Thursday, November 24, 2011

Reflections on last weekend’s Open Circle event with Wardina Safiyyah

By Jane

Last Sunday YMP hosted a sisters-only Open Circle entitled "Falling in Love Again with Islam". Here are some (brilliant brilliant) thoughts by someone who attended.

Life seemed surreal last Sunday. Like many at the event, I hadn’t even contemplated the existence of such a welcoming and intellectual group of sisters gathering for the purpose of self betterment. It was lovely and I, for one, was deeply touched by everything—from Kak Wardina’s advice and insights all the way to the chocolate chip cookies that probably loaded me with oxytocin, since I was especially excited to meet and mingle with every single person—which isn’t typical of this introverted self .

There seemed to be two recurring themes in that day’s discussion, one of which was hardships—getting through them. There wasn’t a person in the room that I didn’t seem to admire, especially among those who joined the discussion. I admire the sisters who are struggling to don the hijab and keep it on. I admire the sisters who are struggling to make it in male dominated professions and environments. I admire the sisters who are struggling to do anything because they have established that it would please Allah swt. I admire anyone who is struggling for (cliché alert) the sake of Allah. We should all admire these people.

It has become a cliché, unfortunately, to say we’re doing something for the sake of Allah. Why this is so is probably a whole other discussion, but that’s the reality. Nevertheless, life—abstracted from all details—is for the sake of Allah swt. We’re aware that the Qur’an tells us that “we were not created except to worship Allah” and that “life is a test to see which of you are best in deeds.” Thus, what we Muslims were given is essentially a perspective, which, once lost, results in the meaninglessness of life’s details, i.e. how we dress, where we work, who we’re associated with, who hates our cooking (in my case), etc.

If all of life is an endeavor to please God, then we Muslims have the advantage of being able to make life’s calculus a lot less complicated. For, all of life’s events—the hard times, easy times, fun times—can be divorced from its details and categorized into whether or not it has brought us closer to God.

I used to be the type of person that would constantly ask God why “He would do this to me” when something that I didn’t like happened. But, in the Muslim’s perspective, the event itself—its details, whether we liked it or not—is irrelevant, or at least should be. What is relevant to Allah is our reaction to what happened. Thus, we may go through something as devastating as losing everything we have ever worked for or committing a sin we can never forget; nevertheless, if this occurrence brought us closer to Allah by way of our reactions (of increasing conversation with Him through du'a, returning to the Quran, increasing in patience, changing our lifestyle for His sake, etc.), then this particular event, however devastating, was a blessing, despite it being a hardship. If, on the other hand, it had made one insulting, apathetic, less sensitive to sinning, doubtful of Allah—then this occurrence was clearly a punishment, regardless of whether it was a compliment, insult, wedding, or divorce. But even so, the mercy of Allah never escapes us; for when we realize that something is bringing us away from Allah, that realization itself can turn the whole wretched thing into a blessing if it pushes us back in the right direction.

The point is, for a Muslim, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ incidents are defined relative to whether it brought us closer to or away from Allah. One may be trying to wear the hijab for the sake of Allah and finds this immensely difficult. However, putting life in perspective, all one’s struggles for His sake are actually the very currency that “buys” His closeness, which is all a Muslim is endeavoring to do in life. It is the struggle, and constancy despite it, that brings us closer to Allah. Thus, these sisters who are struggling to keep the hijab on or dress more modestly are likely closer to Allah because of the struggle, compared to other sisters, like me, who started wearing it to please someone else.

It is needless to say that Sister Wardina is an inspiration. She is the perfect example of turning all we have and all we have done into currency that Allah accepts. Despite the fact that she’s done some things in her teen years that she isn’t proud of (haven’t we all?), those sins now serve as a blessing because she has used them to increase her closeness to Allah by reminding herself and advising others to stay away from the life she once lived. At the time she decided to make a change of path, it was the reality of her life that she possessed a good amount of popularity. Instead letting that popularity lure her back to square one, she turned it into currency that Allah accepts by using it to influence others to turn to Allah swt. This inspiring lady has shown us that we can squeeze everything out of our lives—all the good and bad, the past and present—and use them as tools to please Allah. At the end of the day, as she says, Allah’s pleasure is the only food that nourishes the soul.

Confidence, the second recurring theme in the open circle, seems to be a signature ‘women’s’ topic; “you just need to be more confident in yourself,” we tell each other. While this is true, confidence (even faking it) has never been my forte. It’s safe to say that every person suffers from the lack of confidence from time to time. I used to read self-help books to figure out what on earth was wrong with me; why couldn’t I just be confident? Not being on the right path didn’t help either, for I started to question why I was doing anything in the first place. Without Allah as one’s overall anchor, there is no strong reason for persisting in anything.

