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.