As I was growing up, I wasn't particularly religious, meaning that I wasn't practicing of all the rituals required by a good Muslim, namely the five daily prayers. However, I was enthusiastic for my religion, and was convinced that it was true.
Then at some point, I realized that this wasn't really great news. A simple and well known fact made its real appearance into my conciousness; I am Muslim because I was born so! I thought of what I'd be like by now, if I was born Christian or Jew, or follower of any other belief system. Truth is, Islam didn't seem illogical in itself to me, but I had no way of confirming if any other religion would seem the same to me if I was born into it. Sometimes I even wished that I was born any other than Muslim, or, even best, that I was born atheist! I thought this would have been a good way to start with a free mind. Problem is, even being born an atheist is being conditioned and raised up into a belief system, even if not a religion. It seemed that we are all destined to this conditioning, and it's on us to set our minds, our hearts and our souls free.
I am not sure when exactly this happened. No one event really caused me to think this way. I think it was all gradual, it was all going on in my mind, but still, I was ok being Muslim.
Then something happened. To tell this brief little event, I have to explain a few things about the Muslim society I lived in. I wasn't praying regularly as I mentioned earlier, however I was still going to the weekly collective prayer on Fridays. Going to the mosque for the Friday Prayer is not like going to church on Sundays in a western country, where people don't really look badly at those who don't. In my society in Egypt, it was really a bad thing being seen at home during the time of the Friday prayer, especially for a male ( females aren't being required to do this collective prayer in the mosque, and they can do it at home).
So one day, here I was, walking to the mosque one Friday. I wasn't really happy about going to the Friday collective prayer every week. You basically go and listen to a speech then perform the prayer. Preachers weren't always that brilliant, and they didn't, in most cases, make it really attractive to me to go listen to them every week. I was walking, feeling that I'd rather stay home. Then I suddenly realized that I was doing something that I don't really want, and more important, I wasn't doing it for God or for the religion, I was going because I was just following what is "seen" to be good in my society, and avoiding being looked at very badly if I didn't go. I thought, how stupid and how indign was what I was doing, even in the eyes of God, to do that just for people, when I knew I didn't really feel like doing it that day.
I took a quick decision then. Well, sometimes I would take really quick decision that are to change the course of my life. I even did it when I decided to immigrate to the United States, it was a real quick decision. However quick decision are not really quick. Their seeds have been slowly growing in our hearts and minds, even though it might only take a few moments for them to go above the ground and be seen in the world.
I turned around, and I went back home. And a new era of my life started, and a new self was forming. I decided to go the hard way, because I was fed up losing myself to others, to my society and my traditions. My little questions and realizations transformed into a firm decision and a radical change in the way I approach religion. I am still thankful to this until today. It set my mind free, and I feel that I came out of darkness into light. The darkness of blindly following, and the light of placing the Truth above anything else, even my own culture, family, society, and religion...