Struggling towards the light: a backwards glance

February 27, 2010 at 12:45 pm (is religion good or bad for you?, Islam, personal, reflections on my journey)

I always find it interesting to look back over my shoulder every now and then. If we don’t understand or remember how we got to where we are, how can we learn anything?

A few years back I was not really very happy. I hadn’t yet come to terms with the fact that me and work are never going to get along like a house on fire and I am never going to afford a good standard of living (relative to my society’s norms). I felt like a victim and I thought faith was the answer.

I had crashed out of my religious idealism some years before with angry disappointment, and felt unable to surrender to God. The guilt kept me frozen in all this negativity, unable to progress.

It seems I still viewed faith and surrender as a state I needed to get back to. I saw that as still being the ideal. Similarly I saw a career and material success as something that I needed. I was far away from both, but I couldn’t really question either of them. Pressure!

Where did Islam come in? I do remember as early as 2005 I was defending Islam on message boards. So clearly I had warmed up to it a lot even then. It was only a flirtation though – I wasn’t really prepared to let myself question my prior beliefs just yet.

I think it was through blogs that I started to learn more about Islam, and I must have been a lot closer to it by 2008. I went to the mosque exhibition, and a photo of a young woman bundled up in a white garment praying with her husband really touched me. It seemed to portray the wholesome, positive, spiritual life I wanted. I tried fasting Ramadan that year and made it through not even one day, and to make matters worse, watched “Dispatches: Undercover Mosque” that evening and was so horrified I didn’t want to fast any more. I continued learning through blogs, though, and we went to my husband’s home country over Christmas-New Year, during which I was more bothered by seeing certain aspects of Islam than I had ever been before. I guess that shows that I was wanting to convert but finding it hard to deal with certain things.

By a year ago, I had already learnt enough to be very discouraged. I had forgotten that. It’s funny to realise how my journey into Islam was more like going round in circles. Obviously I wasn’t going to let it go without investigating it more fully, and that last lap round the track was done through this blog over 2009.

So what was it that was drawing me in? I guess it was just that I saw faith as a state I needed to get back to. More particularly, the rules in Islam attracted me because I was a wounded soul looking for a system that would protect me. It seemed it would give me the dignity I had not had before when self-sacrifice was my ideal. Also, the cleaner theology appealed to me.

I started this blog with the intention of making a concerted effort to sort out my spiritual life and work out the truth as best I could. The beauty of it is, I have worked through a lot of the stuff I was stuck on for years. I have come to terms with my loss of certainty. I have stopped burying my head in the sand and started being honest with myself. I have opened the curtain and let the light of day shine into my life, banishing all those fears that thrive in darkness. For that alone, this process has been immensely worthwhile.

And so if you ever wonder why I am intent on questioning religion to the point that I risk destroying it, know this: religion has wreaked a lot of havoc in my life. I am much better off where I am today. The truth really has set me free. In the past, when I wrote questioning posts, I got comments that said things like “I hope you find what you need in your life”. The irony is that questioning and doubting were exactly what I needed. Some people may still look at me as needing enlightenment… and I may look right back at them the same way.

Faith did not cure my victim mentality in the end; time did. Humans are naturally resilient and if you are prepared to ask searching questions, a lot of ills do sort themselves out.

The need for faith as well as the need for material success – the two things I thought I needed before I started out on this journey – are now up for question. Am I doing myself a disservice by thinking that I need to believe in God, or that the world is good, or that there is a purpose to life? Am I just clinging to faith like a mother’s apron-strings? What am I still looking for?

I think my searching and reading is now motivated purely by interest. I certainly haven’t arrived at any particular belief, so there is plenty I could think about. I am startled, though, by how frantic it is. I want to learn more and more, I want to read the holy books of all religions, I want to immerse myself in their wisdom… it’s like the whole world has opened up and I can’t wait to see all of it!

I think, as well, that a year of intense learning and trying to come to a belief has formed a habit. I think I will try to ease off the pace a little bit. 😉

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16 Comments

  1. Jasmine said,

    I really understand. I got very religious after a particularly distressing event in my life, and thought that in Islam and the Islamic world nothing would hurt me. That all the things that hurt me would no longer be an issue – because in religious life, its not allowed that you are bad to one another, that you lie, and cheat and hit and whip.

