The bitter reality

Fatima Chand

I accepted Islam two years ago, offered the very first salat of my life 24 months ago. It refreshed my soul, mind and heart. I felt like a new person. Things began to make sense. My life seemed to be on a very different track from those around me, in terms of spirituality of course. I felt light. No more tears of melancholy. The ray of hope dawned on me like the rays of a brand new day. I was overwhelmed.

“I am a Muslim!” I told my sister. She was shocked. “You went to India…the land of Hindus, how in the world did you become a Muslim?” she asked. “Is it a guy?” I laughed. “No! I found Allah,” I told her. Initially, my sister was very much happy for me. She told me follow my heart.

A friend taught me how to offer salat. Every night, from ten o’clock to one in the morning or sometimes two, she used to teach me Surah Fatiha via Skype. I learned the history of our beloved Prophet (SAW) and read Fazail-e-Amaal (Volume 1).

Alongside, I completed my graduation which is what I had come to India for. I also found a job. Waking up for fajr was, and still is, very much challenging. Leaving the bed with sleep in the eyes and limbs is very taxing. But then I loved it and began to enjoy it too. I also buzzed my friend during fajr to wake her up. If she was up early, she’d do the same for me. During office hours, I worked like a professional. Then I rushed back to my flat and offered salat. Then out again for a walk and something for supper. That was my life. I used to hang out with my friends and that too became less.

I have learned that if a Muslim (by birth) says something which falls into the category of superstition and says that it’s sharia, then it has to be taken as sharia because he/ she is saying so. No questioning. That’s ‘bad’

I relayed the change of religion to my close friends. They were cool with it.

Then I took another big leap in life…the decision to come to Kashmir – Srinagar. My friend told me it was rather dangerous to live all by yourself in a big city. I thought it was also about time that I focused on being a good Muslim. Not that I wasn’t being a good Muslim…I offered salat, read the transliteration of the Qur’an, fasted and gave sadaqa. I was doing whatever I could to be a good Muslim.

In October of 2014, I landed in Srinagar (for the fourth time… I have been traveling to this enchanting city since 2012). After a swift drive into the heart of the city, I was given a burqa. “No more jeans and T-shirts. This is not Delhi,” I was told. With hesitant thoughts, I wore the burqa and felt odd. Then a sense of peace and calmness set over me. I felt protected. I liked it. Wearing a burqa is cool. It gives you the freedom that body hugging clothes cannot give.

Then I found myself amongst a family. They were so kind and loving that I missed my own family. But then, my family had shattered. My mom passed away in 2011, before that my dad. My sister had gotten married and after initially being happy that I had accepted Islam, she took sour U-turn. “You have disrespected your parents’ religion. I am ashamed to tell everyone that you are a Muslim!” she told me. “But if mom and dad would have been alive, I think they would have been happy,” I said. “Whatever!” my sister said. “You have disrespected your birth religion. And you are not a Muslim. You are a ‘revert’. Always remember that, a ‘revert’.”

This was a very depressing time for me, but I let Allah handle it.

The label ‘revert’ seems to be stuck with me. Wherever I go, or whoever comes to meet me…I am called ‘revert’, I am also introduced as a ‘revert’.

I don’t have any problem with me. I am proud I reverted to Islam. In fact all the companions of the Prophet (SAW) embraced Islam after it was revealed to the Prophet. So did all the Muslims of his era. None were Muslims by birth then. And here’s something to think about too…when the Prophet and his companions introduced their fellow Muslim brothers or sisters, they didn’t use the word ‘revert’. They used to say that so and so is the son or daughter of so and so and he or she belongs to this particular tribe or clan.

In Srinagar I moved from one family to another, then another and then another! I felt as if I was in a swirling storm which was throwing me here and there. I tried to notify my friend, but she didn’t respond.

It was winter. I didn’t have any warm clothes with me. I shivered with cold. I contacted my guardian. My suitcase was in another building which only he had access to. His response was indifferent. I got extreme backache. For three days I cried because I couldn’t move.

I had come to this city in submission to Allah, and in turn I have given up my thoughts, my feelings and my identity. Because if I don’t, then I am ‘bad’

Then I came face to face with my situation. I realized I didn’t have a foothold or a stable roof over my head. Plus, the families I lived with were different. The first family was liberal. I loved them. The second was extreme – “Stay in the room, we will get you food and water, whatever you need!” they would tell me. I only came out of the room when there wasn’t any male around. The third family was okay. They were friendly, but I stayed only a day there. The fourth was liberal too.

Then finally, I landed in the religious institution which I had initially been promised. It was great. I was finally learning something. There were a lot of girls, born Muslims from various districts of Kashmir. Majority were victims of the September 2014 floods. A few girls made fun of my wheatish complexion and language. I felt really bad. I told the in-charge about this discrimination. She waved it off as nothing.

I handled the situation with silence. I stopped going to the room where the girls used to sit for meals. Then one night, my condition suddenly became awful. Terrible shivering followed by a crippling headache. I informed the in-charge, I need to get to the hospital. Hours went by in pain, evening set in and he didn’t come to check on me. Finally, not able to bear the pain, I requested my friend’s cousins to take me to the hospital. The medication soothed me. The pain lasted for a little more than a week.

Being a foreigner in a strange land is full of hardships, setbacks as well as ups and downs. I came here to learn Islam and have my questions unanswered. No one in this religious institution is able to answer them. May be it’s the language barrier or the indifference. I don’t know. Allah knows the best.

Then there’s another bitter reality. You are not allowed to raise your voice against what you regard as wrong. If you do, you are labeled bad. I left everything to live and breathe Islam, but I am not getting that space. I have the zeal to learn. Staying in the institution, I learn from books and the internet. I was told that I need a guide. When I suggested this to the head, he laughed saying, “Oh! You don’t need a guide.”

Now I feel the darkness rising inside me again. The light seems far, out of reach but I know it’s there. It’s waiting for me to grasp it again. I cry. I sleep. I sleep, I cry. This is not what I had in mind. Sometimes, I feel I was better off by myself in that big city, working till late in the office, the flat, salat and sleep.

I have learned to disregard what’s bad. It’s none of my business. I have learned not to voice my thoughts, and to nod my head in submission. I have learned that if one asks questions, one’s imaan (faith) becomes weak. I have learned that if a Muslim (by birth) says something which falls into the category of superstition and says that its sharia, then it has to be taken as sharia because he/she is saying so. No questioning. That’s ‘bad’.

I had come to this city in submission to Allah, and in turn I have given up my thoughts, my feelings and my identity. Because if I don’t, then I am ‘bad’.

I die the death of this bitter reality every day.

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