Big D

I didn’t think I’d have any reason to go back to Dallas for this religious exploration. My plan was to fly directly to Washington, D.C. and wrap it up there. If I needed more experiences worshipping at mosques, maybe I’d pop over to New York or Michigan, states that were known to have sizeable Muslim populations. I didn’t think Muslims and Texas even belonged in the same sentence.

I’d always imagined this narrative would lead me back to the nation’s capital, and I was excited at the prospect. It had been a long time, but I love that place. I was there during 9/11 and it made sense that I would go back in my pursuit of understanding Islam.

Dallas is another story. Once I moved to L.A., I would return to Dallas to visit both sets of grandparents. Whenever I was there, my energy level plummeted and my desire to sleep spiked. I think most people attributed it to my being a teenager, but I knew it was something more. I felt physically unwell in that city. I thought it was too real to be just psychological. I believed there must be an environmental factor, like the air was bad. Even when I got dressed and tried to circulate amongst the upright, I couldn’t shake the lethargy. I never understood how others looked lively with so little oxygen.

I recognize I have a pattern—leave a city and avoid going back—that has been an essential aspect of my explorations. I return to rifle through my emotional baggage and, with the help of a religion, hopefully lighten the load—or at least understand its contents better. But my Dallas baggage was different, I reasoned. With the other locations, my reluctance to return had more to do with who I had been or how I had behaved while living there. I had no beef with the places themselves. Los Angeles and Berkeley are pretty fantastic in my opinion. I was to blame. I felt my fall out with Dallas was the opposite—it was all Dallas’ fault.

But signs were pointing me to Texas. First, my grandma’s health began to fail. Second, I decided I really did need to visit another place besides D.C. to round out my experience. Then I learned that while I was busy looking the other way, Texas had quietly become home to a vibrant Muslim population. In fact, the 2011 U.S. Mosque Survey found that of states with the most number of mosques, Texas now ranks third—behind only New York and California. Measures of attendance show that Texas mosques are cramming in more people than those of any other state. For Friday prayer services, the total number of congregants who show up at Texas mosques is second only to the total number in New York. But when it comes to Eid Prayers, which are the prayers associated with the two highest holidays in Islam, no other state in the country has more congregants attending mosque for worship than the old Lone Star.

Although I didn’t want to, I had to admit that going to Dallas appeared to make sense. According to the mosque survey, the Dallas metropolitan area alone is home to about 40 mosques, a surprising handful of which are newly constructed in the more affluent suburbs north of downtown. Still, it felt weird. First, the ostentatious materialism I associate with Dallas made it seem like a city so at odds with Muhammad’s message of social equality. Maybe I wouldn’t find “real” Islam being practiced in the Big D, but some flashy American version where passages in the Quran are used to justify a closet full of Louis Vuitton bags. Second, my mind kept going to the brand of fundamental Christianity for which Texas is famous. Dallas, after all, hosts the “Pre-tribulation Conference,” an annual affair in which a big group gathers to happily discuss scenarios in which the mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem will be obliterated so that the rapture may proceed as laid out in the New Testament. What sort of Muslim community could flourish in that environment? But maybe these factors didn’t detract from the meaning of what I was doing; perhaps they added to it. Maybe my reluctance was all the more reason to go. I suppose I could have gone on hemming and hawing forever, but I finally recognized the missing puzzle piece sitting before my eyes. It was shaped like Texas.

9 thoughts on “Big D

  1. Corinna,

    This pilgrimage you are on is obviously not just about religion and religious beliefs, but is also a distinctly personal one. We all drag our old baggage around with us…..sometimes dealing with it…. sometimes not. You have had the courage to go back to the places you packed those bags and have opened them up and dumped them out….not just in the privacy of your own home, but for all of us to see and try to decipher.

    But you didn’t leave us to our own devices in trying to figure out why this or that was in your bulging suitcases of old ideas, musty memories, and even perhaps, blatant misperceptions. You have puzzled them out for us….even when you haven’t wanted to do so. We have been with you in your pain and joyfulness in these past months.

    I don’t always have something to add after reading your posts, but the further you have gotten into this journey, and the more personal it has become, the more interesting it is for me. And I can tell that your life is much richer as a result of this journey . I thank you again for your courage.

    Peace, Merrill

      • Corinna, I am not certain that I see that religion gives you the “tools” to forge ahead…..or journey back. I see it more as a platform upon which you can explore what you are finding folded away in your suitcases……or perhaps stuffed into the back of a closet. I have also viewed your interest in this religious exploration as providing incentives for your own personal digging. I have never doubted that you already had the tools you needed in your life; this just gives you an opportunity to view your life’s experiences and activities through a bit of a different lens.

        I am not surprised that you are finding so many basic commonalities. I can support those, for the most part. It is all of that folderol that gets wrapped tightly around those basic values that tends to strangle me…..and sends me running for my spiritual life in the other direction.

        Peace. Merrill

  2. There’s still a lot of fear or anxiety that arises in folks who feel they must hold on to the rituals or interpreted biblical words or a particular way of believing. All they perceive in their mind’s eye is that the person who lets go of all those things is empty and how scary it must be to not have a religious belief to set your hat on or not having a personal relationship with a religious figure. I’m not necessarily talking about an atheist because sometimes they, too, get stuck in the philosophy of non-belief. I guess I’m suggesting the inner glow that comes with simply accepting and having the freedom to be without the accoutrements while at the same time having a willingness to share in the accoutrements with no feelings of judgment
    but to do what Corinna has done: I’m with Catholics today and I can celebrate the mass. I’m with a Christian group today and it’s o.k. that some let me take communion and some don’t. I’m with the Jewish tradition today and I’m enjoying the celebration. I’m with Islam today and enjoying the prayers. Returning home at the end of the day simply knowing: “I am being me, today and I am o.k.” There is a depth of spirituality that goes with that in which one declares their oneness with all of Life, their love for humanity, the planet and the universe. One arrives there when they are ready and not a minute before.

    • There is a certain irony when one finds that “oneness” while looking in so many places…..Not in just experiences with a single religion. And there is certainly a spiritual aspect in living for the moment….in the moment……mindfully. Merrill

  3. Merrill, Frank, Corinna: I don’t think it’s any accident that you discover a commonality in religions. I suppose that you may find it surprising that I–a convinced Christian–would say that. (Actually, you probably don’t since I’ve said some of the same things before). I am greatly indebted to Corinna for writing about what she’s finding because I think it shows that religion is basically about finding out who God is (or isn’t in some cases), and what it means to be human. And part of being human, when you factor out the cultural differences, is that we are so much alike. We don’t have to think alike to love alike..

    • Hi Walt, Beautiful comment. Thank you. I’m finding that the more directions I explore, the more they lead to the same place. It leaves me scratching my head at all the hostility and division many people perceive between religious affiliations.

  4. Yes…yes. I recently thought: “Isn’t it strange how a few simple truths become a thousand sects.”

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