Between Two Worlds – One Muslimah Convert's Search For Belonging
My story crosses time, race, religions, ethnicity and continents – it is a story of one woman with two names, two identities and shaky bridge between them. It is a story of love, loss, belonging, Faith and resilience; my story starts here.
Pia Antico is born in 1972 to Italian/Irish heritage, but in an era and location where assimilation into the Australian culture was compulsory, she was raised in a monolingual, upwardly mobile, reluctant ethnocultural home environment. Neither fitting into her Aussie/Irish Queensland family nor part of the dreamt of big Italian family as seen in the movies. So from the very start, she never felt a sense of belonging to a larger group, this was compounded by a personality that was shy and bookworm-ish, that did not do small talk. A person who was unusually deep and contemplative from childhood. A woman’s search for meaning traversing Faith traditions – Christianity – pre- Christian paganism- Hare Krishna - Tibetan Buddhism and finally to Islam.
So this is the background and context behind a story of hard lessons in wisdom, strength, inspiration, and resilience, across 45 years. It is a story in search of belonging.
Fast forward to January 17, 2018 a hijabi Muslim woman in jeans, t-shirt and open fronted kaftan; it is midday and I am lying on a small beach, under the shade of a tree; trying to gather the big themes in my life in the hope to inspire, empower and connect with my Secret Sisterhood girlfriends.
Of course, who am I to think I have anything to offer? What about my life story is worth carving into stone, so to speak, immortalize for generations to come? I am no one important, not famous, I have not invented anything, not impacted 10,000s of people; that I know of. I have not climbed Mount Everest or won any prestigious awards for excellence. If I die right now, the memory of me will only last in the memories of a handful of people in this huge world. Maybe my online identity will stand the test of time, if no one deletes it for me after my death.
So why me? As I watch an ant running along the branch above me, I ponder what I can contribute to the universal font of wisdom, inspiration and love; belonging, everything to this point has all been in search of belonging; an experience that transcends all human existence, a yearning we can all identify. Maybe, it is that someone reading my account of searching for my place in this universe, will take something of benefit; any and all benefit being straight from God. My journey toward outward belonging has witnessed two abusive marriages, multiple spiritual identities and in a last ditch effort to belong somewhere, I crossed continents to exotic lands thinking that marrying into a huge Pakistani family would finally give me the tight knit companionship I wished I had experienced in my Italian/Irish childhood family environment. The kind of big ethnic family as seen in movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding or the Godfather. Sadly a lack of Urdu and inability to fit the family/culture norms meant yet another experience of loneliness in a crowded room.
When I became Muslim there was promise of entering into a big group of likeminded people all focused in one direction, this could not have been further from the truth. Soon I learned that Prophet Muhammad (saw) said that those who mindfully practice Islam will be among the strangers, and that includes other Muslims.
An Italian/Irish Aussie Muslim convert, I am writing this fully clothed with hijab on a beach surrounded by topless women in g-strings – talk about not belonging; talk about finally not giving a crap. I have Brother Ali, albino Muslim hip hop singer in my ears and salmon sushi next to me, ready to eat. I am beyond definition, timeless, boundless and I look to many years ahead of doing me. The misfit, deep, resilient, curious, honest, loving, brave and strong; and fueled by the only One I belong to, God.
So this account, rather than chronological or detailed, is part archetypal and part allegorical; in the hope that those also in the search of belonging and failing to fit in know they are not alone. Know that the journey though at times painful, lonely, confusing and traumatic; has led me to realize that a sense of belonging starts and ends with yourself and your relationship with God. A relationship that takes place in yourself, transforming that false sense of separateness at the core of our yearning, searching, and loneliness. Then, with this sense of belonging to our divine self, to God, we are able to turn our attention outward to those around us in service. Belonging is not about finding a place to fit in but creating a place that empowers and invites others to join you in being a misfit.
And this is exactly what I just did by creating the New Muslimah Collective – Sydney; aimed at inviting all kinds of misfit Muslimahs in Sydney, Australia to monthly picnic and prayer in Hyde Park. A gathering held every 4th Sunday of the month where we can eat, pray, love – together. Our 1st gathering will be Sunday, March, 25th insha a Allah. ALL Muslimahs are welcome..
'We may pray slightly differently, but we all pray in the same direction and to the same God'
JOIN THE NEW MUSLIMAH COLLECTIVE HERE: