The Gates of Paradise

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Month: June, 2015

The Bastardization of Mental Illness

Media Diversified

by Maira But

The killer in the recent Charleston shootings is already having his horrific racist actions deconstructed under the guise of mental health problems. Already, his case is being treated as nuanced and complex, his history, upbringing, personality and background are being dealt with gently, with a judge even sympathising with his family for what he has done. And as always, we think, why does this same level of sympathy and empathy not translate to any for brown and black people? For any non-white, person of colour?

At the same time we are flaccidly unsurprised. Yet the gall with which the double-standards are being applied is becoming increasingly explicit, if it wasn’t so already. Dylan Roof decked out in a bulletproof vest was…

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‘Moving at God’s Speed’

The People's playground

By Maira Butt

maira's photo choice

I’m a lifetime member of that cursed and denigrated group: the dreamers. Always imagining, thinking, wishing, hoping, craving, thinking of a world that doesn’t exist but that you live to prove should. The usually poisonous term used to dismiss our thoughts, aspirations and actions is ‘naïve’ or the one I personally most loathe, ‘idealistic’. This results in a curious outcome: the most ‘romantic’ amongst us sometimes become the most critical, cynical and subversive. When the world is not the way you feel it deserves to be, and no amount of realist talk or conjecture can coax your head out of the clouds, you have no choice but to create the circumstances you need to survive. Often this means going against every single thing you have ever been taught. Questioning every single assumption and conventional wisdom you encounter, to find the one that allows you to…

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The One

This piece was originally posted on the site: entitled ‘Why I Stopped Wearing Hijab’ on 19 November, 2014.

‘For action is subordinate, possessing no value in itself. The value is in that to which it is subordinate.’ – Imam Al–Ghazali

I remember sitting in the [Islamic Society] ‘Sister’s Circle’ on ‘Sincerity’ shortly after starting University. For years I had felt a divine Love growing inside me, but as was always the case in my life, I did not want to commit. As the speaker spoke gentle but firms words on God, devotion, the world, the heart, the Qur’an, my heart beat faster. It was during this circle that I felt a whisper of conviction emerge within me, after years of seeking truth and learning about Islam. This certainty was ‘La Ilaha Ill-Allah’- ‘There is no deity worthy of worship, except God’.

When I decided to wear Hijab, it was my acceptance of a singular devotion to God, a declaration of being a Muslim, a concentration of intention and above all, an expression of Love for the Divine, the One I was unconditionally bound to. I felt grateful and honoured every morning as I wrapped it around my head.

Three years later, I sat in solitude and silence for the first time during Itikaf in the last 10 days of Ramadan. I felt a terrifying awareness of the inescapable nature of my own soul and its Creator. I knew intuitively that I’d be sat in the darkness of a black hole for a while thereafter, as I grappled with the question ‘Can there be rules in Love?’ I admitted that I felt restricted in my practice, and yearned for more. I knew that there were ups and downs on the road to the Lord, but I was too impatient to accept them. I wanted to be back on the High. Immediately. But the fire was burning out, I no longer held a Centre from which to connect to the Absolute.

Religion has always been a visceral experience for me, rather than an intellectual ‘belief system’ or decision-making/decision-filtering mechanism. As an addictive personality, I tend to take things to an extreme, I fall in Love. In my enthusiasm, I had raised my faith to a superficial and inflexible ‘height’, one that I could not keep up with. I had become obsessed with the Signs and lost sight of what they were pointing to.

Following months of deliberation, I removed my Hijab and sought to find God again. Admittedly, my decision appears crude in its finality. I decided the cure for complacency and confusion was to go back to the basics. I felt there was no point in religion for me, if there was no instinctual connection to God, so I decided to start from scratch. Removing my Hijab was single-handedly the most painful decision I have ever had to make. It was a companion, and I miss it deeply.

