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Monday, 23 July 2012 07:46

Keeping It Real With al-Fatihah

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As Muslims, al-Fatihah is the all-important verse in the Quran that sets the tone for how we are to live our lives — “Guide us to the path which is straight.” I interpret this for my own life quite simply — to live an honest life and to do so especially when it is the difficult choice to make.

Living an honest life means thinking honestly, sincerely, not maliciously, and not deviously. When you think honestly, the words you utter are sincere and lead to honorable actions

We Muslims recite the Arabic version of this verse as easily as we breathe in and out. It's dutifully recited during prayers and by our children in Sunday school. I recite it at the beginning and end of every journey and at the start and end to each of our progressive community meetings.

There are many translations of al-Fatihah but my favorite is that of Sir Richard Burton:

In the Name of the Compassionating, the Compassionate!

Praise be to GOD (Allah) Who all the worlds made

The Compassionating, the Compassionate

King AND Queen

of the Day of Faith!

Thee only do we adore, (and of)

Thee only do we crave aid

Guide us to the path which is straight

The path of those for whom Thy love is great,

not those on whom is hate, nor they that deviate

Amen! O Lord of the World’s trine.

This summer was a very eventful one for me. I started by conducting several interfaith nikah (marriage ceremonies). I also attended and headed a progressive Muslim retreat in New York and enjoyed a “Culture Show/Book Tour Extravaganza” in Washington D.C.. While in the nation’s capital I attended a book reading by the authors of Alif and 45 American Men on Being Muslim. As an introduction, the hosts included poetry readings, a performance by a female singer (a pretty radical move!), a satirical Nirvana song, comedic acts, and a panel by the authors called, “Ask a Muslim dude.” The panel was a remarkably eclectic group of people from different racial, religious, sexual orientation and political groups. I have never witnessed the inclusion of openly trans and gay members at any Muslim event outside progressive Muslim communities. The diversity was due to the organizer's decision to not discriminate, sometimes the harder choice to make. It was honest.

In response to a question on the future of Muslim men in America, one of the Muslim “Dude Panel” members said, “We need to rid our community of radicalism in our midst and to continue to speak up against it.” It was an honest answer I didn’t expect. And to the question, “What do you think of agnostic and atheist Muslims?” Another panelist responded, “Hell,” followed with a roar of laughter and applause from the audience. That was a reaction I didn’t expect. I expected the audience to be taken aback in silence, not to cheer. Regardless, it was honest.

At the Muslims for Progressive Values annual retreat in New York, we had many honest conversations, sometimes brutally-honest, but even when we disagreed, we did so from a place of respect. In the Muslim communities there are many conversations about Islam its interpretation, and our hope for its manifestation in our daily lives. We see glimpses of these conversations on the comment sections of this column as well as on many other sites. It is necessary and healthy to have these conversations and debates but unfortunately, some contributors resort to name calling using labels like “racist,” “elitist,” or “xenophobe.” Conversations that take this unfavorable and unproductive path are dishonest. They are no longer conversations about Islam, but are taken over by the ego.

In a previous post, I wrote about Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men and how I officiate such nikahs. Most of the Muslim women I officiated this summer didn’t have the support of their extended families, and in one in particular case, not even her parents.

At one nikah and reception there were about 100 family and friends. The mother of the Muslim bride had requested I not only do the nikah but also give a 5-minute talk about interfaith marriages, in other words, to address the many family members at the reception who had an issue with the marriage. My message to the reluctant family members discussed the historical and cultural origins of their unwillingness to accept “outsiders.” In the past, women lost their religious, cultural, and tribal identities to accept that of their husband, and so, Muslim women could not marry non-Muslim men, in fear that their Muslim identities would be shed. But this would not be so today.

In the spirit of al-Fatihah, I challenged the culturally traditional families in attendance, framing the nikah as an honest act that as a community we should be supporting rather than condemning. Obliging cultural norms by having the groom convert to Islam would have been a lie. Deep down in their hearts, everyone involved would have known it.

Starting their lives together on the straight path of honesty is what the newlyweds had chosen to do. Their marriage was a true example of al-Fatihah at its best. Several of the elders, men and women came up to me after my short speech and thanked me for reminding them about the meaning of al-Fatihah and for showing a new way to interpret Islam. Some even offered support for more female imams!

During the fasting month of Ramadan we challenge ourselves to be more disciplined, more spiritually in tune, to be pure in our intent, thought, speech, and action. That is the essence of the straight path. Let us not remember it just for Ramadan, but always.

Wishing everyone, happy Ramadan!

By Ani Zonneveld, Aslan Media Columnist
*Photo Credit: Umar Nasir

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+2 # Dean 2012-07-23 14:56
You married an athiest...so much for being inspired by al-Fatihah
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-4 # Ani Zonneveld 2012-07-23 16:43
Quoting Dean:
You married an athiest...so much for being inspired by al-Fatihah


What does marrying an agnostic have anything to do with being honest? Ah...that's right, you're playing God.
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0 # Arif 2012-08-02 18:58
Dear Ani, Thank you for the post and the translation i had not previously read. My partner and i have been talking about how all Quran readings/ recitations available for purchase are only by men and how lovely it would be to listen to Quran in a female voice. Have you or would you consider making a Quran recitation CD, using your beautiful voice to bring a different beauty to the recitation of Quran?
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0 # Ani Zonneveld 2012-08-25 20:10
Quoting Arif:
Dear Ani, Thank you for the post and the translation i had not previously read. My partner and i have been talking about how all Quran readings/ recitations available for purchase are only by men and how lovely it would be to listen to Quran in a female voice. Have you or would you consider making a Quran recitation CD, using your beautiful voice to bring a different beauty to the recitation of Quran?


Thanks for your kind message and sorry for the late response. I've been considering doing that but as you know that is an art form that takes years of practice. There are many female Quran reciters as there is an International Quran Reading competition, held in Malaysia since 1961, and women are included. Here are a few links for you:
1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1f-4MHAPWw&feature=related
2. http://www.chowrangi.com/pakistani-qariah-won-the-52nd-annual-international-qirat-competition-in-malaysia.html
3. Ignore the Jesus and Mahdi comment but this is good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSv0C8KQlEw&feature=related
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+1 # Arif 2012-08-27 03:51
Thanks Ani

I had no idea any of this existed.
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0 # Oakley Holbrook Sung 2013-04-25 21:42
which allowed for a greater expanse and panoramic view, Youth at Broome recalls Drysdale's trip to Western Australia, and shows the strange shape of the wreck of an old truck protruding over the youth's shoulder.
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