I’m here to confess some things that not many converts to Islam would be willing to discuss openly. Ready?
I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Sure, I knew the basics and the basics made sense to me, but that’s about it. Not long after taking my shahada, or profession of faith, I walked confidently to the edge of the convert diving platform with my new Muslim friends cheering me on, slid my toes to the edge, and jumped headfirst into an ocean of belief before I ever learned to swim. My friends stuck around long enough for me to take the plunge. Just until I seemed to get the hang of praying, saying alhamdulillah, and wearing hijab.
It wasn’t long before I contracted a full blown case of convertitis. I debated people on the internet using the copy & paste method to the best of my ability. I tried to convince friends and relatives that my newly selected religion was the ONLY TRUE religion. I stopped listening to music, I cut off contact to guy friends who I’d had since elementary school and even female friends who I thought were bad influences. I wore hijab long before I was ready to do so. I judged other Muslim women and their choice of dress. I judged the “kufar” and their lifestyle choices despite having shared those choices myself at one point. I wore jalabiyas to Wal-Mart, I fought with my parents about holiday gifts, and I made myself believe every single fatwa on islamqa.com.
I was in deep, you guys. But the embarrassing thing is that after learning the basics, my study of Islam stopped. I was so deep into the day to day details that I never took the time to really look deeply into the integrity of those details. I lived like that for years.
I enjoyed being a part of something. I liked the label and the definition. In the same way I make sure the lines of my furniture match up with the lines of my tiles, I made sure my actions and beliefs lined up perfectly with what was expected of me according to mainstream Islam.
When my daughter was a year and a half old I worked in a portrait studio. One of my regular customers and I got to chatting and she mentioned how her sister used to be a Muslim. I thought it was the strangest thing I’d ever heard. How can someone become a Muslim and then just stop? My response to her was “Well then, she never really was a Muslim.” I can imagine now what that woman must have thought of me. Ten years into it, I can totally understand how this religion is not for everyone. If for some crazy reason that woman ever reads this post…I’m sorry. I was an asshole.
Although at that time I thought I was living the deepest possible existence, I can honestly say now, looking back, that I have never been a more shallow person. I was critical, judgmental, and hard headed. I was toxic to myself and probably those around me. I would not have wanted to be my friend.
And then something changed.
Several years back, when my marriage was just beginning its most difficult phase, I began to search for answers. Most Muslims reading this will assume that since things changed when my marriage changed, I must have converted for the wrong reasons or that maybe I never really believed, but let me assure you that you’re wrong. It wasn’t about that. It hit me that many of the reasons used to convince me that Christianity was not the “right” faith also applied to Islam.
I began to question and to form my own opinions. I found that when I shared my questions and opinions with other Muslims, my faith was questioned, and everybody knows that that’s a dangerous line to cross, so I stopped sharing my thoughts.
It’s amazing how the people who were so open to your questions during your conversion become almost allergic to them once you’ve taken the plunge and become a Muslim. Islam is an all or nothing religion. You either believe it or you don’t, no cherry picking allowed.
I’ve never found the answers I was looking for, but I’ve been left with a whole lot of questions. Most of which I suppose I will never have the answers to.
Over the past couple of years, during my immense amounts of free time in Saudi Arabia, I’ve had the chance to quietly sort out my thoughts and become comfortable with my own ever changing and evolving (as is evident by my ever changing and evolving posts on the subject) beliefs. I want no part in the business that is Religion, capital R. I don’t want my beliefs to be anybody’s business. And I mean business in every sense of the word.
I’ve opened up to others about my feelings and doubts and I know that I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who feels completely ripped off and cheated from the conversion process. It would be easier to keep my thoughts and experiences to myself on this subject, but that’s not what this blog is about. I would have loved to have stumbled on an admission like this when I was going through my roughest times, so I’m choosing to share.
I’m not here to place blame. It’s my fault that I so enthusiastically stood at the edge of that platform and jumped in headfirst before knowing how to swim. I was 20, that’s what we do at 20. I’m here to say that it’s not fair that I don’t get to change my mind or decide for myself. It’s not fair that my personal choices such as manner of dress and gender of my friends should be matters of public (or in Saudi’s case, matters of government) opinion. It’s not fair that I should be afraid to have doubts, ask questions, or openly disagree with the mainstream. It’s not fair that my personal growth should be limited to only growing deeper into the mainstream or even the extreme sects of the religion.
My fellow Muslims like to brag about Islam’s 2 billion followers, but taking into consideration the number of people who are born into the religion without choosing it, who don’t really practice the religion when people aren’t looking, or who are afraid to leave it, where does that leave us? If we as followers aren’t free to really share how we feel, what does that say about our precious Ummah? If there is no compulsion in (this particular) religion, why are Muslims forbidden from leaving it?
I’m not afraid of people judging me anymore, or to talk about how I feel, but I am afraid of things never changing for other people like me whose lives may hang in the balance because of what they believe or have stopped believing. I’m afraid that someday my daughter won’t have the right to choose and will instead believe or pretend to believe as she is compelled to believe. I’m afraid she’ll rebel altogether as so many young people here do, leaving her culture and the beautiful essence of her religion behind her.