How my Abu fostered in me a beautiful relationship with Salah
Rayyan shares her childhood memories of praying with her Abu and how Salah has helped her feel more connected to herself and Allah.
My Abu prayed all five times a day, for the majority of his adult life. Islamic teachings, stemming from both the Quran and sunnah, are interpreted by many as supporting the use of force in getting one’s child to perform prayers. While many others interpret that violence is not allowed for this purpose and would consider abuse and a sin.
I don't ever recall Abu beating me into praying, or forcing me to do so. He understood that the use of force could instead result in us despising the very thing. Instead he encouraged us to pray, and helped foster a relationship with salah. He took us to the mosque with him often. We have memories running around Ibrahim Kahleel Mosque, Dubai. I can almost remember the smell of the mosque – It was a pleasant smell, with a calming and grounding sense to it – Nostalgic goosebumps are taking over my skin as I write this.
Often bunking prayers with my siblings and exploring the areas around the mosque, I remember the times we prayed the long rakats of taraweh during Ramadan. So long our legs would hurt and cramp. One Ramadan, we stayed in a few nights of i’tikaf (staying in seclusion in the mosque for the last ten days of Ramadan) and I was often moved to tears in prayer. Not always understanding the words, but sensing a sadness in the recitation and and relating and projecting my own trapped queer child sadness onto that.
My Abu suffered from high blood pressure and was asked to watch his stress levels. Growing up, the sight of Mummy checking his blood pressure, listening patiently with stethoscopes was regular. He took efforts to better his physical health and his mental health. I recall afternoons with him laying in bed listening to guided meditation on cassettes. I guess growing up through his example, I came to see salah/namaz not only as a means to worship, as a duty, but as a tool for seeking peace.
“Khushu refers to a state of mind in salah when we stand in front of Allah and fully direct our minds and hearts towards Allah, we can liken this state of mind to a single-minded immersion of oneself with a deep focus on the activity at hand and one that leads to maximum performance. Being in a good state of mind makes us feel livelier and more productive, and life generally seems more fulfilling."- Shabbir Ahmed Sayeed and Anand Prakash in The Islamic prayer (Salah/Namaaz) and yoga togetherness in mental health.
It took me a significant while before I was able to go from the namaz-bunking child, running around the mosque, to my relationship with Salah today.
In 2019, my Mummy, siblings and I went to umrah. My Abu had passed away by then. My first visit to Saudi Arabia, I wore the Ihram and walked between Safah wa Marwah, and then prayed in front of the Ka’aba. Walking with all the folks, from all the different spots on the globe, encircling the Ka’aba.
While I was there I prayed intensely and profusely as most pilgrims do. I remember asking Allah to guide me in matters of love and marriage. My persistent wish was “Do not let me hurt anyone else. I am tired of hurting people. I have hurt my Abu, my mummy, my family and those that have loved me. Please help me to no longer hurt the people that love me.”
I recall the sense of calmness in prayer, how it reconnected me to memories from my childhood in Ibrahim Kaleel mosque, how it warmed me. It dawned on me that it was helping me manage my mental health as well. Like Yoga, the meditation of salah allowed me to become more aware and present.
Along came 2020 and my life changed. The two most interesting changes were :
1) I finally accepted my gender identity as a transgender 'enby' identifying person
2) After 30 years of having a relationship with Allah, I understood that they do not despise me for who I am.
It wasn’t easy. It took two years. A message did not come to me in a dream, there were no voices, yet...It felt like a revelation. I no longer felt the necessity to frame my relationship with salah, or even Allah through other folks’ lenses. It did not matter any more if another human told me I am a Muslim or not. This is when I realised that it did not matter if somebody else thought of me as a man, woman, or outside of the binary. The opinion that matters most to me is mine.
2. Shabbir Ahmed Sayeed and Anand Prakash title The Islamic prayer (Salah/Namaaz) and yoga togetherness in mental health.