Reflections on New Zealand & growing up Muslim
It has taken me a bit of time to really digest what happened in New Zealand.
Over the weekend outside of the distractions of work and school, it really hit me, the gravity of it all landed in a deeply personal way. For the first time in many years I was aware of a block, a deep and painful wound that had been present with me since childhood around my faith. A block that held deep grief, shame and a sense of unwelcome. Sitting with this block, in what felt like an instant, I was thrust back in time to elementary school when I was told by a friend and fellow classmate that I worshiped the devil because I was a Muslim because the Bible said so…And the time another friend and classmate told me she was so sad that I was going to hell because I wasn’t Christian. There, in those moments, and others that came before and that would follow, seeds of unwelcome were planted-seeds that made me aware that there were parts of my life and my experiences that were unwelcome when they deviated from the “norms” of the majority.
Sitting and reflecting, I could now remember the fears that I once carried of being seen with my grandmother at the grocery store if she had on her scarf or my grandfather if he wore his kufi. I could remember crying at the thought of going to hell and wondering how that could be true. I could remember the shame of having others judge me and view me as less than. In these moments of clarity, I could remember those seeds being watered by the ignorance and fears of others throughout my life, especially after the attacks of September 11th. I could remember coming home to see my aunt and uncle removing bumper stickers and license plates that read “I love Allah” from the cars, tucking key chains, t-shirts and anything that reflected our faith away into drawers so that they would not be taken out into public. I remembered hearing my grandmother being told that it would be better to wear hats instead of scarves and that we should not greet one another in Arabic out loud in public spaces and over the phone for our own safety.
In all of this remembering, I felt a space open to truly grieve the sense of unwelcome, sadness, shame and fear in a way that I was ill-equipped to do so in those early years as I was in the midsts of these experiences. As I allowed myself to grieve, I was flooded my potent and beautiful memories that I had growing up as a muslim for the first 18 years of my life. I found myself able to hold these memories with a fullness and pride that had not felt accessible before.
I could remember being 5 in Arabic classes at the masjid learning prayers and about the 5 pillars of Islam. I remembered celebrating the Night of Power in community, celebrating Ramadan and Eid, praying and fundraising for those that were preparing to make hajj and celebrating those that had just returned. I remembered the sister’s prepping meals after service and attending talent shows for the elders of the community affectionately known as the “Matured Youth”. I could remember my sister and I racing down the halls of the masjid to make wudu so we could line up for prayer on time because we knew grandma was watching. I remembered how I loved hearing the call to prayer on the loud speakers in the masjid parking lot and how to this day it stirs something deeply beautiful in my bones. I remembered trips to the halal butcher and devouring lamb patties my grandfather cooked. I remembered my grandfather buying watermelons off the side of the road after leaving Jumuah and Taleem. I remembered the deep green color of the masjid carpet and lining up foot to foot and shoulder to shoulder to pray. I remembered rows and rows of shoes by the door and trying to guess the owners when our minds began to wonder as the Imam spoke. I remembered being called into our grandparents bedroom to pray, watching our grandfather gently unroll his prayer rug and sifting through grandma’s scarf drawer looking for a scarf that day. I remember the goodness of the people in our community Sister Carol, Sister B, Brother Sam and many others that came into my life and the lives of my family members to help raise and nourish us.
I hold all of these memories with deep tenderness and love for the Muslim community, the community that raised me and that to this day nourishes my family especially, 87 year old grandma who prays 5 times a day, never leaves the house without her head covered, who sleeps with the prayer rug of my departed grandfather over her bed and who calls in to weekly Jumuah and Taleem services from home because she can’t travel.
Feeling and remembering the fullness and of these memories and the goodness of community makes me eternally grateful for this rich and beautiful piece of my history.
I hold a deep prayer that all the souls of the departed are received with ease by Allah and I pray that their families are held by the memories and legacies that they left behind.
I also hold a prayer for the gunman that he is held accountable for his actions in this life and the next and that he feels the fierce forgiveness that those in the Muslim community and the world at large hold for him.
As we are witnessing the wide range of illnesses and “-isms” in the world like racism, sexism, impacts of colonialism, xenophobia, violence towards women, exploitative capitalism and misogyny, I invite us to all keep in mind the wisdom of Ruby Sales who says, “We are not born any of these things, by the contrary we are ritualized into perpetuating and upholding these “isms” in the world.” So before we meet his actions with hatred and anger let us remember “..there are two types of anger in this world. Redemptive anger that is the anger that moves you to transformation and human up-building. And non-redemptive anger that white supremacy roots itself in and we have to make a distinction.” Let us all be watchful, curious and mindful of the rituals that are at play which up hold systems of hatred and supremacy and the anger that we each hold for these non-relational ways being.
Inshallah may we all hold ourselves and one another accountable to the ways that we participate in these rituals and the ways we help to up hold the conditions for them to exist. May the threads of humanity woven into each of us remind us of the ways in which we are bound to one another.
P.S. Deep love and appreciation to my late grandfather Brother Oman Mahdi and my lovely and vibrant grandma Sister Dorothy Mahdi.