Since the day I was born, Islam has been my one and only religion, for which I am very thankful. Growing up as a Muslim is one thing, and growing up as a Muslim in a non-Muslim country is another. Having spent more than half of my life here in the United States has affected how I think and how I act. However, the one thing it has not affected is my religion.
When I first started going to the masjid, or mosque, I was a little girl in Algeria. I thought of Islam as a religion I had to have. I learned things like praying and fasting. The difference between then, when I was a little girl, and now as a teenager, is that I understand the true deep meanings behind the things we do as Muslims.
I have learned that not only do I have to pray five times a day with all of the prayers being on time, but I also need to have a certain sincerity in my heart while performing the prayer.
As a child, I learned to do things because that was just the way they were supposed to be. I learned that whatever Allah and the Prophet Muhammad told us to do is what we should have been doing. Now, the older I get, the more I learn about the meanings behind everything we do in Islam.
For example, the first time I ever fasted from sunrise until sunset in Ramadan was when I was five years old in Algeria. I saw it as something really cool because my mom told me if I fasted the whole day she would buy me a gift as a reward. But I remember when I still had two more hours left to fast, I went into the kitchen and saw something which looked like orange juice inside a big glass bowl. Not knowing exactly what it was, I wanted to taste it. I eventually found out that it was actually a lot of melted butter that my mom was going to use for making sweets. When I told my mom, she took me to the bathroom so she could wash my mouth out because I only tasted the melted butter with my tongue, and I did not break my fast because I did not swallow any.
This year, Ramadan came around the beginning of September and went on to the first few days of October. Just like all of the other years that have passed, I fasted all of Ramadan. The big difference I see in myself is that now, if it is just a normal day and I do not eat for four or five hours, I get hungry. And when it is about lunchtime, I also get really hungry. However, in Ramadan, no matter what time of the day it is, I do not get hungry. This is because as I grew up, I learned why we fast during Ramadan.
Ramadan is a test for us. So many people all around the world feel tested that way 12 months a year. We only have to fast for one of those months. We believe that Allah created us, the world, and the whole universe with everything in it. Out of the 24 hours of the day we have, he only asks us to pray about 25 minutes, because it takes about five minutes to pray each of the five prayers. Out of the 12 months, he only asked us to fast for one. For me to understand all of this means something and has a big effect on me. So now when I fast during Ramadan, I have the mentality that no matter what happens to me, I will try as hard as I can to not break my fast.
Just like learning about Ramadan and praying, there many other things I am learning as I grow up. Just like my Islamic Studies teacher tells his students, everything you learn in Islam has its time. There are things which you teach to eleventh or twelve graders, which wouldn’t be intellectually appropriate for a sixth grader or even an eighth grader. So I learned that the older I get, the more I am going to learn. The thing about being in the United States where most people around you are non-Muslims is that it makes you feel like you have a duty to show them what your religion is really about and give them the best example possible.
It also makes me really appreciate my religion, because I see everyone around me doing things that are so forbidden in Islam, and I get happy at the fact that I am guided towards the right path.
Some people who are not familiar with Islam would say that I have had a big journey from being a little girl to becoming a teenager. In a way, they are right. However, no matter how far I have gotten in the past few years, it does not compare with the many things I still need to learn. In my heart, I see my spiritual journey as just being about to begin.