“…it’s back into the fold of a majority-Muslim society that I find myself having to affirm what it means when I define myself as a practicing Muslim.”

I’ve been thinking quite extensively about religion lately, because adulthood pelts me with increasingly difficult questions; more than once last week alone, I’ve had to take short, solo walks midday to clear my head and steady my conscience.

I’ll elaborate on just one thought: I find it ironic that though I was often the solo (closeted) Muslim in a majority non-Muslim circle and society for the last six years where my formative mental maturity took place… it’s back into the fold of a majority-Muslim society that I find myself having to affirm what it means when I define myself as a practicing Muslim.

For the first time, I realized what a straightforward, strait-laced  life I have always lived – extremely goody-goody, you could even say. Throughout my six years Stateside, I can say with confidence and certainty that I never consumed a drop of alcohol – not willingly and consciously – because neither the word ‘experimental‘ nor ‘temptation’ ever crossed my mind. Of course there were  times when I was offered; sometimes friends even joked, “Hey, God isn’t watching” or “No one here’s gonna judge you.” In fact, had I drank and not have dietary restrictions – it probably would’ve been easier to socially fit in – but… the thought to do otherwise simply never… crossed my mind. In my mind, major ground rules related to the religion were… obvious. Black-and-white. I never saw the need to live up to the adage “You’re only young once!”

Then I return home and enter the working world here and only now realized that all along, my true test lies here.

It is stupefying, maybe, but this is the truth – I have only heard, never befriended, those who would drink alcohol, do drugs and whatever else …and still go to the mosque for morning prayers at dawn. I usually have friends on extremes – God-conscious Muslims or absolutely-non-practicing Muslims. In fact, to be honest all this while I’ve always believed that Muslims who choose to live righteously and base their lives on the tenets of the religion would never compromise their relationship with God. It’s more about trying to do all good possible because we’re well aware we’re always falling short.

I can’t believe I’ve been so… innocent… naive… in my thoughts and with my life, all this while.

And then I remember my close non-Muslims friends and… again, ah what an innocent, strait-laced life that I’ve lived all along. Even with friends who aren’t Muslim, the ones I end up loving are all extremely respectful and understanding – not once making a big deal when I call for timeout to pray; checking if a restaurant would be able to cater to my dietary restrictions… that’s how they are with me, the tens of them. The other day, one of my friend even went to our other friend – in response to my one-off statement about going to pray together with this course mate of ours – “Ah, I wish I could also say I’ve a friend I went to pray with-“ That level of acceptance; ah damn, indescribably heartwarming.

I honestly, sincerely, have always appreciated this from them, especially because I understand and am well-aware that some people – despite their best intentions – just don’t ‘get it’. They either feel uncomfortable at mere idea of religion or simply can’t comprehend this devotion. Still, they meet me halfway. These closest friends who happen to be non-Muslims – my goodness, they’ve really been nothing but respectful, loving and accepting. Not once have they offered me a drop of alcohol, for instance, or made fun of me for being seriously practicing. There were questions, lots of them – normal – and though they may not get it, they understood enough that it means a lot to me and especially, how my life is thus shaped by my belief.

“I have extremely kind closest friends,” I finally said to Eldest Sis, somewhat stupidly, as I pointed out the obvious.

When I took those walks and at one point, even spent an afternoon calming myself down from my first bitter taste of (one Muslim to another) disappointment, I… struggled. To reconcile and come-to-terms with the simple truth that there are lots of good people in this world – kind in their own ways – who would still choose other things and people over God. It’s not that I’m such a perfect, good Muslim to begin with that I’m thus entitled to judge others; not at all. I guess I’d just extremely naively thought that those (I know) who perform the five daily prayers are God-conscious in the same way that I am.

 Apparently not. And maybe this just means that light enters their heart in a different way, and at a different time.

“This is what I mean,” Eldest Sis replied, a week ago, “When I kept reminding you to know yourself. Because when your grounding is firm – those around you will know to respect that part of you. They’ll learn to accept. But in order for this to happen – you’ve got to know yourself first. You’ve got to know to stand your ground before others can do that for you.”

Even via the most innocent, obvious realizations… adulthood continues to take me by surprise.

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