I hope this post finds everyone well, happy, and looking forward to a new beginning, despite the reality that a new journey around the sun involves no indication that our old problems won’t continue. (They most certainly will.) With the acknowledgement that I am a little late, I’d like to begin the new year with a kind of post that I don’t normally write: a reminder.
As most of my (close) friends know, I detest “reminders”–which are usually just patriarchal disguises for slut-shaming, gender-shaming, you’re-not-practicing-your-religion-properly shaming, and all kinds of other shaming in the guise of “reminding” you to be their definition of a better Muslim. It’s the sign-off for every man politely bullying Muslim women to remain patient, kind, and hijabed: “And I remind myself before I remind anyone else.” (Except, of course, he doesn’t; that’s why he’s arrogant enough to regulate your modesty.)
So, I’m not the type to bestow an entire khutbah uninvited–oh, of course I am. Apparently, as evidenced by this post. But lately, I’ve noticed something in other people that I recognized because I do it myself as well, though hopefully not as often anymore. But I want you to know this is forbidden. Forbidden! Listen closely, because other than alcohol and sexual harassment (two unrelated things) and occasionally bananas, your author forbids things neither often nor easily.
It’s tempting, and I know firsthand, to believe that when an event devastates us, or hurts us, or otherwise doesn’t flower as planned, it’s because we don’t deserve the thing in question, or we deserve to be punished. I’ve done this with smaller things–hurting my ankle over my high heels, or catching my brush in my hair, or (cringe) the comb-to-earring phenomenon. I’d stop and wince at the pain and think, “Well, that was for a past or future sin.” I want everyone who does this–and I’ve seen it, so I know there’s quite a few of you, to stop and consider the enormity of what you’ve just done (to yourself.)
Verse 29:10, which I’ve cited on this website before, reads:
They treat men’s oppression
as if it were the Wrath
and I if it isn’t obvious from the hundreds (hundreds?) of posts I’ve already written, I tend to like to clip and magnify verses into brief bits of poetry like that, for the effect. I’ve used this verse to address systemic oppression, especially since patriarchal men behave as though their oppression is mandated by God. But since every ayah of the Quran can be applied in various colors, in shades and degrees of truth, let’s broaden the context of the lines to the entirety of the verse. “And of the people are some who say, ‘We believe in God,’ but when one (of them) is harmed, they consider the persecution as [if it were] the punishment of God. But if victory comes from God, they say, ‘Indeed, God is with us.’ Is not God most knowing of what is within the breasts of all creatures?”
It isn’t only detrimental to the health of your soul to believe that God is punishing you, this verse indicates that such an attitude is offensive to God. Whenever one reads the Qur’an, there is a feeling of peace with the reoccurring realization that God is hardly ever offended by the endless list of petty things men claim offends God, but that what is actually indicated as being offensive to God demonstrates even more deep compassion. It is a mark of the Feminine Divine, of Mercy and Graciousness, that is imbued in every verse encouraging us not to harm ourselves with hurtful thoughts exactly like these.
What’s astounding about the verse is how far it goes: the act of believing one is being punished by God with a misfortune is not only written as an act that is hurtful, but one that is hypocritical. The verse says it is hypocritical to believe “God is with us” when we face victory and not when we face harm, and the next line, “God knows what is in your heart,” often repeated when one is being disingenuous in her faith, confirms this reading. It also hints that true punishment means that God is not with us, by equating the belief that we are being punished with the belief that God is absent from us–the opposite of the mindset that God’s reign is to be associated with punishment. Pain isn’t beautiful, and it isn’t Divine.
Understandably, we want to believe that God’s punishment translates to our closeness with God, because it must mean that our pain is meaningful, or that if we are punished it means God is near for the punishing. But the verse commands us to believe that God is near in the duration of the punishing, not as the source of the punishment. I’ve heard imams and hafizes and religious scholars alike make claims that, “If we could see how much sin God removes from us when we are sick, we would wish to be sick all our lives.” This, I think, is an unholy way of twisting what would have been an otherwise beautiful sentiment: that God is with us in pain, because God is with us always, but that pain isn’t something to uphold as desirable, or holy, or something to seek out, or–I emphasize–something to justify.
God does not want you to justify being “punished.”
Please remember that this year, and always. And be good to yourselves. Nothing distresses me like receiving emails and emails filled with women deprecating themselves, women who are convinced their misfortunes–and their oppressions–are punishments from God, who are frantic in “saving” their souls and redeeming themselves. This, this calamity, has nothing to do with God. God isn’t the source. Oppressors are. And, non-Muslims who happen to read this, if you don’t mind, consider it a religious lecture for you too. And be good to yourselves. Take care of your souls.