When the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, I was between the ages of 24 and 26, working as an Import Policy Analyst for the U.S. Department of Commerce. My work entailed reading trade policies of foreign governments and highlighting hidden subsidy potential earmarked for a particular industry so that my boss could address it at various World Trade Organisation meetings. I can go into the details of paper shredding and my naiveté about how governments should operate and how they actually operated but I think you know enough about that.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the changing geography of Washington, DC (a place I warmly called home until familiar places were blocked off in the name of Homeland Security), my government job, sedentary life-style and the shock of the 9/11 attacks -- led me to lose my faith in life. I ran to my personal physician and cried my heart out. I told him how unjust it was for all the innocent people on both sides to die, lose their homes, limbs, lives as a result of a war that was really thuggery disguised.
The doctor looked at me as if I was crazy. He immediately prescribed me a set of anti-depressants. I didn't know how to manage the duality of seeing the injustice and then having to pretend that it was not there and instead to consume my heart (which I did). Maybe a Jetta (Volkswagon four seater) with bun warmers or a television on top of the stove (for Bollywood songs while I cooked) or that table from Theodore's would make all the anxiety go away.
To survive, I took the anti-depressants. The first set didn't work well. The doctor changed the brand. I wasn't keeping track of what I was really taking, I just wanted the pain to stop. Consumerism kept me occupied, while my marriage to my first husband fell apart. I was too young and didn't know how to be responsible for my emotions. I went to the Islamic Centre in Washington, DC to talk with the Imam. I wanted to talk with him about life, the war, the pain swirling around us. The archaic Imam was so caught up in Sunna that he could not listen to me, really engage in any conversation. He kept his eyes glued to the ground and sent me off saying "don't worry, everything will be fine. Just stay with your husband." Fine, I will stay with my husband but I want to talk with you about my conscience and how to reconcile the Shirk (the separateness) that I must live with when my heart yearns for Tawheed (oneness).
Like many of us, I just had to suffer through this period for at least half a decade until I met some friends who nursed me back to Tawheed. It started with a basket of cherries. I had moved to San Francisco (after my divorce), where at a concert in an Eucalyptus Grove, a man by the name of Rafique Keshavjee offered me a reed basket of cherries with a manner of such grace and deep kindness that my blunted senses began to throb with life. His mannerisms reminded me of a Muslim world that was vanishing. The Muslim world where water is an inalienable right, people love to share their food, and the harshest words can be said with the gentlest of humor. Where did this man, Rafique Keshavjee come from? It was exactly what I needed, not anti-depressants or blind folds.
With many talks, cooking sessions, walks, full belly laughter, I began to heal. What I learned from Rafique was to focus on the eternal quality of joy, love and light - all that is Allah and to light candles instead of cursing the darkness.
Like a bird, we fly out of darkness into the hall,
Which is lit with singing, then fly out again.
Being shut out of the warm hall is also a joy.
I am a laggard, a loafer, and an idiot. But I love
To read about those who caught one glimpse
Of the Face, and died twenty years later in joy.
Like a moth to a candle, I linger around joy but the healing is incomplete. In oneness we must heal together. I look at the state of the world: the war in Syria; conflicts in Iraq; suppression of Kurds; mass displacement of peoples due to war, climate or economic stagnation; I look at how Muslims are taught to hate themselves; how others are taught to hate Muslims; how much hate there is in general for minority communities; the invisible Rohingyas; how Muslims practice Islam not really knowing the essence of their heritage; the occupation of our minds, time and space - an occupation that we cannot fully grasp; the lack of leadership whether one is in the West or in the East; the increasing inability of an average human being to make ends meet; the massive decline of biological and cultural diversity -- a partial list which does not even begin to include the world outside of our immediate knowing -- those worlds are also a part of the same Tawheed (Oneness).
Can we first stop hating ourselves? Let us be humbly proud of being Allah's sentient being and for being a Muslim. Can we stop the witch hunt? We are the bogey man of the 21st century. Brother after brother. Other after brother. The Jewish community was chased down in the 20th century. If you ask me, the Jews are our best friends. Believe me, they are. That which pursues us is that which pursued them and continues to divide.
The only way we can resurge into the generous softness of our spiritual heritage is to relax. Relax into everything. Relax into the pain, the joy, the forgiveness, the inability to forgive because you will forgive in time - just give yourself time. Relax into rebuilding our communities. The onus is upon us. Relax into your Namaz, your meditation, your awareness without wanting anything in return. I came across a video on social media(shared by Bangladeshis), in which a Mullah was demanding that one must pray in order to rid oneself of sin. Stop there. There is no doctrine of man being a sinner in Islam. No way. Man is peaceful. Man is a lover. Why else would Beloved Mohammad go to such pains to offer us a practice that reminds us of our joyful symbiosis?
I don’t mind your saying I will die soon.
Even in the sound of the word soon, I hear
The word you which begins every sentence of joy.
“You’re a thief!” the judge said. “Let’s see
Your hands!” I showed my callused hands in court.
My sentence was a thousand years of joy.
-Stealing Sugar from the Castle by Robert Bly