In the weeks after 911, I was attending college and saw that my Muslim sisters were noticeably absent from school. So I began to wear a head scarf in solidarity with them. But I learned quickly about how brave these women must be. The 2nd day while waiting for the bus, a car whizzed by with a group of people jeering at me. They went around the block and came back, shouting hateful words. I tried to ignore them, and pretend I did not hear what they were saying when a rock whizzed by my head, and I heard the whoooosh as it passed my ear, missing my head by inches. It made a loud thud as it hit the back of the bus shelter and the car sped away, echoing with the sound of their "triumphant" laughter.
In that instant I realized I could have been killed by strangers who did not even know who I was. The rock was about the size of an adult fist and it was a graphic lesson as to how courageous these women are wearing their head scarf while keeping down the fear hanging over the heads that they endured every day. This subtle fear that was occurring every day in my country where freedom of religion was one of the reasons it began. What the hell?
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Right after 9/11, I had also joined a group of multi-faithed people to guard the local mosque, in case some nut bag would try to hurt the people or their place of faith. Out of these communities came the common people from their churches, synagogues, and temples that included a Holocaust survivor, a Hindu priest and his people, Buddhist monks, Catholic and Protestant ministers and priests with their congregation members, all in solidarity with our determination to keep our fellow Americans safe.
It was also the time of Ramadan that year. As I sat during the darkest time of the day in the mosque parking lot with that mosaic of people who also wanted to ensure that the precious Americans within that mosque came and went without harm. It was a time within our little group that flowed a deep love insulating us from a community that felt so ..."outside" of us. The Outside was bristling with hate boiling underneath the surface of my country. Practically every car had those ridiculous flags flapping as they whizzed by. We never knew which one might carry something that would harm everyone as a supposed sign of "patriotism" and "Christianity". Yet within that unified group standing guard in the mosque parking lot. those of us so different from one another all found a community where my name and their names for the same God, walked calmly among us.
I could not help but notice the amazing faith of these people we were trying to protect. Every day during the times of prayer the men would walk from all parts of the neighborhood. Like those of us who stood guard, they also came from many places in the world. Most appreciated came some of the women who would bring us the delicious food they had prepared for their families after prayer time. All were getting ready for the sun to set when they could interrupt the fasting they endured. Not even a drop of water passed their lips until that sun sank below the Olympic mountain horizon. I could not imagine how difficult it must have been to prepare that food while being hungry and thirsty, but all they brought was beyond delicious.
I must admit, in the beginning I felt a little smug about my faith. After all we did not separate men from women who I perceived were considered "lower" than the men. But as time passed by an odd thing began to happen in my heart. God began to seem more ... how can I express this? He became more gentle, more loving, more nurturing ...there began to take shape a feminine side of God and partly a She just as my own faith ~ and those of the ones around me had taught; "...there is no male or female in heaven..."
Years before 9/11, as a woman who wrote a whole (still unpublished) book of poetry called Looking for a Familiar God, I spent at least a decade trying to find a new relationship with God, because I could not see Him as a "Him" in spite of those from many faiths using that gender for God. I had struggled for so many years with the image of a mighty man sitting on a throne with angels singing beneath His feet and I could not relate to such a Man.
Today there is no huge Man on a throne anymore. Much of it is thanks to that time that these women from the mosque who brought to us their time of Ramadan, resonating a deep reverence for everyone in the world. The best word I could use for what they have taught me is the Greek word agape (love for the world), even though it was also a time that was so ugly, there was so much ignorance that has caused so much suffering around the world ever since. But in spite of the huge suffering that ignorance and hatred has smeared all over the world, a flicker of hope has been kept alive in me. Because I know for a fact that underneath it all resides the love I saw in that parking lot. Love that was far more powerful than any gun, any bomb or any tank because it needed none of those things, indeed those things were abominations within a community spanning so many differences.
Now my faith has taken a radical and wonderful turn that grows every year when Ramadan comes. Ever since that time from 9/11, I learned something important from these women who came with food for us, bringing their laughing busy children, these women who had so much community within their own mosque. They were such an important part of the whole time of Ramadan. They worked long hours after working all day at other tasks while their stomachs must have been growling, inhaling the delicious smells while not letting a morsel pass their lips. Out of their own devotion to God, they were preparing for the time that was so anticipated where all their loved ones sat down together, the dusk coloring the sky in the east and they could finally eat and drink and laugh in community with their loved ones. The joy within that group of women, the generous sharing they so lovingly gave to us who were not of their faith, could not help but seep into the group, adding to the universal love we already all had for one another. I came to learn it was not just the time of Ramadan that these mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunties, and sisters were so important, it was all year around because these women's part in the lives of their loved ones carried the promise of the love of Allah/God to all of us.
12 years have passed and each time Ramadan comes around I remember that time when there was so much ignorance and fear that was so unnecessary, so unfounded. Because violent act that had occurred had nothing to do with those who truly love God who live the love that surrounds us all. Sadly that hatred has died down a little but it is still among us and it is important to do all we can to speak against it. Now Ramadan is precious within my heart because it creates a much closer relationship with God for me, a Christian! You instilled with me along with all those other faiths that came together during that time that God is simply God, Allah is my God too. God Who also speaks to me during the time of the Passover, The Festival of Lights (Deepawali) within the Hindu faith, and during the gorgeous Buddhist chants I now put on my computer speakers in order to just bask and feel that feminine and masculine Presence inside my heart. While none of these are of my own faith, ALL of them speak to my own faith, they deepen it and make me see sides of God I could never have seen without them.
So Happy Ramadan all Kos members who are celebrating this month when the moon is a sickle and the bright star of Venus shine brightly beside it. Thank-you for being so loving and generous to trust me and share with me your amazing courage that comes out of your own love of Allah/God. You have taught me about how your own struggles and wrestling still inspires the gentleness, the community, the love that you bring to the rest of the world. I have learned that whether or not you believe in God, or what Name you use for God, and for each special strength each faith carries, your steadfast determination to keep those qualities within your heart in spite of the ignorance and fear that others have, your faith and courage surpasses my own and this is why the time of Ramadan inspires me to keep going.
Thank-you for all you give, after the other waves of culture influencing us that came before, you bring another rich and beautiful layer that is precious! Happy Ramadan to all Insha'Allah! May this Holy month of Ramadan brings Light and Faith to all Hearts!!
Love, Cat in Seattle