Now Reading
The Difference Between Religion and Spirituality

The Difference Between Religion and Spirituality

Depending on what type of guy my mother was married to dictated how religious she was going to be. Which trickled down to how religious us kids were going to be. Or pretended to be.

I can remember a time where Mom was married to this dude that I hadn’t cared for. He just gave me a bad vibe and even as I grew older, I still hadn’t liked him. But it was Mom’s second marriage and fourth serious relationship and as children living in the 90’s, we had no voice or say so.

To the community, he was so Islamic. People looked up to him because he was knowledgeable and knew ayahs (verses) from the Quran like the back of his hand. He traveled in the name of Allah (SWT) and never missed Jum’ah (congregational prayer on Fridays). He fasted and didn’t listen to music. He wore traditional garb and had a huge sunnah beard. During Ramadan, he fasted and went to make the nightly prayers.

To the community, he was so Islamic.

In the home, he told us that TV was forbidden and because Mom wanted to play the religious role for her new hubby, she agreed. Mom already limited the amount of TV time we had in the first place. Now, they packed both black-and-white TVs and the color one that was in the living room and placed them in the basement. We were mortified. No “Xena the Warrior Princess”. No “Hercules,” “SailorMoon,” “Bobby’s World” or “Power Rangers.”

I hated him even more.

A few months later, I’d come home to see the color TV back upstairs in the small family room. He sat in front of it, cross-legged, dipping incense that he sold into fragrant oils.

I ran to Mom. “We can watch TV again?”

She side-eyed me, then said, “Yes, but not all day. Same rules apply.”

I heard him croaking with laughter in the background. And although I was happy to reclaim my TV rights, I couldn’t help but wonder why the TV was now un-forbidden…


A few months later, I’d come home to see the color TV back upstairs in the small family room. He sat in front of it, cross-legged, dipping incense that he sold into fragrant oils.

Mom used to read us the Qur’an twice a day. Once before homeschooling and then again before bed.

“What’s hypocrite?” My little brother asked during our nightly session.

Mom thought about it. “It’s kinda like when someone says don’t do something and then they do it themselves.”

“Like stepdad,” I said. “With the TV?”

She shot me the evil, “Mama eye” and I shrank into my seat.


Mom was crying. In front of her sat a hard, gray box where she kept all her credit cards and money for bills. She shook her head. “He took my money,” she said. “He took all of it!”

She hadn’t had to say who because I already knew.

She shook her head. “He took my money,” she said. “He took all of it!”


Not only had he taken Mom’s money. Our money. But he cheated on Mom as well. Then ended up marrying the lady. Mom divorced him shortly after.

How could a man who was such an outwardly devout Muslim be so scandalous?


I’m not going to even lie to you, I’ve had very traumatizing experiences with the Muslims in my community. And, although, I’ve met some really amazing and beautiful Muslims, I’m still weary. And my guard stays up. I believe I shared in a past post about why I’ve been traumatized and the highs and lows of my iman (faith).

And, before I get into my sort of analysis, I’m not a mufti or a scholar on the issue. This is all clearly an opinion based on my own personal life experiences. I’m quite sure some of you have amazing and welcoming communities that never have any issues. Thumbs up.

How could a man who was such an outwardly devout Muslim be so scandalous?

At one point, I tried very, very hard to fit in with the “good” Muslims. I was doing stuff for other Muslims to deem me a “good” Muslim and not doing it for my Creator. The community had pumped into our heads that we must always look the part but failed to add that we are all humans and we were created to make mistakes and repent. And that we should try to please our Lord and not so much one another. On the flipside, if you are pleasing Allah (SWT) then others will see it, feel it and that would/should also please them.


What I got (and many others) from the community was if you pretend to be good and holy then you should be okay. If a sister performs prayers five times a day (but in her head, she’s humming tunes to Rihanna’s foulest song) at least she’s doing the movements. If a brother goes to the club and its shots, shots, shots, shots, shots with Lil John, at least he never misses Jum’ah prayer. Oh, and this one is my favorite. He’s an Imam (or religious leader) whose gives talks, panel discussions and marital advice, but he’s in the mosque chasing around girls waaaay younger than he is or sliding into those DMs. Things that make you go, hmmmm.

And, by no means am I saying that being an oxymoron Muslim is a bad thing, an unforgivable thing–the question I’m posing is where does spirituality come into play?

The community had pumped into our heads that we must always look the part but failed to add that we are all humans and we were created to make mistakes and repent. 

A lot of my friends are non-Muslim, atheist or just floating around certain beliefs.

See Also

I had a deep conversation with an atheist. He’s a good buddy of mine. He told me why he hadn’t ascribed to an organized religion. And he had some valid points, which I totally agreed with: people use religion to control others and evil people hide behind religion.

We have women in Islamic countries being raped then married off to their rapists in the name of religion.

Slaves were controlled by white men (and women) by introducing Christianity.

Young boys are being forced into being sex slaves in the name of religion.

