I was raised in a Muslim family. They are not exactly what you would call hardliners, as they are still strongly influenced by the Javanese traditions, but since I was a little girl, my mom sent me to an Quran school. There I was taught to read and to remember verses for prayers, but I never actually understood their meaning.
In school I learned about earth and human in both science and religion classes. In religion class, I questioned my teacher about how the earth was created and how the narrative of Adam and Eve did not fit in science at all. He replied coldly that religion and science were two different things, and then he ignored me for a month.
Growing up in a multi-cultural environment made me think how it could be possible that we all descended from Adam and Eve, yet we were all so different. I was also taught that people who did not follow my religion would go to hell.
Later I went abroad for volunteering, during which I visited a Jewish temple and an orthodox Christian church, and learned about the Muslims in Europe. In India, I met the Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Baha’is, and Hindus, whose beliefs and rituals are somewhat different from the Balinese Hindus. I started to question everything. What makes my religion the most righteous over hundreds or even thousands of other beliefs?
For two years, I did not believe in anything, I was mad and confused, and I rebelled against my religion. I didn’t perform prayers, I didn’t fast during the Ramadan month, I did not even celebrate Eid, because I was in Europe on a volunteering program.
In India, I was taught by a yogi about the meaning of life from his perspective, and how God actually lives within ourselves, and this got me started on a spiritual path. I read many books about Islam that are really insightful and beautiful. I finished the Bible, I read about Buddhism, and I learned Sikhism at a gurdwara. I now believe that there is one power that creates everything, and I believe that love, kindness, and tolerance are the values I aspire to live by every day.
I love my family, particularly my mom, whom I talk to about mostly everything. But when it comes to religion, she says, “Mama cuma pengen kamu buru-buru dapet hidayah.” She wishes I would receive some divine guidance soon. But I think I have already.
I neither believe in God, nor do I hate religion. I believe there is no bad religion – it’s just the people. But what I truly believe now is that only love and kindness can conquer all.
Unlike many Indonesian parents, my parents never impose a “deadline” for me to get married. However, they have one condition: the guy has to be a Muslim, which is a problem. I have been seeing a guy whom I love, despite the fact that he is an atheist. He does not even mind if he has to convert to Islam to smooth our way forward with the family, but I don’t want a life of lying.
I don’t want to lie to my mom. I don’t want her to expect to see me turning religious in loose clothing and long headscarf, going on a pilgrimage or a minor pilgrimage every year. If my mom found out about the real me right now, she would be really disappointed, which is the last thing I want to happen.
My mom, with her love and tenderness, always reminds me of the importance of praying or reading the holy book. She tells me when I have a child in the future, he or she should be able to read the Quran and abide by the Islamic values since very young so I, as their mother, will be “saved” from hellfire. I tell her I don’t want to force my kids to do what they don’t want to do, and to send them away to a pesantren (Islamic boarding school). When this topic occurs, we always end up nowhere, and she would say: “Astaghfirullah, may Allah forgive you soon.”
Here’s what I want to tell her: Dear Mom, I love you. But I believe you are not going to hell for having me as your daughter. God knows you have the kindest heart. God knows much better that you deserve the best. I just don’t want to lie to you anymore. And I hope you can love me unconditionally, despite our differences.