Sunday, September 9, 2018

Coming Out as a Radical Lover: Prayers, Poems, and Passion for Hagar (R)

By Jamillah Karim
I almost believed the story I told myself. That Radical Love was something new, that started when in love with him.

But then I found an old letter to her.

Love Note #1
July 3, 2001
. . .
I pray that this letter finds you in Allah’s mercy and love. I am writing this letter inspired to write to you and only you. I feel this way because I realize that God sent you as a companion for me on the path, and I did not always know it or appreciate it.

I don’t know where to begin. Allah (swt) is so Merciful, so Generous, and so Magnificent.

This letter was to a dear friend who introduced me to a program to sit with and learn from eminent scholars of our time. I told her about my Maliki fiqh class with Shaykh Hamza, and then wrote,

My heart and intellect want and desire so much. The knowledge quenches my thirst but only makes me thirsty again. Pray patience for me.

I was twenty-five then. And not married. Not surprisingly, the next paragraph in the letter describes my desire for marriage and a brother I had noticed. At the time, I had no idea that I’d have to wait another four years for that type of union.

Now back to the love I did possess. My love for this sister beloved was engraved on my heart, but the letter was long forgotten.

Fast forward fifteen years, two days before turning forty. I am married with three sons. I write a love note that mirrors the mingling of satisfaction and wanting expressed in love note #1. The days of pretty stationery now long gone, this time I confess my love in a text. (I’m giggling.)

This love note, #2, is also to a sister, inspired by this Amir Sulaiman line, “Let my breaking be beautiful.”

. . .
Your beauty is my breaking...My breaking deepens because in the vastness of pleasure, my heart discovers there is no limit to Allah’s Beauty and Love. I become immeasurably content only to find myself wanting more. Wanting Allah. May Allah give us Allah.

Satisfaction, desire, breaking, yearning, prayer, patience, love, Allah! I call these feelings and expressions—gently colliding--Radical Love.

Radical Love is love for the Divine manifested in passionate love for Allah’s creation,
Love with God written all over it,
Love heightened, elevated, and sweetened,
Love with the physical veils lifted and sensual satisfaction not the goal intended,
Love you hadn’t expected to find here or there
because you had yet to realize that love is everywhere.

What? You found love where?!
I began this post with mention of love for him because that is how women are expected to speak of love. And our ultimate breaking must relate to him, especially if he desires another her.

I’m sorry, beloved, this is not my love language or story.

True, he desired her,
Made union with her,
All of it pleasing and sacred,
A destined son, a delight,
Came out of it.  

For sure, I experienced heartbreak. But the wound is where the light enters. Rumi said it, but all of our hearts have lived it. 

Beloved, my story is that of Radical Love.

Yes, I experience it with him,
In love with him,
Caresses I’ve known only through him.

But, as love note #1 proves, I was on this path well before him--loving and longing and breaking.

Perhaps, though, there's a reason why Radical Love appeared to give birth with this particular breaking, that is, watching my romantic beloved love another beloved. I never expected to find so much love in it.   

Hopefully another love note will help to capture what I’m saying. Let’s call this love note #3:

October 12, 2017
I am reminded of the moment when I realized that love was the reward for Ihsan (virtues like beautiful patience and generosity). I mean really realized it, and I began to do so the moment when from the outside, it appeared that I had lost out on the pursuit of love as the world sees it. I was experiencing this unseen love, between God and me, which many people would expect, given that we turn to Allah in hardship. But what was mind-blowing was the human love that suddenly overflowed in my direction. That even I had not anticipated. In God’s mercy and loving kindness, He not only makes His Love tangible, but He gives His Love through actual people. And the best of people through whom He showers His love is His Beloved (S).

A Prayer for Hagar
And I wrote all of the above to provide context to a poem inspired by Hagar (R). But before the poem, there is Prophet Ibrahim's (S) prayer. I've read this prayer countless times before, but it wasn't until this time that it came to me, that his prayer embodied Radical Love, and I couldn't wait to share with you. And I had to before this sacred month left us. My way of saying, I love you.

Mother Hagar,
After drinking from your sacred bosom,
Walking your sacred struggle,
The pilgrims have left you,
Returning home,

But home is where the heart is,
We are still thinking of you,
Remembering you,

Every time we hear your story, we worry for you,
Who will feed you, sustain you?

Then we remember,

Prophet Ibrahim (S) left you,
But his first prayer was for you,
A man of heart,
Sustenance was the last thing he worried for you!

