‘See, what had happened was…’

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason and intellect intended us to forego their use”-Galileo Galilei

On April 4th,2010, I ended twenty years of being a Christian and entered the realm of Islam. In my apartment with two witnesses I recited the words that would make it official: ‘Ashadu allah illaha illala; wa ashadu anna Muhammadar rasullah’. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah;and Muhammad is His messenger.

At the time I knew that I was only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of my knowledge of Islam. With 1400 years of scholarship, I knew I could study Islam all my life and still have more to learn. But this wasn’t enough to dissuade my conversion. After all, I reasoned, I currently knew much more about Islam than I’d known about Christianity at the time I officially accepted it. When I responded to the invitation that Sunday in 1990 at my Grandma’s prodding, I’d never heard of Constantine or Martin Luther. I had no idea what the differences between Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians were. I wouldn’t learn anything about church history until I was fourteen years old, and even that knowledge would come from a secular source-public school.

I believed that Allah, the name for God in Arabic, was the same as Jehovah, the deity introduced in the Old Testament. Mercy was one of Allah’s attributes. As a convert from Christianity, I appreciated this attribute. As a Muslim I was always mindful of Allah’s mercy. Every prayer opened with the words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem-In the Name of Allah, Most Beneficient, Most Merciful. I loved these words and often recited them to myself. It was essential for me to believe in a God of limitless mercy. After all, if there was a limit to God’s mercy there could be no hope for me.

Though Allah was merciful, one had to obey a lot of rules in order to please him. This became clear within my first month of being Muslim. My acrylic nails? They had to go. My skinny jeans and five-inch leopard print stiletto heels? They had to go. My gold and turquoise eyeshadow? Temporarily retired, only to see the light of day at all-female gatherings or in the home for my spouse. My perfectly arched eyebrows? Shaping them was haram, so to be a good muslimah I had to leave them alone. I didn’t question the logic of the changes I made at the time. Sure it was drastic. But it seemed a small price to pay for Jannah and its’ eternal delights.

An odd thing happened on the way to Jannah though: I started to think. It began with a very small issue: plucking eyebrows. I had accepted letting mine grow naturally and ceased having them threaded. But when I came across the hadith that the prohibition is taken from( http://www.islam-qa.com/en/ref/21119/eyebrows) I was troubled. It was one thing to say shaping the eyebrows was bad. But to read that Allah would curse women for doing so was simply ridiculous. Where was the mercy in cursing someone for such a small thing? How could a truly Divine being be so petty?

I wish that this was the only bizarre and disturbing ruling that I found. It wasn’t. While studying the Islamic views on marriage, I learned that I essentially had no right to ever deny my husband sex. If he called me to bed and I refused and he was angry all night as a result, the angels would curse me until the morning. You can read more on this at http://www.islam-qa.com/en/ref/33597. Again, this did not seem like the decree of a merciful God. Neither did the instructions on how to deal with a “disobedient wife” found in Sura 4:34, where men are told to beat their wives(lightly in the Yusuf Ali translation) in order to bring them in line.

Within months of my conversion, I found myself in an uncomfortable place. Sure, I could remain on the path and continue to practice Islam. I’d have to pay a steep price in order to do so though. I’d have to a make a conscious decision to turn off my critical thinking skills and stifle my intellect. It would have been easier to continue practicing Islam. I’d devoted myself to the cause fully and didn’t want to face the ridicule that would come if I jumped ship. But foregoing the use of my mental faculties wasn’t a compromise I could live with. Once this became crystal clear I knew I was an apostate.

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A native Seattleite and recent East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been. I reside in the suburbs of NYC with my husband, daughter, and our two feisty but deeply loved cats.

5 thoughts on “‘See, what had happened was…’

  1. Heyy,

    I’ve been reading a few of your blog entries. Look to me it seems you rushed into Islam and one question I would really like to ask is did you believe in the Islamic theology? Meaning to accept Allah as God and to recognise Muhammad’s prophethood? That is the ESSENTIAL part of Islamic faith to me(next to the Quran and the ahadith).

