I miss church. Every other time I’ve spent a considerable amount of time abroad, it’s been in a traditionally Catholic or Christian country. Whether or not I agreed with the country’s individual practice of religion, there was usually some Baptist church, Anglican or Catholic Cathedral where I could rest in the presence of God. After my mixed feelings of practicing state-endorsed Christianity in Zambia, it was a welcome change to land in a country where I don’t feel frustrated by the message preached by my fellow Christians.
Welcome to my new challenge: Islam and Morocco; the two are inseperable. There is no way to engage with the language, the people or the greater community without this basic understanding. The most essential phrases of Darija include: “the Peace of Allah be with you,” “thanks be to Allah” and “Allah bless your parents” to name a few. Likewise, a volunteer cannot hope to integrate into their local community without numerous conversations about conversion, fasting and prayer. Entering into discussion is an open invitation to be questioned about your belief system and your reasons for not already being a Muslim.
As a Christian, I struggle with the never-ending demands that I submit to the will of Allah. Politely replying that “there is no compulsion in religion” or “you have your religion and I have mine” may do the trick, but it also leaves me feeling that I’ve given an incomplete answer. It’s frustrating that the societal and organizational restraints leave me feeling that the exchange is decidedly one-sided.
Ramadan begins in a few days. I’ve been looking forward to this time of fasting, prayer and reflection for months, but as it draws near I’m overcome by anxiety and panic. Will I be overwhelmed by the hangriness and unable to keep the fast? Will I be able to successfully teach English or speak Darija when I haven’t eaten for 12 hours? Will I have enough energy to focus on my spiritual journey and engage with fellow PCVs as they struggle in theirs? What if I can’t find the words to commune with God five times per day?
Despite my own fears, insecurities and longings, I’ve decided to engage culturally and spiritually with the Moroccan people and join the fast. I don’t know what the next month holds, but I know Who holds it.
(Originally written July 19)