Disclaimer 1: This post contains traumatic experiences, death and views on religion. Please avoid if you feel you will be triggered.
Disclaimer 2: This post reflects my personal opinions and experiences. It has not been written to give opinion on other peoples faith or beliefs. I respect everyone irrespective of their faith or background. I strongly believe we are first and foremost humans before any (secondary) beliefs. No offence was intended when I wrote this blog.
One of my role models whom I look up to, motivates me to work harder and inspires me is a practicing Catholic. I admire her strength in faith and it clearly helps her be the amazing person she is.
This blog post is written in memory of 3 particular children I have had the honour to treat in my 6 year paediatric career, whom I still think about often to this day. My contact with them in life and through their death has hugely shaped how I view life and the world. RIP xx
1b: Spirituality (Islam)
The journey begins
I had an 'Islamic' upbringing as my parents are strict practicing muslims.
For those that don't know much about Islam, the crux is:
Belief in 1 God, his messenger the Holy Prophet Mohammed SAW, and the Quran (the never changing book of God)
Practising the 5 'pillars' of Islam:
Declaration of faith (called the shahada)
Praying 5 x a day
Fasting in the month of ramadhan,
Giving charity (zakat)
Doing the holy pilgrimage once in your life (hajj)
There are other aspects to the religion but I'm only going to touch on aspects relevant to this blog.
Growing up with Islam
My first recollection in believing in god was aged 8. I was brought up to practice Islam with an element of guilt. I.e. it is wrong to do X Y Z, if you do so you will be punished. There was always 'fear'.
FYI many muslims are not brought up this way. Perception and belief of a religion varies from person to person and in my opinion is shaped by their previous experiences especially as young children and their personalities. Many muslims see Islam (or any religion) through love etc. There are many great things about this religion: Fasting is amazing (even though I don't do this well), giving charity, abstaining from alcohol (I am grateful and proud to say I have never drank in my life- I would probably be an alcoholic otherwise!) and caring about others etc etc.
Despite growing up with unwavering belief in Islam, I wasn't the most practicing. I never ate 'non-halal' meat, drank or had boyfriends growing up. I used to fast unwaveringly but my prayers were a bit hit and miss ( and mostly to appease my mum). At this point I didn't wear the hijab (this encompasses modest dress and behaviour). Many believe this includes the covering of hair by wearing a headscarf. I always felt guilty about the 'bad bits' of my practice (and I would frequently get reminded of this by my mum!). I genuinely thought I was on a path to hell.
My belief in Islam was consolidated when I started university. I was in awe of the human body. From conception to death. I was mind blown when I learnt the cell cycles-mitosis, miosis and DNA replication.
I had read about Darwin's evolution and the 'big bang' theory. When I thought about how complex fertilisation and DNA replication is, I just couldn't accept that this all takes place because of 'chance' or 'survival of the fittest'. Seriously read about DNA synthesis/replication.. It is mind blowing. I also felt that evolution didn't have to be contraindicated with religion. Why can't both coexist together?
My guilt of being a 'bad' muslim increased and one day I decided to 'bite the bullet'. In my second year of university I started wearing a head scarf (I'm sure you will be gobsmacked by this especially when browsing my IG profile).
This occurred shortly before I met my ex-husband. Contrary to general belief he had nothing to do with my decision to put it on. He did however influence (or delay) my decision to finally take it off. I started off on this 'new journey' fairly well. I kept my prayers etc.
Then I met my ex husband and the drama ensued (see other posts).
The midlife 'tweens' crisis
As time went on I was a bit adhoc with keeping my 'prayers'.
As the abuse continued and escalated in marriage I started to become disillusioned. My ex-husband and father in law perceived themselves to be religious. I used to think how could someone hit/emotionally abuse someone and be 'holier than thou' when it came to religion. I saw it as a big hypocrisy. I felt people mixed their own personal racist/sexist/discriminative views when it came to religion and applied what they liked and disregarded what they disliked. I jokingly termed this 'pick and mix islam/ or religion'. However, part of me acknowledged that I shouldn't judge a religion from how a person behaves, but being human I did judge it.
