Why do I chase Islam?
This isn't a rhetorical question, I really would like to understand the pathology of my continual fascination with a religion, worldview, and life path that I have no familial, ethnic, or historical connection to. I simply do not understand what it is about Islam that intrigues me so, and furthermore, I do not understand exactly why I cannot leave it alone. So the point of making this blog was essentially to let out my feelings in a way where others don't feel like the "owe" me a response. Let me dive a little bit into my own history.
I am a third generation Ukrainian American. I was born and baptized into the Catholic church (Eastern Rite, Ukrainian specifically). I can remember plenty of Sunday mornings of going to church with my entire family (Yes, dad was still around at that point) & at a young age, it didn't mean much to me in that I didn't understand exactly why we had to get up early, get dressed in business casual clothing and drive about a half hour out to another county, wherein we would go sit in a little old white building for an hour or so-- standing up, sitting down, repeating words in a call and response style, kneeling down, standing up again & the older kids and adults would file out into a line and the old grandpa of a man who led this activity would one by one, use a golden spoon to place a little bit of bread into their mouths before they took a sip of something called "wine" out of the most expensive looking cup I had ever seen (ornate with gold and silver)-- then we would just turn around and go home, and life would continue as normal.
When I turned seven years old, that's when things began to change for me. I had gone to Sunday School and become familiar with the elementary stories of the Garden, Noah, and the star of our specific show, a man named Jesus, but I hadn't seen what my part in all of this was, as I was quite literally along for the ride. Then I was told that I would be training to be able to participate in the ritual of bread and wine, what those in the know called "communion". I had to go into a little booth with a screen and tell the kindly old grandpa (whom we called "Father") about all of the bad things I had done, they called them "sins", and I had to say that I was sorry for them which, when I heard myself saying things like "I was mean to my baby sister/I disobeyed my father/I said rude words/etc" I legitimately felt for the first time that I wasn't a very good person & then I was assigned a few prayers to say not as punishment, but to show Jesus that I really was sorry for doing these bad things. This was called "reconciliation" and it had to take place before I could participate in communion. You were supposed to do this as often as you needed to, but ideally once a week. However, this being the early 1990s, nobody really did aside from the few older people in our rural corner of post-industrial upstate New York.
After I made communion for the first time, with all of the pomp and circumstance involved in any Eastern Catholic milestone, I began to feel more and more of a connection to what was happening on Sunday mornings. I still didn't understand the words that were being spoken by the priest very well, or why they never changed from week to week, but I felt a very deep connection to the physicality of the church itself. I was enamored by the darkness of the interior: the dark wood paneling, the deep red carpet, the large wooden pews, the absolutely gorgeous stained glass windows, the scent of frankincense and candle wax, the opulence of the sacramental implements of our small rural congregation in all of their splendor... something about the aesthetic of the place made me feel safe despite this being a public place where I had to behave myself and “act my age” (to quote my parents). I didn't feel threatened or exposed here, I felt a sense of immense comfort as the rays of sun poured through the multi colored stained glass windows. It was like stepping out of the time and space that I occupied in Harpursville, NY and being swaddled in some sort of otherworldly space.
Bringing it back to where I am now: In light of this, why do I chase Islam? What is it about the religion of my parents that isn't “enough” for me, particularly when the research that I have done thus far has shown to me that the path of Islam is so much more demanding than any branch of Christianity that I have dabbled in since I left the confines of the church to go out and live the typical suburban small town American teenage life with all of its vices, distractions, and ennui? Furthermore, with all of the time I have spent making peace with my conception of Jesus-as-personal-lord-and-savior, all of the wrestling with the Old and New Testaments, all of the going out and coming back again when a new church would inevitably be missing that “something special”...
...Why am I so curious about, fascinated by, and attracted to Islam, to impress a girl? (there isn't one who would be impressed, and you can't even meet women or date as a Muslim. I don't have parents to arrange a marriage for me, so choosing a Muslim life would invariably be a lonely and celibate one).
...is it to shock my parents? (My father hasn't talked to me in years and denies me and my sister as his children now that he's gotten his marriage to my mother annulled by that same religion that I took so much comfort in throughout my life whereas my mother is a rather live and let live person, but seems to look at Islam and the Qur'an with a nervous apprehension)
...Am I trying to be a non-conformist and stick my finger in the eye of American society? (Not at all, America is no longer a “Christian nation” and likely never truly was when you look into what happened across America's short history thus far & Islam is certainly not a religion for people who do not wish to conform to social norms)
...Am I seeking approval from others? (Absolutely not, I don;t know enough people to do something like that and even if I was super well known and liked in this area, there would be no pressure to convert to Islam at all as most people are quite irreligious & have not even a cursory understanding of Islam)
...Is this an attempt to be “unique” and build an identity? (I am already too “unique” for my own good and this has had a detrimental effect on finding work, making friends, meeting a wife, even finding a church where I fit in. Besides, I already have a concept of identity when it comes to asserting oneself as a unique individual with dignity).
None of these potential excuses feel remotely legitimate at all. At this point in time I don't even have an answer aside from “Every time I try to write-off Islam, I can't walk away but for a few months” and in addition to that, my periods of putting Islam into the back of my mind usually end up stressful and riddled with tragic news & painful life transitions. I wouldn't even be able to be a “good Muslim” due to my autism spectrum related fascination with music, my inability to speak, write, read, or comprehend another language without translating its meaning back into English in my own head (I did this a lot when Ukrainian was being spoken at church), my distaste for being around other men + their painfully desperate attempts to not look remotely sensitive or warm & my tendency to have female friends who I am closer to.
At the end of the day, I wouldn't even know where to start if I chose to dive head-first into Islam and make a commitment to radically reorganizing my life, forgetting everything about who I thought I was & what I knew, to become someone completely different... all the while dealing with a mental illness that makes even the most ridiculous conspiracy theories seem like objective reality.
Writing this blog wasn't a request for assistance from the forum members of ShiaChat. It's more an attempt to organize and catalog my thoughts, and figure out exactly what's taking place inside of my head that's got me so fascinated and intrigued with this specific religion that by all intents and purposes, asks its adherents to live as the polar opposite of the identity I have already crafted for myself since the tender age of sixteen.
Inshallah, I will discover the source.