Filling in the Gaps

First of all I would like to wish a very sincere if not belated Ramadan Mubarak to all of my Muslim readers.

When I left Islam, one of the most startling aspects of my new life sans religion was the appearance of what might only be termed an identity crisis. I found myself stripped of my religious identity, away from a community that surrounded me for a great part of my adult life. Gone were all of the rules about how to run my affairs, how to eat, how to behave and communicate, how to dress. I was left with only myself and the intimidating task of creating a new persona; or rather–and maybe more difficult–a persona that is organic and authentic, a true reflection of my Self. I pulled from that young woman I knew long ago and have often found myself giddy in re-discovering an aspect of myself that was buried away by a self-imposed, religiously driven cloister.  I’ve gained an indestructible amount of strength from the knowledge of my struggles and achievements. I have also been humbled by a constant contemplation of my past follies, indiscretions and submission to a completely incompatible belief system and equally incompatible life partner. The questions of “why” still lurk.  And the answers still disappoint me.

For the most part the identity crisis has passed, but what of the spiritual gaps?  The coming of Ramadan this year was a tad bittersweet. For  the first time in eight years I am not observing this month, but I have allowed the memories of  it resurface.

When I remember Ramadan, I think about the early morning eggs and labne followed by the fajr prayer. Still half asleep, I remember placing my forehead on the soft rug whose mosaic designs glow in the dim lamplight. When I think of Ramadan, I think of darkened windows obscuring the rest of the sleeping world and the solemnity of the soul, earnestly striving to commune with the Divine. I think of the sweetness of the date and the cool contentment in a sip of water. How delicious is a simple cup of coffee  or a small bowel of lentils?

There is something pure and meaningful in this ritual of fasting and prayer. When I think of it, I remember in fractured glimpses the beauty that I once saw in Islam and I feel like I just might be able to forgive all of its inadequacies.  The thing is, I didn’t’ see God in any of it.  I remember desperately wishing I could feel something greater while in salat or reading from the Quran, something that would knock me over and proclaim its superior Beauty, its Ultimate Love. I never found that. Can one continue to practice a religion thoroughly out of love for its ritual, its tenets, but without any belief in its beginnings, its foundation, it’s no uncertain claim to the Divine Will? I believe so. I just couldn’t.

So I’ve begun filling the gaps.  My recent contemplations  of this life and God and Beauty and Nature have been the most cathartic of my life. Even though my conclusions bring no answers,  because I don’t believe we can know the answers; I’m not even sure there are  any answers. To some this may seem hollow, or meaningless, but I assure you the very existence of the questions give me the meaning I need and crave. My mind and thoughts have been freed from the confines of religion and yet I’ve taken fragments and added to my experience, my knowledge.

And I like that I still have gaps.  I carefully tend to some while allowing others to open. It’s part of being whole again, if still imperfect.

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33 Comments

Filed under apostasy, ex muslim, ex muslim blogs, Islam, religion

33 responses to “Filling in the Gaps

  1. This post left me in tears. I can’t put into words what you do. You are much more articulate than I could ever hope to be. While your words are my very thoughts, I have not been able to put pen to paper to write exactly what I am feeling.

    The past month have seen me become vey bitter. Bitter toward the whole world. I no longer know who I am. I am having an identity crisis of my own and I feel so bloody confused. I don’t know what to believe anymore. And it makes me so angry that I feel such a need to believe. Why not just be?

    And all of this while my head remains covered and I continue to pretend. I pretend for my mum and dad and for my husband and for my kids. I pretend for them and it is slowly killing me. I feel as if I am suffocating. I no longer know what kind of person I am.

    I know what kind of person I used to be, and I miss her. I miss my hair, I miss feeling the sun against my skin. I miss actually having friends and spending time with them. I miss wearing earrings. I miss laughing loudly. I miss telling dirty jokes. All the things that my husband ‘forbids’, I miss. Can I spend the rest of my days covered, quiet, sans friends, watching arabic channels? Going to mosque every. single. night ? Is that how I was meant to spend my life?

    Who am I? How did I end up here? Where to from here?

    When I read the words ‘incompatible life partner’, I felt my heart skip a beat. I was brought up to believe that there was no such thing as incompatible (or compatible for that matter). People grew to love one another and as long as there is respect, you need nothing more. And I think that this is my major flaw, wanting to believe that things are in fact ok. That he is a good man that other women would have no problem being with. Why did I want compatibility? That was a load of rubbish, right?

    Or is it? After 11 yrs and children and a whole life, do I have the right to claim incompatibility? Was I not present in the past years?

    Anyway! Didn’t meant to take over your wall!!!

