Drifting between extremes

Wow, it’s been awhile since I updated this blog. The reason for that is not laziness or being busy; I’ve been updating my other blog regularly. The reason is that in terms of my spiritual life, I got lost. And I really don’t see this as a bad or negative thing. I think it’s necessary in life to get lost and discover new ideas, feelings, relationships. And the fact that you always end up somewhere new at the end is an added bonus.

The reason I started to get lost is because I felt myself being pulled from two different ends of a spectrum. On the one hand, there were Muslims who were usually very conservative, patriarchal, and focused on how to be a “good Muslim” in terms of outward appearance. They knew what was halal and haram in detail; they prayed 5 times a day; they made millions of judgements about any act they saw as “wrong”; they saw nothing wrong with correcting the behaviour of other Muslims; and finally, they generally did not think deeply about any issue.

On the other hand, having moved to the Netherlands, I was constantly seeing/hearing Islamophobic comments. Islamophobia as a discourse was becoming normalized & widespread, even more than before. This made me defensive and made me cling tightly to my “Islamic identity” – I wanted to defend Islam, to show people that this isn’t what it is. (Thank God I’ve moved past that now, after realizing that many Dutch people are beyond help. Negative & Orientalist discourses about Islam and Arabs have existed for centuries, and are not going to go away anytime soon. I can’t spend my life arguing with people, or getting defensive. Besides, I also realized that Islam doesn’t need to be explained or justified to non-Muslims. It is one thing for a non-Muslim to be curious, quite another for them to simply want an opportunity to be Islamophobic.)

Anyway, there was a point where it became too much. I was praying one day and just stopped, because the feeling, the connection between God and I had disappeared underneath all the rationalizing, debating, and analyzing. While I strongly believe that religion is and should be rational, I also strongly believe that that needs to be balanced with spirituality. If you don’t feel God, no amount of rationalizing will make up for it.

I started reading a lot about atheism and agnosticism. But it didn’t take long before I realized that that wasn’t my answer either. I do believe in God, a spiritual realm, and spirituality in general. I don’t believe that science by itself is enough. I also began reading critiques of science, modernity, and atheism, and realized that atheism has been constructed as an alternative to religion but with many of the same faults. It is just another extreme.

So that is the point I am at now: I went from one extreme (religion) to another (atheism) and found neither to be satisfying. I cannot accept religion from a intellectual point of view, especially from my position as a postmodernist and social constructivist; but I also cannot accept atheism because I do not believe that humans are purely rational beings. We are spiritual beings, and there is a spiritual world out there.

I believe in God, but not the God found in traditional texts (unless they have been severely reinterpreted).

So what now? I catapulted from one side to the other, and now I am drifting somewhere in between. Do I need to *be* something? Do I need to categorize my beliefs, feelings, values?

Another thing is that I can’t seem to let go of Islam. And I know this is not because I was “brainwashed” into believing it, since I wasn’t brought up Muslim. I guess I just feel very attached to it for some reasons, and find its symbols and stories very powerful. It is feelings like these that are difficult for me to ignore. 

Well, I’m not sure I have any readers left! :)) But if I do, I would love to hear your stories, and any advice. 

Salaam.

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14 thoughts on “Drifting between extremes

  1. Hi Sara,

    I pray that you find peace whatever road you choose.
    I would suggest that you look into/read/listen to Sufi literature and poetry, which heavily focuses on the spiritual aspect of Islam. Another thing is that there is a verse in the Quran that says “We have made you a moderate nation” so extremism have no place in Islam. And at many points man and woman being equal is stated [in the hadith as well] so patriarchy also has no place in Islam. Islam today, HAS been severely misinterpreted, it has been morphed into a literal, monolithic, black and white, patriarchal, sexist, homophobic, corporate religion. And it is none of that. There are scholars trying to revive true Islam, I’m sure you’re familiar with many of them.

    it’s normal to feel lost and to question, but we need to answer those questions that we have before they devour us little by little. have patience.

    • Hi Zeina!
      Thanks for commenting 🙂 Yes lately I’ve been thinking a lot about finding out more on Sufism. It seems to me that their focus on the spiritual and on their pure love for God is exactly what I’m looking for.

      “it has been morphed into a literal, monolithic, black and white, patriarchal, sexist, homophobic, corporate religion.”

      Exactly!

  2. Dear Sara,

    I cant help but want to meet you! Im not sure if i can articulate my thoughts well in a comment box but i will try…

    I have been going through something similar recently. I moved to Holland in September, leaving a small but strong sufi family behind. I have felt quite alone here spiritually and despite by best efforts to pray regularly and read sufi teachings, I havent felt as close to Allah as I used to. Thankfully I have very wise parents and their advice to me was, among other things, that this state is part of the journey to God. When God is absent we yearn for God and this yearning, inshallah, makes us turn inward, look at ourselves and ultimately know ourselves in order that we can know Allah.

