In the two years before I first uttered my shahada, I came to fancy myself as a fine writer, although my only real talent was to have the patience to hammer out a million words on a keyboard in the middle of the night for months on end. I had two self-printed novels to show for my efforts, which I shared with friends and family, accidentally revealing my woeful illiteracy.
When I became Muslim, I initially shunned my investment in creative writing, for I feared that the act of fictional storytelling would impact negatively on my efforts to cleanse my heart and soul. Yet over the months and years that followed I would periodically return to this hobby, convincing myself that I could put my supposed abilities to the service of my deen. Over the next few years a number of new works would be born, sometimes competing for my time, but mostly languishing on my computer.
Five years after that blessed day which opened up this new world to me, I would shun my writing once more, this time taking steps to finalise it by physically destroying my work. It was part of my repentance; the embodiment of my mission to overcome the darkness of my soul. Weeks later I would regret my hasty actions, lamenting the loss of a novel I had invested so much in. I procured a piece of data recovery software, restored whatever I could from the hidden depths of my computer’s hard disk, and spent the rest of the decade deriding my puritanical rage. Indeed, five years after my decision to eradicate the last vestiges of my novel, I made the opposite decision to revisit it and ultimately publish it. I thought I was ready to embrace a piece of my being from my days before faith.
And so it was that at the beginning of this year, I finally set it free, releasing it into the wilds. I published it as a brick of a paperback and as an eBook, momentarily confident of its prospects. It survived out there for two months before I had a change of heart. Now, as with everything I write, I cannot bear to read it back to myself. I have shunned it once more, writing off my time spent editing it as a lesson learned and my financial investment as cutting my losses. Now I look back on that day in 2003 when I sought to destroy the work for good, no longer with that derision of mine; instead I tell myself that it was probably the right decision. I had a chance a decade ago to escape the darkness of my soul, but I was not prepared back then to commit to the hard road ahead.
Now I stand at the same juncture once more, having that same conversation within: whether to purify my soul of all that holds it back, or to try to reconcile my darkness to my light. I am in a better place to succeed today, perhaps, in that I have a better understanding of the world of the writer: that most writers are never read, that most writers expend an incredible effort that is never rewarded, that for the most part it is a waste of time and energy. A decade ago I probably believed that I was an excellent writer, destined to succeed. Today I recognise that I am a mediocre writer, possessor of mixed reviews, some quite positive, but most very negative indeed. To give up writing against such a backdrop no longer seems a hideous, insurmountable sacrifice; rather, it feels like the right thing to do.
True, I lament the unfinished drafts on my computer. I lament that they may never see the light of day. But now I ask myself another question: will I really be questioned on that Awesome Day about those stories I decided not to set free, or about the obligations and prohibitions of our deen? Only a small part of me yearns to write fiction now. Mostly I have resigned to turning my back on that world, for the redemption of my soul. This time around it is less puritanical rage than resignation. The time has come to conquer the darkness of my soul.