    • Charlene

      I wish I could give you a hug and make it all ok. All I can offer is a bit of my own experience and some words that spoke to me when I was unsure. First, “feelings are facts; pay attention to them” (from Dr. Christiane Northrup). You don’t have to drown in them, but they are an indication of your personal reality, and they can guide you to where you need to be, if you pay attention. Secondly, while I don’t know if you have been present in your life or not, I do know it is at least possible to be not present for years of your life. There are entire decades of my life that I was not “present” for. I was only pretending to be what I thought I had to be to survive.

      • I’m absolutely sure I wasn’t present for many years. I would not of thought to describe the experience in such a way–perhaps I would have evoked the cliche “dead inside” or something similar. But “not being present” describes it perfectly. Thank you for giving me a new way to think about it.

        • Charlene

          I often find myself thinking that I was “dead” for most of my childhood…so I know what you mean. Those were some long, long years.

    • This comment really tugged at my heart. I am so sorry for your struggles. 😦

    • @ Blood– You are welcome to take over my comments section anytime dear. Your identity crisis sounds exactly like mine and my own loss of faith. I think you definitely have the added burden of being raised Muslim by Muslim parents. You have a lot to lose, as I’m sure you know. You’ll find the strength to someday be the sole custodian of your own actions. Along with that you’ll find peace. Much love, and if you ever need to talk more, please always feel free to msg me.

    • I’m glad to have come across this blog. this article is beautifully worded. For a few years I’ve been trying to understand what i was going through. The doubts tormented me in the beginning, especially that I was very enthusiastic about Islam prior to that, giving halaqas, going to Muslim events/conferences, dressing up in abaya and all.

      Coming to the west from a conservative Muslim country where I’ve lived for over 2 decades, the Islamic culture defined me, the Islamic clothes defined who i was and i couldn’t imagine myself being anything else. I still dress the same way, and i find it ironic that i appear like something that i’m not. at times I think i’m fooling people with my appearance, sometimes i think if that’s a form of hypocrisy or lying, sometimes i think maybe it’s my way of saying that everything is ok, everything is still the same.

      I’ve made a lot of good Muslim friends here, mostly converts who still see beauty in the religion, I love their innocence, i love how they talk about how it changed their lives, i love their support in the time of need, and it torments me not to be part of that anymore. now i think of it more of a cultural group, i am part of that culture even if i have doubts about the belief system. i don’t put any effort in concealing my thoughts anymore though, i tell them sincerely, and they still accept me, because i look the same and i practice the same, though i no longer believe the same.

      I also feel a sense of comfort in practicing, sometimes i question if i’m pretending, sometimes i wonder if it’s just a phase that i’ll eventually get over and things will be back the same, and i will believe with strength as i once did.

      I did manage to make friends with people from Muslim backgrounds who had the courage to leave, and some who remained practicing yet agnostic, and i find comfort that i’m not alone,

      I especially appreciate it when i meet ex-Muslims who are not anti-religion, who acknowledge the good and bad in it.. which is one thing i appreciated about your article. Thank you, and sorry for the long comment. hope you’re well.

  2. Stephanie, this is really a beautiful post. I could visualize so much..and it was touching.

    I love the last paragraph especially.

  3. I can relate to a lot here, although I didn’t practise Islam for very long. I was drawn in love towards Islam and maybe aspects of it will always pull me in, despite discovering joy in lots of new (or old) things that I wouldn’t have been able to do with Islam in my life, and despite the pain it caused me trying to accept all the troublesome parts of Islam – and yes, how refreshing it has been to admit uncertainties and unknowns. 🙂

  4. almostclever

    This blog is so so important I believe. People need to hear this, what a relief for Blood to have found you, I bet.. Powerful stuff.

  5. It’s good to see you back. New beginnings can be strange and beautiful at the same time. Wishing you and your littles the best. Thank you the ramadan wishes 🙂

  6. petals

    Stephanie, another time you have described exactly what I am feeling too… the ramadan can be a very sad and melancholic period for ex-muslims like you and also I am. Part of you is regaining your strenght but part of you is mourning for the spirituality you have lost. But it was fake security.
    Especially this sentence: ‘Can one continue to practice a religion thoroughly out of love for its ritual, its tenets, but without any belief in its beginnings, its foundation, it’s no uncertain claim to the Divine Will? I believe so. I just couldn’t.’ I feel exactly the same.

    Blood, I wish for you all the best in the world! I recognize so well how you must feel right now. It is like just living but not entirely being present. It is now one year after my deconversion, I was totally but totally lost, I entirely lost myself! Islam is more suffocating than anyone can imagine. But now I am getting there slowly. I so much enjoy the simple things again, it is like being reborn into the world and like finally using my senses again which had been totally numb. Dead. Only repeating the same phrases time and time again and each time I tried to find one bit of spirituality still, it was scared away by the orthodox with sound evidence from Quran that it was all bidah and leading to hell. Big hug for you, be strong, and the time will come that you regain your strength. Believe me!

