An infidel’s prayer

22 Aug

Born into a muslim family , “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali , is not a book I should’ve been reading in the month of Ramadaan. And definitely not the kind of book I should be reading on the train while coming to be with my old mother , who has had a recent surgery for a fracture on her femur. I should be praying to Allah for her speedy recovery , as would be recommended by the religion I am supposed to espouse. And yet , I was hooked on to her tale , following her through Somalia , to Saudi Arabia, to Ethiopia and Kenya and Holland. I was wonderstruck at her resilience, her uncompromising spirit . The range of experiences and suffering she had gone through left me in a constant state of curiosity ..what came next..what is there on the next page? How did she come to terms with her tribal/religious upbringing when the questions started tormenting her…questions regarding a compassionate God, who as per the book would punish us with the everlasting fires of hell, for our misdemeanors. Did she come to terms with it at all?

Imagine a little girl who had even undergone genital mutilation to supposedly preserve her “purity” and who had had no trouble abiding by the dictats of her community, growing up in Africa through the years when the different states were in a state of war torn anarchy and from there fighting her destiny all on her own to become a Member of Parliament in the Dutch Government , surviving a death threat and still standing tall and unbent .

But I had just about reached the chapter where she was about to be enrolled in one of the prestigious universities in Holland , where she had sought asylum, in an attempt to escape from a marriage her father had made her undergo, of course which was to be in her best interests, according to the paternalistic mores. I had gone off to sleep and had to get down at my hometown Kannur, early next morning. The book was left behind , I think , for I’ve been trying to locate it in amongst my clothes and stuff and it seems to have disappeared.

I’d bought “Infidel” and Arun Shourie’s book , “Does he know a Mother’s heart?” after many, many , many months of not stepping into a bookshop. I had actually been thrilled to be holding two brand new books in my hand. The smell of new print , the crisp paper, the prospect of turning through the pages to delve into the personal accounts of intimate journeys through the minds and spirit of two , whose circumstances in life was intense enough to shake loose the bedrock of faith . to gauge and assess one’s own churnings in the light of the meanings of life that they had discovered for themselves, was an invitation, I could hardly resist, to say the least.

I started with Arun Shourie’s book, his personal memoirs about his relationship with Faith and the denial of it through the journey of bringing up his only son who is affected with cerebral palsy. and I couldn’t finish it. Pages and pages of it were just quotes from the Koran and the Bible , which would ,to any questioning human being , raise doubts about the compassion and love of the God we are supposed to worship, make us wonder at Hell and the unforgiving nature of the Master of the Universe, when he assigns suffering to us and eventually confine us to the flames to be roasted continuously without ever having any reprieve. Shourie is supposed to go on with his questioning with the established ritualistic Hindu religion as well, but I didn’t get there. The problem was , I think, that for someone who has had issues with religions where questioning is not allowed, Shourie’s exposition was a dull repetition . He was meandering again and again through the same material.
I have always wondered, is communication more difficult for men than women? Not about the knowledge, not about the intellectual range, not about the reasoning part or logic…but something remains missing in the emotional content which would make writings of such a personal dimension relatable to the reader. Is it because men are loathe to reveal what they actually “feel”. Is it that they cannot find the words to express them or is it that doing so is a sign of exhibitionism in their perspective? Or may be men can indeed relate to it and women cannot. Or may be they can and it is just me who has a problem. Whatever. ……although both books are in the same genre, Arun Shourie’s narrative did not touch my heart the way Ayaan Hirshi Ali’s did. And now may be I will not be able to finish reading her tale as well, for a while.

My mother is in pain. She is in denial. She is depressed. Old age is trying, very trying, particularly if one hasn’t learnt to let go of attachments, of being in control. My mother is a namaazi. She has fasted during Ramadaan for the most part of her eighty plus years. She has abiding faith in the Holy book and in Allah’s compassion. None of which seem to be helping her through her suffering now. The standard rhetoric is of course that God(by whatever appellation) keeps testing us. Unless you can blindly, sedatedly, unreasoningly believe that, the question will continue nagging you….why would anyone want to do that, untiringly through all the “Time” that there was ,is and is going to be.? “Surrender” to a Power who can never be satisfied with the incessant “testing” of it’s own powers ?

