I have been putting this post off for a while now because it’s deeply personal. Maybe even more than opening up about my marriage issues, because this post is about who I AM, not what I’m struggling with. But after a few talks with a few friends about things such as harassment by fellow Muslims and the permissibility of nutmeg in Islam (for real, it’s a seriously debated issue), I don’t think I can put it off any longer.
I may have mentioned here before that I was experiencing a sort of crisis of faith. For a while I felt stuck, unsure of what to believe or why to believe it. I questioned, I struggled, and at times considered throwing the baby out with the bath water so to speak. It was all just too much for me, especially when I was knee-deep in emotional garbage involving my marital situation. But then something happened. I don’t know what…but it happened.
Maybe it’s all a part of the process of separating myself from a person who at one point was a part of me, maybe it’s growing up and figuring out who I am without the influence of another person and his ideas of who I should be. Maybe it was meeting people who encourage me to be my authentic self, to figure myself out and grow and change as much as I need to, and who will love me for whoever I am or end up becoming. What ever it is, I’m getting to a place where I am beginning to feel at peace with who I am and what I believe.
But I’ve noticed something during this change. There are people, seemingly normal, happy, secure in their own lives people, who are threatened by the idea of others changing or going against the grain. People who will take time out of their lives and struggle to make sure that others are marching to the beat of the same drum they are. People who are threatened by those who are different or things they don’t understand. I had enough of that in my life as a Christian. Being told that I just had to believe, just had to have faith, that some questions couldn’t be answered, and that some things just shouldn’t be questioned.
When I found Islam I felt liberated in the sense that my questioning had led me somewhere, and that the religion even encouraged its followers to seek knowledge. I soaked up everything like a sponge, learned about the duties and obligations of a Muslim…and then I stopped. I met other Muslims, adopted the way that they believed and listened to the same scholars they listened to, and stopped listening to my heart, my brain, and my reasoning. I stopped searching and questioning, accepted the mainstream view and took everything at face value, like I was supposed to. I fell into the dangerous habit exhibited by my former role models as a Christian and found myself believing in certain things because that’s just how it is, and you just have to believe.
And now here I am. I still identify as a Muslim, but I’m different. I’m progressive…that’s a dirty word. I question, I ask why, I use my brain and I decide things for myself. My ideas change, my beliefs are fluid, I am open to learning and exploring, I look at issues from more than one side, I accept people for who they are, I don’t condemn others, and leave their faith as something between them and God. And to some, that means I’m not a Muslim at all. I should not stray from the straight path (aka, majority), I should take what is given as it is given and not ask questions. Questioning is dangerous. I should seek out those who identify as Muslims and correct their “wrong” behaviors, and I should not take offense when others correct mine. For a while, I’ve worried that “coming out” about my shift in belief would make me an outcast and that people would judge me, but seriously…I’m done with all of that.
I’m tired of having to appear to be someone and something I’m not. I’m tired of the constant bickering over who’s right and who’s wrong. I’m tired of judgement and condemnation in the name of religion. I’m tired of watching others decide who is going to Hell. I can’t even begin to tell you how sick I am of the Saudi version of Islam and other Muslims’ attempt to defend everything Saudi Arabia does and stands for. I’m tired of religion being twisted and used to excuse disgusting behavior, particularly in this part of the world. I’m tired of the emails I get reminding me to save my soul, honor my husband and my marriage, how living in Saudi is a blessing as a Muslim, how I’m going to Hell for missing Christmas. I’m tired of it all. And now I’m reminded why at one point the Muslim friends I had amounted to ZERO. It’s exhausting.
In the end I guess my crisis of faith has been a blessing. In the book Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser, she describes what she calles the Phoenix Process. A death and rebirth. Reinvention. Embracing darkness, or in my case questioning my faith altogether, to come into light. Faith, just like many things in life, isn’t a destination. It is a journey. One we should never, ever stop taking. There should never be a point in life where we feel like we’ve got it all figured out. We should be constantly searching, questioning, adapting, evolving, and we should never, ever be made to feel ashamed or wrong for doing so.
And a special note to Muslims…knock it off. Knock it off with all the arrogance in your belief. Humility and respect are what will encourage people to listen to you and understand where you’re coming from. All this talk about Hellfire and kafir this and shirk that…you’re not helping your cause at all. [16:125] You shall invite to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kind enlightenment, and debate with them in the best possible manner. Your Lord knows best who has strayed from His path, and He knows best who are the guided ones. Other people’s faith is none of your business, and it’s not your job to make sure others are doing things according to your (or the sheikh you follow’s) interpretation. Islam is flexible. It is open to interpretation. No one has a monopoly on the truth. Thanks in advance for your cooperation.
I encourage all of my readers, no matter what faith you identify with, even if you don’t identify with one at all, don’t ever allow yourself to get too comfortable with what you believe or don’t believe. Be open, be vulnerable, be accepting of different ideas, be willing to bend. Respect others’ right to believe as they wish. And remember, different doesn’t equal wrong, it’s just…different.