People find, or re-find, Islam in different ways. In fact, from my observations, it would certainly seem as though every ‘born-Muslim’ does undergo a distinct period in their lives during which they are presented with a distinguishable opportunity to ‘come back’ to Islam, and as if for the first time.
The latter half of the year 2019 had very much been this sort of period for me. Returning. Coming home to Deen, and yet, things had felt quite new. I knew things, and yet I was ‘re-learning’. I also learnt about a lot of additional things to do with Islam, courtesy of some great conversations with people; YouTube videos/lectures; working part-time at an Islamic bookshop (hashtag free library, basically). And now, teaching at an Islamic school: Alhamdulillah. What an exceptional bank of resources Allah has blessed me with. Even to have access to the internet: the entire world at our very fingertips [but, do remember that Sheikh Google is not qualified enough to answer all our Deen-related questions. Misleading information on the web is, shock horror, very much a thing!]
It is true: as one of my History students pointed out (in one of our class discussions, during which I try with some exertion to make some rather boring parts of History relevant and engaging, somehow, to these young Muslim girls in East London) converts (or, reverts) do tend to be more enthusiastic and ‘strong’ in their faith than people who had simply been born into religion: i.e. those of us who are merely going through the motions.
“So Miss, Henry VIII had basically been a Munāfiq, but Catholic version, right?”
“Okay, sure… yes, [student’s name]. Why, yes he had been.”
We like finding things for ourselves; when our love for things has grown; when we have watched and overseen their growing. We love it when things speak to us personally, somehow. To be instructed to do something is one thing; to be truly passionate about doing that thing – to love it out of personal choice, and through personal effort – is really something else.
Now I am going to go ahead and analogise religion with… marriage. Some marriages are entirely ‘arranged’; in some ‘arranged marriages’, love does not grow. Everything is ‘obligation’; ‘spirituality’ is suppressed. Things are rote, and without genuine feeling, love. On the other extreme end of the spectrum, perhaps, there are intense, passionate ‘love marriages’, in which everything is guided by infatuation and ‘passion’. And sometimes, these are quite short-lived, as the ‘fire’ can quickly result in… burn-out.
In some ‘arranged marriages’, though, over time, and with some individual effort towards nurturing the connection, love can grow. With some effort, with some greater commitment to love – through a lens based on reality – one can return to it, over and over again. Inter-marital conflicts do arise, all the time. But it is about what spouses do afterwards, towards resolution (or, in some cases, towards mere escape). Are these arranged marriages not comparable with people who had been ‘born into’ Islam? Some people stay. Some people’s arranged marriages grow in love: sometimes it takes a mere week; sometimes it takes years. And sometimes, people leave.
‘Love marriages’, then. One must learn not to confuse zealousness with ‘love’. Love, I think, sits in some moderate and ‘good’ place between intense and fiery passion, and mere black-and-white rules and obligation. It is like water. Often quiet, often powerful. Deeply nourishing. And dams and other obstacles can be overcome, Insha Allah. If one is truly committed: things can be made realistic and sustainable. Fine balances between ‘materialism’ and ‘spiritualism’ (with the latter remaining the objective) and between ‘Dunya’ and ‘Deen’.
Marriage is about a mutual ‘officialised’ connection between husband and wife. Religion is about an officialised connection between oneself and one’s Creator. With both types of connection, you will likely experience fluctuations in pure ‘passionate’ feeling. In marriage, one may refer to this as ‘romantic’ emotion. In religion, one may refer to this as ‘Īmān’. To make things sustainable and good, we must learn to be moderate; commit ourselves to the ‘Greater Good’ of things, so to speak. Even when we feel too proud to apologise, or when we feel ‘too tired’ to wake up for Fajr. Put Allah first, and you will ultimately be Successful.
Let love grow; be patient with its growing. Patient when (when, not if) it falls short. It requires nurturing. Often, some of its petals brown and fall, and this is okay. If you tend to it properly, new petals will grow: so long as its roots are sturdy, healthful.
[Also, very often: short-term pain, long-term (True) gain!]
The exact way that Allah had brought me back to Islam, and to conviction: I prefer to reserve the details and the steps of this process for a far smaller audience. But, Subhan Allah. It had all been quite… divine, hadn’t it. My doubts, over a certain period, had been driving me a little crazy. But my Rabb guided me. One thing, and then another. All these signs. Incidents, so perfectly placed. I had prayed and prayed for more than mere ‘faith’: it had been conviction that I had so longed for. And Allah did bless me with it, Alhamdulillah. And may it be preserved within me, Āmeen.
‘The Religious One’. I speak about Islam a lot, I suppose, and thus I seem to have earned the label, from some, of being ‘The Religious One’. For some, I know this is as a result of my being, at once, a Hijabi, and an introvert. Therefore ‘serious’ and/or ‘reserved’, and ‘religious’. Boring, not very amicable, and whatever else… Hmmm… Okay. But ultimately,
لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ [Qur’an, (109:6)]
For you, your way of life/religion. And for me, mine.
Admittedly, I used to see certain individuals within my greater extended family (my mother’s grandmother had seven children; each of them had between four to seven children. And then most of them each had two or three children. Big, big extended family. Alhamdulillah) as being really ‘religious’. Based on fairly ‘outside’ factors: because some of them wore Niqab, for example. One of them, I believe, chose to not have a TV in his house, and would sit all his children down to read Qur’an for hours a day, after school. And one of them would let her son do some fun things (like taking horse-riding lessons) but refused to let him watch ‘Horrid Henry’. I found this a little extreme, at the time.