Within the last few years of marriage I lost my desire to carry on wearing the hijab. This was mostly because I felt I didn't respect it adequately. I felt huge pressure when wearing it and constantly felt I was being judged by muslims and non-muslims. However, my ex-husband had made it abundantly clear he wanted me to keep it on. He had 2 reasons for this:
1) Apparently this reminded him to be a 'better' muslim
2) It would stop guys 'checking me out'
Even though I didn't really want to wear it, I decided I would out of 'respect' for my ex husband. The year before I got divorced I lost all patience and respect for him. I was staying in the marriage to appease my dad. One day I decided that, since my ex husband had no respect for me, I was going to do what I wanted, for me. I made a decision to take it off when I rotated to my next hospital job (I figured people would think I was crazy if I took it off mid job).
In the interim of making this decision and the day I finally took the hijab off, I ended up getting separated. Understandably many correlated my hair showing to leaving an 'oppressive' husband. Whilst perhaps partially true it didn't explain the whole picture.
I found the divorce highly stressful and felt marriage and divorce are discriminatory to females. I started to resent parts of the religion because of what I was experiencing.
Subsequently leading me to the next part of my journey.
The rebellious road
Some may argue I'm still going through the rebellious stage ;)
I still perceived myself as muslim, but apart from abstaining from alcohol and pork (which if I'm honest, I did more for health reasons) I didn't do much. I went a bit mental (no drugs or anything) but I did some crazy shit. So crazy I can't explain on here.
I didn't really want anything to do with religion. I saw it as a bit of a burden that brought me pain and suffering to my life. I felt it was hugely oppressive to females. Why are woman treated as 'second class' humans?, why are females expected to dress more modestly then men? why is it acceptable for men to have 4 wives but women cannot have 4 husbands?. Why (and a still big why) is it permissible for husbands to 'hit' their wives in certain situations.
FYI the above paragraph isn't an attack on Islam, just some questions that arose out of my life experiences. This paragraph doesn't discuss the philosophical interpretations of religion (including interpretation of the verse in the Quran which says it is permissible for husbands to hit their wives in certain circumstances) and is beyond the scope of this blog. It is important to remember that many religions and non religious cultures have similar beliefs. I am merely choosing to discuss Islam as it was the faith I was brought up. My questions are equally applicable to many other religions/cultures.
After my divorce whilst working on a children's ward I came across a very sick child. This child was not expected to die but became very sick whilst I was on shift, despite trying my best and escalating care immediately the child sadly died within 24 hours.
This child- in my opinion- suffered greatly. When I say suffer I'm not saying this child received poor medical care. This child was given the best care. This included receiving medication to relieve pain, infections etc. Doctors and health care professionals involved really did go above and beyond. Everything that could have been done to save this child was attempted. It was not a type of death I would wish on anyone, never mind a beautiful innocent child.
That child's last words before their death is still imprinted in my brain. It traumatised me. Even though this child passed away some time ago - My thoughts still frequently drift towards this poor child and I still have flash backs of what happened that day.
It was this experience which really identified my biggest question about Islam (and religion):
1) Why do people (especially children who are innocent beings) suffer before death? This includes the existence of wars, famine etc
2) If god is 'the most gracious and the most merciful' how could he could allow suffering/torture and pain in humans (especially children)
This question became a huge thing to me. The more I saw children suffer and become ill, the more upset and the more I despaired about religion
I have discussed this with both muslims and non muslims. Some responses I received included:
1) Good question- I don't know the answer
2) If people didn't die then there wouldn't be enough food/space etc in the world
3) People and kids die so other humans can join the world
4) Illness, wars and famine is man made. It has nothing to do with God
5) Sometimes people have to suffer in life to get to heaven
6) God acts in a way we may not understand. E.g. sometimes as a parent you chose to give a child an injection , they think you are hurting them but actually you are protecting them
7) Suffering is an act of worship. Only those who can tolerate suffering are given it
If I am honest, I wasn't satisfied with answers 2-6. This-in my opinion- goes against the belief that God is merciful and gracious. Surely God would override any human actions which may cause harm to others.
