Some core beliefs that ground my writing and thinking.
This is a reference point 1) to set expectations for new readers 2) and for me, when I need to remember. In this I make clear who I write for and who I do not cater to. Then I share some core beliefs collected over the years that inform my recent writing and thinking.
Some beliefs that ground my writing and thinking
"Across the ages, humans have left evidence in the form of relics about orienting themselves towards something Sacred, Ultimate, or Holy Other," wrote amina wadud. I turned out to be one of those primordially predisposed. This is why I sometimes use the term Source instead of 'God':
On reading the Qur'an and translations
I no longer subscribe to a narrow, literal, and sectarian reading of the Qur'an. I believe anyone can read the Qur'an directly for themselves at any time and should not be scared into only relying on intermediaries. I use quran.com because it's easy to navigate, the format for any verse URL is quran.com/sura/verse, and there are several translations and many languages to choose from. The Qur'an isn't meant to be read cover to cover, so any part of it can be read at any time. My current favourite translation is by Ahmed Ali. All translations are human and imperfect, but since the Qur'an is meant for all time and communities, it can still be valuable even without multiple translations at hand. With further study it's helpful to analyse Arabic terms with a corpus, since Arabic is used in a layered way in the Quran and some terms just do not translate well to English. Look up the Arabic word in the corpus when stuck on a translation that doesn't sit right with you; see how else the term appears in the Qur'an, so you can triangulate the kindest meaning. Cultivate a reading of the Qur'an that is continuing, engaged, and dynamic. Ingrid Mattson in an essay for The Study Quran writes:
Some born into Muslim families and communities might have a more difficult time opening their hearts fully to the Quranic message than new readers, because they have been taught to understand verses in a particular narrow, sectarian way. [...] Readers of the Quran must shed the notion that a literalist reading of the Quran is somehow more authentic or pious than an informed interpretation. Ironically, the minority of Muslims who apply a narrow “fundamentalist” hermeneutic to the Quran find as their allies a small group of anti-Muslim bigots who similarly take verses out of context to prove their hateful assertions.
Useful tools in my spiritual toolkit
- The tawhidic paradigm for human rights. Tawhid or Tawheed is a fundamental Islamic principle of unification and indivisible Oneness, often translated to as 'monotheism. The tawhidic paradigm asks us to consider how our recognition of Allah's singularness manifests in the way we live life. I learned this paradigm from amina wadud, who describes it as the reason they became Muslim.
- The four-arched portal of Rahma. What do we do when encountering social rhetoric, Qur’an verses, and Prophetic hadith that seemingly violate the higher ethical principles of love (muwaddah), rahma, beauty (insan), justice (‘adl), and equity (qist)? Ghazala Anwar offers this Rahma portal of basic principles of Qur'anic engagement to negotiate this apparent challenge to our faith.
- Both frameworks are available in The Signs In Ourselves: Exploring Queer Muslim Courage, a free gorgeous illustrated spiritual wellbeing workbook I compiled in the first year of the pandemic. Inspired by Qur'an verses 41:53 and 51:20-21, the workbook is full of queer Muslim voices from Southeast Asia and all over. Free forever for personal and collective use.
- Silence. People have asked me over the years what the Qur'an explicitly says about X or Y. We know there was much going on as revelation unfolded that was worth commenting on. Some meanings of revelation may only be understood by humanity in certain eras, including ours. With that consideration, sometimes I say it is just as interesting to see what the Qur'an chose not to comment on explicitly, in favour of a timeless silence. Silence isn't always erasure; what seems like an omission can also be a powerful act of compassion and solidarity.
The Signs In Ourselves
What if we could approach queer Muslim collective care as being part of a whole generation that doesn’t want the next to feel they’re starting on empty like we did? Compiled by Liy Yusof and illustrated by Dhiyanah Hassan.Download for free (pdf)
My Emotional Support Quranic Bookmarks
A simple takeaway list to lean on as I keep learning about the world out there and the past.
- Listen closely to everything that is said and follow the best/kindest interpretation— that is the one with insight. (39:17-18)
- Do what you came here to do and pay attention to the person who is in front of you regardless of their status or position (80:1-11)
- There is an inherent value in the proper use of akal / reason. (21:67, 30:28, 36:62, 45:5, over 50+ more)
- Gain knowledge against ignorance and stand firm on justice. (3:18, 9:122, 29:69)
- Taking responsibility for one's actions precedes freedom of choice and expression. (10:41)
- Faith cannot be forced (2:256, 2:208, 10:41). Any belief to the point of conviction can only be attained through reason, not passively by birth.
