by Husnaa Hashim
Being a Black, third generation, Muslim woman in America, I know that I was never meant to survive. By virtue of existing, everyday I am forced to challenge the structures built to destroy me. And yet, when my body physically and psychologically retaliates against itself in an act of worship, I am forced to recognize that I am aiding in my own destruction. After being diagnosed with depression and an unspecified eating disorder in late 2015, I was rightfully instructed not to fast by mental health professionals. However, the lack of cultural and religious competency in my treatment left me feeling lost, and guilty.
In Muslim community spaces, there is very little conversation surrounding the tangible navigation of fasting, or the taboo of invisible “illness” and “disability” in relation to Ramadan. Rarely is “mental health” spoken about as a spiritual experience, outside the realm of demonization. When I think about what should be a grounding thing to turn to, I think of the Qur’an. But the destruction and the retaliation of this human psyche and this human body are not forgotten. How might one reflect and grow in the face of such conflict?
The Qur’an is a solid foundation through which one might contextualize the physical experience of being a soul presently manifested in human form. All of the nuanced guidelines, meditations and assurances concealed within it are of divine revelation — the entirety of the Qur’an being a resting place, faith being a journey and the Qur’an being a guide that is not just meant to be remembered in times of distress. Juz’ 16 of the Qur’an comprises three surahs: the end of Surah al-Kahf, and all of Surah Maryam and Surah Ta Ha (18:75–20:135). These surahs share the inclusion of the lives of the prophets and reminders about the inevitable judgment from God. By decalcifying our understanding of what it means to be human, these surahs remind us of the groundedness of this world and the reality of the next.
Out of the three surahs, I have the deepest connection with Surah Maryam. Surah Maryam, the second surah in Juz’ 16, is named after the mother of prophet Isa. It does not chronicle the life of every prophet, however it mentions many by name — prophets Zakariya (Zechariah), Harun (Aaron), Yahya (John the Baptist), Isa (Jesus), Musa (Moses), Ishaq (Isaac), Ismail (Ishmael), Yaqub (Jacob), Ibrahim (Abraham) and Idris (Enoch). Allah sets these prophets as a standard of humility and sincere belief. Each narrative of a prophet’s life begins with, “And mention ___ in the Book.” Hazrat Maryam’s (Mary’s) narrative, the second in the series, centers her as the mother of a nation. Traditionally women are not considered to be prophets, and yet, Mary is the vessel who gives life to all of these prophetic narratives. Her womanness was something that never tired, and instead safeguarded and birthed a prophet. As Mary expresses,
And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, “Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.” — 19:23.
I similarly have felt a lack of control over my body/emotions. To know that one of the most revered and devout believers had similar experiences is comforting. When we learn about these devout believers as teachers and guides, rarely are their challenges discussed in relatable terms or rarely are we advised to view our own challenges as an exhibition through the sacred. After discovering this verse, I realized that the overwhelming pains I experienced were simply my soul’s way of telling me that I am more than the shell that is my body. Like Mary, I have spiritual obligations and a purpose to fulfill.
Now, moving into the month of Ramadan and fasting after having not done so for 2 years, I carry much apprehension and a fear of inciting old patterns. After reflecting, I know that fasting is a sacred act, however it must only be done by those in good health. Juz’ 16 reaffirms my humanness and physical resilience. This act of worship must not be a horrific thing, but rather has the capability of being rewarding if I am ready. And if I am not, Insha’Allah I will live to see another Ramadan. I have come to understand this faith as a journey, and these challenges as gifts on the road to self-actualization.
Husnaa Hashim is the 2017-2018 Youth Poet Laureate of Philadelphia. She is a dual-enrolled senior at Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus and the Community College of Philadelphia. Husnaa has competed with the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, performed at various conferences and festivals, and received numerous Scholastic Art and Writing Awards including a National American Voices Medal awarded at Carnegie Hall. Husnaa’s work can be found in RookieMag, KidSpirit Online, the Kenyon Young Writers Anthology, the Voices of the East Coast Anthology, and APIARY 9, among others.