  7. Thank you everyone for your kind, kind words. They mean more than you can know.

    I am now hijab free. I can’t tell you how FREE i feel. I heard the birds singing this morning, and for the first time in 5 yrs I smiled and thought, summer is on its way. For the past 5 yrs I have cursed these birds and I have cursed summer; the summer that made me miserabe. Little did I know that it wasn’t summer’s fault!

    One baby step at a time, but I feel so ALIVE. I feel like anything is possible now. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

    I didn’t know exactly what hijab did to me, until it was gone. Hijab made me hate being alive. I hated being outside. I hated being in the sunshine. How sad is that!?!

    I feel better knowing that I am living my truth. I can now actually be here for my kids; BE PRESENT.

    🙂

    • I know what you mean about hating summer especially. I used to avoid going out in the heat (and it gets hot where I live) and would stay in all day and get depressed. I love that I can now go swimming without wearing some type of bulky costume. I love that I can go out and play tennis or basketball with friends and just be comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt. I can just be myself without having to live up to some mythological standard about what a Muslim woman should be. Just wait until you go clothes shopping!
      I suppose a congratulations is in order. Thinking about you dear and enjoy the summer!

      • And where is your blog, woman?

        • Thank you so much Stephanie! I can’t wait to be active in my life again! I have spent way too many summers stuck inside being depressed too!

          I deleted my blog for various reasons. Mostly because there is no purpose for it anymore. Its also a little weird to have my problems online… it makes me feel so .. well exposed! (oh the irony!).

          • petals

            I am proud of you Blood !!!! It feels so good doesn’t it. Feel the wind in your hair again, you can do anything, there is nothing holding you back. Just feel like a human being again instead of hiding your ‘precious diamond’ from the sun all the time.

  8. Charlene

    I was never Muslim, but all this about hijab has got me wondering: do Muslim women regularly suffer Vitamin D deficiency? It’s well known that the best way to acquire Vitamin D is to expose skin to sunlight, and deficiencies of this vitamin commonly cause symptoms of depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder, for those who live in places like Seattle). I lived in the PNW for maybe half a dozen years before the lack of sunlight really started to bother me, but when it did nothing could help but an outdoor job in the summers.

  9. Charlene: definitely. My scalp is literally falling away. It hurts like a bitch. And the only remedy is the sun! I have also been on Vitamin D shots for 2 yrs. I’d like to see what happens now that I am outside in the sun more.

  10. petals:

    I cannot describe how wonderful it truly is. I feel renewed. I feel ALIVE.

    Yesterday, I saw lots of people I haven’t seen in a very long time, and so many were so shocked, but understanding. One woman hugged me tightly, touched my cheek and told me that I looked so young again and that she was proud of me. This woman is covered. She squeezed my shoulders and was so happy for me.

    I remembered back to a time when she was younger and her struggle. She shaved her head so that she would kind of be forcing herself to wear the hijab. I remember how she would tell my mum that she didn’t want to wear it but that her husband had told her that there is no other way. She is in her mid-50’s and she still struggles!

    If I had been second-guessing myself (had I been?), this was just proof to me that I had made the right decision.

    I will NEVER EVER feel the need to cover myself EVER again. From now on, I will live for TODAY, because our today’s are too bloody short to be miserable!

  11. Helene

    Dear BUMF:
    Thank you for your post. It speaks to me, along with Stephanie’s most recent entries. I’d like to respond, and maybe I will, it’s just that the subject matter causes some emotion in me.

    How do you visualize your next step?

    • It’s funny you mention my next step. I have no idea.

      I put up a photo yesterday on facebook of me without my hijab, and all shit hit the fan. My husband got phonecalls from all sorts of people who aren’t even on my fb account wanting to know what’s happening.

      It pains me to say this but my husband has become a little …. distant. He says all the right things and does all the right things but he seems to have … i can’t explain it … removed himself from the situation. He has become more formal with me? I really can’t explain.

      I don’t know where I am headed. All I know is that I am ecstatic to be out of hijab. Those around me think its bcz I am lacking iman (!), or that I am “just not ready yet”. And I cannot explain what the real reason is. I have said a few times these last 3 days that it has nothing to do with not being ready (i think that wearing it for 5 yrs is ready enough!!) but that I got tired of wearing it and that I don’t believe its necessary to wear it anyway. But people stop listening. I have become the woman who has a haj for a husband and has gone and disrespected him in front of everyone (the gossip literally has started).

      People suck. The words they say have obvisouly affected my husband. He feels that he cannot hold his head high anymore (WTF: yes I know). So my husband is ashamed of what I have done. How do I deal with that? How do we deal with that?

