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Searching for religion?

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This is no new question to me, be it from others or myself. Am I searching for religion? Well, that would explain my interest in it. Long before Islam ever entered my life I had already read and studied the bible, I was a member of atheist forums and a frequent poster in the Yahoo! Answers religion and spirituality section, and then before that I was very much into mythology, especially Nordic.
Not including subjects I formally studied at school/collage/university, I have spent more time studying religion than anything else.
Why?
Some will say that perhaps I’m searching for something, and maybe I’m a believer in denial. In fact, I’ve come across many religious people who do not believe anyone is truly atheist, but instead purposely turn away from God for various reasons. And some of those who do grudgingly accept that atheism does exist, still insist that the atheists disbelief isn’t as strong as their belief.
Am I a believer in denial? No. I honestly cannot stress my complete zero belief in deities enough. I have often closed my eyes a thought long and hard, searching if I felt there was a remote possibility, that perhaps there was some sort of Supreme Being, but I just come up empty. I’m not denying god purposely anymore than a theist denies the millions of possible other deities.
But am I searching for something? Do I *want* to believe? Ah, well this is where it gets complicated. I don’t think I’m searching for something, I believe my interest in religion comes from fascination, after all I know a few devout Muslims who are interested in the gods of ancient Egypt, it doesn’t mean they are being pulled religiously to it.
But as for wanting to believe, I just don’t know. I’m a nonspiritual atheist, I personally believe when we are dead, we are dead, nothing. It isn’t exactly comforting. I’m lucky that I’ve yet to lose someone really close to me, but when it happens (if I don’t go first that is), I’m sure I will be praying there was some sort of after all.
However saying that, if the Quran is indeed correct, then most of my close relatives and friends are doomed to be tortured for eternity due to most being atheists and agnostics, so hmm, I think the idea of “nothing” is a bit more comforting there.
But knowing that someone was always listening? Having faith in miracles? Now that is comforting.
When your life is at its worse and there seems to be no way out, having the comfort of prayer, and knowing that something can make it better- that IS comforting.
The community I spoke about in my last blog- that IS comforting.
I believe the need for comfort is one of the main reasons people are drawn to a religion. It isn’t just comfort because of loved ones and your own imminent death, but in a broader sense: The unknown. Whether it is questions of what happens after we die, or what was before the universe, “I don’t know” is a frightening answer. God supplies a far better answer, he/she/it/they make people feel loved and secure, and religion gives people a purpose and importance. It sounds incredibly reassuring.
If I could click my fingers and believe would I? Possibly, but I’m still searching to find what it is I would want to believe. As of yet, I can only draw comfort from Mark Twain: “I don’t fear death. I had been dead for billions of years before I was born, and hadn’t suffered the slightest inconvenience.”

I didn’t start this month because of a want to convert, I started it because I want knowledge, we all should. Whether you are an atheist, agnostic or theist, learning about other peoples point of view is the best way to end intolerances and broaden the mind. Fully immersing myself into the religion may seem like an extreme way to do this, but already I feel it is letting me experience religion in a way the years of merely reading about it didn’t. The forums and groups I was a member of before was geared towards finding the negative, whereas what I’m doing is to enter without agenda. I will be open about the good as I am about the bad and confusing. I’m not trying to debate it, which for me is a refreshing change, I’m trying to feel it.
So no, I’m not searching for religion, I’m searching for understanding, it should be an endless search for all of us.

I would love for hear from converts- to any religion or from it. What was your journey?

The community

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Last night I walked into my staff room where a new security guard was waiting for his shift to begin.
He looked at me, and then with a smile said: “Salam alaikum”.
It is an Arabic greeting meaning “peace be upon you”, and is used by all Muslim, regardless of whether they speak Arabic or not.
“Wa alaikum al-salam,” (and upon you be peace) I replied.
It felt warmer than what would have been a simple awkward “hi” had I not been in hijab. He greeted me in such way which showed me that he too was Muslim, a “brother”.
The sense of community in religion is undeniably strong and welcoming, I know nonreligious people who go to church every Sunday just so they can get that sense of belonging and connection to others.
When I wear my hijab out, no I don’t feel modest, but I do feel like part of something. I see another hijabi and want to smile in acknowledgement, we are part of something together. However, I don’t know whether she feels the same, so without knowing the correct protocol, I avoid eye contact and pretend I don’t see her (the same way you stare intently at your mobile when you see an old acquaintance and not quite sure if them being on your facebook really warrants a real life hello- best to just look distracted).
I have seen how religious people are with newly converts or those “on the edge” of it. Suddenly you get a million best friends, they will listen, they will be understanding, they will shower you with informative internet links, and happily talk the night away with you. Wear a hijab for the first time and expect a hundred of complimentary comments: “beautiful”, “mashallah”, “it suits you”- it doesn’t matter if actually it has made you look like you’ve aged twenty years and nowhere near as nice as your hair looked, they will make you feel as if you had just been professionally made over. They are like your best friends who will tell you your hideous new shoes are stunning. Religious communities will take you into their bear hug, and for some people it doesn’t actually matter what the religion is, it is the community that they were drawn to.

