Rahma, Ramadan, & Rainbows

As promised, this is the first in a series of reflections that I will be sharing as part of my personal journey this Ramadan. They are not meant to be instructive or educational as such; rather, they are my own personal musings as I think about and work through my own life and mind and soul this month. It is an exercise in honestly and vulnerability, a way for me to actively strip my ego while trying to show you all who I am.

I am a firm believer that psychotherapists and professors and preachers are just people, and that we are not experts in anyone’s journey but our own. But we can hold space for others, and help them to sort through what they bring, or walk their journey with them for a while, as a helping hand and a listening ear. And we can and should model what it looks like to be on our own journey as fallible, imperfect human beings, because that gives us all permission to embrace our own humanity. So that’s what I’m hoping to do.

More than anything, this exercise, for me, is an attempt to reflect Rahma, something that I think is at the heart of the task we each have on this earth. Rahma is a deep and nuanced concept, and though I’ve written and spoken about it widely for years now, (see, for example, my Ramadan post from last year) it constantly amazes me and I perpetually find myself discovering new ways to understand it.

Rahma, particularly in the Islamic traditions that I live and practice, is the ultimate Loving Compassion that is the Divine. It is the most repeated name of Allah in Islam, and I have always assumed that was meant to tell us something - something about the love and compassion and mercy and grace that is at the heart of Allah’s relationship with each of us.

I have always found Rahma to be an especially potent truth during Ramadan. I LOVE Ramadan. I always have. I love the way that the fast makes me more aware - of the world around me, of myself, and of the Divine. It makes me so deeply grateful for every little thing - every drop of water, every crumb of food, the sunshine, the rain, even my children screaming at each other as they figure out how to play together. I become acutely aware of every single blessing and it honestly overwhelms me. I cry a lot. Rahma in Ramadan for me is about being filled to bursting and feeling so deeply humbled that Allah loves me so much.

I want to be clear that this is not to say my life is always easy or wonderful. I get snippy and cranky and fasting often gives me headaches. I work four jobs and have two kids under 5 and I’ve had depression since I was a teenager, so it’s definitely not easy. But the belief I have that Allah loves me so much is deeply comforting, even at my lowest points (often especially then).

But, not everyone feels that truth, especially right now. In the middle of a pandemic, when both the best and the worst is being brought out in people, Rahma can feel foreign to many, and like an outright lie to others. And Ramadan can just exacerbate that feeling, because it is such a crucible. I know that. I see you. And that’s a fair and valid way to feel.

And while I cannot change the things in your life that make it hard to see, I can do my best to be a mirror, and reflect the Rahma that I know is there for you, until you can see it for yourself. Because really, that’s all I do. As a therapist, and a teacher, and a preacher, and a scholar, and mother, and a wife, and a daughter, and a Muslim - every single thing I do is an attempt to reflect some of that love and compassion back into the world. And every single Ramadan, I am reminded that that is my only real job.

For me, Rahma has always been epitomised by the snow. It’s been my special little code with Allah, my reminder that Rahma is always there. That’s why my logo is a snowflake. But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the rainbows we’ve been using to remind us that better days will come. And I’ve always been a believer that Rahma comes to us in surprising and unexpected ways, like rainbows and country songs. So I’ll leave you with these words from Kacey Musgraves’ Rainbow*, as a gentle reminder you that I will keep telling you that rainbow is there, until you’re ready to look around and see it for yourself. And when you are, (even if you’re still holding that umbrella, just in case!), I’ll be happier than anyone to take in its beauty with you.

“'Cause the sky is finally open, the rain and wind stopped blown'

But you're stuck out in the same old storm again

You hold tight to your umbrella, well, darlin' I'm just tryin' to tell ya

That there's always been a rainbow hangin' over your head.”

Wishing you Rahma and rainbows this Ramadan, and always.


*ps. I’ve linked Kacey singing Rainbow on Seth Myers, but the actual music video is really lovely too. It just needs a CW, because it covers a lot of the areas we struggle with - postpartum depression, family violence, gender identity, interracial relationships, and isolation. It is beautiful though, and if you feel like you can manage it, you can watch it here.

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