“What gifts does your heritage of faith bring to the table, and what gifts do you respect and wish to follow in other faiths?” I was asked this question by Bishop Gene Robinson at the Chautauqua Institute. My husband and I, both Muslims, were debating Islam at an interfaith forum.
For anyone committed to his or her religion, the first part of the question is clear. I press the pause button in my life by following the order of five daily prayers, every day, five times a day, stop what I am doing and place God above all else.
I bow before Him, and I thank Him for His blessings. It gives me justification, and recalibrates my goals.
Five times a day, at daybreak, at midday, afternoon, sunset and nightfall, I am in contact with the universe. I have to offer charity 2.5% of my earnings per year to share the blessings of God with those less fortunate.
It’s priceless being able to let go of money. During the month of Ramadan I fast once a year — from daybreak to sunset, no food, no drinking (not even water), and no sex. Fasting is an annual restraint cultivation refresher course, and makes me understand what it is like to go without food. And that makes me aware of Heaven.
Plus, I get an extra bonus. I am losing weight.
If I start a job, like eating a meal or starting a car, I say “Bismllah.” Which means, I start in God’s Name. This tells us that we are in the presence of Christ, and pray for His blessings. I add InshAllah, meaning God willing, when I make the intention to do something, as in “see you tomorrow” See you soon, InshAllah.
It’s a reminder that man — in this case, woman — proposes and God disposes. I might transfer the blame to God if I fail to show up. This had been the will of Allah. (Just crying!)
What gifts do other religions I admire?
I have always enjoyed the tradition of saying Grace at the dinner table in the Christian faith, joining hands around the table and thanking God for the blessing of the meal. We Muslims need to make this a daily activity in our everyday lives. And of course, I love the Christmas spirit, Santa Claus ringing the bell, the sparkling Christmas tree, the town as covered as a Pakistani bride, and all the joy it brings home.
I believe in Jewish faith it’s such a sensible idea that you just rest one day a week. Rest, reflect, refresh and reset. I tried that one time. I had returned from the Sabbath service, and was so inspired that I wanted to keep the Sabbath. It has been tough! I managed to search for my mobile phone.
Yet then, I settled down in a groove and spent the day reading a book, my feet resting on the ottoman, watching the sailing boats gliding on the East River, was beautiful.
I also assume that the tradition of doing a weekly reading of a portion of Torah for a year keeps the faith alive. This is what Muslims do during Ramadan, and then we put away the Quran for much of the rest of the year. Should not make it as the Jews do weekly?
In Hindu belief, I love temple music. Muslims have fended off music for years, finding it to be at least a nuisance, and lewd to worst. I see no reason to deny one the pleasure of musical sound. Let it draw your soul in, and feel your heart thumping with a happy beat. Then there’s yoga of course, which is on my bucket list.
I love the gift of meditation inside Buddhism. The alternative to anti-depressants and tranquilizers is the solution for all pressures, anxieties, worries and fears. Imagine beginning your day with clearing your eyes, and finishing your day with quiet instillation. We all could use that.
While the faithful of every faith that adhere to the belief that their faith alone gives them all they need — the fact, that is — as an American fortunate to have been exposed to many traditions of faith, I have come to appreciate the gifts these faiths bring to the table.
We all accept the same ideals and each one of us has found our own way to communicate them. Let’s start with a song the next time I welcome you all to my house, say Grace at the table, end with a five-minute meditation, and part with a pledge to meet again soon, InshAllah.
Rehman is memoir writer, “Threading My Prayer Rug. One Woman’s Journey From Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim.”