long as I can think back I was an agnostic, Russelian sense. My parents were atheists and my father made quite sure I wouldn't fall for any religious sermons at school. He gave me books such as 'Die Hexe' (The Witch) by Wolfgang Lohmeyer
, dealing with bigot hysteria in Cologne 1627, and encouraged me to read history books. Religion classes were voluntarily at my school but he also encouraged me to take them. "They're idiots!" he said, "But it cannot harm you learn how they argue.."
However, the religion teacher wasn't willing to argue with me. I was thrown out of class within days and the teacher filed a socalled 'blue letter' - that was the muchfeared note for the parents that they have to appear in school to be informed about their offsprings' misbehaviour. Well, in this case, the only one who had reasons to fear was the teacher when my father showed up...
I gave it a chance, though, I've read the bible from the first page to the last, just to find out that it was definetely the most stupid, intolerant and narrowminded book I've ever read. It well explained the more embarrassing parts of European history..
In short, I really wasn't from the material you make pious people from. And
I didn't become a Muslima because I suddenly became religious or wanted to be pious. Actually, I only became a Muslima because my husband asked me to. His family insisted on it, and while he wasn't willing to demand it from me he made quite sure that he would love me to convert. He had been a rebel all his life and he was tired of it. He wanted to go home, settle down and live in peace with his family after all the fights he gave them during his younger years. The older he became the more did Islam mean to him.
We discussed the matter at great length and I told him that I would hardly ever become a good Muslima. I'm too much of a cynic to become very religious, and it goes against my nature to pretend to be something what I acually are not. He told me he wouldn't mind, for as long as I would respect Islam it would be fine with him.
And I hadn't problems respecting Islam. Unlike Christianity it doesn't come along with a shameful history and more skeletons in the cellar than the human mind can imagine. It might have had its fair share of idiots and culprits marching over dead bodies in order to conquer new grounds but compared to Christianity their numbers were small (even though nowadays there seem to be certain folks that desperately try to catch up..).
Throughout centuries, Islam presented itself as an enlightened and rather peaceful religion. Arts and science blossomed. Just compare Muslim Spain to medieval Europe, or think of the tolerance Islam used to have for other 'people of the book'. Both Christians and Jews could live in an Islamic surrounding without getting harmed. They were demanded not to spread their religion around, and they had to pay a special tax. Compared to the Christian habit of burning this was of course barbaric.
As my husband once pointed out, if America would have been conquered by Arabs the natives would nowadays run around in thobes and go to the mosque at friday. Unfortunatley for them they were conquered by good Christians which is why they are more or less extinct except for a few miserable remains in socalled 'reservations' (kind of rural open air ghettos, usually located in the wastelands no-one else can use). And so
I became a Muslima. It wasn't really difficult, it didn't even require me to lie. There are actually only two little things that you have to agree with:There is no god but Allah...
- fine. Considering that 'Allah' translates as 'god' it basically means 'there is no god but god'. Considering further that 'god' is the human conception of divinity there hardly is an argument against it. ... and Mohamed is his prophet!
Equally fine. After all, Mohamed (peace be upon him) was the founder of the religion. No arguing here either. "La ilaha illa Allah, Mohamed rasul Allah"
- well done, girl! You're a Muslima now.. What
really struck me as weird was that no-one from the family that so vehemently insisted on me becoming a Muslima seemed to care much afterwards. Sure they all were happy but that was it. No-one ever pressed me on my faith or asked any questions. They did not expect me to go to the mosque or keep prayer times. The only one who will discuss Qu'ran or the Sunna with me is my husband, and of course our family imam. But funny enough, they all agree what a good Muslima I am...
Which is somewhat odd when there really wasn't much change in my life. I never drink alcohol and haven't done so before, in spite of being born in the city that prides itself for making the best beer in the world, and in spite of having a father whose biggest joy is his wine cellar. But I don't like alcohol, neither it's taste nor its smell, and I truly despise drunken people.
