I am a Muslim by birth but I never understood my Muslim background. I went for my religious classes dutifully when I was quite young in elementary school without comprehending nor questioning the real purpose. I had assumed it was a natural journey for me and my siblings. I learnt the Quranic verses by heart for my prayers, learnt the methods of the 5 daily prayers and when I wasn't afflicted by my Crohn's disease yet, I used to fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadhan.
It was only when I was around 15 and was forced to take Islamic Religious Knowledge as a compulsory subject in secondary school, that I learnt the immense depth and true meaning of Islam and what being a Muslim entails. The story of how the archangel Gabriel came to Prophet Muhammad in 600AD in the mountains while he was quietly meditating and asked him to read and came to reveal the first verses of the Holy Quran caught my breath,
'Read ! Read in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher who
Created man out of a clot of congealed blood
Proclaim and thy Lord is most bountiful
Who taught by the pen
Taught man which he knew not'
I was so fascinated by this verse that I had printed it out and pasted a copy on my mirror so that I would read it everyday. That was the sudden Muslim fanatic teen in me at that time. I still remember my newfound stoic loyalty to Islam and how I would have arguments with my girlfriends in school who would question Islam. But as time passed, I grew less passionate about Islam but I still did my Muslim prayers regularly.
Then, after school and while working in Ernst & Young Singapore, I met my husband Anand, who is a Hindu. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would meet and marry a non-Muslim and all the more, someone who will not convert to a Muslim (he is a devout Hindu)! My 15 year old me would have been shocked that our marriage may not be recognised in Allah's eyes and our children could be illegitimate!! But I was in love and totally blinded. Maktub - in Islam we say what God had planned out for us. We got married in a civil court - neither of us holding any religious wedding. My mom was devastated because she had assumed that I being the most faithful staunch Muslim among my siblings, that she would be going to Mecca with me for the compulsory Haj pilgrimage. But she grew accustomed to the idea with the assurance of my sister who said that of all the guys I had dated [I have had my fair share :)], this Hindu guy was the best.
So, I began visiting temples at the insistance of my husband and my girls were brought up under Hindu customs. My husband doesn't mind me doing my Muslim prayers, he actually encourages me to pray more. That's very sweet of him. When I went through a painful period a few years ago and when even with all my deepest faith in Islam, my problem couldn't be resolved, I turned to Hindu Gods particularly to Vinayagar, the Elephant God. I remember weeping in the Vinayagar Temple in Ceylon Road in Singapore one evening so oblivious to the crowd around me. My husband was there and I remember him saying when he saw me crying ' Good. Let your tears flow. Reach out to him and lay your deepest thoughts and problems with him.' He knew what I was crying over. Over time, I returned to my Islamic faith. It occurred to me that I was born as a Muslim and I should never forsake my Muslim prayers. I hadn't visited Vinayagar for a while.
Today after many moons, my husband asked me to accompany him to the Vinayagar Temple. I didn't want to disppoint him so I went along. It was crowded because we were in the midst of a Hindu Festival that goes on for 9 nights. There was a performance on one side, ladies dressed in beautiful vibrant sarees sitting on the floor watching, others going about doing their Hindu rituals, priests putting garlands on the Hindu deities, kids running around with their maids chasing them. Crowded but all so familiarly blissful. I paused and took in the moment.
Vinayagar was as usual beautifully decked in jewelry and gold shawls. My first prayer when I saw Him? 'It has been 4 years since I first prayed to you asking just for that one thing. Was it never meant to be?' It was a beautiful nostalgic moment. I remembered my tears and started welling up but I held them back in time. I have mostly embraced my issue and kind of accepted it, but I do have my moments of weakness like then. But I realised that this time, I was much more calmer and I looked at Vinayagar with new eyes, smiling. Let God do what he has plan to do for all of us. He will never give us anything we can't handle. I returned home with a smile on my face and with a certain calmness within me that just can't be explained.
My home is
usually in a mess and has dust settled on almost everything. But I believe laughter and love will win the day. In 20 years, my girls won't remember how messy the house was but will remember the time we spent together and the love they felt...