“Who am I?” – Resolving an Identity Crisis

who am i

By Sheikh Omar Suleiman

Member, ICNA Shariah Council and Instructor, Al Maghrib Institute, Canada

Throughout your life, as you try to find out who you are, you lose sight of what you were meant to be. Should you pursue this or that?

In order to attain success, Islam recommends that we analyze ourselves with critical eyes, as the tendency to live in status quo leads to hypocrisy. We learn from the times of the Prophet (sa) that the hardest prayers for hypocrites were those of Fajr and Isha. Fourteen hundred years ago, they did not have bright chandeliers in the Masajid. Neither did they have well-lit roads. The worshippers heading for Fajr and Isha Salah did so purely for the love of Allah (swt). There was no opportunity to display their faith in public. Naturally, the hypocrites lagged behind, as it did not serve their purpose of recognition before the society.

The Sahabahs were engaged in a life-long process of finding out who they truly were. It is advised to have a certain level of uncertainty about yourself, in order to engage in self-criticism and improvement. Medical experts would agree that the worst patient to deal with is someone who finds nothing wrong with him. The truly righteous is the one who thinks he is not pious.

When Aisha (rtaf) was asked about hypocrites, she described them as those who think of themselves as pious. The ones who come to the conclusion that they are not hypocrites are indeed hypocrites. All one hundred and twenty Sahabahs of the Prophet (sa) feared falling into hypocrisy, even though tales of their unparalleled Iman (faith) are penned in history.

What saves you from turning into a hypocrite then? The answer is in Surah Ash-Shams. Allah (swt) swears by His countless creations in this chapter of the Quran for all to arrive at the process of Tazkiya (purification of the soul). He clearly states that He is the One Who has set our Nafs (soul) right. We have been instilled with the sense of right (Taqwa) and wrong (Fujoor). Allah (swt) has also announced the means to succeed in the Quran. It is to remain busy with your own purification of the soul.

Allah (swt) places the burden of Tazkiya on you. Nafs is the Hijab (veil) between you and Allah (swt). The more you improve your Nafs, the more you will experience Allah’s (swt) Qurb (nearness). This is the first step to Tazkiya.

The second step is to recognize that purification is not possible without Allah’s (swt) help which comes in the form of Fitnahs (trials). Allah (swt) asks: do they think they will be left alone without tests? For every pain, you are rewarded by Allah (swt).

A supreme example of how Fitnah elevates you is in a story of a young man in Syria. He had never bowed before Allah (swt). The soldiers of Bashar-ul-Asad (ruler of Syria) were coercing everyone to prostrate before the picture of Bashar-ul-Asad. Those who refused were mercilessly beaten up. This particular man refused to perform Sajdah before the ruler’s picture, because he didn’t wish to make his very first Sajdah before Allah’s (swt) creation – Sajdah was Allah’s (swt) right alone. Hence, he was beaten to death, making his first and last Sajdah to Allah (swt) alone. What could have been a doomed end due to Kufr and Shirk transformed into an opportunity to enter Jannah. Allah (swt) presented this man with that chance, and he wisely took it.

The next step is Tarbiyah. It means to raise the Nafs. You need to question yourself: “Who am I?” Why can’t I come close to Allah (swt)?” “Why don’t I enjoy Salah?” Some people blame Allah (swt) for their misfortunes, while others blame the environment. They never take responsibility for their own errors and misguidance. They lose hope of Allah’s (swt) mercy and fall into despair.

History proves how people, who were born out of the fold of Islam, travelled far and wide and raised the level of their faith. Bilal Habshi, Sulaiman Farsi, Najashi – they were all people who questioned the purpose of their lives and were thus led to guidance by Allah (swt).Whereas Abu Hakm, the Prophet’s (sa) own uncle, became Abu Jahl (father of ignorance) in spite of experiencing Islam in Makkah. Abdullah bin Ubay, in spite of praying in the Prophet’s (sa) congregation in Madinah, became the leader of the hypocrites.

It was the genius of the Prophet (sa) that he looked at each companion’s strengths and offered them opportunities to develop and utilize them for the benefit of Islam.

Abu Jahl and Omar bin Khattab (rtam) both had exceptional leadership qualities. The Prophet (sa) prayed to Allah (swt) to strengthen Islam by granting one of them to him. Hence Omar’s (rtam) qualities were spent for Islam, while Abu Jahl fought against Islam.

The point is to nurture the gifts Allah (swt) has given you – for example, reputation, wealth, eloquence, etc., – and use them for Allah’s (swt) Deen and the benefit of the mankind.

We either own Nafs Lawama, a soul which is constantly distracted by people, or we own Nafs Mutamainna, a soul that is at peace with Allah (swt).

To accomplish the above, you might need to push out of the way things that come between you and Allah (swt). Surround yourself with people of Allah (swt) and take their Naseehah (advice).

