I am a Muslim, I guess.
These days, I feel like it’s a lie so it feels wrong to claim that label. It was all fine up until I turned nine. That’s when the weight was added and I realized I had no faith, to begin with, let alone be tested.
As a kid, I was playful. I was loud-mouthed, I was a bit of a brat if I’m being totally honest. I played with whoever was around to play with and I loved to run, race and be a “tomboy”. Then, things changed. Suddenly, my mom who didn’t care who I played with, was telling me to stop playing with boys. My parents told me to sit down and not run around. I was not to engage with any men even within family friend circles.
At the age of nine, my knee-length, sleeveless dresses turned into loose pants and long-sleeved shapeless shirts. My hair disappeared under an equally shapeless piece of cloth.
Along with my new dress code, came new responsibilities.
I was to pray every day. In Ramadan, I was to fast every day. I was to do many things. I felt stifled but my parents told me to do it, so I did. Who was I to question them? I wasn’t allowed to listen to music. I didn’t. I wasn’t allowed to watch movies. I didn’t. I wasn’t allowed to dance. I didn’t. When group hangouts came around, I stood awkwardly to the side, my parents’ voices echoing in my head.
One day, I got the OG clunky USB/MP3 player. Two songs were pre-loaded into it: Take Me To Your Heart by Michael Buble and In the End by Linkin Park. Dare I listen? At night, in bed, I hid underneath my covers long after everyone had gone to bed. My heart raced and my fingers trembled as I plugged in my earphones and pressed play. I listened with bated breath.
Slowly, in secret, I began to break the barriers set for me. I listened to music. I danced. I watched movies and TV shows. I began to consume “mature” content. I learned about sex. About a narrative that exists outside of the heteronormative. I tasted the bitterness of alcohol. But I was still a “good girl”. I stayed away from boys and relationships. I prayed. I fasted. I saw the passion others held for Islam and I yearned for it.
Why couldn’t I connect? I held hope that one day I will.
Then, a day came when I wasn’t able to offer my prayer in time. I made it up later. Then it happened again. And again. And again. Soon, I lost track of prayer times altogether. Soon after, I realized I had stopped praying. I haven’t prayed consistently in almost a decade. Yet, when my parents ask if I do, I nod and say yes because I can’t bring myself to have them ask why not? I can’t bring myself to have an honest, open discussion with my parents because I know it will break them.
I know my mom will blame herself. My dad will react in cold anger. I know I will have distant Aunts calling in to steer me back to the right path. I will hear them look at me with pity, at my parents with pity for having a child with little devotion. They will tell my parents that they must answer for my behavior and I can’t stand to see them believe it.
In between, I wonder, if not Muslim then what am I? What faith is mine? Do I believe in God? A higher power? If I do, then why not Islam? There’s something in me that fights it, that feels caged in. My hijab weighted by the lies as I parade around, an impostor in disguise, pretending to fit in.
In the end, the culture around Islam has soured me to it more than the religion itself. Perhaps I owe it to myself and to Islam to research and dive deep. But then I ask myself – do I need religion? Is religion not just something that is used to keep us grounded in life, to guide us, and if I can accomplish that sans religion then don’t I owe that to myself? Should I not carve my own path?
I feel guilty for betraying my parents, but that guilt is also mixed with anger. Anger that they never thought to give me a choice. Anger that I’m struggling. Anger that the culture I was raised in will undoubtedly ostracize me because they will see it as an insult to them rather than a choice personal to me.
My parents did their best, sending me to Islamic schools to learn, asking me to join sermons but it refused to stick. And I’d like to think that I will renew my faith one day. I’d like to think that I’ll come clean to my parents one day. I’d like to think they’ll understand and embrace me for my beliefs.
I’d like to think… but without certainty, the path ahead is abyss-like and I fear I may never find my way out.