There were moments that I felt I would have to leave Islam altogether. I remember watching Newsnight when an outraged young Muslim woman screamed at a homosexual man to either accept the tenets of Islam as generally practiced or leave. I felt she was speaking to me, with my perspectives on the Hijab. My face burned in shame, maybe she was right. Maybe my worldview was no longer compatible with the faith. This quickly turned to anger. No mortal had the right to judge so severely on behalf of God.

‘You will not attain the reality of faith before you come to regard all people as foolish in God’s religion.’ – Ibn Umar

Why would I leave if I still held on to my Shahadah? If I had left, I would have succumbed to a popular vision of the religion, not the orientation of Love and devotion to God which had brought me to it in the first place. Yes, I needed to recalculate and reconsider a few things I had taken for granted. But I was adamant that I had just as much of a right as anybody else to worship God and call Him Allah, whilst connecting through the Qur’an and prayer.

The centrality of the position given to Hijab, in modern day Islamic discourse, is one that simultaneously terrifies and bores me. It terrifies me because God is rarely mentioned unless He is having words of judgement and intolerance put in His mouth. It bores me, because I can’t get myself worked up about assessing the intimate decisions of others or justifying my own. To me, the question ‘is Hijab compulsory?’ is based on the false premise that any act of worship can be psychologically enforced. Nothing is compulsory. Of course, it is our duty to raise one another up, but this duty can’t be carried out without justice, surely. Without treating the individual before us as autonomous. This is why worship is so great, it is wilful.

‘There is no compulsion in religion: true guidance has become distinct from error, so whoever rejects false Gods and believes in God has grasped the firmest hand-hold, one that will never break. God is all hearing and all knowing.’ (Qur’an 2:256)

We all have within us our Fitrah, the purest aspect of our soul which knows only one thing; and that is its dependency on its Source. In my view, this is Tawheed in its most immediate and paradigm-shattering form. It is accessible to every human being without exception. The inaccessibility of spirituality in the turbulent world we live in is worrying, and a shame. A brief introduction to Sufism assured me that it was ok to stay and take faith at my own pace. When someone would approach Maya Angelou declaring themselves ‘Christian’, she would retort ‘already?’ Becoming a ‘Muslim’ is similarly a lifelong endeavour. I have learnt to find a balance between patience and impatience with myself. I know now that the path is not linear, there is no need to rush because the End is inevitable. Every step I take is one closer to Him, and one closer to Home.

‘We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.’ – Herman Hesse

This is why I remain Muslim. Because for me, Allah is the Truth. In the eye of the Hurricane that is this world, He is the rope I hold on to, till it all blows over.

I was asked to write this piece by Philippa around a year ago. The topic is still a slight wound in my psyche, one I wish I could heal and find comfort in. And I am not exaggerating when I say, that there is literally nobody else I can think of for whom I would be willing to recount my thoughts on this topic (on which I could write a book). I have felt the confusion of old friends as they appear offended by what look to them like fickle decisions. Yet, I have felt only curiosity and an intellectual interest on her part. Therefore I write this for her. Thank you darling. May Allah bless you always. Ameen.

The Dissertation

Notes To Self

You want to switch from situating your research within the context of neo-liberalism to locate it within a post-colonial framework. This is because your longstanding belief that the world’s problems were solely due to class has been shaken. Your understanding was incomplete without the awareness that racism infused every pore of the arrogance which created the hierarchical divisions you have always resented. You are reading ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe and your heart is being broken piece by piece.  You walk down the stairs of your terraced house in the middle of a street in Burnley, England and it dawns on you how far you are from the place which gave you your skin colour, your nose, your hair and so much of your culture. The place which forces itself on your tongue even when you speak English; your Brit-Asian accent. For a split second you feel utterly stranded…

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The Deepening of the Spirit

The field of friendships is the one where I got most of my cuts, bruises and scars. In the unpredictable area of social interactions, I was always adrift, confused and unable to comprehend people fully. I either gave too much or too little, received too much or too little. I understood others only to remain a source of mystery to them, or vice versa. I didn’t know a thing about boundaries, either being a doormat, tyrant or people-pleaser. Until I met Umaima. And if you’ve spoken to me for more than 5 minutes, you probably know who she is.

