It has been a long time since I used the term ‘Muslim’ to describe myself and actually meant it. But today, at the ripe age of 22, I stand here before you with all the pride in the world, and say that yes, I am a Muslim woman. The thing is, I was born into a Muslim family and, believe it or not, spent most of my life as an extremely practicing and believing individual. And for most of my life, it was perfectly balanced with who I was as a person and all the things that I stood for.
What was religion like for me?
Up until the age of 10 or 11, religion was one of my comforts in life. We were (are) one of those families that followed a softer version of Islam in comparison to some of our extended family and so it fit with everything that we were doing in life. Actually, it was more that we grew into a life that was guided rather than dictated by an ideology. Our parents let Islam raise us instead of raise us into Islam. And it was good. It was a good life. A kind life. One where things didn’t go wrong or feel like they weren’t supposed to be. I felt the kindness of God in my every action. In every sajdah, I felt warmth, and peace. And in every choice I made in life, I felt goodness and acceptance. I felt it all, and that is what made what happened next so difficult to comprehend.
While I would love to put my journey from faith to faithlessness down to a single moment in time, the truth is that it was an assortment of things that happened over an extended period of time. That been said, I do need to point out that there was absolutely one moment about 10 or 11 years ago now that I can remember standing there and looking around at my friends and family thinking “this is an absolute sham”. Here are some of the things that happened during that time:
- I met one too many fake men of God. Men who dressed in their Friday best, and used their outward appearances and societal positions to abuse their power. Sexual abusers need to be named and shamed in this community, these people are in no way special and it is in no way blasphemous to call them out.
- The older I got, the more rules started being imposed as opposed to encouraged. Prayer was no longer a place of peace and meditation, but a necessary act if I wanted to keep out of Hell.
- The more I moved away from faith, the more I found that despite my immediate family giving me space to navigate my thoughts, uber-religious members of my extended family felt it was their place to suddenly comment upon what was and wasn’t right for me.
- With the rise in extended family interference, it also meant that there was no longer a point where culture and religion met. Lines were blurred and rules were no longer exclusive of the soft Islam I had known all my life.
For someone looking in now, these things aren’t necessarily drastic enough to be a reason for why one might experience a loss of faith, but it happened. It happened for me. From one thing to the next, I felt I was being catapulted and losing control of all that was important to me, and eventually, it happened enough for me to stop caring. Faith stopped being a part of my life, and though I still went through some of the rituals, most of it didn’t really matter and I was only doing them out of habit.
How do I plan to return to my prior state?
But, here I stand, at 22, ready to accept my faith again. I have spent far too long away from the one thing that has always bought me peace of mind and it is time to take small but strong strides towards a better version of myself. There are many things that can be done, but I know myself and I know that unless I take baby steps, I risk overwhelming myself and losing out. So, here are a couple of steps I hope to follow until I am feeling the softness of faith as I did so many years ago:
- On the days I am feeling doubt, I will take time out to remind myself of the moments where God’s mercy has been greater than His wrath.
- I will try my hardest to pray the compulsory prayers at the very least, but I will not beat myself up about it if I miss one.
- I know it won’t work for me to suddenly try and fit prayers or moments of meditation into my current timetable, so I hope that I will be able to rebuild my timetable around times of prayer and the requirements of my faith.
- I will regroup and let myself be surrounded by the people who have always tried to remind of the softness of my faith without imposing it on me.
Things won’t change overnight, but they will change. This, I am absolutely sure of.