By Fatima Rasool
19 APRIL 2012
"So, what are you going to do with this massage training you're doing," asked my husband. From his tone I could sense rising but muted panic. "Don't you know Muslim women aren't allowed to do such things out of their home?"
His voice was measured as we drove home after the last day of my course. I listened quietly. I hadn't expected this, but one thing I was sure of was the undeniable beat of my heart jumping for joy at what felt like the liberation of my soul.
I had just spent four days learning an ancient Polynesian healing massage technique called Kahuna. During the training, I immersed myself in the rituals, the teachings, the principles and intention of the bodywork, which was, quite simply, to administer profound healing.
I am a person who loves ancient practices expressed in modern day contexts, so for me Kahuna resonated deeply. Having discovered Kahuna treatments two years ago, I was awe-inspired by its transformative power. Healing through what the ancients called, the loving touch or lomi lomi. Kahuna is also known as the way of the heartful warrior.
The screeching of car brakes outside broke my reverie. Aware that I hadn't answered the question, I murmured a noncommittal response designed to buy time while I found my footing. I was so high on the experience I'd just had I didn't want anything to bring me down. Not least, some out-dated stereotypical framing of women in Islam. At least that's what I thought at that moment.
As we drove, I sank deeper into thought. Bemused at the irony of my bohemian approach to my spiritual beliefs, I pondered how I would respond to my beloved husband's question. For it was when I married him that I converted from a loose relationship with Christianity, peppered with Buddhism and other practices from the East, to Islam.
Not just any versions of Islam mind you. I, a confirmed African nomad, am converted to Mouridism, whose followers are Sufi Muslims from an Islamic brotherhood founded in Senegal. The exciting opportunity allowed me to further explore my, till then, cursory understanding of Islam. What better when it was rooted in the traditional cultural practices of Senegal?
The irony, then, was that the very bohemian spirit that led me to convert and begin a new journey of self-discovery in Islam was the same, which led me to discover Kahuna. In my approach to designing a fluid but rooted spirituality, I had discovered that the guiding principles were similar - I was a walking expression of a spiritual patchwork quilt that was working for me.
I conjured up answers to a question I knew was troubling my beloved husband deeply. After all, he was brought up in a pious religious family. He stands firm in his beliefs. He was the oddball in the family, though, because travel had stretched the horizons of his world views. After all, he had married the urban nomad, her patchwork quilt, and me hadn't he?
On arriving home, we sat with tea and discussed the vexed question some more. Whilst the topic ignited high emotion, my blissful state zapped any potential friction and we spoke at length. As I described the feeling of homecoming I had experienced immersing myself in Kahuna, I felt an ever-deepening sense of my authentic voice. The stakes were high. Bottom-line, my husband believed that it was inappropriate for a woman to offer massage services - especially those of the Kahuna nature.
Was this to be a deal-breaker in our marriage? I was not prepared to compromise the incredible sense of agency I was feeling.
In a fragile moment, we both contemplated how, if we let emotion get the better of us, demoded stereotypes could potentially damage a dynamic relationship founded on the universal principle of love. We still have not concluded, as there is probably no right or wrong answer. What is clear, however, is that the dialogue space this opened in our relationship has been an enriching opportunity we are both grateful for.
What could have been a potentially earth-shattering relationship divide of posturing and power-broking has become a loving and forceful catalyst for us to both review our perspectives.
It has allowed us to unravel the distinction between the spirit and letter of the holy book, and locate ourselves, two people in the sea of cultural and societal norms who are grappling with a new set of possibilities. So far, only my husband has received my lomi lomi. Others will follow, of that I'm sure. However, for the gift of being prepared to stand for what I believe in, I am eternally grateful to the spark my husband ignited. Time will tell.
*Not her real name