A change in faith

I was raised what I like to call “semi-Muslim.”

My family somewhat educated me on Islamic holidays and observations like Ramadan and the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, told the stories of the Quran, believed in Allah, prayed in an Islamic manner (hands folded in a cup-like position on the ground reciting the request of Allah), could recite the Allahim Yarabbim prayer, didn’t eat pork, and kept the Quran in our library.

But by the time I turned 18, I had only been in a mosque a few times.

My grandparents and their parents and even their grandparents were Muslim, and I was too young to be a breaker of traditions. So I recited and listened and recited back again.
But reciting my prayers was much easier when I had the time for it.

As I grew older, the time for prayer, religious stories, and recognition of traditions faded into to-do lists, after-school play practices, and never-ending academic duties. Insatiable wolves of thought gnawed at my mind during prayer and increasingly, all that I cared about was success in my fast-paced life, or at least as fast a pace as is possible for a pre-teen vying for valedictorian.

In haste, I rushed the recognition of Allah in my prayer and muffled all the usual parts of prayer that my mom had made me include regarding my health and that of my family. What I really wanted to pray for was academic success. I wanted to stack my A+’s in piles, build my extracurriculars up like towers, and most importantly, to inflate my resume to colossal heights…or for Allah to smile down on my carefully curated resume, of course.

And so I became agnostic in an era in which religion was already dying. Behind the scenes of a world with defined ethnicities and primary religions exists a growing group of agnostics like me. Agnostics understand the ideals of religion, but rarely have the time, energy, or overcredulity to support them.

But filling the gap of belief is spirituality, distinctly different from the institutionalized and structured practices of religion. It promotes a personal set of beliefs and practices for the search of one’s purpose. Spirituality could be a private, personal practice of religion, but for me it was the surrender of Islam, perhaps due to my growing skepticism.

The emergence of my fast-paced life, now filled with three-hour internship meetings, two-and-a-half hour play practices, a courseload of AP classes, and other self-imposed tasks like writing poetry and children’s books in my free time, decreased my desire to take another hour away from the limited hours of the day. It is true that with an increase of age comes an increase of responsibilities, so I now worship in a more time-sensitive, selective way: I might manifest a future of college acceptances, clutch my breathing stone to calm my anxiety before an important Zoom call, or practice breath control to center my body before going onstage as Ursula.

As I shifted further from group practice of religion, I found solace in the fact that I could rely on myself and myself alone to believe. Private belief is just as strong as public-practiced belief, I learned— no matter if you believe in the defined values of Allah or the undefined nature of a greater power in the world.

I grew up thinking religion was a big part of society. And it surely must be for some people, considering within three blocks of my house are a total of four churches and a temple. But an organized belief system was not one for me. I deserted the institutionalized set of religious beliefs in my family for a belief system more personal and more private: belief in the universe’s inclination towards goodness, and a belief that if you project positivity, it will boomerang back to you.

Perhaps I was selfish to create my own set of exclusive beliefs, but in the modern, chaotic world, institutionalized religion didn’t fit in my schedule. I know that all the effort I put into my future is another sort of devotion—devotion to myself for the time being. I may not fold my hands like a cup, but I use them to write poetry for emotional relief. I may not recite prayer from memorization, but I memorize the derivatives for my academic success. I may not read the Quran, but I read Turkish history to uphold my family’s roots.

This is the form my prayer takes now. While I might explore Islam once again, I now know I am whole as I dedicate myself to my future.