By Laa’iqah SeedSower
Perhaps no accident that a profound statement was made in the opening ceremony, the Muslim Lifestyle Fest highlighted how easy it is to “see the seed in the orange and how difficult we find it to see the orange in the seed”. After all, it is for the completion of faith and the survival of a global community that we should pay attention at a conference about what our perception of marriage has become and more importantly, what this perception means for our faith and community especially in a time when, according to one of the organizers of the event, a Muslim marriage in South Africa ends every 10 seconds. This harrowing statistic – validated or not – begs the question, are we seeing oranges in seeds?
Like a thick, brightly coloured thread, not to be distracted by the bright red heart mascot of the fest, the theme of the conference was on life and how connected or disconnected it is to the sacred teachings of the ideal Islamic lifestyle.
We are all aware that technology presents the challenge of disconnection when people spend more time connecting to a device and social media and less time re-connecting with The One. This re-connection with the Creator was the strongest call at the conference, since it influences the inner connection which governs the perception of seeds and oranges and ultimately how we connect to our spouses, families and greater communities.
Taking an attentive walk through the floors of the Sandton Convention Centre made it clear that people need teachers. We may have all this access to information and global conversation, but there seems to be a clear need for directive teaching. Why else would a conference draw around 45 000 people? In his address at the opening ceremony, Edris Khamissa said that the greatest challenge and also the greatest joy of a speaker is to connect to the hearts of the audience. He added that once a person is inspired by a presentation, there must be a sense of impact on the person’s life, or else the interaction would be a wasted experience. Khamissa concluded his statement with a prayer for protection. I silently joined him in prayer, asking that the conference would not be a wasted experience. In retrospect, I am grateful I made this prayer and set it as my intention for my attentive walk.
In the search for a teacher, all the speakers I had the privilege of listening to, cited the best of teachers, the Prophet Muhammad (saw). Sajid Hussein articulated the need clearly, “While love is a fickle concept, we must learn from the best of teachers.” He further announced that the Lifestyle Fest would not be held in Johannesburg next year, but will move to the other provinces, so the vast insights gathered at the conference may be shared with the rest of the country.
A truth widely accepted is that if a conference attendee does not change in perception within 48 hours of a presentation, it is unlikely that indelible change will occur. In writing this article, I wonder about how many people were able to align their intention enough to take the information afforded and make the changes our homes and social circles are in dire need of. This intention demands an authentic look at (ironically) the same thing that holds a marriage together – dialogue, inner and outer. Many local and international speakers highlighted the importance of (what I have come to refer to as) compassionate communication, based on the teachings of the Prophet (saw), as a means to fulfil the amanah that is marriage. Hearing this repeated so many times created a mental image of the sought-after covering that aids, albeit through challenge, the completion of one’s faith. How blessed a married couple is to enjoy this privilege. How concerning it is when the couple cannot see this blessing themselves?
Compassionate communication starts within. If I can manage and direct my inner dialogue in the acceptance that I am insaan; flawed, weak and prone to forget, but capable of striving for nearness to Allah, Lord Supreme, then my outer dialogue can carry this compassion too. Imagine how the divorce statistics would drop if we directed communication from compassion to our spouses? It is for a greater understanding of communication and its affects on our relationships that, I believe, the conference was created. This was evident from some of the workshops I attentively walked through:
The Marriage Central workshop, facilitated by Sh Zahir Mahmood of the U.K., focused on the reason for marriage – actually the reason for all of existence – Allah the Almighty, May His Name be praised.
The speaker, referred to as a Marriage Mentor in the workbook provided, was unequivocal in his compassionate communication. He reminded his audience of the essential qualities of a spouse and the sanctity of marriage. I appreciated his reminders about how often we overemphasize rights, treating marriage like a civil rights battle, when we should be emphasizing our servitude to Allah (swt).
The speaker described the misplaced attention we often see placed on the wedding event, with people spending hoards of money that could be of better use in service to others.
This clouded the rest of my walk. I wondered about how a marriage is an opportunity to be of service to one’s spouse, a vehicle for drawing closer to The One.
It was at the same time that I nearly walked into the mural dedicated to Palestine. In a central, hard to miss location, there stood two large boards for people to write a message to Palestine. I stood in awe of how far we can be from seeing “the orange”. We spend a great deal of time, almost trapped, in our inner dialogue about our rights in our relationships. How much time do I spend in compassionate dialogue with myself about my responsibility unto my Lord?
In a world of harrowing statistics and atrocities occurring in our homes all over the world, surely this in an important question we must all hold in our inner dialogue? A conference stimulates questions and conversation. If a conference-goer does not question inner dialogue, perhaps the intent of attending was aligned differently.
The Muslimah Lifestyle section opened with a panel discussion entitled The Women Next Door. The audience was treated to a goodie bag and an opportunity to engage with women on the real and raw topics we face daily, but do not often talk about – loss, depression and abuse. The focus was on creating healthy support structures in circles of women. Women were encouraged to take action and make the positive changes needed in our homes and communities. The facilitators spoke of the importance of self-acceptance and empowerment and how this impacts on others. The theme of inner and outer reflection and communication was again emphasized as an important element in establishing a healthy Muslim lifestyle.
I had to walk through the souk, of course. It bustled with sound, colour and smells. It felt like the perfect place to be grounded and take a breather from all the contemplation the workshops and colloquials inspired. But, admittedly I was not easily distracted, too absorbed in the reality of the issues that face us as a global community that begins with the closest and smallest one – the home. Like a soundtrack on repeat, I kept hearing the adage, “when the marketplace arrives, the caravan leaves.” I missed out on seeing people who wanted to connect with me and had no interest in buying anything. In retrospect, I realise that this absorption in other than the present moment is a contributing factor in the increasing number of unhealthy, disconnected and indifferent relationships – first within and then reflected outwardly. Often, the very space we go to find solace offers us the exact opposite.
I was reminded of what Sh Alaa El Sayed, of Canada said in his presentation. He said that since man’s origin is dust, which he likened to earthly things such as work, man proves himself through the fruits of his labour. Woman, who was formed from man, seeks solace in man. Simply stated, she finds solace in her marriage. The speaker delineated the importance of communication in a marriage that stems from a willingness to learn each other’s language of love and need.
The conference re-affirmed to me why marriage is referred to as the completion of faith. The union requires a connection to the present moment and a deep, growing self-knowledge, which supports the all-important connection to The Creator.
Where are we seeking solace – within ourselves, in scholars and respected speakers at conferences, in social media conversations, or in our spouses? Perhaps this is a layered question that the Fest inspired in my walking through it. Wherever you walk, be it for solace or not, I pray you do so with the sage advice of Ubayy bin Ka’b (ra) and walk as though you are going through a path of thorns. There are many paths of thorns for us to walk through, if we are going to build healthy Muslim lifestyles for all. It is clear, after this event, that if we are to derive meaning and implement good change in our lifestyles, we must walk through thorny paths with the right consciousness. If anything, while it cannot inspire this in people their willingness and intent to do so, this is what I believe the conference planners desired from their tireless efforts in hosting this controversial event.
An adult literacy and accelerated learning specialist, Laa’iqah writes under the pen name SeedSower from the heart of a slave, the eye of a poet and the hands of a woman who is keen to change the world, one word of love at a time.