I’ve been writing this post for four days. Every time I sit down to write it I get distracted, or I can’t think of what to say, or how to say what I want to say, so I just leave the draft saved on WordPress and focus on something else. Well, it’s not like I need to write a post about Religion, but I think it would be nice to really confront myself on this matter, so it’s something I want to do. So then I wonder, well, where does my journey with religion really start? I was baptized in the Catholic Church when I was a baby. Is that the beginning of my story? I was young when I first stopped liking the Church. It’s the scare tactics. Why should any seven-year old child feel afraid that he or she will end up in hell? I was so scared I wouldn’t wake up in the morning that I couldn’t sleep if I had not prayed. Sometimes I got mad at God. Why would kill me just because I didn’t say a prayer before bed? I always wanted to do the best I could, and it was very difficult because my mother was ill with Schizophrenia. Sometimes I felt like nobody loved me, not even God. I was just a child.
I was young when I stopped caring about the Church. I can’t say exactly what age I was. At some point in 7th grade I tried attending a Bible Study group in the morning at my school, but it was just make my mother happy. Instead I wanted to join an Atheist club, but 7th grade was hard anyhow. That was the year I ended up moving to my Dad’s house. Some of my friends in High School drifted towards Wicca, both most of them were Christian or Jewish. We also had a small population of Hindus, and even smaller population of Muslims. Well, i don’t know, maybe the Muslim population was larger than I remember it. Nobody ever talked about Islam when I was in High School. I only remember one kid fasting during Ramadan, and I had no idea what that meant. Plus, I only knew because it was my math teacher who brought it up.
So, I went through most of my formative years being Agnostic. My mother talked about God all the time, and my father didn’t really talk about religion at all. Maybe I was scared of religion because of my mother. Her schizophrenia manifested itself in the form of religious frenzy. She believed she was haunted by saints and ghosts. I remember, when I just a small child, once trying to tell my mother that there was nobody there. I didn’t want her to be afraid of the Saints. It didn’t make any sense to me either. A saint is a good person, why would you be afraid of one? Maybe I was afraid I could end up like her.
As I got older, I sometimes looked into religion. I practiced Karate in high school, and I was very active there, and at some point I was meditating every weekend with another Karate friend. I miss those sessions now, and I wish I could find the woman, just to say hello. But I have no idea where she is or what she is doing. Anyhow, sometimes I looked into Unitarianism. I simply don’t understand a world where God would create all these people and allow them to worship in so many ways, but only one way is right. Without a hint or clue, it’s kind of like Russian roulette. If you pick the wrong religion, or born into the wrong one, well, you’re just out of luck. That just doesn’t make any sense to me, so Unitarianism seemed good. But, for whatever reason, I just didn’t like it. Maybe it was too Judeo-Christian oriented for me (what about the other religions?).
Eventually I found myself in a course called “Women in Islam.” I was a Women’s Studies major, and the topic interested my greatly. Before I went into this class, I knew very little about Islam, or what it actually did for women. Through this class, I discovered a religion which was founded with women, perhaps not at the very center of it, but as a major part of the society. It was through the strength and support that Khadijah lent him, that Muhammad was able to go forth with what God told him. Different from any other religious text, the Qur’an addresses women quite often. Where Buddhism was lacking for me as women cannot achieve enlightenment, Islam made more sense than anything else. The Qur’an recognizes that women, while equal to men, are not the same as men. I am a feminist, and proud, and I found many of my own feminist views echoed in the Qur’an.
Eventually I was ready to take the Shahada (in December of 2006). The Shahada is a declaration of faith, and it is the first pillar of Islam. Anyone can say the Shahada anywhere, and as long as that person believes and mean what he or she says, then that person is a Muslim. I said the Shahada in my home, by myself. Maybe this was the first mistake I made. Not the act of saying the Shahada, but doing it alone, without any friends. At the time, it was a symbol to me that I was beginning a new journey of self-revelation, something that only be done on my own. I also approved of the fact that there was nobody between me and God. I didn’t need a priest to talk to God for me, or forgive me, or listen to my sins. It was me and the big deity in the sky.
I began to pray five times a day. I didn’t always get all five in, but it was a goal to strive and reach for. There is something very relaxing about taking 5-10 minutes out of your day, 5 times every day, to interact with the Divine. It is a constant reminder to strive to be your best and merge the mundane with the divine. The act itself is very similar to modern “grounding” techniques, as the person prayer faces East and submits herself in the form of prostration. You open yourself to receive the light and energy of the divine. Sufis also empty themselves to be able to serve as a vessel of God.
Eventually, I started covering my hair, a practice that I find wonderful and actually very feminist when the woman makes the choice on her own. It is her decision show herself to whomever she wants, on her terms. I loved wearing hijab, and I miss it. But there is something really strange about wearing hijab in Western societies. When you stand out like a sore thumb, people tend to look at you a lot more, and then the point of hijab has been defeated. I’ve never liked when people stared at me, and I got more stares in a hijab than I did if I had been wearing a mini skirt and a tube top. My Women in Islam teacher once said that it is probably more modest to go outside in a jeans and a baseball cap than it is to wear a hijab, because nobody will look twice. I totally got her point after wearing the hijab for six or so months.
Of course, this story isn’t just about hijab. I hope one day to cover my hair whenever I leave the house again, though I might do it less conspicuously than using a hijab (I did it like that before I switched to hijab, a more Jewish sort of head covering). Actually, what began my sort of withdrawal from Islam is the same stuff that I shy away from in other organized religion. There is not very much room for individual interpretation. In Islam, there isn’t supposed to be a clergy, but if you try to interpret or analyze the Qur’an on your own, there are plenty of people who will tear you down and tell you that you aren’t qualified to do it. There are religious leaders who believe that the Qur’an was interpreted and analyzed in the past, and needs no further analysis. In Islam, “innovation” in religious practice is highly frowned upon, but some people hold so tightly on to this idea that I believe it leaves the Ummah (Islamic community) behind. Probably the easiest example of this is the debate about moon sightings and Islamic months. We have the ability to know when the next lunar month will occur without having to look in the sky, but many Muslims refuse to use this technology and believe the only right away to determine when the month has changed is by sighting the moon with the naked eye. This doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but it means that Islamic holidays are celebrated on different days all over the world. Sometimes it can cause conflicts and confusion that can even lead to racism.
When I was practicing, I was a member of a fantastic organization called Muslims for Progressive Values. They are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They aren’t just tolerant of different views, they are embracing. They welcome everyone warmly, and are exactly the sort of people I was looking for. Even my love for Tarot fit in there, as there is also a very active member of MPV who practices astrology. The problem is, there weren’t many around me in Miami. It may seem like an excuse, but trying to find a place where I felt comfortable a feminist, a convert, a progressive was hard, especially when I was wearing a hijab. Non-Muslims thought I was oppressed and the conservative Muslims wanted me in the back of the mosque in a little tiny room away from all the men. In the end, I just couldn’t put all these aspects of my life together and I just kind of stopped practicing.
I can’t deny that I am the kind of person who, maybe doesn’t need a spiritual path, but enjoys it. I would like to find something that makes sense to me. Maybe even without leaving Islam, or returning to practicing. But what I am not looking for is blind faith, denial of scientific facts, or bigotry, sexism, heterosexism, etc. As the month of Ramadan approaches, though, I feel inclined to be more spiritual. Ideas are, of course, welcome!