    As for which path to take – that is between you and Allah. If you pray with sincerity, asking Allah to show you, then you will find your way, inshallah.
    I believe there is wisdom in religion, and I only see its flaws as human flaws. Maybe we need to change our perception and our understanding of religion but this change must come from us.

    Peace and love

    Zaynab

    • Hi Zaynab 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

      I love what your parents said about this stage being part of the journey towards God. That’s why I’m not worried about feeling this way; I know it is just part of the journey.

      Where in Holland do you live? I would love to meet up and talk more 🙂

  3. It is part of your journey and where it leads you do not know. But that is the point right? 🙂 Hopefully it leads to good things and peace for you.

  4. Glad to hear from you, Cairo. I think many of your readers can empathize. In a similar situation, what has helped me is finding a progressive Muslim community (both online and IRL) that does not judge me for my questions. I hope you can find the same.

  5. Nice to hear from you on this blog. I don’t think you need to categorize yourself as anything. If you are going somewhere spiritually, that’s all you need to be doing! You’ll figure it out with time

  6. Hi Sara, I found your blog recently, and I have to say that I can really relate to what you’ve described in this post. I was raised in a Baha’i family, and in the past two years I’ve been learning more about other religions. As a Baha’i, I was taught that all religions come from the same god. And I’ve had a hard time fitting all that I know now about world religions together. This realization has left me feeling increasingly lost because all I have ever identified as is a Baha’i, and now I am really questioning who I am in terms of spirituality. I also moved from America to Jordan recently, and I have been exposed to some anti-Baha’i sentiment and lies about the Baha’is, which is really upsetting.

    I’ve also read a lot about agnosticism and atheism and other religions, but nothing is really making me feel as certain as I once did. I hope that you find what you are looking for soon!

  7. I was reading this blog with great interest, but it has been long since I last time I red your posts. I remembered it today, after reading this article in AL Jazeera http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/05/201255112042394786.html .
    I am sorry for your period of confusion and I hope you will get through and find your personal way. I am really sorry by the fact that meeting so many Islamophobic Dutch people leads you to think that you shouldn’t explain Islam to Europeans any more. I don’t think single human beings can change the world, but I strongly believe there is the need in Europe of people like you, that can explain the diversity of Islam. Maybe you will not change the mind of all Europeans, but maybe you made some of them think upon their prejudices. Different cultures are getting more and more closer, and there is a strong need of people like you! Please don’t give up on this. I am asking you this as a European, hoping for my continent to change the terrible racist direction that is taking.

  8. Hi Sara,

    I’ve been born and raised in the Netherlands, but with an Egyptian heritage and recently I have asked myself the same questions. I just wanted to thank you for writing this article, it helps to know I’m not alone.

  9. asalamu aliakum,

    i just stumbled upon your blog today, it’s awesome! very inspiring! i have gone through a lot of the internal struggles that you are going through. i agree with the readers who encourage you to look into sufism; tasawwuf is a huge part of traditional islam, but many modern sufi scholars and followers such as kabir and camille helminski, amina wadud and others, take very moderate approaches to islam, focusing on love instead of rigidity/regulation/rules. also, i am not sure if you have ever read the blog by hijabman, but totally check him out… i think you will totally relate!

    stay strong, there are thousands of brothers and sisters out there who can relate to your journey!! please keep writing, when you have time and inspiration….

    tanda

  10. “I cannot accept religion from a intellectual point of view, especially from my position as a postmodernist and social constructivist”

    If we accept the Sufis’ argument that language and reason are incapable of grasping God and only produce human constructs, then I think it’s possible to come to terms with Post-Modernism. Sufi literature is filled with a sense of cynicism towards intellectual knowledge and identities that people box themselves into. Let’s not forget the valorisation of Majzub (holy fools) whose erratic and eccentric behaviour pointed out society’s own collective insanity. But this would also mean that Post-Modernist attitudes are ultimately doomed and incapable of bringing humans to the Real, which can only be done through Sufism and Dhawq (tasting). A question then is, what does this mean for rituals and Islamic law?

    The Mutazilites believed that law was justifiable rationally, prayers serve some rational human focused purpose. Al-Ghazzali attacked this fiercely, for him law and ritual have no justifiable purpose, their reason is that they are unreasonable. They are the unreasonable demands of a beloved to her prospective lovers.

    Maybe the key here is to say that yes religion is completely unjustifiable by our human parameters, that all discursive knowledge has it’s place and leads nowhere when it comes to God and the key to that is to abandon reason and seek to realise God through old Sufi methods not long ramblings on theology, jurisprudence and philosophy.

    Meh, just some silly and probably inconsistent thoughts.

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