Lauren’s Road

I first met Islam when I was eleven years old, through a group of girls I’d befriended in my sixth grade homeroom class. I was raised in a home with a devout Apostolic Christian mother, and an “I’m-only-practicing-because-my-wife-makes-me” Christian father. I’d accepted my mother’s beliefs as a kindergartener, but that didn’t stop my thirst for and curiosity about other religions and cultures. I have always been very spiritual and my heart has always desired to please God. I’d read about Judaism, the LDS faith, and Taoism by the time I reached middle school, and I was always making up my own religions to which the residents of my imaginary country could adhere.

I’d met my new friends, Chelsea, Jasmine, and Serah* at a good time. My childhood best friend was a year older than I, and we were beginning to grow apart now that she’d been in middle school for a year and was making new friends and getting excited about high school. The girls from my homeroom class were nice to me and treated me as one of their own, although it was obvious that they shared a deeper connection to one another than to me. In conversation, they used words I didn’t understand. Assalamu Alaikum…Insha’Alla…Masjid…And it wasn’t until close to the end of the school year that I realized these girls were not only friends in school, but spent time with each other outside of school as well.

During the summer between sixth grade and seventh grade, my friends all went to a Muslim summer camp in our area where their ties to one another and to their faith were really strengthened. I stayed home alone every day that summer while my parents were at work, and I wished that I could have a been a part of something religious where I could get to know God and others better as well. When I talked to my friends on the phone, I listened to them discuss who was going to start covering and who wasn’t, who’d started learning the prayers, and which boys at the Masjid were the cutest. By now, I could comprehend their religious talk, although my formal introduction to Islam wouldn’t take place until the middle of seventh grade.

Ramadan fell during December that year, and Eid Al Fitr took place in January. A girl named Frances* – who’d attended the Muslim summer camp with Jasmine, Chelsea, and Serah – had just begun coming to public school (before that, she was homeschooled). Frances and I hit it off really well, and I was invited to the Eid party at her house at the end of Ramadan. It was there that I met Frances’ mother – a woman who’d converted to Islam from Catholicism – and a plethora of Frances’ friends from the Masjid (Mosque) that they attended. There were perhaps fifteen girls there, breaking the fast. I ate dates for the first time, and Frances’ mother made a really good chicken dish! I remember being worried about whether or not I would be able to get seconds, with all the people around. I watched the Muslims perform the Maghrib prayer that evening and I asked question after question after question – all of which the girls answered sweetly and patiently.

All through seventh grade, I studied the Islamic faith intensely. I read books, my friends gave me tapes from lectures at the Masjid, we listened to MYNA (Muslim Youth of North America) rap songs that explained the faith through music, and one of the girls gave me a Qur’an. Frances took me under her wing and we passed notes all year about Islam. I was completely taken with what I was learning. It opened my eyes to understanding God in a more beautiful and reverent way. I began to look at everything differently – nature, people, life. The faith was logical and tangible in the sense that it focused not so much on having a spiritual experience like speaking in tongues or falling out, but on action – what I could do to please God, humility – how my thoughts could please God, and balance. So, in the summer before eighth grade, I took Shahada – the Islamic confession of faith – and became a practicing Muslim.

My parents were not happy about my decision, and did everything they could to keep me from turning to Islam. Endless arguments with my mother made me tired. Horrible accusations from my father made me cry. And ridicule from my younger sisters about “just wanting to fit in,” made me feel disrespected. I wasn’t allowed to hang out with any of my Muslim friends, and my mother had thrown away all of my Islamic books and my Qur’an. People at church clicked their teeth in disappointment and shook their heads. Things only got worse when I decided to cover. By the time I reached the middle of my ninth grade year, I’d decided to give up. I had gone to a different high school than my Muslim friends, and I had no support from anyone. It was too hard to be fourteen, going against the religious culture of my family. I thought that if I gave up now, I could return to Islam when I turned eighteen and left my parents’ house.

Things didn’t work out that way.

During high school, I fell into a deep depression. I was involved in drinking, self-mutilation, and homosexuality. I skipped school, I was sometimes disrespectful to my teachers, and now I really was trying to fit in. No one else my age seemed so concerned with pleasing God as I had always been, so why should I be the only one to whom God matters? Why should I be the one always trying to do what I thought was right – only to end up alone and with no support from my family? By the time I turned 18, I felt that it was too late for me to turn back to Islam. I had already done so many things that went against Islam (and Christianity, for that matter!), I had lost contact with my Muslim friends, and it seemed that the path back to Islam was closed forever.  So, I have lived with a spiritual unrest ever since.

