Salaam Alaikum wa Rahmatullah
It’s my anniversary, well, sort of. Eighteen years ago on Labor Day weekend, a Sunday, I said my Shahadah. I was standing in the front lobby of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City. I had just attended a class for the sisters, and everyone had left. The only ones still in the building were the Imaam, me, and some guy vacuuming. I was nervous. I had talked about saying my Shahadah with the ladies in the class; I planned to do it next week when when a certain significant friend could be there to witness, but they urged me to not delay, using the “what if you get hit by a bus?” argument. “It’s not between you and your friend; it’s between you and Allah.” Well, can’t argue with logic like that, so I mustered my courage and approached the Imaam, telling him I wanted to officially become Muslim. He stood with me out front by the bookcase so we would not be alone in any room; the vacuuming guy served as our noisy chaperone. I always enjoyed listening to this Imaam when he gave talks. His name was Adnan Bayazid and he was from Syria. His point of view was common sense Islam. He had a very easy personality but of course I was incredibly intimidated because he was an Imaam. He wasn’t a pushover, either. He quizzed me on some of the major points of Islam to assure himself that I was doing this with knowledge. I must have passed his test because after a few minutes of questions, he asked me to repeat the testimony of faith after him:
“Ash hadu an la ilaha il Allah, wa ash hadu anna Muhammadur Rasool Allah”
“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the Messenger of Allah”
He was clearly pleased. He congratulated me and then told me, with emphatic hand gestures, that anything I had done wrong, any sins or regrets I had, were gone, forgotten. This more than anything proved my undoing, and I began to cry due to the enormity of what I had done. He quickly excused himself before he, too, could get emotional, and I walked back into the multi-purpose room and leaned on a table and cried my eyes out. I was happy but emotionally worn out by the time I left for home.
Fast forward eighteen years and here I am, older, maybe wiser, maybe not, married for twelve years with five kids, living in suburbia and trying to help others have a bit of an easier time traveling the path I and so many other reverts have trod. I’ve been through the many phases of Islam. The “SuperConvertitis” phase, where I tried to out Islam everyone else. The burnout phase, where I just wanted to not think about Islam at all, the barely doing the minimum phase where only guilt and fear of Hellfire kept me going, and the phase I’m in now. It’s kind of a comfortable phase. I’m steadfast in my faith, I know where my weaknesses are and I don’t beat myself up for them anymore, and I try to maximize my strong points. I’m not a “haraam alaik-er” and I’m not so easygoing that I’ll simply smile and nod if I see a Muslim eating a ham sandwich and drinking a beer outside the masjid on Friday. I think I’ve found my niche as a Muslim and it is in writing and trying to be an uplifting presence – not a role model, I’m not good enough for that – for my brothers and sisters in Islam. I also make it a point to occasionally poke the hornet’s nest of problems in the Ummah so that people realize that we have to be more proactive in living and teaching Islam. I’m not Super Muslimah, and I’m okay with that.
I just read on one of my Facebook groups that one of our sisters has left Islam, and it got me to thinking. Here I am, Muslim for eighteen years, well settled in my faith, knowledgeable to a degree, not prone to histrionics. What could motivate a person, once guided, to abandon the faith? What could make me consider leaving Islam, even for a moment?
Wow, what a topic, eh? Why would I leave Islam? Well, part of me would say it’s too damn hard. Waking up at godawful in the morning, having to pray five – five! – times a day. Making wudu. Walking around with my body parts dripping wet is not comfortable. Having to pray every day at set times. I don’t even brush my teeth every day. Not being able to eat bacon. I know I can eat beef bacon or turkey bacon, but that’s at home. I have to be a damned private investigator and quiz every restaurant employee, read every label. Is there pork in this? Do you make the sauce with wine? This eternal food vigilance is tiring and I look at all the great places featured on Food TV and think, Can’t eat there, or there, or there, can’t even enterthat country, dang place is full of pork, sheesh. I have to feel guilty or leave if I visit my mom and she has a bottle of beer or a glass of wine with dinner. I pack my kids’ lunch every day in case there’s some sneaky pork in the school menu. It is, frankly, a hassle. It would be easier just to ignore it.
And covering. Wearing abaya and hijab. I’ve been doing it almost since right after I became Muslim. Is it hard? No, not really. I’m no fashionista and most of the time I love the abaya because I can toss it on, throw on a scarf, and I’m dressed for any occasion, no muss, no fuss. No one has to see the sweats underneath. But boy, some days I feel like I just want to rip off the scarf and feel the wind in my hair, the sun baking down on top of my bare head. I want to wear jeans and a t-shirt when I’m playing with the kids in the yard. I want to not trip over the stairs every single time I bring up the groceries. I want to not have to rush to throw something on, fumbling with snaps and wraps, when the UPS guy drops off a package or someone who turns out to be a little kid knocks on my door. I want to go swimming in a normal one-piece suit instead of a burqini.
I want to go out of the house and look like everyone else. I want to be invisible at Wal-mart so that the mean-looking lady doesn’t give me the evil eye. I want to not have to worry about what’s going on in someone’s head when they see me. I’m not super self-conscious about it, but somewhere in the back of my mind is just the tiniest bit of awareness that some day, somewhere, some idiot might confront me or, worse, try to physically assault me, simply because of what I represent with my clothing. It’d be nice to not have to worry about that.
