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My last day as a Muslim

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Has it really been a month? I woke up on my last day as a Muslim thinking how anticlimactic it seemed, but what did I expect? I just wanted to do something, a final push perhaps, but when I have to spend my day with a toddler, my options are limited. I knew where I needed to go, I knew what I needed to do, and after begging my manager, I was given my evening shift off to be able too do it.
I needed to focus on Islam, not the show of being a Muslim. I probably should have done more of that in this time, but then, there are a lot of things I probably would have done differently if I could redo this month. I was going to go to mosque for maghrib prayer (around 8pm) and stay reading the Quran until ishaa prayer (around 10pm).
Not much perhaps, but I truly felt that is where I had to end this, that is what I should be doing.
With my evening plans sorted, the day time was uneventful and insignificant. I discovered a new hijab wrap, and felt a pang of sadness that my hijab days were about to be behind me. I quite liked having something different about me, standing out from the norm, and of course there is the community that goes with it. At the same time, I do miss my hair, and having my ears free from material.
It felt too surreal to honestly think exactly how I felt about it being my last day. In some ways I don’t feel ready for it to end just yet, in others ways I do. It very much feels like what it is- I have been playing a character for a month, and that can get exhausting. It didn’t come naturally to me, I didn’t feel like me as a Muslim, not just due to the beliefs, but the clothes, the attitude, the actions. But I also feel like I need more time, that it has only been in the last few days that I felt any true connection, and the desire to learn openly and honestly.
When I asked for the sign during my first time in a mosque, and when during the day there were moments I genuinely thought it was going to happen, I cannot shake that feeling. Excitement, nerves, fear, joy, and then the feeling when the day ended and the sign was never shown. Empty, betrayed, surprised and yet nonchalant… disappointed? I still haven’t made up my mind exactly what I feel about God even if He were real. I morally disagree with many of His actions and ideals that the holy books (Bible and Quran) accredit to Him. And yet, it would be nice, wouldn’t it? That comfort, feeling part of something bigger than yourself, having a purpose.
The evening came and I got ready for my second trip to mosque, I went armed with my quran and note pad, but when I arrived it wasn’t like what I had experienced just two days previously. It was empty!
What a difference there is between the first day of Eid to the last. I stood in the woman section feeling a bit lost. Although I had prayed many times, I also needed some visual guide, be it my husband or YouTube video. Thankfully my husband saw my lost expression and decided to pray with me behind the barrier. Afterwards he disappeared back to the men’s section and I sat to read Quran. I got through about five suras (chapters), reflecting at the end of each one. I half smiled as I read small parts here and there about the signs God has given us, and frowned as I read more promises of afterlife torture.
If I was looking for *something* to put it all in place, I didn’t find it. I was just left frustrated. There was no connection, I didn’t even feel spiritual. I wished they had dimmed the lights, lit candles, burned incense, have the Arabic Quran playing, just something! Bright red carpet, dull walls and cheap lighting, it just didn’t feel like the type of environment that a religious awakening can take place. But surroundings aside, I had hoped that something in the text would feel personal to me, that would strike a chord. I’m still a way off truly understanding why so many have converted, I want to understand and so making it a continuous mission to do so.
I haven’t finished the Quran, but I will, and it doesn’t stop there. I do believe the most important thing to do when learning a religion is to go to the holy book first. Use your own brain and see what it says before having people tell you what it says. They easily manipulate words to make it come across as more positive or more negative, they are bias one way or the other. However, I also believe that with a book that can be so complex and difficult to read, it is great to seek other sources to help you reflect. I’ve a growing list of other books I want to read, and speakers I want to hear. Clearly a lot of people gain something positive from Islam, they see it as the absolute truth and beautiful, I might never believe but I want to continue learning and understanding why others do.
I prayed the final prayer alone, wanting to test my own ability. Well I messed up, twice. I assumed I enjoyed praying alone more, but I missed the feeling I had when I prayed with a room full of women during Eid prayers and really hope to be able to do it again. Is that wrong of me? Not doing the shehada (affirmation of faith) but wanting to go to mosque and pray?

By the time I went home and to bed, the day felt as anticlimactic as it did at the start. I feel like I’m missing something, although I am no longer going to “play Muslim”, I know this isn’t over yet, I don’t want it to be. Yes I am still an atheist, but there is a thirst for knowledge I don’t feel quenched. This is supposed to lead to something and I want to know what. God? Perhaps, or maybe it is nothing to do with religion specifically, but the learning. I’ve been at a bit of a crossroads in my life lately, my toddler is getting older and at twenty-six I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. I always said I wanted to go back to education, maybe a religion/theology class is the way to go?
I will give an in detail overview of my thoughts, feelings and perhaps changes to myself during the month in another blog post, I just need to work out what they are first.