As a junior in college, I went back to Christianity. I didn’t do it reluctantly, but I didn’t do it whole-heartedly, either. Islam has made such an impact on my life that I will never be able to practice mainstream Christianity the way that most mainstream Christians practice. That has become a problem for me, and I don’t know that I can really call myself a Christian, either. Up until recently, I’ve hidden my spiritual restlessness from others. But it’s gotten to a point where I have to figure something out, or I’ll drive myself nuts!

I wish I could write a good conclusion to this story, but there is no conclusion. I am spiritually homeless. All I know is that the desire of my heart is still the same as it was as a child – to please God. I don’t know how to please God, or if I’ll ever return to Islam, but I’m praying that God will lead me in the right direction.

No word yet…


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7 responses to “Lauren’s Road

  • Nancy Shehata

    May Allah bless you and bring you back to the Sirat Al Mustaqim. You are not alone, my dear. I am a revert to Islam – an old lady of 43, lol, Muslim for 17 years, settled, married with kids. I’ve been down a similar road of seeking, forgetfulness, and return. Remember that Allah is Most Merciful, and He will always help those who seek Him:

    “I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assemble better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.”

    “A man sinned greatly against himself, and when death came to him he charged his sons, saying: When I have died, burn me, then crush me and scatter [my ashes] into the sea, for, by Allah, if my Lord takes possession of me, He will punish me in a manner in which He has punished no one [else]. So they did that to him. Then He said to the earth: Produce what you have taken-and there he was! And He said to him: What induced you to do what you did? He said: Being afraid of You, O my Lord (or he said: Being frightened of You) and because of that He forgave him.”

    I love you for the sake of Allah and I know you will find your place. Life is a journey and we never stay in one place or in one state. Keep moving forward and you will do fine. Fi Aman Allah.

  • lizmc.

    People judge each other with no mercy to try to hide their own shortcomings. People try to make others conform to certain religous ideas and practices because of fear. If your heart hungers for God, God will meet you with open arms and no thought for the path that led you to where you are. God is cool like that. Don’t let anything in your past or anyone in your present stop you from doing what most feeds your heart and soul.

  • Christopher(Guest)

    Lauren,

    I am so moved by your story. I was particularly struck by your use of the term “spiritually homeless.” I once had to do an exercise as part of a class where we talked about our spiritual beliefs, and I used that exact same term to describe myself. I too have always been “thirsting” (another word I use a lot) for some kind of spiritual connection with a higher power, and it has led me far from my parents’ faith (very New Age) to an exploration of many different traditions. I am happy to say that I have found my home in Catholicism after many years of prayers, questions, and reflections.

    I did not grow up Christian, so I don’t know how to witness or evangelize (or even if that’s the appropriate term), but here is what I believe: God loves us and delights in us. We are His/Her joy. I believe that we are all children of God and that, while we may lose our path, we can never truly be cut off from Him/Her. I think that if Islam is what truly helps your spirit to soar, then that is your message from God regarding the right direction.

    One thing that helped me in my search was the ability to meet with spiritual leaders of different faiths. Is there a Muslim leader (I’m not sure what they are called… perhaps an imam?) that you could speak with regarding your concerns? They are well equipped to help you answer the tough questions of faith, and they could also probably help you find a Muslim community – I know all too well how hard it can be to keep faith without support from others.

    God delights in His/Her children, including you. Keep searching and I have faith that you will find peace.

    • Christopher(Guest)

      I should also say that I’m not attempting to persuade you of anything or preach to you, and I sincerely hope that it did not come across that way. I just hate to see someone struggle with the same sensation of being lost that I felt.

  • Kisses Kats

    Dearest Little Sister ~ What a beautiful description of your spiritual journey! I applaud your courage! Trust me — trust GOD! You are not lost or alone; you are a seeker, presently experiencing a time similar to the Jews wandering in the desert, searching for the Promised Land. Your journey may take you on many interesting detours, but you will come to your “place.” Like me, you may not stay in the next place you feel at home – it will be comfortable, but you will continue to grow and seek toward God, and there may be another place He will lead you to. It was that way for me. I had no intention of joining another religion – I thought I was comfortable, although I knew there was still something missing. When the signs became clear, I resisted until there was simply no more refusing what was obviously the will of God for me. I have grown into it and can’t imagine anything different in this life — only continued growth & deepening where I am.