I’ll probably burn in Hell and yet … … I cannot deny the feeling of infinite love that fills me in moments of silence. And I’m okay with appealing to that entity of Abundant Love to help relieve her insecurities , her fear of the unknown , which makes her cling on so desperately to her own image of physical strength and endurance and will power. I pray that she accepts the fact that it is okay to be vulnerable , to be weak , to be dependent. I pray that her mind may be free from the chatter and noise in which we find affirmation of our Self. I pray that she is able to surrender, really surrender .


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19 responses to “An infidel’s prayer

  1. Omprakash Jain

    July 29, 2014 at 8:26

    Nadira Mam ….. Thank you for writing such wonderful thoughts where in you have brought truth and Love is the Biggest god in the Universe which has happened and rest all some are created and some self made.

  2. Neema

    November 17, 2011 at 8:26

    You have already received such apt and beautiful comments for this very honest and thought provoking post, that whatever I wish to add has already been said. The last two paragraphs summarize the angst that I have been personally experiencing now for more than a year or so, and which has sometimes given me much peace and sometimes made me wallow in guilt. And yet I could not help but question and ponder. I tried discussing it with people seemingly in the know and they have either been very critical and in tsk tsk mode or just simply allocated my faith or whatever was left of it to a subject of mere ridicule. Neither was satisfactory. And then I read your doubts, and I could so relate to it,and its such a relief to know that you have also taken that journey…so much more I can say on this, but I know you get the drift by now 🙂 Much love Nadira, I hope you find the truth you are looking for and also that I find some answer to all that chatter in my head !

  3. Nanka

    September 1, 2011 at 8:26

    Dear Nadira, I belong to the Hindu faith but not a staunch follower of rituals. I believe that God is a superior being who is all knowing and embodies a multitude of attributes and includes compassion too. We have no reason to fear God or fear Heaven and Hell. Our life is here on earth and our karma decides our fate. It is cyclical and recurring at regular intervals depending on the quality of life lived. As we believe in rebirth, (while some other religions don’t) I would say heaven and hell is here on earth and it all depends on us, what we do in our lives. As the saying goes “As you sow, so shall you reap” also every action has a reaction ~ Goodness is rewarded with a better quality of life and evil is punished with a tougher life, ….and so the cycle of life goes on and on.

    Nadiraji you have put an intelligent and very thought provoking post here and of course you are thinking and well read too!! I admire your qualities and the way you have expressed yourself here!! I pray for your Mother and as Amy rightly states~ ” that she accept whatever peace the Creator has in store for her, ”

    Wishing you the very best and much Peace!!


  4. davidtenn

    August 26, 2011 at 8:26

    Well, well I have just found you and it feels not before time, if time exists. Your words carry the light in themselves and between them in the lines. Beautiful soul may I come and see you again please?

    • dreamingthruthetwilight

      August 27, 2011 at 8:26

      David, what greater joy can there be , than when we connect in love, you and I and the others who realise the strength , the comfort , the hope that comes to us when we see another and see ourselves in them? I’m so glad you walked this way.

  5. Sharp Little Pencil

    August 26, 2011 at 8:26

    Nadira, this was a challenging post, and I hope I choose my words well. Having been brought up Christian (Prostestant, not Catholic), I was raised to shelve my doubts. Only after years of an apartness from The Creator was I able to ask for help in a very dark hour, and was answered. Since then, I tried to find a Christian community that welcomed questions, that didn’t just spout dogma, that encouraged women in leadership roles, that believed in love and in social justice (the reflection of Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor.”). I found such a church, and our studies of the Bible are filled with irreverent, witty, surprising conversations. Our questions are not answered by the pastor (who is my husband); in fact, we are known as the Denomination of Questions.

    As for the books, I want to borrow Ali’s from the library, or perhaps our church will purchase one so all in our church can read it. We are embarking on a shared journey with a local mosque in studying Islam and Christianity together, talking about what we have in common (especially monotheism), but also tackling the hard questions: Why do so many Christians insist that parts of the Bible are meant to “keep women down and quiet”?

    In our apt. building here in Madison, Wisconsin, we have Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and various believers and non-believers all living in community.

    And prayers for your mother, that she accept whatever peace the Creator has in store for her, which will eventually be of a permanent nature. But permanent peace is what my own mother prayed for, and that prayer was granted her 20 years ago.

