Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Meet Danielle

All Roads Led to Islam

I wasn’t a true Christian believer. People could say otherwise looking from the outside in. I really pushed myself to believe to the point I felt I was losing my mind. I would pray and pray and pray. I feared hell, so I prayed and prayed some more. I had nightmares of the last days because I knew I didn’t really believe. I even taught Children’s Church, was one the lead singers in the choir, really trying. I was also doing these things because I wanted to keep myself from being bored by just sitting there.  I then just got fed up. None of my questions were being answered. People were telling me I was letting the devil use me by asking such questions. I was told why my eyes didn’t heal was because I didn’t have enough faith. I felt like a failure and I was angry at myself and everyone. I was dipping further and further into depression.  I realized I just hung on to the religion and was being kept there by fear. Fear mongering was everywhere. One day the church was called to the alter to pray during a revival. Right there on my knees, I denounced God. Soon after that, I was on a flight to Senegal.

Senegal was a school trip- the first to Africa for our high school. It was there I heard the call to prayer. First it scared and annoyed me. Fajr prayer happens before the crack of dawn. Soon I got used to it. There I learned more about and seen all the pictures in my National Geographic come to life. Beautiful women in colorful clothing, polygyny, and the ports of the slave trade. I learned a little about Islam and the Sufi sect of Islam, the Baye Fall. Baye Fall are dreadlocked followers of Islam. Dreads were a sign of humility, the turning away from Babylon (Rasta term) and leading a simple life. That I dug. I’ve always wanted locks since seeing Eddie Grant performing ‘Electric Avenue’ on Solid Gold lol. Senegal stayed with me.

When I went to college in Chicago, I was trying to stick to Christianity and even agreeing to go to church with a family friend. That church was even more bonkers than the church I left. Everyone was having ‘revelations’ and twisting up the Bible like it was a freagin Rubik cube. Everyone was in such ecstasy that I thought they could be persuaded to have an orgy for Jesus. One day I just stopped going. I wanted to form who I was without the input of family or religion.

I started reading more about spirituality again like I did as a kid. I actually practiced the religions I looked into- various forms of Christianity, Wicca, Vodun, Buddhism and Rasta. All wonderful, but none fit me. Now I don’t think I was true Rasta because I don’t believe in worshipping anyone who’d walked this earth. This is why I couldn’t get why we had to pray to Jesus. We are all God’s creation. If we were all children of God and Jesus was the son of God, why would I pray to my brother for anything? Wouldn’t I just go to God for all things?

Well in my search, in every religion I tried, I felt agitated. Rasta was close, but I didn’t fully feel it completely, though there’s a lot of still carry and believe in as far as philosophy of life.  I danced around Islam. I bought prayer beads because I thought they were cute. I bought a Penguin’s copy of the Quran, but it said Koran (bad translation by the way). I watched Islamic shows on TV. I avoided Islam because I thought it was sexist which was funny because I was experiencing sexism in Rasta and in Christianity.

There were two religions left to try. One was Judaism. The other Islam. I was slow on my roll, but I was revving up the guts to visit a synagogue and a mosque.  After that I was going to throw in the towel since I was considering myself pretty much Atheist at that point.

When I finally got the guts to visit a mosque, 9/11 happened. I didn’t want to be rude suddenly popping up. I didn’t want them to think I was converting to become one with my new Islamic overlords (I joked). I didn’t want them to think I was converting out of fear. So I waited. As time went on I justified that a funky feminist will not fit with Islam.

Without even thinking of religion, I told my husband/ then live in boyfriend, Joe, that as I get older I planned on dressing more covered up in more African attire and keep my hair wrapped.  This was while I was learning bellydance. Arabic was a common language in the house with me listening to Rai music and all. I learned about Ramadan through an earlier Muslim boyfriend and the difference of pure Quranic Arabic and dialects.
Well finally years later in Dallas and after being laid off, I decided it was high time I discover who I was again. One of the things I did was finally converted to Islam. My Imam was trying to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I’ve studied the religion for so long. I knew it wasn’t the 5 per centers, Nation of Islam, or Earth and Gods. I didn’t want those sects. I wanted pure Islam. When I took the shahada (proclamation of faith) it was like Rumi wrote: Like a drop in the ocean. 

I was nervous of how friends would treat me afterwards. Would my liberal, funky, artist friends dump me? They didn’t. Even my former, non religious room mates told me I was interested in Islam for years. I’ve forgotten.

Now the issues I have with practicing is the prejudice. People don’t want to hire women who wear the hijab. People really bought into the war machine propaganda. They think Muslim women who observe the hijab or niqab are oppressed. Some people love to talk about how they believe in the Constitution and the liberation of women, but they shun a hijabi. She can have many degrees under her belt, but they block us from working. These jobs like to proclaim how they believe in diversity and everything.  Painfully I took off the scarf to get a job and I’ve been unhappy about it. I will never interview without a headwrap again.  My observing being fully covered is no different from some sects of Rasta or other religions. I no longer feel the need to show my body. In the past when I did I was celebrating myself, but it was tainted with looking to others’ approval. It was natural part of me trying to define myself. I no longer feel the need to share my skin. My style is moving to the looks of those I’ve admired as they aged: Lena Horne, Betty Carter, Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, etc.  Another thing is people keep telling me my hair is too pretty to cover up which is hilarious. My dreads not too long ago were a hindrance to me getting jobs and a subject of ridicule. Now it’s fashionable and acceptable in the workplace. I’ve been through this before. Scarves will be ok soon.  

I also wish I could find a really good secular school to put my daughter in where Islamic observation isn’t a big deal, but the really good ones are Christian based. The only good Islamic based school is expensive and far from home.

I’ve also been balancing who I am and throwing out my own misconceptions I’ve had of Islam. I am still a funky, eco conscious, gay rights supporter, artistic, global feminist*/ womanist (*I don’t believe in one form of feminism, nor the superiority of Western feminism). My clothing has been changing to fully covered and in my style. Even wearing the hijab inspired me to make funky earrings to lie against the scarf. The things I’m designing now are based off the various African Islamic dress. I didn’t adopt another culture since African Americans have a long history of Islam in this country. Being halal isn’t difficult since I don’t like eating meat. Islam mirrors my beliefs in constant charity, peace and responsibility.

I’ve been balancing the 2 worlds, sometimes with ease and sometimes difficulties. The difficulties are due to what I’ve mentioned before and that I am changing as I turn 35. I don’t know where it will all lead or where I’m going with it all, but spiritually I’m home. I gave up drinking, but I’m thinking of having my final drink of Absinthe to complete my artist desire to experience what the artists I’ve studied tasted. Will I dance again? Will I be a full hijabi? Will I get another tattoo? The answer to all is yes, very likely.  

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