In this edition of Interfaith Voices Nabeela reflects on this month’s theme of ‘the presence of faith’. She does this by considering the nature of faith, how it flows within her and how she felt it increase through doing work for her community radio station.
When I was asked to write my reflections on the `presence of faith’ I set about thinking what the term means to me. Faith is certainly present all around me, I thought, as I drive to work passing by a Methodist church, a Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting hall and an Anglican church. On my way home I take a short cut which means I see worshippers going to a mosque and parents hastening to park their cars as they rush to pick up their children from the attached faith school. Did these examples constitute a `presence of faith’ or were they just symbols of religion? Am I playing with semantics here? You may well feel the distinction is too fine to warrant much analysis but the more the I thought about it the more I began to see the difference was expansive.
Let’s start from the beginning: what is faith? Well, to me it is the belief in something bigger, wiser and greater than humankind put together. Faith requires me to trust that while man may be infinitely fallible, my God is not. That is why as a Muslim I go through the ritual of ablutions before praying the prescribed five times a day. If I had no faith, no belief in something greatly superior to me, I would have questioned the efficacy of such rituals. Wash your hands three times up to your wrists? Pass water over your arms to your elbows three times? Surely a bacterial hand wipe, swiftly applied would be equally effective? But no, as a Muslim I believe that such injunctions come from God above, so as such they need to be observed with obedience: that is what faith is to me.
To have faith is one thing. It can mark out your character, how you dress the festivals you observe – that kind of thing. However, the `presence of faith’ I feel is something that suggests currency and immediacy. Or to put it another way, when I don my scarf before going outdoors, I do it out of an observance of my faith, almost without thinking, a force of habit. I do not feel the `presence’ of Islam within me as do it; it is just something I do in getting ready for work – like brushing my teeth. That is the case on most days. Sometimes, however, I am fully aware and rather proud of the fact that I can fulfil this injunction of my faith and in so doing please God. And there’s the rub: presence of faith for me, ebbs and flows. It is totally dependent on how open my heart is to the calls of faith. It is totally generated from within my psyche.
Recently I have had occasion to notice a `presence’ to a greater degree in my life. For the last two years I have been working as a producer for our radio community show on Voice of Islam. This has forced my attention back to my faith and its obligations on me in a number of ways. The drafting of scripts, search for callers, working with other producers and technicians has reminded me on a regular basis what my faith is. For I do this job, not for money, (it is totally unpaid) not for the recognition (we have no credit rolls at the end of shows) but entirely to please God. I do not see the terrible hours (squeezing scriptwriting between my day job and getting the supper on) as a burden, but rather an affirmation of my belief. With every task I do related to this radio show I feel my faith driving me on. It is a most uplifting and invigorating feeling.
Being a producer has also sharpened my spirituality. It has helped to re-invigorate my prayers, made them more urgent and strengthened my faith in God to boot. The number of occasions I have found that my prayers have been answered has left me astounded. I have gone to bed after sending off a raft of emails to potential guests, feeling disconsolate and apprehensive about getting any response. Nonetheless, I have prayed from the heart for some success and lo and behold! the next morning I have found some guests have agreed to appear. When that happens not just once but repeatedly it serves to remind me that my faith is real, it is true, it is present.
I know in my gut it is not the job that I find so rewarding as what it has done to enable my faith to flow freely within me; it has brought presence to my faith.
Nabeela is a mother of two (now grown up) children, who lives in London. Before that she lived in the Medway Towns in Kent with her family who moved there from Zambia when she was six. She has been teaching adults in Further Education for 15 years. She is also a keen list maker and planner!