I grew up in a very spiritual family, yet they weren’t big on rituals and organized religious structure. Since my early childhood, I learned to talk to God in the most intimate of ways - just open your heart and pour it all out. Tell God what you feel, what you need, what you are grateful for, what you like and dislike, what scares you and what delights you… tell Him everything. He is interested… He listens.
I have always been an extremely introvert person, you may even call me a hermit. I find it extremely difficult to socialize or to make friends. God has always been my friend, my refuge, my comfort in all my light and dark moments.
When I took a leave after the birth of my first child, I decided to formally study my religion for the first time. I wasn’t very welcomed in the mosque, though. I was “different.” I did not belong.
As usual, I buried my true self in order to fit in… I suppressed this part of me that they rejected… this most authentic part that forged the intimate Divine connection I so much valued… “God can’t be your friend, this is so disrespectful!” they told me, “You only talk to God in the way He taught us to. We’ll teach you,” they said. And, I believed them. I needed to fit in… I so desperately needed to belong. So, I stopped my intimate conversations. The compassionate language of the heart that I grew up with was soon morphed into a sterile language of do’s and don’ts, of halal and haram, of heaven and hell.
But, for how long can you press yourself into a mold that doesn’t fit you? I couldn’t fit in… it wasn’t me. Don’t get me wrong, though. I am a traditionalist. I believe in the importance of religious rituals, doctrine, and structure. Yet, for me, these are the framework, the scaffolding not the main course.
The Prophet taught us that God says, “My slave will not approach me by anything more favourable for me that what I have enjoined on him.” - literalists stop here… they ignore the rest of the saying: “and, my slave keeps coming closer to me by optional worship acts till I love him. And, if I love him, I’ll be his hearing with which he hears, his eyesight with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his leg with which he walks. If he asks me, I’ll give him and if he seeks my refuge, I’ll protect him.”
Rumi, in his Masnavi, relates a story of an encounter between Moses and a shepherd:2
“Once Moses overheard a shepherd pray:
‘O God! O God!’ He heard the shepherd say,
‘Where do You live that I might serve You there?
I’ll mend Your battered shoes and comb Your hair,
And wash Your clothes, and kill the lice and fleas,
And serve You milk to sip from when You please;
I’d kiss Your little hand, and rub Your feet,
And sweep Your bedroom clean and keep it neat;
I’d sacrifice my herd of goats for You
This loud commotion proves my love is true.’
He carried on in this deluded way,
So, Moses asked, ‘What’s that I hear you say?’
‘I speak to my creator there on high,
The One who also made the earth and sky.’
Moses replied, ‘You’re truly lost your way,
You’ve given up faith and gone astray.
It’s gibberish and babble, stupid twit;
You’d better learn to put a cork on it!’ […]
‘If you’re aware that He is God, our Lord,
Why act familiar when that is abhorred?
Such stupid friendship’s truly enmity;
The Lord’s above such acts of piety.
For relatives reserve your generous deeds -
God has no body, nor material needs.’
The shepherd said, ‘Your words have struck me dumb.
Regret now burns my soul, and I feel numb.’
He breathed a heavy sigh and ripped his cloak,
Then in the desert disappeared like smoke.’
A revelation came down instantly:
‘You have just turned a slave away from Me!
Was not to lead to union why you came?
Is causing separation now your aim? […]
I’ve given each one his own special ways
And, his unique expressions when he prays. […]
I stand immune to all impurity
Men’s pride and cunning never bother Me. […]
I’m not made any purer by their praise;
They gain in eloquence and godly ways.
And, I pay no attention to their speech,
But their intentions and the heights they reach -
I know when men’s hearts have humility,
Even if they should speak too haughtily.
The heart is the essence, words are mere effects:
The heart’s what matters, hot air he rejects.
I’m tired of fancy terms and metaphors;
I want a soul which burns so much it roars!’ […]
Once Moses had heard God’s reproach, he ran
Towards the desert, searching for that man;
He followed footprints that the shepherd laid,
Scattering dust throughout the track he’d made. […]
On reaching the poor shepherd finally,
Moses announced, ‘I bring you God’s decree:
Don’t bother with good manners anymore,
But let your heart express what’s in its core! […]
Absolved by God, Who does what He should will,
Speak out, and don’t be scared I blame you still!’”
1 Brené Brown - Atlas of the Heart
2 Jawid Mojaddedi’s translation