Thursday, June 12, 2008

Be My Mirror

I'm reading a fine book, recommended to me by my mother who told me I had to read this parenting gem. I hope to share some more reflections about Your Child’s Self-Esteem, written by Dorothy Briggs in 1970, but this week I'm mulling over the quotation that Briggs selected for the opening pages of her book.

Man wishes to be confirmed in his being
By man, and wishes to have a presence
In the being of the other…secretly and
Bashfully he watches for a Yes which
Allows him to be and which can come to
Him only from one human person to another.

–Martin Buber

Trying to understand how this quotation, which strikes a chord, would fit in with Islamic teachings has been like staring at a cloud drifting under the moon and waiting for the moonlight to shine through. The first time I read this, red lights flashed in my head. Alhamdulillah, I’ve come a long way from viewing things as black and white, true and false, and I often manually override those red lights and take time to think and listen before reaching conclusions.

There are principles in our faith that we know are true and overarching, such as sincerity and living solely for the sake of serving Allah, and there can be other truths that exist simultaneously, reinforcing, adding depth, complexity, and wisdom, and never contradicting. These multiple perspectives do not dilute or weaken or confuse those principles, but rather they illustrate the profound depth, flexibility, and humanity of Islam. We have only scratched the surface in appreciating this and have a long way to go in opening our minds to this wisdom.

Allah, who created us, designed our minds and bodies, and breathed into Adam’s soul, also designed for us a way of life that would complete us as individuals and as a community. In Islam, we find core teachings of brotherhood, trust, deep love and selflessness, and mutual advice and support. The Prophet (saw) said, “The believer is the mirror of his brother.”

I’m just reflecting and pondering, not trying to explain. You are a mirror for me? What does that mean? This hadith has always been explained as, and assumed to mean, that our brother or sister reflects back to us our faults, like a mirror, offering advice and helping us to improve. Buber’s quote however made me wonder if there is a deeper significance to this mirror.

A human mirror, another soul worshipping God, where we can see ourselves reflected, draw encouragement in our mutual journey, where our emotions and our feelings can be protected, heard, and validated. A human mirror would give empathy—not pity. A mirror would gently reflect back to us our weaknesses but also reflect back our strengths. My sister, my brother in Islam, is a fellow human I can go to, pour out the entangled feelings, thoughts, and internal struggles, and through listening, empathy, and gentleness, he or she acts as my mirror, helping me to see what is going on inside me, understand it, and sort myself out so that I can continue in life.

Maybe Allah swt, who knows the innermost depths of our souls, knows of our need for validation and confirmation in others around us, and so made it an obligation on us to grow closer to each other, to draw support from each other, and to be reflections of our brother and sister. This mutual empathy and reflection of each other makes us stronger, not weaker, and may make us all the better to worship and serve Him.

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