On Losing My Community

Somewhat rambly, very unstructured. As always, bear with me.

I will bet my hijab collection that anyone who goes into an Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) convention for the first time with an open mind is bound to pick up at least one nugget of truth that illuminates their understanding of Islam.

For the first time.

I attended the convention two years in a row. The first year it made such an impact on me that it inspired me to start writing this blog–something I will always be grateful for. But after attending it the second year in a row and livestreaming it this year, I know that I am growing out of it. And I know I am not the only one. Other RIS veterans like myself are also realizing that they need more. They need more than to be told the messages they not only know, but have internalized. My prowling through tweets related to RIS have also piqued some other concerns. There were entire sessions devoted to how we should act when the Prophet is mocked. (A topic which, I think, has been done to death, especially considering that the RIS audience is not the sort to partake in a violent reaction.) But was there any mention of Malala Yousafzai? About what exactly we do about the oppressors who kill in the name of Islam? Where are the actionable items?

Seeing the gaps results in a muted disappointment like the one that comes with realizing that your parents are not geniuses. But you don’t love your parents any less when realizing this, or think they’ve gotten something terribly wrong. You just realize it’s you who’s changing, and you move on.

There is more, there is a much more personal element to my experience of RIS this year, and there is something insistent in me that compels me to share it here. My feelings about RIS are a reflection of my growing understanding of my own self in relation to–actually, more like my isolation from—the Muslim community.

Things have been this way for as long as I can remember, but it is only now that I am accepting it. Part of it has been always being a loner. Sometimes that aloneness is loneliness; sometimes it’s just alonneess. My Islamic studies teacher in high school once gave me a sympathetic look and said: “Your’e always alone, Sarah.” The lectures I would attend in college, or the events I attend now, I attend alone. I have attempted to nurture friendships with other Muslims, but they never took root.  Then I started writing here, and as a result, almost all of the lively conversations I have had with Muslims take place online.

But I still deeply wanted the personal connection, some way of experiencing the same thing with friends I could see, touch, talk to. Yet, any attempt to recreate this phenomenon IRL has been pitiful. I feel like a guy who has desperately been trying to impress a girl for years, and finally realize that they are wrong for one another.

I feel as though I am in a room full of people having a hundred conversations, and completely isolated. I feel like I am being backed, and backed, and backed into a corner. I back until I’m pressed up against the wall, and I desperately want it to give way, I want to break out of it, carve a hole, go into another room. I have always had those other rooms: rooms with friends from school, from work, from my social life, friends I dine and dance and laugh with. Friends with whom I can never speak to in the language of this blog, but the only people I can truly call friends.

I am not disappointed or bitter now, but there was a time when I was, and I think it’s because I hold Muslims to higher standards. I expect to bump into them in vegan restaurants and begin impromptu conversations about the latest ruckus over wearing the niqab. I expect them to be more than approachable. Considering there’s so many of us, I expect to have people I can call up when a theological puzzle is nibbling away at my mind.

But those people, for whatever reason, aren’t there. I only write this because I now understand that I am not meant to have Muslim friends–friends I can call and talk about my day to. And it may not be the community. It may be me.

When I have tried to communicate this to others in the past, they usually say something along the lines of “Well, I have this one friend, you should give her a call.” But that’s not the point. I am not trying to change anything. I accept. I am no longer bitter.

God, I accept. I accept that I am forever alone, and forever Muslim. If this is the way I am meant to be, if this is the only way I can be me, then I accept it with contentment.

I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but a grand resolution has been forged out of this realization. As far as people are concerned, I will turn towards not what is lacking, but what is. There is, after all, a reason that those who comforted me when I needed it, who listen to me and respect my perspective even when they disagree with it, who accept me as a whole, are more spiritual than religious, or as areligious as they come. So I will focus on them, for it is they who nourish me, who engender in me a love for humanity, who are the ones who help me remember God. The lowercase-m “muslims,” as Murata and Chittick call them in The Vision of Islam, will be my salvation. And with them, through them, I will serve humanity. With or without the banner of Islam.