What I Once Believed

When I think about Jesus…what he’s done for me,

When I think about Jesus, how he set me free…I can DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, DANCE ALL NIGHT!

The quote above comes from a ditty we used to sing at church. After the sermon-when people were excited and ready to ‘shout’-the musicians would get down. Truth be told, it was one of the portions of service that I loved the most. If you switched the lyrics and closed your eyes, you could easily think you were in a juke joint. With the conga drums pounding and the vibrations from the organ rumbling beneath me, I’d  jump ecstatically in the air, smiling to myself as I sang the lyrics. Lately this tune comes to my mind, but now the words are different:

When I think of religion, and what it did to me,

When I think of faith, and it’s tyranny, I will write, write, write, write all my life!

In my last post I recounted one of the more shameful incidents in my misadventures in faith. But it’s far from the only one. When I look back at some of the madness I have believed and the things I have done in the name of religion, I want to slap myself and I want to laugh at myself.  I gave 10% of my gross income faithfully, and that was just the beginning. I gave extra for the church and pastors anniversary. When I went to the nondenominational church, the pastor commanded the members to give $500 to him and his wife for the pastors anniversary. And I did it. I did it without thinking and without questioning. He was the ‘man of god’, the ‘apostle’, and in making that sacrifice we’d be proving that we were real believers. Of course some members did not live up to the expectation. Afterwards, the pastor chastised those who did not give him the ‘love offering’ that he commanded. To this day I am disappointed in myself for all the money I wasted in tithes and offerings. I could have given that money to a women’s shelter. I could have sent it abroad to those in need. Either option would have served to help mankind. Instead I threw away my hard-earned money on narcissistic charlatans.

As a muslimah, I would not leave the house unless my awrah was concealed. Regardless of the weather, I could only expose my face and my hands. A strand of hair present? HARAM! A man seeing my neck-HARAM! Even seeming to have a shape at all? HARAM! Even though I was miserable walking around like that, I truly believed that I was “pleasing Allah”.  Simply being introduced to a male provoked anxiety in me, because I had to think of a way to avoid shaking his hand. A simple, common business gesture was ‘haram’. I recited my prayers in Arabic, as if god could not hear and understand me in my native tongue. I made my repetitions in odd numbers, because allah allegedly loved them. I entered the restroom using my left foot and exited with my right, to please allah. I ate and drank with my right hand only, to please allah (it was always fun trying to eat milk and cookies this way). I said a prayer when I opened the garbage can, in case any “shaytan” were hiding in there. I said a prayer when I put on new clothes, in case any “shaytan” were in them.

At various points in my life, I truly believed and practiced such things. Indeed, ‘my soul looks back and wonders how I got over’.

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