Israa Ismaeil: Having Faith in the Unknown

Israa Ismaeil is an Egyptian American writer/poet based in New York City. Her poetry tells stories often untold by many, soft, heart-wrenching verses capable of piercing even the hard rock solid hearts. Her poems range from talking about love to Black Lives Matter and everything in between.

This story is part of “American Muslims”, a photo series created by Carlos Khalil Guzman, a photographer and activist based in NYC. The project is dedicated to capturing the diversity of the Muslim community in the United States. We will not only be sharing the images from the project, but each image will be accompanied by a personal and unique story to show our shared humanity. To read more about Israa and the rest of the faces from “American Muslims” click here.



I used to be ashamed of admitting that I used to question my faith more than I was “supposed” to. For the majority of my life, I grew up understanding religion through the lens of those who surrounded me; almost to the point of being told, rather than being taught. Being in an Islamic School for seven years made it easier to avoid questions like “what’s that on your head?” and “why do you pray five times a day?”, or “what’s an Allah?”, and “do you believe in Jesus, too?”. It wasn’t so much the lack of exposure that made it less likely for me to answer such questions; rather, it was a silent similarity that was shared amongst my peers and I. I didn’t realize how little I knew about both, myself, and religion, until I grew into my own shoes during my academic and professional careers.

The difference of exposures caused me to question more than just my faith, but my sense of individualism, or lack thereof, as well. Being introduced to aspects that didn’t rely on religion as heavily as I was used to left me in a constant state of limbo. When questioned about my religion by non-Muslims, I felt as though I was reciting answers out of my 10th grade Islamic Studies book. I, too, was telling, and not teaching. It almost felt robotic. I wasn’t surrounded by those of similar faiths, let alone the fundamental ideologies that I’ve depended on for so long, and that induced a false need to distance myself from what I’ve held onto most. Others’ lack of understanding caused me to doubt what I thought I understood. I soon lost my sense of tawwakul (trusting in God’s plan/full reliance on Him), and that is when matters began to spiral into an unyielding series of doubt.


It wasn’t until I was jolted into reconsidering the essence of what it meant to have faith, when I realized how lost I had been in the midst of my struggles. Once one loses hope in what they claim to love, simply because it is no longer as tangible as it used to be, one’s honesty becomes of question. It took time for me to realize and understand that the greatest aspect of my deen (religion) is the concept behind how to hold onto it: Faith. Trusting that my sense of hope stems out of the very root of believing in the unknown. Faith means love. Faith means reliance. Faith means patience.

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