(long post ahead)
Lately I’ve been returning to my Muslim roots. By this I do not mean that I was raised in a Muslim family, because my family is as white as can be, comes from the British Isles, and has probably been Protestant for hundreds of years, though both my parents are atheists and I wasn’t raised with any religion at all.
By “Muslim roots”, I mean that Islam was my first real experience of monotheism. When I first started exploring spirituality over ten years ago, I simply assumed that I would be some kind of neo-pagan, or even a LaVeyan Satanist. Over the years I tried out several different pagan paths and never found much in any of them.
In 2007 I was in the middle of my honours thesis for my BA in English lit. I was studying my favourite novel of all time, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (NB: I’m not going to get into any arguments about this book here on Tumblr, so don’t bother; I almost certainly know quite a lot more about the book than you do). As a natural part of my research, I had to learn about Islam. At the same time, there was a Muslim student in the department from Tunisia, and she and I got along well. She wasn’t hardcore “observant” Muslim, but she did fast for Ramadhan and she knew some Arabic and read the Qur’an. I got more and more interested in Islam, and my friend sent me a link to a message board (do people still use message boards online?) for Muslims. On there I met someone who lived practically next door! That person and her husband are still my closest friends, both white converts, about my age, liberal, intelligent, and devout but not fundamentalist—-probably not even “mainstream” by most Muslims’ standards, but close enough that they participate in the Muslim community here without any problem.
For about six months I identified as Muslim, though I never formally converted, and most of that time prayed 5 times a day whenever I could, even adding Witr and sunnah rakats. I didn’t participate much with the Muslim community, because (a) I’m just not a very social person, and (b) I’m gay and pretty wary of religious people in general. Then I had some difficult encounters online with Muslims who could not and would not answer questions I had, and there were some other issues as well, and a bit of drama. In anger I turned away from Islam. It was wrong, in the sense that I left the religion when the problem was people. But in another sense it was not actually a mistake, because I’ve learned a lot since then that I wouldn’t have learned had I not turned away.
I explored Christianity and Judaism in depth, with occasional forays into Islam and neo-paganism. Ultimately, I’ve decided that I just cannot be a Christian, because I don’t believe certain fundamental doctrines—-original sin, all of Christian soteriology, and the sine qua non, the divinity of Christ. Plus it’s kind of hard to take the religion too seriously when the public face of it is people like the Pope, or Westboro Baptist Church, or American Republican politicians, all frothing at the mouth about same-sex marriage and abortion. Judaism, on the other hand, is pretty cool, but I just don’t have that inherited connection to the history and the people—-and I’m too skeptical, too, about its own sine qua non, the giving of the Torah at Mt Sinai. I just don’t believe the Torah can possibly be the word of God.
I wrote recently about how I turned to paganism because monotheism got too hard. It occurred to me, though, that wasn’t that the same reason I turned away from Islam? I’ve never been able to forget about Islam in the last 5 years. Why not give it another shot? I’ll always have trouble with religious communities; I’ll always be on the liberal end of the spectrum because I’m gay and happy with it and in love and I’ve done enough questioning and prayer about that issue already and nobody’s religious tradition is going to convince me it’s wrong. So I’ll always be a bit of an outsider. Why not be an outsider of the religion I’m so attached to?