“I Discovered I Love to Pray Alone Too”: Pluralist Muslim Women’s Approaches to Practicing Islam during and after Ramadan 2020
Pluralism ... is not just another word for diversity. It goes beyond mere plurality or diversity to active engagement with that plurality … Pluralism is the dynamic process through which we engage with one another in and through our very deepest differences ... It does not displace or eliminate deep religious commitments or secular commitments for that matter. It is, rather, the encounter of commitments ... Such dialogue is aimed not at achieving agreement, but at achieving relationship.
2. Visibility Bias in Sociological Study of Islam and Muslims
4.1. Embracing the New, Socially Distanced Everyday and Affirming Solitude
I am using this time to reflect on my personal practice of islam. I can’t fast (health reasons), so I am focusing on prayer and reflection. I also choose a new practice each year (couple of years ago I gave up all disposable plastic). This year I am focusing on lifting up my community.(Chanda, Born Muslim, Sufi-Sunni Kashmiri American from upstate NY)
Part of me does think that Ramadan is meant to be much more quiet than the way most of the community participates in it, and I think being under lockdown kind of forces that [spiritual] aspect of Ramadan to be much more prominent. Because I’ve been able to create a schedule for myself more easily, I’m more able to wake up early to meditate or sign off of work earlier in the evening to rest.(Khadijeh, Born Muslim, Shi’i Ismaili, Chicago)
I realized if I wanted to feel a stronger spirituality, I have to practice what I know, and the only new thing would be that it takes more strength to do it without the motivation that comes with gathering with people that encourage you religiously. I miss that.
I found out that the right religion is the one that makes you be a better person for yourself and others. And that sometimes Allah relieves you of toxic people that you love and it’s for your own good. I am trying to find the better version of me... a stronger me.(Alana, convert, Just Muslim, Puerto Rico)
Earlier in the year (beginning of COVID) I do think, however, that we have gotten more creative with our workout and gym routine, along with doing more yoga. I have also greatly enjoyed trying new dishes in the kitchen, and now for the first time have found cooking to be therapy. In addition, I started to take baths for the first time in my life […] In the past several months, mainly due to workload, I have had very little systematic self-care practices, but have found NEW practices that I will begin to continue implementing on a regular basis once the workload reduces at the end of year.
4.2. Alienation, Disconnection, and a Palpable Sense of Loss
It’s been a little hard because Ramadan is so different this year-communal iftars and taraweeh, which I associate with a normal Ramadan are no longer normal. I’ve always prayed taraweeh communally, which has helped motivate me to pray more additional prayers.(Maryam, born Muslim, Sunni, Florida/“The Gulf”)
It has been a struggle and disbelief of how this Ramadan has been. It just doesn’t really feel like Ramadan. Our annual routines and schedules that we have set up months prior are not in place and it has rethinking everything we want to do and if it is possible during this time of quarantine.
It’s been rough since Ramadan is in quarantine. We’ve been stuck with each other for two months which enhances anger and frustration even in Ramadan. My cousin and her husband are also living with us which makes the house more full and more frustrating. I wish we had some space and distance. I feel like I’ve been irritated and angry a lot this Ramadan and I wish I wasn’t...I am surrounded by Indian Muslims all around who all happen to be family. So I’m surrounded by about 100 relatives which has its pros but many cons.