Is it a bad thing? I don’t think so, however it is such a powerful feeling that many use it as a converting tool. Christianity is probably leading the way here, and cults too use this “love bombing” as an effective way to get converts, however usually it is a genuine show of warmth and hope to an individual you pray would join the faith. My husband got to experience this with our devout Christian neighbours at our old address. When they invited him out to London on a nice sunny day, he had no idea he was going to a Christian celebration. Once there he said it felt like a “bring a disbeliever day” as there were many nonchristians just like him that had been brought by believing friends. There is no denying the neighbours and those he met that day were nice, really nice, probably some of the friendliest you will meet (especially in London). But there was an agenda, it was the same agenda they had when they invited him out again a few weeks later, and why they are so insistent on us going to some community camping trip this summer. It is definitely more effective than knocking on doors.

However converting people aside, when you are part of a faith, you suddenly have a massive thing in common with up to two billion people. This is more than just having the same favourite colour. Your core morals, ethics, beliefs are similar, they come from the same place. Yes people have different interpretations but the overall picture is set.
You don’t have that with atheism.
Atheism is a simple disbelief, and links people as much as a disbelief in Santa does. Some try to makes it as a community, they come up with groups like “Brights” and “Humanists”, there is even an atheist “A” symbol, but it really doesn’t make sense for a disbelief. In everyone’s life there will be thousands of different types of communities we will be part of, it is human nature to seek out those with similar beliefs and circumstances, hell I’m part of three separate online communities just because I’m married to an Egyptian, but religious ones are in a league of their own.
If this is sounding critical it didn’t mean to. I LIKE the feeling I get when I’m out wearing a hijab and people think I’m “one of them”. I think this feeling is stronger and even more important when you are living in a country where you are the minority. It is also probably stronger in Ramadan. You are not just sharing a religion, you are sharing a struggle, a challenge, a goal.
And because of this I cannot wait until I can fast again, and that is something I never thought I’d say. I miss it, obviously not the feeling of dehydration, or dragging myself out of bed at silly o’clock to eat, but doing something, experiencing something, sharing in something… important. When I read a diabetic Muslim friend of mine had tried to fast for a day with dangerous consequences, I thought she was crazy, why on earth would anyone risk themselves like that, but now I get it (although obviously I don’t recommend it). Not fasting these last few days has given me the same feeling I would have not putting decorations up at Christmas- sure you don’t need decorations up to celebrate Christmas, but it helps you feel part of the holiday.

If I truly want to immerse myself into a religion, I must immerse myself into its religious community. Islam puts emphasis on the ties between believers, fellow Muslims are your brothers and sisters, it demands that you look after each other, “The Believers are but a single brotherhood….” [Al-Hujuraat 49:10] . The next step in my experiment is clear- I have to go to a mosque.

The personalities of the pious

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I have been wondering if it takes a certain personality to be able to be a Muslim (and other religions). It doesn’t come naturally to me, I tend to find I disagree with more than I agree with in terms of what I can and cannot do. People tell me Islam is meant to be easy, well for me it doesn’t seem to “fit” (yet).
It isn’t just about believing God, and Mohammed being his prophet, I think I would need a total personality overhaul.
For example yesterday I was out in a maxi dress, cardigan and hijab. Perfectly acceptable by most Muslim standards, until that is I rolled my sleeves up. It was an automatic thing, I felt hot, I do it all the time. When I realised I put them back down, but not because of any horror that people saw my arms, I couldn’t have cared less, they are just arms in my mind, but because of this “experiment”. Will I ever feel any shame for showing strangers that part of me? Do I think for a second women should feel such shame? No, it seems such a strange concept for me. I just don’t get it.

