Saturday, June 15, 2013

The New Muslim

"The wound is where the Light enters you" -Rumi.

Describe your religious affiliation. I'm assuming you're Muslim. 
Rabia's first question (rephrased) during our little interview for her senior thesis on NYPD surveillance.

Her assumption is correct... I guess. While I was collecting the years of religiosity and/or lack of into a sound statement, all I really wanted to do is cry. And I did. Not nearly as dramatic as it sounds though. What followed was a fragmented flow of speech, some tears, laughs, and the usual fancies (curses). My answer wasn't emotional, at least not to me. But why the impulse to cry?

Rabia apologized, but it wasn't her fault. Her question, followed by a genuine assumption, triggered years of thoughts. About faith. The relationship I had and have with God. Being Muslim.

What makes me Muslim? My parents are Muslim. My mother doesn't cover but is consistent with her prayers. And every so often encourages me to follow suit. My father. I've seen him attend the masjid only for Eid prayer. But it's their faith. Consistent. In happiness. In sadness. Constant conversations. They call Allah. Why can't I?

And so in responding to her assumption, I immediately remembered my sister and I wrapped in floral hijabs, dressed in salwar kameez, reciting the Quran in Baitul Jannah Masjid.

Picture me in a hijab. You should be seeing this face:
The New Muslim. This is an insider, minus bubblegum bubble.

Too young to truly grasp the seriousness of faith. Reciting to finish. Never to actually learn. Counting minutes to go to the masjid's rundown "bathroom" only to talk to the boys. And girls who'd we gossip with. However, Sabia and I somehow found ourselves attending Islamic events and lectures. President Uncle, to this day I don't know his actual name, ran an after-school Islamic program in which Sabia and I were his star students. A man of four wives, but we never questioned this. He'd remind us, "Don't tell this one about the other." Mad sus, but I guess one should hate the game, not the player? It was through him that at ages 10-12 I learned about the propaganda circulating around Muslims/Islam. Wait, are the latter interchangeable?

I spoke on tawheed, a concept asserting Allah's oneness. Not understanding the why or for what. But accepting as is. Is that what it means to be Muslim? And at other events, we'd sing A is for Allah. From the onset of childhood, the tools to grow up Islamic were there... but I'm unhappy. Repetitively questioning my faith and ashamed to rightfully accept Islam as my own. The thoughts, which are perhaps displayed by my acts, that I'm not Muslim enough. But even then, on lonely, sad, frustrating times that recently as an adult I find myself wanting only Allah in my life. Perhaps this is what brought the tears. Wanting Him permanently... not just when I'm crying. 

Fast forward to junior high and high school. Hijab-less. Now embodying that Catholic school-girl spirit. You might've just imagined me in what mainstream media, mostly porn, portrays as the stereotypical Catholic school-girl. I mean, we rolled up our skirts... but really, far from sex...and sexy. 

Seriously. 
In any case, it's not that I left Islam. At Bishop Kearney, I was still Muslim. Something so significant doesn't just disappear, right? First Friday mass of each month. I'd use my time on the kneeler to recite the four quls from the Quran. Sometimes I'd bring my mother's supplication book to Church. Don't know if it was my conscience or an actual yearning to be with Allah among Christians. Freshman year of high school I met my best friend Ruqayyah through a conversation on Islam. Both in Catholic institutions connecting because of our Islamic identities. The contradictions. 

Rabia, you're learning more than I mentioned. And I mentioned more than I'm writing.

Senior year of high school, diagnosed with Lupus. Visitors, I'm talking about the aunties and uncles, would recite a dua/prayer and blow on my face. Some preached that this ailment should push me to seek God and perhaps change my ways. Is that what it means to be Muslim? But it didn't. Lupus pushed me away from God. Fostering an inexplicable anger. Betrayal. Why almost kill me to test my faith? Those days in the ICU. Immobile. Homeschooled. I didn't feel God. Complete apathy.

Miriam. Sister Miriam. Freshman year of college. How did I find her? I remember being in pain. Some of it mental. The Oxycodone on par with the rest of what I was taking were absolutely useless. Bed-ridden. Missing classes. I had never met her or attended any MSA (Muslim Student Association) events on campus prior to our conversations. We exchanged e-mails and somehow her words helped me find the Light to perform salah (prayer). The serenity, unlike any other feeling. The immediate strength. It can't be all in my head, can it? Other messages followed to help me boost my iman (faith). I asked for it. We eventually met and though only her eyes were visible...I never fail to recognize her. 

It hasn't been permanent. And so it makes me cry when I'm surrounded by devotees. I keep coming back to Islam or it finds me, sort of a never ending game of hide-and-seek. 

Our interview became a therapy session on my shortcomings as a Muslim... an identity I had never expressed as a dominant one. One that I acknowledged in silence. Maybe it'll remain this way. An eternal struggle to seek Light...Allah who always seems to calm and uplift my internal/external struggles (happiness/sadness). But why is that? If there's goodness in believing, why am I pulled away?

Religion. I can't fully grasp it. Islam, always with me, but so close to vanishing. How do I stop it?

***Reader: I needed to write out my thoughts on what seems to be a piece that's all over the place. If you're absolutely lost, it's okay because I am too.***