- Forcing people to be Muslim disrespects God's decision not to make everyone Muslim. (10:99-100, 5:48)
- We were given wide paths not narrow ones (71:19-20, 5:48). Everyone does according to their disposition and nature. (17:84)
- Falsehood is perishable (17:81). What is false expires by nature, and what is True will not.
- We were formed well (40:64, 95:4) and not for nothing or pure recreation. (3:191, 29:44, 44:38-39)
- Gender is not a binary but a spectrum manifesting Divine creativity. (42:49-50)
- Signs of Truth exist in nature and in people, (41:53, 45:3-4, 51:20-21) not just in revelation and texts. See The Signs In Ourselves.
- There are signs in the diversity of all creation. (16:13, 35:27-28)
- All living beings communicate to the Source in ways too diverse for us to understand. (17:44)
- It is useful to perceive more than just the human world alone. See Muhammad Iqbal in Socrates, sense-perception, and the Qur'an for a list of verses where Allah invites us to observe nature.
- There are signs in loving relationships and the diversity of our tongues and tastes. (30:21-22)
- In our diversity, only our taqwa distinguishes us (49.13). Taqwa can be described as conviction and mindfulness of the Source. Its Arabic root word means a barrier of protection. So I guess taqwa can also be seen as spiritual sunscreen.
- Allah is One (112:1-4). Shirk is the only unforgivable sin (4:48, 4:116) because it is the opposite of recognising Oneness (it splits your taqwa).
- All Things are part of a system of dualism (51:49), but Allah is not like Things (42:11). Because Allah is a singularity that cannot be divided yet created everything, everything radiates from one Source and participates in Allah's unity. This means no matter how it seems externally, ultimate separation between Creator and creature or one and another is internally just an illusion. See amina wadud's tawhidic paradigm for human rights. And speaking of illusions—
- We live in a simulation / All the world is a stage (57:20). Life and death are built into this simulation to test our best conduct (67:2). We have free will, a demonstration of Divine faith in us to make goodness from our choices towards our potential (21:35, 95:4-5).
- The Source knows of every action, interaction, thought in this simulation (58:7, 6:59). It is documented (6:38). We may be able to conceal things in this simulation from others, but never from the Source (16:19, 24:29, 13:10, 67:13). The Source will not forget injustice in this simulation. This is a comfort for the hearts of the oppressed. (19:64)
- There is a moment outside of the simulation with full recognition of what you have earned and what has happened to you, unlike the imperfect justice humans struggle with in this simulation. (2:284, 18:30, 21:23)
- Any disagreements about belief should be met with patience until the Best of judges. (7:87, 67:29)
- On that Last Day, we return to Source without all our social and identity markers of the simulation (6:94, 21:92-93). We bring with us only the choices we made here. See My lifetime will speak for itself: 5 Questions.
- Mutual endearment and affection is part of waking up from the simulation. (2:260)
- Love and justice are intrinsically connected. (16:90)
- Rahma grounds the basic principles of Quranic and Divine engagement (1:1, 6:12, 6:54, 17:82, 21:107). See Ghazala Anwar's four-arched portal of Rahma.
- Allah is anti-surveillance (49:12). Surveillance culture feasts on our lack of trust in each other.
- We have a right to privacy and consent. (24:27-28)
- Humanity was created from an agender being, not a man's rib. (7:189) All messengers were mortals, albeit inspired. (21:7)
- Allah does not only communicate to particular messengers in this simulation, evidenced in how They suddenly answer an unnamed traveller's casual question on resurrection. (2:259)
- A shared scriptural framework is essential for interfaith activism. (5:68, 3:64) Saints and sages of biblical teachings can affirm Muslim faith. (10:94)
- Relationships should build spiritual peace: conviction that they are each other's partners (2:187), upholding commitment as a promise (4:21), mutually upholding each other's dignity (4:19), solving problems through discussion (2:228, 3:159).
- No one should submit to the tyranny of an oppressor (42:39). Condemn the entitled and the oppressive. (83:1-3)
- It is a transgression to see ourselves as self-sufficient. (96:6-7)
- Our collective condition changes when we change ourselves. (13:11)
- Emphasise equality, justice, and the saving of life. (2:179, 5:8)
- Accumulating worldly goods is a distracting delusion. (101:1-2. 3:14, 9:24)
- The practice of redistributing our resources resurrects our hearts. (2:261)
- Giving your wealth to those with less purifies it from concealed injustice. (9:103)
- With every hardship comes ease (94:5-6). There is a time to turn inward and a time to expand. (2:245).
- Practicing the ability to be grateful is valuable. (2:152)
- Stay patient, do not give those who are themselves devoid of all inner certainty the power to dishearten you. (30:60)
Hadith / Reports on Muhammadﷺ
- (collecting my 40 favourite stories rn)