Eternal rest grant unto them , O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them . May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
It isn’t often you’ll find me reaching back into the faith of my childhood to find the words to convey meaning at life’s most difficult times, but tonight these words seem appropriate and right.
Tonight, a beautiful and wonderful human being has become one with time and with the universe, has left this earth and gone forth to the great unknown. If I could let her know anything, it’s that I love her son like he is my brother and that brother of mine loved her as much as any person could love another.
Throughout her illness, she demonstrated rock solid resiliency. When it became clear treatment was no longer effective, she demonstrated the strength of character I’ve come to know over the last 30+ years. When one is at peace with herself, she can make those around her stronger. And she did just that.
She exemplified feminine strength with rock solid conviction and understanding of who she was in this world. I can think of few people I have ever known more impressive, more confident, more tough or strong. More loving or sure. Tonight, I am sad to know she has left us, but proud to say I knew her. She leaves the world just a little bit better for her having been here, and far better than most.
She was an Islamic scholar and set the precedent of modern African feminism. She had the advantage of being the daughter of one of the most powerful men in one of the most powerful caliphates in the region, but she made the most of the opportunity to empower women. She leveraged her considerable intellect to create educational opportunities and careers for women that still exist.
She was a princess, but she spent her life educating women – Muslim and non-Muslim, wealthy and poor. She was an adviser to her father, and believed that seeking education was a religious duty of both men and women and that to deny women this right was to challenge the will of God.
As an educator, she wanted her people to be as educated as possible, and trained other women to help her do this. She wrote instructive poems that the teachers would memorize and then pass on to their students in the villages to which they traveled. These women wore distinctive clothes identifying them as trained teachers, and they were to receive the highest respect while instructing both men and women on general as well as religious topics. As these teachers walked the country-side – enduring harsh environments to do so – they were empowering the citizenry with knowledge in a time of turbulence and war. To be sure, if women were educated they could then pass along knowledge to their families. Women in Nigeria were literate at a time when universal literacy was unheard of.
150 years ago (she lived 1793-1864), she was leading a cause for educating the masses and specifically women. Those in The West who know of her, recognize her as an early feminist. West African Muslims praise her efforts in augmenting the rights of women to learn and be active members in society. She chose to spend her life advocating for women’s right to education – indeed, she saw it as a tenant of Islam that women should be educated, and should know how to read.
I’m not much a follower of organized religion and I’ve generally stayed away from discussing religious figures over the previous 17 days of inspiration – the world doesn’t need another list of inspiration including Jesus Christ or Mohammad. What I believe the world does need, though, is to draw inspiration from multiple sources, multiple perspectives, multiple beliefs. Perhaps a little more understanding of each other and a little less posturing. In disclosure, I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the Unitarian church. I simply appreciate their teachings.
The UUA does not use dogma nor a specific creed. Indeed, they’re more interested in the principle of freedom of thought than having these things, but they do use seven principles that are meant to guide their congregations:
The Inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
The message I read in these principles is to be the best person you can be, whether or not that means being a Unitarian or not. Consider what the world might look like if more people were interested in a search for meaning and truth than in pushing their truth and meaning on others; where compassion would be the guiding principle instead of righteousness.
In an age where we can be so divided, I am heartened to believe that others seek congregation and justice and am inspired to be more than what I may currently be by virtue of others seeking truths as well – even if they’re not my truths.