My Muslim Identity Crisis

It's remarkable how fast this year has gone by and I know I haven't blogged as earnestly as I used to. The truth is I've spent the last 8 months in Malaysia trying to figure out some things. It has taken me a while to feel comfortable enough to admit this but for the last one and half years I haven't felt completely like myself. It was as if I had lost a part of myself. When you're trying to become a better Muslim it's very easy to get caught up in the do's and don'ts or in Islam, the halal's and haram's. For me it was very subconscious but also a result of people projecting their idea of the ideal Muslim woman towards me.

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.


Laila said…
MashaAllah, this post is really inspiring, and in a way it helped me yes :) Being muslim in this world may be difficult but with effort we can with it.
MashaAllah you finally found you, you finally found the real you, the one you want to become :)
Nai @ TPJ said…
Salam. Very sincere post, very you. Islam is The Way of Life, dear. Every sphere of it. Nobody has any right to judge another person unless he's gone through exactly the same turmoils, ups and downs, etc of that person. In the end, everybody's gonna weighed by their own imaan and taqwa. Chill, Kak Nai.
aishah amin said…
Only Allah knows what is in our hearts..:)

May Allah make everything easy for you my dear Sha;) and welcome back! xx
MissM said…
This has been one of the most meaningful articles I've read in a long while. I am a perfectionist and so every time I stumble on a "religious" blog I automatically compare and then mope because I'm not on par with them.I've known for a while that I need to change this,reading this just might have done the trick.
Labella Iman said…
Salamualaikum Shahirah,

I know EXACTLY how you feel. I took a step back from blogging for a little bit, I had a few technical issues but mostly just thinking about the exact same things. I think for me its a cross between staying true to my Islam, and not letting go of my dream... and balancing the two are not as easy as one would imagine.

May Allah make it easy in your journey to find yourself, and continue to do what you love! Ameen!

fadyxc said…
I miss myself too:(
2012 is the worst year for me, even I always have my love one at my side...there is something missing..which is myself...and I think that actually make me unhappy. I cannot find me..she lost somewhere and got caught up between so many things that happened:( . It feel like I dont feel satisfied with anything that I do...but life goes on..and I need to keep searching for myself, find the balance in everything
Rahma Fateen said…
Masha'Allah Shahirah! I totally loved this post.
I can so relate to it.
May God shower you will inspirations and blessings. x
Anonymous said…
Salam Sha,

I'm sorry i'm not that good with words. but all i can think right now is, as you age... honey we all will lose many things. like our beauty (hair fall, smooth skin, bone strength, menopause!), our loved ones (by death), & if we're unlucky even our memories (dementia, alzheimer).

So as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) advised, (I must) remember the 5 thing before we lose them (youth, health, wealth, time, life).
HijabRevival.. said…
Mashallah what an amazing post! I understand you entirely and 'feel' this article. I will be linking a post to this inshallah so more people read it and relate to it :) thank you!!
Sabina said…
Wow amazing post.I understand this completely.x
Anonymous said…
Amazing post.
I want to convert to islam, but I wondered if I could still be me as a muslim. This post made me realise that I can be me, but be a muslim to. Islam is in my heart and I am willing to sacrifice certain thing to become a good muslim, but I know now that I don't have to change who I am. Thank you!
Ikhlas said…
An absolutely amazing post, Shahirah! The sentiments you often express in this blog are exactly what I feel, but you articulate it so much better, mashAllah.

I can appreciate your struggle of trying balance Eastern and Western influences, especially when considering how they fit into Islam. I'm of Pakistani descent, but was born and grew up in Canada, and so have been judged by others as being too 'Canadian' or too 'Western'. I too struggled with this, but at the end of the day, realised that I don't have to follow my Eastern cultural traditions to be a good Muslim. As long as they don't conflict with Islam, Eastern or Western way of life can be followed.

Thank you for another sincere, heartfelt post. I don't know you in real life, but I sincerely wish you the best in your pursuit of knowledge and closeness with Allah. May Allah bless us all, Ameen.
SubhanAllah! Amazing post. Yes, when you blog about Islamic or share Islamic quotes people suddenly judge as if you're trying to be greater than thou. I have been meaning to write similar post but like you, I couldn't find the me. Thank you for such amazing words that I could relate too. Alhamdulillah. :)

Take care. X
Ayuni Zainal said…
Inspirational is an understatement to describe this entry, but I feel you wholly since I spent the most of my life as nomads traveling and wondering about life, near and far. I found myself and Islam more in New Zealand, where I was based before. I came back stronger, emotionally and spiritually though not necessarily as a more religious person than I was. But I appreciate the fact that I'm born as a Muslim and no matter how I falter along the way, Allah swt will always be there to guide through His own special and mysterious way. Keep on writing sister.
Anonymous said…
I believe if you are true to God and to yourself, everything else will fall in place. In modern times we have made Islam so rigid that we are scaring ourselves and those who want to convert.

