In the beginning of mankind, he believed in one God. Until our parents and our culture taught us different, we are born pure and Muslim.
Many grow out of what our parents and culture taught us; some no longer believe, or some follow different paths than previous generations.
This is the beginning of the roots of our tree of faith.
My grandparents raised me, and my grandfather was a devout, French-Canadian Catholic. I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts. And I prayed before my grandfather every night “the Our Father” and “Hail Mary”.
I went to church every Sunday with him, but was not concerned about the sermon; but looked at the beautiful altar with the Christ figure with multi-winged angels surrounding him, with a golden background and white clouds.
The ceiling was a cobalt blue with white stars, and surrounded by statues of saints. This was the beginning of my spirituality, and my beginning of becoming an artist.
Searching for God in Nature
My grandfather died when I was six of cancer. I had known that he was dying. I was deeply grief stricken. So, I found refuge in the New England wood, even as a child, I found the Oneness of God within the woods.
I knew the change of the seasons, by the physical changes and the change of light. So, I saw the order of things in nature. I would study the stars and the clouds. I would lie beneath the spruce and pine trees, and feel the pine needles prick my back. I’d hear the gurgling of the brook close by.
Faith is like a tree that grows upward. I felt that my Catholicism was like the trunk of the tree. My grandmother pulled me out of the church when my grandfather died.
I had the highest marks in religious classes. I was very much influenced by my great-grandmother who helped raise me. She read her prayer book every day and said the rosary.
The priest came to give communion every Friday. I wanted to become a Carmelite nun and live my life in prayer and meditation. That was not to be.
My great-grandmother became very ill and ended up in a nursing home and badly taken care of. I saw in the end that a belief in a man who was supposed to be a savior did not help her in the end.
I gave up on Christianity and becoming a nun. I did not realize at the time that God was acting through me. I spent many years working in nursing homes taking care of the elderly caring for them, as I would have wanted to take care of her. I never gave up on God.
When I was in my late teens I read books on Henry David Thoreau and Emerson. The books taught me how to find God in nature. How to find the true friend.
I continued my journey up the trunk of my tree. I went to art school. I started drawing women with turbans. One of my friends tried to get me back into the Catholic Church, and I tried, but it didn’t work out. I was baptized as a reborn Christian and felt nothing. I was very confused morally and spiritually.
This was a time that I suffered mentally and financially. I could not go on anymore. I prayed to God to send me someone that I could love, and love me back. Sometimes roots almost die.
Meeting My Husband
I met my husband as an answer to my prayer; he was from Bangladesh, a post- graduate engineering student, he is a devout Muslim and taught me about Islam.
All I knew about Muslims was men who wore white sheets in the desert with swords, and rode on camels, and what I read in school about Dante Inferno.
I learned about all the different surahs (chapters) in the Quran, and all the similar stories that I knew. I accepted Islam before my marriage. I learned that it was basted on one God.
My story was a gradual one. I was up to the branches of my tree, going towards heaven.
Finding God in Quran
I read the Quran and saw that it told about the system of the universe and nature that I believed in, the God of the woods that I believed in and worshipped was told about in the Quran.
Tying to Find My Place in Community
I also needed a moral compass and a foundation to my life. I dressed always very modestly. I went to the mosque. I became part of the Bengali community, although I knew the other women from different countries, and gained a different worldview from them. I had children and raised them in the mosque and Bengali culture.
My father in law was not accepting of me at first, but grew to love me dearly; and he taught me how to pray my first trip to Bangladesh. He wanted me to concentrate on household things. I wanted to please him. I was grateful he let me marry his only son.
Islam Changed Me
I changed completely as I converted to Islam. I changed night and day. Islam gave me a conscience to do right before Allah because He was aware of my behavior, which is tawqa. I was a bohemian artist, who had no sense of boundaries and my sense of morals. Also I became very responsible, which I had not been before…
A Better Wife
I respected my husband and his faith. I feel my example was Khadijah who loved and stood by our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
I became a garment for my husband of comfort and peace, as he was for me. We stood through sickness and crisis.
Only thing I felt was immense guilt for my past actions. Allah forgives your sins. He is Merciful and Compassionate and easy to forgive. Allah forgives, but we cannot forgive ourselves. He never gives a burden that you cannot bear.
Coming Closer to God
I wanted to become what I felt would let me come closer to God. I became involved in Sufism. I had a Sufi master, but I realized with experience, although it was a wonderful experience, I realized that I did not need a guide to lead me to God.
I needed to find Him for myself… Sufi masters are only human beings, not to be put on pedestals, which is shirk, but find in my heart myself and through prayer.
There should be no one between you and God. That was the beginning of the tree branching out and into the little twigs.
One morning, I went out very early around fajr. I saw the morning star, Venus, and our plum tree fully in bloom, and the white petals falling like snow on the new green grass. I felt a deep Oneness of Allah that I had not felt so strongly as I did when I was a child. And I felt a deep illumination open up my heart.
I knew that the true mosques exist through out the universe, and that you can pray upon the earth. The true mosque exists within your heart. You do not have to search for it, it is there. Allah exists there in your heart all the time, as close to your jugular vein.
Beyond labels, we make up clouds with our own egos and suffering that we cannot see Him; but like the sun, He is always there, as we reach out our tender little branches.
Peace of Mind
Islam gave me peace of mind. I spent my time searching outside myself. When Allah was near me. But through out the years, I relied on my faith in Allah, in praying and for raising my children…
Islam saved my life. It served as guidance. I was at a great loss, before I met my husband. But in this way Islam changed my life. My family saw the change in me and was relieved.
Faith is a journey, not stable, there are up and downs, and it grows deeper over the years, especially in later years, when you face your mortality. You totally embrace Allah.
As you get older, and more experienced along the spiritual path, you realize a lot of things. You realize the only one you should be concerned is pleasing God.
Embrace Islam, Not Culture
As a Muslim, you do not need to conform the cultures of other countries to please others. You can adhere to your own culture and modest dress.
Your path is your own. Everyone is equal on the path except those with more piety.
When you get older, you don’t care so much what others think except for God, and possibly your family. No one deserves to be put on a pedestal because of culture.
I am older and have gone on a journey through twists and turns through out my life. But Allah has always been my companion since my childhood. He will always be my strength and my hope.
Islam is ingrained in me after 40 years. It is my way of life.