Monday, April 8, 2013


I have been thinking about the nuances of faith. Usually, we assume that we can only learn about our faith from those who share the same faith. Often times, Muslims seem to only find Muslims scholars are the legitimate teachers of faith. However, I disagree. To teach about faith is something completely different than teaching about religious tradition. Even so, I still think you can learn about your religion from, what I will loosely use as, "people of other faith (or no faith) traditions". 

Today, when visiting my doctor, she reminded me to focus on my faith and reflection. She told me to pray and meditate. To constantly remember God. She told me to make it a daily habit. The thing is, she is Hindu and I am Muslim. You would assume that I wouldn't seek spiritual advice from a doctor, let alone someone from another faith tradition. Yet, that was the best spiritual and practical advice I had received all week. 

Throughout my graduate career, my advisor has always reminded me to turn back to my spiritual roots. To look at my faith, both with a loving and a critical eye. He would remind me to visit my mosque, to pray, to seek spiritual guidance, and constantly seek God's help at times in need. He taught me to balance the secularity and the critical thinking of academic life, while always striving to fulfill my spiritual life. Needless to say, we share different faith traditions as well. 

One of the best spiritual experiences that I have encountered, was visiting a Sikh temple during their weekly service. The entire time, I had no idea about what was being chanted, but I kept reflecting upon God and the blessing I have been offered. The whole time, despite my prayer being different, despite the mantra on my tongue, heart, mind, and soul being in another language, I felt the goosebumps that you get during a spiritual high. 

There are two narratives in Islamic tradition that I, over time, fell in love with. One is a prayer (a dua'a/supplication) another is a story from prophetic tradition. 

I'll start with the story. Totally paraphrased, by the by. 

A companion of the prophet named Abu Huraira used to live in the mosque, and one day a man came and began to steal from donations (I believe it was food). Abu Huraira caught him and the man claimed to be needy. When he shared the story to the prophet, the prophet told him, this man was lying to you. The man ended up returning for three consecutive nights, making the same claim. On the third night, he told Abu Huraira, "if I teach you something will you let me go" and Abu Huraira said sure. So, he taught him to recite a famous verse called "ayatul kursi" stating that if one read it before bed God would appoint guards for you that will ensure that Satan would not be able to come near you until the morning. Then Abu Huraira asked the prophet if this was true, and the prophet said yes, and the one who taught you this, was Satan himself. 

For me, this story always reflects that we can learn from anyone. We just have to be willing to take in the information being shared. Of course, I am not saying that people from other faith traditions are like satan, HECK NO, but what I am saying is that you should limit yourself to who you can learn from spiritually. I could write a book on this hadith/narration, but I am going to keep it concise. I always remember this story, whenever talking to people I really don't want to be around. I used to be around people who I would think, "why are they still talking", harsh, I know. But now, I think, "listen attentively Reem, you may learn something new. If not something new, a different angle or perspective". And since then, I feel like I could listen to any one talk. I learn things from 3 year olds, 30 year olds, and ancient books. You just have to be willing to keep your mind open. 

The other narration is a prayer/supplication. It comes from a verse in the Quran, which just says "those who listen to speech and follow the best of it" (39:18). People often turn it into a prayer by saying, "May God make me from those who listen to speech and follow the best of it". In this case, I never limit what is meant by "speech". I take it to mean all types of speaking, from all types of people. And I take whatever resonates with me and adopt it into my own personal frame of reference. 

I have read so much philosophy in my lifetime, which albiet has been pretty short, a mere 25 years. But so many people have asked me, "Reem, how have you studied so much philosophy without abandoning your faith?" assuming that philosophy and faith are paradoxical or oxymoronic or incompatible. Actually, that is not true. Many early philosophers wrote their philosophies parallel to their faith beliefs and traditions. Even Socrates, a man who epitomizes the concept of logic, wrote parallel to the religious tradition of his time, despite the fact that he was put on trial for introducing new gods into Athens and corrupting the youth. Thomas Hobbes did the same, as did many philosophers. So, have we become so post-post-modern that religion and philosophy are no longer compatible? 

Anyway, to answer that question.... I have studied philosophy and have adopted many philosophers theories into my own consciousness, not as a replacement of my spiritual and faith beliefs, but that coincide with them. Despite the fact that Karl Marx said that "religion was the oppiate of the masses," I think that much of Marx's theories are intriguing. Despite the fact that Frederich Nietzsche said that "god is dead" and many many many other problematic statements, I have found his writings to be stimulating in a way that helps me deeper understand my own perspective of the world. 

I guess what I am saying is this. I am sick of people being on their high horse, pointing fingers, and delegitimizing everyone else's beliefs. I think the beauty of what I've learned in my faith tradition, is that one must always keep an open mind, to understand their faith the best they can, and to learn from people from all different walks of life. I feel that to turn down a piece of knowledge, on the basis of a source, is an extreme form of arrogance. I am not saying that one should blindly follow someone or everyone or no one at all. But that they should stick to their instincts and try to seek out truth and spirituality where ever it may stem from. I have encountered so many people and more often than not, rather than be deterred from my faith, my spiritual beliefs have been cemented even more. 

Maybe, I have been blessed with people who have always supported me in seeking out my faith and what it means to me. But I pray, that anyone who may encounter me, feels that same vibe from me. That they can be truly expressive of their faith, despite the differences in our religious backgrounds. That we can come together striving for something great, rather than fighting over the nuances of differences. 

I dunno what made me go on this long discussion. Maybe it was my encounter with my doctor. She brought tears to my eyes, gave me a sense of hope, and the minute I got home, I began praying. And I pray that all people find whatever it is they are looking for.