Muslim Girl Scholarship: Ibiene Minah
Editor’s note: Back in September, Muslim Girl was honored to launch our first ever Muslim Girl Scholarship, designed to elevate young Muslim women’s narratives across college campuses. This scholarship was created specifically to facilitate the work of change-makers, civic innovators, and overall badass women that are part of the #MuslimGirlArmy.
Out of the countless applications we received, each as stellar as the one before, an independent panel chose the essay below as one of our winners!
As a young girl growing up Muslim in a country ravaged by theological unrest, and torn apart by the opposed catechisms of Christianity and Islam, when I wasn’t praying that I would not die from violence but from laughter, I was praying that whichever divine being received my prayers would “cure me,” “make me good,” or at the very least, teach me to suppress what I was being taught to believe were abnormal, evil, and inappropriate feelings of affection.
I had the regular crushes on boys, but I also had just as passionate, and sometimes even more encompassing crushes on girls, and I couldn’t find anything in what I was being taught about Islam that approved of my affections. I was terrified that Allah hated me, that I would succumb to evil temptations, and I grew ashamed with each passing day.
When my father and I immigrated to the U.S., my father converted to Mormonism, and as I was a child, I had to follow in his stead. Strangely enough, it was during the years I spent as a Mormon that I was able to reconcile that part of my identity with my Islamic faith. Mormonism held just as little space and acceptance for queer identities, but it held just as much regard for prayer as Islam did. That distance from Islam gave me the freedom to question what I had been taught about it, it allowed me to bring the conversation and fear directly to Allah in a union that was based just as much on love as it was on trust.
Too often has religion and faith been used to excuse injustice
I failed much in those years. I was neither an exemplary Muslim, nor an exemplary Mormon, but Allah never left me. The patience, love, and guidance with which they brought me through those years of questioning revealed more to me about Islam than any teaching by any living person has ever done. Whenever the question of how my sexuality fits into Islam comes up, I remind people of the five pillars of Islam, which make no mention of homosexuality but iterate compassion, sacrifice, and devotion to Allah. If I can live by those laws outlined by Allah, then what concern do I have of manmade interpretations of his law?
Too often has religion and faith been used to excuse injustice; colonizers believed it was their Manifest Destiny to conquer Native American land, white people used the Bible to reinforce slavery and violent acts of murder, Imams in Gambia used the Qur’an as an excuse to sanction Female Genital Mutilation and cruelly maim countless girls.
As I grew closer to Allah, not through anyone else, but through the time I spent intentionally seeking out His voice and engaging with His guidance for me, the less I cared to be dictated to. This is not to say that I do not go to Mosque, or follow hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad, but rather that before a man’s interpretation of Allah’s law as truth, I seek Allah out myself and humbly listen.
I recognize the importance of community, of a faith community that upholds each other and holds each other accountable, the importance of a community that reinforces the teachings of Allah, but in the years I spent away from practicing Islam directly, I realized how so much of what people call their faith is rooted in a specific church or leader. People rely so much on others to dictate their relationships with their God, and bring them into God’s presence, when all they need is themselves. Through prayer, we are able to enter sacred space with Allah, through prayer we cultivate the relationship and understanding we have of Allah.
In essence, our quality of life is determined by how much we are willing to put into creating the best possible world for every human being that walks this Earth.
Allah made no mistake in making prayer a pillar of the Islamic faith, for in it holds everything. It calls us to intentionally set space aside for union with their teachings and their love. Through prayer, we are able to bring ourselves closer to seeing and understanding things through Allah’s eyes. Prayer taught me to love myself, and I rely on it heavily as a tool in reconciling any conflicts I have with my faith. Prayer allows us to see people as Allah sees them, which allows us to love and serve them as Allah loves and bestows his grace and mercy on us. That alone is how we are able to cultivate an esteemed quality of life in our families and communities. For then, we are present in each space, acting with love first, and serving where there is need and want.
As we learn from Allah, it is not through the fulfillment of our own pleasures that we can truly find happiness, or that peace that surpasses all understanding. No, it is through surrender and service. In essence, our quality of life is determined by how much we are willing to put into creating the best possible world for every human being that walks this Earth. When we are able to look at people, and see the God within, we are able to serve them from a place of genuine kinship and love, and that fosters fraternity. Fraternity allows us to be in community with people in such a way that we recognize the right of every human being to a safe, sustainable, healthy life, and do everything within our capabilities to make it happen. Years later, I no longer pray for the latter, but even now, in adulthood, as a queer black woman, spaces, religions, health institutions, the arts etc, rarely welcome me.