    Since entering the religious community as a religious (about 2.5 years ago) I have been systematically abused by Muslims, taken advantage of my muslims, been harrassed my Muslims, discriminated against by Muslims, ripped off my Muslims, let down my Muslims and I have watched Muslim men abuse, torture, beat and cheat on their women. I have seen bad of an almost unbelievable level – bad I do not find in non-believers. I have taught at a Muslim school in Britain where the children get treated worse then they do in 3rd world countries with no standards and I have worked at my local mosque where the owner of it is a corrupt, money hungry man who seeks riches and domination and gives incredibly bad advice to people. I know now why Islam is often called the religon of ignorance – because it is blind to itself, busy making everyone else the enemy and not seeing the rotten within, and not taking responsiblity for anything – blame either the west or other people or even GOd;’s will as being responsible for problems – never the self.

    And I know that every race and relgion has it’s good and bad – but only a blind man could not see that the problems of the Islamic community far outweigh the problems of the whole rest of the worlds religions combined.

    The conclusion I have come to is that faith is a good thing to have as it protects you from very bad things like hopelessness, lonliness and other internal negative thoughts and feelings. It gives you courage and power to do things – and I must say, I hear in myself a sound of faith that pushes me forwards in harsh situations and comforts me in bleak situations. But the biggest and strongest thing that has affected me is that I no longer trust religious people, and I have to tell myself that no everyone is the same and it’s bad to think this way. Nevertheless, if I see an outwardly religious person, or talk to them – I sincerely believe bad things about this person – and am suspicious that they are some evil person in disguise – because all of the evils I witnessed were dressed in the best pious dress you can imagine or believe. Since the last two year I have collected a vicious distrust of men in England who wear beards, skulkl caps and gowns, a strong distrust of women who cover the face and a massive dislike of anyone who recommends prayer as a solution to problems. I hate discrimination against other cultures – and I have experienced that the more religious a person is the more likely they are to be discrimnatory. My mother gets advised by the Islamic community to cover her hair, stay silent, and pray as a solution to her marriage issues – stuff like that makes me explode.

    I have gone on for too long now – but I have had a real wake up call, especially in Thailand – see how the people are, their culture, their ways and seeing goodness shine from man, woman and child, respect, kindness, generosity and all of those things and it just highlights the lustful, woman-hating, discriminatory nature ofthe Islamic community that I have returned to.

    Yes, some people say it can be changed. ANd that’s great you know\? That the Islamic world can change. But to me it seems like a waste of time when even in a 3rd world place such as Cambodia – the culture is kinder to it’s people, its family unit its women etc.

    I would say life is rather bad without that power that you dont know where it comes from or how it drives you – but still it comes and lifts you, gives you vision and guides you and everything works out. That power can be faith, or confidence, or belief or will – or anything – and anything that gives it to you is good and anything that takes it from you is bad and thats the way that I see it.

    • Wrestling said,

      Jasmine – thanks for your heartfelt comment. I can relate to a lot! It’s probably the case that a lot of people turn to religion hoping it will protect them from getting hurt. But as we know there is no guarantee with anything. I remember one of your posts from quite a while ago where you said that girls and women need to be taught to defend themselves, not be locked up. I think that is it – we need wisdom and knowledge in how to deal with issues in life… not a place to run away from the issues.

      “But the biggest and strongest thing that has affected me is that I no longer trust religious people, and I have to tell myself that no everyone is the same and it’s bad to think this way.”
      I know what you mean! It’s hard not to generalise and it’s hard to be politically correct all the time when you know fine well that discrimination and prejudice does go hand in hand with a particular type of religiosity.

      “I would say life is rather bad without that power that you dont know where it comes from or how it drives you – but still it comes and lifts you, gives you vision and guides you and everything works out.”
      I agree, I still can’t imagine not believing in some sort of higher power and I doubt I will ever let go of that. But taking on a creed and trusting it without question – no – not for me!

  2. LK said,

    Its amazing right? To look back at what you believed and what you believe now. How you got there, what you did. I wish I would have kept a diary through college to catalogue what I did. But even looking back at this blog and the diary I started when studying Islam its amazing to see what I thought and what I think now.

    Your journey is your solution. That is wonderful! I think that in the end a lot of us that search will never stop searching. Even if one changes one’s religion. Because life is an endless search for God. We are never going to completely find him but we need to keep trying.

    Wish you the best on your continuing journey.

    • Wrestling said,

      LK – It is fascinating to look back and see how things have changed!

      “I think that in the end a lot of us that search will never stop searching. Even if one changes one’s religion. Because life is an endless search for God. We are never going to completely find him but we need to keep trying.”

      Really nicely stated. I think that’s what it’s all about. 🙂

  3. susanne430 said,

    Enjoyed this so much. I’m glad the questioning and searching was the answer you needed. Great post!

