‘My first years as a new Muslim were definitely tough. I was previously unaware of how difficult life was as a Muslim, because it was a struggle that I could not relate to as a Christian.’
I grew up Christian.
Unlike a lot of students who “lose” their faith and become skeptical of organized religion as they step foot in University of the Philippines-Diliman, it was in UP that I fully committed to converting to Islam.
Actually, “converting” is not the proper word for embracing Islam as a previous adherent of another religion. We Muslims believe that everyone, regardless of race or nationality, is born a Muslim, but that we come to adopt any religion or faith that is predominant in the society or community to which we are born. So Christianity was a religion that was, for all intents and purposes, forced upon me. That’s why “reverting” to Islam as a faith and a way of life was something that Ichose for myself. I started reading about it long before my decision, but it was only about 5 years ago that I felt the freedom to choose a religion that was going to lead my way moving forward.
Since I am not Muslim by birth, and I only proclaimed my “shahada” in 2014, I have been taking slow, tentative baby steps in learning my new faith little by little. For some weird metaphysical reason or another, it just appealed to my curiosity, and I was fascinated with the finer points of the religious traditions and habits that a Muslim should follow. Needless to say, I have embraced the Pillars of the Faith, including prayers and keeping other religious obligations such as abstaining from food and drink that is considered “haram.”
My first years as a new Muslim were definitely tough. I was previously unaware of how difficult life was as a Muslim, because it was a struggle that I could not relate to as a Christian. However, upon converting, I was confronted by many issues such as the lack of public prayer spaces. Often, mushallahs or prayer rooms in public establishments are hidden in embarrassing, dark corners or moth-eaten nooks, such as a dead end in a shopping mall hallway or a quiet corner at the end of a row of cell phone repair stalls. Keeping with the commandment to pray at prescribed times was definitely a struggle, and I often found myself in cramped department store dressing rooms because Iinitially tried to pray and stick to the ever-changing schedule of the 5 daily prayers. I just gave up in the end, and consolidated my prayers at home every evening. This is in great contrast to the ubiquity of prayer rooms and mosques in other countries. Speaking of mosques, the only mosques in the city are dilapidated and run-down; again, a great contrast to the beautiful and well-maintained churches that are located all over Metro Manila.