I can tell you from personal experience, once you accept yourself as someone whose identity is made up of a patchwork of influences and backgrounds it will get easier (this is coming from an African Muslima raised in Germany and the UK). I don’t reject my European influence and experiences; they make me who I am. At the same time I am proud of my African heritage and most important of all, my Islamic one.

It’s OK not to be one or the other but BOTH or all 3, or 4 etc, and feel more enriched by it.

Miss Patchwork
Noor Of My Life said…
You are a doll and so wise for your age masha'Allah we all have struggles and crisis of identity every now and then it makes us all the more human dont you think? We all need to be true to ourself and let Allah swt guide us. What you are feeling is ever so common with people who lived away from home then come back home and have to re- adjust to there old way of life only to find out that they now have. A new prospective on there old life and see things diffrently.
Feda said…
This post came at an intersting time for me as I'm writing my bio section on my website. I too struggled with having so many identities pulling me in different directions. Once I accepted myself and my diversity and saw it as something unique and beautiful I was able to be myself and be proud of who I am.
The anonymous comment above me said it very well. It's ok to be a bunch of things all at once. If anything you can feel strength in the fact that you are able to see the world with different eyes and perspectives. It makes you who you are but it also helps build a world of understanding and open beings.
I admire always your words. I am so happy you are who you are because at a least for me I look up to you as an amazing woman first and foremost!
I've been considering converting to Islam for a while and this post was just what I needed to read.... Thank you
Nevin said…
Salam Shahirah, thank you for your sincere heart-felt post. I'm going through a similar thing and this was exactly what I needed.
Fay said…
This post gave me an insight on how we actually behave for some reason .. i loved how you said '' in order for me to understand myself i need to understand my parents '' its true .. i can relate to that . . another thing is that we all fall in that stage of our life to choose what we want to be its a search of identity and a search for a newer you a more like a better you but keeping all the values that you were raised with .. Touched me in the heart Shahirah .. thank you
Anonymous said…
This post was so beautiful and honest.
I feel like I'm at that point where I've lost myself for so long, I'm not even sure who that girl was anymore! But reading your post and all the comments here showed me I'm not the only one and I shouldn't give up :')
Keep writing the way you do hun, this blog is amazing and you're awesome! May Allah bless you <3
Anonymous said…
A lot of people can connect with ur post 'my muslim identity crisis".
What i would like to add, since i am a about 15 years older than u & have had a similar struggle (being Arab, muslim born, raised, & educated in Australia) is that this identity crisis doesn't end it just develops & gets deeper until u see a clear picture of the true individual u are...just like no two finger prints are the same or the no two iris prints are either , no two human beings are.
The only tip is staying true to Allah swt & urself.
I'm still struggling with a lot of issues about meaning of life , practicing islam, kushoo , but i never cheat my self, i try my best to become a better muslim & my no. one aim in life is Allah swt. This is clearer now even though I'm still sorting out my life...ALLAH COMES FIRST for sure now... if i have that i know everything else will sort itself out.
The other thing is that I'M PROUD of my muslim identity , my hijab , my beliefs, everyday that gets stronger, its my personal struggle, as i work through my identity crisis.. in the end its 'the crisis' is not such a bad thing....
salaams Abir ( sorry for the length of the comment)
lia said…
Dear Shahirah, I stumbled upon your blog and am quite impressed that you manage to talk about issues that many may not speak about in today's society. MashaAllah I like so many posts that you have written and will share it with like-minded people :)
Nadwa said…

Alhamdulillah, I found this after I found a post on Facebook, which says somethibg like, "Some muslims nowadays are so busy trying to APPEAR muslim than BE a muslim".

That hit me real hard..

I could understand your struggle, sister.
It is actually harder here in Malaysia. I have never lived elsewhere. But from stories of friends who have, I have grown to believe that it is, easier there than here.

People there practices islam, because they are not bound by culture and expectations. They practice islam because they want to, they understand it, they take time to learn and they find sincerity in their heart to accept it. Some people here, me included, sometimes mock islam more than practice it sincerely.

We are so tightly bound by the fact that we are born muslims and expectations have been imposed on us until we sometimes forget why we do what we do. Is it because of Allah, or is it because "I am a muslim and I feel that am supposed to do it, just as expected of me by the community"?

I cant help but feel so sad that I have wasted my time conforming to culture and expectations.

I am not so pious.. but I would like to be. Transformation from a born muslim to a true muslim can sometimes be harder than converting to islam when you know nothing about it before. It is true that 'a little knowledge is more dangerous than knowing none'.

The key is to know more. Learn and keep learning my dear sisters. Have faith, don't mock faith. If you don't have faith find it. Find out how, why and what. Find out who and where. Just keep on searching, because when you have a sincere intention, no matter who you are, Allah will always guide you to His path.

Semoga Allah memberikan kekuatan untuk hati-hati ini mencari-Nya, mencari redha-Nya.


HD said…
thank u for writing such inspirational post. may Allah accept all our efforts and all the best in becoming a better muslimah