In Search of God: My Journey From Doubt To Certainty20 May 2020
Very early on in my life, my future was carved out for me. It was absolutely clear what was wanted of me: a traditional Islamic upbringing, education and lifestyle. And it was absolutely clear what was not wanted: anything too western and modern. From the age of 11, I was enrolled into an Islamic boarding school which further reinforced this narrative that I had to be somehow protected from the outside world, of which apparently only fitna and fasad resided. This sowed the seeds of what was to grow into a deep inner conflict, a conflict which I would spend many years trying to uproot.
When it came to mandatory secular education, I excelled especially in science and mathematics. It was part of my temperament that I had a strong curiosity for how the world worked. Interestingly though, this curiosity was at odds with what I was being taught. As students, we were actively discouraged from reading philosophy and non-Islamic books – creationism was presented as the only acceptable worldview whilst any entertainment of big bang cosmology or evolutionary biology was deemed downright offensive and even treasonous. One could already imagine the cognitive dissonance that was making its way into our minds. The issue of morality and scientific theory was erroneously conflated. At the same time, the validity of the Quran was largely supported by this notion that there were scientific miracles in the Quran. So on the one hand, science was immoral and heretical, on the other hand, science was on our side?
As far as morality was concerned, once I left the boarding institution at the age of 16, I grew to vehemently despise my former teachers for the years of psychological and physical abuse they inflicted. I just could not understand how the very institutions that were meant to protect me from godlessness and oppression, were the same institutions that wounded the core of my being. There was a facade, a strong victim complex even among the wider Muslim community which would deflect any criticism as Islamophobic. A blind-eye was turned from any injustice happening within the Muslim community and all of the attention was focused onto the West, whose entire agenda was thought to only defame Islam. Yet, I found genuine safety, protection and friendship among less religious Muslims and non-Muslims. Who was I to complain?
I was soon to turn 21 and in my second year at university. I had made new friends, many of whom were religious with very different perspectives on Islam. However, there was an ever-growing turmoil within me which left me restless as it gnawed away at my soul. The enthusiasm and sense of belonging, which I once had for Islam and the Muslim community, was dying. I felt abandoned, but by whom I did not know… My prayers felt ignored. And whilst I realised that my understanding of Islam was merely one of many perspectives, I could not help but feel that Muslim preachers and their followers were either deeply confused or stuck in the past. This gave me a sense of purpose as I wanted to research the religion for myself and not blindly follow what the imam was preaching on the pulpit. And so I began.
I made a note of those verses which were deemed controversial and began reading up on their many interpretations. Needless to say, things weren’t looking very good. With every question opened up another can of worms, until the whole of religion appeared man-made – one big fat lie. The concept of hell seemed insane and the stories came across as myths and fables than historical realities. I was absolutely terrified to tell anyone what I had discovered yet it felt like I had made a giant breakthrough. I struggled to keep my mouth shut and began formulating arguments in opposition to traditional thought. All of that inner turmoil began erupting into my criticism. I was angry and I felt cheated. Overtime, my friends began to distance themselves from me. That year, all of my previous social relations fell apart… I fell apart.
Like Adam, I had eaten the apple offered to me by the serpent, and like Moses, I was left to wander through the desert aimlessly. These psychological parallels between the Abrahamic stories and my actions were missed largely because I had associated the voice of my community with the voice of God. And so it was no wonder that the god which I came to reject was nothing more than an idol constructed by my own mind. “There is nothing like unto Him.” No matter how intelligent one is, no matter how many years one has studied and researched, and no matter how wrong one’s opposition may seem, the fact remains that God is still infinitely greater than anything which can be said about Him. It is this fact which ought to govern our lives and compel us to treat one another with kindness and compassion. For it is the most troubled of hearts which require the most softness and tenderness. And if Jesus and Muhammad were sent as a mercy to mankind, then should it not be the duty of every believer to model their behaviour?
I will be turning 24 at the end of this year. And like a seed, carried far, far away by the storm, I finally feel like I have been planted firmly by the hands of God, in the grounds of love and humility. I can feel myself sprouting again, rejuvenated and full and life. Is it the believer who seeks incessantly for an omnipresent God? It cannot be done. Similar is the Night of Power. When the mind and body grow weak through long fasts and acts of worship, the believer soon loses himself, and upon losing himself, it is He who helps him find Himself.
“For thirty years I sought God. But when I looked carefully, I saw that in reality God was the Seeker and I was the sought.” – Anonymous Sufi