Establishing a Relationship with Who??

April 4, 2010

“Because religion always came exclusively from my parents, I felt God was some abstraction I could not access except through them. While my parents and I were on good terms, this could work. But they and I disagreed, which at that age happened often, I simply assumed God was on their side, and thus inaccessible to me.”

Dear Papaito,

I arrived to today’s session late, because as I was getting ready to leave in the morning, I burned my right eye with the wrong contact lens solution. Apparently, the bottle of eye contact solution I bought was not ‘cleansing saline solution’ but rather some incredibly abrasive acid designed for melting metals (at least my eye thought so). So I screamed like crazy and woke up both of my roommates, who came running to the bathroom to rescue me from the mouse/monster/serial killer. Realizing the only one attacking me was my stubborn refusal to read instructions, they simply stood helplessly by the door watching me scream and try to pull out the stupid lens from my eye. An hour later, with a burning red eye, I headed to campus for the lecture (wearing plain old glasses).

So according to Professor J, religious commandments, like eye solution instructions, may actually serve a purpose. They were written in order to be read and followed. As I mentioned yesterday, he does not think of Islam as something that is exclusively meant to help us accomplish something in the hereafter, but as a religion that has very concrete things to offer us in this world as well. We accomplish this just social order by establishing relationships with the Creator. These relationships, in turn, depend on us learning how to build them (the role of theology, jurisprudence, etc). Unlike in other religions, in Islam these relationships with God are not mediated through a third person or figure, such as a priest or a saint. We work on building direct relationships with God, free of intermediaries. Tawhid and us.

I don’t know what other people made of this lecture, or what they were thinking while Professor J spoke today. But to me, this idea of a relationship with Allah had me thinking of my teenage years, and how I didn’t have such a relationship then. At least not one I was aware of. I also thought of how I wish I had known back then that such a thing existed, and of how this would have affected my life. I was a practicing Muslim, don’t get me wrong, but a relationship with God is more than just actions. I think that in a way, my relationship with God was mediated. Not in a theological sense of course, but there is a concrete way in which this relationship went through my parents.

Because religion always came exclusively from my parents, I felt God was some abstraction that I could not access except through them. While my parents and I were on good terms, this might work. But when my parents and I disagreed, which at that age happened often, I though God had to be on their side, and thus inaccessible to me. If my parents were mad at me, I thought God probably was mad at me too, and there was no use trying to reach out to Him for anything. It never occurred to me that I could have a direct relationship with God, and that this relationship with Him could exist independent of my parents’ relationships with God, or my relationship with my parents.

As Professor J speaks, I have an urge to run out of the room, and tell every Muslim teenager I know, starting by my sister, about my discovery. If other teenagers today think the way I did yesterday, then, judging by the amount of time we spend in disagreement with our parents at that age, we end up missing a precious opportunity to work on our spiritual lives at a time when we need it the most. I know I did, with no Muslim friends in school, few Muslim family members, and zero Muslim spaces outside of the home and the mosque -a mosque founded my parents, and thus an extension of home in both physical and psychological ways. I wish I had realized then the tangible implications of things I knew in theory: the lack of intermediaries, the lack of hierarchy, and the lack of an institutional equivalent to the Vatican in Islam. That I did not need people, or mosque, to establish my own relationship with my Creator…

So I guess now I know…and if young Janan is beyond my reach now, then maybe other young people are not…? So do you think Papaito, tying these thoughts to yesterday’s discussion on belongingness, that regardless of whether I belong in this spatial reality or not, and regardless of whether I am meant to stay here for much longer or not, I am meant to be moored here now in order to gain insights from a Muslim community that is a little older and more experienced that our Muslim communities in the South? Sounds like a feasible explanation, but not one that feels completely right. I still don’t know what constitutes ‘our’ or ‘mine’ yet. Yesterday’s discussion on belongingness has not been settled yet.

Anyhow, this is an ongoing discussion, and now I should go. Until next time, inshaAllah.

Janan

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