My first trip to a mosque

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going to mosque

The pious (and blurry faced) family

I was hoping to write this yesterday, with my experience fresh on my mind, the every thought still vivid, but any Muslim reading this will know how hectic the first day of Eid is, and it was certainly no exception for us. But, it was the first thing we done that was the most, perhaps only one with religious significance. My first trip to a mosque.
The feast prayers were starting at 9am, but when you have a toddler alarm clock that isn’t particularly early. Still full up from the night before, having breakfast wasn’t a worry and instead I focused on getting ready. Firstly there was performing wudu, I knew after I done that I wasn’t allowed to go to the toilet or even so much as fart as I just did not have the courage to perform wudu again at the mosque. I then slipped on my abaya and began pinning my hijab. Now that was a challenge, despite having a month of practise I didn’t know how conservative I had to do my wrap for mosque, how long should my scarf be at the front and back, how tight under the chin? And socks! Was I supposed to wear them? Was my feet meant to be bare? I felt like I was messing up before I had even got there. After a frantic SOS post on a FB group I decided that I shouldn’t wear socks (thankfully I didn’t read the posts that later disagreed with the first reply, I think my head would have imploded). And then we were off.
What if I was one of only a few women? What if my clothes looked nothing like anyone else’s? What if I completely mess up the prayer? Will people see my hands shaking?
According to the website the building can hold 300 people with room for women. I’ve heard some horror stories about the women’s spaces in mosques, and that some didn’t allow women at all. What if I was stuffed into a dark closet sized space, in the sweltering heat, not hearing what the imam was saying?
My heart really was pounding in my chest. I did feel slightly better when we pulled up near the building and the street was lined with cars and Muslims pouring out. Plenty of women that I can just follow to show me the way, and the more women the less likely my total inexperience will stand out.
Outside the building there were mats laid down just in case the men couldn’t all fit indoors. Surely that means women really will be crammed in some tiny space as the men will take priority (as men have to pray in a mosque but women can pray at home)!
I spotted a small doorway to the side of the building that women were going through. I don’t think I have ever experienced segregation like that, to the point of a different entrance. I admit it, it seemed very reminiscent of black/white segregation in America less than a hundred years ago. What was waiting for me inside? Was the feeling of second class citizen going to continue?
With a pounding heart I said goodbye to my husband and son and went to my door. Just on the inside of the entrance were shelves to place shoes, thankfully I was already aware of this. I took my shoes off and slowly edged forward. To my left was a bathroom where women were removing their hijab and performing wudu, I was glad that I get to at least avoid the stress of doing that publicly. But then, was I supposed to do it there? If I didn’t would people criticise me? I couldn’t deal with the added stress that I may already be making a mistake, and instead focused on the room to my right.
From my angle all I could see was a line of chairs full of women chatting away. I wasn’t sure if that was where I was meant to go, of if that was some informal meeting. Well, it was either in there or the bathroom, so holding my breath I entered.
As I stepped in a realised this was certainly no closet space! We wasn’t even in a separate room to the men, instead the hall was divided by a barrier, probably no more than 6ft high. And not only that, but the barrier divided the room equally. I was shocked, of course more men would be coming to mosque, but still they made the space 50/50. The barrier was placed diagonally (to indicate the direction of mecca, the direction we have to face to pray), and we had fans! Large fans lined the back wall, keeping us cool on the hot summers day, a luxury the men did not have.
Women were sitting on the chairs in the back or in little groups chatting away. There was still plenty of space, so after a moment or two looking dumbfounded, I shuffled slightly away from the door and quickly sat.
There was still fifteen minutes before the prayers began, so I assured myself that there was nothing I needed to do other than sit and take in my surroundings.
salwar kameez

