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Be Gentle – Harshness Breaks Hearts

If Islam is making your heart hard, then you aren’t practicing Islam.

This is something I live by these days because of a run in with a hardhearted approach to Islam I had in my formative Muslim years.

Islam was sent to human kind as a mercy, as a way to make life bearable. Islam is easy, as the hadith goes, but we make it hard on each other. I learned this the hard way after hurting others and almost breaking my own heart with harshness.

After Converting

After converting, I found myself in the midst of a very friendly and accepting South-East Asian community. And because of my surroundings, I unwittingly fell into following a madhhab. I was so new to Islam I didn’t know what that meant. And I do not regret it.

But then, I moved to a different city with a very different Muslim community. I had no clue that the community I was about to enter was so different from the one I had just left. I didn’t know Muslims could be so different.

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I stumbled into a community where some Muslims acted as if a harshness was a tenet of faith. I learned so much about differences of opinions, innovation in religion, verifying sources, different sects and schools of thought from the contrast in the communities and the wealth of knowledge that my new community held.

I felt like I had been thrown into the deep end of Islamic knowledge. It was intense. But I was game. And then I became intense.

Knowledge as a Weapon!

As I learned seriously technical knowledge within the first six months to a year of my conversion, I also noticed that the members of my new community were using their knowledge as a weapon. It was almost as if they were learning hadith and Quran just to harass someone with their knowledge.

I witnessed sisters have a bitter and prolonged fight over how to sit while eating. They used their difference of opinion as an excuse to harm each other, but forgot that the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us:

“None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.” (Narrated in Bukhari & Muslim)

I watched people come to Islam, get involved in this kind of battle of opinions, and leave Islam entirely. Their faith had turned into a kind of armor, rigid and suffocating, but used to protect them from the battle of opinions they chose to participate in.

Their faith also became a weapon, sharp and brutal, but necessary in order to strike, offend, and make themselves feel superior. But no one’s iman, one’s heart cannot survive rigid, suffocating, sharp, and brutal conditions for any extended amount of time without breaking.

In this environment, I witnessed a child being treated with contempt because his recently converted mother was listening to music. It was as if learning and clinging to details and opinions was making people forget that Islam requires the opposite of this harsh behavior.

Be Gentle & Merciful

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“Be merciful to the people of the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.” (Narrated in Tirmidhi)

Most people had an impossible standard for everyone else, but rarely took the time to turn that critique inward. This attitude is bleak but it is also contagious.

I once witnessed brothers backbite each other because one’s beard was not long enough, and another’s was too long, yet another’s was too shabby, and the other guy’s was too manicured. It was as if the hadith: “Make things easy for the people, and do not make it difficult for them.”, was never spoken by the Prophet (peace be upon him).

There were some compassionate and wise people in this community, but there were also those to whom Islam was only rules as protection and weapon. I could have chosen to approach my faith and brothers and sisters with ease and compassion, as my faith and the wise people in this community taught me. But I didn’t. I was swept up into the attitude of attack or be attacked.

And I ended up holding harsh opinions of people with good hearts. I found any women who didn’t wear the exact style of dress as me to be unworthy of my time. I thought less of people who held any difference in opinion than me. I treated people who didn’t act exactly like me as if they were less than me. I hurt a lot of good people for no reason. For that I can never apologize enough. I failed to see my own arrogance, my own hard heartedness, my own flaws. For that I lost myself.

I Finally Changed

I became angry, bitter, and judgmental. Until one day, I didn’t recognize myself. I didn’t even like myself.

I learned a lot, but I also unlearned the really important things. The things that Islam was revealed to give us: solace, fraternity, equality, joy, ease. It was all lost. I lost a sisterhood. I lost friends. And I nearly broke my own heart from the brittleness I had created in it.

And it took time to for people to forgive me. It took a long time to heal myself. It took me a long time to remember that everyone’s journey is different and I had no qualifications to judge others. It took me a long time to admit that I was wrong.

Islam was sent as a mercy. {And We have not sent you (O Muhammad) except as a mercy to the worlds.} (Quran 21:107)

(From Discovering Islam archive)

About Theresa Corbin
Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.