I was losing myself in tiled curves of emerald greens, cold greys and deep blues with gold script, in the Istanbul sun that danced in through stained glass windows, in the itchy, musty red carpet against my bare feet and the incense that stung its way up my nostrils. I was kneeling down and staring up, up, up, watching the hazy, dim light through the breathtaking ceiling of the majestic Blue Mosque.

“Welcome home.”

I heard it like a real sound. One that came from my insides.

Now, I am a woman of science, a woman of knowledge; the kind of knowledge you can duplicate and verify. Not a woman of…”voices from my insides.” Those are called hallucinations.

And then again, months later:

“Who are you?”

“I am the emptiness from which all potential is born. Just like a woman’s womb.”

I jerked myself awake and glared into the darkness for the source of the voice. “You were dreaming,” I comforted myself, as I scribbled the words in my journal and cursed my overactive imagination.

I had done everything I could to disconnect from Islam, which to me was synonymous with fathers who raised their son’s with knuckled fists and mothers who loved their daughters for their obedience. Secular life promised freedom and choice. And so I moved as far away from my faith as I could. And when it came time to ask what I was here for and what all this means, I looked for answers in the Heart Sutra, in the Bhagavad Gita, in the Gnostic Gospels, in the Kabbalah. But, of course, the journey inward inevitably meant the journey home.

And nowhere in the world is home louder than in Jerusalem. Here, I can stand on my tiny balcony waiting for the dawn call to prayer that comes in from every corner; competing voices asking me to come home to a birthright that’s all my own.

I don’t bother with the dress code. I show up in a thin silk nightgown, with bare arms and long, black curls falling as they will. I don’t want to add any more layers between us, neither from the cloth itself nor from the resistance my mind creates in response to that particular rule. And I show up no matter where I am in my cycle, stubbornly refusing to believe that there is any part of me that could ever be inappropriate. I don’t follow the prescribed format. I start on my knees and follow my breath inward, inward, inward. With each breath, the space between my thoughts grows bigger and bigger. And when the words come out they are always a reflection of home.

Bismillah ar-rahman ar-rahim

I don’t use my faith to guarantee a pleasant afterlife; I don’t use it to gather points in the eye of the Almighty; I don’t use it to inform what I eat or drink, who I love or how I worship. I use it to access a place on the inside of me that is infinitely loving and merciful and kind and good; and to live my life, as best I can, from that place out. I use it to generate the most love and joy I can and to extend it out, especially when I don’t want to, towards those I would rather reject, to those who have broken my heart or my spirit or who have made me swallow my pride. I use it to extinguish, as best as I can, every violent part of me, the unkind thoughts, the hateful language, the meanness, the gossip, the judgment, the lies. That’s the kind of jihadist I am.

Sami’a Allahu liman hamidah

I never ask for anything, I never lament anything, I just keep trying to expand, to make myself so big on the inside that I can hold any amount of pain, any amount of turmoil, any amount of grief. I keep trying to expand so that joy and sorrow equally disperse into something stable and immovable, like tiny dewdrops in the ocean. And so I can love and contribute and play standing on this foundation of stable immovability. Knowing that something I can trust will catch me no matter how far I fall.

Al-hamdu lillahi rabbil ‘alamin