Sometimes, I feel terrible. I just want to hide from everyone, including myself. I can tell you this because I think that these feelings are common among us. Sometimes I'm ashamed of my body. I'm ashamed of myself. Every physical characteristic becomes a fault. Every characteristic of my personality becomes a weakness. Every other woman around me is gorgeous, fashionable, and perfect. And me, well, I just want to hide. I close my eyes and I want to disappear. How else to escape the shame I feel?
On Friday night, I felt this way. It's unpredictable. The feeling reminds me of how the earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Japan. There's no time to run from it. There's not enough time to take refuge. The feelings just come, and I nearly drown in them, struggling to barely keep my head above water. That's all that I can do. There's no interrupting the whirlwind of shame. Of course, I don't want to talk to anyone. In those moments, I hate myself and my body. I can't forgive myself. I mutter apology after apology to God, without knowing what I'm apologising for, other than for being myself. Even worse, I'm so focused on myself, I cannot recognise or think of the needs and feelings of those around me.
The sky is black, and I can see no stars. But as I stand in the dark on the Finsbury Park platform, waiting for my train home, something manages to break through my distress. Something completely surprising, unexpected, captivating. In the background of all of the thoughts in my mind, somewhere above the squealing sirens and roar of traffic, I hear a voice, a call, music. Immediately the voices in my mind are silenced, and I'm drawing near the song, spiritually and physically, trying to believe my ears, and follow them. Suddenly, I wonder, where am I? Am I hearing this, in London? No one else seems to notice, no one seems bothered.
Not only is the voice transporting me back to a summer night in Cyprus, when I heard a similar voice calling from a Turkish mosque in Nicosia, but so is the dark night sky, the cool wind, and the inescapable sense that I am alone. Yes, I'm moving in the right direction. The voice is becoming louder, and clearer.
ALLAHU AKBAR I hear. And now, nothing else matters. The Call to Prayer accomplished its purpose. I've been reminded. I've been reminded of Allah. GOD IS GREAT. I BEAR WITNESS THAT THERE IS NO GOD BUT THE ONE GOD. I BEAR WITNESS THAT MUHAMMAD IS THE MESSENGER OF GOD. HURRY TO THE PRAYER (RISE UP TO PRAYER). Come to prayer, he sings, and I'm grateful for the reminder that however I feel about myself, whatever I have done and haven't done, doesn't matter; the shame fades into the distance.
In this moment, the Call to Prayer is a call to freedom from inward thinking, close-mindedness, self-centeredness and narrow vision. The call to prayer, the powerful words ALLAHU AKBAR, expand my horizons far beyond myself. No company joins me, but for a moment I forget my loneliness and cheer for solitude, quiet, and the chance to follow my own heart.