By Khadeejah Islam
Today, I wish to revisit my past and take you along to experience my journey to Islam and how it shaped my personality.
I was born into a non-practicing, “liberal” Muslim family and in an almost secular state (almost because it claims to be an Islamic state). I studied in a Christian missionary school for 11 years of my life. Naturally, I was exposed to a culture and way of life which did not resemble Islam. However, this background did pave the way for a lot of good things. For example, my parents did not force me to adopt rituals which I did not believe in. My school refrained from bombarding me with the “widely-accepted” theory of evolution (as Christianity is a theistic faith too), and enjoined modesty similar to that of nuns. However, I must admit that none of these good things shaped my personality the way Islam did. Alhamdulillah!
As far as I can remember, during my childhood, I was excessively reserved and shy, so much so, that my teachers and even relatives suggested that I see a psychiatrist. I was also very stubborn and would throw a tantrum, whether at a shop or at someone’s house, if I was not handed the doll I liked. I had the peculiar habit of scratching others if I was angered. Consequently, I was unable to express myself and remained lonely most of the time. What’s more, I didn’t have a proper diet and was down with an illness every now and then. Looking back, I wish my parents had intervened a little more to instill the basic values which are common in all religions. It was not a lack of genuine love and concern on their part and I am not at all ungrateful for the relentless efforts they have put into my upbringing, but since they did not practice Islam themselves, they were not able to nourish my personality to the fullest, that is, they did not know the right techniques.
Among all this, I believed in One Creator and never held malice towards any religion or cracked offensive jokes about religion. I never considered hijabis oppressed. Although I did not know about hijab (let alone observe it), I valued modesty as defined by my culture. Alhamdulillah! The culture I was born into was not “westernized” and even now, when the neighboring cultures have all increasingly succumbed to the Western culture, it is still far from being westernized and it enjoins a definition of modesty similar to that of Islam. According to this culture, women had to cover most of the body and drape the bosoms with a shawl or an extra piece of clothing. I was also a good student. I think all of this is the effect of fitrah that the following hadeeth points out: “Each child is born in a state of fitrah, but his parents make him a Jew or a Christian” . Despite these Islamic beliefs, I was not a practicing Muslimah and was just a Muslimah by name. I did not have enough fear of Allah. I attribute this to my lack of knowledge. Yes, I would celebrate Eid, but I did not know the reason behind it. I had never read the Qur’an. No one spoke to me about Islam. There was not much daw’ah on TV and internet as is the case nowadays. I was unaware of the propaganda against Islam.
Moving on, my teenage years were no better. I was disrespectful to others and rebelled against rules at home and school. Now I know that those rules were only for my own betterment. It would have been better if those rules were enforced upon me. Perhaps, carrying the guilt of not being able to mix with others during childhood, I did open up and socialize, but not having proper guidance, I chose the wrong people. As a result, I often got involved in disputes. My grades were falling rapidly and I could not comprehend the value of education. I could not think of a definite purpose of life. I was living for today, but what was I achieving at the end of each day? I adopted the “I don’t care” attitude. It was a way of suppressing my guilt and pretending to be “strong.” Therefore, whenever I came to know of a certain girl’s aversion towards me, instead of resolving the issue calmly and evaluating my own errors, I would just trivialize the matter into statements – “I don’t care if she hates me. I am who I am.” I urge my sisters to avoid using these statements, because these magnify our individuality to an extent where we see no errors associated with it. Most of my time was wasted in gossip and idle hang-outs and parties. I was bowing down to the rules of the “in-crowd,” wasting my parents’ hard-earned money on things which I did not even require. I had done enough damage to my physical and mental strength. I was attractive, but not healthy. Emotions were fading and modesty was losing its place in my life. I was going far away from my family.
At one point in time, I did not have many friends. People avoided interacting with me, lest they too get into trouble! I was back to seclusion again, like that of my childhood. The only difference was that my tears had dried up and heart had hardened and absorbed all the negative emotions – hatred, jealousy, arrogance and disrespect. Even at this juncture, Allah kept me buoyant upon Islam. I understood the ordeal of the poor and the oppressed and did not turn a blind eye to them. I also had a few friends, who although were not practicing Muslims, but were still very modest and of soft-nature, maybe because they had practicing Muslim parents. Although they did not influence me to be as good as them, I was content with the fact that I was not having any dispute with them! I remember one of them playfully calling me “Khadeejah.” Back then, I laughed it off. Now I know how much it means to me!
The seclusion actually helped me to rediscover myself. Alienated from trouble-makers, I was not involved in anything meaningless. I had time to spend with my family members to form a bond that inshaAllah will never break. It was a well-deserved rehabilitation for me. Alhamdulillah! I was finally having a stress-free life. However, I still felt a void in my heart. It was during this time, at the age of 19, that I questioned the purpose of my life. I decided to pray and read the translation of Qur’an. What happened next changed my life dramatically – for good!
To be continued…
 Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim.
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