When I Cupped My Hands to Pray

cupped hands

Religion has been on the periphery of my mind lately and I’ve been avoiding addressing it because I’m not sure I want to deal with parsing out my feelings about how it fits into my life. I was raised to be a practicing Muslim spending hours with private tutors, going to a madrasa, attending Sunday school. Exercises in futility, really, because none of it stuck for many reasons. To the naked eye or other Muslims, I might as well declare myself a nonbeliever.

To be honest, I am envious of those who find comfort in their faith.  I wish I could be so open and willing.   I hope that one day, my children can be such instead of inheriting skepticism and cynicism and frustration. I hope these are recessive traits.  I struggled with the following piece for over a month; it seemed important to take my time but I still feel like there’s so much more I’d like to say.  For now, I think I’ll leave some secrets hidden.

. . .

When I Cupped My Hands to Pray

I wonder, when I cupped my hands to pray
did it bounce off up into God’s ear?
Or did it get caught in the lines of my palms?
I must have missed the day
the teacher went over believing.

And I wonder what secrets are hidden
in the corners of the mosque?
In the folds of the hijab?
What secrets are revealed
when a prayer mat is unfolded?
In between the verses of the azaan?
What secrets are inside
the prayer beads brought back from Mecca?
The four walls of the Kaaba?

And I wonder, when I cupped my hands to pray
did it bounce off up into God’s ear?
Or did it get caught in the lines of my palms?
Maybe my prayers weren’t loud enough.
Maybe my intentions weren’t pure enough.

And I wonder isn’t this religion enough
That I see Grace in my mother’s aching movements
as she moves about in the predawn light to fast, alone?
The same woman who worked four jobs
one for each of her children
while her husband ruled with an iron fist
that he sometimes used to beat her.
And all she asks is that we say one of His 99 names
once in a while.
But out of the 99, I don’t think “Mother” is one.

And I wonder isn’t this religion enough
That I see Divinity in the golden flecks of my sister’s eyes
The same ones that burned but never shed a tear
The night she was choked, punched, and kicked out of our house?

And I wonder isn’t this religion enough
That I see Heaven in the men my brothers have become?
Beating the odds,
because 70% of broken boys
become abusers themselves.

And I wonder, when I cupped my hands to pray
did it bounce off up into God’s ear?
Or did it get caught in the lines of my palms?
Maybe my tears washed them out.

Search for meaning
in calligraphy written on fragile paper hundreds of years ago
While I find it etched in the scars on my mother’s arm
that my father left behind.
Search for Beneficence
in sujood, touching your forehead to the ground
While I find it in the open arms
of a Muslim woman welcoming
her daughter’s Hindu fiancé home.
Search for Mercy
in the anointed words of the Imam’s khutbah,
While I find it in the light of friends
and on my lover’s lips.

Say I’m not Muslim enough
That I don’t have faith,
That I should find hidayat, the enlightened path
That I need a man to make me whole.

Say there is reward waiting in heaven,
punishment in hell,
and this plane is a test
I’m failing with flying colors.
My short skirts and late nights,
hair flowing behind me,
the curses I use freely
marking every answer wrong.

Say I am twisted
and wicked
and lost.
Kaafir.

And I wonder, when you cupped your hands to pray
did it bounce off up into God’s ear?
Or did it get caught in the lines of your palms
and slide off?

Did you leave it behind on the prayer mat?
Get lost in translation?
What Sunday school lesson did you miss?
What secrets elude you?

And I wonder, when I cupped my hands to pray
did it bounce off up into God’s ear?
Or did it get caught in the lines of my palms?
And dissolve into my skin
travel through my veins
making the colors run a little brighter
the sun a little warmer
water a little sweeter.

And I wonder isn’t this religion enough
putting myself on pieces of paper for you?
Purity in the blank spaces on the page
Every letter carrying the wisdom of hundreds of years,
Salvation in the words I’ve written.

There are secrets here too.

 

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