Just read a Twitter thread and an online blog about formulas for making prayer effective or even accepted. I vehemently oppose this type of logic. So let me start by the reminder of the names of Allah, al-Rahman, al-Rahim. Both come from the root word that means WOMB. Below I will discuss what is this womb and how does it relate to these two attributes. I am so thoroughly opposed to the idea that lest we bargain with God in specific ways, we cannot access Her sacred Mercy and Grace, that I am practically graceless toward such notions.
Although we have formal ritual Salah, I translate this as Worship and NEVER as prayer. We also have PRAYER: “du’a” from the word to CALL. At our most tenuous hour of need we Call to Allah in the primal, visceral way, from deep within. Yes, of course we also recite du’a formulas, with our salah, or after, or as before our simple iftar. I have no qualms with that and practice such daily, myself. But the idea that there is ONLY a set formula, or a set language–NOT the one we speak in our heart, to call upon Allah, well, that is the nonsense of being Muslim as a kind of exceptionalism.
Today I was unable to fast due to a bout of insomnia that started at 1 am. 2 hours later the announcement of “suhur suhur” from several mosques begins. My own alarm is set for 3:40; giving me an hour before the call for salat al-fajr. I managed to get back to sleep for maybe an hour before that alarm went off. Then I hit the snooze button. in fact, I hit is so many times it automatically cut off the alarm altogether. Thus, I managed a bit of ragged sleep, getting up just as the sun was about to rise. I accept this consequence of being in a body that is stressed and also aging to miss the fast for today and even my favorite salah followed by meditation.
I accepted that I would not fast today, just as I accepted last week, that this will probably be the last Ramadan to fast IN MY LIFE.. I surprised myself by NOT feeling lost or despondent about this. In fact, I saw it coming when, 7 years ago, I completely lost the capacity to fast through the long summer days of Northern California. After attempting modifications for the next two years I began coming to be near the equator in SE Asia, as I now live.
I managed to get in 5 more years, including now my 3rd during the pandemic; but it has not been easy or spiritually enlightening.. In fact at times along the way, it has been tortuous. I am thoroughly opposed to the notion of torturing oneself as a kind of devotion. So this is the purpose of this blog. I am sharing the personal struggles with this, my last Ramadan fast for life in order to locate a deeper discussion about faith paradigms.
I felt compelled to write after reading that thread on twitter outlining a RIGID formula for How to make du’a effectively. (It was linked to this article: https://www.amaliah.com/post/45672/the-ettiquetes-of-making-dua-how-to-get-your-prayers-answered which further gets to how to GET your prayers answered.) I mean no disrespect for both these authors in the sincerity they seem to intend. BUT.. I really urge us all to return to the a few things continuously supported by all the sacred sources (ours in Islam and other traditions as well): Divine Compassion.
Let’s start with Islam. EVERY where, in everything, from the Divine we are surrounded by Sacred Mercy and Sublime Compassion. Remember the names of Allah, al-Rahman and al-Rahim are from the word that means womb. Both terms reflect being completely SURROUNDED by the majesty of these TWO derivatives from the physical reality of the womb. No matter how many meanings might be given to them (and have over time….) there is NO way around the link TO the womb.
The ONLY place a human can enter into this earthly realm is through a dark chamber that encases each for almost a year. HIDDEN, except for modern technologies. Indispensable. According to our sacred sources, EVERY single human being entered this planet through this magical all encompassing chamber (except Adam with no Mother or Father, Eve with no Mother, and Jesus with no Father) For all of its mystery, the womb is a perfect place of nurturing. That is why, even babies born of “crack mothers” are none the less still being born. Babies are born during war, famine, drought, migration, earthquakes, starvation, loneliness and despair. Babies are born through the womb in LOVE, in kindness, in JOY, in celebration, in honor and in ecstasy.