The type of clothing most were wearing


The women were pouring in and my did they look stunning! I wasn’t in a room with women in black burkas looking miserable, but a room alive with fantastic colours and sparkles. Some were in diamante encrusted abayas like me, but the majority were wearing the Indian/Pakistani salwar kameez in the most gorgeous bright designs. Hijabs were wrapped in all the ways you can think of, some accessorised with flowers and brooches. Bangles and earrings didn’t seem off limits either, and to my relief there was a mix of socks and bare feet.
Looking around though I noticed I was the only one sitting alone. I felt like I was in a no mans land circle as women came in and then went off to greet their friends and family, leaving the space around me bare, and making me feel more and more lonely.
“Ria?”
My name that has been with me all my life didn’t make sense to my ears at that moment, after all, who would know me here, who would speak to me here?
I turned and expecting to see no one, but instead I saw a face which seemed somewhat familiar from years ago smiling at me.
She reminded me of her name and that we had gone to school together. I think my wide, petrified looking eyes very quickly gave away that I had no idea what I was meant to be doing, and probably with sympathy she sat down with me and we began to chat.
I couldn’t have been more thankful and my nerves finally began to calm. I didn’t mention the blog but did say I have spent the month reading and learning the Quran and hadn’t done any official declaration of the faith. I regretted not being more honest from the get go, but to be fair I didn’t feel like I had much control over what I was blurting out of my mouth.
She invited me to come sit with her mum and herself, an invite I gladly accepted. Her mum greeted me warmly, as a British convert to Islam, married to a man from a Muslim country, she seemed to emphasise with the manic emotions I was feeling.
Eventually people began to sit in their rows. Although crowded, there was enough space for me not to worry that my backside was going to go in someone’s face when I had to bend down. The Imam was speaking from the other side of the barrier, not like I could really hear him. This wasn’t the fault of the barrier though but the women! Despite the Imam constantly reminding people to be quiet, the women chatted away endlessly, all distracted with their “Eid Mubarak’s” and kissing cheeks. The nerves that were fading returned with vengeance however when I heard the Imam explain the differences in the prayer. Differences? My husband hadn’t warned me this prayer was different to any other. All I heard was something about four “Allah Akbar’s”. I was certain I was going to mess up.
And then the prayer began. I didn’t have to worry about messing up, after the first “Allah Akbar” most of the women then moved on to the bending down position, only to quickly realise their mistake and stand up straight again, my husband later told me the men had done the same *phew*.
My mind was blank, I forgot the little part of the prayer that I had learnt, instead I just went through the motions trying to look like I had been doing this for years. And then there was another bit of unknown territory. After the prayer, people stayed sitting with their hands raised and palms towards their face. Unsurely I done the same, I don’t know if they were reciting quran, or saying some other specific words, but something told me, rightly or wrongly, that I should pray, this was my time to ask God anything I wanted from him.
So I did. I asked (perhaps cliché) for a sign.
What the sign should be is personal and needed to be shown before the end of the day, but it wasn’t something like moving a mountain, appearing in front of me, letting me win the lottery etc. I also knew that even if the sign came, it would still be the start of a long, perhaps difficult journey, but it would also be the only time in my life that I seriously prescribed to the idea that God is actually real.
After the prayers we all got up and once again the room was alive with kissing cheeks and happy Eids, dates were also passed around. After giving my thanks to my old school friend for taking me under her wing, I made my way out and found my husband and son (who had been given a lollypop).
Despite the nerves I left on a buzz, it wasn’t a negative experience and many parts of it pleasantly surprised me. I didn’t feel like a second class citizen, and the women didn’t look solemn and oppressed. Praying in a group is perhaps something that takes getting used to, and the more you go the less you would be taking sneaky looks around and just fully immersing yourself in the prayer. Although the sneaky looks around did prove fascinating as well. I saw elderly women performing their own version of the prayer with the aid of a chair, children either attempting it or just watching on, and then a couple of girls sitting on the chairs in the back, sporting the camel bump hijab and sleek abaya, with a sour, bored expression as if they were the cast of an Emirates version of “Mean Girls”. Yes, the room was certainly diverse in more ways than just race.
I wish I had gone during Ramadan, although I’m not sure if it is always open as a mosque/Islamic centre , or just for the special prayers. But I have to say it was not what I was expecting at all, and there really is nothing to be worried about, even if you are not lucky enough to have someone recognise you.

