At the back of the restaurant, the smells of stale flour and wet cardboard are noticeable as soon as you turn the corner on your way towards the restrooms. As you pass the swinging kitchen doors, you’ll notice they are held open by a dirt-laden cinder block nudged against a giant dough mixer; a little Bismillah sign curiously hanging from the top of its knobs. 

And when you finally make it inside the tiny, unisex restroom, you will see a small plastic bin sitting on the filthy floor. It is filled with a man’s personal toiletries:  disposable razors, Gillette shaving cream, Ban deodorant, aftershave, and Saran-wrapped remnants of an Irish Spring bar of soap. A damp, green hand towel is balled up in the corner of the bin as well. Clothing hangs from an air vent in the ceiling. It, too, is damp; most probably from being hand-washed in the sink below it. A small, ice-blue hair comb rests on the sink near the corroded faucet handles. 

This was no restaurant bathroom. 

It was, regrettably, someone’s ritual corner before finding refuge for the night. Perhaps, many nights. 

It’s hard to imagine the kind of God that would perpetuate these kinds of living conditions. The kind where employees were so underpaid that they were forced to live secretly out of the backrooms of their boss’s businesses, hidden by the cloak of night and the closed sign on the front door, when owners went home after the night’s shift. Where broken down cardboard boxes became sleeping mats and rolled up dish towels became pillows and old flour sacks became makeshift blankets; a real dystopia of street food of sorts.

Where was the mercy and salvation that God had promised? Where were the rewards that came in tandem with offering your time and worship, your hard-earned money in charity, and your very soul to His cause? 

After the pizza dust has settled and the ovens have been wiped clean…the question then begs to be asked, Where, indeed, wasGod?

20 years into my own journey to find this elusive being, I realized, in order to find God, I first needed to lose my religion. 

So I shed all I learned about God as a Christian living in the sultry Cuban alleys of Miami and I began to evaluate the beliefs of worshippers of all kinds. But what I found was the undying belief that reading the words of God and praying for good fortune alone was all it took to live in the way of God and collect his glorious bounties.

Well, I don’t believe that any more than I believe a lucky rabbit’s foot will bring me luck. I should know. I’ve seen rabbits’ feet before they were laced with key ring hooks.  There isn’t anything lucky about being footless. 

Because keeping a holy book on the shelf, or its scriptures in the car, won’t keep my house from being robbed or my car from hydroplaning into a tree during a storm. It sure didn’t spare Jesus of Nazareth or Muhammad of Arabia from persecution, assassination attempts, or relentless antagonism. And tapping the “Bismillah” sign daily that hung over the kitchen knobs sure didn’t keep that restaurant squatter from living a life of utter poverty.

Because, God isn’t some genie that grants wishes to people who just sit around waiting for their prayers to be answered.  The way I see it, the harder you work, the more likely it will appear that God showers his good graces upon you. And the more ungodly the manner in which you do your work, the more likely you will bring ill fate upon yourself. The Almighty God might have a design in mind, but you get to choose how it unfolds. In fact, it is your responsibility. After all, when you make your bed, it is you that will lay in it.  Whether it’s in a bed of roses or a bed of thorns (or in this case, a bed of cardboard boxes), well, that’s entirely on you. 

And what I found was the only religion out there that so beautifully explained the state of the world and the state of our hearts was Islam. In its simplicity, it teaches you the consequences of your thoughts, your intentions, your actions, and even your words. It lays down a roadmap for those who are lost. It feeds the bellies of the starving faithful. It sets up a social system that makes it lawful to support those who can’t support themselves and holds them accountable to learn to sustain their own. It teaches us to do the most good. But, most importantly, it teaches us what “goodness” means.  Because, doctrine matters.   

Back to the pizza shop…out of the corner of my eye, I spot the cologne bottle I engraved for my father one Father’s Day years ago, the bottle for which I so painstakingly chose the words for the inscription. There it was, peeking out from beneath the sordid pile of clothes in the cloudy, plastic bin on the bathroom floor. 

My heart became heavy. Tears welled up in my eyes, as usual, when I looked around the place. His place. I’ve known for some time my estranged father has been sleeping here at the restaurant at night. But, his stubbornness has never allowed me to do anything about it. After all, it was his bed, made of pizza boxes and flour sacks, and by golly, he wanted to lay in it. No matter how much I tried to lead him to an oasis out of his desert, the man couldn’t be forced to take a drink.

And, as I sat with him atop his flour sack comforter in the restaurant storage room, long after the managers and fry cooks had gone home for the night, his stubbornness couldn’t prevent me from still pleading with him anyway.

“Make a choice to do something or live and die this way,” I said. 

My father turns to me with a smirk and says, “I prayed for a miracle.”

And although the moment is heart-breaking, I can’t help but smile. For, at that moment, I began to understand. I began to understand that while both my father’s and my own path to God might be to end the day with prayer, only one of us truly understands how to get your prayers answered.  

Because I know I must be the tool to make those miracles happen that he speaks of. I can’t just wear this hijab as an antidote to ill fate, I have to live out its guidance in every action I commit. I can’t just hang a surah in my home to protect it from the evil eye, I need to bring God into my house behind ADT and a double bolted lock.  And it became very clear the only way of life that was going to support the right balance of praying to an Almighty and doing the right thing that it takes to make my life a life well lived, well, it was hanging over the knobs of the ruddy kitchen doors.

I have been fighting for justice and self-accountability all my life, looking in every Godlike corner I could find as I journeyed through the World’s most celebrated religions.  I searched for a way of life built upon mercy and love, grace and decorum, respect and fidelity to a goodness defined by the Goodness Maker Himself. From the cathedrals of Rome to the temples deep in the Himalayas, I left no stone unturned. Little did I know, in that very moment, amongst the soggy pizza boxes, stale flour, and damp laundry hanging from the air vents, I may have just found Allah.  

Want to learn more? Call 877-WhyIslam.

Vjolca Capri is an author, educator, and Licensed Therapist who reverted to Islam in her early teens. When she isn’t slaying chaos in her private practice, she enjoys rocking out with her electric guitar.