All journeys have a beginning. Mine began when I was in 7th grade. Having been raised in a traditional Muslim family, I respected my parents and accepted what they taught me without reserve. It was around this time that I began to ask myself fundamental questions. Why did I believe what I believed? What were my beliefs based on? Did what I believe correspond to my experience? Asking questions like this is no great matter in itself, and I didn’t make much of it when I first began. Little did I know that my questioning and searching for truth would lead me down a path which would change my life forever.
I have always had a love for learning, and a particular interest in religion and the cultures of the world. In 3rd grade, my teacher was surprised when she saw that I had checked out a book on death and dying which described how various cultures dealt with the question from the library for our daily silent reading exercise. My curiosity peeked in 7th grade.
I began to question what I had been taught, and the underlying assumptions behind my beliefs. Observing my family’s religious practices planted seeds of skepticism in my mind. My family prayed in Arabic, even though most members of my family had no experience with the language. Nevertheless, they always emphasized the importance of prayer.
I wondered why people would pray prayers if they didn’t know what the prayers they were praying meant. My own experience also began to give me great doubts about what I had been taught. I was in middle school at the time, and as a fairly nerdy kid with a visual impairment, I was shunned and treated with cruelty by most students. I had always wanted to play baseball as a small child and it was at this time that I realized that it wouldn’t be possible given my limited vision.
I would often ask myself “If there is a God, why would he afflict me with this sort of condition? Why would he place me in a situation where I was disliked by most and couldn’t do what I desperately wanted to do?” It was also around this time that I began reading the anti-religious novels of Ken Follett and the Randian novels of Terry Goodkind.
My skepticism eventually blossomed into doubt and outright denial of what I had been taught as a child. I decided that if I was going to believe something, I would come to the belief on my own. If there was a God, I was certain that he could not be concerned with human affairs. I openly mocked the religious practices of my family, especially when they could give no serious explanation for them. Identifying as a skeptical Deist, I took a strong interest in Enlightenment thought. This led me to read several biographies of Maximillien Robespierre, who I came to idolize and view as a hero.
My parents viewed this as a phase, and while they were displeased by my ideas, they encouraged me to continue studying…
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