Cinco de Mayo: Why I Celebrate

sugar skulls

As some of you may have figured out by now, I am a convert to Islam. Some of you may have even read my flash fiction on the conversion. I converted eleven years ago on Cinco de Mayo. It has been one hell of a journey too. I came into Islam after studying it for three years. Since the age of eighteen, I had studied every religion I could find information on. I became really involved in Buddhism when I lived in California. I fell in love with the Toltec tradition through some in California. Although not very good, I adore the meditative practice of the yogis. However, none touched me like the unadulterated pure translation of the Quran. It was the meeting of divine, science and the feminism (believe it or not, it is there) that touched my heart.

When I first came to Islam, I only knew the Muslims in my area… which were mostly salafi/wahhabi types. I learned very little from them and felt the pressure to forsake my whole life and put on this mask of culture that was not my own. In no time at all, I was married off into a business marriage, five kids in tow (three from my ex husband) and desperately seeking a way to be true to myself and a Muslim. It was a jihad… the real meaning of the word “jihad”; struggle against the self, ego. I guess I could have walked away from Islam, but I knew in my core, that there was more to Islam than these Muslims were practicing. They only scratched the surface and were just as lost as I was.

Fortunately, I found Rumi. Rumi’s poetry had more truth than fantasy that few understood. His words were poetic truth. When he spoke of liquor, most assumed he meant it literal, but as in all of God’s books, the messages are in parables and figurative speech so that we are forced to think critically. Rumi’s adoration of a woman is his undying love for God. He opened a door to a deeper understanding of Islam. I soon found Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, an American convert and scholar, who emphasized purity of heart over outward appearances. His lectures gave way to the idea of being who I am, American, Kentuckian, outgoing, friendly, smiling, etc. and Muslim. No need to sell my soul or my dignity to be a servant of God.

I once read that Sufism is the heart and Islam is the body… cannot have one without the other; but if you have Islam without Sufism, then you are left heartless, dead, just going through the motions, only a shell… no closer to God, but perhaps worse… self-righteous. Now, I am on the right track and I am learning to go deeper in introspection, meditation and prayer. The other spiritual paths that I had spent time learning have all left an indelible effect on me and helped me be a better Muslim.

Today, I celebrate my 11 years as a Muslim. At the time I took shahadah, Cinco de Mayo was the only think I knew of that day since I had lived in California and Arizona. It seemed to me a little symbolic to me. After years of struggling spiritually, I was free in my conversion to Islam.

Recently, I learned something else about this day. Hidirellez. The 5th of May (beginning at the setting sun) to May 6th is the celebration of when Al Khidr and Ilyas meet on earth. In the bible, Ilyas is Elijah and some say Al Khidr is John the Baptiste, but there are differing opinions. The celebration is of Spring and the return of life. Most notably is that it is celebrated by both Muslims and Christians in Turkey, Syria, Bulgaria, Romania, Iraq, Albania, etc. In the spirit of revival, they look to Al Khidr for health, happiness, hope and success. So, this is my day of renewed faith.

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