Although I was certain I wanted to tread the path of spiritual discovery and start practicing Islam, deep down I was afraid my fun-filled life would come to a halt.
Regardless of this fear, I was determined to live up to my title as a Muslim – test the waters to see if I could be the ‘religious type’. I knew I couldn’t do it alone, so I contacted a practicing Muslim girl who’d also transitioned from born to practicing Muslim. She gave me an English translation of the Quran as a gift and encouraged me to read it.
Initially, I put off reading it for weeks for fear of finding out anything that would require drastic action. The pivotal verses I’d read prior to this point had such an impact on me that I knew learning more would require me making changes. Don’t get me wrong, I was ready to commit, but not for a full-blown lifestyle change because I didn’t want to be a ‘hypocrite’ and practice some parts of the religion and not others.
One winter morning, I gathered up the courage to read the translation of the Quran.
“With the name of Allah, the All- Merciful, the Very-Merciful. Alif Lam Mim. This book has no doubt in it –a guidance for the God-fearing…” (Surah 2: 1-2)
I was blown away. These verses were directed at me! I continued to read and couldn’t stop. Addicted, I immersed myself in the words – such powerful words. I’d previously perceived the purpose of the Quran to be only for memorisation, but I soon realised that I’d been swimming in an ocean of ignorance all these years! I had been exposed to something new, entered into a different world, and began to see religion through a different lens.
Despite my excitement, I still felt like a fake Muslim. I didn’t know a thing about the One I claimed to worship; my connection to Allah was non-existent until this point. All I knew about Allah was what I’d overheard people say: “fear Allah” –whatever that meant. Each time I revisited the Quran, it became more familiar to me; and although I was beginning to understand my religion, I still felt very confused.
My addiction to learning led me to read every Islamic book I could lay my hands on. The local Islamic bookshop became my new hangout. The man in charge soon got impatient with my ‘unislamic’ questions. The final straw was when I asked to purchase a sticker with Allah’s name to stick all around my house – including the toilet – to serve as a reminder. He was infuriated.“God forbid, you should know that you can’t use the name of Allah in the toilet!” Such instances became regular occurrences; it was embarrassing to be constantly reprimanded for asking ‘unislamic’ questions– I thought I’d been making progress! I stopped asking‘obvious’ questions that ‘every Muslim should know’and cruised along my journey by practicing the version of Islam I knew, despite my confusion. It wasn’t long before I was questioned by those more knowledgeable than me.
As my knowledge and understanding deepened, my perspectives and ideals changed by the day. On an internal battlefield, I was stuck between two worlds and my inner voices. My heart yearned to be a full-time Muslim, but I was suffocated by the long to-do list. Lost in my own skin, I frequently asked myself: How do I suddenly transform into this new person? Okay, I had upgraded to being Islamically aware, but the radical change left me in unfamiliar territory. At a crossroad, not knowing which direction to turn, I struggled to find a healthy balance between what my family expected of me while striving to fulfil my Islamic obligations. Was it possible to reconcile the two? Do I carry on as a high-achieving feminist, or aspire to become a timid, submissive housewife who spends her days in the kitchen and ‘denounces the world’?
The more I matured in my Islamic knowledge and understanding, the clearer things became. Islam was not backward and restrictive, contrary to what I believed. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Islam could be applied to the modern world without being diluted. The initial fear I had of ‘denouncing the world’ faded and I became content in myself. I could no longer restrict Islam to my heart, because what is in the heart must manifest in speech and then action. As the saying goes: “Actions speak louder than words.” I didn’t want to continue with only one foot in, so I finally chose to make the obedience of Allah a priority.
Practicing Islam without the cultural filters I was spoon-fed as a child was liberating. Using authentic sources such as the Quran and Sunnah – the way of the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) – as my reference points made things easier. It wasn’t a problem for those around me when all I was doing was praying five times a day and reading Islamic books. Little did I know that my loved ones and friends had noticed I was changing by the day; my newfound love for halal meat, looser attire, and speaking against cultural practices began to irritate them. I had underestimated the amount of resistance and ridicule I was about to face. I had taken Islam too far.