As I progressed in my spiritual journey, an Islamic lifestyle was slowly becoming second nature, and I was beginning to find my feet. I never anticipated that my choice to practice Islam would affect so many people who claimed to be ‘concerned’ about me. In my own little world, I hadn’t realized that people were detesting my halal meat obsession, looser attire and desire to educate all those around me about Islam. Despite my gradual spiritual transition, those around me perceived I had changed ‘overnight’. Since my family were Muslims, I didn’t expect to face such resistance. Presenting what seemed to be a new version of Islam was faced with hostility. I was frequently interrogated about the ‘strange’ Islamic rules I was following which were alien to those around me.
Something about the outward and vocal signs of me practicing Islam caused discomfort and irritation. There was tension with ‘religious’ uncles and aunties who could not understand my ‘new interpretation of Islam’ and were offended by me undermining the Islamic knowledge they were familiar with. Explaining that I no longer wanted to practice Islam with cultural dilution, but strictly from authentic sources (The Quran and teachings of prophet Muhammed- peace be upon him) fell on deaf ears. ‘Typical’ traditions; such as the overemphasis on ‘spiritual leaders’ whose views were unquestioned and regarded as the pinnacle of ‘religiosity’ undermine Islamic teachings.
I badly wanted to pull my family on board the journey to Allah. I had tasted something sweet – a connection with my Lord – and I wanted them to taste it too. Couldn’t they see, we couldn’t continue to live as ‘part time Muslims’? Trying to maintain the relationship with my loved ones who no longer understood me was strenuous and discouraging. I was constantly under attack, and the arguments and debates were exhausting. I wanted to be left alone to tread my path of spiritual discovery.
“To some, Islam is nothing but a code of rules and regulations. But, to those who understand, it is a perfect vision of life” (Yasmin Mogahed).
The deeper I got into practicing Islam, the lonelier I felt. I was struggling to find a sense of belonging amongst my family members and social group. I was being rejected by those I was once a part of. The distance between my social circles was becoming wider as I had less in common with my old friends. Eager to find a new sense of belonging and people who were striving in the same cause as me, I attended my first Islamic women’s only gathering. Nervous, as I was not as religious as the practicing Muslim women I had seen around, I walked into the room. It wasn’t long before I was asked whether I was a convert to Islam. When I said I was born Muslim, the tone changed. Being a non-practicing born Muslim was unforgivable it seemed. I was reprimanded for all the visible areas I was falling short in Islamically- the expectations were extremely high; I should have been more ‘religious’ than converts to Islam.
The more I surrounded myself with Muslims, the more I was bombarded with Arabic words- “Mashallah”, “Jazakillah Khairun”, “Shukran”. What on earth were they saying? “Smile and repeat what they say” I consoled myself. How could I admit that I had been Muslim all my life but didn’t know what those religious words meant? That would be social suicide! Although I was around Muslims, I didn’t feel I fit into the practicing Muslimah circle; I wasn’t quiet ‘there yet,’ not as seasoned as ‘them’.
It was difficult enough managing the conflict between the life I was accustomed to and my desire to please Allah without the added external pressure. Misunderstood, I felt like a puppet being pulled from many strings in different directions. Everyone expected something different from me- either I was taking Islam ‘too far’ or I ‘was not doing enough’. The constant struggle became a daily routine. I became a ‘stranger’ in the midst.
“Islam began as something strange and will revert to being strange as it began, so give glad tidings to the strangers” (Muslim).
I was trying my best to be strong and loyal to what I believed in. Becoming a stranger was a painful experience, and I doubted my choice to practice Islam several times. I indulged myself in prayer and called out to Allah for strength and guidance in those turbulent times. Certain religious texts resonated with me and helped me accept the growing alienation. Reading the biography of prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) and the isolation and difficulties he faced, gave me courage to carry on. Maybe, just maybe, it’s okay that no one understood my spiritual journey. I accepted being a stranger, a ‘rebel’ with a cause, to please my Lord. Even in the midst of rejection and confusion it was never about them anyway.