I will be the first to admit that growing up, I was not the most practicing Muslim. And why would I be? My life experiences had taught me that in order to fit in, to socially survive, I needed to be like everyone else. Well, “everyone else” was either not a practicing Muslim, or not a Muslim at all.
This is a common experience for many who are raised in the West, but even those who live in Muslim-majority countries may experience it. Islam, as a lifestyle, is considered to be outdated and old-fashioned, especially by those who either don’t know much about it or are also just trying to fit into their social circles, like I was.
I don’t think it’s wrong to want to be accepted. It’s natural to want to be liked, to feel like we belong. But there’s more to life than just being popular or what other people think of us. There are bigger issues, like what our values are.
The question of, “Who am I, and what do I believe in?” These are thoughts that many find too serious to address, so they try to avoid them. But we can only run away from these issues for so long before they start to impact us in deeper ways.
I’m not saying it’s easy, though, to just give up that feeling of acceptance and conformity. For me, it was definitely a big lifestyle change to go from doing whatever I wanted (or whatever others expected of me) to doing what Allah expected of me.
I had a lot of fears and doubts. Would my family mock me? Would my friends abandon me? What about things like self-expression; would I have to give up my hobbies and change the way I dressed?
These are not small matters, so I understand when people have similar concerns before fully embracing Islam.
But I think at the end of the day, it all comes down to perspective. Yes, I won’t be able to dress in certain types of clothes or spend my time doing things that other people consider to be normal, like watching “mature” shows and movies or socializing casually with the opposite gender.
But what can I do?
Well, for one, I am still myself. I still express myself through similar means as I did before. I write, paint, read, and play video games. And I dress myself up in the way I like, with an added element of modesty to my outfit. I like to exercise, eat out, and hang out with family. I still have friends, but I make sure that I pick good company to be around.
So I haven’t given up my worldly possessions to sit in the masjid all day (although I do love going there); I work towards bettering myself in my career and enjoy the small things in life. And I am more committed to my five daily prayers, but they provide structure to my day and give me the chance to unwind, no matter where I am or what I’m doing—sometimes at school or work, sometimes in a peaceful park or a busy shopping mall, and oftentimes in the solitude of my own bedroom.
Rather than focusing on what’s haram (forbidden), I prefer to focus on what’s halal (permissible). That’s what I mean when I say that it’s a matter of perspective. If one thing is haram, a hundred other things are halal.
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And to be honest, when I was not living the most Islamic lifestyle, my experience was not the best. I had fun for a little while but was left with an empty feeling at the end of the day.
I compromised my values to fit in and was left wondering who I really am in the first place. And I did whatever I wanted but still had trouble sleeping at night, often feeling like something was missing.
Why am I feeling so empty inside? Am I content with the person I am? Do my beliefs and my lifestyle align with one another? What does this all mean? How do I deal with life when things aren’t going well? Eventually, as I grew up, I was forced to face these questions. And the answers all led me back to Allah.
So here I am today… From the outside, some might think my life is boring. But to me, each day is a blessing and sometimes I feel a lot more content than I ever did before. I have fun in ways that don’t compromise my moral principles or religious beliefs, and that makes me more satisfied with my life than ever before, Alhamdulillah.
May Allah (swt) allow us to enjoy our lives in ways that are pleasing to Him.
…Are you pleased with the life of this world (dunya) rather than the hereafter (Aakhira)? But little is the enjoyment of the life of this world as compared with the Hereafter (Quran 9:38).