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Every day is a battle between the authentic self and who I am supposed to be. The pressure to conform makes me feel suffocated, like I’m breathing through wet wool. When I declared Islam as my new faith, I severely underestimated the smallness of the box I was walking into- a box constructed by the limitations of others- and the courage it would take to walk back out.
The time immediately following my reversion to Islam was exciting and heartbreaking. Among the Muslims I found many new acquaintances, a few dear friends and a sense of belonging. But, among my family and lifelong friends I found rejection. The loss of respect among peers and loved ones might have been lessen by the Islamic community had I not began to incur rejection there also.
I thank Allah for the seasoned Muslimahs who gave me warnings and encouragement, then backed off patiently waiting for my enlightenment. These sisters were in the minority. To the spiritual seeker, religious communities are shark infested waters. You either join the shiver or you’re chum. The consequences for going one’s own way vary from a slight cooling of affection to being burned at the proverbial stake.
Inclusion is a powerful seductress. So much so that when a controversial question arises one instinctively remains silent or asks and quietly accepts the given answer even when it insults all the senses. When hard, pressing questions go unanswered for too long, growth ceases, for true spiritual growth follows a natural course and asks many questions. Every circumstance is tailored for the individual to guide him/her back to the Source (inna lillahi wa inna Ilahi rajioon-Surely from Allah we come and to Him is our returning).
Spiritually-minded people understand this and are therefore more aware and tolerant of others’ need to question and learn through mistakes. Religious people recognize no such need. They follow fatawa (Islamic religious rulings) without consulting themselves. We believe that we must following a sheikh who is knowledgeable in the finer points of the religion, but there is no prohibition against thinking. In fact, the Qur’an in several places poses the rhetorical questions “have you no sense? Can you not think? Do you not have understanding?”
Allah has given the Qur’an as a guide and the religion of Islam as a birth right with express permission to think. Since it is I who will stand alone on the Day of Judgment (more on my interpretation of this event later), I choose to be honest with myself about what I truly believe and what I can handle. The requisite number of sisters have judged and shunned me for being a Sufi (a 4-letter word) and I have been labeled unworthy of fellowship, but I have no desire for empty religious practice or to watch others clinging to them to the exclusion of a true connection with Allah, my Source. Rituals are empty. It is the connection made possible through the rituals that nourish and sustain the soul through spiritual winters.

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