“I can’t give up eating pork”
“I could never wear ‘that thing’ on my head”
“I couldn’t imagine fasting for the month of Ramadan”
“I like to go clubbing”
“Carnival is my life”
“I don’t think I could pray 5 times a day”
“I love women too much”
“I have to drink a glass of wine every now and then”
etc. etc. How many times has someone uttered the aforementioned phrases to me? And how many times have I thought to yourself, Is this person really serious? Believe me, I’ve heard a thousand and one reasons why family members and friends “could never be Muslim.” None of them have been about the actual belief system in Islam- for instance Tawhid (the oneness of God) or disbelieving that the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is the last and final messenger sent to human beings. Instead, people, without my insistence or urgency, list off a bunch of real (or imagined) Islamic practices that do not gel well with their current lifestyle.
The way I see it, when you combine faith and dedication, you can give up or do anything (even the things you previously said you could not do or give up.) I cannot imagine standing before Allah on judgment day and saying, “Well, I couldn’t at least make the effort to submit to you because I enjoy carnival too much.” I realize that trying to be a religious person, a person who lives a God-centered life, means that I will have to give up some of the things I used to love. I realize that I will have to make small changes in my life or even drastic ones. After all, how is there growth or improvement if my lifestyle and my behavior stays exactly the same as it did before I committed myself to God? One of the things I’ve had to accept is that I won’t be able to partake in everything that goes on in the world. And thank God for that!
However, that is not to say that a person will not have struggles. I have been Muslim, alhamdulillah, for 16 years and I still have things I struggle with. I think that is the nature of a faith. In some matters we will struggle and then succeed. In others matters we will find ourselves succeeding one moment and then right back where we started. As frustrating as it is, I believe that Allah recognizes the effort and judges us by the intention to improve and not just by the success itself.
The other issue I have is when non-religious people say to me, “well, you’re practicing your religion, you’re serving God but you still have problems like me.” Before my faith had matured to where it is now, I, too, believed that a person who committed themselves to God 100% would suddenly be carefree. They wouldn’t struggle in life (financially or otherwise). They would always be happy and their devotion to God would be rewarded by a lifestyle of ease. Now I know better. Now I know that there are tests and trials that we go through which (hopefully) teach us lessons, help us to grow and bring us closer to Allah. I think the difference between me before and me now is that I know I am never alone. I know that I can always turn to Allah no matter the circumstance. I know that Allah does not give me more than I can handle. Furthermore, my faith prevents me from feeling hopelessness and despair. There are boundaries which I do not cross. However, there are people (I cannot count myself as one) who live in a constant or frequent state of contentment. Yes, there may be problems or struggles in their lives but they are not devastated by them. They just take them in stride. Faith can do that for you. (May Allah help me to reach that level. Ameen).
Though hijab was not as much of a struggle for me as it is for some women, I’m going to be honest with you and say that I NEVER thought I could give up clubbing. As I mentioned way back, in some respects clubbing was my deen, my way of life. Thursday through Sunday found me in the dancehall, at Soca night, going to stage shows and to see live Reggae bands. Not only was it a part of my lifestyle but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that “clubbing” is a part of Caribbean culture. It’s what many people do for enjoyment. And trust me, I loved nothing more than putting on the latest clothing and going with my girls to “wine it” or “wuk it up.” So it was very surprising to others and even to myself that I could give all of that up for the sake of Allah. But alhmadulillahI did! Do I miss it sometimes? Yes!!! Have I completely, 100%, cut myself off from all things related to Reggae, Soca and Dancehall? NO. The progress is evident however…
As Muslims, interacting with non-Muslims, I think we sometimes share in the blame for people feeling like they couldn’t be Muslim because of certain practices or rituals. How so you ask? Let me give you an example. My sister’s boyfriend attended a class at a local masjid in order to learn about Islam. (This was prior to meeting me, btw). The brother who was teaching the class told him that he had to pray in Arabic because that was the only way that Allah could hear him. (Sigh). Naturally, my sister’s boyfriend was turned off because the idea that God, the master of the universe, the all-knowing, could only hear a specific language sounded preposterous. Secondly, could you imagine being told you had to learn Arabic (which to many people who are not familiar with it- including myself at one point- looks like a bunch of manic scribblings) off the bat? I can clearly remember feeling intimidated by the Arabic language as a new Muslim. (And I still don’t know any Arabic apart from what I say in the fard salaat and a few Islamic phrases and terms).
The point here (and I hope you’re getting it) is that it’s important for Muslims to start with people where they are. Don’t overwhelm them with talk of hijab, celibacy, learning Arabic, fasting from sunrise to sunset etc. Can we discuss the basics, the foundation of the Islamic belief system? There is a reason why the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) spent the early part of his prophecy laying the foundations of tawhid instead of going around and telling the people of that time “put this hijab on”, “hey you, put down that liquor”, and “stop chasing women.” We can do better…
In the end, I suppose the question people must pose to themselves is this: Which do I love more, God or my own desires? And if the answer is God then it’s time to embark on a journey of exploration and self-reflection. God willing, the questioning will lead you to the appropriate place.