“He answers those who believe and do good work and gives them more out of His Grace.” (Qur’an 42:26)
I sit within my garden in the late afternoon. The leaves on the trees with the sun coming through look like translucent stained glass. The light is changing to orange. The green grass is glowing. In me, I can feel the growth of everything around me in my veins.
When it comes to the news, I am hyper-aware. I feel the pain of suffering. Mostly I am concerned about our involvement with wars and the plight of women, and poverty. I am concerned about the circumstances of children. Everything affects me. I am now hypervigilant.
For most of my life, I was disconnected. A curtain had been drawn over me. I was not aware of anything, not noticing if the days were cloudy or sunny. I lived very much in self-centeredness. I ran from one thing to another, mostly through people and shallow friendships. One day after another followed. I lived mostly in my mind, and in the past, not in the present.
Time and time again in my life, I felt a great conflict in faith. It began to happen when I was young. I watched how people prayed all their lives for salvation and peace of mind. Many times, they went through great suffering due to mental or physical illness. Their faith did not help them in the end. Some lives ended horribly. A savior could not help them. Some suffered through poverty and war. Where was God? At that time, I did not realize that I could be an answer to a prayer, that God could work through me, that individuals could do His work.
All my life, I struggled to know God. I could hear God calling me my whole life, but I was too afraid to commit to him, and much too disconnected. I was running around from one thing to another, frantically trying to find meaning in my life. After I collapsed many times from this frantic pace, I realized I felt empty and alone, although I had others around me.
I struggled with faith as a Muslim. I did not agree with many of the opinions of many of the followers within the mosque. There was a lot of politics. People got hurt. This affected me very badly. I went through the motions of being a good Muslim, going through Hajj, which I was not ready for, and covering myself. I was going to the mosque every Friday, hearing the same khutbah (sermon) over and over again, about God’s lack of forgiveness. I was numb, just going through the motions.
I tried Sufism. It encouraged self-expression. I even had a Sufi master, and went to the dargah (shrine). I could not reconcile a lot of things. Could I pronounce God’s name over and over again to gain enlightenment? My whole life, I wanted enlightenment more than anything else. I wanted to have that experience of how to know God before I died.
What happened next is, I went through a very serious depression. I could not rationalize a lot of things in my life. I got on my prayer rug very confused. I said the Sufi prayers. I could not feel anything. I thought God would punish me for past transgressions.
I had a nervous breakdown that was faith-related. It was probably the roughest time of my life. I almost lost faith in God. I struggled one night, thinking of taking my life, but I thought of my husband and children. I realized that I truly did not know God. I had read so many books on Sufism and on Islam, but the words did not touch me. There has always been a veil between God and me.
I went through intensive therapy with a God-oriented therapist. I had dealt with a lot of issues of my past that kept me from knowing God. He taught me about God’s mercy, and of an afterlife where everything was just and fair. This life was a test. He taught me that everyone was born innocent, until something in life had affected him or her and distorted his or her view.
I grew very much to know who God was. Although my therapist was Christian and I was Muslim, what he taught me was more than the Catholic Church, Sufism, and the mosque combined. I have been taught to forgive those who had hurt me, and to forgive myself. It was my lack of mercy, not living Godlike, that clouded my life.
It was through Grace, that I gained enlightenment. It was not because I repeated God’s name a 100 times. It was through jihad (inner struggle). I truly struggled to be with Him. It happened in the month of February, beneath a blooming plum tree and witnessing Venus, the morning star in the cool crisp air. I felt I had blossomed with that plum tree. Everything became luminous. I felt a connection to everything. Everything around me became so poignant and beautiful. The depression and veil never returned again. I could feel myself taking baby steps to the Real God — the Real God that I never knew.
I had watched and read the news numbly, concerned about my own life. Now, every news item hit me, and also hurt my soul. I felt horror, empathy and compassion at the same time. I actually cared for the well-being of other people in my life, and I no longer needed people in my life to validate my existence. All these sensations bombarded me. They were new to me, as I navigated myself out of darkness into the light. At the same time, it hurt me so much. I had been given Grace by God for the jihad that I had struggled with my whole life. I never truly loved myself, so how could I love others?
The song “Amazing Grace” took special meaning in my heart. I had been reborn and saved. I was still a Muslim who believed in one God. I had a great awareness for my surroundings, so much so I did not know how to navigate my own body in crowds of people, who I felt were getting into my space, or how to cross the street without getting hit.
It was more than worship, but living for God. It was out of a great struggle to know him. Through my God-oriented therapist, I found Him.
I still struggle with the sense there are not many enlightened individuals who run our religious institutions, or dragged down by a punishing God, or prejudice, or influenced by culture. Many religious leaders have not experienced the true path of God, which are Mercy, gratitude and forgiveness for others. The words, once I could focus and read again, took on special meaning when I read Islamic books on Sufism. I realized the true meaning, which I could not comprehend before. I realized truly the Mercy of God, which is very powerful, and cannot fully be explained by human words. For what seemed like the first time, I knew mercy for myself and for others.
I feel very much changed today. I am happier than I have been, and grateful. I appreciate so much the beauty that God has shown around me. I see beauty in people and in my environment that I never saw before. I appreciate when someone has done something good for me. My life is not wasted. I feel bad that it did not happen earlier in my life, but I plan to make up for it each day, until my end on this Earth.
I realized that I had a purpose on this Earth. I no longer feel depression or grief, nor do I need a guide or someone to lead me. God exists and is waiting inside of all of us. All we have to do is heed His call, and know that He has mercy for us and that He loves us more than any mother could love us. All we have to do is appreciate the beauty around us, and the beauty within ourselves and in others.
“As long as you are performing prayer, you are knocking at the door of Allah, and whoever is knocking at the door of Allah, Allah will open it for him.” — Ibn Al Qayyum
“He chooses for His Mercy whom He pleases, and Allah is the Lord of Mighty Grace.” (Qur’an 3:74)
“Allah does not want to place you in difficulty, but wants to purify you and bestow His Grace on you so you will be grateful.” (Qur’an 5:06)
“Allah, by His Grace, has given you blessings and some bounty. So the best way to thank Allah is to use that bounty to bring the people close to Allah.” — Junaid Jumshed
“My sin has burdened me heavily. But when I measured it against Your Grace, O Lord, Your Forgiveness comes our greater.” — Iman Al Shafi
Stephenie Bushra Khan is a converted Muslim, a poet, and local artist in Temecula, California. She is originally from Winchendon, Massachusetts.
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