Muslim Faith in Central Minnesota

I am continuing to read and enjoy Hudda Ibrahim’s book, From Somalia to Snow: How Central Minnesota Became Home to Somalis. This morning I am reading Hudda describing the beliefs and practices of the Muslim faith as practiced by Somalis. I am attracted to a number of thing that I would like to share. Some practices remind me of my own Christian traditions. Here are a few:

The Arabic word Islam means submission to the will of God and derives from the word islama which means to surrender. I love this. It reminds me that Jesus once spoke these words to the Father: “Not my will but thine be done” and he admonished his followers to always do what God wants of them. In this sense, anyone who chooses to do the will of God is a Muslim at heart.

Salah is the practice of praying five times a day. When I was staying in the Palestinian district in Israel, Muslim prayers were sung five times each day over a loud speaker for all to hear. A Christian woman I was with said, “Isn’t that wonderful, to be reminded five times each day to turn our thoughts and hearts to God in prayer.” She was not deterred by the fact that the prayers were not Christian nor were they spoken in her language. She just jumped in and prayed her own prayers. There is a history of regular daily prayers in the early church. Some Christians may remember the angelus bells that still ring from churches around the world. I recall that there were specific prayers associated with these moments of reminder to pray. Farmers in their fields would stop and pray in gratitude to God for His abundance. The Brevary is still read by priests and other Christians throughout the world: psalm readings and prayers read at specific times throughout the days of the year. Hudda said that in this country, Muslims sometimes use their I-phones to remind them to pray. What a great idea!

Zakat is the tradition of paying alms. She writes: “Only those who have been bestowed by wealth should pay alms to the poor. According to eminent Muslim scholars in St. Cloud, the payment of Zakat multiplies one’s wealth. In Islam, wealth hoarding is prohibited.” This last statement really struck me. It speaks of a special responsibility to be generous with the gifts God has provided.

Sawm is fasting and Muslims around the world fast during the whole month of Ramadan. I admire my Muslim friends and family who fast during Ramadan.They go far beyond what I have experienced as a Catholic. Nevertheless, the purposes for fasting as a religious practice are similar: total devotion to God, an appreciation of the gifts He has given and to develop a sense of compassion for those that have less than we do.

Wudu is ritual cleansing done before prayers. Similar Christian practices would include blessing oneself with holy water when entering a church and ritual washing during the celebration of the Eucharist in some churches. Hudda mentioned that Muslims have had to adapt to their particular situations in schools or work places. My feeling is that we can at least try to accommodate them wherever practical.

Muslim women sometimes wear a Hijab, the traditional head covering. They do so for modesty and for religious reasons. Christians often like to wear crosses and Jewish men may wear a yarmulka. We are used to seeing priests and ministers, monks and nuns wearing garb that signifies their devotion. I think it is a beautiful thing when people are not afraid to show their devotion to God in this non-intrusive manner.

Some people might say that for Muslims to wear their special garb or to stop and pray during their work days is pushing religion on others. When I see Christians wear crosses or bow their heads to say grace before a meal in a public restaurant, I don’t in any way feel they are pushing religion on anyone. I enjoy watching people express their faith in different ways. I especially like it when devotion is followed by love and compassion for others. It is this common outcome that makes us one in Spirit.

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Somalis Coming to America

My spirituality book club is reading From Somalia to Snow by Hudda Ibrahim, a faculty member at St. Cloud Tech, is a Somali immigrant, here since 2004. We are excited to have Hudda join us when we get together to discuss the book.

I want to share one small passage this morning because it expresses, I believe, the plight of any immigrant coming to America. Those of us born and growing up here take for granted the comfort we feel walking about and the ease of maneuvering our systems. Hudda shares the words of a Somali man who came to this country in 2014 that captures what our ancestors must have felt coming here:

“No newcomer will be able to navigate American life without any support from their own community. When you are new to a place, you don’t speak English, and (if) you don’t have genuine support, your transition will be ineffective. You feel like you are thrown out of a plane with a parachute into the desert. You have no water, food, or home. All you do is wander around, not knowing which direction you are heading. You feel lost and confused. You feel weak and vulnerable.”

