I began to silently question Islam when I was twelve. In small ways, I’d been questioning it for a long time, or at least dabbling, fascinated with a God who somehow wasn’t a fist of resistance, indifferent to human emotion, and impossible to please. A God who wasn’t like ours.

I wanted more. I wanted out. I wanted answers. I wanted truth. I wanted freedom in every sense of the word, in any sense of the word: freedom to choose, freedom from pain, freedom from a sterile, hyper-controlling system that dictated my every thought without even caring who I was. I wanted to know that someone, anyone, could hear my cries. I wanted to want, and I wanted someone to listen. And if they didn’t, if they wouldn’t, if I couldn’t get anybody to care, I was done. Done with life.

I meant it.

I was only twelve years old but already torn in half. Alone in my bedroom one night, grasping to survive my suicidal thoughts, I crumpled to the floor, heavy tears smearing my face. A tingle of involuntary shame shot up my back as the cry inside me began to congeal into blasphemy. Yet I pressed into the moment, unable anymore to absorb what my life had become and was becoming. Having nowhere else to go with my thoughts, I stared up toward heaven: “God! If you’re there, if you’re real—please!—stop hiding from me! I don’t care if you’re Allah, Buddha, Jesus—whoever you are—just show me! Because if you are the truth, I will give my life to you. I will follow you—whatever the cost.”

Heaven on Earth

When I got a little older, my parents allowed me to be out of the house a little bit, but only if it involved schoolwork (or later my job). So I lied to my parents ...

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