Ramadan Day 15 – At the Table of Allah

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“There is no joy without sorrow. Life is full of oppositions. We are all large and we contain multitudes. My challenge is to run to Allah when I feel like running away.”    – excerpt from “Ride” by Ramy Eletreby in Salaam, Love

Dinah expressed to me again today how difficult it is to write, or write well, when happy.  Earlier tonight I ate at the table of love, an Iftar prepared by two fellow fasters.  How can I write, I thought, when I want to sing with joy?  For I am eating at the table of Allah.

Hours later, I sit in contemplation of vulnerability.  I am instantaneously filled with worry – ah, I’ve found my unhappy place, even though I feel decently happy.  I kind of want to scowl.

***

You must be vulnerable to take a risk and as a dear Friend said about me — much of what you choose to do or not to do is because you don’t want to be vulnerable. Maybe you should take a risk. We were discussing my frustration with praying at the NYU Islamic Center because I wasn’t sure where I would or should be able to pray (back, side, next to others) as someone who believes in Allah but who has not converted. As well, I was questioning whether I should attend a Qu’ran study with people who don’t know me very well.

 

In particular, I fear my ignorance. Ignorance has often led me astray. What I don’t know really would fill the book I haven’t written. I’m scared that I will pray wrong, and others will laugh at me, or think in their head: she’s not a real Muslim. How is it that I, who have not converted, am afraid that people will see me for what I say about my own self. Is the corollary true: do I want to be a real Muslim? Do I want to convert?

 

This question shakes me to my foundation. Allah is waiting for me to live my life with Her love in my heart. I tell myself to be open to the call. I’m certain tonight that I will know it. I’m scared that I will wake up tomorrow and forget this knowledge.

 

I’m scared that if I accept a religion instead of my own relationship with God, I will weaken. I am frail. I don’t want to be so discouraged by closed-mindedness or pressures upon us all to follow patriarchal or sexist teachings. I don’t want to close some part of myself off to Allah. She sees everything inside of me, and for that I am grateful. That is a certainty amidst so much instability.

 

Simply not belonging to a group can be a stressor. My reaction to stress is a weakening – I remove myself from the present, and I enter a state of doubt. I have peace right now, so surrounded by love. I would like to protect that peacefulness. Am I right to protect this peace?

 

But it is not Allah or my relationship with Her that is truly frightening. It is my fraught relationship with other people and their institutions. Like many, I’ve lived a life full of disappointment and failure as well as full of love and comfort. I have had to keep myself apart, or keep a part of myself hidden, merely to walk around and not draw the ire and judgment of others. I thought that was the only way to keep love and comfort in my life.

 

So here is my prayer this morning: please, help me learn to love people, to take the risk of loving them.

 

There are times that I have become enamored with romantic love. I was concerned with attracting people who reminded me that I was worth loving. In those times, I have pushed aside the more difficult task of loving myself. I wonder if in those times, I have also been less capable of loving others.

 

When I see myself as scarce, what am I giving?

 

Once, sitting in the front seat of a car in Pasadena, when I was mad crushing on a poet who was writing inside the cafe at the time, another poet said that it must be hard to love me because I would never give anyone all of my love. And to whom would I give it? I asked. To your art, she said, and to your writing. I felt cursed.

 

Years later my inability to be vulnerable in my real life has shown up in my writing.

 

This softness is one of the most beautiful things about writing during Ramadan. I’m writing without the restrictions that usually come in shaping a story or a poem. I’m simply writing what comes to mind. When I demand too much, the fast has a way of messing with my brain, and I am unable to produce what it is that I intended. It’s as if I am writing from the subconscious, as if my censor has been removed. My censor is useful, practically speaking, but without food, a spirit fills me instead. That spirit is a greater closeness with myself. Perhaps during Ramadan I am more honest.

 

I have stayed awake and prayed, and now I must sleep, but I have a better sense of the questions in front of me. A dear Friend said once to me that when someone talks to you about religion they are teaching you about their relationship with Allah. There are many relationships to Allah.

 

One for each Muslim.

 

Dear Allah,

If you don’t know it already, I want to say thank you for what you’ve done for my friend S’s mom who is sick. It moves me so deeply, your compassion and healing works. I was waiting for the right time to light the lucky candle Justin gave me. When I heard that S’s mom is healing, I wanted to jump up and hug you. Improper as it is, I hope you will accept my gratitude, for I owe you Everything.

 

Love,

Serena

 

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Lit. Thank you Justin.

 

 

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