Written by Theresa Corbin
Where did I leave off? Oh yes … So there I was, dying from vampire Lestat’s bite only to be reborn as eternal evil. Oh wait, that’s a different story.
Eh hem, so there I was, feeling like I had been lied to my whole life, trying to cling desperately to my culture and simultaneously trying to figure out what the truth really was. I was confused, embittered, and lost.
I believed in God, I just didn’t know what was the correct path to Him. I alternated between ignoring the question, flipping the question off, and seeking answers.
Now that I think about it, I had turned my culture into my new religion. To be the best worshiper at the altar of culture, I never wanted to miss a party, but wished I could just yell at all those kids and tell them to turn their racket down. I looked for answers in the holy books of Vogue and InStyle, but really wished I wouldn’t be considered a freak if I read and talked about Anna Karenina.
I was a hot mess, as the saying goes.
My culture was making me miserable. And my roommate was suffering most of its brunt. She spent much of her time studying other religions and talking to people of different faiths, allowing me to tag along from time to time. After much thought and deliberation, she converted to Islam.
I cannot say how she came to this decision. By this point, my mother had passed away, and I was busy with my grief and self-pity.
I had become a capital A-hole, challenging my newly Muslim roommate’s every move. I had all the cultural perceptions of Islam that can be expected. I don’t even know from where I picked them up. I knew nothing of the religion besides it being something that was “backwards” and tried to take women’s rights away from them. And I knew I was not down with that.
Our dorm room discussion became episode after episode of When Corbins (that’s me) Attack.
I accosted her when she decided to wear the headscarf. “Why do you wear that?” I asked as snide as I could be.
And she answered calmly and simply. “So, that I can be recognized as a believing woman. So that I can say who sees what of my body and am not a victim of the male gaze.”
I not only heard what she said, I saw it in action. I didn’t feel more liberate with less clothing. I felt picked apart and judged, and more often than not I felt like prey.
I longed for the respect that I saw my newly Muslim friend and other Muslim women receive from men as they wore their long and loose clothing. The thought of being in control over who would see me was very appealing.
“Yeah, but women are like second class citizens in your faith,” I spat on another occasion, trying to distance myself from my growing affection for Islam.
She explained that during a time when the Western world treated women like property, Islam taught that men and women were equal in the eyes of God. Islam brought more honor to the mother than the father. It made the woman’s consent to marriage mandatory, a practice that would have been laughed at in the Western world at the time.
Islam gave women the right to own property and businesses. And if a woman were to marry, she would not have to share her wealth with her husband. Islam gave women the right to inherit, unheard of in its day. She listed right after right that women in Islam held nearly 1250 years before women’s lib became a thing.
And these were just a fraction of the conversations we shared about Islam as a way of life. I continued to search. At some point, I thought about Judaism. It was the original monotheism. Since I wanted to get back to the original religion, this seemed logical to me.
When I voiced my Jewish aspirations to my roommate, we talked at length about the prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She explained to me the Islamic belief in all the prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and then the last prophet who came with the same message as all the rest–Muhammad (PBUH).
Prophet after prophet came until the last prophet Muhammad (PBUT) came with the same message to guide mankind back to the truth one last time. “And to this day his sayings can be verified in chains of narration and the Quran has not been changed by man.” She said.
When I heard, I believed. I had asked God when I was a seven year old in Catholic school and learning about prophet Noah (PBUH) if He should send any more prophets that He would guide me to believe in them. I believe that God granted me this mercy, because it was not until this conversation that it all clicked.
I became less angry about my friend’s new religion and began to listen about all the things she was learning as a Muslim. My next question was “What does it mean to be a Muslim?” I met other Muslim women and questioned them about their faith and read for myself.
What I found out was that in belief I was already a Muslim. I believed in the oneness of God. I believed in the prophets up to and including Muhammad. I believed in the angels, and Divine will, the day of judgement, the holy books, and all that jazz.
But—and this is a big but—I was scared to abandon my culture (turns out I didn’t have to abandon the good things from my culture). I was afraid of receiving the same ridicule I had dished out to my friend.
Islam made sense and even spoke to my nature. But I rebelled and the more I refused Islam and chose my culture over it the more miserable I became. I would find myself weeping for no other reason than the increasing emptiness I felt as I continued to reject Islam and replace it with culture. My health began to fail. I lost my scholarship at school. My personal safety was compromised. I even became homeless.
I defied until I couldn’t go on. I finally admitted, like the most homophobic person who finally comes out of the closet, that I was a Muslim. I finally said the words “I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and messenger” on the first day of Ramadan 2001.
And what I have learned since has taught me that I never had to give up my American culture entirely. I learned that fearing ridicule from people will only make you a joke. And I learned that their is an amazing peace that comes with being obedient to no one but the One God, the One who created you and designed you to do just that.
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