Not much has changed as I am generally not attending the mosque due to feeling constrained there as a second class citizen. My husband goes every day in Ramadan for taraweeh and I am a little relieved he’s not attempting it at home because then I’d feel guilty for not joining him.(Selina, Born Muslim, Sunni, Texas)
4.4. Reshaped Religious Collectivities
Right before the pandemic started, I had made niyyah (intention) to attend Jummah prayer each week. Obviously this didn’t happen. As Ramadan approached, I had inspiration from Allah subhana wa ta’ala (Allah almighty) and I created a virtual masjid (mosque)-Daar ul-Gharib (Home of the Stranger)-for Queer Muslims (mostly femme and non-binary), who already are generally isolated in the larger Muslim community. Alhamdulillah (praise be to God) this has helped us all have a home even if we can’t congregate physically! We hold congregational prayer daily, as well as Quran reading and classes.(Quiyana)
Unfortunately I’ve never had any sort of physical community to be a part of because I’m Transgender. So my coping strategy of basically connecting with Muslims socially online is my only means of really connecting to the Muslim Community.(Paula, Sunni, New Zealand)
Physical spaces such as mosques are extremely misogynist so I’m not involved with them anyway. Other events in progressive spaces are few and far between and often I can’t attend them due to disability. So now that everything is online, it’s great.(Wazeera, Born Muslim, Feminist Islam)
Maybe it’s just that in person events result in mind-numbing small talk whereas online ones lead to more meaningful convos including spiritually focused ones. And the online convos are a bit more curated with like minded ppl.
The more people “cobble together” a small-scale system of belief adapted to their own needs, the more they aspire to share this experience with others who share in the same type of spiritual aspiration. This seeming contradiction accords with the intrinsic limits of the self-validation of faith. For individuals to stabilize the meanings they produce to give significance to their daily experience, they must find outside of themselves a confirmation of the validity of these meanings.
the purpose of such support groups is precisely that they provide a forum for saying: ‘Your problem is my problem; the answer you come up with is my answer too’. The more painful or complex the problem, the more it involves extreme situations, the more vital the exchange. Sickness, calamity, failure, death-once such scourges are no longer resigned to as an inevitable part of human life-are necessarily seen as appalling injustices and reversals to self-realization... At such times resources that offer mutual comfort and support constitute the only antidote to the often unbearable sense of isolation of having to stand on one’s own. They constitute an elementary form of what we have pointed to as a form of social recognition of individual meaning.
The moral universe in which Ramadan morality is embedded is characterized by a profound ambivalence that is not only a coincidental result of circumstances but actually provides the foundation of situational moral action and an ethical subjectivity that is based on a coexistence of various motivations, aims, and identities that can and often do conflict but do not constitute exclusive opposites.
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Even though the terminology we employ may somewhat reflect the exclusivist-inclusivist-pluralist distinctions of the threefold paradigm of interfaith approaches (Thompson 2017), they do not neatly map onto our discussion, given their Christian-centric origin. The impact of colonial conquests in Muslim-majority societies shaped Muslim theological perspectives on interfaith issues differently. Instead, we drew from Hefner’s (2000, p. 12) use of “civil pluralist Muslim” in the context of Indonesia’s governance. It is the main context in the social scientific study of Islam in which the term “pluralist” appears.
We marked all questions as “required”, technically preventing participants from skipping questions. Anticipating that some questions might be irrelevant to some women’s experiences, we suggested that they input N/A when appropriate.
It is worth noting that while in social scientific study of Islam and Muslims, the main focus is on visibly pious Muslims, in the world of social justice activism, this very category remains marginalized, as the visibly pious, along with recent immigrants, Muslims with non-standard accents, and Muslims with criminal records are not engaged in anti-Islamophobia initiatives in the United States (Islam 2018). This discrepancy reflects an insidious Orientalist logic that situates the visibly pious as an interesting (exotic?) object of study that is simultaneously “too religious” to make a worthy partner in anti-racist struggle, even if such struggle is explicitly oriented to the Muslim religious identity.
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Piela, A.; Krotofil, J. “I Discovered I Love to Pray Alone Too”: Pluralist Muslim Women’s Approaches to Practicing Islam during and after Ramadan 2020. Religions 2021, 12, 784. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12090784
Piela A, Krotofil J. “I Discovered I Love to Pray Alone Too”: Pluralist Muslim Women’s Approaches to Practicing Islam during and after Ramadan 2020. Religions. 2021; 12(9):784. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12090784Chicago/Turabian Style
Piela, Anna, and Joanna Krotofil. 2021. "“I Discovered I Love to Pray Alone Too”: Pluralist Muslim Women’s Approaches to Practicing Islam during and after Ramadan 2020" Religions 12, no. 9: 784. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12090784