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Living with a Void – Finding the Essence of Islam

As a born Muslim, I find that I took Islam for granted.

When we are little children, our faith is stronger because we are in tune with our fitrah (pure nature). But as we grow older, we also begin to question, and if there is no one there to answer our questions adequately, it is likely we will go astray.

I think one of the problems we face in the Muslim community (worldwide) is expecting children and youth (and adults as well) to be good Muslims just because they know they are Muslim.

There is a lack of acknowledgement and recognition that like all human beings, even we, as Muslims, begin to question things: Who is God? Why were we created? What is our purpose for being here? And so, if you propose these questions, there is a sense of panic because it’s “blasphemous” to even ask.

Of course, this stems from a severe lack of knowledge. I was astounded when I learned that in the Quran we are actually encouraged to think, to ask, and to seek. When you are raised as a Muslim without knowing and understanding Islam, everything is all just rituals. It leaves a deep void that has to be filled.

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When I was a teenager and in my early 20s, music was the food that fed my soul. I searched for meaning and purpose in the lyrics, and while I thought I was on the path towards achieving peace and harmony, I just became more and more rebellious.

One may ask, if you are searching for peace and contentment and if you have so many questions, why not just open the Quran and seek the answers?

Well, when you’re raised in an environment where religion is just a manifestation of culture, where you are only taught about God’s wrath, you don’t want to be close to Allah or even approach the Quran, which is usually kept high on a shelf in the home and remains untouched (too sacred to be touched!).

Besides that, you know that the Quran is not an ordinary book, and it sometimes appears so intimidating that the task of opening it and reading it on your own is awesome.

Music, movies, hanging around with the wrong crowds, trying to be cool, all this was done in an attempt to fill the void. Makeup, fashion, dating, and so on — why does all of this work in influencing our lives? The answer is advertising. It sounds simplistic perhaps, but it’s a fact.

Look, when you’re looking for a good cleaning product, a good car, a good computer, anything, you start paying attention to the advertisements. The best advertisement would probably influence your decision. Well, all of the above are very well advertised, while Islam is not!

When you spend so many years searching and feeling so empty, you feel as if you’re being sucked into a black hole and the force is so strong that you can’t pull yourself out. Pop idols and movie stars become our role models because our Islamic heroes are not advertised and their achievements are not kept alive.

Some of us have been more fortunate than others, being able to draw a line somewhere by not indulging in drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, or other things. Others have been less fortunate and are still drowning in the sea of despair.

As expected, it is the adolescent years that are so difficult. It is such a volatile period of growing up, yet all the while you are desperately searching for peace of mind or what would be said in Arabic as nafs mutma’inna.

I searched for 14 years, begged Allah to help me, to save me from drowning. It was an opportunity to work in Egypt that, for me, Islam was truly “introduced” to me.

I saw people who enjoyed Islam; I heard people speak about Islam with love; I learned about the numerous great women in Islam; for the first time I experienced being part of the masjid. In South Africa (except for the Cape region) women are not allowed to enter the masjid.

I started to find answers to the many questions I had. I slowly started to understand who my Creator is. I was so amazed to learn that He loves us so much, that He is the source of stability and comfort and peace. I desired to strengthen my relationship with Him, to know Him better, and to please Him.

Then afterwards (and even now), there occurred moments of realization, like someone switching on a light in a dark room. These moments of realization happen periodically throughout our lives.

When I was growing up, religion was seen as something that older people do — they wear hijab, pray, and go on Hajj. Islam wasn’t for younger people. We didn’t understand, so we used to think we could do what we want now and then go on Hajj and change our lives later.

Living with a void is a part of life, although some people feel it more than others. People fill the void with whatever is within their reach. Having the feeling that we are moving away from our fitrah brings about a lot of anger.

All people have the need to submit to something — people search for it. Human beings can’t stand alone, so people end up submitting to all kinds of things such as the religion they’ve grown up with, culture, nationalism, materialism. They can’t see what’s beyond the material world. Others submit to principles such as environmentalism or humanitarianism.

It is a part of human nature that we need to love something, even though most of the time in this world love is destructive. Only love for Allah is actually healthy for the soul. You might ask, why is love often destructive?

Well, because a person may say they love you today and tomorrow the relationship changes and your heart is broken. Also, people do many strange things in the name of love, even domestic violence. Love for people controls the heart, but love for Allah frees the heart.

When we admire a person, we have all kinds of expectations and we invest trust in them and vow never to let them down, but then one day something happens and it’s all gone. This can happen with parents, siblings, spouses, and friends.

Since I began to practice Islam, I began to understand why we are here on earth and our role in life. I found that the more you understand about Islam, the more curious you get about the whole thing.

Now I see things in a totally different way. For example, if you heard about a person who is always angry, would you want to be close to him or her?

When I was growing up I was always told how angry Allah is, and it wasn’t until later that I learned about His great love and mercy. It was then that I wanted to be close to Him and to understand more.

After this initial change, the excess baggage of life started to fall off. My fears began to disappear: Panic about the future, changes, more responsibilities didn’t frighten me like before. My self-esteem increased. As I learned to rely on Allah, I was building the foundation of my life. I came to realize that even if things don’t go as planned, I must put my trust in Him, be patient, and remember that there is no need to fear.

I grew up in a multicultural society. Everyday I would see non-Muslim people, and I could see the way they are lost and the way they try to fill that void.

I knew that I had just embarked on my journey of self-knowledge; I also knew that I would spend all my life on this journey and it would never be finished. I also came to understand that we can’t really help other people except to be kind, to be patient, and to give advice — remind them of Allah.

When I was growing up I was always questioning, but the people around me didn’t have the knowledge to teach me. I think that now things have changed and young people have access to many tools of knowledge — books, cassettes, CDs, Internet, courses, and so on.

Seeking knowledge is something young people have to initiate themselves, and they have to be determined to find answers and learn.

Finally, the major difference I find within myself since I started to practice Islam is the sense of inner peace. I find that the more inner peace I get, the less need there is to acquire material comforts.

Republished from Volunteer’s Youth Resource Network.

About Naseema Mall
Naseema Mall is a freelance writer and owner of Breeze Publishing, South Africa