quran5An oppressive humidity penetrates my abaya, making my jeans sticky and uncomfortable. It’s sweltering out in the mosque courtyard and the mist from cooling stations dousing the women’s section does little to relieve the situation. Despite the heat, I have moments when the reverberation from the Qur’anic recitation floats over my skin and penetrates my body — giving me chills and shaking my soul. I break out in goosebumps. I sway to the rhythm, lost in God’s words.

It’s the end of Ramadan 2013 and I’m chasing The Night of Power. I’m yearning for spiritual connection — desperate to inspire my heart in a rare moment free of family responsibilities.

While soaking in the atmosphere, breathing in contentment, my neighbour in the prayer line points out that I’m not crying — and that if I can’t cry, it’s better that I fake it until I feel real tears. Otherwise my heart will harden.

I’ve had many good cries. Nights where I’ve cried myself puffy in the face while asking God for forgiveness. Cries that have erupted unexpectedly, letting loose a purge of pent up emotions. I’ve had cries based on needs, on wants, and out of desperation. Now, it is true that over that past few years I have not cried during worship in the same way or with the same fervour that I did when I first entered Islam. But a lot has happened that has driven me away from that initial high — the one that enflamed my heart and made me love the deen without question.

Sadly for me, this random comment in the mosque held unknown power. The power to invalidate my religious experience. And so I spent the rest of the prayer not breathing in contentment, not enjoying the Qur’anic reverberations (even though that’s all I needed to find peace) — but instead contemplated all of the corrections, negative experiences and comments I have received over the past 15 years. Each one is cemented around my heart — and only because I give them power over me.

My heart is not heard because I can’t fake cry. It’s become hard because I’ve lost perspective.

I feel vulnerable. My religious self esteem has plummeted. My relationship with parts of the ummah has become toxic. Somewhere along the way I lost confidence in my identity as a believing Muslim.

Soon after I converted, people gave me a script to read from and implanted a record into my brain that to this day, plays list after list of proper conduct, halal and haraam living, and the “right” way to worship as a Muslim. As I grew in Islamic knowledge I began to question this mammoth mullah in my mind — but I still gave it power. And while I’ve been dealing with this for a while, I have yet to uncover *why* I give the opinion of others so much weight when it comes to my relationship with Islam.

Again and again throughout the Qur’an, God calls to believers, “Oh you who believe…” Each verse is a commandment toward living a greater Good: Fear God. Establish the prayer. Stand for Justice. Join together in Peace. Fast. Be patient. This is the only voice I should be heeding.

Over the past year, I’ve talked about my love/hate relationship with hijab, how I’ve become unmosqued, that I am disappointed in our leaders, and now that I am a mother, how it seems that in order to find fulfillment in the religious experience, I must first accept traditional gender roles and unrealistic expectations, especially during Ramadan. I have been struggling for a while, publicly announcing my insecurities:

I want to feel like I’m part of my religion again and not only present by accident or just along for the ride. I want to worship in ways that really speak to me. Like playing silly games to benefit the kids, but also worshiping alone without being the one to run away from the prayer line when the baby is about to break something, without being the one who delays prayers to finish cooking first, without being the one to miss prayers because the children need me NOW, without being the one who feels spiritually inadequate, without being the one who just stopped praying.

Fasting is my favourite form of worship. The act of fasting contains wonder and amazement in how it quiets the mind and depresses the ego. In the absence of food and stimulants, in the physical silence of not listening to music or from reducing screen time — fasting creates a space for me to regard many things that nourish my spirituality and opens doors to a higher consciousness. The warmth of the sun. The softness of the wind. The beauty of creation. They stir something of the divine deep inside.

In my last post I said that this would be a simple Ramadan. One of going back to the Qur’an and reflecting on God’s word and what that means for me. I want to worship without hearing the mullahs in my mind obscure the delicate flower of faith that first bloomed in my heart.

So I need to go back to basics. I need to find my authentic spiritual voice. I need to revisit the reasons why I answered the call of Islam. How did I, an agnostic/atheist become a practicing Muslim? How has this changed my life? What have I sacrificed? What have I lost and what have I gained?

This month, instead of writing about how 2014 is going to be the best Ramadan ever, or that Ramadan is a wonderful opportunity to become more righteous and pious, I’m going to contemplate and write about how I came to love God.