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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?

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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.

My last day as an atheist

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(Figuratively speaking that is).

What do you do the day before you change your life? Well, shop and eat, oh and run around like a headless chicken seems to be the answer.
Now a frantic Ramadan eve rush appears to be the norm if the sudden boom of hijabi’s (women who wear the headscarf) that were up the town are anything to go by. Not only did I have to make sure my meal plans were ready and food bought- which had to be gathered in four different locations across my town- but I also wanted to fully indulge in what I would be leaving.
Eating during the day was number one. I met up with a friend who I have regular “luncheons” with and fully enjoyed my bacon and sausage sandwich. Then it was off to have my last Wispa mcflurry, Mcdonalds would have moved on to the next limited edition by the time I can eat during the day again, and boy do I love Wispa. And then I took my son swimming. I felt no shame having my body revealed in a swimming costume in front of men, I wonder if I would have a different view on things once this month is up?
I know I shouldn’t be focusing on the things I am giving up, I also know that I need to remember not eating during the day isn’t the typical Islamic thing- it is Ramadan, I picked that month so I only have myself to blame, not the religion, I cannot use it against Islam.

I almost expect that I should wake up tomorrow and just *feel* different, that I shouldn’t be just sitting around, I should be doing “Muslim” stuff. Ha! Of course a Muslim has to get her children up, dressed and fed just like an atheist does. A Muslim has brush her teeth, get herself dressed, tidy up, just like an atheist. I’m not becoming a different species, so why do I feel like I’m holding my breath before something big happens?

So far I have had nothing but positive reactions (to my face). People are curious, they are asking questions and I am getting first hand experience of how naïve so many still are about Islam. Would I have been any different if I had never met my husband? No, I too would ask the same confused questions in their position. The first thing I get asked 9 times out of ten (amazingly it isn’t “WHY?!”) is: “So are you going to cover your face?”
I have only ever seen one person ever wear a niqab/burka in my town. I see half a dozen wearing hijab every time I go to the shopping centre, so why o why is it the “burka” that is seen to represent Islam here? A part of me is curious as to what it would be like wearing one, but then the thought of stripping myself from all outward identity makes me shudder. I have become friends with a couple of naqabis on the internet, where personality is known before clothes worn, I am making baby steps to becoming more open minded and tolerant to the garment.

This is more than just a fast- Islam has to be in my thoughts with all the actions that I do. I will have to ask myself “this the Islamic way?”. My studies have only just begun as tomorrow I open the Quran and read, and try to understand exactly what it is I am reading. I don’t have my personal Imam to go to, but I do have some Muslim friends who have earned my respect time and time again with their knowledge and perception. Hopefully they don’t mind me pestering them, and of course I will write down any questions I have here.

Will I miss pork? No.
Will I miss showing my hair? I doubt it.
Will I miss being able to do things on my own moral compass instead of one that I have been told I should have? Absolutely.
I guess that is the biggest problem. Muslims have the morality that the Quran gives them, it is a fit. I however feel as if I’m trying to fit a square into a circle. I can act like a Muslim, thinking like one however might just not come. What if I get nothing from this month? Will I just be an atheist in a colour coordinated head scarf?
I will dedicate all that I have control over to this, my biggest fear though isn’t that I find nothing, it’s if I really dislike what it is I do find. And what if my husband likes the “new”, albeit fake, me? What if we become closer than ever before, how will I then feel on the last day?
I promised I would not write a hypothesis as I didn’t want to steer this to a premeditated conclusion, instead however I am constantly thinking of all the different scenarios- the good, the bad, the boring.
I guess there is only one way to find out, and what will be, will be. “It is in God’s hand”, as my husband says, “Who knows” as I say.

Good bye Atheism- forgive me Dawkins!
Ma’a salama