celebrate these traditions together. Not only on our calendars, but in our hearts and homes as well.

Kristin Garrity Şekerci works at Georgetown University’s The Bridge Initiative, a multiyear research project on Islamophobia. She received her M.A. from American University in Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs and is active in the interfaith community in Washington, DC. 

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Determination - Illustrations by Sabba Khan 

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