I have a weird relationship with Allah.
Although I don't usually fast, Ramadan is the time that I extensively contemplate my relationship to Her and to humanity as a whole. Yesterday it hit me that perhaps I am really not a Muslim anymore.
When I left Christianity more than 20 years ago, it wasn't exactly a clean break. It took me years to separate myself from the guilt and worry of going to hell for every small infraction. I had been indoctrinated from birth with fear in the conservative congregations I attended. After a few years of being an atheist, I discovered Islam and feminism; both were revolutionary for me.
I thought about the Pillars of Islam yesterday and finally acknowledged some hard truths to myself. I no longer fast, I no longer pray in the traditional sense, and going to Mecca is something I no longer desire to do. Being an impoverished single mother for several years also meant that Zakat [mandatory charitable contribution] was something I was not in a position to even consider.
However, I still feel a connection to Islam where it feels absolutely wrong and strange to say that I am no longer Muslim.
Is Allah merciful and compassionate enough to accept me as I am? I think so.
I believe we should show show ourselves the same grace in our Interfaith work that we give to others. We are all, still, a work in progress.
What is Ramadan, really, but the ultimate act of humanity and interfaith connectedness? Ramadan is a reminder of our common-ness, our unimportantness as individuals—while uplifting and celebrating the joy of community.
There is still a part of me that still thinks I am a horrible and selfish person for not fasting. I have written and erased my reasons here in this essay a dozen times, but ultimately have decided not to share them.
These feelings of inadequacy that we hold against ourselves, keep us from speaking up in other areas. When we feel we are not a “good enough” Muslim, we tend not to use our voice.
I cannot speak from a Muslim perspective so much anymore as someone who has been deeply influenced by Islam. Progressive Islam, like Progressive Christianity, still has not come far enough for me to consider actively practicing again. I do not want to pray in a small back room somewhere. I do not want to be relegated to second class. I do not want to explain to my (progressive) brothers again and again why I need them to be more vocal about their feminism or about the divine feminine within Islam.
I am encouraged to see the woman-only spaces popping up and love getting invited to services elsewhere that are inclusive, but my reality is that there is no such space nearby and what I really crave from my faith is community. My ideas are too “out there” for most Muslims I have met locally, as much as I may love them as people. I've learned to keep my mouth shut during community events, turning inwards for my spiritual needs.
These last years, I have been searching for the feminine face of Allah within what most people consider the overwhelming patriarchy of Islam. Will I find Her? I deeply believe so, despite the many people within and outside of Islam who think me silly or wrong.
I am exhausted by the never-ending task of explaining to Muslim brothers why feminism is still so important to me, and explaining to feminist sisters why I am still a Muslim. I often feel I am being made to chose between feminism and Islam. At first it seemed that feminism and Islam matched up pretty well, when I converted and read about the beginnings of Islam. After 20 years of seeing how Islam is practiced, I am not so certain anymore.
It seems this year has become a fast from patriarchy. My tolerance of it has shrunk to zilch. I would rather be holed up in a dark room reading women's voices than surrounded by people who I cannot express my full range of ideas around. Perhaps these lonely years are mine to claim as I reconsider what it is to be a feminist Muslim.
Like most women, I still do not have a room of my own. My husband wakes up each morning with one thing on his mind (sex). I wake up with 82. (sex is on there, somewhere.) When I mentioned this to him, he joked that he thinks I actually have 83 things on my mind. Considering that I am married to the most progressive man I have ever met, this troubles me deeply.
Life as a female may always be a messy interruption of sorts. I may never be able to really write like I want to because even writing an essay often takes me weeks. How can we as women even begin to contemplate our place within our faith traditions when we are always care-giving and catering to the opinions of men? Will women as a whole ever have a solid role in any faith tradition if we continue on this way?
Interfaith Ramadan has caused me to search my soul this year and contemplate what I need to change within myself and what I want to focus on changing in the world at large. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) continues to challenge me daily with these words: “If you see something wrong, you should correct it with your hand and if you are unable to, then speak out against it and if you cannot do that, then feel that it is wrong in your heart.”
For a long time there have been aspects of how Islam is currently being practiced that I have held quietly as wrong in my heart. This last week of Ramadan I will begin to decide what areas I am finally willing to act upon.
It was the social justice aspect of Islam that most attracted me to this religion. Some days I feel like I don't see enough of that, and other days I remind myself that I have not gone far enough with that myself. What I'd like to see from everyone this Ramadan is a radical remaking of the entire world.
Trista Hendren is the author of The Girl God series. You can read more about her projects at www.thegirlgod.com.
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