1) Is honest
7) I get partly, but I still don't understand why an innocent child (who in the human world isn't even legally competent to make their own decisions) should experience trauma, pain and suffering. It still boggles my mind.
The cross roads
The dilemma went on for some time.
I had serious doubts about particular principals and how I could honestly identify myself with this religion.
I have a few dear friends who were brought up as a muslim but have now chose to be atheist.
Religious beliefs aside, I can honestly say they are two of the kindest, most generous and caring people I know.
I feel their presence in my life is a blessing. Whatever faith someone practices (and if they believe in 'heaven' 'hell' or punishment). I find it abhorrent and against human nature that some would believe that such people could be 'punished'.
Definitely not my belief. They inspire me to be a better human, more then what I went through up until this point and are a special addition to my life.
However, unlike them I wouldn't call myself an atheist. I truly believe the world and life is too complex to not believe in anything.
I do believe that there is a higher being. If I'm honest I probably hover between 'agnostic' and humanist influenced by some of my islamic upbringing. I also acknowledge that the 'higher being' may be an 'abstract' concept beyond our dimensions, understanding and intelligence.
The most important thing to me irrespective of faith/belief is to treat humans as equals, with respect to faith, gender, orientation, race etc with as much kindness as you can personally give.
For some reason some children I come into contact with impact me more than others. I don't know why.
A child who I had been involved with for sometime sadly passed away.
This was another death that hugely affected me and I frequently think about this child.
The old 'how can a child suffer' popped up again. However, a different response to this question arose.
I hope there is a 'heaven' (what ever that is). Even though I can't justify or accept suffering, this is the only thing that can even give me a smidgen of comfort or hope.
I want this child, all other children (and adults) to be chilling above. Happy, care free and pain free. I reallyreally hope so because if that isn't the case then what was all that suffering for?
I don't believe in Hell and I disagree with the concept of punishment for behaviour during life.
People become who they are because of their childhood experiences.
There is no denying it. Any personal/practice of faith is directly influenced by childhood and life experiences. There will always be personal bias in the practice of religion. It is human nature. To me that defeats the point of being 'punished'. How can someone be punished for making a subconsciously influenced decision from their childhood experiences during their adult life? It just doesn't make sense.
Yes, as adults we can choose and changepath. But that is immensely difficult. Most of our childhood experiences are so ingrained into shaping us to become who we are and m few of us will ever change. A person would probably have to undertake extensive psychodynamic therapy (can't you tell I have been reading a lot about psychology) to change just a small aspect.
Yes, people who murder, rape, abuse etc deserve to be punished, but the point above still applies and it is still another big question I don't really know the answer to. I guess I have just kinda contradicted myself?
With regards to Islam there are other things I disagree with:
Any violence against men or women.
I disagree that men are 'superior' and owners of women. Yes genders are psychologically wired to be different but it does not make one superior/inferior. By stating it is acceptable to hit a women (whether symbolically or as a last resort, as some argue) it is stating that females are an inferior gender, and do not have the intelligence or equality to discuss anything using verbal communication. It is highly derogatory. Woman are equally as intelligent as males.
I don't believe it is Islamically required of a female required to cover hair. The word 'hair' is not specifically mentioned. However, if wearing the 'hijab'/niqaab etc helps your spirituality, is what you want to do for yourself, and has nothing to do with anyone else then go you.! Kudos girl power. I respect any girl with the strength and power to make that decision
The need to follow Hadith (guidance from the prophet written after his death). If the Quran is the book of God then everything that is required to be done by a 'muslim' should be specified in this holy book. This leads on to the concept of 'prayers'
Praying may help your spirituality and faith. If so good for you. However, it doesn't specify exactly how to pray in the Quran. I therefore perceive this as being open to 'interpretation'. To me a good deed or charity could be an act of prayer
Treating others with kindness and good intention is numero uno.
As mentioned previously I do have controversial views.
No offence is intended to anyone and I always encourage healthy debate and discourse.
What I have written about Islam is whatI know. It may be wrong. As a strong advocate of science-based evidence, I strongly suggest you do your own research and reading, and draw your own conclusions.