Little Lessons Learned In India
// February 20th, 2013 // Blog
I recently spent a week in a dusty, little village in Gujarat, India, getting to know a small fraction of my husband's very large family. The last time I visited the subcontinent I was on the cusp of adolescence. A whole life time has passed in between, during which my relationship with Islam and my own cultural heritage has continuously evolved, to the extent that I have come to appreciate many of the same customs that I reviled not so long ago. I guess marrying an Indian will do that to you.
Here are a few little lessons that my trip taught me about a religion and a people whom I thought I already knew:
1) Making wuḍūʼ for every prayer can become a necessary Sunnah.
Living in cool climes, washing yourself with cold water multiple times a day can be a challenge, especially when you don't feel physically unclean. The dust and heat of India meant that with every prayer I was looking forward to the special kind of refreshment that came with making wuḍūʼ. The increased khushoo I experienced during and after the prayer made me appreciate a Sunnah that I usually neglect.
2) Folding the prayer mat finally makes sense.
I have never understood the odd, unverified explanations behind the practice of folding over the corner of unused prayer mats (which is why my own masalla lays unfurled on my bedroom floor as I type). But the custom made a bit more sense to me whilst staying at my in-laws' house. It is open-plan, and most of the doors and windows are left open throughout the day to allow the air to flow. But with the breeze came the dust: an exposed prayer mat would quickly gather a visible layer of the stuff, thus defeating the object of praying on a mat to begin with. One dim light bulb moment later, I realised that folding the mat over would keep it clean in between uses. Kind of obvious, I guess, but I never had to think it through all these years, living in a sealed terraced house surrounded by concrete jungle.
3) Feet are meant to be dirty. Deal with it!
Feet walk on the floor; the floor is always covered in dust, even after multiple sweepings. Yes, it does not feel nice on your soles after you've washed them so carefully. But if you don't accept the dirt as inevitable, you will go mad. Other than making me less of a princess, this experience also helped me to understand why the positioning of feet has reached a level of significance in certain cultures. For example, the practice of not sitting with your feet facing the Qibla. Who knew dust was so educational?
4) Muslims don't hate dogs.
Not all Muslims, at any road. There are stray dogs all over rural India, both in the villages and the towns. This came as quite a surprise as I don't remember seeing any when I visited Mumbai as a child (I do remember the giant rats though, ngggh). A few were a bit mangy, but on the whole they looked plump and healthy. Yes, Muslims consider dogs to be unclean animals, and none of the houses I went to kept them as pets. But every Muslim village I visited had its fair share of canine residents. There are even a couple who frequent my in-laws' dairy farm. The mutts and humans seem to have developed a relationship of tolerance, both keeping to themselves, not getting in each others way. I do suspect, however, that the dogs have claimed the roads: they lie so comfortably on the narrow roadsides, completely indifferent to the hundreds of rickshaws speeding by within an inch of their paws!
It's amazing how much one can learn during such a short trip. I only spent a week in India, but in a way I feel like I am still traveling; navigating the deep, sometimes murky waters of my heritage. Here's to a smooth journey ahead.