The wonderful reality is that we Muslims have an obvious place to put our confidence: Allah swt. All we need to do is establish the knowledge that something pleases Him and then go about doing it. Yet, that sounds so much easier said than done that it seems rather patronizing. I agree.

I’ve worn the hijab since I was very young, but admittedly it was not for Allah’s sake until much later when I had established that this piece of cloth covering my head actually pleases God. When my father requested me to wear the hijab, my rationale was “if this piece of thing on my head would make my father happy with me, then what’s the big deal of wearing it?” In other words, it was important to my self-esteem that my father was happy with me, so I didn’t even question the philosophy behind the hijab—I didn’t care about the details. It’s like wanting my whole life to get into a certain institution; if the admissions department told me to stand on one foot, I’d do it! I wouldn’t really go into the philosophy behind standing on one foot and how it relates to proving my worthiness.

The point is, once we have established that we are dependent on someone being pleased with our actions, then the details of those actions become quite irrelevant. This goes back to confidence. If it matters to our self-esteem to please Allah in all aspects of our lives, then the particular prescriptions (i.e. cover this or that, slaughter a certain animal on this day, fast on these days) should be less relevant than the fact that they do indeed please Him. Confidence only fails to show up when our self-esteem is at the mercy of other people. Kak Wardina said something to this effect: “you’d be doing yourself a favour by worshipping Allah because if you don’t, you’d worship other things like money, men, fashion, etc.” If my self-esteem does depend on these other things, then my lack of confidence shouldn’t surprise me.

All this does not mean to say that we shouldn’t study the meaning behind what Allah has prescribed, obviously not. However, it does make it mentally easier for us to motivate ourselves in day-to-day life, because few people have the time to remember the Islamic rationalization of doing this or that—for example, all the reasons that hijab benefits society rather than hinders its progression. I don’t know about you, but in the middle of being insulted or criticized for being covered, I cannot make myself recall all the details of why it’s a good thing to wear the hijab. In day to day life, we need to be able to say “I’ve already established it’s for Allah’s sake” and move on with our agenda.

In conclusion, while struggling is universal, being Muslim gives us the advantage of perspective; that perspective is that all occurrences, whether desired or undesired by us, can be used as a means to come closer to Allah—the purpose of this project of living. That’s the advantage of recognizing Allah as the anchor to our self esteem and motivations—to everything we decide to do. And perhaps, that’s what worship really means—that the source of our self-esteem is Allah swt; that we care that He’s pleased with us. Kak Wardina also reminded us that “our problems are tailor made for us,” so we are not, despite what we may think, burdened with more than we can bear. It is important to keep within perspective the larger goal of day-to-day life, which is to use all the things that happen—the struggles, good times, annoying times—as currency to attain Allah’s closeness, as Sister Wardina is trying to do. In the end, nothing else matters, nothing else counts.
I remembered this Hadith while I was at the event, so I’ll end these ramblings with it:

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and that does not apply for anyone except the believer. If something good happens to him he gives thanks, and that is good for him; if something bad happens to him he bears it with patience, and that is good for him.” [Sahih Muslim, 2999]



Anonymous said...

MasyaAllah this is very very good.

I always believe in making a life turn, the most important thing is to love Allah. To realize that Allah is the MOST merciful. Islam is very beautiful. When we start to develop the love, we will realize that how Allah has helped us along the way, and from there, we will do everything that He ask us to do, willingly.

Then we should start to learn, one by one, step by step all the knowledge that we think we know as a muslim. Iman starts with amal and amal have to be done with the right knowledge.

What you guys done is very amazing and may Allah bless u guys for this great effort. And may He make ease of this jihad, InsyaAllah..

Shazeea said...

Ameen! Do join us for an event. We have one tomorrow.

Zalikha said...

i cried reading this post because;

1) I missed this session despite constantly checking YMP's page every week

2) reflects me so much, a non-hijaber struggling to do it right and getting "there"

Shazeea, i used to go to YMP's and then I stopped...I hope you'll have more sister related topics! :)

bitsum said...

Just what I needed to hear. Jane I loved how you articulated your thoughts and it was a comfort to read. Thanks for posting.

Shazeea said...

Salam Zalikha.

Facebook is giving us trouble with creating events that we are trying to sort out. We will endeavour to make sure that you are informed of our next event.

Syahid nss said...

~Can YMP just give out the detail of event using email if FB give your trouble..

Shazeea said...

Salam Syahid nss. Sure, no problem. Can you email us your address? Email youngmuslimsproject [at] gmail [dot] com and we'll add you to the mailing list and there won't be trouble after that inshaAllah.

Shazeea said...

Latest event in case you haven't gotten the FB invite, the email or seen the blog

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