December 21, 2022
I don’t know how or why I found myself looking for a stream upon which I could set my vessel for a slide back into Islam. Muslims would say Allah was guiding me. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I’m comfortably dipping and swaying along the soft waters of Islam– my private experience of it, in any event– and I am happy.
Yes, I know now how this happened, after years of plowing through the muck of non-Islamic society, the hubris and excesses of American life. I want to go back to my roots– my Islamic roots. I’ve met a sheikha. Well, she’s not a sheikha, but she is on her way, and my respect for her grows steadily. She is one of many who have managed the successful incorporation of Islamic principles and practices into secular American society.
Meeting Karla occurred almost by happenstance, but she would claim that Allah arranged it, and I cannot refute that likelihood. We connected on Facebook, of all places, where communication is mostly quick and superficial. I have never been as inspired by Facebook as I was during the heyday of blogs, but OK, Facebook seemed to be the inferior replacement, so I sought out English-speaking Muslim groups. About five years ago, I read a comment by an American Muslimah who said that she lived in Minocqua, Wisconsin. I was flabbergasted.
This northern Wisconsin Land-of-Lakes area is a vacation wonderland, attracting tourists from all over the state and even from northern Illinois. The summer home phenomenon had developed there for middle-class families like mine, who wanted vacation experiences without spending an arm and a leg. My father built our lake home there in 1978. I was spending time during the spring, summer and autumn–not winter because of heavy snowfall– but I have never once seen or heard evidence of a Muslim in residence, or even one passing through.
I contacted Karla, who was also flaggerhasted to learn of an American Muslimah with a connection to Minocqua. We agreed to meet the next time I was there, and sure enough, we met at the local coffee shop in the busy strip mall on Hwy 70, and an instant rapport sprang up between us.
We exchanged our stories, histories, situations, and how we live Islam in the United States. I, of course, barely lived Islam by that time, having divorced my husband, still working (of necessity), living with my Christian mom, and generally out of touch with the Islamic lifestyle I had intended to establish when I repatriated in 1998.
Karla, on the other hand, never lived outside the United States, but has managed to establish and adhere to all the behaviors that mark an Islamic lifestyle, including prayer, fasting, eschewing haram and wearing hijab all the time.
In fact, I had met other American converts who had never lived outside the States, and most of them lived their Islam here better than I ever did, which looks ironic, because I had such a thorough Islamic indoctrination during my twelve years in Saudi Arabia. One expects that someone like me is in a better position to live Islamically in the States, having had such a large amount of practice in Saudi Arabia.
I was fascinated to know Karla, and learn about how she managed to not only convert, but adhere to Islam in America, without having spent time in any Muslim majority society that should make the process easier. I quickly learned the answer, which turned out to be the same answer I’d heard from other American converts who had never lived in a Muslim majority society, the answer that I’ve never been able to cultivate in myself.
These converts believed wholeheartedly, one hundred percent, in what they had found in Islam, and were determined to make all the adjustments necessary to enable them to pray, fast, wear hijab, and go to a local mosque for community events. Karla, and every single other American convert I’d met here, are all more pious, more devoted, and more ready than I am to endure the inconveniences of living their Islam in a place that is not set up for Islamic living.
I should be ashamed of myself, but I’m not.
Karla became my friend not because we were needles in the haystack of Minocqua, but because we felt so open and accepting of each other, and we recognized each other’s ability to dig deeply into the intellectual aspects of Islam, and religion in general. We recognized and accepted each other’s different degrees of piety, different ways of being Muslim.
Every time I had a conversation or meeting with Karla, I felt the warmth of her acceptance, the glow of her piety, the strength of her faith and the unwavering nature of her attitude towards Islam. I envied those qualities, just as I’d envied them in other Muslim women I’d known in Saudi Arabia.
I used to try to emulate the women I knew there, because I wanted for myself the peace and enthusiasm they exuded. Don’t misunderstand– I never felt badly for the lack of strong religious practice in my life. Growing up Christian, I went to church and prayed when I was supposed to pray, and I never felt that God was not present or active in my life. I never needed more than the absolute minimum of religious engagement. God and religion stood ready for me when I needed them, but I was not drawn to devoting myself lock, stock and barrel. I was taught to pray before eating, and to pray before sleeping. I did and still do so, most of the time, regardless of whether I was Christian or Muslim.
The year before I went to Riyadh in 1986, I returned to the same Episcopalian church of my childhood, because I had faced a dangerous situation and said to God, “If you get me out of this, I will find a religion and worship you properly.” He did get me out of it, and I decided to begin where I’d left off, at St. Andrew’s. Had I not gone to Riyadh and opened myself to Islam, I would have been content to remain in the spiritual home of St. Andrew’s, or perhaps explore similar branches of Christianity, because I felt good and happy for having come back to a worship of God, and I was not dissatisfied with being a Christian. Oh, I didn’t adhere to all the basic beliefs. I doubted more than I affirmed, and had even considered agnosticism and atheism, but I liked going to church, so I gave up on those last two options. I know now that I was a seeker, even then. I was always alert to alternative explanations of things, possibilities of truth shining brighter than certainties of it.
When I met some of the Muslim women who became my friends in Riyadh, I perceived in them a joy, a certainty in the purpose of life, that I admired. I wanted to bring some of that rock-solid grounding into my own life, which has always pushed me and swayed me in unexpected directions. I imagined that I’d be even more enthusiastic about life in general if I incorporated more religion into it.
We work with what we’ve got, and I’ve got a personality that never adhered to religious principles or practices that did not produce immediate results with the least amount of effort. Even when I was a Christian, I was never able to, “…love God as you love yourself, love Him with all your heart and soul.” I never knew what that felt like, or why I would love someone or something whose primary existence held no tangible stuff of direct evidence.
A beautiful sunset I could appreciate, a moist chocolate cake I could devour with joy, but God?
Recently I watched a video lecture from a dynamic American sheikha, who answered the question of, “How can I believe in something I do not see with my own eyes?” She asked, “Do you believe in love? Of course you do, but you do not see it. You believe that electricity exists, but can only see evidence of its existence, but not it itself.”
This argument is old, and no longer holds water for me, but I digress.
Karla inspires me. She renews my enthusiasm, reminds me that my happiest days passed within the garden of Islamic living, and that I can, and should, recover some of that living here in the United States. I really do feel happier when I pay attention to certain Islamic principles, like reading the Qur’an, praying (especially in the mosque), and studying Arabic. Upon her urging, I enrolled in the Ribaat on-line Arabic classes four months ago, and reignited my passion for both Arabic and a somewhat Islamic lifestyle.
Some Islamic practices, however, still fill me with a desire to plant all fours in the ground and resist, but that’s fodder for future posts. I identify as a Muslim, not because I practice well, and not because I’m ready to swallow everything without passing it through the filter of my scientific education surrounded by common sense, but because Islam makes me happy. It’s as simple as that. I feel happy when I think of myself as a Muslim.
I’m an even less observant Muslim that I was a Christian, but I ask Allah for forgiveness, just as I’d ask Him for forgiveness no matter which religion I’d follow, or none at all. I’m a flawed human being, walking on the cusp of apostasy, and having balanced on that cusp all my life. I don’t fall off, however. I can say with confidence that, “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His prophet,” and Islam makes me happy.