I was initially excited by the idea of writing something on my personal relationship to Islam for Muslim Word Today. However, when I really thought about my topic proposal, I felt like I had hit a wall. While I enjoy engaging with others in Facebook groups like “Secular Muslim Women” and “Muslims for Progressive Values”, discussing Islam from a personal standpoint is something I have not really done. This is partly out of fear of judgement and partly out of my belief that religion should be primarily a private affair.
Although I am not keen on attaching the term ‘convert’ to myself, I am, in truth, one. After reading through the stories of other converts and talking with convert friends, I realized that my reason for becoming Muslim was well … kind of different.
My mom is Anglo-American and her ancestors have been here in the US for several generations while my dad’s family is from Greece, Turkey and Albania. In high school, I developed a growing interest in learning about my dad’s side of the family and I began reading things on the Ottoman Empire. While I had been to Greece and had a limited working knowledge of the Greek language, I knew next to nothing about the Ottomans and Turkey. I felt as if something was missing from my family history and myself. Naturally, as I read more on Turkey, I came across information pertaining to Islam and what started out as more of an academic interest with some personal ties slowly evolved into something deeper: Islam inexplicably resonated with me on a spiritual level.
My mom is Catholic and my dad is atheist but they both encouraged me to take my time in exploring other subjects without judgement. My mom wanted me to at least believe in a higher power while my dad couldn’t have cared less about religion so I had a mostly secular upbringing peppered with light Catholic influences. I know - it sounds like I’m talking about a recipe!
Admittedly, I had a difficult time acknowledging the fact that a religion appealed to me because of certain perceptions I held about organized faiths. At the time, I did consider myself to be atheist. I respected other people’s right to believe in what they wished but the violence, oppression and cruelty that had been carried out in the name of organized religion coupled with the lack of definitive proof of God - or gods, for that matter - instilled within me a deep resentment.
Before making the decision to become Muslim, I read through the Qur’an and other books like “Allah, Liberty and Love” by Irshad Manji (a lesbian Muslim writer), “The Quran and Women” by Amina Wadud, “No God but God” by Reza Aslan and “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That last title might come as a surprise but I wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into and I felt that it was important to read things by someone who had decided to go the opposite direction (as in leaving Islam instead of joining it). The things Ayaan Hirsi Ali went through were shocking, horrifying and saddening and I can say, without hesitation, that I admire her courage to push back against the cultural/religious practices that had oppressed her, even though I disagree with most of what she says. Ayaan's experiences also highlighted the enormous amounts of privilege that I possessed: There I was pondering the thought of moving away from atheism to become Muslim while her decision to reject the very thing I sought to join resulted in credible threats to her personal safety.
I felt disingenuous and unsure yet, nonetheless, the thought of strengthening my connection to a country – at the time, the Ottoman Empire - where half of my dad’s family was born and raised remained extremely meaningful in a way that still does not logically make sense. I also worried that the Greek part of my family would view me as a traitor towards my Greek roots given the conflicted history between Greece and its former ruler. I admit that a certain degree of cognitive dissonance on my part remains with me today but I also learned that each person has their own path to follow.
For some, religion is not a part of that path but for others, it can be important in a number of ways ranging from cultural/ethnic connections to the psychological comfort that putting faith in a higher power may bring. I would say Islam has given me both: A connection to my heritage and a certain degree of psychological comfort. That doesn’t mean that I follow religious rules blindly. Furthermore, I have to be honest in my view of the Qur’an. I speak solely for myself of course and I understand that the following is controversial: I do believe that the Qur’an was divinely inspired but I have reservations in believing that it is an infallible text that reflects the direct words of God Him/Herself.
I admit that it would have been difficult to remain Muslim if it hadn’t been for finding a community of open-minded individuals, both in person and online, whose Islam is not exclusive but inclusive and respectful of LGBTQ+ Muslims, people of other faiths and no faith, ex-Muslims, conservative Muslims, liberal Muslims, secular Muslims, cultural Muslims (and honestly the list could go on and on!).
Sometimes I still wonder if I had made the right decision or if Islam is something that resonates with me but the answer has stayed the same every time I have thought about it: My spiritual relationship with Allah is meaningful in a way that is difficult to articulate and Islam has come to mean more than simply a connection to family heritage. Even if I had left Islam, I think that this spiritual aspect of my life would have remained.
At the end of the day, I believe we’re all on different paths that lead to the same destination whether that is truly some kind of afterlife or nothing at all. But in the meanwhile, I choose to have faith in Allah despite the inner tug of war between logic and emotion. I obviously don’t have the answers and this personal story is full of self-contradictions but I have learned to find comfort in the grey zones, the ambiguities and the nuances as an agnostic Muslim for progressive/secular values.
Khadijah was born in Asia but grew up in the US and she comes from an interracial/multi-ethnic family.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.