Seven Years of Islam, Part VI

This is the final installment of the series. For earlier installments, see: 

Part I / Part II / Part III / Part IV / Part V

It was my seventh Ramadan. For seven years I’d deliberately trained toward submitting my ego by spending one month out of twelve in a state of fasting the body and mind. While performing ablutions, cleansing the body before beginning the prayer cycle, I paid attention to my thinking and recalled my shortcomings and mistakes. I apologized for what I was and what I did wrong.

Washing my feet, hands, face, and head served as a symbolic cleansing of my deeper self. Performing ablutions are a critical step in winning the inner Jihad. Mohammed said the outer Jihad will never be won unless the inner Jihad is won. A Muslim should always be at war with the carnal self. For seven years I strove to have my head touch the floor 5 times a day. Some days I made all of the prayers, other days I made some.

I’d memorized portions of the Q’uran and read through much of the Hadith. I’d read the great thinkers of Islam’s past and listened to contemporary Islamic leaders, at least until they were killed in battle.

I understood Judaism and Christianity as foundational heirs of – but not the true path to – the God of Abraham. Through my seven years, I’d learned submission and discipline by practicing Islam. I understood the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael not as an anthropocentric deity that could be drawn or depicted as a man, but as an energy that demanded a meticulous effort in minding one’s thoughts and deeds against a rigid quality control standard.

Every day was a struggle to mold my behavior against the standards laid out in an 1,408-year-old book and its supplemental writings.  I was at war with my internal nature and worked to suppress many worldly appetites.

That seventh Ramadan was my last. Four months after, I woke from a dream in the night. A voice said, “Return to the Gods of your ancestors.” There were no scenes or imagery in this dream, just the voice that woke me in the dark.

I didn’t know what that could mean. The voice was impressionable and I followed it by typing it into Google. I began learning about the world of pre-Christian Europe. I began learning why many holidays we observe in the Western World are based in pre-Christian European traditions. I learned that Santa and Jesus are not in controversy with each other, but that they are simply two different stories. Santa Claus is modeled after pre-Christian Europe’s chief deity Odin. When Europe converted to Christianity, about 1,000 years ago, they simply mixed the stories. Islam strictly prohibits this kind of cultural mixing.

Years later I no longer follow the God of Abraham, yet I am grateful for the discipline I practiced. Accepting the Gods of my pre-Christian ancestors has led me to realizing two things. The first is that they are not external deities watching me from some great beyond. They are not sky dwelling overlords out there somewhere measuring my behavior or belief against a standard of right and wrong.

They were exceptional people that faced similar challenges that I face. They were strong and smart and also weak and made mistakes. They became eternal through the stories other people told about them. As a European-descended person, they are also my ancestors and therefore a part of my genetic memory. Much like Santa, they exist if and when I recognize them and live my life in a way they would look at and say, “Good.”

My grandfather, whom I knew for years, is also in this pantheon. Can I become a scholar as great as he was? Can I build my life so that it impacts my grandchildren to live intentionally for gaining strength and wisdom?

The second thing I realized is that returning to the Gods of my ancestors means to live each day in order to give honor to their memory. The Gods and Goddesses are archetypes, each with strengths and weaknesses, and to return to them means to draw from eternally recognized virtues such as mental and physical strength, courage to do the hard things, mastery of craft and skill, and acting honorably for those in my circle.

I no longer apologize to external deities for what I am, but I do write down my goals and follow a disciplined strategy to achieve them, for myself first and for these in my circle second. I challenge myself to change my thoughts and actions to become better, through my own thoughts and deeds.  I no longer have a deity that I rely on for strength and wisdom and protection. I have to create those things for myself, so that I can sit with them one of these days.

William Winters III