Getting older means making religious choices for yourself

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It’s Thursday morning and I wake up with the realization that I will be going to masjid later in the afternoon for dugsi. I dress in my Abaayah (long Arab dress that mostly comes in black) and my green hijab, grab my kitab (Quran, or the Holy Book of words of Allah) and head to school.

Dugsi is an Islamic school that I attend. It’s from Thursday to Sunday every single week and requires reciting a certain amount of pages from the Quran every day.

As Muslims, we’re instructed to not only memorize the words, but also live by them, using teachings like “The believers are but brothers” (Quran 49:10) or “Allah doesn’t burden a soul more than it can handle” (Quran 2:286) as our daily guide.

Thursdays at dugsi always start the same way. I don’t go home after a regular day at school. Instead, I take the bus from Hopkins to dugsi in Minneapolis, and am often the first one to get to class.

Dugsi begins at 4 p.m. and I have about 20 minutes to spare. I use that time to say the noon prayer, then I review my lesson for the day and sometimes get a little bit of rest inside the prayer hall. Once the teacher arrives and greets us, everyone takes a seat and we recite from the Quran—always starting where we left off previously.

The day goes on and we continue the routine, only stopping for the sunset and evening prayers. I go home feeling relaxed and proud about the amount of work that I have done in class that day.

Friday comes and we do the same thing, only this time, school ends earlier—so I get to the masjid with even more time to prepare. Personally, Fridays are more crucial for me. I have to really be attentive because the weekend is here. The first thing I want to do is sleep. but I can’t.

On Saturdays and Sundays, we come in even earlier—7 a.m. and begin to memorize until 11 a.m.—before taking a 15-minute break. We conduct our morning routines until 1:30 p.m., which is when we pray the noon prayers, then have lunch at 1:45 until 2:30 p.m.

After that, we have Islamic study—which consists of classes like Aqeedah (the oneness of God), Arabic/grammar and the biography of our prophet Muhammad—until 5:30 p.m. Then we go back to our Quran classes to wait for our parents. We are finally out at 8 p.m.

STICKING WITH IT

Most of the kids my age aren’t going to dugsi, and they don’t take it as seriously as I do. Dugsi is recommended but not required, just like there are some Christians who go to church every Sunday and some that only go on big holidays like Easter. In a classroom of mostly freshmen through juniors, I am practically the only high school senior still in dugsi.

As school ends for the weekend, my classmates are usually talking about going to a new movie or celebrating the completion of a test. Often as I’m heading for my bus, a friend will stop me and say, “I’d ask if you’re coming, but it’s Friday and I know you’ve got to go to the masjid, so I won’t.”

I laugh because she knows and respects it. However, there are other Muslim friends who don’t understand—even though they know what my answer will be.

When I tell them the reason, they’ll say, “Oh, come on! I’m sure your mom will understand if you don’t go one day.” I try to tell them that it’s not like that, but they do not want to listen.

What’s hard is that my friends think that I’m trying to avoid them or I’m being forced by my mother to go. I am a teenage girl, so of course, I like hanging out with my friends. But I also believe that I do that enough during the other days of the week.

The last four days of the week are strictly reserved for dugsi. That’s how it should be.

As for being forced by my mother, she only gives me the right amount of encouragement—the kind that any mother should give a child. It’s my choice to attend dugsi. She gives me the push that I need to continue with my religious studies and not cave into other people’s perceptions.

ESSENTIAL TO LIFE

Dugsi is important to me. In fact, I cannot picture my life without it.

I’ve been going there since I was a kid. I practically grew up in the masjid. And while my other friends go to dugsi frequently—and they are all practicing Muslims—they don’t take intensive courses like the ones I’m signed up for.

Even though dugsi is a lot to manage, I have to remind myself that it’s all for the greater good. I must strive to be the best Muslim woman I can be, and Islam doesn’t ask us to be perfect, but rather to do our best. In order for me to achieve all that I want, I have to sacrifice some of my leisure time.

Without dugsi, I wouldn’t have memorized this much of the Quran nor would I know as much about my religion and culture. I am also not sure how I would define myself without my religion and my culture. It makes me who I am.

By learning the Quran, my teacher always told me that I am setting the standard for my offspring. However much I learn, my son or daughter will learn that much more.

Because of dugsi, I am choosing the fate of my kids, hoping they will turn out better than their mother, God willing.

That seems worth giving up a few weekend trips to the movies for.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Saynab Gelle, a senior at Ubah Medical Academy, is a 2014 graduate of ThreeSixty’s Intro to Journalism Summer Camp. This is her first byline for ThreeSixty’s magazine. Outside of school, Saynab enjoys reading authors James Spark, Sarah Dessen and Rick Riordan, hanging out at Spyhouse Cafe in Minneapolis and taking photos.

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