      I have no answers. We go on as we did before, hoping for things to get better. I try not to feel like shit and try to enjoy my new-found freedom. I have so much on my plate at the moment. I am working from home and studying my Masters. I have a household to run and kids to look after and people to feed and clean for. I don’t have time for people’s petty shit. I don’t have time to think about my marriage and how its going to the crapper. I can’t allow myself time to dwell on it all bcz if I do, it could break me.

  12. Anonymous

    bumf,

    Your husband has been shamed. As you already know I am sure, the morality of all society in Muslims eyes is carried by the women. You could be a totally horrible human being but if in the public eye you are hijabed and docile – no one gives a crap. It is all about appearances. I took off my hijab almost a year ago and it has been awesome psychologically. I am once again just another person, and not mistaken for a foreigner (which I don’t blame people for – if you look like a foreigner they will assume you are one). However, in my home it is very stressful and will likely end in divorce (probably already would have but my hubby is sure I will screw the raising up of the children left to my own devices). My husband is terrified the locals will see my without it and actually told me he had to stop giving lectures and such at the Mosque becuase “his family” wasn’t doing all it should to be good Muslims. He is also certain all non- Muslims from the bus drivers who pick up my kids, to the local grocery store clerk are celebrating they “won” and another Muslim woman has taken off her hijab. BARF. I have come to HATE everything about hijab over the last year – how it is the begin all and end all of being good or authentic – how really I don’t have any rights over my body in Islam since if my husband says I should wear it – I should jump to do so regardless of the psychological impact it causes me. When I converted I wore it happily to represent my people – never felt I had to – but then over the years it became obvious it wasn’t really a choice if I wante dothers to accept me. Eh. I wish you well blood – I know for me this alone my ultimately drive me from the faith

  13. Anonymous: I feel your pain. Yesterday, mu husband was told by a woman, right in front of me, that he should TAKE ME to the haj. That I would repent then. My husband stood up for me. He told her that it is not his job to make me do anything or to take me anywhere. I just hope that one day he actually believes his own words.

    I have had 2 women say that they were proud of me and ‘good on me’ for standing up for myself. I was offended by their words, but only because they are right. I finally did stand up for myself.

    My husband also feels that the kids need his islamic influence in their lives. But my husband tells me he adores me, no matter how I am. He says that his pressure with the hijab was only meant so that I would keep it on. He didn’t mean to cause me so much upheavel. He also said that had he known I felt this strongly about it, he would have backed off 2 years ago when I first started mentioning taking it off. Our lack of communication has been our biggest down-fall. He would prefer me in hijab, but he is not going to dump me and our life and our kids just because I am no longer wearing it. His words!

    If you would prefer staying with your husband, then talk to him. Communicate. Ask him how he really feels. And if you don’t want to stay with him, that is your decision alone. Losing faith and keeping faith, really that is not the worst that can happen. For the majority of my life I called myself Muslim but never ‘did’ anything that is normally required of muslims. I might disagree with every single person in my life regarding the muslim practices and the hijab, but so what? Its no ones business anyway. I don’t go around trying to change people but only because I would not allow others to try to change me! I roll my eyes a lot and walk away from many conversations, but its how i deal with it. A month ago I was in agony over losing my religion. Now I realise I never found it to start with. I am still me. My parents are still who they are and my siblings are too. Heaven will be there or not. Hell will too, or not. It doesn’t matter how we feel about something, if it exists it will be regardless. We are but a tiny speck!!

    I don’t need to drum it into my husband, my lack of religion. I have put him through enough I think! I’d much rather get through all of this and stay married and try to make something of our relationship, than to just lose it all.

    I feel for your story. You sound as angry as I was a mere 2 weeks ago. But the world doesn’t end. If a marriage doesn’t work out, oh well. If you lose your religion, oh well. What will be, will be.

  14. Beautiful post and beautiful feelings.

  15. hello stephanie,
    i’m glad i found your blog here. I was hoping to send you an email but couldn’t find your address. Please send me your email address by PM to hispanic.muslimah@gmail.com if you’d be so kind.
    Take care,
    Hispanic Muslimah

  16. Stephanie,
    How are you doing? We haven’t heard from you in awhile. I hope all is well
    H.

  17. almostclever

    we miss you!!

  18. Blood, your blog isn’t there anymore. Do you have a blog, or can I be your Facebook friend? I would like to keep in touch and know how you are doing.

    I love hearing about how other people handle taking off hijab, or leaving Islam, or just going against the grain.

    Hugs!

    Anisah Haynes (you can find me on Facebook)

  19. This is an amazing and articulate post. I have no experience with Ramadan, but I could just picture the scene the way you wrote it. The sentiment reminds me of the beauty and meaning I found in the Christian Eucharist ceremony, back when I thought it reflected something true.

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