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…