Listen, I was born and raised a Muslim.
My mother is one of the most devout Sunni Muslims you’ll meet. She’s also kind of a Luddite, unknowingly racist and has a great disdain for the United States. All Americans are liars and violent warmakers in her eyes. And yes, she hates Israel. I have to tell you this so you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
Growing up, we were told all kinds of things about God, heaven and hell, and sins and doing good deeds. My mother teaches Qur’an recitation (the kind with proper tajweed). She’s supremely strict about it because she believes that if you don’t recite the Qur’an with proper tajweed, you’re effectively sinning. I remember, as a kid, long hours spent with the Qur’an in front of me, my mother in her prayer outfit, making me recite the same verse over and over again because she wasn’t satisfied with how I was reading it.
I remember reading through tear-filled eyes and digging my nails into my thighs or punching them because I was so frustrated. With her and her controlling and condescending way of teaching. I wasn’t the only one to suffer through it of course. I have an elder sister and an elder brother. All of us had to go through it. My father, as far as I can remember, never read the Qur’an for the sake of reading, although he did his prayers five times a day. He preferred to be out of the room when my mother taught us. My sister screamed and cried too, My brother would shout and slam his door, back when he had a door, before that period of time he didn’t have a door but that’s another story. But we got through those times; all of us has completed reciting the entire Qur’an and to this day, tajweed comes almost second nature to us. I suppose I should be thankful for that.
“Syurga di bawah tapak kaki ibu” <- Heaven is at your mother’s feet. That, and that hadith where the prophet (pbuh) said to respect your mother three times before he said ‘your father’, as the most often heard hadiths in my house. And this verse in the Qur’an which told us how you shouldn’t even raise your voice to your parents. My mother used them like shields, whenever we rose up against her. She is a controlling woman, and everything has to be her way or else. And if we disobeyed her, or pointed out that she was wrong, she would quote those at us, saying we should listen to her even if she was wrong because she’s our mother. It didn’t make for a very healthy parent-child relationship. Before long, it was us against her.
This wasn’t meant to be a post about my mother. Sigh. It’s supposed to be about my faith.
So, being told you’re a Muslim, and being taught about Islam, and being brought up the Islamic way, including 12 whole years of religious school, takes a toll on you. There were some aspects of it I liked, I guess. I liked that our uniforms were all identical sacks and hid our body shapes so no one felt uncomfortable about their bodies growing up. I liked that I didn’t have to care about my hair. I liked that boys stayed away from us. I liked the stories teachers told us about the history of Islam and about their own lives (I love my school, ok? Whatever propaganda they fed us, they did well in raising us). I liked that I was going to heaven no matter what, cos I’m a Muslim.
I didn’t like that girls were put behind boys. I didn’t like having to be led by boys all the time. I didn’t like being told that we were too noisy to be proper ladies. I didn’t like that people stared at me when I board a bus or train in my uniform, especially when I’m alone and no one else like me is near. I didn’t like the way people talked to me like I’m an idiot because of what they my school was like. I didn’t like that Muslims were being called terrorists elsewhere in the world.
But that was when I was still an obedient little Muslim. Well, for appearances I suppose I was.
I was told, repeatedly since I was young, that to miss a prayer would land me thousands of years in hell and thousands of awful punishments. That if I showed even ONE strand of hair, that would mean a thousand years in hell. I was a good Muslim student. I was a high-ranking prefect, and I remained one until I graduated in 2005. The teachers knew me as one of the smart ones from that smart class. I actually wore long pants under my jubah, like the rules said I should, in case, I was going up the stairs, and someone might see my legs. I wore wristbands, so that I won’t show my wrists because the cuffs of the uniforms were a little loose. But for all my appearance, I was never really devout.
I tried, for a while. Sometimes I would feel connected to the religion, and this happened maybe two or three times, mostly when I read the Qur’an by myself. I subscribe to most of the beliefs, but I don’t hold all of them, really. As I went through junior college, where I had to don a different uniform (a short-sleeved blouse and a skirt that ended above the knee) I started to let go of some Muslim habits I was raised with.
I would hang out with guys, cos I found them just as easy to talk to as girls, especially the Chinese ones. I would be incredibly open-minded when people asked me about certain issues, because, even as I called myself a Muslim, the rest of the world didn’t, so it didn’t bother me what they did. I started seeing, really seeing, how Muslim women were being treated all over the world and there was such a disconnect between what Islam taught, and what people actually practiced.
I started questioning things. I started to defy some rules, and when there were no consequences, I kept on doing it. Now I don’t cover up and I don’t pray, except in the mosque sometimes but I fast, and no lightning has struck me yet. I still call myself a Muslim, but I don’t really feel like one. I am… so many things. I don’t think I fit this Muslim mould anymore. I still put on a show, more for my mother’s sake and for my ex-teachers’ sake than my own. But I don’t know anymore, you know? Whether I have an ounce of faith left anymore.
Some habits are still hard to break. I can read Arabic still, and I can read the Qur’an, if you need me to. I still remember, if I try really hard, the first few verses of Surah Yasin, and how to pray, and some common doa’s… When I went for the smaller pilgrimage two years ago, I went around the Kaa’bah seven times and prayed for two things: that my niece (who hadn’t been born yet at the time) would be healthy and intelligent, and that I would get my transfer. Both things did come true, though my transfer happened later than I thought. That still doesn’t convince me though.
I don’t know, maybe it’s cos I have so much skepticism over a lot things, and I think I do believe there’s a God, but I can’t begin to know how to prove it if an atheist asks me to, and I don’t think I want to. It’s a complicated feeling. Maybe I’m just one of those people who, well, if God turns out to not exist, then ok, but if He does, I’m gonna be covered by a religion. Like covering my bases. I wish I could have unwavering faith, I really do. But there’s so much doubt in the world, and so much in my heart. I know I can’t change who I am.
And I get so… indignant and defensive when people try to preach at me. ESPECIALLY Muslim brothers. I can’t stand them. I can’t stand it. And people will say, that’s cos syaitan is whispering in your ear, or that’s cos your heart is hard now because of all your sinning, and who wants to hear that? It all sounds patronizing to me. I have so many good reasons to turn away from religion completely, and the number one reason would I am largely a rational, open-minded person. And religion doesn’t allow you to question things so much, because if you do, your head will hurt because of all the inconsistencies. And Islam condemns so much; people and things that I don’t see a reason why we should condemn. And it’s so sexist. I guess that’s my main problem with it.
So… this long post has been a rant about how I may say I’m a Muslim, and occasionally act like one, but that’s largely because of my upbringing and the social expectations I have from my family and friends. If I was honest, I would say right now I’m unsure. And I may be unsure for a long time. And I don’t tell a lot of people this, because I have all sorts of friends, and they’ll all try to sway me to one side or the other, and I just want to figure this out myself. Yeah.