    Have you considered returning to Islam? We have all sinned, and I don’t remember how Islam will receive you with the life experiences you’ve acquired, but God is the author of the Quran — He cherishes you exactly as you are. You could be Muslim in your heart & daily practices w/o joining the Masjid. You will find comfort in your faith. If there is no formal place in a Muslim community, most likely God will lead you another, compatible direction. The most important thing right now to bring yourself peace instead of driving yourself nuts -IMO, anyway- is simply to immerse yourself in daily prayer and the Word of God. Your conversations with Him will be your salvation.

    Just for kicks, find and read this book: The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. Here’s the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Practice-Presence-God-Brother-Lawrence/dp/0800785991

    Here’s an interesting website also. It didn’t exist years ago when this book became my primer. http://www.PracticeGodsPresence.com

    Briefly, I was born & reared in several Christian denominations and explored like you. I too, took a break from active participation at church at about the same age as you, but it was because I was disillusioned and disgusted by what looked like hypocrisy among the church elders. I was young, naive and idealistic. In my mid-20s I left my marriage so I could be free to seek God in my own way – channels that would have caused dissension in my family. I had already explored the established faiths: Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Each had something beautiful that attracted me, but each had something where I just didn’t fit. Then I read an article describing the Baha’i Faith. I recognized myself in every tenet, but I must have misread something. I told God I was really very sorry I couldn’t join them because of 1 or 2 things. Pacifism: If my gov’t is invaded, I will be part of an underground resistance. I may take up arms & may have to kill someone. Wouldn’t want to, but I believed I would if necessary. And I believed this disqualified me as a Baha’i. And you know what? God did not send anyone or any further information to correct my misunderstanding! Instead ….

    God led me –reluctantly — to metaphysical Christianity where I was ecstatic for many yrs. The first day I walked in, 1/2 hr late, the first things I heard were the pastor discussing physics & Teilhard de Chardin. Science in church!! And then, we MEDITATED! Not preached at, not prayed at or as intermediary for. We meditated, connected with God directly, ourselves, right there in church! I had come home – for the first time! Years later, I noticed something important missing: A true, daily experience within the church of Christ’s teachings that we are ALL children of God, that we are ALL brothers & sisters.

    I felt shock & dismay at the minister’s reaction to me asking to borrow his copy of the Q’uran. He had none – a doctor of divinity had NONE! And looked at me with doubt & suspicion when I explained I was having trouble with the Hawk POV about the first Iraq war. I wanted to compare our two holy books and see if Christ & Mohammad taught the same spiritual values or laws. I just couldn’t believe we were very different, but he had no interest in helping me figure this out! And then, when we created a group devoted to community service, the powers that be told us to go somewhere else because the church’s board was dedicated to becoming a teaching institution, not a social services agency. {sigh}

    Some time later, the Baha’i Faith came to my attention for the 2nd time. I was not actively seeking any more religions. God had to do some fancy footwork to persuade me that THIS is what He wants. It’s a very long, complicated story, and was not an easy journey, but nothing I can imagine would persuade me to regret it. For me, this is home. It feels perfect. My brothers & sisters in faith are all over the spectrum, but now my idealism is tempered. I accept that we are imperfect in our understanding and our practice. I answer only to God. He is my Creator, My Judge, and my Comfort and my Hope.

    I trust that you will find joy and peace on your journey closer to Him. Perhaps we will meet and compare notes in the next world! God bless, you precious Sister!

  • kirei03

    Wow – I just saw and read all of these great comments! Thanks everyone for the valuable input! Right now I am on vacation and without a computer (I’m using my phone now to read and respond)
    but I’d like to respond to everyone individually and will do so when i get home!

  • Aakifah

    Asalaamu alaikum sister…. Your story brought tears to my eyes. Please know that it is NEVER too late to turn back to Allah (SWT). He is the Most Gracious, Most Merciful….Most Forgiving. We are all humans, we all make mistakes, but Allah (SWT) gives us so many chances to make tawbah (repent) and turn to Him. I reverted to Islam 2 years ago, when I was 30 years old. I was raised Christian and when I first converted, my mom was not very keen on the idea. Thankfully, she didn’t get angry about it, but instead was open enough to ask questions and learn a little bit about Islam. She has accepted my decision and is supportive of me.

    If you ever have q’s or just need someone to talk to, feel free to contact me on fb; my name there is Aakifah Daneen.

    Salaam,
    Aakifah

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