Female genital mutilation. Cults. Honor killings. Modern day slave trades. The list goes on and on.

We both agreed that the real meanings behind modern day religions can be a bad thing. Especially when the wrong person controls it.

And he had some valid points, which I totally agreed with: people use religion to control others and evil people hide behind religion.


Being a visible Muslim woman, here was my response to him: Islam is a perfect religion. With all the rules and intentions set out to make our lives easier. Better. Unfortunately, the people are not perfect, and if we were created perfect then we’d be angels. I’m Muslim. I believe in my practice wholeheartedly. And, insha’allah (if Allah wills), I’ll never be anything other than a believing Muslim. Although, I wouldn’t say that I’m religious (meaning that I don’t do all the things it takes to be a devout or practicing Muslim) I’m very much so a spiritual person.

I’m more spiritual in my late 20’s than I’ve even been in my entire life, pretending to pray five times a day or agreeing with what a sexist imam said during a khutbah (Islamic sermon). I actually do less physically and have more of a spiritual connection to my Creator. And, in the last two years, I’ve had to heavily rely on Allah’s guidance and mercy.

I knew that I’d become more spiritual when the outer mattered much less to me. When I’d cry and pray in my bed that Allah (SWT) would lessen my burdens. When I’d look at the sky and say SubhanAllah (glory be to God). When I stopped judging others for not being what I thought they should be.

Being a visible Muslim woman, here was my response to him: Islam is a perfect religion. With all the rules and intentions set out to make our lives easier. 

With that said, I want you, the reader, to really reflect on your own personal religious and spiritual journey and beliefs. Are you wearing hijab for your husband? Are you praying, doing the movement only to appease others? Or are you really praying to Allah (SWT) with conviction in your heart? Are you giving charity so that others can see it and praise you? Are you saying certain things on the internet so people can think you are holier than thou?




Leah V

View Comments (12)
  • Your posts are so moving and I always find myself nodding in agreement and going “yep” or “unh-huh”. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  • I am not Muslim. One of my dearest friends is Muslim. Neither one of is is perfect nor think our religion is perfect – so I just question why someone who would write such an otherwise thoughtful piece, here, would conclude the very counter of the evidence she supplied. By thinking a religion is perfect one would excuse all genuine acts that abide by said religion – and some are really not very humane.

    Just a week or so ago, California Imam Ammar Shahin called for the annihilation of all Jews urging for some mystical end of times in which Muslims will kill all Jews. Shahin apologized later for his statement, after it went viral.

    Why should he apologize for preaching what he is told is “perfect?” Islam calls for this. When, at the very early stage of the religion, Islamists slaughtered the entire peaceful male tribe of Banu Qurayza, there was no apology, but quite the contrary, the women were distributed among the warlords as booty, along with the children and the tribe’s earnings. That was a Jewish tribe whose (female) decedents were forced to become Muslim in a land where it is currently illegal to be a citizen of any other kind. The Saudis (where that took place) don’t apologize for that current law, nor others that are oppressive but linked to Islamic teaching.

    In Islam, in the holy book, a man will have two times that of a female in inheritance. And, “Your wives are as a tilth unto you.” So a sexist imam, like the one that the blogger on this page would object to, would only be following a precise interpretation of the Quran.

    If sexism is not perfect, how can Islam be perfect? If Islam is perfect, then maybe sexism isn’t so bad (or, can “bad” be part of perfect?)

    I understand the writer here claimed not to be an expert – but then why say a statement with such authority, “Islam is a perfect religion,” when the rest of the piece, by her own writing, proves otherwise? Does something need to be perfect to be valued in any way?

    • The claim to perfection is simply overcompensation for the denial of having chosen the wrong path. It is revelling in perceived freedom. However, this freedom is granted by secular society, and not Islam.

      Please write more such posts Nessie. You are a very objective and engaging writer.

      • Thank you.

        The compliments on this page for the writer are nice and genuine, yet it would be refreshing to see an honest discussion flush out here.

        I see what you are saying but subtly disagree for part (not all). It isn’t so much that the blogger chose the “wrong path.” She seems to be a kind and thoughtful person who despises cruelty and hypocrisy and there isn’t anything wrong in that. It is a good path. But, perhaps she is incorrectly crediting what makes her a good person, which is, indeed, inadvertently misleading.

        Very rarely do people choose their religious path, yet there is an understandable human need to reflect and not feel deceived. If there is “overcompensating” here, as you suggest, I think it comes from trying to reconcile the good person that she is, with the ideology that she might think makes her that way in spite of some evidence in this same blog that suggests otherwise.

        I’ve seen writings and heard speeches by (ex-Muslim) Sarah Haider who once struggled with the same observations and and concluded very differently leading her to start an organization based on her need to cling to intellectual honesty after thorough and courageous investigation and provide a safe place for others on a similar journey. That might be too extreme a journey for some – and so there are other fantastic people like Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser and colleagues who works to reform to create a gentle practice.