  4. Hala said,

    I hope that doesn’t mean that your job here is done, because I just started here… the best thing is how questioning and raising meaningful debates about confusing issues can give a person a clarity of the sort, a confidence to base her new decisions not through passive learning but through critical thinking and total honesty…

    Interest is a good neutral and unbiased motivator for knowledge, I’ll say that it’s much better than blind faith, I wish you a clear destination at the end…

    • Wrestling said,

      Hala – no, I’m not done! But as you say, I have thankfully reached clarity and confidence about where I am now, through questioning.

  5. sanil said,

    I’m glad you posted this, it’s interesting getting to learn more about you, and since I’ve only recently started following you I get to see a summary of what I missed! 🙂

    I definitely think doubt and questioning are at least as important as faith. A lot of my atheist/agnostic friends have put much more time and effort into thinking about God, their own beliefs, the world and humanity, and how they should be living than a lot of people I know who place a lot of emphasis on faith. Belief in God works for some people, for others it doesn’t. I believe in God, but I believe that God appreciates doubt and even directly walking away from religion as much as belief and worship. I’m starting to view humanity as a circle…we all start at different points on that circle, and if we are all trying to get to the center of it, maybe the purpose of life, it wouldn’t make sense to try to follow the same path as someone on another point in the circle. It’s more efficient to follow our own unique path and head straight for the goal we can see. I’m glad you’re finding yours. Congratulations on all the progress you’ve made.

    • Wrestling said,

      Sanil – thank you for this beautiful comment. The bit about being on a circle and using different paths to get to the centre is a good analogy! I too think that God must be cheering when some people walk away from certain religious ideas.

  6. Achelois said,

    Having just read your archive, I know what you mean in this post. Congratulations and I will confess that your conclusions have made me very happy. I have seen lovely people turn sourly bad when they chose one religion as a complete way of life.

    Great post!

  7. Achelois said,

    I wanted to tell you that unlike you I had always been wary of change. I think subconsciously I believed that I was always mature and always made perfect decisions that never required change or modification. I discussed ideas but always to put forth my opinions which I thought were always well thought-out and never to help me reconsider my ideologies. But slowly by reading your blog I am now not afraid of change. In fact I embrace change. I believe change is healthy.

    Just today someone asked what if a religion convinced me tomorrow that it is directly sent by God; would I convert to that religion? I surprised even myself with a yes!

    Thanks for teaching me to accept change.

    • Wrestling said,

      I don’t see you as wary of change – you did change, majorly!
      I don’t think it’s ever a matter of finding the courage to embrace change – I think it’s just a matter of all the pieces falling into place to make the change right and natural.
      I never thought I would become interested in something like UU, but guess what? I happened to walk past a UU church yesterday and I love what it seemed to be about and I think I will try to go next week and see!

      Re the question you were asked today – I would say yes too 😉

      • Achelois said,

        I held certain notions despite being born into a religious culture that is quick to reject and oppose those notions. For example, I grew up hearing that homosexuality is a punishable sin. But I felt it was something between two people that didn’t harm the society at large. Therefore, I believed and still believe that it is not the society’s right to punish them. Or that I was taught by my religious culture (not my parents) that apostates should be killed. Of course I don’t agree with that.

        It was a blessing from God that when I began searching which religious community my personal ideologies regarding peace, love and tolerance closely matched that I was shown the path of Unitarian Universalism. It allows me to hold and cherish my opinions which may be Islamic and may not be Islamic in some cases, but I was never told at my church that I could only be a UU and not Muslim. At the same time I was never told I couldn’t have Jesus as my personal guide. I can believe that he died at the cross without anyone judging me.

        In that way I think I never changed. I just stopped defending my beliefs with support that I didn’t believed in. I was going through my archive of my former blog and I was never a traditional believer anyway. I was against jihad and terrorism, against condemnation of gays and apostates, against the idea of Islamic Feminism; I held non-traditional ideas about hijab and marriage. I didn’t accept superiority of men over women. And I still hold those opinions. What I do differently is that I don’t bring in Quran and hadith to try and support my opinions. And I believe that is because as a UU I have learned that I don’t need to do that.

        • Wrestling said,

          You know what, that’s an interesting way of looking at it. Looking at it like that, I guess I haven’t really changed either. As I said in the post, I went round in circles with religion. I think what it was really about was coming to terms with what I really am. There has always been this tension in me between wanting to think and wanting to have certainty; wanting to go it alone and wanting to belong. I just had to find out what is really important to me. I guess when I made thinking for myself the priority, I sealed my fate, but it took me a while to figure that out. I wanted to have it both ways. 🙂

          Getting to like something like UU – something that doesn’t tell me what to believe – was probably inevitable, looking back. During most of 2009 I thought it was inevitable that I would convert to Islam, though! Life can only be understood backwards 🙂

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