I converted to Islam in 1998, full of zeal. I could have gone to Chechnya and fought, but I didn’t. I could have gone to Afghanistan and fought, but I didn’t. I could have gone to Iraq and fought, but I didn’t. I could have gone to Somalia and fought, but I didn’t. I could have gone to Yemen, or Pakistan, or Syria, but I didn’t.
I came into this religion because I heard God speak to me in the words of the Qur’an and the life example of the Prophet Muhammad, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family. I didn’t know there would be so many wars in which I had to choose a side. I have watched Aukai Collins, John Walker Lindh, Adam Gadahn, and others make different choices along the way. At the end of the day, we will all stand before God and answer for our choices, for better or for worse.
My parents forbade me from going to Syria to study after I graduated from Brown in 2001. If it hadn’t been so instilled in me that obedience to parents, even those who are not Muslim, is a central teaching of Islam, perhaps I just would have gone anyways. But it is Islam that made me stay, and that decision changed my life.
It is Islam that leads me to Florida every December to hang out with my parents during the holidays – it is their sacred right over me. It is Islam that makes me refrain from killing other human souls out of an awareness of the immense sanctity of all life. It is Allah that has brought me to Manhattan, both through His decree and also through my choice – a choice made after study, prayer, and spiritual consultation – to start raising my family here.
I may not be newsworthy, in either the secular Western media or in the various counterpublics of the global Muslim community. I spend the day with my son. I read books. I pray. I try to refine my soul in various ways. I try to respond to requests over email or Facebook or Twitter in a timely fashion. I look for noble organizations that are helping people so that I can make donations to them as zakat or sadaqa. It is all so mundane.
The mundaneness of my existence sometimes makes me think that my choices are not truly authentic. “If I were a real Muslim,” I think to myself, “I would be off galavanting around the world as a holy warrior like the days of yore.”
“If I were a real Muslim,” I ponder, “I would be living the alternative to Western modernity in a remote region of the Muslim world as a hidden saint.”
“If I were a real Muslim,” my mind suggests, “I would be immersed in the worldview of a religious seminary, unlearning the myriad heretical ideas and spiritual poisons of the West that have infected my mind and heart.” Because isn’t that what we are being told, day in and day out?
Doesn’t the Muslim counterpublic and the mainstream media conspire to tell us that the real Muslim is the erudite scholar, the charismatic mystic, the fierce warrior, the tireless leader, the courageous reformer – all the men and women engaged in the drama of the great struggle of our time?!
Isn’t the message clear – everyday people need not apply?
So I guess I am not a real Muslim. Next week, God willing, I am going to Florida. To play golf with my Dad. To take my son to the beach for the first time. To sit next to my Mom at a restaurant some night. To fall asleep to the sound of the ocean like I did when I was 12 years old on Christmas Eve. Nothing newsworthy about that.
But my hope is that maybe, just maybe, the greatest idol I have yet to smash is the image of the real Muslim that keeps me from embracing what God and His Messenger actually want from me, Robert David Coolidge, no matter how mundane it may seem.
Editor’s Note: R. David Coolidge is currently teaching at New York University, and used to work as the Muslim Chaplain at Brown University and Dartmouth College. This commentary originally appeared on his blog, https://amercycase.wordpress.com (Dec. 18, 2014) and is reprinted here with permission. All views expressed here are soley those of the author.