I looked in temples, churches, and mosques.
But I found the Divine within my heart. -Rumi
Breakfast runs and holy rollers
Egg and cheese biscuits are my downfall. I don’t keep biscuits in the house on purpose, but I will go out once in a while and go have one, which is what I did the other day. When I got my food, I checked my order because they already messed up by giving me a tray when I said it was to go, and then, they forgot to give me a cup so I could make my coffee. Couple that with the fact that I was already grumpy, this breakfast run was already off to an inauspicious start.
I was minding my own business making my coffee using all my concentration and focus to do so because I wasn’t fully awake anyway when this random man gives me his card and invites me to his church. Another holy roller who wants to save my non-Christian soul. I thought. I almost blurted out: I’m Muslim, and I barely go to mosque, so why would I go to your church? Then, I decided to be cordial because he probably genuinely believed he should spread “the Word” to my heathen ass. I told him I was more spiritual than a follower, and I probably wouldn’t come. Then, he proceeded to tell me about how his faith is spiritual and went into his story about how he was saved in 1992. He went on to say his relationship with Christ was the best thing ever, or something like that. I looked at him and told him I have a relationship with Christ, too. To which he responded, “Praise the Lord,” which I returned. I told him, “Thank you, Sir” and went on my merry way.
Losing my religion
This kind of situation is why organized religion has been such a turnoff to me in my life. It always seemed like me just existing in my own space is a call to save my soul. The implication that there is only one way to God or one way to do things never sat well with me and always made my practice of religion a chore. Why would I want any parts of any institution or being that tells me I’m not good enough no matter what I do? I don’t care whose religion it is. I’ve had a tempestuous relationship with my own religion, Islam for this very reason.
Being sin shamed at various stages added an unnecessary tension to my learning religion. I tried to do the right things. I tried to learn prayers,but it was hammered into me that if I didn’t pronounce the Arabic correctly, my prayer wouldn’t be accepted. Arabic is hard when English is your first language. As a language acquisition expert, I know you have to interact with a language meaningfully regularly to really master it. Outside of memorizing prayers, I had no interaction with Arabic. How am I supposed to have perfect pronunciation in that case? This idea of perfection had me nervous every time I prayed. The unsettling feeling of being wrong always came over me. It didn’t always make me feel good to pray, so I didn’t always do it.
Never mind the fact that I just didn’t conduct myself as a “good Muslim” should. My most egregious sin from the time I was a child to even into adulthood was eating with my left hand. I had one uncle tell me the devil eats with his left hand. Another uncle told me “Muslims don’t eat with their left hand.” Then, an aunt noticed I was a lefty, and immediately informed me that was, haram. Sin. Let me break the judgment down. I was compared to the devil, told I wasn’t Muslim, and finally told using my naturally dominant hand was a sin. All this, as I am minding my own business trying to eat.
In fact, a simple act of wearing nail polish eventually became improper and could lead me to hell. So I was told. You can’t wear nail polish because it nullifies your purification ritual before you pray, and the water can’t get under your nails. If you don’t have your purification ritual, your prayer is not accepted. You don’t pray. You go to hell. Sounds convoluted, right? I always thought so.
You can’t wear shorts. If you’re not covered up, you’re going to hell. You shouldn’t shave your legs because you’re not supposed to put a blade to your body. You put a blade to your body. You’re going to hell.
So if I’m going to hell no matter what I do, what’s the point? Why would I want any parts of a God who is going to judge me harshly? I realized early on: it’s not God judging me, it’s fucking people. I don’t blame my relatives or any of these other holy rollers for their programming. The bullshit that says that there is a set of rules you have to follow to get to God, and if you don’t follow those rules, there is no hope for you. In their minds, they were being helpful. They were taught to fear, so that’s how they tried to teach me. Fear has been a powerful tool in the teaching of religion, and it always will be.
Finding my religion
When I took the shame and fear out of religion and ritual, it became rewarding. Since I’m no longer concerned about making mistakes when I do pray, I now find prayer to be more uplifting instead of cause for anxiety. It’s a more meditative process now. For me, a ritual like Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that’s going on this week can be enlightening if one allows it. I enjoy talking to people who have done it and what it means to them. I do believe pilgrimage to Mecca will be a part of my journey one day. Not because I have to, because I want to. When religion is not being shoved down my throat, I’m actually inclined to practice it, in moderation.
Despite well-intentioned Muslims and Christians, I don’t need to be saved. I have already saved myself from rigid thinking and enslavement to ritual. I decided as long as I try to do good in the world and cause no harm, me and God are cool. For me, there is no path to God because there is no separation from God, God is in you. Unconditional love is the only path to follow. Whether you find that path through organized religion, spirituality, or your own concoction. I don’t care. Just find it. I, personally find it through my own blend of religion and spirituality. Walking in unconditional love is what saved me. Not going to a church or mosque or eating with the hand I’m supposed to eat with.
Until next time, look behind, and beyond the veil...
Sameena K. Mughal, Author, Freelance Writer