Losing my religion.
I had always been a spiritual person. Life’s most perplexing questions entered my thoughts at a very young age. I wasn’t raised in a very practicing ‘religious’ family, they were Orthodox deemed by nationality and culture. We didn’t attend church every Sunday, or attend Sunday school as children. We were not taught scripture or told stories about Jesus before bed. Our homes contained a few religious icons, pictures of saints and a crucifix around my neck that was gifted to me as a babe on the day of my christening was the only way of visually identifying our families faith. That’s about as Orthodox or Christian as it got for me growing up.
It wasn’t until I started high school, that I became more curious about the parts of my religion that were lacking. I decided that I’d learn more about Christmas and Easter their meaning and the rituals we would perform on the holiest days of the Christian Calendar.
I started fasting lent and advent and learnt the differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholism. I could finally answer the question as to why I observed Christmas 2 weeks after the majority of the Christian world did, and why every Easter aligned with the Greek communities festivities. I liked the fact that I was different and the 25th of December never felt like a religious holiday for me.
But the older I got, the emptier I felt in my born faith and the less I felt I had any real connection to God. I don’t think I ever really prayed as a Christian. I remember whenever something unfortunate would happen my mother would attend church to light a candle, but I had no idea what the meaning behind this act was.
I remember the smell of frankincense in church. The echo of the choirs hymes, there was always something that felt a little medieval. Pictures of saints saturated the walls, and as you entered on midnight mass or Christmas morning a picture of Mary holding a baby Jesus was presented, requiring you to kiss the icon and leave a few coins behind as a church donation. At Easter time it was a very graphic picture of a crucified Christ awaiting your kisses and spare change.
I tried. I tried really hard to understand the faith I was ‘born into’, my religion by default.
Islam was never really introduced to me by any one person, rather I introduced myself to it firstly out of pure curiosity. I wanted to understand more about this faith which was our so called “arch nemesis”. This forbidden group of people, 1.8 billion people to be precise were off limits, to befriend, to marry, to learn about or even contemplate.
It was long in the making my eventual decision to leave Christianity and become a Muslim. I did not declare the Shahada (the proclamation of faith in Islam) until I was 23, but I was setting the foundations much earlier on. It was a truth that resonated with me, a truth that turned my life around for the better. A faith I embraced wholeheartedly and understood on many levels. It was as easy a decision to make as it was hard, it did not come without many consequences and sacrifices but it came at a crucial point in my life which I believe saved it in the end.