As for the sign I asked for. Well at some parts of the day I actually thought it would come to pass, I was ready to declare “la illaha illallah” (there is no god but Allah) the moment it did, and although it might take a long time to truly understand what that means, and what path that placed me on, I was ready to take the first step.
It didn’t happen. I’m trying to work out exactly how I feel about that, is the disappointment simply stemming from the fact I didn’t get what I asked for, or because of something bigger? Why do I feel slightly betrayed?
I know I know, people will come up with every excuse- “God has already given you the signs”, “look around you isn’t that enough”, “you can’t manipulate God”, “maybe he didn’t give you it for a greater purpose”, etc etc etc. I know all that, but obviously those “signs” that other people find enough doesn’t work on me, and God knows they don’t, not because I choose to ignore them, but because I look at things such as the universe, nature, birth etc, a different way. After starting the day on a religious high, as midnight came I was at a low. Tomorrow is the last day of the journey but right now I’m not sure where to go from here.

The Fast

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fasting
Obviously you don’t need to be a Muslim for a month to learn about Islam, anyone can buy a Quran, download one, get the app, and read it at their pleasure. Fasting however is something I don’t think any book can really tell you about. It would just be pointless words on a page, which will have most people thinking Ramadan is crazy.
I didn’t get it. I have seen my husband fast for that last few years and I just couldn’t grasp the point. Oh sure it was explained to me- time to be closer to God, time to appreciate what you have, time to remember those who go without etc etc, but going without food and drink? Really?
Well yes, really! At the end of the month I probably still won’t understand much about Islam, but I can now say I do understand why people fast, why they look forward to it, why they are not all leaving the religion after the first day. This is something you really need to feel to truly *get* it.
I honestly didn’t think I could do it, I never in a million years thought I would enjoy it. But I am and I do. Every morning it feels like an impossible task, than every day at 9pm I get to feel such a sense of achievement, and I get to share it with my husband. Meals are appreciated, I can’t say when the last time was that I truly appreciated a meal before this month, they are a celebration. I love the discipline needed, the focus required. And on the spiritual sense, fasting means you will never forget that you are in a special month, that you are doing something. For the religious every time they feel weak, they feel the pangs of hunger, they have a reminder as to why they are doing it, who they are doing it for, and to be thankful.
Don’t get me wrong, not all Muslims enjoy Ramadan. Out loud they feel they most proclaim a love for the Islamic holiday, but quietly they whisper their true feelings. People can become moodier, lack of food and exhaustion, thanks to the very early wake up to eat, is not a great combination. Apparently breaths can be worse too, something I’ve not noticed (another thing for me to be thankful for!), and someone even said BO increases too, oh my. Too many women also complain how they have to spend half the day in the kitchen cooking, making food more a part of their daily lives than when they could eat. There are feelings of guilt when some think all they are doing is fasting and they don’t have time to also read Quran, perform longer prayers etc.
Having the wrong attitude about Ramadan also doesn’t help. Some spend the whole month counting down to Eid (three days of feasts after Ramadan), or they spend the whole day thinking about their evening meal, and eating more than a days worth of food in the one sitting. Some people spend the day sleeping, completing voiding the whole point of the fast.
I can’t eat or drink between 3am to 9pm, but I’m not going to sit around thinking “oh woe is me”. I’m not going to wish this month away either, in fact when my husband said earlier that we were half way, I felt a pang of sadness. When I had five days where I couldn’t fast, I felt as if I was missing out.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a walk in the park- in fact it was walking in the park on one of England’s hottest days of the years that proved one of the hardest days fasting- there are moments I am just staring at food, smelling it, fantasising about eating it. Then there are the small but more enticing temptations such as wishing I could taste food as I cook it, just to check it is ok. Feeding a child during the day has also had me nearly slipping up from old habits. Before this month I don’t thing my son even knew ice lollies came without a bite taking out of them first!

Now, I have a slight fasting problem- on Wednesday I’m due to be put under general anaesthetic to have my wisdom teeth removed. I haven’t had my consultation so don’t know if you are supposed to eat beforehand, however I’m pretty sure afterwards I’ll be wanting pain killers, which breaks the fast.

religion data

What am I?


Another issue my minor operation is causing is the form I have to fill out. It asks for my religion. I will still be wearing hijab (though taking it off for the actual operation), so ticking nonreligious or N/A seems a bit of an eyebrow raiser. But I don’t want to lie either. I’m guessing I should leave it blank, after all as far as I’m aware legally I’m not obliged to answer.
Hmm, I don’t really like being a blank.
I guess a devout Muslim would put of the op until after Ramadan, the problem is it turns out I have a massive fear of GA (never been put to sleep before) and if I put it off now I doubt I will ever do it. Oh well, I guess it is impracticalities such as this that make some people hate this month.

Right, now I really must sleep, I have to get up in two and a half hours to eat before my fasting day starts again. Alhamdulillah.

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?