Whoever knocks persistently, ends by entering.
Ali ibn Abi Talib (RA)
My journey in faith and Islam has been a challenging one. By nature, I’m the type of person to be skeptical of what others tell me. I’m curious and contemplative, but I’m far from a blind adherent to any ideological stance. To commit myself to a rigid principle, I first meticulously scrutinize and debate its soundness. As a result, accepting Islam in an entirely immersive way has been a great personal struggle. I’ve had very reasonable doubts and misgivings about many of the religion’s tenets as well as difficulties bringing my behaviour in line with them. However, despite my deviations, I have always maintained a link to the community and religion. At no point did I ever feel the need or desire to leave the faith of my family and ancestors. That had always remained unthinkable. In the grand scheme of personal identity, being a Muslim is all I’ve ever really known. Whether or not I embodied it to a perfect degree, I recognized that ‘Muslim’ was the label the world would always give me. My identity is also my fate. For that reason, the machinations of my belief system have always revolved around finding my place and position within the folds of Islam. That remains an ongoing process, but I feel that I’m about to reach a new juncture in this journey.
Those who most intimately know my struggle in faith know how I’ve always wrestled with the concept of “go big or go home.” I’ve written about it before in my post Islam à la Carte. In finding myself as a Muslim, I’ve taken a very haphazard path towards accepting the fundamentals of Islam. I was inconsistent in prayer, I was inconsistent in fasting, I didn’t always consume halal, I didn’t abstain from vulgar music and imagery, and I lacked God-consciousness in my daily life. For the past few years at least, I’ve found it difficult to follow through on righteous actions and words. There has been a key change from my very worst days of jahiliyyah – the return of guilt. However, guilt alone had not been enough to overcome the intellectual inconsistencies disrupting my faith. Aligning my core way of thinking to the ideals of submission that Islam demands has been my first arena of battle.
As an intellectual explorer, my belief system has been shaped by my interactions with Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, classical Greek philosophy and other schools of thought. As I’ve matured in my thinking and sought redress for my concerns about Islam, I’ve come to realize that many of the ideas that have attracted me in other traditions have already been discussed and synchronized with classical Islamic exegesis. I owe much of that to scholars like Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, whose words have always seemed to bridge Islam to my reasoning. Both of these illustrious scholars, may Allah preserve them, converted to Islam in their youth as part of their search for truth. There’s something special about the way converts see the religion and scripture. Those of us who are born into Islam are born with a set of answers without being given the option of first asking the questions. The beauty and power of the answers that Islam provides are rarely appreciated the same way by born Muslims as they are by converts. Converts to Islam come from a place of deep existential crisis. They are truth seekers in the most sincere sense with sharply critical minds. For them to halt their search for truth at the door of Islam and Allah (SWT) is incredibly revealing about the completeness, robustness, and loftiness of the answers Islam provides. In the same way, each time a question or concern of mine is resolved by Islam – I’m blown away by the spiritual ‘fullness’ of it. The resolutions of Islam leave not an ounce of doubt in my heart. It has taken some time and continued effort, but Allah (SWT) has guided my mind to a harmony with His Word.
The bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
The Holy Qur’an (Surat Al-Hujarat, 49:14)
I remember once listening to Nouman Ali Khan, founder of the Bayyinah Institute in Texas, explain that the Qur’an can be summarized in two key points:
- Accept Allah as Master, and accept yourself as slave.
- His Guidance is only beneficial to people who accept themselves as slaves.
While these concepts seem simple in utterance, they require an enormous amount of faith and commitment to truly accept. Khan points out that many people accept the idea of Allah as Master, however few fully accept the idea of being His slave. This distinction is one that speaks to me in a very profound way. It comes back to this idea of “go big or go home.” To be a Muslim in the truest sense requires a harmony between thought, action, and words. I can profess the declaration of faith, I can believe in Allah (SWT), but unless I submit my will and actions to His Commands – I am lacking. These ingredients must go together in order to achieve the fruits of His Guidance and the promise of paradise. Allah (SWT) has made clear that there is a difference between a Muslim and a Mu’min. Many of us remain ignorant of this distinction and what it entails. A Muslim is someone who professes belief in God, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the revelation. A Mu’min is one who not only believes, but allows this belief to manifest itself in his/her words, thoughts, and actions to be in full adherence to God’s Will. This is the junction I find myself at today. I’m no longer content with simply being a Muslim. As I’ve said, I have always been a Muslim – even during my furthest diversions and doubts. As my heart and mind continue to align with the Qur’an and my consciousness of God echoes louder, I feel more and more incomplete and uncomfortable without living, in practical terms, as a Mu’min.
One of my favourite ahadith is the saying of Allah (SWT), “If my servant comes to Me walking, I go to him running.” In my struggle to become a better Muslim and Mu’min, at times I’ve felt that every step forward has been accompanied by two steps back. However, even my modest and lackluster efforts have resulted in an ever-closer bond with my Lord. A continued effort, even if it be only an honest recognition of my own failures, has made it easier to make permanent changes to my life. When I was far from Allah (SWT), it seemed impossible to ever come back. Islam seemed too hard. In the time I spent digressing from Islam, I had allowed bad habits and my nafs to grow into an immense obstacle. It felt like a concrete dam preventing me from reaching Allah (SWT). What I didn’t know then was that every meagre effort to punch through the dam was being matched with an enormous blow from the other side. Cracks in the foundation lead to tiny streams of blessings and faith, which then grew to become a cascade of imaan. As time wears on and my efforts become more sincere, the flow of faith has become increasingly free and easy. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that this religion or way of life is meant to be easy, but the ease only comes after we begin to put in the effort. “Truly with hardship comes ease,” (94:6).
I’m excited about this new turning point in my life. I once felt that I lacked the capability to have spiritual discipline, but now it feels more like a compulsion that I cannot resist. At the core of it is developing a genuine love for God, His Messenger, and my brothers and sisters in Islam. Against the backdrop of oppression and suffering that Muslims are undergoing around the world, the need to stand up and affirm my commitment to my faith has never been more pressing. In coming into my own as a man, engaging my energy for the sake of the community requires a genuineness in my bond to Islam. In accepting my role as an uncle, brother, leader, eventual husband and father – I cannot begin to set an example if I am not embodying the principles of Islam. As reminders of death continue to sprout around me, I cannot continue living without being conscious of God and His Word. For the sake of being at peace and achieving happiness, I must achieve harmony between all aspects of my spiritual character.
Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.