On Friday morning, awake prior to Fajr prayers, I was reading Martin Lings’ riveting book Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. I have been studying the faith for almost three years resulting in knowledge, but it is rudimentary because there is so much to know. I was aware of what I shall be spoken, but only dimly. When the rudimentary knowledge was confirmed, it brought joy as there are many implications. This is what the early morning brought me. “For the Prophet had affirmed that entry into the faith effaces the guilt of all past sins.” ( Ibid. p.284)
Efface a word, not previously known. Some synonyms are: erase , eradicate, expunge, blot out, rub out, wipe out, remove, eliminate, excise; delete, cross out, strike out, ink out, score out, obliterate, blank out, block out. The antonym of efface is preserve.
This means that all of the sins committed prior to my coming to the faith are obliterated, wiped out, excised and blocked out. The rationale is that I did not know they were sins, I am not held accountable for my ignorance, particularly if I recognize the sinfulness of prior actions and refrain from those practices. This is of considerable comfort as I have led a rather wild and crazy life.
Of late I have been speaking to many people who were born into the faith. They express wonder at my knowledge and my appreciation, saying that such knowledge and appreciation has been born of my late in life reversion to the Islamic faith. I wholeheartedly agree, old enough to appreciate the difference between being an atheist and believing in the Creator and the After life. My learning of the Islamic faith had a solid foundation as I had knowledge of other faiths – both academic and personal, as I was born a Christian, then studied other faiths in graduate school. My knowledge of Buddhism was academic but during my London days (2017-2019) I was actively pursued by Buddhists – did not realize they were avid evangelists. It was both surprising and alarming. I did have exposure to other faiths. My ancestors were Quakers, briefly attended ‘Friends’ meetings in San Rafael, California. My knowledge of the Hindu religions is sparse. I, I laughingly say it would be far too confusing to practice the faith, as I would not be able to figure out which God I should be praying to.
Me: I would never know to which God I should be submitting my supplication.
They: I think the Gods sort it out between themselves.
Me: That is too confusing for me. It sounds like religion by committee.
They: But Gods are better than humans at sorting things out.
Me: I am not convinced of that. Having one God is simpler, makes more sense. Allah (SWT) forbids the worship of other gods, idols etc etc. I guess I am a one man (at a time) woman.
They: I thought you had more than one husband and many men in your prior life.
Me: Well I did. But this is central to the Islamic faith. Allah (SWT) is both man and woman. He is referred to as HE because the Arabic language uses HE referring to men and women. The faith is binary, but that is too complicated for this discussion right now.
My dissatisfaction with all religion focused upon ‘organized religion.’ In simple terms it is some guy (s) telling me how, and what, to worship. From my vantage point if seems that it is always a guy – never a woman. Wikipedia has a more intelligent description: “Organized religion, also known as institutional religion, is religion in which belief systems and rituals are systematically arranged and formally established. Organized religion is typically characterized by an official doctrine (or dogma), a hierarchical or bureaucratic leadership structure, and a codification of rules and practices.”
Wikipedia continues with an excellent overview of an exceptionally complex system. I urge you to read it, but the following is relevant to what I am about to say.
“Organized religion is distinguished from the broader idea of religion especially in anthropology, sociology and philosophy. American philosopher William James considered organized religion to be distinct from and secondary to religion in and of itself, stating that “out of religion in the sense in which we take it, theologies, philosophies, and ecclesiastical organizations may secondarily grow”. James further comments that the essential elements of “institutional religion” are “worship and sacrifice, procedures for working on the dispositions of the deity, for example theology, and ceremony and ecclesiastical organization.”
But here is the rub. “In the United States, organized religion contributes $1.2 trillion USD to the economy annually, as of 2016.” In simple understandable terms, organized religion is BIG business.
“Ay, there’s the rub,” from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” when Hamlet was contemplating suicide, he said, ““To sleep; perchance to dream: ay there’s the rub: for in that sleep of death what dreams may come?” It is said to mean that there is a problem or contradiction which is difficult or impossible to deal with.” Synonyms are: crunch, difficulty, disadvantage, drawback, glitch, hitch, holdup, hurdle, impediment, obstacle, stumbling block, bar, blockade, brake, catch.
Why is the monetary aspect of religion such a holdup, impediment, obstacle or stumbling block? A great deal of money (and property) is made by and through organized religions. The Islamic faith is not a money maker in the same fashion and other faiths because there are no middle men. No popes, priests, cardinals, money making megachurches, evangelists, television and radio stations etc. etc. I am not saying that the Islamic faith is not a money maker for some. It can be a money scammer as revealed on Instagram. Promises of a home in Jannah if one contributes to mosque building funds, and land acquisition, mosque prayer rugs etc. etc. etc. Some people deserve to be fleeced – such contribution is a sign of ignorance and/or wishful thinking. The scammers themselves will certainly not be in Jannah to welcome them – the fleeced might get there but only as a result of the totality of their good deeds vs. bad deeds etc etc etc. Money does not get you to Jannah, nor to heaven but ‘organized religion’ does not want anyone believing that.