For these new people, connecting with others who not only know their language but understand their culture and their needs is vital. I have had the experience of being in another country not knowing the language. My biggest fear was to be left alone without the assist of someone who could represent me and express my needs. The help the Somalis are getting in St. Cloud is first of all from their own Somali people, but I feel gratitude to the St. Cloud citizens for working to welcome them. It takes a special effort to open the doors to employment and reach out to assist them in working with systems while they work on learning the language and familiarizing themselves with the American culture.

Hudda goes on to share barriers and some of the negative experiences that many Somalis are experiencing, but the large influx says to me that there is a more welcoming spirit than not. I think of the coming of my German and Polish ancestors over a hundred years ago. I am grateful that they found a place  here and were able to settle in. I hope others can remember that here in this place, unless you are one of the original people, you are an immigrant. We need to treat immigrants the way we ourselves would want to be treated.

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No More Labeling People for Me

I am going to try to drop labels altogether, even when people like to claim them for themselves. The ones that keep me befuddled are the political ones, especially liberal and conservative. I am considered a liberal but at times I get bucky about the label. I don’t blindly follow every leader that calls themselves liberal. Nor do I resist every conservative idea, especially when I think the idea has its roots in compassion. I understand the idea that well-meaning people can have different ways to approach a problem. I struggle when either conservatives or liberals deny the existence of problems however.

However you interpret the above or whatever your opinion of me, I will state my main point again: I am going to try to drop labels. Instead of saying a cousin is a conservative, I might say they hold some conservative views. Rather than say a friend is a liberal, I might say that in my sharing with them their views appear to be more in alignment with liberal thinking. Wow! I might find myself getting terribly wordy and people might stop hanging around me. But I want to open my heart and affirm that people are unique human beings who think and feel many different things.

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It Is All An Illusion…Unless It Is Not

Many of the books on spirituality that I read will use the word “illusion” when talking about life, especially those that deal with eastern thought. I have to admit that early on, when I would come across this word, I was baffled. It was as if the gurus that wrote these books were denying my very existence upon this earth. Crazy, I thought. What was crazy was the way I was interpreting what they were saying.

I came across it this morning again and thought I would speak to “Illusion” as I have come to understand it.

Any thought I have of the future is an illusion, that is, it is only a thought and has nothing to do with reality.  The only reality is whatever unfolds in the future as it happens, that is when it becomes present. So any thoughts that I have about the future such as fear of how a person will react to something I have done or how an event will turn out are simply thoughts. Sanity is knowing this and refraining from doing it.

Any thought I have of the past is an illusion, that is, where it was once a reality it in now only a memory, a thought. When I think of the past I often hang judgment onto my thoughts. I assume things like what other people were thinking at the time. Of course, I can’t really know that because I can’t get into the mind of another person. Sometimes I think that their intentions or thoughts were negative toward me and that leads to a resentment on my part…anger about an illusion. Sanity is knowing this and refraining from doing it.

Any thought I have that I am better or less than another person is an illusion. My standing in the world is something I know nothing about. I know zero about the goodness or badness of another person. I don’t even have a handle on my own goodness or badness. Measuring sticks based on class, wealth, family origin, health, fame or success are meaningless because they are basically superficial…they don’t get into the reality of a person. I have learned over the years to drop these measuring methods and just accept that we are all equal and my faith would add, “In God’s eyes.” Sanity is knowing this and refraining from setting myself apart from others by seeing myself as less or more.

Any thought that I have that I am separate and alone is an illusion. My behaviors affect others whether I realize it or not. Their behaviors affect me. We are all upon this earth interconnected. This is true whether speaking of the people I encounter each day or folks across the world. It is true whether I am talking about folks I really like or those I find majorly irritating. Sanity is knowing this and taking responsibility for my actions.

If all of the above is an illusion, then what is left to be called “real”? Here and now, this very moment is real. These words flying across my page as I think them – this is real. My husband is at this moment taking a shower and in a while will emerge and go onto something else. I will finish this post and move on as well. Then another moment will be real, while I am in it.

Is this crazy thought to you? Well, it used to be for me, too, but I am starting to get the hang of it. I have brief moments throughout my day when I snap into awareness of the moment. When that happens, the world around me gets “real”. The greens of the fauna show their contrast more brilliantly, the birds’ songs and the cows moos and that doodle-do of that one rooster down the road suddenly scoop me up by their chatter. I become aware of the wind, its direction, its temperature, its moisture and the aromas it carries wafting up my nose. I am here. This is sanity. This is real.

