Confessions of a Neurotic Perfectionist: Religion

There are things about Islam that come really easily to me. I’ve always had the five pillars down–or, the first four, because I haven’t performed the pilgrimage yet. The little things are easy too: not wearing nail polish except during my period, not dying my hair, never drinking, avoiding gossip (super boring anyway), never stealing, keeping virginity, etc. It’s no problem to stay halaal when it comes to food because I don’t eat meat anyway. I can’t even stand it when I see whole chicken through windows turning as it cooks. When they’re whole like that, all I can imagine is the animal alive, tortured.
I’m a quiet vegetarian–usually people don’t find out until it comes up. I feel the need to stop animal cruelty, but not to keep others from actually eating them, once they’ve been slaughtered humanely after living happy lives that is. It’s what we do, after all. Eat them. It’s just not something that feels right for me, personally. I still can’t look at meat without seeing it as blood drenched insides, and the imagery comes from the fact that I know the animal–or mesh of animals–lived in unsanitary, tormenting, diseased conditions before painfully murdered at corporate convenience. It’s not even something I do on purpose, and until things change for farm animals I won’t be able to stomach even seeing it.
It’s not the same when I look at halaal meat. Meat can’t be halaal unless the animal lived in good conditions and was humanely slaughtered in the name of God, because torturing animals is forbidden and sinful. (Haraam meat becomes halaal when you have no other options, for example, if you don’t have the means to afford halaal.) But that’s not to say that everyone selling halaal meat is 100% trustworthy, although sometimes you can’t blame them. My mother comes from a very poor country and has observed that a lot of times farmers simply can’t afford to be kind of their animals. They themselves are cold and tired and hungry.
/derail
Some things come easy, but I know it’s more of a mindset. I’ve met someone who felt that Islam was a very difficult religion to practice, and utlimately she fell out of love and left. Reading the Qur’an regularly, understanding and interpreting it, reading hadith, reading different versions of the same ahadith, studying the lives and moral lessons of past prophets–these aren’t necessarily requirements… unless you’re a bit of an obsessive perfectionist and you must!–know!–everything!, and then it becomes time-consuming and exhausting. And it’s not supposed to be either.
Except I either didn’t realize this or had forgotten it somewhere along the way. I went through a phase when I would repeatedly perform wudu(mandatory ablution before ritual prayer) about three or four times because I was paranoid about whether I was messing up at any given inch of skin, about clearing my mind completely, about getting it perfect so that God would know how much I wanted it to be accepted. I did the same with prayers–one slip of a syllable while reciting a verse in Arabic, and I’d start the whole thing over once I finished instead of calmly moving on after correcting myself, until finally I’d lie on the prayer rug in fatigue.
“When we mess up, do we keep going?” I asked an imam toward the end of all this.
“If it’s a small error, yes, simply correct yourself and continue.”
“What if it’s not accepted because it isn’t perfect?”
Prompted by the desperation in my voice, he glanced over my face in slight alarm. “God doesn’t expect perfection. If your intentions are good and you’ve done your best and you ask for forgiveness, it will be accepted inshaAllah. Nahida, what have you been doing?”
“Nothing. Just… starting over a lot.” I stared at the rug on the floor. Deep reds and yellows in architectural designs.
“Chapter 5 verse 6,” he said.
“Doesn’t that just tell us what to do when there’s no water or if we’re sick?”
“Mind the last sentence.”
I rushed to look it up.

[…] God does not wish to place upon you any impediment or difficulty, but to make you clean and and to perfect the blessings upon you; haply you will be thankful. (Qur’an 5:6)

And then, for reasons I can’t explain, I began to cry.
With this newfound relief, I was able to return to performing the five daily prayers smoothly without obsession or stress. And in that, I found the deep spiritual involvement I had been struggling to perfect. It is like waking up on a summer afternoon and the world is a dream and your heart is exposed and so swollen and full that you feel you will burst into blossom and there is a tentative anxiety that you will displace into a gently thrilling pain that is eternity and you are softly bleeding from existing and a from desire to fall into a supreme reality and there is a part of you that is pleading in delicate trembling desperation, and yet you are embraced by a still calmness.
My point in writing this is that I love the austerity of rigorous, straight-forward, rule-book Islam in its allure of definiteness in what is forbidden or permissible and wrong or right, in its reassuring soundness and stability, and that is why I constantly dedicate so much time to scrutiny and analysis. But I also love the enticing and enrapturing and joyful part of Islam that is its own wholeness. And, at least for me, both are entirely necessary, and entirely inseparable, and entirely tied to the soul, and they seep into each other in unrestricted spheres of experience.

7 thoughts on “Confessions of a Neurotic Perfectionist: Religion

  1. I totally agree with you about animal rights, which is why I am mostly vegan. (Egg laying hens have terrible conditions too!) It's really interesting what you were saying about Islam's rules, because I feel the same sort of impulse: I want to follow rules, I want to do things right. The problem, of course, is that as an atheist I don't have any rules except the ones I make up for myself, and no imam to tell me I'm doing fine…

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  2. I've considered becoming vegan because of eggs and milk! But I'm worried about being able to afford it. =( Maybe in the future! We will see.Most times, I don't have an imam to tell me I'm doing fine (Muslims aren't dedicated to one mosque; we tend to go to whichever one happens to be nearby at the moment, and consequently may or may not be close to the imam there) so I know how that feels. It's really nice to have some encouragement once in a while, so you don't feel so alone.

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  3. It is possible to eat cheaply as a vegan, but the problem is eating cheaply and healthfully as a vegan. :) I'm lucky, because I'm a college student and have a meal plan, but I'm not looking forward to mostly cooking for myself next year.

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  4. Oh, I love it, sis! Very nice post. I do have one question, which has nothing to do with the essence of the post. Why do you think coloring your hair is haram? There is hadith that says the prophet (pbuh) put henna in his hair and beard. I've also heard that the reason we (Muslims) color our gray hair is because the pagans did not color their hair. Anyway. Just curious as to what you heard that was different.

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  5. It is okay to color your hair with henna! =) I was referring to other (most drugstore chemical) dyes, which actually clasp onto the strands or penetrate into them to form a barrier which prevents water from touching the hair during wudu–and is also damaging to the hair itself. Henna and natural dyes are perfectly halaal!

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