By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota
The possibility of healing creates a choice for each of us.
I’d like to encourage us not only to value healing, but to look forward to healing. And in so doing, I’ll bring together the narratives of psychological healing and faith, which dovetail in important ways. In a lesson by a spiritual teacher who talks about the prophetic mirror, it comes very close to what Randi Kreger, the author of Stop Walking on Eggshells, writes about mirroring. Both can help us clean our internal mirrors so we can better reflect the light.
When I was first trying to heal myself—from my childhood in Jerusalem and Chicago—I was directed toward a white-male privileged projection of what strength is. But going there isn’t really true healing, not even for a privileged white male. The most important part of healing is to grapple with our vulnerability.
No one enters life without experiencing some sort of oppression and transgression of their boundaries: mental, physical, social. This comes in different ways and different degrees, but we are all wounded by transgressions, even if we are at the top of the social ladder. If you’re a white American, for instance, and you’re not learning anything about oppression, you’re not going to be aware that you’re absorbing it.
As human beings, we at times, and in various degrees, will absorb the dark light of oppression. If we’re not conscious and mindful, then we will absorb the darkness of the social realities that surround us. God is constantly showering people with blessings upon blessings, but if our mirrors become too clouded, then we will not be able to reflect and absorb these blessings.
By this, I don’t mean the material blessings that appeal to someone with a strong-man complex. These are not the blessings of popularity, crowd size, or money. They are the blessings of being able to do the right thing, of being able to help others, to have mercy and compassion.
The possibility of healing creates a choice for each of us. If you don’t heal—if you don’t apologize, if you don’t repent—you may still acquire the material blessings of our world. But you will grow increasingly afraid of vulnerability, of being honest with yourself, and you will miss the world’s real blessings and connections.
The fact that we’ve absorbed the dark light of the world around us doesn’t mean we’re bad! It only means that we’re human beings. This will happen every day if we’re not conscious, if we’re not studying the reality of the oppressor, and rejecting all the macro- and micro-oppressions to which we’re being invited.
Moses and Joseph
The prophet Joseph, upon him peace, experienced multiple oppressions from his siblings and a paternal aunt and others. In the case of the prophets, they are divinely protected. So when they face oppression, they immediately entrust it to God, and they do not absorb its darkness. Still, their actions are instructive.
Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, was nurtured by the stories of the other prophets. We can connect to the same stories that were used to nurture him, and, in reading his life, we can see how he dealt with oppression.
The prophets came to help us to heal. It wasn’t just the oppressed and broken who ran after Prophet Muhammad, it was people of ethics, people of privilege but who followed their values. Following the prophets and learning their stories can give us a blueprint of how to deal with life’s difficult issues. Studying the prophet’s life helped me understand that he nurtured people and gave them both a voice and choice. That’s what healing through servitude is about.
We also saw this struggle in prophet Moses, upon him peace, who had a hatred of the oppression. And even though he saw all the privilege around him, in Pharaoh’s home, prophet Moses didn’t develop a love for the material world. When a trial hit him forcing him to leave Pharaoh and his oppressive ways, God helped guide him out to a place of exile, where he could be nurtured under a righteous prophet and heal.
Sometimes, when we’re being oppressed, we develop a love for what the oppressor has. Healing—asking forgiveness, repenting—will help protect us from this love-hate relationship that otherwise will foster in us what we hated in our oppressors.
Early Americans, for instance, were running from oppression when they first came to the Americas, and yet they were usually not mindful enough to see they projected that same oppression on the people they met on the new shores. If you experience oppression, or live around it, you will probably absorb the reality of the oppressor to a greater or lesser degree.
Healing means recognizing that’s what’s happened to you. It’s acknowledging your reality, acknowledging the hurt.
Harm and self-harm
Again, it’s important to acknowledge that everyone is harmed in different ways. The clearest harm comes to those who are marginalized, Othered, and who are the invisible classes of our world. But all of us are harmed in this system.
When you harm others, you have not only done an injustice to those you’ve harmed, but also an injustice to yourself. From a faith perspective, you’re going to be held accountable to every single person you’ve harmed.
But even from a psychological perspective, harming others without repenting gives us a skewed image of ourselves. Someone with a strong-man complex who can’t apologize, was never pushed back inside their boundaries, and was constantly rewarded for every transgression will develop a very dark image of the world, and will be increasingly unable to deal with others, and especially unable to process criticism. Every time punishment comes, it will take them by surprise, because they are neither mindful nor conscious of God. It is important to check your heart and see if you are holding a good opinion or negative opinion of God during a trial.
