*Note to all my non-muslim, non-arabic speaking readers: Shahadah is an Islamic Declaration of Faith: La ilaha iilla Allah (there is no god but God)*
I have been wanting to write about this topic for a while, and I have kept telling myself that it is because I just haven’t been able to find the words. I don’t know how neat or pithy this will be, but I am just going to try. Somethings are worth a try.
So, I will begin here: I want to know God. For myself. I do not want a secondhand report on His Goodness or His Promptness or His Impeccable Listening Skills. I want to know them for myself. I want to say that I know my Lord. That I know Him and now I know me.
Part of this journey of mine to uncover my family history and story is a spiritual one. My origin story is one of faith and Fitrah. This religion is a part of my home, and my tongue, and my wardrobe. But now it needs to become a part of my heart too. I need to know my prophet for myself. I do not want him retold or reshaped or passed down to me. I am too grown for that. I am big enough to be able to hold the weight of The Truth on my own now, and I deserve that much. When I am questioned in my grave I cannot turn to my parents for the answers. When I stand before God on the day of judgement, I will be held accountable for the state of my own heart. I have to take responsibility for my own reality.
I guess there comes a moment in time for “born Muslims” to choose. You get to a fork in the road a mile down from adulthood and you have to make a decision. The diversion of conversion. One path leads to Faith the other goes somewhere else. You have to choose Islam for yourself. Your parents and your family cannot choose it for you. You have to make an active effort to hold onto it, to find it, to fight for it, to cry through it, to pray through it, to heal to it, to let it heal you, to let it inside. You have to choose to be Muslim, take your Shahadah, declare your faith and make it yours.
Children and wise adults understand the realness of the soul. You can feel it: hovering, waiting, dancing, whispering, rotting, suffering while parched and wilted. You know yourself deeply as a child, you know that you are not your body and you are not your circumstance and people have to teach you that those things matter. Wise people have to relearn themselves, find themselves again, but once they do, that sweetness of pure, unbridled desire for Goodness and Truth and Contentment can reenter your heart.
And that’s just it, isn’t it? Faith used to be so simple when I was younger. Children are pure and clean and we love God even before we know His name. It is easy to be Muslim when being Muslim is all about Eid presents and dressing up for Jummah and Islamic school classrooms. Faith is easy when you know no other option. Faith is easy when it is all you know, and it makes sense, and your heart has not thought about anything else. Faith is easy when you have not had to superglue your soul back together so many times you have forgotten what it used to look when it was brand new and glistening.
Because of course you grow up. And there is a moment when you realize that you don’t feel the way you felt as a child. Faith dissipates, dissolves, falls away and you are left knowing only what you have been told that you are. Belief turns into memorized responses and being a Muslim into persona, a role, an identity, something you can peel on and off, a costume you know when to put on when you are at home, a drug you know when to overdose when it is Ramadan and a burden you know when to let go of when no one else is around and it’s Fajr time.
I don’t know when it happens. If it’s a quick moment or a long and drawn out exhale, if it happens overnight or slowly eats away at you little by little, but all of a sudden you arrive at the crossroads. Maybe you had been standing there for a while and just now realized that it lies before you. And that moment is terrifying, chilling, and yet so exciting all the same.
In an odd way, I feel like I have just become Muslim for the very first time. I have made it my New Year’s resolution to focus myself and return to the very basics of faith, and establish myself as a seeker of my own relationship with God, independent of my mother or father or my family history, or what people know me as or what people assume about me as a woman in hijab. That’s where I am at in my life, finding purpose in the values I have been raised with and finding guidance to define my values with things I was not raised with. I want to taste that sweetness again. I want to love and choose this religion like my mother chose it, like all of the incredible reverts to Islam that I have met, and I want to be fulfilled by it, nurtured by it, empowered by it, but most importantly, guided by it.
When you choose to seek out this faith and religion on your own, Allah opens up doors for you Himself, he puts Barakah in the process, allows you to feel the workout pains of your spiritual fitness program. It’s like choosing to start working out, or eating right. It’s a choice to preserve your spiritual self, to seek out a Truth that you can own and confidently tell people that you own and that you can compassionately teach your children because it is something you own. Faith becomes private, not in a reaction to secularism pushing it out of your public life, but rather faith reenters a private sphere that is not witnessed by anyone but God. You no longer are simply a performer, no longer feeling like a fraud or a rehearsed character going through the rituals of fasting and casual prayer because it’s what the audience expects, but you are a Muslim. You, yourself, even if everyone you know no longer expects that out of you, or wants that out of you, you want it for yourself.
And that’s hard. And difficult. But a necessary and important thing to do. Just as if you were diagnosed with a serious illness, you would do everything in your power to treat it, diseases of the heart should be taken the same way. They are spiritual emergencies that deserve and demand full attention, commitment, and passion towards healing. Take a look deep inside yourself, perhaps confide in a friend that you trust, and ask them to help you identify what about you is in need of some healing. If not healing then better spiritual health. If not better health, then some six-packs on the soul. Wherever you are in your journey, renew your intentions, and revisit your origins, visualize that sweetness you once knew and run towards it. You can do it. I can do it. We have to do it. It’s a matter of survival.
So, if you, like me, have recently re-taken your Shahadah, congratulations! May Allah bless your journey, keep you steadfast and focused, and allow you to once again taste that sweetness of your childhood, when things were simple and life was full of its beauty. Here’s to beauty. Here’s to knowing God and praying often. Here’s to new beginnings.
And…. (I’m not sure how socially acceptable it is to say this now) …. Happy New Year!