We have very little in common on paper, the superficial differences between us are quite vast. She is Omani and I am a British Pakistani, we have entirely different family backgrounds, and our personalities are almost entirely conflicting. She’s very dry and sarcastic, I have dad humour. But during our final year at university, on every Wednesday during semester, we found ourselves arriving at the Sister’s Circle together, sitting with our legs crossed as we listened to our friend Jasmine repeat God’s words on the purpose of life, the Hereafter, the heart, the world and sincerity. And we unknowingly proceeded to build the foundations of our connection with Allah together, growing in the only way that seemed to matter, in heart and spirit. So after university ended and things went downhill for me, it was not surprising that she was the only one who really knew. Not that I told her, I crawled into my hole and didn’t come out or look at my phone for days at a time. She fought for our friendship, being blunt with me in a manner that I was unused to, and it gave me the strength to fight for my own life and mind. To demand of others and myself, the reverence I knew we are all due as receivers of the gift of life.

It is a cliché, but for some of us who aren’t entirely motivated by unshakable self-belief, the unconditional acceptance or patience of another gives us the strength we need to peek out of our comfort zones. Umaima has a supernatural level of self-respect, this is where her compassion and empathy for others comes from in my view, and it translates into respect for others. It wasn’t just me that she treated well, it was everyone. This does not mean universal agreement, but treating people as complex and autonomous, reflections of their own will and products of their context. Being around her can be liberating.

I have had friends in the past who declared their undying love for me, complimented me in every effusive way possible both publicly and privately, only to disappear or act disrespectfully. Umaima is not really a complimenting kind of person, she used to regularly feign puking at any hint of romanticism, but she has affirmed me in every other way. She has accepted me as I am, been genuinely interested in my growth, read up on things which she thinks are important to me, and watched rap videos with the lyrics on rapped to videos she knows every single lyric to because she is an amateur rapper in her free time actually, in order to understand some of my favourites. I do the same for her. I remember when we first met. She was so genuinely curious about me as a person, that I felt totally seen for the first time. Up until that moment, I had believed that people were blank slates. But I found myself talking about my past, my dreams, my history, even my pains to this woman I thought I had no previous connection with. Since then, I have come to a deeper understanding of myself, and have shared my experiences with people, where before they were a source of shame.

I have made many good friends since, but I always joke with her, that she was the original. Therefore the unforgettable, therefore the irreplaceable. I am sure she cringes when I say these things. She is quite stoic. Before I met her, I had a very fixed idea of what friendship was. It was allowing people to do whatever they wanted and reconvening every now and then to see how everything was going. Now I know it is intangible, it is simply an auspicious meeting of two souls in mutual familiarity and mutual transformation.

‘In so many love relationships, there seems to be a runner (someone who is more aloof) and a chaser (Someone who is more eager to connect). Often these are established patterns- some of us tend to either chase or flee in every relationship- but not always, as many of us have fears in both directions (the fear of abandonment, and the fear of being engulfed) and live out both patterns at various times. As we heal our wounds, we shed these patterns and get more comfortable with being with only those that meet us on equal footing- eye to eye, heart to heart. That’s when the real vulnerability begins.’ – Jeff Brown

I often felt like an anomaly, like I fitted in everywhere and nowhere. It was quite isolating, believe me. Until I met Umaima and felt sane for one of many first times. Wanderers appreciate true company more than most, especially when they meet fellow travelers and can find meaning in their wanderings. I pray we are able to travel this path of life well, and be reunited upon our return Home iA.

All praise is for God who guides the ebb and flow of souls in our lives. Often the losses we experience in love and friendship seem catastrophic, we feel rejected and heartbroken. But there is nobody that I can genuinely say that I miss. There is no-one who ‘left’, that I can’t see was for the better for them or for me. The restlessness never seems to end, but sometimes He sends us people within whom we can find some rest.