Hidden Spirituality: The Life of a Muslim Family By Najeeba Syeed-Miller

The following is a guest post written by Najeeba Syeed-Miller, J.D., Professor of Interreligious Education at Claremont School of Theology. She has extensive experience in mediating conflicts among communities of ethnic and religious diversity, and has won awards for her peacemaking and public interest work.  Najeeba also writes her own blog, “Najeeba’s world,” and can be followed on Twitter @najeebasyeed. 

This article was originally posted at Muslim Voices.

Recently, I was asked to write an entry for a book that will be coming out about spiritual development. Initially, I did as many would do think about my introduction to religion as a topic I was taught in an academic setting.

However, as I reflected more deeply, I realized that much of what I know of my faith comes from my mother and the way that she embodied her religion. Here is an excerpt of how she affected me growing up:

“From my mother I learned a love of Allah-or God. While my father’s love of faith was deeply rooted in the rational or aql, my mother’s relationship with God was all heart. She prayed regularly and with six children, the ritual was also one of deep love. I watched her bend to God in humility. She taught me also that our heart is a gift given to serve others. She gave us the reality that praying is the foundation, and that serving others is our duty as a Muslim, the branches that emanate from our faith. I saw her take in one homeless person after another, build a shelter for women. Her services were also nondiscriminatory, if anyone called for help, Muslim or otherwise we answered that call. She always had food ready for anyone who might need it or stop by.”

I remember very poignantly, how she would sit with us every night asking us to recall whether our hands, our head, our hearts, our eyes had done something to serve the betterment of humanity that day.

She was always very specific in her explanation of religious teachings to us as children.

Complex religious concepts like accountability to an unseen God were easily translated into beautiful stories and easy rituals for us to understand and actualize as children.

I’ve written for this blog on different styles of leadership and in conversations about experiences across faith traditions, we often miss the public discussion of the very intimate forms of spirituality that are transmitted in family settings — often the teachers are women.

These leaders are unacknowledged and uncelebrated when we have formal religious leaders dialogue on the role of religion in one’s community.

I will be offering some reflections during Ramadan on what it means to go through this month as a Muslim.

However, I am finding that I am also exploring what it means to be a Muslim mother, wife and family member this Ramadan with a five year old son, a three year old daughter.

My husband is a convert who came to Islam at the age of 15, so many of these family rituals are alien to him and we as a family are building them together and anew.

I am spending much of this month reflecting on this hadith:

A’isha said, “A bedouin came to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and asked, ‘Do you kiss your children? We do not kiss them.’ The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘Can I put mercy in your hearts after Allah has removed it from them?’”

Affection to our children is so important, real engagement and spending time with them as a parent is something the Prophet, upon him be peace, understood.

It is a form of mercy we must practice, a special bond designated by God between a child and their parents.

I am realizing how during Ramadan, a good time to let loose from the addictions that plague our body, so too I must let go of the instruments that hold me back from fully showing mercy, love and affection to my children.

I am trying to cut back on staring into my electronic devices such as my smart phone and making eye contact with my children when we speak to one another.

To open time each day not just to teach them, but to love them in those moments, to be relaxed and to hold them tightly.

This is a form of spiritual exertion, and as with all things we try as Muslims, we seek excellence in action.

May this Ramadan bring you time also to be with your family in the most beautiful, deep and hopeful way, Insha’Allah.

So, this Ramadan, I will share more of my journey in these quiet spaces of the Muslim family, one of growth, mistakes, learning and developing a greater hope in humanity as we harness the blessings of the beloved month.

Next entry: Practicing Sadaqah, Charity as  a Family.

5 thoughts on “Hidden Spirituality: The Life of a Muslim Family By Najeeba Syeed-Miller”

  1. While our traditions are different, I speak from a Christian/Catholic place, I feel the way in which my mother demonstrated her Celtic spirituality to her six children is in some ways, very close to yours.

    As Catholics our family was bound to rituals that sometimes made sense, and at other times, were confusing, having little to do with the complexity of our daily lives. Yet mom was able to infuse the sacred into the most mundane circumstances, bringing to life our interconnection with others. I was told that her mother fed anyone who came to her door. The homeless (those who traveled the railroads) would carve a cat on the fence post as a sign to others that “a kind hearted woman” lived here, (Signals catalog produces a small plaque with a simply drawn cat and the words, “Kind Hearted Woman.”

    Doctrine and rules were lost on my mother, and I suspect my grandmother as well. Yet each did just as your mother felt compelled to do, “Preach the gospel (word of God) daily, and when necessary, use words.” Thank you for your inspiring contribution.


  2. Your post makes me think about women’s wisdom and the role that many women play in the transmission of religious and cultural values. Thank God for strong women!


  3. My grandmother also fed railroad “tramps” as she called them and sometimes gave them short-term employment–handyman or yard work. My parents worried that she did this but she never came from any harm from it.

    The spiritualities of both of my grandmothers speak more to me than all the study of theology I ever did.


  4. Thank you for this post – I especially appreciate the “what” of religion in terms of your book excerpt, and where we find it. I struggle with this question as well, and I find that the religious elements of spirituality, morality, and wisdom do indeed come from the ones that are closest to you, the family. While I learned the tenants and history of Jewish values though education and synagogue, I think the emotional bond I have to my ethical Jewish identity came directly from my mother. Thank you for bringing this to light.


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