From the Journal of Renee
I returned from the masjid to my college dormitory room late Saturday night, shaken and moved. I glanced at the clock. It was three minutes after ten. Where had the time gone? I slowly shut my eyes, hoping to digest everything better that way. I let the events of the afternoon, evening, and night wash over me. I hoped to analyze my reason for unrest as I had earlier concerning my faith.
It was Yusuf’s poem, I concluded, that affected me most. As I recalled his monologue, I felt a storm of emotions that I couldn’t give name to. I could think only of the lyrics to a song I’d heard Courtney playing over and over when my parents weren’t home.
I felt all flushed with fever, embarrassed by the crowd
I felt he found my letters, and read each one aloud
I prayed that he would finish, but he just kept right on
Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Years later, I learned that these were the words to the song “Killing Me Softly” that I heard Lauryn Hill singing from my sister’s stereo, though I have no idea who wrote these words originally. But, at that moment, it didn’t matter. And I didn’t care.
All I knew was that these were the only words that could give name to the emotions I had felt as the young man I’d met at the “Ask About Islam” table stood on a portable stage in the basement of a local masjid. I couldn’t remember his name—they had said it when they introduced him.
Naturally, he had not been the only performer. But he was the only one I remembered so vividly.
Weeks later, when I attended another Muslim event with my friend Sumayyah, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Yusuf was one of the performers. When the time for hisperformance grew near, I was taken aback by how packed the seats became all of a sudden. I was impressed. Apparently, he was well known in the area. I was grateful to Sumayyah for reserving our seats early on.
I was speechless by the time Yusuf finally stepped onto the stage. I barely noticed the three men seated at the rear of the platform, the one in the middle holding a small drum. But after Yusuf reached the microphone, their voices resonated in a harmonizing tenor above the gentle beating on the drum, reminding me of native music from South Africa. Yusuf wore a long white thobe that lifted and clung to him slightly with the wind, revealing his athletic form beneath the thin fabric.
I was offended that Sumayyah thought I wanted to marry him. That was the furthest thing from my mind. I only wanted to talk to him on the phone and get to know him better. But I couldn’t escape the stinging pain I felt in my heart upon realizing I didn’t even stand a chance at attracting his attentions.
The Reality of Submitting to Allah
The reality is that, as we strive to submit to Allah, there will always be other distractions, especially from the opposite sex, as we can see in the case of Renee in the excerpt from my novel Realities of Submission. Clearly, Renee’s trips to the masjid and Muslim events become so meaningful to her largely because she has the opportunity to see Yusuf and enjoy his presence.
However, what is dangerous about Renee’s fascination with Yusuf is that she does not necessarily want to marry him, and even the suggestion of marriage offends her. She openly admits that she only wishes to talk to him on the phone and “get to know him better.”
Unfortunately, Renee’s mindset reflects that of many Muslim youth in today’s world. For too many of them, the masjid represents less a place to draw closer to Allah and more a place to draw closer to the young man or woman who has captured their affections.
A scholar was once asked, “Why do we get so easily distracted by the life of this world when we know it is worth very little in comparison to the Hereafter?” The scholar responded, “Because the life of this world is in front of us.”
And Yusuf was in front of Renee, as the opposite sex is in front of Muslim youth.
It is easy to scoff at youth like Renee, who appear to be doing something sacrilegious when they go to the masjid or a Muslim event looking forward to seeing someone they are attracted to. Some Muslims might even proclaim that it is better for them to stay home than to come to places of Allah’s remembrance with impure intentions.
However, we should hesitate before passing judgment, lest we discourage Muslim youth from coming around Muslims at all. Excitement to see the opposite sex, especially in one’s teens when hormones are raging, is completely normal, and this excitement doesn’t “magically” disappear when we enter the house of Allah or attend an Islamic lecture. Our humanity follows us wherever we go, even in the privacy of our homes and even during overt acts of worship like prayer and supplication to Allah.
Staying away from places of worship and activities where one is likely to be reminded of Allah cannot possibly solve any problem, let alone a problem that is inherently spiritual. If anything, staying away from places of where Allah’s name is mentioned will only worsen the problem. Thus, the only solution is for the young man or woman to continuously strive against impure intentions, especially when they enter the house of Allah.
We do not stand before Allah because we are already pure. We stand before Allah because we hope to be purified.
This is the lesson we need to teach Muslim youth who, like Renee, are struggling with natural raging hormones and attraction to the opposite sex. And this lesson is all the more important for the youth to inculcate into their practical lives as they enter the blessed month of Ramadan, a time for seeking Allah’s forgiveness, His mercy, and salvation from the Fire.
When Worship and Love Collide
One fact of life that both Muslim youth and adults need to understand is that our worship and human weakness will constantly collide and be at odds with each other during our time on earth. We cannot remove this reality from our lives any more than we can avoid ultimately standing in front of Allah on the Day of Judgment. This is all part of Allah’sqadr, His divine decree for us.
Our job then, is to face these tests by turning to Allah and constantly striving against succumbing to our lower desires. However, when we do fall short and sin, it is crucial that we understand, in the depths of our hearts, that Allah is All-Forgiving and Most Merciful to those who continuously engage in jihad al-nafs, the internal battle of the self against the self.
Thus, when youth like Renee find that an attractive boy or girl distracts them from Allah, they should know that all hope is not lost, even if they at times give into human weakness. They should continue to come to the masjid. They should continue to come to Muslim events. And they should continue having hope in Allah’s mercy and forgiveness.
Because, when love and worship collide, staying away from the masjid and other places of Allah’s remembrance cannot protect us from facing ourselves, and more importantly, it cannot protect us from facing Allah.
First published: May 2013