“Our Lord! Verily, I have settled some of my progeny in a valley without cultivation by Your Sacred House, our Lord, that they might perform the prayer. So cause the hearts of people to incline toward them, and provide them with fruits, that haply they may give thanks.”

Prophet Ibrahim’s prayer embodies Radical Love through and through,
Who would expect to find love where there is hardly life?
But Prophet Ibrahim knew,

Devotion to God was his first concern,
“That they might perform the prayer,”
Divine Love would spill over from the cup of devotion,
He knew.  

And how does Divine Love manifest here on earth? In human hearts--Prophet Ibrahim’s dua’ for his family--and then fruits. This is the prayer for true happiness, he knew.  

My First Radical Love Poem
So now that I’ve explained Radical Love, it won’t surprise you that my first Radical Love poem is for her. In the embrace of a sister beloved, I remember Hagar.

May 2013, The year I prayed to be Hagar (Smile)

“Being with Hagar”

Fullness flowing everywhere,
My hand in her hand,
My slender arm wrapped in her fullness as her baby sucks the milk that Allah gave,

Our hearts occupied with the remembrance of Allah,
Our eyes on the Awliya’ Allah,
Our bodies at the house of Allah,

All other desires,
The remembrances of all other beloveds,
They stream down into this single gushing river,

This love came out of dying,
Out of intense longing,
It came when my heart was broken,
And I could only turn to God,

It came when I became Hajar,
Left in the desert with only God to fall on,

This love came like Zamzam,
Out of nowhere, making it utterly Divine,
It is the love that pilgrims drink from,
Pure because the source is Pure,

Allah is the Holy One,
Blessing this love,
Elevating this love,
Giving me life,
Turning me to Allah and His Beloved,

Through him, Sallalahu alayhi wasssalam,
Through the Beneficent King, the Holy One,
Through her, may Allah bestow peace on Hagar,
I have tasted the sweetness of Iman,
And have been led to the path of Ihsan,
Where I am living and dying,
For the Face of Allah.

April 2017, Goree Island, Senegal

*Please pray for me and my book tentatively titled, Radical Love: Sufi Reflections on Heartbreak and Happiness.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Mother’s Sacred Sa’i: Lessons from Hajar (R) on Balancing Work and Family

By Bint Jobaida

My toddler squats her legs and does a little shimmy. She looks like she is doing a yoga pose and I can’t help but join the fun. My eight year old runs around like she’s on fire, looking for a pool of water to dive in.  She says, “You’re the best mom” and “I love you” like she is saying hello. My eleven year old is a wise little owl who likes to write poetry at night. I look at her and wonder, What will she be when she grows up?  I notice these things because I’m on leave from my full-time job at a small liberal arts college. I love tuning into my kids, especially as they, and I, get older, but the decision to stay home this year was not an easy one. I feel torn, like most of my peers, by the sa’i (a ritual passage or walking) between home and work.
When I was going back and forth between work and home last year, I turned to the story of Hajar for guidance on how to balance the demands of motherhood with the challenges of working to provide sustenance. At the core of Hajar’s story is a model of working hard, staying close to one’s child(ren) and trusting in God’s bounty. Hajar’s work of running between Safa and Marwa, or sa’i, is eventually rewarded with the spring of Zamzam appearing next to her son Ismail. Her story provides a hopeful narrative of motherhood leading to community and prophecy. Hajar shows us that the struggle of women who work and take care of their children is made possible by turning to God and asking Him for the resources that will sustain the mother, child and the community.  

