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Growing Up As A Muslim.


I grew up with a strict version of Islam where nothing was negotiable. Alongside the regular prohibitions such as not drinking alcohol and eating pork, there were a myriad of rules that I had to live my life in accordance to. From the age of 4, I was sent to classes at the local mosque to learn Arabic, to memorise supplications and study the fundamentals of Islam. I was taught how to pray, how to recite the Qu’ran, and most importantly I was taught about the things that I was forbidden from doing. 

Islam was indoctrinated into my skin.

I was not to wear perfume or nail varnish. I was not to expose anything but my hands and face in public. I was not to wear clothes that revealed the shape of my body. I was not to imitate or dress like the opposite sex. I was not to talk to or befriend the opposite sex. I was not to have any physical contact with the opposite sex. I was not to partake in a relationship outside of marriage. I was not to consume haraam meat. I was not to gossip or backbite. I was not to tell lies, I was not to curse. I was not to read horoscopes or believe in fortune-tellers. I was not to draw pictures with eyes. I was not to hang photographs on the walls. I was not to play card or board games. I was not to watch television or listen to music. Upon reaching puberty, I was to fast during Ramadan. I was to pray 5 times a day. I was not to lust after the opposite sex or make eye contact. I was not to partake in any sort of gambling. I was not to visit places that served alcohol. I was not to be tattooed. I was not to get anything but ear piercings. I was not to wear high heels. I was not to thread my eyebrows. I was not to believe in astrology.

I remember being forbidden from sleeping over at my best friend’s house because my father was afraid that there would be alcohol in their home. I remember being told off by my mosque teacher for asking a boy his name, or for being seen on the street without a head covering. I remember my grandfather profusely yelling from across the road because I was wearing a t-shirt which exposed my arms and did not reach my knees. I remember having to double-check that there were no remnants of nail varnish on my fingernails or that I was not wearing my cartoon-printed socks to the mosque. I remember hearing about the atrocities of the Hellfire, about punishments within the grave.

Although my parents did not forbid me from watching television, playing games or listening to music, I still grew up within the margins of these restrictions. By 11, I had read through the Qur’an 3 times and was able to cease my attendance at the mosque. I was now responsible for upholding my beliefs and obeying God. I was old enough to be accountable for my own sins.

School life was the only sovereignty in my life. I had the capacity to do anything that I wanted and it was liberating. I learned to practice the art of sin in secret, and although I would often be devoured by my own guilt, there was something very electrifying about breaking the rules. When I came home at the end of each day, I was still inherently Muslim but I began living two separate lives. Although I always reaffirmed my belief in God, my compliance to Islam ricocheted on each division of the spectrum. As I grew older, religion began to impose more restrictions, it became a burden. I wasn’t able to live my life the way that I wanted to because everything seemed to be forbidden and it was not until the passing of my grandfather that my perspective changed. His death left me devastated. I did not understand how I was supposed to cope or mourn. However, upon witnessing his smiling cadaver, the concept of Islam and grief suddenly made sense. My grandfather had been a good man, he had spent the entirety of his life living by the word of God. Now that he was gone, he looked happy; he was at peace. Religion became simple in that moment; if I obeyed God, I would be content.

I made changes, I tried to be a better Muslim, but upon realising the magnitude of the sinful life that I was living, my body became filled with a rush of cataclysmic anxiety. I thought about everything that I’d done in my life, I thought about the ways in which I would be reprimanded for the atrocities of my sins. I became repulsed by myself, by my reflection, by my own existence. God would never forgive me, not for these things. The descriptions of the Hellfire were engrained into my skin, its scorn, its potency. I was going to rot for eternity. I was petrified. I needed to revoke my mistakes and the only way that I knew how was to wholeheartedly dedicate myself to God. I began to cover my hair and body, I prayed 5 times a day from sunrise to sunset, I read the Qur'an each morning, I attended Islamic lectures, I surrounded myself with Muslims and thought and spoke about nothing but God. I would have done anything to erase my past. I just wanted to forget. I wanted to be forgiven. I wanted to stop being afraid, of Hell, of God. I spent 2 entire years in this state, anxious, terrified. I gave up everything that I knew to obey Him, but I was trapped in a perpetual cycle of self-hatred. I begged and begged for Him to make things better, to make me feel some brand of peace, but nothing changed. He had abandoned me. 

I gave up.

