Why Being Lost is Okay

I cannot let go of Islam, cannot cross over fully in the realm of atheism.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s an awkward thing—eating the meal of iftar with my family during Ramadan. It’s almost like the game of “what (or who) does not belong” that I play in my Spanish VHL homework assignments (spoiler: it’s me). My family bears the marks of their day-long dry fast through their pale and weak faces—marks that I do not share. But there’s always another day to be like them, right? Ramadan is 30 days. Every day, my mom wakes me up to have the pre-fast meal at dawn. And every day, I say no. To say I am a disappointment to my parents and to our lineage is an understatement.

Before me, it was my sister: she was the one who showed no aptitude in the studies of scripture. Her Arabic accent was horrible. But what she lacks in knowledge, she makes up for in passion. My sister faithfully does all her prayers—regardless of her mispronunciation. She has, and has always had, faith. But what do I have?

I went to religion class every weekend for seven years. I hoped to be an Islamic scholar one day, and I acted like it. “Remember to say prayers for entering the bathroom! Prayers for exiting the bathroom!” I used to say every day. I nailed a list of prayers in our living room—one for when you left the house, one for when you heard someone sneeze, and one for when you sneezed. My parents simply could not argue with me because I used a quote from the Prophet or another scripture to refute their every point. Yup, I was that kid.

But I stopped going to religion class for SHSAT prep classes. It was supposed to be temporary. But, in my leave of absence, I started noticing all the things I couldn’t do because of Islam. Drinking. Wearing shorts. I started noticing all the rituals I put up with just because of Islam. Praying five times a day. Fasting. Little by little, one by one, I stopped doing all these things. I took down my poster of scriptures. I stopped saying prayers for every little thing. I put up posters of my favorite boy bands, disregarding the Islamic ban of human depiction and ensuring that my room could never be a place for prayer. I blasted music at every moment, overpowering my mom’s daily Quran recitations.

“Why are we Muslim?” I once asked my parents. They were silent. But the look on their faces when I asked was my answer—it seemed to read: “Why would I leave the only way of life our ancestors followed for generations?” The answer was easy. I did it because I wanted to. I did it because I no longer found conviction in the words I was saying. I no longer had faith that there was even a God to pray to. I did it because I wanted a choice in the life that I wished to lead.

I thought that was the only question they had. But years later, I would learn about another question I had failed to pick up upon. Why would I leave them?

Three years later, I declared myself an atheist. I declared myself free of any religious obligations. No more fasting. No more prayers five times a day. No more mosque gatherings. I was my own God.

One of my cousins is like me. She was alone with my family one afternoon five years ago, and my mom decided to attack. She kept questioning her about why she did not pray. At one point, my cousin broke, saying she believed in reincarnation. I’m not proud of this, but I joined my mom in pressuring her. The betrayal that riddled every crevice of her face is something I’ll never forget.

Back then, I knew exactly where I was and where I wanted to be in life. I felt a secure sense of belonging with my Muslim mosque, my Muslim neighborhood, and my Muslim family.

When my mom drilled prayers in my head every night of my childhood, it was my time alone with her. Islam helps her achieve a sense of peace that contrasted with all the turmoil in her life. When my parents break their fast, they indulge in something greater than me: their shared experience of hunger and thirst, of doing something crazy to their bodies for the sake of their faith.

Things are different now, of course. I no longer find the same solace in my mother’s instruction that I once did. But sometimes, my longing for my people makes me slip back into my old practices. I’ll think that maybe if I fast for one day, I will bridge the gap between me and my family—that maybe if I say some prayers, my dad will forgive me for what I have done. But then, I listen to my own Arabic, horribly accented like my sister’s after years of neglect. I feel confident with my new walk of life, but what have I lost?

I thought that atheism would hold the secrets of fitting in, of being the same as everyone else in America. I would be a normal teenage girl with boy band posters, eating a hot dog and wearing a knee-length dress. I am those things now. But I am all alone.

Why do I find that I cannot fast for the life of me? Why is it that I find myself praying to God in times of need?

“The Muslim in you is something you cannot change. You are born a Muslim; therefore, you are a Muslim,” my mom tells me.

I wonder if I will die on my path to athiesm—if my heart will say “Muslim.”

If I go to the neighborhood mosque, the place I have not been for three years, in my scandalous tank top, will they accept me? Will I belong?

I’m perpetually lost between the two worlds, stuck in the border between them. I cannot let go of Islam—cannot cross over fully in the realm of atheism.

I was born a Muslim. One day, I declared myself to be something different. But I got lost on my way and made my home in the borderlands. Because being lost is okay.