Remember, the difference between a punishment and a trial is your attitude towards it. If during hardships you remain calm, exhibit Sabr and Shukr, Allah (swt) will reward you. Conversely, if during trails you become bitter and disobey further, you will be punished. Just remind yourself in times of tribulations that on the Day of Judgement, people burdened with sins would wish they had scissors to cut their skin to part with them and envy the ones who underwent the trials of the world patiently only to be elevated in the Akhirah. And the believers will not even remember their sufferings at the sight of Jannah – a satisfying end to a journey of self-discovery, indeed.

Based on a lecture-shop organized by “LiveDeen”. Transcribed for “Hiba” by Rana Rais Khan.

About “LiveDeen”

It is a non-profit project with an up-to-the-minute concept of lectureshops, a combination of workshops and live lectures of international speakers broad casted via hi-technology video conferencing tools. Their main aim is to bridge the gap between the English-speaking strata of the society and Deen.

Contact details:

www.livedeen.com

www.facebook.com/livedeen

Ameer LiveDeen: Nouman Idrees Sheikh (0300-863-7735)

Help! I Don’t Remember Who I am!

Vol 5 - Issue 1  Help Who i amSeven years back at the Kuala Lumpur Airport, as I was heading towards the immigration, a young oriental girl approached me hesitantly and asked: “Excuse me, can you help me? You see, I have two bottles of liquor with me and I believe they only permit one per non-Muslim passenger. Can you carry the second bottle for me through customs?” I blinked at her silently and finally found my voice: “I am sorry but I can’t do that. I am a Muslim.”

Another year I travelled to Singapore for a conference. At our official dinners, they served pork and liquor. Naturally, I didn’t partake of it. The rest of my colleagues were non-Muslims, so they enjoyed it. However, they were surprised to learn that I was a Muslim.

Some years later during a shopping spree in Dubai, I was preparing for Salaah, but as I approached the ladies prayer area, a woman asked me suspiciously: “Are you a Muslim?” I stammered: “Y… yes, why are you asking?” She didn’t comment. But her look said: “If I hadn’t found you in this prayer area, I wouldn’t have ever known.”

I was beginning to feel very disturbed that I was not being identified as a Muslim. What was it that I was doing wrong? Slowly the answers started emerging. And at first I didn’t like them at all.

To me there wasn’t much of a difference between a believer’s lifestyle and a disbeliever’s life pattern. In fact, I was closer to their culture than my own. I spoke their language, dressed like them, watched their films, listened to their music, read their books and magazines and enjoyed their shows. I was thinking and behaving like them.

I knew much about the first president of the USA but vaguely anything about our first Caliph. I slept through Eid but never failed to celebrate the Christmas and the New Year with my Muslim as well as non-Muslim friends.

I knew, how many girlfriends my favourite film star had dumped, but didn’t know any of the Azwaj-e-Mutaharat (our Prophet’s (sa) wives). I was proud to know, what my favourite pop singer had for breakfast, but had hardly any idea of what our Prophet’s (sa) favourite cuisine had been.

I was one of the all-encompassing Muslims, for whom it was enough to state ‘Islam’ as their religion, when asked in some official document. It wasn’t important to look like a Muslim, think like a Muslim or even behave like one. I had gotten by so far by avoiding alcohol and pork. Wasn’t that enough?

But then one day I read: “O you who believe! If you obey those who disbelieve, they will send you back on your heels, and you will turn back (from faith) as losers.” (Al-Imran 4:149)

 

This Ayat was supported by Allah’s Messenger’s (sa) Hadeeth: “Anybody (from among the Muslims) who meets, gathers together, lives and stays (permanently) with a Mushrik (polytheist or disbeliever in the Oneness of Allah) and agrees to his ways, opinions and (enjoys) his living with him (Mushrik), then he (that Muslim) is like him (Mushrik).” (Abu Dawood)

No matter how bad a Muslim I had been, I knew well enough, where the Mushriks, or disbelievers, were heading after their death, and I didn’t want to go there with them. Besides, if I followed them blindly, who would pull them out of their disbelief and save them from the Hellfire?

That’s when it dawned on me that I am not just a Muslim to save myself. I have been sent to this world with a mission to save those, who don’t understand Allah’s (swt) message or whom it hasn’t reached yet. The Prophet (sa) took a covenant from Muslims like me to keep sharing Allah’s (swt) message with every Muslim and non-Muslim. And if I don’t even remember who I am? how will I save my friends out there?

No! It matters to me now that I stand out in a crowd as a Muslim. When I smile, when I help, when I am courteous to others, they know it’s a Muslim with a mission. Not someone who is confused about her identity or, even worse, ashamed of it.

Allah, may I never forget who I am. I am yours and only yours.