Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Interlude: Where I Want to Be

As salaam alaikum,

When I was a child, for some reason, I wanted to be really spiritual. Before I even knew a lot about Islam, when my whole world was what my mother taught me, I wanted, from a young age, to be really spiritual, really as close to God as I could be. I wanted this before I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, before I began praying to be married someday. And I remember it clearly and I don't know why I felt this way.

As a teenager, I kind of strayed away from this dream of mine and began to search frantically for a spiritual home with all sorts of ideas about God that were not true. When it came time to decide whether to date a guy and what religion to mark on my college applications, the answer to both was that I was Muslim. I was Muslim, so no, I won't date you. I was Muslim, so I'll put Islam as my religion on my college applications.

And thus it would be. I would come to college, learn more about Islam, return to salat as I had with my mother, and this would be the way I would realize my desire of spirituality, closeness to God, and all else.

In short, the Islam that I encountered in college was much more difficult than I ever imagined. I had learned salat in both English and Arabic, but I learned about the importance of Arabic in Islam as the language of revelation. I learned about the importance of recitation. I learned Arabic words and phrases that I felt the need to punctuate my language with in order to make sense as Muslim, not just my parents' favorite and oft repeated, "Praise be to God." Now it was alhamdulillah. No more "God-willing." Insha'Allah.

And these were little things. What, when I was little, seemed like an organic process now seemed rigid and almost impossible for a girl like me to enter. I was just learning about Islam...and on the other side were sisters who could recite the Qur'an, those who had memorized part of the Qur'an.

I went through all sorts of changes. I wore khimar and then I stopped. I was intense in my learning about Islam and then I stalled. Somewhere in there I lost that desire I used to have, the desire to be so spiritually close to God, in the midst of being really confused about where I fit in Islam, as a Muslimah.

And then I went to medical school and a lot of things went to the wayside. And now, four years in, after getting my masters in public health and relating to non-Muslim men, I'm nearing the end of the 8th Ramadan I've practiced, hoping to make this one better than the last, better than all others. I made a pledge to God explicitly, something I've never done before and something I will uphold with the fear of my life here and the Hereafter. I needed to do it, or else things would quickly spiral out of control.

It's something that I choose to keep to myself.

I need to get back to where I wanted to be in life. Sometime in the past, I used to regret coming into Islam, because our burden of righteousness is greater because we have in our possession the final revelation and a clear guide to the straight way. It seemed harder for me than if I were just never exposed to Islam and I just believed in God and tried to do good work. This was a foolish regret that I always knew in my heart was wrong. In my heart, I've always known it was a blessing. That my mother found Islam, that my grandparents found Islam, that my aunts and uncles who still cling to Islam found Islam is a miracle of divine proportions. That millions of African Americans arrived at Islam after being part a spontaneously forming black nationalist organization in the United States is amazing.

That I chose Islam is the grace of God.

This is not supposed to be hard for me. When things get hard, I will take a step back. But I will approach this all with humility and patience, insha'Allah, but also I will approach it organically. The innocence of the child I was makes everything simple, but a child is not always wrong to simplify. I think we make things harder than they have to be, and I often made coming into Islam harder than it had to be. It can be as organic as I imagined spirituality to be as a child...

...and if I don't fulfill this desire, I'll only be hurting myself, that innocent self that exists within me, somewhere, that expected, as my mother says, "with open eye," to live this life a certain way. I'm following this because I know we come here submitting ourselves to God, and as a child I must have been close to that, so I must have known.

But ultimately, where do I want to be? I want to truly submit myself to God in a way that I haven't been. God has granted me with the gift of consciousness of Him from an early age, and I need not let the distractions of this life cloud that consciousness. I want that consciousness and my submission to permeate through everything that I do and all that I am, from my being a family physician, insha'Allah, to my being a wife and mother, insha'Allah. I want to find a community as well. No more of this being invisible.

No one around me right now understands me. I'm trying to find a way to be with little context. I need to find a home for myself, a way for me to make sense. That's where I need to be, and all else will flow forth more smoothly.

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