What I Once Believed

When I think about Jesus…what he’s done for me,

When I think about Jesus, how he set me free…I can DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, DANCE ALL NIGHT!

The quote above comes from a ditty we used to sing at church. After the sermon-when people were excited and ready to ‘shout’-the musicians would get down. Truth be told, it was one of the portions of service that I loved the most. If you switched the lyrics and closed your eyes, you could easily think you were in a juke joint. With the conga drums pounding and the vibrations from the organ rumbling beneath me, I’d  jump ecstatically in the air, smiling to myself as I sang the lyrics. Lately this tune comes to my mind, but now the words are different:

When I think of religion, and what it did to me,

When I think of faith, and it’s tyranny, I will write, write, write, write all my life!

In my last post I recounted one of the more shameful incidents in my misadventures in faith. But it’s far from the only one. When I look back at some of the madness I have believed and the things I have done in the name of religion, I want to slap myself and I want to laugh at myself.  I gave 10% of my gross income faithfully, and that was just the beginning. I gave extra for the church and pastors anniversary. When I went to the nondenominational church, the pastor commanded the members to give $500 to him and his wife for the pastors anniversary. And I did it. I did it without thinking and without questioning. He was the ‘man of god’, the ‘apostle’, and in making that sacrifice we’d be proving that we were real believers. Of course some members did not live up to the expectation. Afterwards, the pastor chastised those who did not give him the ‘love offering’ that he commanded. To this day I am disappointed in myself for all the money I wasted in tithes and offerings. I could have given that money to a women’s shelter. I could have sent it abroad to those in need. Either option would have served to help mankind. Instead I threw away my hard-earned money on narcissistic charlatans.

As a muslimah, I would not leave the house unless my awrah was concealed. Regardless of the weather, I could only expose my face and my hands. A strand of hair present? HARAM! A man seeing my neck-HARAM! Even seeming to have a shape at all? HARAM! Even though I was miserable walking around like that, I truly believed that I was “pleasing Allah”.  Simply being introduced to a male provoked anxiety in me, because I had to think of a way to avoid shaking his hand. A simple, common business gesture was ‘haram’. I recited my prayers in Arabic, as if god could not hear and understand me in my native tongue. I made my repetitions in odd numbers, because allah allegedly loved them. I entered the restroom using my left foot and exited with my right, to please allah. I ate and drank with my right hand only, to please allah (it was always fun trying to eat milk and cookies this way). I said a prayer when I opened the garbage can, in case any “shaytan” were hiding in there. I said a prayer when I put on new clothes, in case any “shaytan” were in them.

At various points in my life, I truly believed and practiced such things. Indeed, ‘my soul looks back and wonders how I got over’.

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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.

2 thoughts on “What I Once Believed

  1. This is a beautiful piece, Danielle. First, I have to say that I don’t know the song you referred to in the beginning. I heard it on a Tyler Perry play, but had no idea it was a “church song”.
    What I found most interesting about this article is that you call “faith” what I call “religion”. In my eyes, they are nowhere near the same. I compare it to saying love and sex are the synonymous. They can go together, indeed but are two entirely different things in and of themselves.
    Like you, I don’t dig organized religion. Never have. Questioned things even in my childhood.
    In my opinion, religion is what people DO (rituals and such -praying a certain way, overzealousnessness, judging etc.) when they have no real faith.

  2. I can feel your anger in this post, and it is so valid and palpable. I am so glad you have freed yourself. I am so glad you are free. I am so glad this is no longer something that is weighing you down daily, and I hope your writing helps you come to terms with the coercion and abuse that was done TO YOU. The blame lies in them, not you.

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