What if you are caught by surprise and are innocent? It is important to check your heart and see if you are holding a good opinion or negative opinion of God during a trial. Remind your heart that God is near and turn to God for assistance with patience and prayer. If you find being patient difficult for you, it was not expected to come from you. Patience is from God and not from the self, so turn to God and seek the mental, emotional, spiritual, physical needs including patience to deal with this trial and respond to it. Patience is not tolerating abuse, but responding to it with wisdom in a way that does not destroy you or harm innocent people.
In the Qur’an, when prophet Joseph, upon him peace was thrown in the well by his brothers, he was surprised by their treachery but God comforted his soul that he will one day tell them this story. From trial upon trial, Joseph continued to hold a good opinion of God as God was using the trials to nurture him, strengthen him, and establish him in a position of power in the land.
Why we have zakat
Most of us are both oppressed and privileged, in different ways.
For the ways in which we are privileged, and for all the gifts we have, our healing means reaching out to people who are persecuted, and people who need us. The prophet Muhammad, peace on him, brought together people who were privileged with the people who were persecuted. They met not as master and servant, or helper and help-ee, but at a common point, at equity. He had them meet together as brothers and sisters.
Where we have gifts, we must share what we have with others, listen, and understand how others have been abused and hurt.
This is the core reason we have zakat, or alms, which is a purification not just of your wealth, but of every gift you have, including your knowledge and compassion. The way you cleanse it is by sharing.
Why cleanse it? If we all followed God’s laws and commands all the time, there wouldn’t be a persecuted group in the world! But somewhere along the line, hands were shook, deals were made, and persecuted groups were created in the divides.
You may not have signed the crooked contract, but perhaps you indirectly benefited from it. So when you reach out and give back to those who have less, this is their due.
Without becoming the oppressor
If, on the other hand, you’re the persecuted, then part of your healing is absolutely to fight injustice. But you must fight it in such a way that you don’t seize what the oppressor had and become the oppressor.
For the well-being of society, we cannot continue to go after every person who has wronged us. At some point, someone has to lead and say: I will end the cycle.
When there is a war, we count the dead, but we don’t count the psychologically damaged. It takes generations for healing to take place, and forgiveness has to be a process of choice.
Muhammad, peace on him, was at first rejected and chased with stones when he spoke about God and justice. Any ordinary human would become enraged. But when he was squeezed, to the very depths of his soul, what came out of him? His heart was filled with magnanimity and love.
If you’re seeking materialism, then you’ll tolerate harming others. But is that really what you want? It’s important to ask what Shakespeare did, in “The Rape of Lucrece”:
‘What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?
Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown,
Would with the sceptre straight be strucken down?
Make sure, once you have won the thing you seek, that it’s something you wanted. If you get it, do you win?
Can’t we be good people without healing?
Yes, you can do good actions, whether or not you heal. But unless you cleanse your internal mirror, that mirror will repel the blessings that come to you. So you want to heal, not just for your own self, but for people around you.
If you remain wounded, there is always the constant danger of transferring your wound to others. You may not be aware of it, because so much happens on a subconscious level, but you may be transferring your wound onto someone else.
You certainly don’t have to spend your whole life and all your time in healing! The idea is not to gain a level of perfection, but to cultivate a sense of vulnerability and to embrace your humanity.
Moses, upon him peace, when he left Pharaoh, was divinely protected from transference. Instead of seeking to recreate the oppressions of Pharaoh in his new life, he took work as a shepherd. He took a humble position and was, most importantly, mindful of God, and mindful of those who were in a weaker position than he was.
Healing is not just an individual matter.
For hundreds of years, Palestinians—both Christian and Muslim—have used a community healing process called sulha.
But we can create healing communities wherever we are, by linking the concerns of different groups together and including others who aren’t exactly like us, but who have also experienced oppressions.
To have faith in God is to see things with God’s eyes. It doesn’t matter what the strongman says, you need to have faith that there are good people in the community, and this also helps to protect you from absorbing the light of the oppressor. The oppressor wants you to believe that everyone’s like him. “I have a large crowd,” he says. “My poll numbers are the highest.” People with a strong-man complex reject vulnerability and human limitations: They pretend to be invulnerable and they put up walls.
But you know, by seeing with your heart, that there are good people around. Just as you don’t reject yourself, you don’t reject that there are still good people out there.
We’ll never reach utopia, either personally or as a community, because that’s not what human beings are or what human beings do. But peace—and community healing—are a commitment to a process of reconciliation through all the trials and tribulations God places before us.
This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.
Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. She is a public speaker and writer and lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
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