Religion and family life

June 20, 2009 at 4:35 pm (Islam, religious practices, society)

“And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that [with your lives] you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind…” Qur’an 2:142

Muhammad Asad’s footnote explains that what is meant by this is “a community that keeps an equitable balance between extremes and is realistic in its appreciation of man’s nature and possibilities, rejecting both licentiousness and exaggerated asceticism”.

I have written before about how I feel a keen absence of a middle way in western Christianity. Traditional church demands little of its adherents besides standing up to sing hymns and bowing one’s head in prayer. Fundamentalist church, on the other hand, holds as its ideal a world in which everyone is consumed by passion for Jesus 24 hours a day. I no longer saw beauty in the world when I held this ideal.

While I know that Muslims can certainly veer off to these two extremes too despite the above verse, what I saw of family life in my husband’s country bore a definite resemblance to Asad’s footnote description. The first time I went in 2004, I was stunned to see one of himself’s family members praying right in front of me and others, rather than going into another room. My sister-in-law was fasting, and again this was accepted as perfectly normal. In my own traditional (well, now mostly secular) family, these things don’t happen! I loved the way religious practice was woven into family life, but in such a way that I, as an outsider, didn’t have to feel remotely uncomfortable. It was routine; unremarkable. It was also individual. This surprised me. Hardcore Christian families pray and worship and attend church together and so an outsider would probably feel awkward.

The second time I went, later in 2004, we went to a funfair in the evening. It was fun. Just like any other funfair. And yet somehow it surprised me to see all these women in hijab enjoying themselves on funfair rides, laughing with their kids. As if like nuns they should be sober and sedate, with their minds on the spiritual at all times. In a quiet corner of the funfair there was a prayer area, with a handful of people doing their prayers; right there in amongst all the family fun, God was being remembered, and it really touched me.

It’s little things like this that have really softened me towards Islam over the years. I am so impressed at both the efforts people make with prayers and fasting, and the calm, mature sense of normalcy with which they go about it. It does not seem “weird” or pie-in-the-sky, and yet sincere devotion is apparent. I can’t help but feel that it’s a brilliant thing.

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9 Comments

  1. ellen557 said,

    What a beautiful post! I experienced this once at my university – we have a special prayer centre, but it’s pretty far from the main part of the campus. I was walking through a library once and everyone was chatting and then there was a man doing his prayers near the elevator.
    It is brilliant, isn’t it? And you are so right. I never thought about the more traditional churches not expecting much before – but it’s true. All our priests do here is deliver a good sermon on instructing us through our daily lives and then guide us through prayer. They only really expect us to come once a week, if that. I really didn’t think of it that way!
    Yet again, there is another thing that attracts me to Islam. I keep finding all these brilliant things, maybe I should just bite the bullet hehe.

    Also – where did you get that translation? It sounds beautiful.

    • Sarah said,

      Ellen: I see no reason why Christianity couldn’t be practised that way too, but in western Christianity we don’t have these traditions or requirements. I think eastern orthodox practices are probably more like what we see in Islam.
      I have that translation in book form, but I think I heard that it’s available to read on the web somewhere? It’s been recommended by a lot of bloggers and so far I’m happy with it.

  2. Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

    This is a lovely post! The way you describe it seems perfect 🙂

    • Sarah said,

      Sara: There are, no doubt, many things about the culture that are not so perfect!

  3. Lisa said,

    Touching and sweet post Sarah. Your extended family sounds wonderful and I’m glad you were able to be a part of that culture.

    I have to say that I think a number of us haven’t thought of Islam in these terms. We forget the time alone and how rewarding it can be.

    My church was never fundamentalist and extremely liberal, but everything was still by the books. There was choir, constant choir practice. TOGETHER. There was youth group trips together to water parks, Superbowl watching potlucks, potlucks with old ladies and jello molds.

    Heather and I tried to lose ourselves from the group at the amusement parks, just so we could avoid the cliques, and the perky, perky togetherness.

    Sarah, I wonder if your and my journey’s are easily summed up with one sentence. “Too much togetherness for two girls who preferred to be alone in their faith.”

    Then the problem became having the guts to go it alone. The confidence, the will, the lack of procrastination…..I know that this is where I failed.

    This post gives me so much hope that it’s not too late for you Sarah! I really think you have found a niche in Islam far from the cliques and togetherness of Christianity today. Inshallah I would be so interested to learn what your choices ended up being in Faith in Writing’s quiz

    http://www.beliefnet.com/section/quiz/index.asp?surveyID=27

    These were mine:

    1. Baha’i Faith (100%)
    2. Sikhism (98%)
    3. Orthodox Judaism (97%)
    4. Islam (94%)
    5. Reform Judaism (89%)
    6. Jainism (78%)
    7. Orthodox Quaker (78%)
    8. Liberal Quakers (76%)
    9. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (68%)
    10. Unitarian Universalism (67%)
    11. Mahayana Buddhism (64%)
    12. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (60%)
    13. Seventh Day Adventist (58%)

    I really enjoyed this post dear. Love you so much.

    • Sarah said,

      I don’t have the guts to go it alone, really. But I loved the fact that over there I wasn’t coerced or even encouraged to take part in any religious activities, unlike at my grandparents’ golden wedding weekend where they expected himself to come to church.

      I think I have a love/hate relationship with “togetherness/fellowship” whatever, just like I do with rules. It’s all about conforming, and sometimes I hate it, but sometimes I just want to belong.

      I have yet to try the quiz but I’ll come back and post my results here when I do. Thanks for re-posting the link. Hopefully I’ll do it tomorrow, but it’s time for bed for me now!

    • Sarah said,

      On the Belief-O-Matic quiz, my top 5 are the same as yours (different order though)!

      1. Reform Judaism (100%)
      2. Orthodox Judaism (98%)
      3. Islam (93%)
      4. Baha’i Faith (91%)
      5. Sikhism (85%)

  4. Achelois said,

    What a sweet post! Yes, that is one thing I love about Muslims. Religion *is* a way of life for Muslims and it is very interesting, spiritual and inspiring.

    • Wrestling said,

      It is fascinating when you come from a secular country.

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