The real and basic ‘requirements’ for those of the Islamic faith are easier and less expensive. The Prophet insisted on five daily prayers saying:”There is no good in a religion that hath no canonical prayer.” (Muhammed Ibid. pg 335) . Modern adjectives for canonical are: recognized, authoritative, authorized, accepted, sanctioned, approved, received, established, orthodox; traditional.
My sense of timing was exquisite. I reverted to the Islamic faith during the pandemic. Mosques were closed. I was guided to the faith by phone – an Imam from a mosque in Richmond, California. I was not, therefore, contaminated by organized religion. The very first mosque I entered was the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque. Such an edifice! My first visit was on October 20, 2022. It was at that time being used as a tourist ‘trap’ – standards had been totally relaxed – individuals could enter in all stages of undress, it seemed like it was an outpost of Disneyland. I was shocked!
Me: This is a place of worship. Not a photography studio or Disneyland.
The mosque staff were so happy to hear my comments and were so encouraging, sensing my dismay
They: If only everyone were like you! This is so difficult for us trying to maintain respectability with no rules in place.
Enforced rules were in place during subsequent visits. Prayer rooms are separate from the tourist ‘industry’. The Woman’s Prayer room is a place of such serenity and beauty, with luxurious facilities for women’s ablution. This is not true of most mosques, women are crammed into small spaces, overlooking men worshipping with tawdry facilities of ablution. The El Rashid Mosque in Edmonton is a prime example. The gym is huge (and apparently getting bigger with the building renovation). One would think the God of Basketball is being worshipped. I once attended Friday prayers – it was almost impossible to breath in the cramped and crowded women’s so-called space. There is some excuse for this as women are not required to attend prayers in a mosque – even Friday prayers. I shall not any longer as my oxygen input is important. I did experience women being most critical of others worship – attempting to enforce rules that are not in the Quran. The Quran forbids back biting and criticism of others, which I observed being regularly and routinely practiced.
For this reason covid because I was in solitary confinement so the beauty of the faith (as intended) was revealed to me. Allah’s (SWT) honor and respect for women, revealed through his Messenger Muhammed (PBUH) is immense. Men and women are equal, a matched pair. Binary as some Islamic scholars explain. Only very recently did I become aware of the fact that Imams have to me men. I am appalled. There I was being critical of the Roman Catholic’s forbidding women to be priests. My chosen faith has the same sexist practice.
Fortunately, there is a difference, a basic and fundamental difference. I do not have to go to mass in a Catholic Church, or a church or cathedral to worship, to practice my religion. I can worship in my own home. My five daily prayers are to be performed but the place of worship is entirely up to me (and Allah (SWT).
Photographs taken at the Grand Mosque shall follow this blog. One, rather amusing (and poignant, was taken on October 20, 2021. ‘Grandson’, as he later became known, is pictured at the Happiness Desk of the Grand Mosque. He was inquiring as to whether the Women’s Prayer Room was open, it had been closed during the pandemic. ‘Grandson’ (not my genetic grandson) is a Muslim, born in Pakistan, was my escort that day. We have stayed in touch over the years. Three of a subsequent visit to the Grand Mosque. The one revealing its sheer beauty has been framed and adorns an apartment wall. One, in a wheelchair next to a sign that labels me as a Person of Determination (their catch word for disabled). I am mobile but need assistance if it is a long trek, such as found at Grand Mosques and airports. A sign also taken on a later visit lists the restrictions which were reinstated, the ‘relaxation’ took place during Expo 2020, in order to attract visitors from Dubai. Yet another indication that money talks in the UAE. ‘Money talks’ is used to say that money has a strong influence on people’s actions and decisions. “Wealth has great influence, as in Big contributors to campaigns are generally rewarded with important posts—in politics money talks. The idea behind this idiom was stated by Euripides in the fifth century b.c., and some 2,000 years later Erasmus spoke of “the talking power of money”. So it has been with us for a long time.
It would be absolutely wonderful to see the Grand Mosque lifted up and plunked down in Edmonton, but that is rather unlikely. I was blessed to be born in Canada, welcoming me after such a long absence. A country whose leader established, and funded, a ministry fighting Islamophobia. A country whose leader appointed an Indigenous woman to the Canadian Supreme Court. So good to be home. I have received tens, if not hundreds, of ‘Welcome Homes’ from fellow Canadians. This makes me happy, happy, happy. Money talks in Canada but not with such a loud voice.