Yaasha Abraham talks about the way she reconciles strict religious ideas with the way she expresses herself artistically. She illustrates how much of an influence her religion plays in her understanding of the world and her individual art.
My name is Yaasha.
I was not raised Muslim. I am what people now call a revert, which is someone who is quote-on-quote converted to Islam. And so this has been my career path since before I even thought about becoming Muslim, and according to who you’re talking to: being a singer and a dancer is double-haraam and super duper prohibited.
The way that I reconcile that with myself is that I think about the fact that both Judaism and Christianity are very heavily entwined within Muslim theology, and one of the people that’s upheld as a prophet is King David. King David was someone who was both a voracious musician and dancer, and the book of Psalms was very explicit about stating whether or not a song was meant to be sung with instrumentation, and if it was a song that was meant to be danced to as well. The Book of Psalms is a song book. And so I say: well, you can’t believe that King David is a prophet and that the Psalms are a holy book, and then also believe that music and dance are haraam.
At the same time though, I do recognize that I have a responsibility as a person of faith to be a little bit more intentional about the types of music that I sing, and about the way that I move my body. Am I intending this in order to elicit some deeper darker places, or am I doing it with a clean heart? And you know… I’d like to think that I’m doing it with a clean heart, and so that’s how I reconcile things.
The one thing that people know about Ramadan is that it’s a month of fasting. But more than anything, the origin of the word Ramadan comes from the Arabic meaning to burn. And so you’re spending the entire month of Ramadan burning off all the things that are keeping you from being your best person. Ramadan is also recognized as the month of the Quran, and so people make a conscious effort to read the Quran at least once, and that’s known as a hoton.
So, the Quran is the holy book that Muslim go to. It is recognized as the word of God. Our belief is that the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, in various stages, and it wasn’t revealed in chronological order either. We do believe that it was the word of God, and that there were enough people that were around him that were able to corroborate exactly what it was that was sent down to him by God so that there was no mistake about what it is that was meant to be said. So with that being said, what fasting does, is fasting is meant to evoke compassion and it’s also meant as a way of bodily purification. So it’s a little bit different than say, the way people would think of the fast day of Yom Kippur in Judaism, which is from sunset to sunset. For Muslims, it’s from before pre-dawn until sunset. So it’s just slightly shorter.
So we wake up, say maybe about an hour to a half hour before pre-dawn to have a small meal called a suhoor, which is supposed to get you through the rest of the day. It does and then it doesn’t work, and depending on how hot it is — it can really be brutal haha. But, all you do, personally speaking for me I just say, “You know what, this is what I’m supposed to be feeling, just a little longer, this is temporary, all of this is temporary.” And then when I think, “Oh man, this really is temporary, and if what I’m feeling right now is temporary then so is everything else.” I better make the most of what I’m doing here, and put as many W’s in the “Win” column as I can so that I’m right with the Creator when it’s my time to go, because there’s no telling when it’s your time to go. We didn’t get to choose when we came in the world, and we’re not going to choose when we come out, so we shouldn’t take time for granted.
There are definitely good and bad people on both sides of the aisles, and before making the decision to become Muslim, keeping this in mind, for as much as I believe in what I’m reading in this book, if I don’t find myself at least one small group of people who believe in this and that live in this this way, then I will just live my life by the example of this but I’m not going to call myself anything.
So I kind of took a page out of the Torah. There’s a story about what happens right before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were two cities that were really — these people just didn’t have it together. This is where Abraham was living with his nephew Lot at the time, and he really didn’t want the city to be destroyed. So he’s having a back and forth with God at the time, and he’s saying, “For the sake of 100 righteous people, will you save the city?” “Sure.” “Well what about 90 people?” And he goes down the list. “80 people, 70, 60.” And every time God is saying “sure”, Abraham is understanding that there’s not many righteous people or else he wouldn’t be destroying them. So he said, “For the sake of just 10 righteous people would you save this city?” And God said yes. And so that’s when Abraham realized he had to just pack up and get ready to go because there were not just 10 righteous people in all of Sodom and or Gomorrah.
And so I just said, you know what, if I can find myself 5 to 10 people that I can call my tribe that love God the way I love God and really want to live in the example of the prophet, peace be upon him, that I see in this book then yes — I will convert. But I can’t do it if I don’t find these people.