Self-help guru Wayne Dyer said something very profound recently: “What you think of me is none of my business.” Islam taught us this way back.
You just started covering your head with a loose scarf. You are sitting with your friends and having a good time. All of a sudden, one of your friends, let’s call her Mona, starts talking about Hijab. She says something along the lines of: “Hijab is only about being modest. I mean, the Quran doesn’t even say the word ‘hair’!” All of your other friends are nodding and looking at Mona like she’s some sort of saint. And then they look at you.
What to do? Speak up? Have them think of you as some preacher, or worse, an extremist? Or be quiet and not say anything? You decide to mumble something about “being pretty sure that wasn’t right”.
Of course, you say it just loud enough, I mean low enough, that they can’t hear you. But hey, at least you said it, right? Having done your duty, you relax and join in the “fun”. But when the scarf on your head slips down, you do not put it back on.
Now, picture another scene.
637 CE – Jerusalem offers a truce, provided that the Khalifah comes himself from Madinah to sign the treaty. Umar (rtam) sets out for Jerusalem with a slave and a camel. They take turns riding the camel. When they approach Jerusalem, it is Umar’s (rtam) turn to walk, so he enters Jerusalem holding the rope of his camel.
Abu Ubaidah (rtam), the commander-in-chief of the Muslim army, suggests that he change his clothes, so that the people of Jerusalem, accustomed to pomp and grandeur of kings and emperors, are not dissuaded from handing the keys over to him. Umar (rtam) hits him hard on the chest and reminds him that they had been a disgraced nation. Islam brought them honour; should they seek it from anything else, they would surely be humiliated again. “The only way for success is the way of the Prophet (sa),” he says.
What happened in the first scene? A Muslim began following Allah’s (swt) commandment – good intentions and all – faced peer pressure and caved under it.
And the second scenario? A strong Muslim, who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of him, and does what his teacher has taught, and knows that is the right thing to do.
For us, practising Muslim wannabes, to get from scene one to scene two will take some serious working out.
Firstly, understand this: peer pressure is not a recent phenomenon. It is as old as human beings! All the prophets of Allah (swt) faced all kinds of peer pressure. So, if you face some unpleasant stuff when you begin your journey on the straight path – surprise, surprise, it’s no surprise!
Secondly, our public conduct is influenced by what other people think, because, like it or not, social pressure is a powerful force. Even when we know we want to do the right thing, we pause out of sheer terror of being labelled an extremist, fanatic or Mullah.
Good news? We can overcome this fear by making a concerted effort. Allah (swt) says: “Verily, Allah will not change the (good) condition of a people as long as they do not change their state (of goodness) themselves.” (Ar-Rad 11:13)
The strategy we find from the Sunnah can be summed up in a two-pronged approach:
Aimed Inwards – At You
- “Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death,” said a wise man.
This dependence upon people’s opinion of us originates in weakness of faith – if our pride in Islam is not strong enough to provide the confidence we need to practice it, we get taken in easily by peer pressure. Work on your relationship with Allah (swt), plug into the sources of our Deen, the Quran and the Sunnah, and, Insha’Allah, you will see a marked difference in your confidence.
- Understand your ‘identity’.
One major reason for falling into peer pressure is not having a secure Muslim identity. You can get that by going back to the roots. Arm yourself with the knowledge of Seerah and the lives of our predecessors for finding out who you are.
“Are those who know equal to those who know not?” (Az-Zumar 39:9)
- Derive strength from the glad tidings for those who remain steadfast on Deen in the face of opposition and trials.
Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Islam began strange, and it will become strange again just like it was at the beginning, so blessed are the strangers.” (Muslim) Hello, stranger! You are in great company. Such news will keep you motivated.
- Don’t be a cry-baby all the time.
The road to Paradise is not for the weak-hearted. Build up your nerves and learn to be thick-skinned. When you mull over an incident, avoid the urge to magnify the negative.
“The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, although there is good in each.” (Muslim)
- Hang out with ‘real’ friends.
If people around you give you grief for your beliefs: (a) it is their problem and (b) you need to bail out. Allah (swt) says: “And keep yourself (O Muhammad) patiently with those who call on their Lord (i.e. your companions who remember their Lord with glorification, praising in prayers and other righteous deeds), morning and afternoon, seeking His Face.” (Al-Kahf 18:28)
- Beg Allah (swt) for help.
You can’t do this on your own for sure – without His assistance. So, get down in prostration and pray for Istiqamah (uprightness/steadfastness). This beautiful Dua of the Prophet (sa) is spot on: “O Turner of Hearts! Keep my heart steadfast upon your Deen.” (Tirmidhi)
Aimed Outwards – At Others
- Deflect criticism, mockery and rudeness.
Follow this prophetic example and you will be on your way to the straight path:
Members of the Quraysh poked fun at the Prophet (sa) by making reference to him as “Mudammam” (a play on Muhammad), which means ‘ugly’. Muhammad was a unique name in Makkah at that time and it means ‘the one who is praised’. The companions complained to the Prophet (sa) with tears in their eyes. His response was that they should ignore the mocking laughter associated with ‘Mudammam’ because his name was Muhammad and not Mudammam. He defused the irony, neutralized it and pulled the rug out from under it, with gentleness, wit and humility.
- Keep your cool.
When ugly situations arise and peer pressure kicks in to high gear, it is very easy to get caught up in the moment and forget that you will have to live with the choices you make. If you give in and do something that is contrary to your core value system, it will cause you distress later and you will feel regret.
Remember, peer pressure only works if you let it. If you refuse to let it intimidate you, it loses its power. The secret is to be assertive, without becoming preachy or self-righteous. Stand your ground, but refrain from standing on a soap box.