This year Easter fell during the month of Ramadan, and I was reminded of my connection to both of those faith traditions.
I grew up Baptist. I was genuine in my faith but didn’t proselytize. I let my light shine through the way I lived my life: kind words and deeds, no judgment, tithing, etc. Still, I became known as “Mother Teresa” because of my goody-goody behavior. (And also, perhaps, from my occasional inclination to boss around my siblings.) I didn’t mind it. In fact, during late adolescence when sweaty, covetous palms made it harder to hold onto my sainthood, I appreciated the reminder of that moniker even more.
In college, I had what was probably a typical experience: my world expanded. I learned and questioned, came into my own, examined things I’d taken for granted, and changed religions. I became Muslim. I had some mild militant tendencies to begin with, but I didn’t join the Nation of Islam. I took my shahada (declaration of faith) in April of 2003 and became a Muslim.
Islam is a fully integrated religion. When thoroughly practiced, it can affect every aspect of your life. I didn’t know all that. I just knew that one of my best friends in college was a Muslim and that all the sisters I met in the Muslim Student Association were on point. (The brothers were aight, too, I guess). I just knew that the adhan (the call to prayer) sounded so beautiful, and Jumu’ah (Friday) prayer made me feel warm and connected. I just knew the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), seemed like a really relatable, stand-up guy, and that Jesus (peace be upon him) got mad love in the Qur’an.
As a curious Christian, I found comfort in all of it. After all, I didn’t come to Islam because I was fleeing the church. On the contrary, I loved my church home. I still visit sometimes when I’m in town. But one Sunday while on summer break from college, I went to morning service like usual, and something had changed.
After the sermon and before the benediction, altar call was a time to entreat God, individually and collectively. The small, devoted congregation of my tight-knit, storefront church stood in an oblong circle holding hands. Praying for our church family, the community, the sick and shut-in —I was with all of it…until the end. “In Jesus name we pray,” said the pastor, “Amen.” But I wasn’t sure. The Qur’an said that God needs no intercessor. The Qur’an said that Jesus, (peace be upon him) was surely a beloved prophet but he was still a man. The Qur’an said never to assign partners to God. The congregation repeated after our pastor, “Amen.” But I kept quiet.
At the end of the summer, I returned to school in limbo. I no longer felt connected to my Christian tradition, but I wasn’t ready to commit to a new faith. What if I was just intrigued by the newness of it—the community and the narrative(s) and the fact that my boyfriend was on a similar path? (No, there are no boyfriends or girlfriends in Islam. Clearly, I had a long way to go.) Some people get peer-pressured into drinking or recreational drugs. I was not about to become Muslim because my friends were doing it.
It was a rough few months. I went about my days regularly, but internally I was in shambles. I was sad to know that in my heart I was no longer Christian. I had been in the youth choir, a junior usher, a Bible study scholar (I use “scholar” loosely, but still), even more than that—I’d felt close to God. I felt like when I prayed, when I called on God, I got through. How would I pray to God now? If I wasn’t Christian and I wasn’t Muslim, where would my prayers go? How would my call be directed? I didn’t know it then, but I was moving away from God and toward God at the same time. (I mean, God is omnipresent, so that tracks.)
I was preoccupied with achievement and expectation. If I was going to be a Muslim, I wanted to do it perfectly. I wanted to be well versed and pious and all these wonderful qualities. I wanted to be Muslim enough to be Muslim, but I couldn’t wait. Thoughts of death started creeping in. What if I die in this liminal space between faiths? I thought, what will happen to my soul? What if God doubts my commitment and love because I couldn’t make up my mind?
So, one night while my roommate was out, I took my shahada. I stood alone in my dorm, fully covered, barefoot, and facing east with a pamphlet in my hand about how to make Salat (prayer). I read the English in my head and spoke the phonetic Arabic aloud. The following Friday, I went to Jumu’ah prayer with the sisters and said the shahada again—this time with an audience. They gave me a certificate and everything.
Fast forward to today: I do not [yet] wear hijab and my Arabic is rudimentary (and that’s being generous), but I know that God is everywhere including the liminal space of indecision. I still talk to God regularly—sometimes five times or more a day. InshaAllah, my calls are getting through.
Have you come to a crossroads in your life, and how did you navigate making a big change?Leave a Comment