Walk this way

Velveteen Rabbi has a post on her understanding of the practice of her faith. The paragraph that most caught my eye was:

The phrase “observant Jew” generally means a person who observes the laws and rituals of Jewish tradition according to a standard set of interpretations. Lately, though, I’ve been wanting to use the words differently. I want to be an observant Jew–someone whose eyes are open. I want to interact with my tradition with clear vision. I want to really see Judaism, from the inside, and find joy and meaning there.

I too often get the question, “are you an observant Muslim?” I suspect because I am a believing Muslim, and a practicing Muslim, that level of belief I would like to think is apparent, but I don’t have a beard, my wife doesn’t wear hijab, and I’m relatively well-educated. Somehow I don’t think that the two, my belief and my appearance, fit most people’s understanding of what a Muslim is, and I make that generalization for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

As Muslims we have become so enslaved to the idea of orthopraxy defining who a Muslim is, that we forget Islam is a mater of faith, or doxis. Since we have focused on a narrow definition of Islam, we need to create checklist to define a Muslim, so current minority communities of interpretation (Shi’ah, Sufis) are excluded, and the richness of the Sunni tradition is flattened. The argument is that this practice is the way the Prophet (PBUH) used to act. However, we forget how fluid the tradition was in the early period.

One of the best examples I can think of is the difference between the Shi’ah and Sunni calls to prayer (adhaan). The morning call by the Shi’ah includes the line “come to the best of all deeds.” Since it is at variance with the majority, it is considered an innovation and wrong. However, historically, that line was in the adhaan during the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH). It was Umar who removed it for fear people would rather pray than go to war.

We need to change the discourse within Islam to what the eternal message of God to mankind was, not whether I bend far enough in prostration.

2 thoughts on “Walk this way

  1. Cross Posting – here’s what I posted as a comment on Velveteen Rabbi’s blog:
    “I actually picked up the reference to your post from Islamicate and came to read it for myself…
    Living as an “observant, practicing, believing, struggling” American Muslim, I really like the way in which you’re reframing the notion of observance – particulary in how it takes the emphasis off of ortho-praxis. I think we’d all be better of if we pursued our own ways of walking without the blinders on.”

  2. Thanks for your warm words about my post. I admire what you say here, and I hope yours (ours) is a perspective which will spread in the months and years to come! People with narrow definitions of “Muslim” and “Jew” tend, in my experience, to be much louder than those of us who want the right of each religious person to define her/his way of being faithful…

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