This human manifestation of the divine attributes makes ZERO requirement on the part of such soon-to-be delivered beings. I am so thoroughly opposed to the idea that lest we bargain with God in rigid and exclusive formulas, that we cannot access Her sacred Mercy and Grace. that I am graceless toward such notions. For while we do have formal ritual, called Salah (which I NEVER translate at prayer, I translate as Worship), but we also have PRAYER, du’a, from the word “to CALL”. At the most tedious hour this Call to Allah is primal, visceral from deep within. Yes, of course we might all recite du’a formula with our salah or after. Before our simple iftar. I have no qualms with that and myself practice such daily. But the idea that there is ONLY a set formula or a set language–NOT the one we speak in our heart–to me, is just the nonsense of Muslim exceptionalism. As if Allah is NOT multi-lingual. Able to HEAR and respond to us no matter the language we call upon Him with OR WITH NO LANGUAGE at all.
That is how POWERFUL is the Most Beneficent.
When EVER a friend or stranger asks for Prayers. I just OPEN my heart to that which they have shared and PRAYER is done. The sincerity the heart FEELS toward the need expressed is more powerful… IN MY HUMBLE opinion than any amount of finely crafted words. That being said, the use of finely crafted words is a skill an eloquence that, in my use of them enhances the COMMUNAL part of opening such in our hearts. This is a legacy bequeath to me from my father the Methodist Minister. TO this very moment, I repeat the words he used to say at the end of every Sunday sermon: raising one hand to the heavens: “Look to the Lord to receive the benediction!” That benediction, like the dervish who reach with up turned hand towards the heavens and with the other hand reach down towards the earth, As if the Divine energy will be touched by this up lifted hand and then flowed through the body ONTO the sacred ground upon which all who inhabit the earth also stands; is a grace and a majesty.
So, I return in this long winded and over edited message to seeing the end of my life long Ramadan fasting, through today’s suspended fast due to sleep disruption. I tune into, lean upon and embrace fully the MERCY of Allah as can ONLY happen within our own bodies. This body of mine, now in its 70th year since escaping the nurturing womb of my existence is coming to the full year mark of the MOST medically challenging year of my life. It started on the airplane from Indonesia to surprise my family in California. I was struck with pain from an abscess tooth like I have NEVER felt before. I was traveling for hours and over thousands of miles in face mask, hiding the fact that I literally could not CLOSE my mouth due to the pain.
This year, just after I return from a visit to see family in a few days, I will have the abutment and after two more weeks the crown placed over two implants which were completed a few months back. But, as you know, I had the Cancer and the Herniated Disc, both major signs of aging. I did not share that a tumor was found during a routine mammogram. It is benign so I am not really worried. BUT I will be making a diagnostic mammogram in the US just to be sure.
Most days I got out of bed with the call “suhur suhur” from the multiple mosques. I entered each fasting day in a kind of physical pain pretending there is barakah or blessing in that meal in the dark. I could see the end was near. For while it was no challenge to drink a cup of coffee at that hour, even a one-quarter bowl of home made muesli with unsweetened almond milk would be forced into my stomach in agony. Never mind following it up before the adhan by taking my blood pressure medications and pouring water into my already bloating body. THIS is not just a struggle, it is torture. For what purpose? To show I can then go all day long without food or drink and actually not be bothered by it all except for the dehydration. Recent blood work, as requested by the cardiologist, indicates a raise in the enzymes in my blood. A kind of concentration exacerbated by not being able to flush my system through with even water if I wish to keep to the prescriptions of the Islamic fast.
I think I am not too sad because I HAVE been blessed with more than 50 Ramadans. Since the lunar calendar is shorter than the solar calendar, my 50 years has almost twice passed the mark: Every 33 years the Islamic calendar comes back around to meet the solar calendar by adding another year to make it 34 Ramadans.
Keep in mind the Prophet, upon him be peace and the highest blessings of love and light ONLY made it 23 years as a practicing Muslim. He returned to Allah to the age of 63. I have not only done my duty and then some, by fasting while pregnant, nursing, traveling through time zones and now being in my 70th year on earth. I have NO regrets. I have only gratitude (and, as they say, gratitude IS an attitude.)
I look forward to my next Ramadan, when undoubtedly my guilt ridden tendencies will resurface and I will look harder for other ways to compensate for not being able to fast, but for now, ALL I have is joy in the Mercy of Allah.
Allah says in the Qur’an (by way of translation to English:)
“and I HEAR the call of every Caller, so CALL UPON ME..”
That’s it. no formula JUST mercy.