musims view on magic mike

If that’s wrong I don’t want to be right

Days before I started this month I saw Magic Mike, a film about male strippers. I also read 50 Shades of Grey, and I want to see Ted, a film about a vulgar teddy, I love Family Guy. I’m not a PG type person. Is a good Muslim girl allowed to see/read such things? Ok, 50 Shades was awful, but that’s not the point, do you have to change who you are when you become religious, or will only certain people ever follow “restricting” religions, because they already believe in the principles?
I’m not a bad girl by English standards. I’ve never been in trouble with the law, never done drugs, don’t smoke, never been in a fight. I’m not Mother Teresa, I’m not evil spawned either, I’m an average 26 year old woman. Up to this point I’m pretty much OK with my interests and humour, but if I converted to Islam, would I suddenly not be allowed to laugh at certain jokes? Not allowed to see certain films and TV programmes? Will I really be “me”?
I wonder if this is why many converts change their name, despite not needing to, to represent a complete new them. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that, I’m not even sure if it’s possible.

Rubbish book, but is it sinful?


At work I will often have a break in the staff room with just one or more male co-workers. Probably not allowed for the pious. Also working with people aged mainly 18-23, I hear the crudest of the crude things, and laugh. It is an involuntary action that I don’t believe I would ever be able to change. I also had a baby outside wedlock, my parents had grandchildren before they married, and my brother’s girlfriend is due their first in Sept, are we supposed to feel like sinners?
So I ask converts to Islam- did your morals, values and personality fit Islam before learning about it, did it change as you learnt about it, or is it a constant struggle to keep having to remind yourself the things that are now not acceptable to you? Or maybe you have a different view on what is required in Islam and you proudly saw Magic Mike in hijab, couldn’t put 50 Shades down between prayers, and you know more crude jokes than Jimmy Carr.
Can a very left wing liberal,15 certificate rated westerner ever fit Islam?

One step forward, two steps back

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prayers not allowedA mere couple of hours ago I was ready, I was pumped up, I was determined and dedicated. I was going to do it all, read the Quran at every opportunity, pray with the truest intention and fast without complaint, but then Mother Nature happened. I shouldn’t be surprised, I was kind of asking for it wearing a white dress so close to being due on.
All this week I was looking forward to it, thinking what a welcomed break it would be, no more fasting, no need to feel bad for my lack of Quran reading, nor will I have to do any prayers. But now “she” is here, I feel so deflated.
In a bit of a daze I poured myself a glass of water and drunk it, just yesterday I would have killed to be able to do the same, but now, now that I can and did? It seemed so bittersweet. I could have made myself a feast, but I have no appetite. I don’t *want* to eat, and not because I have developed some sort of eating disorder, I’m happily planning my iftar meal, it just feels wrong.
All those promises I made in my earlier blog, was it just this morning I said all that? And now, I wait, five days of setback. Five less days to read the Quran. 25 less prayers. Can I still practise the words, or is it forbidden merely uttering them?
I’ve already made my thoughts clear on what I think about the whole “women are unclean during their period” situation, so I’ll not repeat it, after all it wouldn’t be very Islamic of me.
I know I shouldn’t feel discourage, just because there are certain things I can’t do doesn’t mean the whole experiment is shelved, this is just something us women have to deal with. It isn’t the end.
But still… sigh…

The half arsed Muslim

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I realised something yesterday, I’m doing this all wrong. I’m still spending more time playing my virtual fish tank than reading the Quran, my prayers are all over the place, I haven’t really learnt any of the words, I’m not conducting myself appropriately- I’m not a Muslim, I’m a woman with a scarf on her head and strange diet!
This won’t do at all. Yes in outward appearance I “fit the role” but this is meant to be a spiritual journey, not just a new dress sense. Have I given anything to charity yet? No. Have I tried to avoid swearing? No. Have I cut down on TV, well actually yes, but that’s only because there is no time in the evening, however I haven’t cut down on facebook or, as mentioned above, my fish tank app.
I’m on my seventh day now as so disappointed with myself. It became all about the fast. All I was thinking about was not eating or drinking, and that making it to the end of the day was enough.
Well that’s about to change, I WILL be a Muslim for the month of Ramadan in all the ways I can be. I will step up my Quran reading and other Islamic studies, I will find a charity, I will watch my language and my rather x-rated sense of humour. And maybe I will master the courage to visit a mosque.
And yes, I will even put away my virtual fish, but don’t worry, they won’t die without being fed.

