To be honest I have no idea what this post is going to look like, but I know the words have been screaming to be let out of my throat, so here are all the words, jumbled and scrambled in writing, just to be heard.
I’ve been thinking really deeply about my identity lately. Why? I’ve been on a mission to connect more with people and with more people. What I didn’t realize is how hard it would be to introduce myself to strangers.
After a week of introspection, I think I’ve figured out why. This past year has been transformative for me. In the process, I’ve learned how to unfuck my brain from decades of gas-lighting, guilt-tripping and toxic expectations from my parents (read post Disappointment Is Toxic). This past year, I’ve taught myself new habits to stay positive and optimistic. I didn’t know those things were going to bite me in the ass.
You see, in the process of letting go of my childhood trauma, I also let go of what fueled my passion. So in the past few months, I’ve found myself looking for my purpose again. Trying to derive my reason all over again. Trying to put together who I am by putting together scraps of art in a journal. (I’ve literally started scrapbooking). Today, I think I found a big part of my self-expression. And it’s looking very problematic.
Here it is: I spent so much of my life rejecting my culture, religious faith, and (some) family values to the point where that rejection kind of became my identity. I’m still trying to make this make sense…
For those who don’t know me, I grew up in a religious Muslim family to parents who immigrated to the U.S. from Egypt.
At least that’s the description I tell most folks. I “forget” to mention a big part of my life. My dad is a teacher, but he’s also an Imam at a mosque. To clarify: my dad is a preacher. Which makes me a preacher’s kid.
My family is Muslim and very, very strict.
So this translates to no wearing pants, no wearing makeup, no plucking your eyebrows, no guy friends, god forbid dating, no listening to music, no coming home after the sun sets (so yes, that’s 5pm in the winter), no shaking any male’s hands (including my cousins- yes I also think that one is a little bizarre), no eating pork or alcohol, no moving out of the house until you’re married (though that’s just reserved for girls) and oh yeah, no exposing any legs, arms, neck, or hair (also just for girls). I’m sure I can keep going but let me not forget the point…
The point is this: my parents were hellamothafucking strict.
And guess what?
I became the sneakiest kid alive.
My life became divided into school life and home life. Mama and Baba had no idea who I was at school. Or the music I’d listen to with my earplugs under the covers at night. Or any of the guy friends I had.
Until one day after school in the eighth grade, when a great friend of mine gave me a hug in the carpool line a few feet of where my dad was sitting in his car picking me up. He saw the whole thing. As soon as I opened the car door, well. shit. was. fucked.
Oh, I forgot to mention. My dad has anger issues. And so does my mom. It’s not just an Egyptian thing (though if you’ve ever driven in that country you’d understand), but my parents are extremely anxious people who uprooted and immigrated across the world all by themselves with a family of seven to take care of. I’m not mad at my parents anymore. But their poor stress management and resulting authoritative parenting style play an important part of my socialization.
Anyway. I became a rebel. And a fucking good one.
I moved out against my parent’s will at nineteen. I didn’t speak to them for over a month. That means I did a lot of ignoring their calls and texts. Even when they were really worried about me. Especially when they were worried about me….. (I still hope they can forgive me for that time).
When I moved out, I stopped wearing the hijab. I stopped following Islam. I stopped praying. I stopped fasting. I dated boys. I drank alcohol. I smoked weed. I kissed girls. I went to Vegas and I gambled. I wore bikinis. I got a tattoo. I danced at clubs. And worst of all… I ate pepperoni pizza.
To the typical American, this seems like the typical college experience. To the Muslims reading…………………. yeah. Ya girl went off the rails.
And I did all of those things without my parents finding out, of course.
Truthfully, I did a lot of those things because I was in a bad spot mentally, battling depression and an eating disorder. But a lot of the motivation to do some of those things came from my deep rooted hatred towards my culture.
