Rahm and Raheem

In the winter of 2017, my family and I made the journey for Umrah. We travelled with our favorite Ustadhs - Abdel Rahman Murphy through Qalam. Sheikh Haseeb Noor met us in Medina with his lovely wife, Najia. One of my favorite parts of the trip was during a visit to the museum of 99 Names of Allah. The 99 names of Allah are really difficult to translate because they are just word for word. They are more like concepts encompassing an entire trait, superpower of Allah swt. During the museum tour, I got a little frustrated because we were moving too fast and I could hear our tour guide very well with all the tour happening simultaneously. So I pulled back and started to walk with Sh. Hasib. I shared my flustered outlook of the tour. He smiled and and asked me what does Rahman and Raheem mean? I regurgitated what I had learned in Sunday, “The Most Compassionate the Most Merciful.” He looked at me as if asking for more. I added the Most Benevolent. He asked, And what does that mean? Question sounded incomprehensible. I think I mumbled something like, He’s a good host? Sh. Hasib shook his head and laughed a little.

He began to share with me what Rahman means. Allah swt has a characteristic of mercy for all His creations, humans, animals, all living things. Mercy is often described as showing compassion and forgiveness towards someone else who you have power over to punish.  Allah swt is Rahman. And He’s also Raheem. That there is a special kind of mercy within that larger power of mercy that is reserved especially for the believers. For those of us who believe in Him, He knows we are fallible and make mistakes, but if we return to Him, begging for forgiveness and mercy, it is Ar-Raheem who loves us, forgives us, and constantly gives us another chance. This new understanding would come full circle a year later for me.

On a typical freezing January morning, sixty Muslim and Jewish women came together at the Rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. Women’s who’s prominent troupe seems to be clouded and shrouded by the ugliness of foreign policy. Who despite those damaging stereotypes, work together on public policy to make Minnesota better for all. It was for the first time in my life, I was able to see two women open with prayers at the Capitol. Ustadha Kaltun Karani braced the minus 20 degree windchills, bundled up her newborn, and trekked in the stroller into the Rotunda. She was greeted by Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker and together began their prayers with a chant known as a “nigun” pronounced nee-goon. It reminded me of a nasheed.

Cantor Rachel began with words from the jewish tradition, drawing on shared humanity and rich traditions are what drive our sisters in using our power and voices for justice. Her next few sentences were profound. Cantor Rachel reminded us that regardless of our gender, economic status or the color of our skin, we all started in the same place. The womb. Our greatest gift is that God created us in His image. She then begins to describe the Jewish word Rah’m and the Arabic word Raheem and that both are translated as compassion and mercy. These are the same qualities are in us. They are what drive us to speak out against injustice. “We claim our power by believing in it and knowing what to do with it.” Although Cantor Rachel was drawing from the Jewish traditions and sayings, I forgot. I forgot she was Jewish and I was Muslim. As I listen and re-listen to her opening, I had to remind myself that she was not speaking from the Quran nor the Sunnah, and realizing it was exactly the same message.

As Cantor Rachel closes with a supplication, many voices rang out with “Amen.” Once again, a very similar response we here in our masjids, our gatherings and in our prayers. Even I caught myself saying “Ameen” the Arabic equivalent. Cantor Rachel starts to step back giving Ustadha Kaltun space to take the mic. You can feel, really sense how moved Ustadha Kaltun is after listening to the words of her fellow faith sister. She begins to read a chapter of the Quran - Ar Rahman. As I am listening to these words and their translation, standing in the People’s house, our house at the Capitol, I can’t but feel the bond of sisterhood stronger and more powerful. As we stand in our power, I reflect on the verses as Ustadha Kaltun asks, “How do I establish justice in my life?” Together, together we draw from mercy and compassion. Together we speak out against injustices. Together we fight for all. Together.

I thought Kaltun and Rachel planned what they were going to say. But later found out, they didn’t. They didn’t plan on speaking about Rahm. They didn’t plan sharing a commonality in the faiths. They didn’t plan which verses they would recite. They didn’t plan. But He plans. And He is the best of planners.

Reviving Sisterhood