I decided to write a post about the positive ways in which Islam has changed me so far. So..without further ado…
1. To begin look at food as a blessing, not as an enemy of war.
For so long, eating was a major stressor in my life. From about age 10, when I realized that my body didn’t look as perfect as the one’s in the magazines, I tried to use food to make myself feel better about myself. I was always interested in fitness and eating healthy, (I asked for a Pilates mat for my 12th birthday) but in high school, it went from a healthy hobby to an unhealthy problem. Like many girls, I flirted with an eating disorder throughout high school, and then went away to college and quickly gained the freshman fifteen. My routine became, essentially, consume as little calories as possible throughout the day, go for a killer run/go to the gym, (or feel guilty about not going) and then go out and binge drink (which almost ALWAYS followed by binge eating.) I was fatter than ever, but putting more effort and stress than ever into not being fat. It was, for lack of a better term, kind of a drag. So it continued until my first ramadan, the summer after I graduated. I spent my first Ramadan with Abdé’s family, before I truly understood what Islam was and what role it was going to play in my life. At that point, I just wanted to fit in with his family, and something about eating when everyone else was abstaining didn’t appeal to me. So… I fasted. And it had an amazing affect on me and how I view food. First of all, I came to the simple realization that I COULD survive an entire day without food or water, that I wouldn’t die of hunger and that life did go on past the hunger pangs. That in itself was a humbling and strengthening experience for the “first world problems” kind of girl I was. Second of all, my body reset to its “normal” pace. Ramadan did for me what millions of people pay nutritionists to do, to get their body back on track to what is natural for them. After Ramadan, I stopped trying to force myself to “like” things that were interesting or sophisticated, or feeling like I had to “take advantage” of certain situations where there was a new (or free) food around. I started to eat like I did as a child, what I want, when I wanted it, stopping when it no longer seemed appealing. I noticed that I started to crave the foods I used to like when I was little: candy (oops), pickles, tomatoes, burgers, apples, grapes, fruit juice. Normal stuff, nothing too healthy, nothing totally toxic. Just food. And with that, the thought of looking at food as “the enemy” started to feel not only ridiculous, but also kind of ungrateful. Who was I to hate the food that I was so lucky to have in front of me? Ramadan really put food in perspective and made me realize that it is something we should cherish, not be suspicious of. This healthy outlook on food has stayed with me until today, thank God, and it is probably the reason why fasting is probably the part of Islam I hold most dear, and I wish all women who struggle with body image issues would get a chance to experience what I did.
2. To grow out of “people pleasing.”
My whole life, I have been a people pleaser. However, I never really saw this as a bad thing until I converted to Islam. The Qur’an made it pretty clear for me: Doing things just to make other people happy isn’t just spineless; it’s hypocrisy. I slowly came to the realization that something I viewed as a positive quality, making people like me, was actually leading me to a place where I didn’t really stand for anything. Everyone liked me, sure, but why? I realized it was because I didn’t really have an opinion, at least not on anything deep or relevant. I was a class clown, a sweetheart, a space cadet, but I wasn’t really someone you imagine having a lot of conviction. And Islam made me ask myself, why? What I discovered was that I was terrified of making people unhappy or angry, that my emotional foundation was very shaky because other people’s approval was my source of security and acceptance, but it was also the compass I used to determine right and wrong. I didn’t really stop to think what I thought about anything, as long as the people around me seemed to think it was OK, I took it as a green light. A perfect example of this is the reason why I started to drink underage in high school. As my friends started experimenting with alcohol, I was reluctant and scared to break the rules. But one summer, when I was 14, my sister told me that she drank with her friends. The next week, I drank for the first time. It was like by her doing it, I decided it was ok, like some sort of unwritten law had been overruled, and I continued on this way with countless other things. It wasn’t a question of whether I thought drinking was good or bad, and I realize I never even asked myself the question. It was just bad until a family member said it was OK. Islam has made me question this and has given me something that is more important than the regard of other people, which is the regard of God. I feel like I finally have a bigger, stronger, more beautiful reason to do (or not do) things, reasons that are based in truth and self improvement and grace instead of just following what seems to be the most undisputed option out there. And it feels good to have those roots. This is not to say that I have started to just do and think and say whatever I want without considering other people. On the contrary, Islam has very strong views on lying, gossiping, and respecting others (especially your parents), so I feel I have become a significantly more sincere and compassionate person as a result of that, inchallah.
Giving up television was never really a conscious choice. But I don’t follow a single television show anymore, whereas a year ago, I probably followed around 10. The reason for this is simply that the more and more I prayed and researched religion, the more and more I would feel like I was wasting my time everytime a movie or TV show came on. Either that, or the subject matter would turn me off, or I would just straight up get bored. What is amazing is that this habit has been replaced by reading (and, sadly, facebooking), which has opened my eyes to the beauty of sitting down with a good book and a cup of coffee. I just feel like life is too important and relevant to waste my time watching fake people live fake lives, but reading gives me that adventure without the “wasteful” feeling. And that is a blessing I never expected, because I was a hard core TV watcher.
As many of you probably know, Muslims don’t drink. This was probably one of the biggest changes for me, because I was a very heavy drinker in college and drinking is a huge part of my family and friend culture. However, giving up alcohol has been absolutely amazing. The amount of time, money, health, and dignity you feel like you save by not drinking is astounding and you actually start to wonder what sane person would ever drink. Don’t get me wrong, cutting drinking out of my life was a difficult process, and a slow one. It took me quite some time to get to the place where drinking was never even on my mind. But it is extremely liberating to not even THINK about needing a glass of wine to accompany your dinner, and to rid yourself of hard alcohol and hangovers. It is especially liberating to no longer wake up with the panicked feeling of “oh my, what did I do/say/eat.” That feeling is horrifying and no one should have to go through it. Today, it seems so crazy to me that I would purposely put something in my body that would make me feel sick, make me lose all concept of social norms, and make me lose my memory. (Not that I no longer understand the appeal of a nice glass of red wine, because let’s be real.) Though it was difficult to give up at first, I’m so thankful that I found something more satisfying for me.
Being a Muslim has changed the way I view everything, but one example of a recurring experience I have as a Muslim is a growing appreciation and awareness of nature’s beauty. The fact that you know when it is time to pray by the light of the sun, and that you feel God’s presence in the wind and the trees and in the innate beauty of the world magnifies your faith like you could not believe. Waking up for Fajr gives me the feeling I yearned for as a child of living in the countryside and waking up with the birds and the earth and the sun. It’s natural. And it brings nature into your mindset, even if you are living in a massive and crowded city.
Let me know what you think!