    Wishing you peace, and thank you, Nadira, Amy

    • dreamingthruthetwilight

      August 28, 2011 at 8:26

      You know Amy..I have no doubt whatever that there have walked upon this earth persons who have had a glimpse into the truth of all our existences. May be that experience or awareness is something so beyond the grasp of our ordinary senses and intelligence to comprehend that they had to use allegories and myths and contextual references to try and get people walk in the direction that would get them there. The books , whether it be the Bible or the Koran were not written by them, were they. They are all collated material. How can anyone vouchsafe for the authenticity of what’s written therein, given the fact that language , words and their connotations keep changing. Here in India for example the Hindi language has so many, many dialects. So too other languages. The same word may be understood and used differently from region to region. And we are talking of something that is supposed to have come to us from so many hundreds of years ago. Surely, if something written in the Holy books conflicts with our own instinctive understanding of what a religious tenet proclaims, then one should perhaps not ignore that inner voice. Religion as it is understood and practiced in the world in the present day is only serving to alienate one from the other.For those who understand the essence, of course, it does not matter to which denomination one belongs.

  6. Neetha

    August 23, 2011 at 8:26

    hmmm- First thing that caught my attention is
    i have always thought about the TESTING GOD and the faith of believers and cld not understand the logic ans then thought it is ME who is thinking this way. And I have long bak stopped thinking.
    Now it feels -all these are consolation prizes for the less lucky ( there is no unlucky person in world) and if i do not accept such logic and i still can remain NOT unhappy- then i do not need such logic .There are no logic for many things. Better dont look for them.
    Now how is ur mother? where are u now ? do let me know.

    • dreamingthruthetwilight

      August 28, 2011 at 8:26

      Neetha , I do believe that nothing is random in this universe. I believe that “God” as we term that reality is an abundance of love and when we feel that abundance in our own hearts for everything and everyone around us, when we feel at one with everything that’s when we are closest to divinity . I cannot explain it . But that is the closest I have come to feeling secure, unafraid and unalienated. That we cannot sustain that feeling is the cause of our strife. That is my understanding.

  7. Liliana Negoi

    August 23, 2011 at 8:26

    i’d hug you in this second if i could!! there is more truth in this post of yours than you imagine…

  8. souldipper

    August 23, 2011 at 8:26

    Nadira, I am so very encouraged by your determination to know a God of Love that resides inside you in a room of peace. That is the inner journey that takes us home.

    Your acceptance of your mother and the path she is on is truly love in action.

    Thank you for a wonderful post.

  9. granny1947

    August 22, 2011 at 8:26

    Oh my word…what a thought provoking post.
    Like you I have a lot of questions.
    The bible says suffer the little children to come unto me…and then they starve to death or are raped and abused.
    I believe in a higher being but I am cynical as well and this causes turmoil.
    I pray for peace for your Mom.

    • dreamingthruthetwilight

      August 25, 2011 at 8:26

      True Granny. It is the suffering of children that rudely reminds us that the truth as what is written in the books may not be what we understand it to be from words alone. May be the realisation of reality as it actually is just dawns upon you in an unexpected moment. Till then we will have to keep floundering, I guess.

  10. Avita

    August 22, 2011 at 8:26

    Nadirabai, in my heart of hearts I can see you trying to seek the truth the real power behind everything, please go on ahead and whenever you come across the truth please give us glimpses of it as well.. I share the same feelings with you..

    • dreamingthruthetwilight

      August 25, 2011 at 8:26

      It’s a journey everybody is undertaking in different ways. I guess if one is fortunate, the questions stop pestering , at some point and the need for answers may also be abated.Thanks for reading Avita.

  11. dreamingthruthetwilight

    August 22, 2011 at 8:26

    Thank you Sarthak. I will, on my part look forward to your visits and comments:-)

  12. Sarthak

    August 22, 2011 at 8:26

    Nadira ji,

    I think I am going to pick up a copy now. You have worded your musings so beautifully here that I have to read the book that inspired some of it. I have been reading your pieces on and off when you post on facebook. There’s something very movingly musical in the way you write. Will be looking forward to more.

    And I hope that your prayers are answered.


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