Sadly I’m not alone in my poor Muslim attempt, so many actual Muslims are no better. They focus on their outward appearance and forget about the most important thing is what you feel in the heart, not what the world sees.
For example I have met some “delightful” well covered women. They hold their heads high and think what great little Muslims they are as they wouldn’t dream of going out with their hair uncovered, but on the inside they are hypocrites. One, a favourite of mine who I’ve clashed with a couple of times online, will preach about the importance of tolerance towards hijabis, but then say the most downright degrading things about uncovered women (apparently they are merely pieces of meat). She will happily insult and backbite, but she looks “right”, so in her mind she done no wrong. And she isn’t alone in such thinking.
Men who go and pray at the mosque and then go meet their friends for a shisha (smoke pipe)- hypocrites.
Men who demand women wear a hijab, whilst they are on the beach in just swimming shorts- hypocrites.
People who have never given to charity and cannot remember the last time they prayed, but will happily judge another for marrying outside the religion- hypocrites.
Those who act however they want during most of the year but fast and ask for forgiveness in Ramadan are no better than the Catholics who confess their sins only to do them all again, and again, and again.
Well it is time I really got serious about this on a deeper level, it is time I feel Islam instead of just look like I do. Maybe some Muslims will take heed.

Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink

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thirsty in ramadan

Mmmm water


Ok, so I got smug, I put my hands up to that. Fasting was surprisingly easy and I was happy to brag about it, I was asking for trouble wasn’t I? I’m not actually a believer of karma but if I were, I would say she came back for vengeance.
The first few days of Ramadan England was its typical wet and grey self, well yesterday summer finally arrived, and boy did it hit hard. It felt like the whole of the country took to the streets, when hot days are so precious us English have learnt to appreciate them to their fullest. But I didn’t want to be one of them, however as a mother, I had little choice.
Off I walked to the town park with my toddler to enjoy the large playground there. The place was unsurprisingly busy, a sea of hair and as much flesh as legally allowed to show. Boy did I stick out like a sore thumb! Out of the many I was the only one in long sleeves, let alone being the only one in a head scarf. I seemed more bothered about this than anyone else though, I’m not one who likes to stand out from the crowds, I’m also not one to enjoy feeling sweltering hot, this covering seems to be having a countereffect to its purpose.
After running after my child as he tried all the more dangerous equipment, I couldn’t take it any more (and not because the amount of heart attacks my toddler was giving me). I was hot, I was uncomfortable I was THIRSTY.
The walk back had many steep hills and by the time I got to my door you would have thought I’d walked the width of the Sahara. My face was bright red, my lips cracking, sweat was pouring from me. I immediately stripped out of all the unnecessary clothing and enjoyed the cool shade of my home. I would have happily sacrificed my later meal (iftar) for a pint of cold water. At this point it was only just reaching 3pm, the hottest part of the day was just beginning.
I knew I had reached an all time low when looking at a picture a friend posted of a scenic lake I was licking my lips thinking how refreshing that would taste! I was in trouble.
Watching my son enjoy fresh fruit and ice cold squish was salt in the wound. You can’t forget thirst, you can’t distract yourself from it. Running my hands under water helps, but watching it fall from the tap had me practically drooling, it looked better than a Christmas roast at that moment.
Some release came when at 6pm my work shift began, the building was beautifully air conditioned. By the time I could break my fast, a day of licking my lips in an attempt to hydrate them had left them sore. Still unsure the true time to break fast in my town, I kept on until 9:20pm to be on the safe side before running behind kiosk to down my Oasis in record breaking time (and no, the irony of my drinks name was not lost on me). Finally a felt sane, I had no interest of food, and would never eat again if I could just continuously relive the joy those first mouthfuls gave to me.
The heat is set to increase today and tomorrow, we look set to be in the hottest days of the year. I would love to be able to sit in a beer garden with a cold glass of lemonade, or take my son strawberry picking and eat far more there than I actually take home- but at the end of each day, when I finally break my fast, the pride I feel for sticking with it makes it worth the sacrifices.

