Today marks the tenth day of the month of Ramadan for Muslims across the globe. Ten days is one third down and whilst this may sound triumphant, in fact, most Mulsims will tell you that once passed, they wished the month had been longer. A time not only for fasting from food and drink, Ramadan provides Muslims with time for introspection, theological reflection and prayer. Questions of the Quran and of Allah come to the fore. In amidst this heightened spirituality and my readings of the Quran I have been thinking a lot about God.
As a Muslim whose first language is English I have to read the Quran with English translation and any commentaries or interpretations I read are also in English. Whilst I feel blessed that these tools are available to me, I also question how this has coloured my understanding of Islam. No doubt, through English translations I have missed many beautiful root words and double meanings of the Arabic language, but moreover, I wonder if my Islam is suffused with English idioms and imagery…
When praying the other day, I, for the first time, realised that my God was white. Whilst Muslims are encouraged not to imagine Allah for He is beyond our comprehension, since childhood I have had this certain vague image I cannot help sometimes floating into my mind. Going to a state school Christian prayers had been a compulsory part of the morning assembly. Hymns and church visits suffused those years and perhaps in some way the Missionary God became conflated with my vision of Islam.
The 99 names of Allah include ideas to help invoke a comparative association of God. We cannot know Him but we can know what He is like. Yet, again, in English I question what slightly altered and problematic view of God I am getting. ‘The most merciful’ seems straightforward enough, but when corroborated with ‘The King’, ‘The Owner of All’ etc, I realise that my conceptions of sovereignty, of ownership and of kingship are all heavily Eurocentric and white. Though perhaps I am still able to invoke the meanings intended, I feel a certain resentment that ultimate power is interlinked with colonial conceptions in my mind.
The message of the Quran is one of universality. Allah claims oneness and universal ownership above any white or black or colonised or decolonised. Of course, I know this and I sincerely believe. It is in fact thanks to Islam and the drawing up of it in the Quran that I find peace in an Islam which detaches Allah from human conceptions of power. An Islam which stands people shoulder to shoulder regardless of rank, and rallies us against oppression.
The fact that Islam was harnessed by ex-colonies in the twentieth century (ignoring the twenty-first century mutations this may have birthed) reminds me that actually Islam is pre-colonial. It is anti-colonial and pre-colonial. A language and symbol that the colonisers could never steal or truly understand, Islam remained a point of revival and hope for many oppressed.
In a world where Islam paraded by the media is a foul manifestation of something that only pays lip-service to it, and in an increasingly imperialist globe, I find reassurance in decolonising my God and recalling His timeless power. A hope and mercy to the powerless and a guidance to those in power, Allah refutes conceptualisation. Even just using the term ‘Allah’ rather than God, is, to me, a way to repudiate colonial, missionary narratives of God. My God is not white, He is no European king or sovereign, He is the power beyond our comprehension and my faith is thus ever-restored.