Hajar’s Story
Hajar joined the household of Ibrahim and Sarah after they visited the King of Egypt. She was given as a gift to Sarah because God protected Sarah from the King’s sexual advances by freezing his hands, making him fearful of her power. Ibrahim and Sarah had difficulty conceiving a child so Sarah permitted Ibrahim to marry Hajar in the hopes that he might have an heir. This led to the birth of Ismail, whose progeny would be Muhammad (sws). Soon after, Ibrahim was given a revelation from God to take Hajar and Ismail away from the household of Sarah.
Ibrahim takes Hajar to a desert where there appears to be no one and leaves her there with Ismail. You might wonder, as did Hajar, why Ibrahim would leave Hajar in the middle of the desert when she had just given birth to his son? This brings a turning point and a spiritual trial for Hajar, who must figure out why she is alone and what she must do in this barren land. She is confused by Ibrahim’s decision to leave her and questions him, “Did Allah command you to do this?” to which he replies, “Yes.” She then says, “Then certainly, He will not abandon us.”  
Ibrahim had a history of taking an unfamiliar path to illustrate his faith in Allah, even if it meant putting himself or his family in what appeared to be impossible circumstances. He repeatedly relies on Allah to fashion a protection between him and his loved ones and trusts that some divine providence will come forth from the uncertain circumstance. This is seen in the story of his struggle against the idol worshippers as well as later in his willingness to sacrifice Ismail. This also creates a similar pattern of faithfulness and willingness to submit in his wife and children. When Hajar hears that the command is from Allah for Ibrahim to leave her in this location, she feels at peace and accepts it.
Hajar’s faith in Allah plays an important role in helping her survive the desert environment with a baby. When their provisions run out, Hajar begins to run back and forth between Safa and Marwa until the seventh pass, when a spring of water appears next to the baby. Some narrations say that Ismail, with the help of Angel Jibreel, kicks at the earth to discover the spring. The water draws birds and the birds attract a nearby caravan that decides to settle down near the spring. Soon, Ibrahim returns as well to live with Hajar and Ismail and to build the Ka’ba. This happy ending came as a result of Hajar’s and Ibrahim’s faith in Allah (swt).

Lessons from Hajar’s Sa’i for Working Mothers
I would like to draw some lessons from Hajar’s sa’i and her trust in Allah for the contemporary working mother.  Hajar’s story is compelling because she has to move away from her child in order to find sustenance for her child, but then is able to come and be with her child when the sustenance appears next to the child. Hajar's reality is the same as that of many working mothers today. Working mothers can go only so far as we feel comfortable leaving our children, but we find relief when we are with our children enjoying the provisions that Allah alone provides.
Hajar's story offers a lesson on how to move (apropos, since her name means migration) in this situation. First, she shows us that there will be times where the struggle for sustenance is borne by the mother alone and she can and will work hard to find sustenance for her children by making the sa’i between work and home. Second, Hajar reinforces the natural instincts of women to care for and be close to their children by performing the sa’i and then returning to the child. Third, Hajar's effort in running between Safa and Marwa were a necessary precursor to the wellspring eventually sprouting near the child. And maybe most importantly, the wellspring, which symbolizes Allah’s bounty, produces a community that supports the child and the mother.

The Sa’i of the Single Mother
I have seen the lessons of Hajar in the case of my own mother who was a widow at the age of 28 with two children. She found herself in the United States alone without her parents or her siblings. My mom ran between two places, the US and Bangladesh, after my father passed away. She was uncertain about what to do. Should she live off the charity of her family or stay in the US and make a life for herself and her children as her husband and she had dreamed?
After making several sa’is between the two countries, she chose the place she thought would bring resources for her children. And she was right. She found herself strengthened by faith in God and a beautiful community to help raise her children in. Her faith grounded her in a time of crisis and she found helpers and fellow immigrants who gave her rides, taught her how to drive and helped her get on her own two feet. My mom's chosen career of a home childcare provider also allowed her to keep an eye on us and provide for our family. Eventually, my cousin joined her and helped her financially and helped my brother and I become self-sufficient. Hajar's lesson of working when you need to, staying close to your children and having faith resulted in my mom's greatest wellspring, her children’s future success and the creation of a community.  

