I have often found myself at the crossroads. The greatest decisions I’ve made in my life have been at the fork of the road, often with two distinct goals. While one road is well paved, some of my loftier goals have paths that are not well trodden. More often than not, I have been drawn to take the unclear path towards that loftier goal at the fork of the road. Although I can’t always see the path, I know that the destination is worth the trials I faced getting there.
As a researcher, I often look up multiple how to’s and guides. I try to prepare emotionally and intellectually for the decisions I make. Often, I am able to find general road maps. If I can chart a certain course, take so many steps left, then right, then bare north, I can get somewhere near that destination. But I am reasonable, I know that I may not have the vessel to navigate some seas. I know that there are multiple destinations and numerous paths to find a sense of place.
When I co-founded MuslimARC with our original steering members, we had just an inkling of the mantle that we were taking on. Three years ago, I felt ill equipped, but knew that my community had tools that could get us there. I had little idea that it was much more challenging to find true travel companions, sometimes people would walk with us for a short distance, a few would discourage us.
Sometimes, I walk when I don’t see the path. Is this the right way? Is this the right thing to do? I have to constantly recalibrate. It reminds me of that scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade “Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.” So much can be said about Kierkegaard’s Leap of faith.
Sometimes my faith morphs into abstractions. What are the tangible benefits of my work? My heart becomes clouded with doubt. The doubts increase as I see certain negative aspects of myself, some that I have long buried, emerge. Am I going forward or backwards? Is this good for me?
In some ways I have submitted to my path, but there are times faith in the decision I have made is shaken. Islam also distinguishes between belief and faith. The Qur’an says:
The bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
According to the prophetic tradition, there are three stages of faith: Islam (submission), Eman (faith), and Ihsan (perfection). For me, along this journey, I have walked with insecurity. I have thought about the implications if I fail. What do I do? What is the right course? I submit, and take steps forward. I believe that what I am doing has deeper implications, that the impact will reverberate for Eternity. I think about my positive actions tipping the scales for my shortcomings. I think about redemption and hope to fill the void inside me with God’s love.
So much of my community work is spiritual, about purifying my soul through the process of continual self reflection. I see that my organizing work is a spiritual journey. I still have a long way to go before Ihsan. I have much work even on Eman. I may even go through the motions of my faith, the day to day as a mother as a wife, as an educator and writer often getting in the way of me truly connecting. I have to think about ways in which I can walk the path knowing my Creator is close to me and ever present.
As many of the masters of Islamic mysticism have pointed out, there are always pitfalls in purifying the soul. Our egos can easily take over and we can become pleased with ourselves in our higher level of consciousness and more disciplined actions, our self righteousness and self satisfaction then debases us and undermines that hard work. There are times when I go through the motion with the weakest of belief. Then there are times where faith kicks in and sparks a light on my journey. Maybe for brief moments to do I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I am in awe at how my Creator has eased the path for me. I keep walking to turn the corner and find that peace that comes with the perfection of faith.