        I agree with you about the freedom granted by secular societies and that is what is empowering women, including on this blog/website, to freely express themselves without fear. It is an American/European phenomenon, not a Middle East or East phenomenon (with some exception).

        This lovely piece and much of this website would not be welcome under the most strict of Islamic regimes. A poor woman was recently arrested in Saudi Arabia for posting a photo of herself in a skirt – and who knows what other “lessons of righteousness” the Saudi prison guards will “teach her.” Are they hypocrites, or was she a bad Muslim? Are they salvaging her soul by harming her body?

        And blogger Raif Badawi – a man who is continually imprisoned and tortured for writing a blog – and the journalists and academics being arrested in Turkey at warp speed, etc. etc..

        The secular societies allow for people to be whatever religion they want and, and this is important, to practice it how they interpret it to be as long as it brings no harm.
        Unfortunately in Europe there are religious police that are coercing people to practice religion the way these “police” want.

        But, back to addressing the statement of perfection? What does perfection look like?

        When examining Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Pakistan, Gaza, Egypt, etc and seeing all the oppression put upon Muslims by other Muslims who are aiming for a pure Islamic regime, who is practicing Islam perfectly? Certainly someone must practice it perfectly or close to perfectly (as humans mess things up agreeably).

        Is it the aforementioned regimes? Is it the citizens being victimized by the regimes? And if there is no right answer, how does a perfect religion lead to interpretations that cause so much harm and sorrow – certainly instructions for living well would be fool-proof if perfect. Maybe there is something else going on.

        This was a bit legnthy of a response (you probably regret asking for more;)

        I like seeing where compassion, thoughtfulness and intellectual honesty merge and the result – because too often I see the antithesis and it is frightening. I hope that the writer sees this and reflects even if she doesn’t want to respond. The foundation is here and she put it here – will she let it build or fade?

        • Nessie,

          This is long, but I’m glad you were able to see it for what it is, which is an opinion essay. Thanks for respectfully disagreeing. I will take your comments into consideration 🙂

          • I find you to be absolutely adorable!

            You’re an exemplary person. After you responded to me I read a couple more of your pieces and recognize perseverance as a theme within you – and that is what is linked to much success. You seem to be a beautiful woman inside and out. Sure, there are points that could be made for debate on your blogs, but how dull it would be if people just read, accepted and didn’t push back ever? You not only provide a safe place for people who clearly have had identifiable experiences, you also open discussion.

            On this page, I only disagreed with one thing you said – but it happened to be a critical part which led to lengthy responses. We have had remarkably different experiences, but like you, I am a thinker and an unpublished novel writer (so far;).

            I saw that you wrote four novels. The world of literary agents and publishing is brutal. Look at Margaret Mitchell whose Gone with the Wind was rejected over 30 times before being published.

            My unsolicited advice to you is to take one of your novels, dust it off, reread (rereading after time/distancing sheds new light) and then, if you can afford, hire a novel editor – look at sites like Reedsy and cross reference editors with their testimonials and reach out to some. Some editors have connections in the book industry. Self publishing is also an option.

            My novel was rejected a lot as well. One agent recommended I hire an editor (I was hoping, before, that agents would have in-house editors). I did, love her understanding and correspondence and am now working on another draft since her recommendations which I think are spot on.

            I could see from skimming the comment sections that you already have quite a fan base, and I’m guessing many who don’t chime in. You have a forum here to advertise your work and get people engaged. Your novels might need work – dust them off, fix them up and give them life. Start with one.

            I look forward to reading more (blogs or a novel) from you.

          • Nessie,

            I like being adorable. hehe. That’s def my theme. And, I’m glad you read the rest of my pieces, they are intertwined with one goal. To teach tolerance of others. So, if that’s what people get from my work, then I’ve accomplished my goal.

            I appreciate you. Thanks for all the feedback 🙂

            Leah V

    • You make excellent points that I completely agree to and live with. I also don’t live in the perfect Muslim community and see many (mostly men) living in hypocrisy. I hated it and for many years distanced myself from the community and my faith. I realized as yourself that Muslims are not perfect. My faith became my own, not for others to see me at the mosque every Friday or for people to admire. It became personal to me. And although I am far from a perfect Muslim, I refuse to to succumb to the hypocrisy that others seem to live by so easily. Even with my family, which was the hardest part. But I refused to pretend that I pray 5 times a day when I didn’t, or pretend to fast in 100 degree weather when I wasn’t. Was I more scared of people and my family than God?! No. I identity as a “cultural Muslim”…..I know the Quran and I know the Hadith…and in times of need I do feel closer to God. It’s not the perfect relationship but it’s where I am now and I hope and pray that I will continue to be guided on the right path. I don’t judge others faith or lack of it, I don’t judge myself either because I know at least I’m not hypocrite.

      Thank you for your post for not making me feel so isolated in my beliefs, especially in community that can be full of people quick to point the finger and blame you when they themselves are less than perfect.

Leave a Reply

Scroll To Top