The Muslims. Sigh. Sometimes I want to disassociate myself from Islam just because there are stupid, idiot, ignorant, jackass people who call themselves Muslim who say and do the most idiotic things. Afghans growing opium, honor killings, acid attacks, subjugation of women, female genital mutilation, corrupt governments, bribery, cheating in business, hypocrisy. As Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens, is famously quoted as saying “Thank God I learned about Islam before I met Muslims”. Frankly, sometimes it’s just embarrassing to be identified as Muslim. It’s like someone finding out you’re related to one of the Kardashians or a serial killer. It’s kinda hard to live down. I don’t like having to give the “all Muslims are not terrorists” speech all the time.
I think the hardest thing about being Muslim, at least for me, is being aware of being Muslim all the time. I have a highly refined guilt complex, so I am immediately aware if something I am doing is haraam, forbidden. I keep the radio on the news station. From time to time I’ll check out the local pop music station and listen to a few songs. Wow, they sound gooooood… and then I’ll immediately feel guilty. Why am I not listening to Qur’an or at least nasheeds? But don’t listen to too many nasheeds or that will be haraam too because you should be listening to Qur’an. Well, maybe I’ll listen to some classical music and that will be less haraam…. Oh, and TV. I watch the news and food shows and football. Should I be watching football? All those hunky guys in tight uniforms. Well, maybe if I only look at the offensive linemen, who are over 300 pounds and not really hunky at all. I’ll just listen and not focus on the screen. But here comes a beer commercial. Haraaaaaam!
Ugh, there I go again. Islam is so hard. Islam requires that we be conscious human beings, aware of our surroundings, aware of wasting food, aware of how we deal with the opposite sex, aware of how we behave in business, aware of what we expose our kids to, aware of our environment, aware of how the less fortunate are abused, aware of ourselves, aware of our duty to Allah, aware of the fact that life is short and there’s this big huge thing called Judgment Day. And sometimes it gets to be overwhelming and I feel like I’ll never measure up and I can’t do this and I’m failing and why the hell should I keep trying because I’m tired and I just want to be an unconscious not-thinking-about-the-afterlife-all-the-time normal person. And dammit I just want to go to Burger King and order a bacon cheeseburger and eat it and enjoy it.
So, yeah, I’ve wondered what it would be like to not be Muslim anymore.
So what stops me?
“Ash hadu an la ilaha il Allah, wa ash hadu anna Muhammadur Rasool Allah.”
I believe in One God, without partners. I believe that Allah sent messengers and prophets to teach us what was in the Books He revealed. I believe in angels, and I believe in a Day of Judgment, and I believe in Allah’s Divine Decree. Logically, in my unromantic linear little German heart, I believe in Tauheed. I believe that we fragile, short-sighted human beings need rules and regulations to keep us from royally screwing up our lives. I see the proof of that all around me in society. I believe that Islam is true, that when I look at it honestly with the knowledge of my own frailties, that all the do’s and don’ts are really necessary. We like to think we are strong and moral and self-regulating, but we’re lying to ourselves. If we had no fear of Allah, most of us would be cheating on our spouses, smoking pot, drinking whiskey, cheating our bosses, or doing something else that is bad for us or for others, all the while smugly saying “I can do it because I am strong and I won’t let it get the better of me”. I believe in Islam.
I believe in Islam. I didn’t convert to Islam for a guy or because I thought the clothing made me look exotic, or to rebel against my family, or to justify my sense of being different from everyone else. I became Muslim because I had to. Once I realized that Islam was the truth, I couldn’t not become Muslim, even in the face of corrupt Muslim governments, idiotic Muslims abusing women, growing opium, misinterpreting their own scripture, and all that. Even if I fell down and fell short every day of my life. Even if I had the hardest time keeping concentration long enough to make wudu and get to the prayer rug. Even if I still tuned in Lady Gaga once or twice. Even if I watched a rated R movie. Even if, on a hot, humid, sultry day in mid-August I wanted to rip off my hijab and run through the sprinkler in shorts and a tank top.
Even if someone hurls insults at me. Even if someone tries to tear off my hijab. Even if someone abuses my kids. Even if my husband loses a job because of his beard. Even if my family hates me. Even if my non-Muslim friends leave me. Even if I have to leave my home country. Even if someone holds a knife to my throat and tells me to renounce my faith or they’ll kill me. Even if I were the only Muslim on the planet, or the only Muslim on the planet striving to live as a Muslim. Even if.
“Ash hadu an la ilaha il Allah, wa ash hadu anna Muhammadur Rasool Allah.”
I am a Muslim. I am a weak, frail, moody, anxious, hyperactive, attention-deficit-disorder, bad housecleaning, prayer-missing, ungrateful, overeating, underexercising, too-long-blog-post-writing Muslim. I will continue to fall down, I will continue to struggle, but I will never, never stop being Muslim. I am weak but Allah has guided me and how can I be so ungrateful as to turn my back on Him? Allah is One. Once I realized that, I never had a choice.