Just yesterday (as of writing this a week or two ago), I went to visit a friend of mine here in Algeria. Well, she is my husband’s cousin’s wife, so I guess she is kind family. At any rate, she is one of the very few women here in Algeria that I feel I can really relate to, and with whom I really enjoy spending time.
She and I are very much on the same page where is Islam is concerned, and we both have similar ways of practising and thinking about things, which makes her easy to get along with. I know that I can talk about Qur’an or hadith and she won’t get bored, but we can also talk about politics, kids, or our hot beverage preferences just as well. I truly do love her for the sake of Allah swt, and I am so glad to get the chance to visit her and the kids every now and again.
There has been something bothering me in the back of my mind since my last visit, though.
She and I can talk about hadith, seerah, Qur’an, fiqh or any many of other things all day long, and we can be in agreement on a great deal of topics. But when I reflect back on our conversations, there seems to be something so radically different about the way we approach Islam. When I think about it, there seems to be something missing.
At first I didn’t know what could possibly be causing me to think that way; she and I are so alike in many aspects, and we definitely agree on a great many issues. But then I realized what I felt was missing all this time: love.
The way she practices Islam, though outwardly looks just like the way I practice Islam, comes from such a fundamentally different place, it got me thinking and reflecting on my own ideas and feelings about this religion.
She does the things she does out of a sense of obligation. If I do X, I will go to heaven; if I do Y I will go to hell. I do Z because it is obligatory and I don’t do A,B, or C because they are haraam. For her, it is all very clear-cut. Obligatory, haraam. Heaven, hell.
Prayer is a five times daily to-do, but there is no sweetness in it. Jilbab is a modesty-must, but she would just as well wear a nice dress and be done with it. Actions don’t seem to have much meaning beyond “fard,” and staying away from certain things goes no farther than “haraam.”
And don’t get me wrong—I am not judging her or the way she practices Islam. She has what works for her and she seems plenty content with that, but it has made me reflect more on what works for me.
I don’t think I could ever learn to practice Islam that way. If someone had handed me the rulebook from day one, I would never have gotten where I am now. I had to learn to love first. To love Allah swt, to love His Messenger (saws), to love the perfect religion that He sent down. And I had to learn that Allah swt loves me. He loves me enough to have chosen me for this religion, He loves me enough to have sent down the Qur’an to show me how I need to live. He loves me enough to set boundaries for my life that, while they may seem restrictive to others, are actually in my best interest, just like a parent sets boundaries for their child.
Without this sense of love, I don’t think it would be at all possible for me to practice as I do. Yes, the ideas of heaven and hell are strong motivators for some, but I find for myself that they are just not quite tangible enough. There are just a bit too far beyond my scope of imagination; because my human mind can’t fully grasp them it can’t be fully motivated by them.
But love is so tangible; love is one of the strongest emotions the human heart is capable of, and the strongest bonds come from it.
For me, every single action I take in this religion comes from a place of love and understanding. I pray five times a day because Allah swt told me to, and I want to obey the One who created me, but also because that is five times built into every single day of mine to connect and communicate with my Creator. It calms my mind and refreshes my heart.
I wear jilbab because Muslims are commanded to practise modesty, but I wear it with a pride that makes it feel more like a shield and armor than some loose cloth. I understand now that my body is my own, a gift from my Creator, and that is no one’s business but who is worthy to see it.
Of course, in the middle of writing this I paused to look at an email, and while it illustrates part of what is on my mind, it completely de-railed all that I was just feeling as I wrote. It was a blog post from a sister I absolutely love and respect, re-blogged from another blog I had never heard of, so I stopped to have a read. And I swear reading this one post took all that emotion I was just writing about straight out of me, leaving me feeling just kind of empty.
It was about TV, and while I agree with the main premise of the article (TV isn’t great for you and there are more productive things to be doing, essentially), it was presented in such a way that made me just feel horrible—about myself, about my worth as a Muslim, about my “goodness” as a human being.
The whole article sounded like if you are a “good” Muslim you will take the TV out of your house. The reasons? Haraam this, haraam that, no benefit from it whatsoever. And apparently if you take it out of your house that will increase your tawheed. It didn’t mention how, just dropped it like a fact.
And again, I am not judging the sister who wrote the post; this post is literally the only thing I know about her and I know nothing of her journey and circumstances. It was just so in-the-moment, and I want to share the feelings and reflections it brings up for me.
I agree, many things that you can see on TV are not great for you and are not at all aligned with Islamic values. There is immodesty, drinking, drugs, gambling, and whatever else all out there on the TV. But there are also Islamic channels (at least in some countries), there are channels that are educational. If you have some amount of self control some TV programs can be used to benefit, and you can leave off the rest.
It is just this kind of black and white, yes or no, haraam or fard (obligatory) dichotomy that, for me, takes all of the spirituality, all of the heart, and all of the life out of Islam. As I was writing about the love I learned from Islam when I began studying it, I could literally feel that, and peace, and happiness, and a desire to continually learn and improve myself running through my soul.
But then I get online and I seem to see a thousand things every day that tell me that the only way to be a good Muslim is self-denial, whatever you are doing now it is not enough, you are not working hard enough, you are too happy where you are. Leave your disbeliever family, take those pink Converse off your feet, do more housework and shut that outspoken mouth.
You must, you must, you must. You must not, must not, must not.
This is how some people choose to see and practice Islam. And though it personally makes me sad , that’s really OK—it’s what works for you. But for me, it feels constricting, it feels so lifeless.
I want to practice the Islam that comes from my heart, to feel the love for Allah swt fuelling my desire to be a better person, to learn the “whys” and the wisdoms behind the rules and actions, to feel the impact they make in my life.
And I want to believe in an Islam that is merciful, that takes into account situations and circumstances and individuality. Maybe for some, if you have a TV in your house it will be a waste of time, a temptation, or a fitnah. Chuck it! But for me, when I turn on the animal channel with my husband for a few minutes at night, we learn new things, we remember the glory and the wonder of the world that Allah swt has created, and it sparks interesting discussions between us about our life and religion.
I have to believe that there is more to this religion and more to this life than obligation and haraam.
Don’t get me wrong, distinctions between what is permissible and forbidden, what is obligatory and voluntary, are all necessary to our religion, our complete way of life. But there is a place for those just like there is a place for experiencing the joy and serenity of Islam. You can enjoy this life within its limits, while working for the next. It is all about the balance, something I have been feeling lately that we are missing out on so dearly as a community.
“The Prophet saws said, ‘The deeds of anyone of you will not save you (from the hell fire).’ They said, ‘Even you, O Allah’s Messenger?’ He said, ‘No, even I (will not be saved) unless and until Allah bestows his mercy on me. Therefore, do good deeds properly, sincerely, and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (paradise).’” Narrated in Bukhari
Note: I do hope no one will be offended by this post. I truly do love my sisters in Islam for the sake of Allah swt, and wish them all the best in this world and the next. When I wrote this post, I was merely giving vent to some really strong emotions that have been cropping up for me as to a certain way that Islam is being presented within our communities.