“But you don’t wear the hijab, that’s pretty damn liberal to me.”
I stayed mum, neither agreeing nor disagreeing aloud. In truth, in my mind I let out a scream. “No, you have it all wrong,” I wanted to respond aloud, “You have it backwards. The fact that I’m not wearing one is proof that I’m nowhere near liberated; suppressed by society’s judgmental eyes and perceptions. Those women who wear them bravely and pridefully, a nod to the religion, walking freely with them? They’re the ones who are truly liberated when it comes to this.”
A year and a half ago, I’d nod agreeably. Which is why my immediate internal response surprised me so much, because before this that sort of response would never have crossed my mind. I think I have always been a seeker and having grown up as a religiously practicing Muslim with lots of religious emphasis in the family home, I’ve always been conscious of the role of religion in my life. The difference between the past and present is that I don’t think I’ve wondered as seriously, deeply and sincerely as I have in the past year.
I hate to preach, what more sound patronizing or anything of that sort – it’s the last thing I want to be, especially here – and religion is a murky subject to tread upon. It’s something I’m not very comfortable myself to openly discuss and I’m equally aware that not everyone is comfortable to sit through or listen where it’s concerned. The above blurb however and truthfully, has stayed with me for the past month because it surprised me – I never would’ve guessed I would’ve responded that way.
I don’t know what the trigger was, but I suspect it was the long conversation I had with Eldest Sis ergo the former personal mentor last summer; she’d unexpectedly brought up the topic of religion to me, bringing up questions with no easy answers. Have I not thought deeper about it? Have I not thought more seriously about my life’s direction as a Muslim woman? As much as I strive to progress in life, do I not consider the progression I must similarly undertake when it comes to faith and belief? She laid these questions directly, no frills or sugar-coating, but not unkindly. There was no hint of judgment nor disappointment in her voice; she had simply and clearly wondered for a long while and wanted to clarify if I had given serious thoughts about them myself.
“You are now twenty-one,” I recall her saying this then, “You are now old enough to make decisions for yourself. However you choose to live your life is up to you. I understand that. I just hope that as much as you seek for the world’s treasures, you remember where true happiness lies and not forget that.”
It struck me by surprise because that was exactly it – I hadn’t thought about them. None at all.
It’s funny how much has changed in a year and a half. I don’t think I am anywhere near where she or I wish to be, but I’m grateful I’m no longer stagnant. I’m not always good at this because as we’re all aware from this space, my relapses are plentiful. I am deeply flawed, only human; I forget during good times and shamefully return during the bad periods. I speak and discuss religion with close friends often but in truth sometimes I am aware that I am the biggest phony of us all; I talk, talk and talk but don’t necessarily walk the walk.
If you think you’re ‘good enough’ – that’s the most dangerous trap to fall into. That’s when your ego inflates, eyesight blurry and ears turn deaf. That’s when you fall victim to pride, arrogance and self-satisfaction. That’s when you forget, and fall straight into being stagnant. I was once there and have been time and again; it’s not a place you want to find yourself at.
These days I think of many things which make my head spin. I ask big questions in my mind, but could barely reach or conjure the answers. If I think too far backwards, shame washes over me. If I think too far ahead, fear whips me cold. When I attempt to be more philosophical or I’m struck by an unnamed melancholy, I always arrive at the same answer – I am a measly ant in an encompassing universe, too large for my palms to grasp and too wide the abyss to reach. My very existence is akin to a barely noticeable drop of water amidst the vast magnificence of the bluest ocean water. The insignificance humbles me to my bones.
But sometimes I forget, and that has consequences; it requires me to take the long way back or muddle through waist-deep muddied waters. There are moments when I lose my way, and many more when I lose myself. Big, small – the challenges don’t stop.
These days when I think of religion and place myself as part of the equation, fear overtakes me. Insecurities haunt me down to the confines of my naked soul, yet it is useless to run away. Wherever I run, my greatest fear catches up to me. I am weak, and only human.
2013 was an… interesting year. Rather adventurous and out of the norm, I dare say. While I don’t think unkindly of it, I admit I don’t immediately look back at it fondly. Its been a mixed bag, but the last three months? They felt like pure hell. What’s scarier is I think it’s only the beginning of a long and arduous journey, internally and realistically. If I don’t have solid anchors, I’ll be washed away each time the waves come rolling in.
On the third day at Las Vegas, Housemate #1 and I decided to sign up for a hiking tour at Red Rock Canyon. We were fortunate to come across a fantastic hiking instructor and tour guide who took us off-track and most importantly, prompted us to look back time and again. “Look behind you and take in the view,” Tom would say, “Breathtaking, isn’t it?” The first time I did so, I was literally gobsmacked. I love hiking but frankly, I’m not exactly what you would call physically fit so I’d huffed and puffed my way up; I was out of breath half the time. Then he stopped in his tracks, prompting us to do so and said the above for the first time. So I did and he was absolutely right. It took my breath away and left me speechless.
That’s when it hit me – and apparently Housemate #1 shared the same profound thought – that just like life, sometimes we’re too hung up on what lies ahead. How much, how far and how hard we need to keep going that we forget to look back and realize how far we’ve actually come. We forget to look back and enjoy the view. We forget to look back, take in the view and pat ourselves in the back for our hard work, dogged spirit to keep going even in the darkest hours. While we remember that life’s a sum of the big and small things, funnily we forget so easily how far we have tread to reach where we are in our respective present-day.
Nature holds many secrets; we must be patient and open to them. At the top, I was surprised at the sight of lush vegetation. The soft, red-colored sand kept these strong-willed plants proudly upright. Even in the most vicious weather conditions, life exists. God is magnificent.
On the way back, we managed to catch the last sliver of sunset. The sky turned a purple hue for a second and Housemate #1 hushed me, stopping me from my babble. “Bask in the moment,” was all that she said.
And here we are now, 30 minutes to ending a long, challenging and colorful year. Don’t look back in anger, sadness or worse – regret. I’m taking a moment to pat my own back for having hiked up to the peak of 2013. Stop for a second, savor the view and express gratitude. It’s breathtaking up here, isn’t it? Here’s to progress, in all aspects – religion, perception, inner growth and… life.
Thank you, 2013. I hope 2014 is twice the spirit you were, and more. God bless.