The dress code was new to me but rarely something religious. As said in a previous post, wearing the abaya is more a tradition than anything else, and when it comes to the rest of my wardrobe I never have been fashionable, anyway.
The only thing that really came hard to me after the conversion was not eating pork anymore. After all, I'm German - nothing beats a good pork roast with potato dumplings and baked apples. No problem in Saudi Arabia when there is not much of a chance to come across Kasseler Cutlets on a Saudi market but in Germany I sometimes have to sigh. Alas, whenever I spot a wonderful looking packet of minced pork in a shop and have the image of delicious Mettbroetchen coming up before my inner eye my good husband will stand there and smile, softly reminding me that even my non-Muslim German doctor tells me that I must not eat pork because it is not good for my rheumatic arthritis. Argh.. I hate to be reminded of that! I'd vastly prefer he would to stick to the religious reasons.. But okay, no pork then. It's actually just a small sacrifice if it keeps a loved one happy.
That I rarely watch TV isn't a sign of religiosity either - I had thrown the TV out of my home two years before I even met my husband. It went on my nerves and the stupidity of the programs was beyond comprehension. I have my hifi system instead, and my books. In how far it is very pious to listen to music and read Bertrand Russell escapes me but it seems the family thinks that. A reason might be that we have an 'old-fashioned' taste of music, a great fondness especially for medieval music from Al-Andalus
. Even the family imam has asked for copies once in a while.
Prayer times - we keep them up. When in Germany my husband will often slop around the daytime prayers, mainly because he's out of the house and around non-Muslims, but not in Saudi. And no matter where we are, there is no way he would ever miss Fajr, no matter how long the night has been - and that's not only because we have a four-pawed Fajr alert, two of them, to be exactly..
(How do you get a four-pawed Fajr alert? Quite easy - first you get yourself one or two extremely pampered, rotten spoilt cats. Then you plan in two or three days when you get up for Fajr thinking "Well, if I have to get up for Fajr I might as well feed the cats.." Cats never give up an advantage they once had in their paws! Be assured that there is no chance you will ever oversleep Fajr again, because for the next years to come it will be "Well, if I have to get up to feed the cats I might as well..." You get it.)
Fajr means the beginning of the day and to my husband it is the most important prayer of all. I usually just sit and watch. In the beginning of our marriage I used to leave him alone because I thought he would prefer privacy but he told me he just wants me around, even if I don't pray myself. For me it's more of a short meditation, a reflection perhaps, and I feel very close to my husband then. I actually love to watch him pray, and it's a bit like I have to protect his peace. It's a very warm feeling.
Apart from that, Fajr is most likely the most beautiful time of the day - especially in Saudi when it's relatively cool outside and after the prayer you go out in the garden and watch the day awake. Isha comes next in importance, it ends the day and all hassles and efforts have to stay behind. Sometimes I feel a bit sorry that I lack the deep faith that is required to pray, but I don't want to fake it. For my husband Islam is holy, not only a religion but a philosophy of life and I would feel like offending it when just mimicking it.
My husband does not think I would but he does not try to talk me into anything. He thinks I'll find my own prayers sooner or later. We talk about religion quite often and I'm just happy when he says he has become a better Muslim since we were married. This means more to me than anything else, because I know what his religion means to him. He fought long enough to find peace in his heart. I think
that deep inside I am still just an agnostic, no matter how much the family rejoices over me being a 'good Muslima'. At times I feel like I should protest it but then, what should I tell them? And what would be the difference?
Somewhen last year's Ramadan I sneaked off to my mothers in law to have a shisha - needless to say my dear husband neither eats or smokes during the day and even though I usually join him, the desire for a smoke can get the better of me. My mothers in law sat there, TV running, shisha smoking, big bowl of pralines between them. They encouraged me to get some, giggling that they would not tell my husband. After all, we Muslimas have to stick together, don't we?