Many Pagans that I meet haven’t been raised in a Pagan environment; but rather have come from mostly Christian backgrounds. I came from a Muslim family.
My Mother is from Bangladesh and my Father is Australian with Dutch parents. When they married, my Father converted to Islam. So when I was little I had to go to the Mosque for Islamic holidays, I had to try and learn Arabic so that I could pray. I am very thankful that I was never forced to wear a headscarf outside of prayer!
I have never been Muslim. Being born into a Muslim family does not automatically make you Muslim, as much as the Islamic community like to believe. Religion is a personal choice. I cannot recall a single moment in my childhood where I had any kind of faith. The whole thing felt like a chore to me, especially prayer. I had to memorise various Arabic Surah’s (passages of the Quran) so I could recite them in prayer. However, I never understood what I was saying… I couldn’t speak Arabic. I tried to learn, but I’m very bad at absorbing other languages as it is. Not understanding what you’re saying seems to defeat the purpose of prayer; it should come from the heart, and definitely not forced on you.
I was about eight or nine years old when I was sure I didn’t want to be Muslim. My brother and I used to go to the Mosque on Sundays so that we could learn Arabic and do the typical Sunday school thing. One day, a creepy old man who was teaching us told the class that “all our Australian friends would go to Hell because they don’t believe in Allah”. That was the exact moment I knew I wanted out. It didn’t sound fair to me at all. It was a very harsh thing to say to a bunch of young kids too: what about teaching peace, tolerance and love? No it was either their way or eternal damnation.
It didn’t scare me. From then on, I just questioned everything. I still do!
After realising I wanted out, I began to notice things about the Islamic culture that I really didn’t like. It started to bother me how the men were allowed to pray inside the main part of the Mosque, but the women had to go upstairs, hidden away. This happened at social dinners as well; the men would take their food first, and then the women after them. It was mostly the women who had gone through all the effort to cook the food in the first place! What kind of backwards view of men and women was this? I was living in a time and a country where women had equal rights. It bothered me a great deal, and still does to this day.
One occasion, the way women were treated took an amusing twist. When I grew older, and started menstruating, I found out that I couldn’t pray if I was having a period. It was seen as “unclean” and you had to sit out. I thought it was a rather disgusting view on menstruation; making a girl feel ashamed rather than proud to be healthy and normal. Now, the Islamic calendar revolves around the lunar cycle, so major holidays such as Eid to celebrate the end of Ramadan falls on the full moon.
My body also revolves around the lunar cycle, so every Eid I would be menstruating and I’d have to sit out. I thought this was hilarious. I took it as a sure sign this religion was not meant for me. I did not want to be part of something that viewed women as second class citizens and who worshipped a male God without a female counterpart. It didn’t make any sense to me.
I first started an interest in Paganism through my first deck of tarot cards given to me by my Grandmother. I didn’t know it about her until I was a teenager, but she is very much a New Age hippy. She loves crystals and tarot, and so she was the one that sparked my interest in divination, which eventually led me to explore Witchcraft. I remember the very first book I bought was “Wicca” by Scott Cunningham and I was hooked. I haven’t looked back since. It felt like home, where I truly belong. And I couldn’t be happier. I think Islam can be a fulfilling religion if it’s right for you, but it definitely wasn’t for me. I am eternally grateful to my family for giving me the choice.