Finding Our Way

(Part 1)

Recently at a store, I was being helped by a young man. Noting my hijab, he asked, “You’re Muslim, right?”

“Yes,” I said nodding, “I am.”

“Yeah,” he continued, “my parents are Muslim.”

He then looked away, as if embarrassed by this fact. Was he embarrassed by his Islamic heritage, I wondered, or perhaps by the fact that he identified only his parents as Muslim, and not himself?

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I sensed this young many had a story. I had no way of knowing how he had been raised or what his struggles were, but I wanted to say to him, “It’s ok. I’ve been there. I’ve had my struggles too.”

He looked back to hand me the items I’d purchased. “Well, have a good day,” he said, straining a smile. I wished him the same and left the store deep in thought.

Feeling Lost

I know there are many youth who feel lost in today’s world. In recent years, I’ve talked with some of them. We’ve discussed hopes and dreams, struggles and challenges. Some have expressed the feeling of being in uncharted territory, less dependent on their families but not quite sure yet of themselves. Against a changing backdrop of varying cultures and norms, they wonder how they’re going to find their way.

Though I grew up in a Muslim family, I didn’t always realize the value of my faith. Like the young man in the store, I didn’t see that the way to what I was searching for—contentment, peace, good character, a beautiful reliance on God—was right there in the teachings of Islam.

This series addresses some of the challenges youth face all over the world—challenges of identity, self-confidence, knowledge and understanding.  It is an attempt to communicate the teachings of Islam not as a list of duties and obligations, but rather as a “deen,” a holistic way of life. In it, we hope to highlight some lessons relevant to the years of young adulthood, and the guidance Islam provides to help us find our way.

The First Step

Imagine being physically lost. Rather than start running blindly in any direction, you’d probably first try to orient yourself. Similarly, one of the first steps to finding our way as young adults is to understand our current situation. What is our purpose? What are our goals?

Throughout history, people have pondered the reason for their existence. A lot of young people especially see suffering and injustice in the world and wonder why they were even created. From the Islamic perspective, the answer to this question is clear. As we read the first few pages of the Quran, the very first command we come across is this:

{Oh humanity, worship your Lord…} (2:21)

In the very next verse, we read the first prohibition:

{Do not set up false deities besides Allah…} (2:22)

Taken together, this command and this prohibition form the foundation for much of what we need to know about Islam.

Worshipping Allah:

{And I [Allah] did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me} (51:56)

{Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.} (20:14)

Reflecting on such verses, we realize we are here for a purpose: to worship God. A lot of times, we associate worshipping God with specific acts like prayer and fasting. We don’t realize that everything we do, even our day-to-day actions, constitute part of that worship.

Avoiding False Deities:

In beginning to forge their identities and discover themselves, many young people become aware of a need inside them for something. I’ve heard it described as a longing, an ache, or a hole in one’s heart.  Islam teaches that this need exists in all of us and that it is meant to be filled with one thing: faith in God and knowledge of Him.

Unaware of this, many people, both young and old, will attempt to satisfy this need with other things. Some become overly obsessed with their jobs or their looks, others may get into trouble with relationships or addictions. Consequently, some youth find themselves on shaky ground just as they begin their adult lives.

Islam teaches that when we attempt to fill this need with other than God, we put ourselves in a perilous situation. Our hearts, rather than be attached to God, become attached to these things. Wealth, power, status, beauty all run the risk of becoming like false deities in our hearts when we over-emphasize their importance. The Quran draws our attention to this:

{Have you not seen the one who took his desire as his deity?} (25:43)

Fulfilling Our Purpose:

Each of us was created by God with unique qualities and talents. Part of fulfilling our purpose in life involves finding out how we can use those talents to better ourselves and our world. We do this with hearts oriented to God, thankful for whatever He has blessed us with and aware that our talents come from Him. This may be the most exciting part about young adulthood, when individuals discover and hone the skills God has blessed them with, and gain confidence that they can use these skills to make a difference in the world.

Thus, perhaps, the first step to finding our way as young Muslims is to understand, not only the reason for our existence, but also to recognize our need for and reliance on God and God alone. It is to cultivate in ourselves a connection to Him and attempt to use whatever skills or talents we have been blessed with to earn His pleasure.

Young adulthood is certainly an exciting time. There are many things to learn about life and about oneself. At those times when we feel a little lost along the way, I pray we remember that the teachings of Islam contain guidance for us all.

In the coming articles, we will, God-willing, discuss more of those teachings in hopes that no matter what challenges we face, we can more easily find our way.

Read Part 2

About Marwa Abdalla
Marwa Abdalla received her B.A. in political science from Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Texas, and is currently working toward a degree in Islamic Studies with the American Open University. She is interested in writing about Islam, marriage and family. Her writing has been published in a book entitled Toward the Well Being of Humanity as well as on numerous websites. She lives with her husband and three daughters in San Diego, CA.