Introduction: An American Muslim Journey of Faith

Introduction: An American Muslim Journey of Faith

 

“Is not life from beginning to end a ludicrous story, an improbable, stupid yarn? Am I not now writing my own personal piece of fiction? A story is only an outlet for frustration aspirations, for aspirations which the storyteller conceives in accordance with a limited stock of spiritual resources inherited from previous generations.” – Sadegh Heayat, The Blind Owl

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This is a story about what it means to be a person of faith in America. It’s also about losing my family and my religion, only to find them both again in the most unlikely places. It is a story about feminism, class, mental health, loss and redemption. Perhaps most importantly, this is a story about finding refuge in a relationship that I cannot even prove exists but which has transformed me in innumerable ways.

My story is one of millions of others like it: a personal saga born of the First Amendment to the Constitution. We have freedom in this country to not only define our religious practice, but to define the very nature of God for ourselves. Presented with unlimited religious and philosophical options, I am one of many (perhaps most) Americans who have struggled to understand their own innate spirituality in the context of modernity, Enlightenment values, and free, unlimited access to knowledge. I have been both a devout, unquestioning follower of religion, and have in turn embraced skepticism to discover infinitely more unanswered questions and unfulfilled needs than before; only to return again to religious life in an entirely new way.

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This has not been an easy story to write. During the process, random memories from the past 43 years have started to bubble up at odd times. I have done my best to understand why my subconscious suddenly thinks these memories might be relevant. I can only hope that I’ve selected the right ones to share with you.

Some days I feel like I have been alive for centuries and that all the sweet pain of human existence is filling my heart. I can barely stand it. Colors are muted and time slows down and everything in front of me seems like it’s a memory from another lifetime. Other days, I feel like I’ve just witnessed the moment of creation, and all the universe is brand new, open and ready for me to explore. Colors are bright and pierce my eyes and my heart. Possibility exists everywhere, and I see infinity in every face.

This melancholy is nothing new. I’ve experienced it many times over during my life, particularly when I’m transitioning into a new way of being. Whenever I reach this state of melancholy is when I do my best writing. I’m open to the experience of humanness, observing myself along with the rest of the universe.

I’m also closest to The Divine One when I am in these states, and I wonder if this is how others experience their connection to God. Art and music and poetry can set it off, but sometimes, it’s a dream or a face in a crowd…and sometimes it’s just waking up and seeing the way the light falls in my room a certain way. During times like this I am defenseless against my own raw existence. I cannot be angry like this. I can’t be ambitious. I cannot perpetuate whatever egotistical lies I tell myself. I simply am, as I am.

Perhaps the reason we all spend so much time stoking our own fear and anger, even when we know it makes us less effective; or investing in self-help books, cosmetics and education is that we hope these things will distract us from our melancholy and the moments of truth that remind us who and what we are, intrinsically. Unchangeably. Irrevocably. We are human. Only human. Alhamdolillah.

For my part, I love these days even when they cause me psychic and spiritual discomfort. I love knowing that I am one of billions who will melt away into history and be forgotten. That there is a mystery to my existence that is beyond whatever plans I have or work I produce. That each moment I am conscious and living here is mine to experience as a birthright – not as a contract, but as a gift.

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As an ideal, America is a rock-tumbler of a society. We chip away at one another through constant, often uncomfortable contact, until we are all more beautiful and polished. In its less ideal form, though, America begins to eat her own. These latter moments in our history happen when fear overrides our ideals and we begin acting defensively against those who are themselves defenseless. As an American Muslim, I see that happening now. The misconceptions, fears and misinformation in America surrounding the world’s second largest religion has prompted me to share my story of embracing Islam and living a religious life.

To be clear: I’m not writing my story because I think I will impact the world with the details of my life. I don’t think my story has answers that will provide insight for those struggling with their own spirituality. Nor I am not laboring under any delusion that I will prolong the memory of my existence after I am gone from this world. But after almost twenty years of being a Muslim I feel compelled to tell of the experiences that led me to the place I am today. 

In so doing I won’t reveal any great secrets of the universe. I cannot validate your faith, or lack thereof. My pledge to you, dear reader, is to simply tell the truth. I will tell you what I know and where I’ve been with stark honesty and humble reflection.  If you read my story and find nuance in the way you view Muslims in America, I will have made a useful contribution to both my country and my faith community. If some part of this story resounds with you and whispers awake your own melancholy humanness, I will have done something truly great.  

Salaam.

14 Replies to “Introduction: An American Muslim Journey of Faith”

  1. Oh, my…I’m thrilled to be in at the beginning of this project, as I the little I know from previous posts elsewhere has me convinced that your story is compelling, has important implications for all at this crazy time, and can only be told in your own smart, irreverent, compassionate way: that of the eternal searcher. Thank you for inviting us on the journey!

  2. I am a convert of 18 years. I am so excited that you made the leap of faith and effort to write your story. We go through many changes during our journey. Thank you for sharing:)

  3. I really like the way you write. I am also a convert. This resonated with me, especially “I love knowing that I am one of billions who will melt away into history and be forgotten. ”
    I often have this thought and to me it is comforting. So, I love how you put that into words. I look forward to reading more.

  4. Salaam my dear sister, thank you for sharing your journey. I hope people will gain some insight and benefit from reading along. I look forward to following as you continue your beautiful writing. I’m so very glad to be able to count you and your family as friends.
    Peace & blessings ✌🏽

  5. Assalamu Alaikum, So interesting and so brave of you, thank you. I get a feeling you must be into Rumi 🙂
    Your venture reminds me of the book, A Road to Mecca. So far, it’s my favorite biographical work. Dr. Jonathan Brown mentioned in an interview that he was led to Islam by Muhammad Asad’s book A Road to Mecca. You never know who you might lead to that road. Best wishes.

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