I think the start of my rejection came when I was a little girl and I began noticing the double standards in my culture. Like how as a girl I had to cover my hair but my brothers didn’t have to wear anything to outcast them– I mean– identify them. But also how men could lead prayer but women couldn’t. How women couldn’t give sermons. How women could only have one man but men could marry four wives. How women couldn’t travel without having a male guardian. How women had to say yes to sex every time the man asked.
I became very anti-man before it was cool.
I’m not proud of that, by the way. I’ve had to do a lot of rewiring from that belief too.
So anyway, I became a feminist at age twelve. The patriarchy was a perfect place to displace all of my pent-up anger. I remember the electricity that would light up my fingertips and the tip of my tongue every time I thought about dismantling the patriarchy.
My downgrade to a more moderate and temperate feminist is a story for a later time, but the significant point is how life was easier back then when I had a clear purpose fueled by pain and passion. The level-headed me lost her fire. And now the disoriented me is searching for it.
You see, I don’t think I can put out a fire that big with daily positive affirmations. That just keeps the roaring down in my stomach. My insides are aflame. I don’t fear my fire. What I fear is what will happen after I let it all out. I fear burning the people I love.
Like my well-intentioned parents.
I have no issues with anyone practicing these cultural values, but I do have so, so many issues with the values themselves. So, I fear speaking up.
I have fears of hurting my parents’ hearts. Of tainting their reputation. Of humiliating them. Of offending people who practice these traditions. Of being misunderstood.
All of these fears have been chaining me to an identity that doesn’t feel true to me. Skin that doesn’t feel like me. I have always been wildfire. Obedience feels like drowning. And even though I live away from my parents, and I am so grateful that I had the ability to leave such a toxic environment, I still feel the strings. Moving my arms. Moving my lips. What to wear. What to say.
What I want to say is I don’t believe in a god that will put me in hell for wearing skinny jeans. I don’t believe in a god that will put me in hell for smoking a little weed. What I want to say is do I even believe in hell?
I’m going to write this all now while this spark is ignited, sorry for the chaos, but the concept of hell is SO FUCKED UP. What the hell. Who the hell. Would sentence people to infinite suffering in a pit of fire just because they grew up in the “wrong” religion with the same fear of being sentenced to hell if they left it?? Talk about exclusivity. Talk about cult mentality. Let’s actually fucking talk about modern religion??
I hate that I have to put a disclaimer on this- but here it goes. I’m not invalidating any truth in any religion. I know nothing. I am posing my own theory that the traditional religions people follow today may not be the same message Muhammed preached 1400 years ago or what Jesus tried to teach 2000 years ago. How that’s not too hard to believe because have you ever played the game telephone? Perhaps these prophets were inspired by God and their purpose was to, in fact, spread the truth about oneness. I am a big believer in oneness- in Islam it’s called Tawheed. I believe we are all a part of one god. That we are god-operated beings, souls, experiencing the 3D in cycles called life and death. I love religion. Well, I love my own religion. And this finally brings me full circle.
A big part of my identity is curating my own philosophy. It is extracting what I love from Islam and Buddhism and Hedonism and Stoicism and internalizing these values in order to operate in my truest form, to become a vehicle for god’s work through my purpose. The thing is, I don’t need a cross on my neck or a scarf on my head to do this. I need only remembrance that I am an insignificant expression of a bigger miracle called Life.
I am inspired by the wise and lovely utterances of Muhammed when he was inspired by the intuition within his pure soul. I am inspired by Jesus’s commitment to unconditional love when he died on the cross. I am inspired by Buddha’s rejection of material desires to overcome the suffering of attachment. I am inspired by Carl Jung’s admiration of the collective unconscious. I am inspired by the meaninglessness of my existence to go on existing however the fuck I feel will bring me towards my highest potential, because my highest potential will always be driven by self-love and self-love is all that matters, to me.
So take this rebellion only just a declaration of the love I have for the god rumbling in my chest. Making all of that noise. Forcing the electricity throughout my body into my fingertips to write this blog post.
Why do I write? Because self-expression is worship.
Mama always told me not to listen to anyone but god.
So I’ve broken crosses and burned holy books in the name of god.
I’m listening really closely mama,
and I think my name is god.