March, 27 2019
Smoking is a Form of Religion: My Conversion Story

Her decision to convert to Christianity ahead of her wedding did not only ruffle a few feathers in her own family, it led her to think about her relationship with the faith she was born into.

by Ninda Daianti
Issues // Relationship
Different Faith Religion Agama Islam Kristen Thumbnail 29, Magdalene
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We sat in front row, facing closely the priest, who was singing with his eyes closed. Four girls and guys, three girls (including me) would later change the Religion section on their IDs from Islam to Christianity. On my right a girl was crying, next to her, singing with eyes closed, on my left playing with her phone.

Me? I was reciting, “I believe” thingy in my head, pretending to fit, to believe.

After twelve meetings, a total of roughly 72-80 hours spent, consisting of reading the bible, listening about Adam and Eve, picking the white virgin-like dress, and running around looking for white-only socks, I was here.

The eight of us would commence our faith in front of HKBP audience, a church for Batak people. This was the day I got saved by the Lord savior, a step toward my wedding day. And though wedding day had more drama, baptism was far more complex and conflicting.

I didn’t do it to pursue happiness for the Afterlife. It was to heighten joy in my current life.

I looked behind and my best friend waved. It was nice to see familiar faces, but I didn’t want to cry. Crying means admitting that this meant something.

Forty minutes passed: time to face the audience. Luckily, I locked eyes with this guy who mouthed the Confession of Faith unreservedly. He saved me. I announced my devotion with little fault.

While the others cried, my now-husband said I was the only one who smiled.

***

It wasn’t something that I was forced to do, like some people have assumed or questioned. I wanted to. The question popped in bed. I considered it and thought it didn’t matter. It was a commitment I was willing to take.

Contrary to my own belief, changing from a Muslim to a Christian is somewhat similar and familiar. The origin, some of the angels, the ordered structure, I can relate.

My grandma called herself a “Krislam.” Though we are both strong headed and we don’t get along, our concepts are the same on religion. She put Islam in her ID because it was the most popular. It made life easier, she explained.

When I grew up, my family celebrated all religions. I got presents during Christmas and money for Eid. We stopped when each one of Oma’s kids became religious.  She stopped it out of respect. When Opa died, they called an Ustad and officialize him as a Muslim. This was to ensure he could go to heaven.

After my parents’ divorce, my mother got quite religious, finding solace in her pengajian group. After the divorce, I got transferred to a progressive Muslim school in South Jakarta. I never felt like I belonged there (that’s another issue) and the years I spent there were hell for me.

I felt trapped.

In middle school, I dyed my hair red and got called by a teacher.

“If I dyed back my hair to black, it still would mean that I can’t wuddhu correctly, then what’s the point? Why won’t my prayers count?” I asked. 

I never got an answer.

I thought the only exact possible solution was to cut my hair and let it grow back naturally. But that wasn’t the solution; they were to suspend me unless I re-dyed my hair black. That was a shortcut, it didn’t make sense, but it worked.

My relationship with Islam was not all bad, though. Leaving Indonesia in high school to the great land of America, I didn’t think much about religions. I went to church with my host families, but decided not to because I was too lazy to wake up early on a Sunday, let alone when the snow buried us in.

I didn’t pray, didn’t fast, but I carried my identity as a Muslim.

Moving back to Indonesia, I worked in a bookstore for a year and got curious. I read books on Buddhism, Catholicism, and every religion book on display. Then religion was off my mind until I wanted to marry a Catholic.

My mother didn’t approve and I obliged.

I was angry with Islam, and her. A core part of this is because I don’t share the same values and I questioned things too much. Just like the hair, it made no sense. I still celebrated Eid with my family out of respect, but I never fasted or prayed anymore.

I started to analyze my own belief: I do believe in higher power, that there is something working its way around us, perhaps not necessarily for us, but the universe has its own way of creating balance. It does not judge. I also believe when we die, our skin and skull will rot on the ground and we get recycled into the earth.

I don’t believe in heavens and hells – but angels, I do. I like the idea of angels protecting me; it makes me feel safe. I like learning about differences in angels and their functions. This may not make sense to you, but it does for me.

The topic of religion remained taboo in my family. Though I challenged my mom a few times, all went unresolved. When I announced my decision about converting, my somewhat conservative family had a say. Due to unfortunate circumstances, my then fiancée couldn’t be there.

In the meeting room of nine people, I felt attacked and alone. When they asked me what I truly believe in, I said I combined them all. This didn’t make sense to them; I can only stick to one.

They thought I was lost, but I was only doing something that made sense for me. Discussions include raising children, heavens, feeling peaceful, and all that jazz. Bottomline, all sides were hurt.

I cried until I threw up that night.

My family were worried I couldn’t find peacefulness.

But I find peace in reading, cleaning, Pilates, my pets, writing, especially writing, and smoking. If I get my basic needs, my emotional, intelligent, and sexual needs, then I’ll be in a serene state. It’s a circle.

I believe it’s about balance. I hope I get “it.” I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all, because there’s this saying, once you get older, then you’ll seek God. I can’t predict the future and don’t want to jinx anything, but for now, I think the whole concept of religion, or spiritualism, is to find that peacefulness within yourself.

There are ways to seek that state, but feelings just are. That state is fluid, it changes throughout your day. Whatever makes you calm and connected and how you regain that collected state is valid for you and only for you.

When you force your ways upon other, then it becomes the problem. Even if it’s under one religion roof, people have different belief standards and system. It may not be hard to fathom, but the practice may be tricky.

With my family, I couldn’t explain further about my religious concept. I got too emotional. I cried in that damn meeting room, trying to explain my belief. I failed. And though blood is thicker than water, beer tastes nicer.

For me, faith is like taking a break and having a smoke alone. You are present with your cigarette and you talk to your own brain—making sense of things, analyzing, asking for things, being thankful, and/or cursing your life.

If you smoke Marlboro, you’ll have four to seven minutes.

It’s an escape from the world, to focus on yourself, to reflect, to feel and to simply be.

It’s faith you have with yourself to face whatever situation you’re in, no matter where you need to resort to.

The hardest impact on my conversion was my relationship with my mother. At first, my mother decided not to attend the wedding.  Mothers don’t have to attend weddings. There are no rules of it. Even if it pained me, she needed to stand her ground. A wedding day is just a day; one day without mother I can always do.

The Quran, just like bible, was invented at the time when it was needed. Those are stories, tales, and verses to be interpreted, reapplied, memorized, and even disregarded.

Do whatever you want to do with it, but don’t force it upon others. Interpretation is exactly that: gray area.

To each her own. To accept that God exists differently on every individual. To also question if S/he actually exists at all.

My mother did go to the reception, along with my royal family, as a surprise gesture. Love is stronger than religion, and faith is only for within.

Standing in front of the altar, the priest pronounced my name wrong. He splashed water and I received a fresh bible. It was a checklist. Now I could cross religion off.

Meanwhile, to genuinely cope, I would enjoy a smoke or two to get away (unless I’m pregnant) and have me all to myself for a few minutes—composing, collecting, being present with Gabriel or Metatron on my side.

Illustration by Adhitya Pattisahusiwa

Ninda Daianti is an author, english creative writing instructor and a connoisseur of beer. When she’s not busy sharing experiences and insights to enhance gender equality, Ninda can be found in restaurants where they serve rice and tender meats and on her desk reminding herself that life is a constant ebb and flow. Ninda currently resides in Jakarta, Indonesia with two cats and a dog. You can learn more about her and her work at www.nindadaianti.com.