In light of the recent death of one of my family members, I have been musing on personal faith and its context in my brief life. This faith has sustained me through both tragedies and triumphs in the past and continues to support me each day. I know that many of my readers are not religious, so please do not take this story as an attempt at conversion - it is exactly the opposite. Personal faith must be approached on one's own path, and this is my story of arriving at it.
I first learned about my religion through the media. Growing up in a secular household, with one parent Christian and the other Muslim, I had never really thought about Allah from the perspective of organized religion. He was a being in the abstract sense when I was younger - I have no memories of faith beyond the paper-thin symbolism of winter holidays. I didn't know about Ramadan then.
I've written previously about 9/11 and its role in making me a reactionary activist to the Islamophobia that followed. But seeing Islam as a personal religion is different than seeing it in the activist light. No, it came to me in another package: The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read this book at an age that was much too young for its subject matter, though I appreciate that it came into my life at that point (and am intensely curious to see what different impressions I get when I finally read it again). Malcolm X was a convert to the Muslim faith, someone who did not take the teachings for granted and approached them with careful eyes. Though he did not bring Islam to me, the words of his book displayed to me that the religion is loving as it is powerful, and as familiar.
At that time in my life, I needed a force like that. I had been bullied in school and was suffering from depression, though at the time the only names I had for it were apathy and loneliness. I chose personal faith over personal destruction, though the idea was still abstract. To this day, it comforts me to know that this choice was the one that kept me stable and allowed me to fully experience the life that I lead now - faith has passed with me through the shocking times and the beautiful ones, and it resides within me to return to lest I forget.
I suppose that's why I am returning to it now. The reassurances that my faith provides keep the sadness at bay. There is an end to suffering and there is a better place that we pass into once we are in the care of Allah once more. But more than that, the strength and dignity of our religion keep me working to improve my own circumstances and take stock of the life I am leading: what can I do better to take care of myself and those close to me? What can I do to better the world that we live in, so that we are not waiting in vain to pass into death? Even as I am alone, I gather strength and perspective. We are only given the burdens we can carry, and I will carry on with the number of days, months, and years I have left.