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Dream of a Little House

It is a wonderful thing to see realize that you and one of your heroes share a dream:

Carl Jung, in his memoir writes of that one of his dreams was “to have the family in one house, while I would life some distance away, in a hut with a  pile of books and a writing table, and an open fire where I would roast chestnuts and cook my soup on a tripod. As a holy hermit I wouldn’t go to church any more, but would have my own private chapel instead.”

My dream for sure. The problem is, I would still be in charge of cleaning the big house and doing the laundry.

I hate reality.

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Standing in the Solstice

Being raised in the Catholic Church, I know what it is to have ritual as part of my religious experience, but I cannot recall any ritual associated with the changing of seasons. If one studies the history of the rituals, there is for sure a link but in the practicing the thread is lost. I wish it had been otherwise. Every time there is a change of season, I think, “I wish I were more plugged into this important event.” I don’t belong to a community that celebrates the change of seasons. I think the pagans do something and I happen to know a pagan but I don’t think she belongs to a celebrating community…I could be wrong.

I suppose I could do some celebrating of my own. I happen to know that the shift from spring to summer happens at an exact moment in time. I looked it up…at 11:25 this evening, about two hours after I usually hit the sack. I will need a good nap if I am to stay up. But if I do, what can I expect to happen? We have already been living in the hot days of summer.

I think my problem is that I am not subtle enough. I am so numb-headed that changes have to blast their horn at me for me to notice. Let me think about this. I have been following the pattern of sunrises and sunsets for several years now, ever since I decided it was a good practice to greet the sun in the morning. I have noticed a strange phenomenon. The time of the rising and setting changes each day by about two minutes…one in the rising time and another in the setting time. So from the winter solstice, the daylight extends approximately two  minutes. Summer solstice marks a reversal. Each day from now on will get shorter until winter solstice. Halfway between these events are the fall and spring equinoxes…when day light and night are about equal.

Here is the phenomenon. The time of sunrise (5:27 am) remains the same for 5 days over the time of the solstice. The time of sunset (9:11 pm) stays a whopping 14 days! It feels like time is standing still – or that some really big object is trying to make a sharp turn. Thinking about it makes me want to hold my breath, like I am going over the first hill of a roller coaster.

God is awesome, as in awe-inspiring. What in the heck are we doing worrying about these grains of sand on the earth and the scuttling around of little mites? I wish I had a community to celebrate this thing with me. Meanwhile, I think I may stay up tonight and stand in the moment of the change.

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The Problem of Knowing

Carl Jung, in his biography Memories, Dreams, Reflections recollects his inner life during his teens. After a profound spiritual experience, he found that he was actually like two persons in one. “One of them,” he wrote, “was the schoolboy who could not grasp algebra and was far from sure of himself; the other was important, a high authority, a man not to be trifled with, as powerful and influential as this manufacturer.” When I read these words, I couldn’t help think of Jesus who, at the age of twelve, spoke of having a father other than the one who had raised him. What was the inner experience of Jesus that prompted  his words to his parents when they found him in the Temple? Had he, during this particular Passover journey, discovered something in himself that he hadn’t known before? In the story, Jesus parents are said not to understand. They just brought him home and life continued as it had been before the journey to Jerusalem, so they thought.

For Mary and Joseph, life was the same, but something had changed for Jesus. Jung tells of conversations he had with his minister father:

“…when I was eighteen years old, I had many discussions with my father, always with the secret hope of being able to let him know about the miracle of grace, and thereby help to mitigate his pangs of conscience. I was convinced that if he fulfilled the will of God everything would turn out for the best. But our discussions invariably came to an unsatisfactory end. They irritated him, and saddened him. ‘Oh nonsense,’ he was in the habit of saying, ‘you always want to think, One ought not to think, but believe.’ I would think, ‘No, one must experience and know,’ but I would say, ‘Give me this belief,’ whereupon he would shrug and turn resignedly away.”

My mind is flooded with the many words of Jesus about the kingdom of God being within and about knowing the truth. I recall that most of those around him failed to comprehend what he was talking about, just like Jung’s father could not comprehend his son’s words. Knowing something that can change a person’s life but that no set of facts or logical argument will transmit it to another is a helpless and lonely place to be. It was for Carl Jung and it was for Jesus.


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