I miss being "me" without people judging me because I am a Muslim blogger. I understand why people have expectations of me and I'm sure most of them have the best of intentions but they don't personally know me, the life I've been through and the effort I'm making to be a better Muslim. I may wear hijab and write a lot about Islam but I don't want to be labelled as a "religious" Muslim.
I'm Muslim. That's it.
I stumble and make mistakes. I don't always follow the "rules". I'm not the most knowledgeable person but I'm trying my best and always learning, God willing. And always praying for His guidance in all of my affairs. I know I have a responsibility as an "ambassador" of Islam but part of being responsible is making sure I'm doing this sincerely. I've come to a point where I think it's more important for me to be myself and be sincere in my efforts. I want people to relate to me as a person before they relate to me as a Muslim. None of us are going to get things right all the time. If you see any good in me then all of the credit is due to Allah and only the mistakes have been mine, as the late Malcolm X used to say.
When you've misplaced something they tell you to re-trace your steps as it might spark a recollection of your memory. Coming back to Malaysia was partly an attempt to re-trace my steps and find "me" again. It's not uncommon to hear about Malaysian Muslims moving abroad and getting caught up in the secular Western way of life but it was the opposite for me. It's ironic how I didn't truly understand Islam when I was living in a Muslim country but "found" Islam in New Zealand instead. Interacting with Muslims from various backgrounds and cultures made me appreciate my faith more but it was overwhelming at times because some of them felt imposing their cultural beliefs on me was the right and Islamic thing to do.
I am usually quite the social butterfly but this year I took a step back and spent more time with my family and close friends. People who have known me forever. I find clues about who I am when I'm with them and I get flashbacks while looking through photo albums. In order to understand myself I have to understand my parents and even though both my parents are Malaysians I feel I'm a fusion of two cultures because of their life experiences and the way they have chosen to raise their children. I'm sure many people can relate and don't think of it as a big deal but when you're actually aware of it and trying to figure out which is which, that's when it gets a bit confusing. And that's when the negotiating and navigating begins for me. Finding out which part of me is Western and which part of me is Eastern.
After all these months in Malaysia, being with whom I love and doing the things I love, I've realised I don't have to be anyone apart from myself because there's nothing wrong with it. Many people feel they can't be practicing Muslims because it will contradict who they are and their culture. It doesn't have to be that way. I've learned that Islamic beliefs may not align with my lifestyle and that means I have to make adjustments in my lifestyle choices but not in who I am. For example, eating healthier means avoiding junk food not avoiding food altogether. I have lived in a Western environment - my family, the schools I attended, my friends - this is what I've known all my life. Asking me to omit Western influence out of my life is like asking me to ignore or remove a significant part of my identity.
And I don't need or want a different life or identity than the one God has given me. (Why resist fate? Isn't that a sign of not trusting in God and His plans for us?) I want to incorporate Islam into my life and at the moment that means keeping my hijab on, getting rid of bad habits and letting go of unhealthy attachments. It also means adapting good habits like trusting in Allah, increasing my knowledge, praying more, reading and reciting more Qur'an, doing more dhikr and being more conscientious of my role in this world as granddaughter, daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend, blogger, consumer etc.
Everything about striving to be a better Muslim has to do with an inner struggle. Even the "outer struggles" like wearing hijab and putting on modest clothes begins with an inner struggle. When it gets almost unbearable I remind myself that the greater the struggle the greater the reward, God willing. And I hold on to Imam Suhaib Webb's words, "Better to be a sincere struggler than a fake saint." He also said different people articulate taqwa differently. For some it means staying up at night, praying qiyamulail and reciting the Qur'an, for others it means staying away from drugs. I'm not saying that it's a reason to be lazy in our efforts to be closer to Allah but it is a reason for us to be less judgemental and more understanding of how something can be harder for others than it is for ourselves. When it comes to ibadah we need to get our basics sorted out before moving it up a notch. The point is to make a sincere effort because the rest is all up to God.
I also like what American Muslim rapper Brother Ali said in his recent interview on The Stream, Al Jazeera English (28:30 - 31:07) : "Imam W. Deen Muhammad was big on allowing Islam to penetrate who we are and reform the"real me"... I need to always remain true to what I know... and find ways to better myself, not change myself."
Upon realising how true all of this is I feel like myself again. My faith is steady. My intuition is stronger. My positive spirit compels me to not give up. What can I say? Shahirah's back ;) Alhamdulillah ala kulli hal. And yes, that was a long rant (I really need to learn to write shorter posts huh?) but if it helps even just one person I think writing this post was worthwhile.