Religious ramblings of an atheist

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Yesterday was the first day I didn’t post here since I started this blog, I knew if I did it would just be whiney ramblings. Yes, yesterday was not a good day- I now refer to it as “day three blues”.
Was it the fast? Not really, surprisingly. I coped with the lack of food and water as well as other days. When my tummy rumbled at 9am I assumed I was in for a tough ride, but it soon settled and I wasn’t left a crumbling mess hugging the fridge.
It was everything else.
Lack of sleep meant when my toddler was having a tantrum first thing in the morning I was short tempered and ended up bursting into tears (my husband then immediately sent me up to bed). When I woke however I didn’t feel much better. Things just managed to wind me up easily.
When my mum came back with the shopping, I had to stick a scarf on my head and put a cardigan on just to pop to her car to help with the bags. I live in a quiet cul-de-sac, the only people likely to see me are my neighbours. They have seen me and my hair for years, have I ever had any issues with the men here? No, not at all. None of them have so much as looked at me the wrong way. And now suddenly I need to cover myself up to protect myself from them?
This concept that a head scarf provides any more modesty or protection from men is still completely lost on me. Will it protect someone from rape? Of course not. Does it protect at least from sexual harassment? Not in my experience. In Egypt where most women are covered sexual harassment is shockingly high, even when I’m in an abaya (certain type of long wide dress) and hijab I’m practically guaranteed to get some sort of pestering. In England where most are uncovered, I can walk the street in a t-shirt and jeans and men couldn’t care less.
So many times I hear (mainly from men who don’t wear it) how fabulous it is, how Allah has blessed us women with it for protection, aren’t we lucky! Protect us from what? Men? Here is an idea, instead of making a claim that material on your head will stop anything, why don’t you (men) protect us by not causing us issues in the first place? This does sadly go more to middle eastern men who seem to think they have the right to look at women like a piece of meat and then blame the woman (obviously I’m generalising a bit here).
Now saying all that, I do understand totally the concept of wearing to show the world you are Muslim. I have a Darwin fish on my car, an outward symbol of what I personally believe, so if I was religious I’m sure I’d want something so that all knew my religious convictions.

Well that was rant one. Rant two:
The Quran. I know I have to tread carefully here, obviously people don’t like to hear criticisms of their holy book, but I have to be honest, this blog is a truthful documentation of the whole journey after all.
I’ve not read much yet, it did have quite a long prologue, what I have read however hardly feels me with spiritual joy. If you are a Christian reading it then yes, I can understand why people convert, after all it isn’t bad towards them. But an atheist, Hindu, Pagan etc? Can the book hate us any more? I get it I get it, harsh punishment, hells fire, wrath of God, we are fools, etc. If it was saying all that about Christians, I wonder how many would have converted. And even if it wasn’t bad towards atheists, I still couldn’t turn a blind eye to how I think it is unjust to other religious groups.
It reminds me of the quote: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out as I was not a communist” etc. When the bad isn’t directly related to you, so many people can skim it. Well it is directly related to me, and the millions of other disbelieves (be they atheists or polytheists).
I don’t believe my converted friends are cold and uncompassionate, but I don’t understand how they can read those words and be ok with it either.
I guess you have the responsibility excuse though. They don’t blame God for wanting to torture, they blame us for not seeing the light. Doesn’t that scream a bit of arrogance though? A Muslim believes as strongly as a Hindu, as strongly as a scientologist, as strongly as those who used to believe in Ra, Odin, Zeus, Mithra. I think that shows the right answer really isn’t obvious, as you all (atheists included) think you ARE following the right answer. None of us picked our religious paths to spite the other, we didn’t purposely turn a blind eye to what we secretly knew was the right way. You have no power on what you believe in, you just believe what you believe.
God would know that, so why would he then think infinite torture was fitting, using a fear tactic sounds more human than divine.
I don’t think one size fits all when it comes to religion. There has never been a time where there was just one universal belief, and I don’t believe there ever will be. I don’t think everyone will be happy as an atheist, in the same way I don’t think everyone could be happy as a Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and so on. It doesn’t make anyone a bad person, a bad person will be a bad person whatever their religion, and a good person will be a good person whatever their religion too.
God would know that.

Ok, I didn’t want this to end up as the moan I tried to avoid yesterday so I will end on a positive note- the fast. I honestly think this will have long term health benefits. I now know I can go without constantly snacking, I don’t need to be always be rummaging the cupboards.
Tonight however will bring an interesting experience: working the evening shift. This will mean I have to wait an extra hour before I can eat, that might well be an hour too much!

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