Thursday, 3 July 2008

Day 6: Sisterhood

We woke up today and did duaa al-khatm and our wird (litany) until sunrsise. I am so glad I moved into the Dowra house, and partially because we all encourage each other: I was so tired in the morning that if it wasn't for one of my roommates telling me to get up for fajr I probably would have fallen back to sleep. Or I would have staggered to the bathroom, prayed, and staggered back to bed in five minutes flat.

But more than that, it's so nice to be around people 'like me,' where nothing I do—like using a sewak ("twigs of certain trees that have been used on a regular basis by Muslims for centuries to maintain oral hygiene") for example—is strange to them. I know I come from a supposedly Arab/Muslim country, but unfortunately (and I'm generalizing here), the social class I'm part of don't really have religion as a big part of their lives. In fact, being religious is something that is so 'not cool' and makes people so uncomfortable that I hesitated before beginning this blog, worrying about who was going to read it and what they would think. Then I thought to myself how ridiculous that was; I am proud my religion is so important to me, and it is nothing to hide.

So not only is everything I do normal here, but there's also peer pressure to be good! To attend extra sessions when we're all bone-tired, to pray in congregation etc. It's an incredible feeling that I've rarely felt in my life—peer pressure to be a better Muslim, rather than a worse one.

So back to the duaa al-khatm and finding it so difficult to get up. It got me thinking about how much discipline it must take to be a student here. But then I thought to myself: why is it that discipline here is much harder than disciple in anything else—I work all day, and then go to classes at university that can last as late at 10pm. Why can I have discipline in that area of my life but not this one? So I've decided that insh'Allah insh'Allah I'm not going to miss any class here if I can help it, and I'm going to pray every prayer in congregation.

After our qayloula we went to the pool. And mash'Allah it exceeded all my expectations. As I've mentioned, the water here is always hot, so I was expecting the pool to be nothing more than a tub of hot water. But it turned out to be a cold pool, shaded with trees and mesh netting and surrounded by walls with windows that looked out onto a beautiful garden.

I love swimming and if I was back home now I probably would have been at the North coast swimming in the sea, so it was extra special for me. I know we've only had two days of classes, but it felt like a well-deserved holiday, and it was leisure I didn't imagine existed here. We ate crunchy apples and drank juice, and sat by the pool for a bit before it got too hot. Truly, it was a highlight of the week, and one that we all really enjoyed.

After we prayed zuhr, I made my way over to Habib Umar's house. Every day he invites over one nationality of people in Tarim to his house for lunch, and today was the day of the Egyptians. They even served us molokheya :) (Traditional Egyptian soup made out of leaves. Not as weird as it sounds)

After the maghrib prayer in Dar al-Zahra a girl sitting next to me introduced herself and asked what I studied at home. I told her I studied Business at university, but then she clarified "I meant Islamic studies," as if it was completely natural that it should be part of any school curriculum. I realized that—just like in my society I am expected to learn about balance sheets but no one thinks it's strange if I don't know how to cook or sew on a button—you're so looked down upon if you don't have a university degree but not if you've never even studied basic fiqh.

After maghrib was the mawlid. I love how ritualistic it is—they don't just read the nasheeds from a book, they have bokhoor (incense) in the entire Dar, and walked around with a bottle of misk for us to put. We all got up for the maqam, which is a short nasheed praising the Prophet, and it was beautiful. And the people are so thoughtful—after the nasheeds some of the students came around carrying water jugs and cups asking if anyone wanted water, knowing that our throats were probably parched from singing the nasheeds.

After 'isha we came back home. Tomorrow insh'Allah is Friday and the first day of Rajab, so we did istighfar, and some of us are now on the roof making du'aa. I'm off to go join them.

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