Haram seemed to be the basis in which I was first introduced to the religion I was born into. Haram said an Islamic teacher that I once had in Ontario, Canada, because I was wearing my favorite Victoria’s Secret body spray. In her eyes, that had made me an unlawful Muslim. I was 13-years-old.
It was an endless stream of Haram that I repeatedly heard throughout my teenage years that I am now aware was constantly misused, instilling in me so much fear. I feared being tossed in hell like every Islamic teacher I had stated (in graphic detail) if I did something that displeased my creator. Thus, began my misconstrued relationship with Islam, and most importantly with God.
For years on end, the topic of religion did not make any sense to me. I went through a range of emotions and opinions when it came to placing my beliefs in a religious context. You could say it was a love/hate relationship, but for the majority of my life I would honestly have to admit it was solely hate. The first problem that I faced, and found myself constantly questioning was, why do we call ourselves Muslims just because we were born into or because it was what my family believed in? What about me? Am I not capable of forming my own beliefs and figuring out if I want to be a Buddhist or a Christian, or on the latter an atheist or agnostic? I didn’t understand why I called myself a Muslim, when in reality, I didn’t choose to be in my full awareness. What does it even mean to be a Muslim? And that’s when I started to question practically everything, which weirdly enough led me to believe in nothing, until something made sense to me.
I hated that whenever I asked why something is haram, I never received a fully knowledgeable and Islamically-backed answer that struck a chord in my heart. I was always met with the being-thrown-in-hell answer, matched with an immense amount of guilt that followed me everywhere. No one seemed to give me an answer that was convincing in both a religious context and a worldly context. It drove me crazy. And my relationship with God was one threaded with fear, not love. Finally, I decided to figure out the answers myself, and everything slowly started to click.
It was during my university years when I chose to not believe in anything, and live my life according to my own terms. You could say that I delved into things that are not religiously accepted, and I can profess that I had never felt more lost, useless, and aimless. My mental health deteriorated to degrees that I didn’t think I could get out of. It felt like there was a constant black cloud over me that wouldn’t leave, no matter where I went, what I did, or who I was with. As A.Helwa states in her book Secrets of Divine Love, “If we make our desires our gods, we suspend ourselves in a constant state of anxiety, and instability for our emotions are constantly changing and fluctuating”— and that’s exactly what I was doing.
This aimless feeling stuck with me, as I chased worldly possessions that would never truly satisfy me until a distant relative passed away, and I went to the burial. As dark as it may sound, attending the funeral was the biggest reality check I could have had, and in a twisted way, was exactly what I needed to open myself up again to the religion I was born into.
My brain couldn’t fathom that after all the worldly attributes we are taught to chase, nothing gets dug into your grave with you. Your akhlaq (morals) is the only thing that remains, and that thought both terrified and fueled me at the same time.
From there I started reading, watching a variety of lectures, and really trying to understand what Islam is all about. That’s when I picked up Secrets of Divine Love, and decided to give my belief a completely fresh new start, and most importantly perspective. In her 2019 novel, Helwa takes you through every single pillar of Islam in a manner that I wish my Islamic teachers did. One threaded with love, as opposed to fear whilst making it crystal clear that Islam is for the matters of the heart, and you shouldnt be scared of God. Drawing upon the many secrets of the Quran, mystical poetry, and stories from prophets, and spiritual masters, the book certainly reignited my faith in life.
The author also explained the simplest of phrases that as anyone who grew up Muslim probably constantly heard. Expanding on sentiments of hopelessness, Helwa explains the phrase, la ilaha illa Allah and its significance in relation to feeling stuck. “When we break the phrase apart, we can see that God does not want us to come declaring only His existence, but He wants us to begin by declaring the nonexistence of everything else in creation. When we experience periods of loneliness or hopelessness, asking why people always have to leave, why nothing lasts forever, why everything around us feels like an illusion, we are in a state of la ilaha, which is a holy part of the process so long as we keep walking to illa Allah. Feeling like this fleeting world will let us down is not void of the truth, but if we stay stuck in this place of negation, we will be veiled from witnessing God’s love and care,” she wrote.
My newfound spiritual journey altered my perspective on the things that I once questioned. Now, to some extent, I have a deeper understanding about why Islam restricts certain behaviors. Growing up, no one ever taught me that consuming alcohol damages the soul and the heart. No one ever told me that one of the reasons pre-marital relations are looked down upon is so you are able to foster a healthy relationship devoid of any sexual delusions that may get in the way when it comes to decision-making. No one ever told me that being arrogant, boastful, and vain, is also a major sin. As I read, watched, and dug deeper into my faith, everything just clicked, and my moral compass seemed to be guiding me in a positive light, where the dark cloud was no longer there.
What started off as an extremely tainted, toxic, fearful, and guilt-ridden relationship with God ended up being the one that brings me the most comfort. There’s a sense of peace that comes with knowing that there is something unfathomably bigger and infinitely more powerful than me supporting me in this thing called life. Ultimately, what brought me the most comfort was knowing that through Islam I was able to foster a purpose for myself on this thing called earth, something we all seem to be searching for.
Photo Credit: Mous Lamrabat