On a path

I was trying to get some Muslims I know get together for eftar, breaking fast at the end of the day during Ramazan. Hoping that it wasn't too last minute, I made a few quick phone calls and thought about what I would cook. So, on the way to Wal-Mart, as I made a right turn out of the university, I slammed into a car. It was totally my fault, I wasn't paying attention, and I didn't see her. All I could think was “khodamo cheshm zadam!”

A couple of weeks back I had thought how happy I was that it had been almost two years since my last ticket and my driving record would be clean soon. The police officer, as if I had intentionally caused an accident, handed me the $250 ticket with a stern look.

It startled me, I was shook up a little, but after I called my sister to cry and heard my little niece's voice saying, “I wuv you, I mees you, don cwy,” I felt much better.

No one got hurt and that was the most important thing. An image ran across my mind. It's a story in a Rumi poem where Prophet Mohammad goes to put on his boot and an eagle snatches it away. His initial reaction was to curse the eagle, and then he noticed that the eagle held the boot upside down and a snake fell out. The Prophet thanked him, saying that what he first thought was a misfortune, was really a blessing. In a really weird way, and I have no idea why, I think the accident was a blessing.

A sense of peace came over me. I got home and started cooking, completely happy, as if the accident hadn't even happened (I'm sure I'll remember that it happened when my insurance company calls). Everyone was late, in true Middle Eastern fashion, but there was a good turn out and I was hoping that my first eftar-hosting venture would be a success. I've been having many firsts lately. This is my first time really celebrating Ramadan and reaching this point in my life has been an intricate journey.

I've struggled with the issue of religion for a long time and been repelled by fear-based ideologies which I have been exposed. It's quite amusing actually. My first semester of college, I went to Baptist Student Union gatherings, and now, in my last semester I'm hosting eftar. All along, it has been a search for meaning, for something that makes sense to me.

Sitting there, talking with my guests about what it meant to be Muslim, and praying as a group, I felt euphoric. Not because I think I have found the one and only path, not because I think I have reached the end of my journey for Truth in any stretch of the imagination, but because I feel I am on a path.

For so long, I'd been responding to anyone who asked what religion I was that I just believed in being close to God, whichever way that was for each person. I discovered about myself, that I was saying I just wanted to be close to God, but I wasn't doing anything about it consistently. I wasn't seeking a way since I figured if you have the right intention, then any path could be the right one.

I felt uneasy picking any particular path because I felt as if choosing one, was disqualifying all the others and separating myself from other people. I felt like having to choose a religion was like putting myself into a category for the sake of others, so that they could have ideas about me and define me. We humans love to categorize things, and make everything fit into nice neat little boxes, it makes it easier to deal with the complexity of life. I was defying the notion that I had to compartmentalize myself.

One day I was feeling a little down so I went running and completely involuntarily, tears started rolling down my cheeks. It was as if each step I took squeezed them out of my body, releasing the anguish inside. I got it all out, and I started thinking very clearly, like an outside force was guiding my thoughts. I wondered, what am I afraid of? And the answer, as transparent as glass, popped into my head.

I was afraid of my ability to control my emotions and feelings. I realized that what scares me is not the trying events or circumstances which inevitably arise, but my reaction to those events. As if a light bulb suddenly turned on, I understood that the things I fear most are actually the only things in this world that I do have control over, my mental, my emotional and my spiritual state.

The beauty of namaz, Muslim prayer, for me, is this: five times a day, no matter what frame of mind you are in, you strive to clear away all the clutter that occupies your thoughts, and focus on God. It's not easy, it requires great discipline, and it does not always feel fulfilling right at that moment. It is an ingenious practice that trains you to control your mental state.

I look at it like an aim and each time I pray I am striving to hit the target. I might be worrying about a test I have tomorrow, and miss to the right; or I'm thinking about something a friend said and miss to the left; but once in a while, in those times when I am totally and fully conscientious, I achieve my objective, and it is really powerful.

The day I realized my greatest fear, I made a decision. I chose this path as the tool to help me toward where I say I want to go, towards God. In order to get to Truth, you have to get over yourself, and the material illusion of this world. This is what fasting and praying is all about, being empty of physical nourishment, clearing your mind of all thoughts, so that you may be spiritually nourished.

It is not about religion for me. It is not about an ideology or a set of rules and regulations and I do not believe in imposing the fear of hell in order to control. How other people categorize me and the standards by which they choose to judge me, are not my problem. It is not about what anybody else thinks, it is about me, and it is about my own personal journey.

It is about rising above the nafs, killing the lower self, in order to cultivate inner peace. About belief in the Love of God, which is infinitely beyond my understanding, yet I strive to wrap my mind around the concept. And about the conviction that this life is not all there is. There is something, some force out there that is outside the reach of my grasp, but I am a part of it, and each day I struggle to remain aware of it despite my earthly confines. I am but a spec of dust in a desert, trying to find meaning and purpose in the midst of billions of other specs just like me.

Although, think how amazing it is, just think how utterly beautiful it is, that you and I, specs of dust, can be filled with the Light of God, and be a part of the delicate crystal glass vase that holds his myriad of flowers.

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