The following personal essay has been curated by Alainah Aamir, as part of her digital guest curation for May 2023.
I’m in the mosque. Then I’m on the floor. And then I'm in sujood, my head touching the ground below, and I don’t want to sit back up. I want the darkness of this embrace between the ground and my face to engulf me whole.
I want all thoughts to cease. I don’t want to think about my religion, my relationship with my religion, the laws of religion, demands of religion. I want to surrender to God. I want to be at peace.
I rise again and then fix my sleeve to hide my inked skin. I look around and wait for someone to see the contradictions I hide and for someone to see through my facade, for someone to shout at me: "You! With your haram tattoos, how dare you stand next to me!”
No one yells. No one even looks at me.
I fix my shirt. I want to hide in a cloak, not have the women around me notice the tension I carry in my heart, veiled by my clothes.
I sit on the edges of the mosque, my back resting against a wall. I pick up a copy of the Quran. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know how I feel. But I know I’m here because there is nowhere else I would rather be.
I read somewhere that an ayat—a verse of the Quran—means a sign. All verses of the Quran are signposts for the mind. My mind rattled with doubts, fears, and uncertainty—scrambled with curiosity for this scripture—attends to that thought.
I acknowledge my doubts. Some of them are clever: does God see me? Can God hear me? Am I accepted as God’s being?
Some of them are painful: am I a sinner? Am I unforgivable? Can God ever love me?
I open the Quran. I hope to find an answer to my doubts. I scan the verses and create meaning from broken translations.
“And He is with you, wherever you are.”
I feel a chill inside my bones. I wriggle away from it.
I look around and the faces of women covered in scarves beam at me. Their faces appear softer, and lighter: like a light has been turned on inside them making them glow for me. Words echo in my mind, reminding me, those who connect with God get an extension of His light, the Nur, shining on their faces like a star.
Some of them have brought their children with them. Some of them have lined the walls with their backs and are reciting words in Arabic. Some of them are reading the Quran with their eyes like a magnet and its words holding their attention like steel.
All of them appear to be at peace.
I squirm at the sight of it. I feel uneasy, unsettled, and uncertain about my place in this family of things. I feel like an imposter.
My face is creased. I feel like a soggy pear caught up in a web of shining leaves.
I walk to the ablution corner to wash away my deficiencies. I scan my face in the mirror: my kohl-rimmed eyes drooping into eye bags resembling a darkened cave meeting my cheeks.
Where’s the light? I can’t find it.
I put on a cream. Then I put on a smile.
I walk out of the corner and back into the masjid where the speaker has started reciting something loudly in Arabic and the women are lining up together to stand still.
I don’t know what he’s saying. I don’t know what to do. I stand next to them. I follow suit.
The women seem to know what to do. They raise their hands to the ears when the speaker reaffirms God’s greatness, and they bow down in submission together when the speaker repeats it. I follow their moves. I want to pass off as one of them, even for a moment, even for just one movement.
I want to silence a tyranny of thoughts doing mental gymnastics in my brain: when did I last pray in congregation? Will my prayers be accepted? Did I wash my elbows right? Am I supposed to repeat the words the speaker blows into the air or just listen to them in complete silence?
The women around me begin to sob. I command my eyes to tear up; they betray me.
One thought begets another and doubts somersaults in my mind.
I feel like a standing contradiction among them. My clothes aren’t right. My hair isn’t properly covered, and their scarves are wrapped around their faces tight.
None of their foreheads are lined with pathways unexplored that have now made a home on their faces. They look like they know where they belong: right here.
I follow the motions. I rise when they rise. I fall when they fall. I don’t know where I belong but I want it to be here.
I don’t know what to do. I feel like I am an alien who has invaded this place, occupied by those who have a right to inhabit it.
I turn my face to the right and whisper a greeting to an invisible angel resting on my shoulder.
I repeat the motion, and greet the angel on my left shoulder.
The prayer ends. The women disperse.
I crawl to find the scripture resting on the ground nearby. I feel like a sinner. I feel like a fraud.
I notice I am on the floor and I am holding the Quran keeping it there with me as opposed to elevating it on a table. I look around the room and wait for someone to come call me out. No one yells, again, and no one looks at me in a state of doubt.
I want to talk to God. I need to tell Him things. I need to talk to God. I want to tell Him how I feel.
I don’t know if I’ll be heard, I don’t know if He will listen to me.
I hesitate to open the book. Then I whisper a prayer in the air: please throw me a sign, please I need to know if I can be here, anything, please just anything to bring me closer to you, God, I want to feel nearer to you, in any way, I don’t want to feel far.
I open the book. On the edge of the paper, I notice a scribbled note, in direct quotes, as if it’s talking directly to me:
“Come to Islam, as it is, as you are.”
I close it. And I know that though I feel uncertain, I also know I’m right where I need to be. As I am. As it is.
My mind will catch up with this feeling, because I know it to be true in my heart.
Saman Zahid is a self-directed learner who is interested in the anatomy of thoughts and loves to dissect them through the art and craft of the written word.
Maham Hamza is an artist from Lahore, Pakistan. She graduated from the National College of Arts. She specialises in making figurative art and exploring themes of human psyche.