by Deonna Kelli Sayed
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate
My granny, Big Momma, accepted Jesus as her personal savior at some point in the 1950s. She pulled her car over to the side of a rural North Florida road and put her knees to the earth.
“I just got out of the car and I fell to the ground,” she told me one day in my tenth year. “I figured my prayer was good enough for the Lord, I didn’t need to go in front of no church.” In that part of the South, everyone kept the Lord close even if they did not sit in a pew.
I sat in many church pews as a child. My paternal grandmother made sure that I had a proper Methodist christening. Thirteen years later, I dipped into Southern Baptist waters by my own conviction. Not once did any man in my family take me to church or talk to me about God. By the time I drank from the Zamzam Well in Mecca, men had started to determine how I interpreted my faith.
That was fine – for a while.
My Mecca oriented knee-to-earth prostration began like Big Momma’s: alone, by my own calling, and in a deep part of the rural South. I wasn’t roadside, but instead I performed my first Islamic prayer in a small college apartment in the Eastern North Carolina land of Jessie Helms and pig farms. My initial experience with Muslims, however, emerged in urban environments and with a global link. It erupted during the first Gulf War; later, with Palestinian Marxists who were casual observers of the faith but always in defense of it. The Big Story of Islam slouched in a masculine, Othered direction. Men did all the talking because all the good Muslim women were wrapped up and silent, or so that story goes.
Of course, the Big Story isn’t completely true. Big Stories are often unreliable narrators but they such stories often determine the boundaries of personal faith journey. Despite using the Big Story to define my Islamic identity (I covered my hair for many years, stringently observed the rituals) I kept bumping into alternative ways to understand the Islamic experience. Many of those stories intersected with mine: I’ve ridden the waves as a single woman looking for a good Muslim husband through the mosque network (yet I found one on my own). Then I married, covered my hair (and felt super powerful) to live and travel throughout the Muslim world while raising five step-children. Now, I am an unveiled forty-year old divorced Muslim woman readjusting the parameters of my faith (still with superpowers). I left a good man, in part, because I wanted to seek a new story with my religious identity. Each step along the way spoke to its own legitimacy.
Let me tell you why my heart beats Muslim: Islam celebrates the oneness of the Divine, a concept called Tawhid. I have actively studied anomalous experiences relating to consciousness. I am no science geek, but I see Tawhid mimicked in my rudimentary understand of quantum physics and subatomic processes. I’ve experienced some unexplainable events — more magical than miraculous—that reaffirm my belief in a divine source. The “oneness and unity” of God makes intuitive sense, at least, for me. In own pedestrian interpretation of Tawhid, the Divine is a Great Frequency where we all tune into different channels. I just happen to get the best reception on the Muslim station.
It is true that I have seen Muslim men and women cower under the cultural weight the faith in the absence of sound theological clarity. I have also witnessed others develop superpowers in their belief where they could weave divine worlds out of air. The normative Islamic rhetoric implores ritualistic aspects of worship in pursuit of spiritual and moral perfection. Honestly, I always had a problem with this philosophy.
I agree that here is value in the discipline of rituals, for example, such as the five daily prayers and Ramadan fasting. But perfection? Forget about that. I am imperfect and full of the regular doubts and frustrations that plague inquisitive believers. Public Islamic dialogue often omits such personal struggles. These tribulations make me (anyone!) wonderfully flawed and gloriously human. They are essential elements to any faith journey.
I am a practicing Muslim – practicing being the operative word – and I am always far from being any good at it. After twenty years in the faith, I’ve accepted this faulty spiritual gait as a valid Islamic experience. I am not the only Muslim slouching towards Mecca, but even in slouch, I believe.
I could throw identity theory in and tell you how Islam has permitted me to cultural deconstruct the West, modernity, the concept of race and my own whiteness. I am an American and connected to the global community of Muslims, the Ummah, so I am duley transcultured and very much a Third Space person. I like inhabiting such cultural nooks. These are all really good things and I am a better person for my poststructuralist Muslim experience. A few years ago, however, I wanted to deconstruct the Big Story to write one my own.
People asked me post-divorce if I intended to remain Muslim. I suppose that was a fair question: the hijab came off, I was no longer bound by Islamic marital obligations. Yet, I adopted the faith in the absence of a man and seven years prior to marriage. Why did the presence (or lack of) a husband determine my belief? Of course, I could have walked away in the name of new beginnings. But I chose Islam again for the second time in my life. This go around, I decided to rewrite my identity like my Big Momma: driving down the Straight Path in my own pimped-out ride, pulling over when I need to get my slouch on. Allahu Akbar. God is Great. Praise God. Alhumdulliah.
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Deonna Kelli Sayed is a Love, Inshallah contributor and a LoveInshallah.com editor. She is a published author and an emerging digital storyteller. Her work is also found at altmuslimah.com and Muslimah Media Watch. Deonna is currently working on a memoir with support from a Regional Artists’ Grant from the North Carolina United Arts Council. To learn more, visit her website, and join her on Facebook and Twitter.