The Sa’i of the New Mom
I also found comfort in Hajar's story when I had my third child in January 2016 and returned from maternity leave to work at a small college in a predominantly white, rural part of Northwest Pennsylvania.  I had never been so far away from my family when I had my two previous children. I felt a bit like Hajar, left in the desert alone with my children. As a new mom, I felt a strong physical pull to be near my daughter and to nurse her and take care of her. Hajar’s sa’i symbolically represents the internal and external pressures new working moms face. Their bodies are transitioning into a new place of providing sustenance for a baby, but then they are met with the demands of the workplace where they must also produce.
When I started the sa’i between work and home again, I felt Hajar’s fear, distress and fatigue as I ran from work to home, stopping to nurse my baby in between sa’is from breasts that were not producing enough milk. So I decided to do the unthinkable, admit that I couldn’t work full time while nursing. I asked for a leave of absence from work and focused on nursing myself and my daughter.  And similar to Hajar, I found the spring of Zamzam appear next to my child, a signal that I could now rest and tend to her needs and to my own needs. When I was with my daughter, I felt a sense of peace and rightness with the world and a feeling of rida, contentment.  
What happened next was amazingly similar to Hajar’s story. My boss was very understanding and my colleagues stepped in to take care of my classes. I was able to negotiate returning to work half time in the next semester and a leave of absence the following school year. This would help me adjust to having a baby and make some important decisions about whether working full time was the best use of my time at this stage in my life. I was grateful to Hajar for modeling what it means to struggle with the difficulties of providing for one’s children, while also staying close to them and having faith that God alone provides.  
Hajar’s Sa’i as a Lesson for Contemporary Mothers
I want it to be clear from these stories that all moms experience the sa’i, whether they stay home, work part-time or are the primary breadwinners of their families. This reflection is not about the question of whether to work or stay at home, but rather where your intention is when you choose to work. Is it to please your Creator and recognize that material and spiritual sustenance come from Allah alone? Or is it to make money and provide material comforts for you and your family? These are hard questions to ask ourselves, especially when we feel overburdened by the many demands placed on us.
Hajar’s sa’i allows us to reflect on these questions and to see what she did when placed in a position of being the sole provider for her family. She did the work of going between safa and marwa, all the while praying to Allah (swt) to send His mercy to them. She realized that she must teach her children lessons of how to work, while also recognizing our Creator as the source of all things. If you follow Hajar’s example, you transform your relationship to your Creator and to your children, which ultimately gives them a source of support that will never run dry.
I want to end with the reminder that Hajar is a model for both men and women, and the sa’i is a symbol of any struggle we face when we are looking for divine mercy. I hope that my reflections have helped in some way as you make your personal sa’i to be more connected to Allah (swt), the source of all sustenance. I pray that this Hajj and Eid are a source of reflection and learning for all of us as we experience, witness and remember the many sacrifices Ibrahim (s), Hajar (r) and Ismail (s) made for this ummah. Without their faith in what is possible when you rely on Allah (swt), Muhammad (sws) and his ummah would not be in existence today. May Allah (swt) make us among the followers of Hajar, Ibrahim and their descendants. Ameen.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Let’s Talk about Relationships! Taboo Talk: The Night Social @ CLF 2018

By Ayisha Karim

One month ago, the third annual CLF (Community Life Forward) Conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia, on 4th of July weekend, July 6-8th. The theme was Celebrating Islam in America: Replication, Renewal, & Revitalization.

Eight months prior at the first meeting of the convening council in Baltimore (October 2017), we were asked to share why we accepted the invitation to organize. I expressed, at that time, that my primary reason was to develop programming around family life in our Muslim communities, with particular focus on the institution of marriage, healthy, successful marriages at that.

Gathered in a conference room at John Hopkins Business School, a group of us gave heart-warming testimonies about how we met our current or former spouses at such conferences while in college or in our twenties, and formed lifelong friendships with other Muslims from around the country.

Such conferences played a critical role in cultivating high esteem in terms of how we saw ourselves as second generation, African-American Muslims. Yet, many of us, at the same time, agreed that unfortunately there has been a decline in the frequency and quality of such social interactions for our children’s generation, African-American Muslim millennials and younger.

Thus, I was assigned the task to lead the Family Life committee for CLF ‘18. As critical as family life is to community life, to our surprise, when it was all said and done, the Family Life committee was asked to execute only one major event: the CLF Social.

The National Planning Council decided to primarily focus on the four top tier areas: Business, Education, Social Justice, and Community Development. Family Life was placed in the second tier of important CLF programming.

Prior to this placement, when committee heads were asked to submit proposals for their portion of the conference, our committee drafted a proposal that was oozing with relevant, juicy, and pressing family issues such as raising conscious Muslim youth, building community life, increasing access to courtship, mental health, recovery after divorce and polygyny, and more.

We also offered an amazing list of possible speakers, forums, and panelists to make it rich, impactful, and memorable. Yet, in the end, main conference organizers informed us that as a second-tier committee, there just wasn’t space in the program for what we’d envisioned.

When the co-organizers and I became aware of this decision, we decided to pack our social with as many juicy topics that we could possibly entertain in the two hours allotted us. We settled on the name, “A Night of Soulful Connection & (Fun) Interaction.”

I received this name from one of the older Muslim sisters on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica late June while sitting around the dinner table, after telling them about this event and what we envisioned. We all loved the name immediately! Past conference socials usually catered to your variety of single & looking or interested Muslim folk. We decided to make the Social for ALL adults, 18 years and up (vs. the over 30 & up we initially planned). Plus, get this: single AND married!