But now, I am able to sympathise with such choices more and more. I am not of the opinion that children should not be allowed to, you know… have childhoods… however it would be wholly untruthful of me to claim that all movies and cartoons and such tend to have a net positive influence on children (or, indeed, on we adults, even) …
‘Peppa Pig’, for example, as many Muslim parents I am acquainted with have pointed out: one of the underlying messages of the show would appear to be that it is ‘okay’ to belittle and humiliate one’s own father, on account of his eating habits and such… [This is just an isolated, ‘basic’ example]
Movies and films and books and every societal ill that has been normalised, over time, through them. We now find ourselves so desensitised to immorality — it is ‘innocent fun’; so heedless and in loss. Throughout history: one group of people having diverted from the True Path, busying theirselves in greed and immorality and delusion. Gaining power, and then having the ability to deeply, insidiously, affect others. And, oh, the ease with which these false realities are then accepted, devoured, as though people are hungry for exactly them.
The mass media, and the education system, are powerful mouthpieces indeed. They fill us with information and with ideas; can truly pollute our hearts, minds, souls, and corrupt our Fitrahs. About whom we are; whom we ought to be; what we ought to desire; what we ought to live for. What a powerful hold these outlets can have, over us!
Money, consumerism, exaggerated conceptualisations of romantic love, idealisations of ‘travelling the world’…
These things are meant to ‘rescue’ us, somehow. But they cannot. These things cannot ‘do’ things for us, neither in nor of nor from themselves. Things can only ‘help’ us, in any way, by the Will and the permission of the Almighty. It is He whom we ought to rely on, and He whom we ask for help.
And we must be careful with what we are consuming – via our eyes and our ears – all of the time. Our very limbs, our organs: they may end up testifying against us, on the Day of Judgement. It is not about what ‘everybody else is doing’. Just because everybody else is indulging in massively inappropriate series shows on Netflix, does not mean we can justify doing the same. We, for our own selves, are responsible. And our moral compasses are either aligned with the whims and desires of the masses of people, or they rely on objective Truth for… truth.
The more I seek, though, the more I do find that Islam really is a way of life that is centred upon the principle of balance. We are meant to demonstrate balance in all things, from how much food we consume, to, even, how much we pray. We are not meant to withdraw from society, or force children to read and read, and relate to the Deen in a way that does not speak personally to them. We are meant to steer clear from excess, and from the states of ingratitude and heedless ness that ‘excess’ tends to foster.
The stories of our lives are made up of choices. This thing, or that. And then there are those varying degrees of evil and goodness, from extremely evil, to Ihsān: goodness, excellence.
And when I write about life and religion, I am mainly trying to process my own views on it all. It is an honour, actually, to be seen as a ‘religious person’ on account of my speaking about and writing about Islamic matters. But religion is about one’s relationship with Allah: an affair of not only the mind, but crucially also of the heart, and of the soul.
I am trying, and that is all we humans can do. Comfortingly, Allah does not expect perfection from us; we will all necessarily make mistakes and fall short, and in our religion, monasticism and excessive asceticism are both forbidden. There is beauty in balance, and the best that we can do is: try. Self-reflect. Change some of our habits. Ask Allah, over and over again, for guidance and for help,
“Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly, even if they are few.”— Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith
and try to be more grateful. I have been thinking more about gratitude, lately. Dunya. Consistently, throughout, albeit in varying configurations of this universal truth: all our glasses are half full, and they are half empty. ‘Common folk’ yearn for the riches of the rich, whilst the rich long for the camaraderie and gaiety of common folk. Young people race to start a family and become ‘settled’ already, while ‘settled’ people wish to be young and single, again. And so on, and so on. If only we could bring ourselves to accept this ‘here’ and this ‘now’, as well as whom and where we happen to be in this moment. Recognise that these forms of idealisation only occur as a result of being far away from [the truths of] things. Dunya is Dunya, all around Dunya — no matter where you look.
This was never meant to be ‘home’ for us, and we can either choose to focus on the good that we do have (every bite of chocolate, every new day that we are permitted to meet, every meeting with a dear friend [remembering, each time, that this may well be the last time you see them. So declare your love for them, and speak the beauty in them, which you see; make it known!] every sip of water, every obstacle that provides an opportunity to return to Allah) or we can instead obsess over what we do not have. And Allah promises in the Qur’an that those of us who choose to be grateful: He will “increase” us. This is a truth I had really come to know this year.
Finally, I know: it can be awfully hard to be a ‘practising Muslim’ these days. Even merely performing the basics of… Salāh, for example, are enough to earn one the label of ‘The Religious One’, with all of its unfavourable connotations.
“I bet he doesn’t even know how to have fun. He’s so religious!”
Hmmm… Maybe your ideas of ‘fun’ involve clubbing and speaking flirtatiously with ten girls/boys at any given time. [Someone I know says that “clubbing is for cavemen”. A valueless virtual merit for anyone who can identify and explain the double entendre in that statement…] And perhaps you are preventing others from fully being themselves, in your presence, through blocky labels of ‘religious’ or ‘fun’ and whatnot. But, fair enough; think what you wish to think:
.لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ
Muslim males who, for instance, are ‘waiting for marriage’ are not ‘losers’, in any way. Not at all. It is indeed tragic that the diseased ways of ‘modernity’ can fool us into thinking along these lines. And Muslim females who cover up and practise modesty are not ‘prudes’ or ‘boring’ or ‘unconfident’.
The people I love the most are gorgeous Muslims (and one, a Christian) who are fun, and interesting, and lovely. And they do not, for example, need to get a little ‘tipsy’ or ‘high’ in order to be these very things! Blessed, blessed, blessed (according to a Hadith) are the غريب, the strangers/outlandish people!
“Islam began as a something strange and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers/outlandish ones.”— Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Muslim
An interesting video by the Yaqeen Institute:
Sadia Ahmed J., 2020