    See I used to really strict for a while, no nailpolish, no plucking brows, abaya/niqab, but then I realised I don’t need these things to be a Muslim they are just superficial to me(in MY opinion). So I too wear nailpolish, high-heels, keep my hair open etc.

    I’m frank enough to admit I am not observant of all Islamic rules, meaning I’m not a practicing Muslima anymore, however I truly believe in Allah, Muhammad and in the Qu’ran and ahadith, I try to implement Islamic behaviour when dealing with other people, to me that is what matters and my own spiritual relationship with God.

    To me it seems you have come across some Qu’ranic interpretations that are well-liked among extremist groups, but there is others too that have a totally different outlook.

    Either way I wish you luck and I hope God will help you.

  2. Hi Sultana,

    I definitely believed in Islamic theology as it was presented to me prior to conversion. Allah was supposedly the same God that I worshipped as a Christian. Muslim apologists are keen on claiming that Islam is simply the correct and true monotheism and borrow heavily from Judaism and Christianity. I had always accepted the Tanakh of Judaism and New Testament of Christianity as God-given. So the idea that the Quran was a continuation and correction of the previous revelations made perfect sense to me.

    However, after I converted I began to read the Quran and Hadiths much more deeply. And the God that is portrayed in them is not what I’d expected. There are certainly similarities between Allah on the Quran and Jehovah of the Jewish Scriptures. But the God of the New Testament and the God if the Quran have very little in common and it was impossible to reconcile them.

    Then there are the hadiths. I mentioned my issues with some of them above. As a Sunni Muslim those in my circle made it clear that I was not to question either the Quran or the Hadiths, as they are the foundation of Islam. But frankly the more I learned of them, the more trouble I had doing this. I do not believe that the hadiths are all sound and should be followed. Much of it is just superstitious junk, quite similar to what the Church believed prior to the Reformation. I often found myself breaking out in giggles while listening to hadith-based lectures online. The Shaytan placing knots over my eyes and ears to make it hard for me to awake for Fajr prayer? Shaytan urinating in my ear for missing prayer? As we say in the hood:”C’mon, son!”.

    At this point I’d say I still believe in God. I don’t see myself ever being part of any organized religion, as I feel that more often than not it is used as a tool of oppression by man and godliness is left out completely. There are some parts of the Quran that are positive and uplifting. There are also parts that are very dark and disturbing. To be fair though, the same can be said of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures too though.

  3. Heyy,

    I feel you gave a very fair answer, I aml sorry you were caught up in such a bad community that was obviously defined by chauvinism and extremism :(…

    I see certain parts of the Qu’ran in a historical light, while others make sense to be eternal(those about us doing good, avoiding bad) same goes for ahadith, yes some will seem strange even if Sahih, but I gather a lot of wisdom from another great many 🙂 we should really stress upon those who tell us to FOCUS on CHARACTER and BEHAVIOUR and not such tiny things or even sexist statements like angels cursing you when you don’t submit to the will of your husband?! Obviously a woman has rights within a marriage!

    What I also noticed is that women are sometimes much harsher on themselves than men, e.g. when it comes to Hijab LOL it was more women who’d tell me to cover again instead of men, also women who willingly tell me being a housewife was good etc. Funny eh?

  4. Did you not read the holy book before wholeheartedly believing in it? Because that seems to be the case as you say you found the wife beating verse not to show a merciful God, and this all occurred after you converted. It seems strange that you didn’t read the holy book prior to converting. I would never join any religion before even reading the holy book. I wouldnt skim read it or gloss over it either…as i feel that perhaps you will give me the response that you read it and didnt focus on it or some “sister” explained it away. Surely you should have enquired prior to converting? Would’ve saved you the heartache later on, no?

    1. Hello Thinker. Perhaps you should re-read my post, as the question you pose was addressed in the second paragraph. No I did not read the Quran in its’ entirety prior to converting and my reasons for that are clearly stated. Now you may not agree with that and may have done it differently had you been in my position, but obviously we all have different ways of doing things. I also want to make it clear that I have no regrets about it and do not wish I’d chosen differently to save myself “heartache”. As stated in other blog posts I’m very glad that I converted to Sunni Islam as that experience allowed me finally break from organized religion altogether.

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