Last week, I quit the Tajweed class I had joined. I attended half a dozen classes and learned– or, shall I say, re-learned– basic principles of Tajweed. The teacher is an Egyptian woman who knows her stuff and knows how to teach it. The class was great, but I suddenly lost enthusiasm for tajweed and everything Arabic.
For the first time in my life, I wanted to take a break from all things Arabic.
At least I realized that my need for a break has nothing to do with Arabic but with the circumstances of my life, specifically, my Arabic family that continually behaves in ways clearly dysfunctional regardless of whether they live in Arab or American society.
At first, I felt guilty leaving a class that benefits me and gives me joy.
I hadn’t been studying, however, and Tajweed needs consistent study. When I lived in Riyadh and attended classes daily, I studied every day, sometimes for hours. Here, in America, I do not live in an Islamic or an Arabic atmosphere, and I must confess and admit that my attitudes are profoundly influenced by my surroundings.
Would I like to change my surroundings to encourage more participation in Islamic practices? Yes. Why do I not do so?
Here I must reveal a situation of cognitive dissonance that has nagged me ever since I repatriated nearly twenty years ago.
I live with my mom, who is ninety-one years old and an evangelical Christian. She is a lovely woman, who has cared for me, my father (who passed nine years ago) and my siblings. As a Muslim, I am instructed to take care of my parents. Does not Heaven lie under the feet of mothers? I remind my Muslim readers: “Abu Huraira reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, ‘Who is most deserving of my good company?’ The Prophet said, ‘Your mother.’ The man asked, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said ‘Your mother.’ The man asked again, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said, ‘Your mother.’ ‘The man asked again, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said, ‘Your father.’ ”
Add to that the early teaching I received from my father, who often told me, “When your mother and I get old, you will take care of us.”
My mother, in her selfless way, always scolded him, saying, “She will have her own life!”
My mother deserves to spend her last years in comfort. She still takes pleasure in caring for us now, as she did when we were small!
Three years ago, she lost her sense of taste and smell, yet she still exerts a supreme effort to plan and cook a tasty meal for my brother and I once a week. This example of her devotion to her family is one of an infinite number she has offered over the course of our lives.
Here we are, she at ninety-one, and me at nearly sixty-seven years old. We live in the house my father built for us thirty-nine years ago, the house that she has cleaned, fixed, decorated, and enjoyed since the day we moved in, the house that is her home. If I were to live elsewhere, she would have to give up this house. Living here with her is my way of honoring her. Of course, I also benefit financially, but that is not so important any more. I can afford to buy my own house.
My weakness, my proclivity for peace and harmony before honesty, has permitted me to live more as a Christian, like her, than a Muslim, like me. During the weeks I went to Tajweed class, I didn’t even tell her I was studying Tajweed, because she would then know for sure that I am no longer a Christian, as she had taught me. I used to tell her I was studying Arabic, at the mosque instead of the university. She had her suspicions, but true to her generous nature, she kept them to herself.
During those weeks, my extended Arabic family gave me no end of bad behavior. Some day I may write about all of that, but not today, not now. The point now is that I was trying to study Tajweed with one hand tied behind my back, and my family swatting at the other hand. I needed a break.
Cognitive dissonance has been my companion for most of my life. I have often lived knowingly with contradictory beliefs and behaviors. I have often tried to reconcile them, and when unsuccessful, compartmentalized them. I rarely gave one up in preference to the other, and I won’t do so now, but I need a break.