My last Ramadan as a Muslim

My last Ramadan as a Muslim began with a video we at the Vanguard were commissioned to make for the Fast Not Feast campaign:

The video’s style was a deliberate attempt to combine the sort of tone of “The Story of Stuff” and the RSA shorts with the Laitman Kabbalah videos — of course on a much lower budget and with low production values.

By this time I had found myself in an unusual situation of having the opportunity to speak publicly about religion to Islamic forums in London (including two appearances as a minor Muslim spokesperson on the BBC no less). The situation was unusual in the sense that I really wasn’t qualified to talk with any authority about Islam — never made shahada, learnt my salat from the internet, knew no Arabic, etc — but somehow I faked my way in. In general, London’s the kind of place where you can easily get pulled into things, roped into quite high level activities, providing you just walk the walk and talk the talk. I’m not complaining, the city’s done me more good than harm in this way.

I remember being so pleased with the video when we finished it: we really felt like this was “it” for this audience — that we’d accurately worked out what the ummah needed and wanted to hear, in a polished and modern fashion — a Sufic reading of the injustices of power, objectification, really — and a Kabbalic solution to live right and well.

The solution proposed works at one level — but at another was a very deliberate Kabbalic code: when Sally says “Charity = Creativity” she is referring to the “poor girl in rags” of the Zohar — the Shekhina, the immanent, feminine aspect of God. “Creativity” has always been our codeword for this Shekhina, this feminine Divinity. It fills our hearts when we become aware of what our fundamental “lack” or “need” really derives from — and turns that need and lack from something negative into something creative and truly productive. The Shekhina is a field of wheat that is reaped through reading Torah. We were arguing the same idea for reading Qur’an during Ramadan. That Ramadan is a time of Shekhinic harvest of the “real” food, through comprehending our “lack”.

But phrased in a modern language that people might find less mystical — in particular, that the modern progressive Muslim who loves his political/economic theory might enjoy.

I was really happy with the video when I completed it, and felt certain that this was the right tone to take immanetize the Shekhinic potential within the ummah. The modern progressive Muslim won’t stomach the Shekhina or the Zohar, but they love Western-sounding philosophy, the Zizeks, the Foucaults. But a bit of that stuff in to make it scientific sounding, and bob’s your uncle.

That’s the kind of headspace I was in at the time. Quite devious — but well intentioned as well as deluded.

The video went down okay in its screening. Online, there were quite a few objections to the “creativity” angle. People could sense that there was something “not quite right” or “foreign” being introduced into the Ramadan story. I was accused of invention (bidah) — deviation from the normative embodied practice of Islam. That’s fine — I got that all the time with this blog, when I label posts with “Islam” or “Sufism” in the title, there’s always some Islamo-Sufic gestapo out to kindly inform me of the error in my ways.

But also people who were important to me — not strangers, but friends, people who I trusted and loved devotedly — who knew my whole backstory, listened to my whole theology and had encouraged me to go down this particular path of explanation and exploration as a Muslim — they suddenly changed in attitude toward me and finally objected to the “foreign”, “impure” aspect of this content.

That unsettled me. Emotionally at first.

It took a while for me to grasp the point: the language is foreign, the concepts are impure, I did make it all up. It is bidah. Within Islam, Ramadan is an embodied discipline of the body — a legitimate rite, a modality of comportment towards God.

Any kind of Kabbalic/Tailorite projection onto it — of course — has the character of hostility, of a hostile attack on that which forefather’s worship. It is a fundamentally non-religious act, in fact.

And — importantly — for such an act to make sense — derived from my belief that I was speaking the same language, when in fact I was speaking pure gibberish — hostile gibberish, in fact. That they spoke Muslim-ese and I spoke something else entirely.

Maybe I could learn and study Muslim-ese and learn to, at least, accurately imitate how Muslims talk to Muslims. But the fundamental discovery at that moment was, in all the time I thought I was Muslim, I was a mere simulacrum, a poor mimic, a weak fake. The mask had fallen off — no true conversion had ever taken place into their tribe. I realised — of course! — I had never been Muslim. It was just “me” under those robes and prayer hat and facial hair … all that time.

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4 thoughts on “My last Ramadan as a Muslim

  1. After seeking I also converted to Islam without making a shahada. Because I believed that only one worthy of accepting my faith was the Creator of my life to whom I only can be faithful to. I chose Islam because I needed to find out about the ‘veil’ and of course remembrance.

    Along the way, I met many muslims who belong to their own culture not mine. Your tafsirs dear Tailor have always gave me insight ; provided me within a cleansing flame to ‘read’ when my mind dimmed the light from my soul.

    I recall the words for the song by Friends of Design. This sweet song “Apparent”:
    “silently it became apparent
    between the earth and the sky
    that the suffering would vanish
    no Time to reason why

    looked at in parallel
    under the sea and in the air
    it’s our place in the world
    to be here you’re not unaware

    that the meaning of existence
    in this journey back to our mold
    could be part of something bigger
    something marvelous to behold ”

    Who is this song for? For the muslim who visits the mosque and feels at one with other brothers in the jummah prayers? Is it for the sufi followers who look for rituals to perform daily to remember how to return to Love in the secret garden in the heart? I think not. It is for those who fast/not feast. Let me be one of those lovers, free from the opinions and politics of jealousy and hatred. I have spent my time on this earth to be so in this manner free.

  2. I truly congratulate you for your self honesty. The journey is always an unraveling of layers which lead to inner discovery. It’s actually our most exciting adventure, but, It’s impossible without the lantern of self honesty.

    So if your comfortable sharing with us, what’s your next step?

    1. Slm Choni,

      In a sense, you are looking at “what next” — these events I recounted happened exactly a year ago — I am recording them because honesty is something I’d like to maintain in my writing.

      I still consider myself a good friend to the Muslims. They are lovely people – and their practice is also a lovely way of relating to God – it’s just a different language to the one I speak.

      I’m no longer taking the approach of forcing/colonizing their belief system with my foreign reading.

      I think what this means is my writing acknowledges itself as specifically “private sector”. It understands its personal remit and boundary … And I think this makes it closer to art than philosophy or theology. Maybe art is what I aspire to: charity = creativity.

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