Monday, 20 July 2015

Celebrating Ramadan Amid Criticism and Self-Doubt - Katy Niles

I’ve always been one to want to invite everyone …to whatever I was doing. And I’ve seen this strength run through out my life. I can remember all the way back to elementary school. My mom became worried when I spent most of my time around an Albino classmate and one of the more overweight classmates that everyone seemed to shun.

Sounds a little arrogant to be saying this about myself. I feel like I’m blowing my own horn, identifying a characteristic I’ve worked hard to develop. Maybe I was born with this compassionate/inclusive strength. Perhaps my parents and family instilled it in me. Or maybe I should give praise to God/Allah for giving me this trait. I could attribute this part of me to genetics. Or I could even say certain childhood experiences caused me to become empathetic.

Take a step back with me for a moment. Re-read that paragraph.

That’s five ways to make meaning of who I am.

The crazy thing? I’m only talking about something as simple as a personality trait.

How many more ways are there to make meaning of who I am and how I live my life in regards to my religion.

During my Ramadan experience, I’ve thought a lot about what others think of me, of what I think of myself, of what God/Allah must think of me…imposing myself on a different religion, practicing a holy ritual that I don’t technically belong to.

These are some of the things I’ve heard inside my head…
“You’re defacing another’s religion”
“You’re an impostor”
“Don’t make excuses. People worldwide are fasting sunrise to sunset. You can’t even last 5 hours?”
“You’re not capable of this. You haven’t been doing this all your life like Muslims”
“You’re naïve”
“You’re offending Muslims”
“You’re not even doing it right!”
“If you can’t do the whole fast, don’t do it at all!”

The list goes on of what I think others believe about this experience. More ways in which people are making meaning of this experience as they rub elbows with me.

In less than two minutes, we’ve gone through more than 10 ways to explain or make meaning of a personality trait and an event. Just ONE trait and just one event.

For thousands, maybe millions, of years--for however long we’ve had a pre-frontal cortex in our brain (which varies according to your beliefs)—it has been of the utmost importance that we make sense of what we are experiencing.

Something goes on in us psychologically when we have a hard time articulating a difficult circumstance. These meanings help to quell the emotional and psychological discomfort to some extent so that we can continue with life in a healthy way.

I know…I can see you raising your eyebrows at me…you probably think I’m about to explain away religion, humanity’s innate need for structure and raison d’etre.

But I’m not—I’ll be honest, it’s a possibility (as many, many things are). I’m actually going to say that our need, our craving for meaning could very well be the evidence for something Other, something Greater than ourselves—Allah/God/Buddha.

Here’s the rub: among the 6+billion of us, we have very different words and very limited vocabulary for something so ethereal, so infinite and boundless, yet so intrinsic that it connects all of us within and with out.

I know, it’s kind of meta. And lacks a lot of scientific structure, biblical/scriptural/textual evidence. I’m ok with that. But not all people are.

Rumi said, “Beyond right and wrong, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” My Ramadan experience, pardon, OUR Ramadan experience, has been that for me. I’m looking beyond how we make different meanings of our lives, our rituals, our traditions. Because to be honest, I have very little proof my religion is absolutely right (and let’s be extra honest, my beliefs change so frequently anyway as I interact with so many awesome people from around the world). I have my Christian bible, built upon the Jewish Torah. But I can’t say it’s all truth. For me, it’s one way my ancestors have made meaning of their lives and experiences.

Ramadan has been a journey beyond right and wrong, to accept differences in how we experience our lives—understanding that yes, they could all be truth in their own perspective, even though this contradicts many of our holy texts and even our understanding.

A prophet in a text once heard God say, “Your thoughts are not my thoughts. Your thoughts are not my thoughts…for my thoughts are higher than your thoughts, my ways, higher than your ways”.

Our pre-frontal cortices are strong, resilient, and massively complex. But they still can not fathom all the depths this life, especially the spiritual realm.

All of this uncertainty is hard for us to hold. It’s hard to say “both and”, we can believe both ways and more. It doesn’t have to be either or.

Alas, I can feel myself getting on my soap box, and I could go on for so long about this.

Let me step back to say this: The least of my concerns is who is right and who is wrong. What matters is that we have another deep need aside from meaning making. We need each other. We need peace. We need love. “For if we have all of these and have not love, we are but clanging symbols”. We have enough cacophony in the world.

My hope is that we come together, in uniqueness, in our similarities, to bring to each other and find in one another what we are in desperate search for, acceptance, belonging, the familiar “me too” response to a both a global pain and our individual sufferings (is any suffering really individual?) we face due to war, family factions, even the simple yet unbearable grief of normal life events such as death and old age.

To OUR Ramadan experience, for we are all hungry for such things,


"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there. 
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.” 
- Rumi

Katy Niles is a grad student studying marriage and family therapy, from South Carolina, living in LA, an interfaith Christian. You can fin her on and on twitter @NilesKaty

Holy Juxtaposition! Jews And Muslims Making Meaning 

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