child rearing

Umma means Nation / thoughts on violence and freedom

By Maya Kriem

We named our daughter Umma, hoping that she, along with all our loved ones and ourselves will all become an Umma, gaining the ability to get in touch with our human essence…

I seldom share personal thoughts online, but today I feel compelled to do so. I feel so saddened by yesterday’s attacks on the mosques in New Zealand. So many deaths, so much grief! I have been particularly affected by the events, imagining the terror that children who were there must have felt. A father shielding his sons and being shot to death, Women and children screaming. So much loss in an instant. Perhaps I have been affected so because I had planned on taking my three kidlets to our local mosque for Friday prayer, but got caught up in a visit with a friend and decided not to go. Perhaps because it happened in a mosque, a place of worship that is supposed to be a safe space. It’s a unique feeling to be barefoot, in a room stripped from all furniture, where you stand shoulder to shoulder with strangers and pray to a common God. The energy during a communal prayer is indescribable. My mother called me as soon as she heard the news to beg that I never take my children to the mosque. “Who will you leave your children to if you are killed? What if they are killed?” Perhaps it’s because these acts of madness target a religion, my religion, that for me represents a precious gem. And I feel so privileged that I hold claim to such a gem.

My daughter’s name Umma means mother or grandmother in many different cultures and languages (in the Arab/Islamic world, India, Germany, Scandinavian countries). And most people assume that it is the reason we named our daughter Umma. A feminine name that represents motherhood; but it has another, related meaning. It is from a Qur’anic verse that speaks of how Abraham (considered the father of all three monotheistic religions) through his unwavering devotion to God became an Umma. And here Umma means Nation. Many understand this verse to mean that Abraham produced a nation of devout people, as many of his descendants were messengers and prophets, their stories often told in the old and new testaments and in Qur’an (Isaac, Ismael, Jacob, Joseph, Benjamin, and many more). But I always understood it to mean that Abraham became a nation onto himself, referring to Abraham’s unique ability to shed all the cultural and social layers of his identity and get to the core of what it is to be a human being; the human essence; that divine spirit that animates us all; that part of us that we all share; the common human denominator.

Abraham was a nation onto himself because he let his human essence shine above all else, and he did so by staying true to his beliefs, by submitting utterly and completely to his Creator, a God of light and love. Abraham became an Umma by free falling into love. And in so doing he gained unprecedented freedom. Freedom we glimpse when we are young children immersed in play, with no limitations on our imagination. Freedom we touch when we are out in nature and experience that indescribable feeling of peace and contentment, momentarily unburdened from our daily worries. Freedom that comes with that feeling of utter joy when we have done an act of genuine kindness for a stranger. Freedom that I always feel every time I step into a mosque.

We named our daughter Umma, hoping that she, along with all our loved ones and ourselves will all become an Umma, gaining the ability to get in touch with our human essence, that which links us all and makes us one, that which underlays our collective memory as a species. I am a Muslim Moroccan Australian woman raising my children in the Muslim faith in a country where I migrated as an adult. I find anchor in my cultural identity, my traditions and teach them to my children so they may serve as anchors for them too. I also attempt every day to teach myself and my children how to readily access and stay close to that human essence within us all; to reach beyond cultural difference and touch the Other’s soul. It is my attempt to counter the violence and terror we live with everyday.

Violence comes in many forms: A mad man wearing a GoPro camera storming a mosque in New Zealand and killing people, perpetuating a discourse of violence and discrimination against those who are deemed ‘Other.’ Harsh daily schedules and daily stresses in sterile urban jungles are impacting our mental health and wellbeing, disconnecting us from each other, from nature, from tradition, from ancestral knowledge. Industrial production and transportation systems that have affected our climate and are destroying our planet. A medical system that fails to uphold its own oath, that tells us time and again that our bodies are unable to stay healthy or heal themselves and so we need to medicate them. A food production and consumption system that is killing us and the planet. An educational system that strips us of innate knowledge and our natural ability to learn, analyze, question and replaces them with sterile information. An educational system that takes our children away from us everyday and turns these gentle, kind, empathetic human beings into stressed out, competitive ones. An educational system that is demanding that our children behave in unnatural ways (spending most of their daylight hours with same age kids, sitting still, letting the bell punctuate and dictate their needs and desires to play, study, even eat) and slaps labels on them when they fail to comply (ADHD, disruptive).

I pray that those who lost loved ones yesterday have beautiful memories to hold on to, prayers to soothe their souls, and arms to hug their pain away. I pray that the souls of those who were killed find peace in the highest heavens. I pray that my children only ever encounter kindness and gentleness. I pray that they continue to trust and free fall into love and light. I pray that we all do. With much love.

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