The two other female organizers were Aseelah Rashid (Atl, GA) and Nabeehah Azeez (Baltimore, MD). To ensure that the social was relaxed, informative, provocative, entertaining, and beneficial, we decided to mix it up a bit: icebreaker BINGO, stand-up comedy (Preacher Moss), a panel of relationship “experts,” SCENARIOS, and spoken word/poetry reading.

This leads me to the main point of this blogpost: the SCENARIOS, thoughtfully crafted by the members of our expert panel (seen in the photos here) and read to the audience by one of the three facilitators. But not just the “experts” came up with these SCENARIOS. I solicited the insight of a special male friend, who shared several ‘real’ scenarios as well. And yes, I’ll admit, I even threw one or two in there, with the help of a dear friend who stayed with me that weekend, and who’s been dealt a very similar hand at this stage in our lives.

Below, you can find a select sampling of these scenarios. I’ll try to put them in the order in which they were read to our audience. I encourage you to guess which scenario got the most attention, i.e., was deemed most discussion-worthy and provocative to our guests. Enjoy!

Scenario #1:
You see your friend’s husband/wife on what appears to be a date with another woman/man. Do you 1) walk up to the husband/wife on the spot and confront them, 2) give the wife/husband a call and tell them what you think you saw, or 3) say NOTHING in hopes of saving their marriage?

Scenario #2, Parts A & B:
As Muslim parents raise their children to be celibate, how do Muslim married couples later discuss intimacy, pleasure, and explorations of pleasure and the breadth of interpretation within Islam? What happens when Muslims, who are reverts, have a previous way of doing things, and marry someone born into the faith and are told one thing, not knowing what degrees of pleasure should be explored or how to respond to the other person’s shyness?

A Muslim brother and sister, interested in one another, have different levels of sexual needs. One person is looking at a holistic approach, recognizing time and place, while the other wants sex all the time and may or may not have an addiction, depending on how the individuals perceive sex and intimacy.

Scenario #3:
Your wife is a revert who grew up in a household where her father was a philanderer and her mother caught him having affairs. Growing up in such an environment causes her to have issues with trusting men. She is prone to jealousy and suspicion of relationships you have with females in your line of work, which affects the harmony in your marriage.  You love her dearly but are frustrated with her issues of jealousy.  Although you have to interact with sisters often, you are faithful.  How do you deal with the situation?

Scenario #4:
You have been courting your potential mate for about 2 months now. You guys get along great when it comes to chemistry, casual conversations, Deen [religion] and similar outlooks on life. One area that tends to cause a lot of tension is how you both handle money. One of you comes from a background of struggle and trying to make ends meet and the other comes from the an upper middle class background, never really having to worry about managing their money because they have always been good. Is this a big enough difference to call things off or do you try to work through this area of challenges?

Scenario #5:
How do you handle both being professional business people and each interacting with the opposite sex and non-Muslims?

BONUS Scenarios/Q’s (i.e., on the script but never shared due to lack of time)

A few years into your marriage, your husband hints at the possibility of polygyny. Ultimately, you are NOT open to it even though your religion allows for it, done “appropriately.” When he insists that he wants to take on a second wife for good reasons, you find yourself inclined to tell him that you’d RATHER that he court a woman privately (on the side) BUT not marry her, by all means. At what point do you choose between giving your husband your blessings on moving forward with polygyny AND leaving him open to other options OUTSIDE of the Islamic framework?

What are some good steps for an individual to take when preparing to get married? Would you take the recommendation of a respected member of the community who suggests to your parents that you and someone else would be compatible for marriage? What are some recommendations to help the love grow in a marriage for couples? What are some important things to discuss when courting someone?

As you can probably imagine, our guests got way more out of the social than they anticipated, walking in late that Friday night after 9pm. We received many comments and/or reactions, prior to and at the end, expressing concern around the limited nature of such opportunities for discussions around Muslim family life and relationships. Our own Muslim security team told us that we had to be out of the Art Gallery, where the event was held, by 11:30 pm. We closed the event with a love poem, recited by Youssef Kromah from his book Woke.

Guests left the gallery that night buzzing with unfinished & unresolved discussion, laughter at what they’d heard, and inspired to continue the conversations with their spouses, family, friends, and community members, and looking forward to CLF Social Event 2019/2020! Insha-Allah.