I removed my hijab and abaya. I stopped praying, I stopped reading the Qur’an. I ceased everything. I lost my faith and the depression had already apprehended my mind so there was no longer anything keeping me alive. Suicide was prohibited in Islam, it was the only reason that I was still alive, but I was alone now. I was no longer afraid of God, of Hell, because life did not matter. I surrendered because no version of Hell was  going to reach the pinnacle of this suffering. I didn't owe God anything and this feeling inevitably led to resentment, which is where I have resided for the past 2 years. 

I’d like to think that the anger has subsided but I can still feel it buried within the meridian of my ribcage. Islam is all that I know, I still do things intrinsically like when I utter ‘alhamdulillah’ in a moment of gratitude or when I return a greeting of salaam. They are embedded within the fibre of my skin. However, Islam for me is associated with anxiety and sin and I’m not ready to succumb to its regulations or this heightened version that has been indoctrinated into my being. Islam is not about existing inside boundaries, it’s about trying your best and having the right intentions so I’m disregarding everything and starting over. I need to learn to trust in God again.

3 comments

  1. Just remember this: God is oft forgiving and most kind. Also in the second chapter, it states, 'there is no compulsion in religion.' Another favourite of mine is, "be kind to your parents, do good deeds and keep to your prayers." Memorise these little tidbits from the English translation. When I did, everything anyone said about how I should be practising my religion bounced right off me - Islam is simple and people complicate things/mix up a beautiful religion with old age cultures and customs. It's hard to know when to draw the line, so you do what you are capable of doing. Take small, achievable steps but you set them to what you feel capable of. Look after yourself :)

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  2. You can find God without Islam. The rules and constant threat of hell ain't a religion made by God.

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  3. So I've had this page open in my browser for a few days now, thinking of what exactly to say. In the end, I'm not sure what advice I can give, or am even in a rightful position to give, so all I will give to you is my narrative of religion. I came to God and religion in my own way - I am . I do not believe there is a Hell. I believe what we put ourselves through with our repentance, guilt, shame and self-hatred is hell. We create our own hell. I believe in His Mercy and Kindness and Love above all. I cannot believe - I reject the idea that the Being who claims to love me more than 70 mothers would punish me because I took pleasure in a funny movie, because I wanted to look pretty and put on nail polish, because I wanted to feel sexy and put on fitted clothing, or to be perfectly frank with you, because I fell in love and made love to someone outside of marriage or because my body needed something and I gave it or because I fell in love with someone of the 'wrong' gender.
    I believe He would see me, the essence of my soul, the person who is constantly and consistently trying to do her best to be a good person, to do the right things, to find value in people, to encourage, support and love others, to never hurt someone else, to never cause pain to another living creation. I believe these are the important things - how much pain I caused, how much love I gave, how much I relieved someone of their suffering, how much of another's burden I lightened.
    Obey God, by all means. But find Him first. And do not rely on the words, interpretations and customs of others to do so. Come to your own understanding of God. And please, please, please, my lovely friend. Come to the understanding that He resides in all of us. Come to the understanding that He is the moment of gratitude you feel when the sunlight warms your bones, He is the smile on your face when you look in the mirror admiring a new hairdo, He is the love you feel when you hug your best friend, He is in the contentment you feel when you're cuddling a puppy, He is the anger you feel when witnessing some injustice. He should be and is the peace in your life.
    And this is what I want to end with - please remember that it is a sin in Islam to think you are superior to anyone - but it is also a sin to think you are inferior to anyone. You are a wonderful person, someone who has fought and is fighting a hard battle. Jihad is the betterment of the self. You are on your jihad. Do not let the interpretations of others mar that for you. Love yourself. Love who you are and know that you, as you are, are a part of God and He is a part of you and He would never reject you. Maybe you have not followed the tenets of Islam as we are taught them - but it does not reflect on your worth as a human being or as a Muslim. If you did something you believed was a sin, you can always come back. You can always repent. My memory fails me but there is a hadith that says true repentance and praise of God will wipe away sins even if they are as much as the foam of the ocean. So please don't give up hope. Don't give up your faith. If you are angry, rage at Him (and believe me, I have. I have done just that, refused to believe in Him, refused to speak to Him.) But if you still believe, then yes, do exactly what you said, start over, disregard everything, question everything, find your own path, find your own way and let no one interfere. God is who you are, what you are, where you are, and everything else.

    (Sorry for the ultra-long and possibly annoying comment, I just understand your struggle so well, I have been there, am still there and want to help in any way I can. Also I appreciate my version of Islam is more 'radicalized' than even yours may be haha and I don't mean to impose that at all, merely to encourage you to find your own way, whatever it is, and base it on love for Him, yourself and love for people around you. Lots of love and hugs to you.)

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Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I would love to hear your thoughts!

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