My conversion experience deeply informs my Muslim experience. We (converts) have varied experiences in our journeys and paths to Islam. Some have it easy—finding the transition relatively seamless—and others have a bumpy ride peppered with moments of angst and frustration. As an Egyptian-American convert, mine is the latter, driven by the disownment of my own family and the clumsy amalgamation into my husband’s Pakistani family and into an often dysfunctional spiritual family.
Admittedly, I find myself having way too many woe-is-me-moments and every year, like clockwork, one of these moments creeps up on me just in time for Ramadan. It’s a prosaic funk fueled by my anxiety about making Ramadan better than Christmas, and time with my spiritual and affinitive family more fulfilling than time with my consanguine family—the latter being an obviously futile endeavor.
Don’t worry; I am not going to brood this post into oblivion.
My pre-Ramadan blues typically start a week before Ramadan. To my husband’s detriment, it is usually when I am doing all the pre-Ramadan cooking like making and freezing samosas and sambusak. However, by the time Ramadan actually rolls around, my funk has changed to reflection. The obvious question being: why am I still here?
Matthew 22:37, NIV-“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
The above-mentioned bible verse is a Christian mantra that I grew up hearing in Sunday school classes, in Wednesday night worship sessions, and as I walked down the halls of my Christian elementary, junior high, and high schools. Except, I never quite got the guidelines on how to do that, nor did I fully comprehend what it meant at the time.
My conversion to Islam wasn’t a matter of right or wrong. Neither was it to achieve some end—heaven or hell. It was more about the means, the journey, and the path. My personal belief is that there are many paths to God. I just chose the sirat al mustaqim (the straight path)—in my opinion, the straightest.
Being a Muslim means submitting to the will of God. Thanks to the prophets (peace be upon them), scholars (rA, may God be pleased with them), and great imams (rA) who came before us, we have an idea of what this submission should look like and how to actualize God’s will in our day-to-day lives. What drew me to Islam (literally: submission to the will of God) is the way that it infuses each and every second of my life with meaning. Whether it’s merely my thoughts or my definite course of action, being Muslim gives weight to everything in my life; everything I do, or don’t do, is a reflection of my level of taqwa (God-consciousness) and an opportunity for ibadah (worship).
My religion doesn’t rear its head on a Sunday morning or a Friday afternoon, nor does it play out only within the confines of houses of worship or only in the company of adherents. Even seemingly secular spaces and things in my life are now infused with spirituality and religious meaning that I never thought possible. What I choose to eat at dinner time, what I choose to wear, where I choose to shop, how I engage with people, what causes I choose to identify with—these are all decisions with religious implications. Rallying for gay rights, refusing to buy goods that support the building of Israeli settlements, pursuing feminist ideals, praying five times a day, and eating only grass-fed, hand-slaughtered meat are all decisions that, for me, have the same goal in mind. How vigilant or persistent I am about doing these things is a direct reflection of where I am spiritually.
We often are called upon, as converts, to recall what brought us to Islam, but no one asks us why we remain here. This is why I am here, despite the obvious complications—to be here (present), to be fully aware, to be fully concomitant, and to be fully (God) conscious.
Ramadan may never conjure up the nostalgia and warmth that a Christmas-time does, nor will my fasting and feasting ever measure up to the anticipation of my mother’s home cooked macaroni with béchamel sauce and artfully stuffed grape leaves, or my father’s earnest post-dinner tea-time reveries. I am confident, however, that my life is profoundly purpose-driven—the purpose being to love my God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind.
So each Ramadan, as my gloom gives way to rumination, I am reminded that I am closer to the teachings of my Christian upbringing than I realize. Except now, the way to materialize and implement those teachings is set before me on what I consider to be the straightest of paths.
For more on Ramadan, and to read the rest of the posts in MMW’s Ramadan 2012 series, click here.