Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatulah…

My head turns to my right shoulder, giving peace and blessings to every person across the world, to the women sitting next to me in prayer, and to the angel who records my good deeds. It’s the end of the sunset prayer at the Al-Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque in Aqaba, and I am struck into absolute stillness.

It’s only a flash. A fleeting moment while giving salaams. But in that half second I taste the sweetness of imaan — a heavy, Divine presence comforting me, reassuring me, embracing me. Time slows, and the post-prayer chaos moves beyond me.

I complete the prayer and instead of raising my hands in du’a, I look down the opening of my nursing cover. Ivy looks back up at me and smiles. The chaos suddenly catches up to me and I register the din of women speaking softly, mobile phones ringing, and children running in and out of the women’s entrance gathering their shoes and dashing off into the dusk.

Reflecting on the prayer, I wonder what triggered this momentary gift. We were walking from the souk, taking a detour along the shore when the call to prayer rang out and greeted the rhythm meted out by the rolling waves. Ivy was nursing in her sling and the quick jog to the mosque sent her straight to sleep. During the commotion to join the line, she awoke and latched back on. I pointed to my nursing cover and deferred to the wisdom of my sister in law, mouthing, “Is this OK?” A shrug and a, “go for it,” was all I needed to hear.

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(inspired after finding Dr. Lang’s book hidden behind a stack of Foucault — and just some musings flying in-between meetings and the commute home)

When I was an impressionable, young convert I wore my Islam on my sleeve. Before hijab, I’d openly play with my “Allah” necklace and pepper my conversations with recognisable “Muslim” catchphrases in the hopes that I’d be questioned about my faith, just so I could tell others about the awesomeness of Islam.

Then when I became a hijabi, I became a quiet activist working with the Muslim Student Association organising events to bring “Muslims on the margins” into the religious fold. I spoke passionately about my conversion at lectures, worked at establishing interfaith dialogue, and helped promote Islam by handing out easily digestible pamphlets on “Women in Islam,” “Science in Islam,” and “Misconceptions in Islam” every Islamic Awareness Week.

Believing that conversion magically imbued me with education in religious matters (something that came much later with years of actual study, and really, is ongoing),  people turned to me for religious advice – seeking my knowledge on shaking hands with unrelated men, fasting for repentance, how to date a Muslim the “halal way,” or the permissibility of saying “Merry Christmas” to non-Muslims. I’d do my research online or delve into pamphlet Islam to find quick and easy answers – never once thinking to question sources or actively try to understand the impact that my advice would have on people. Why would I? These sources are sound – from pious, well-meaning Muslims who know better than me.

There was no problem telling people to avert their gaze from the opposite sex, that “hell is hotter” when struggling with the requirements of hijab, and that sex segregation made perfect sense in God’s grand scheme of maintaining chastity and encouraging the sexes to fulfill their “natural” duties and talents. I was more than happy to say that Islam guarantees the rights of women, JUST because the Prophet gave more rights to 7th century women (thousands of years before Western women got the right to vote! Because that comparison means something tangible?). Those who subjugate women today are just not following Islam and aren’t real Muslims. End of story.

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