بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمـَنِ الرَّحِيمِ
The setting could be anywhere: an air-conditioned drawing room at a social get-together, with attendees making small talk amid the tinkling of crockery and glassware; a regular print newspaper or magazine column mercilessly analyzing the mistakes and misdemeanors of so-called ‘religious extremists’ of our country, leaving a bad taste in the mouth; a trail-blazing, venom-infested comment under a blog post fueling an ongoing tit-for-tat ‘wired war’ masquerading as “debate”; or a snide, sugar-coated, syrupy-toned, double-meaning remark made from a perfectly-lipsticked, pearly-teethed mouth sporting an ‘I-only-mean-you-well’ smile that a naive dimwit like myself deciphers in full only after days or weeks pass.
Whatever the setting might be, the fact remains that religious people – and by that, I mean those people who outwardly embody the practical application of Islamic injunctions in their day-to-day lives – are never going to stop being the target of the jibes, insults, criticism (even well-intended), and outright antagonism of a certain set of other people. Whether it is written, spoken, hinted, behind-the-back, in-your-face, or publicly voiced, know that if you intend to, or are already trying to, tread the path that you believe leads to the pleasure of Allah, you will be, sporadically or consistently, dissed by others left, right and center.
It is comforting to remember that this happened to all those men, since the start of mankind, who were appointed as messengers and prophets of Allah. Know then, that whoever treads the same path that they did – that of acting upon, conveying and standing up for the monotheistic faith that ultimately attains Allah’s approval and pleasure – will receive a taste of what they did: the censure and backlash of people who oppose or put down those who say “No” to their norms and dictates in order to pursue the path towards success in the afterlife.
However, the purpose of this post of mine is not to give a piece of my mind to such people. Why should I waste my time in replying to their under-the-belt jibes and comments? Isn’t it better to use my time more constructively? Also, will my replying to their challenges really make them change? I seriously doubt it.
The purpose behind my deciding to blog about this is to share with others, who are also trying to live a faith-based life in obedience to their Creator’s commands, some lessons that I have learned along the way regarding the antagonism and backlash that I have faced from others because of my being “religious”.
It has been a decade now, since I officially, openly, and publicly reverted to Islam – albeit made known by my donning the hijab (headcover) in January 2000, at the onset of Eid Al-Fitr that year. However, as we all know, the modest clothing a Muslim girl or woman wears is just the tip of the iceberg of her faith and monotheistic creed, which is largely a matter of the heart; a matter that is just endorsed by her outward actions, rituals and practices. Hijab in front of non-mahrum men is just one facet of Islamic practice, but since it is the most apparent one, people criticize it or comment on it the most.
That being said, what the hijab did for me was exactly the same as what the beard does for Muslim men: it immediately made my innate faith public, and unfortunately, opened the door to severe and sometimes very hostile social antagonism from those around me who already harbored deep-rooted, preconceived notions about Islam, Muslims, and religious people long before I even learned how to crawl.
It is as if you suddenly find yourself standing in front of a prosecutor in court, with a sullen jury watching, listening intently to your every answer, waiting to judge and pass their verdict. Most of us who decide to ‘become religious’, so to speak, or at least conjure up the guts to start practicing the basic obligations of Islam, are completely and utterly unprepared for dealing with this social hostility, especially from elders, even though we fear it more than anything else before we actually take the leap. Many of us, therefore, spend our whole lives wanting to become more pious, but dare not take that one step that will bring us in this “judges'” spotlight and make us face their questions, scorn, and overbearing criticism.
However, in order to be able to fully grasp why people try to put down religious people more than they do others, first we have to learn to identify their different categories, so that we may know how to deal with each one separately.
I must admit, it is not my usual style to grab a magnifying glass and play the role of ‘judge’. I know that no matter what I say or intend, though, those who will feel threatened will try to brand me with the “self-righteous”, “judgmental”, “holier-than-thou” stamp of disapproval.
Nevertheless, just as we can ignore the buzzing of flies in order to go about our daily work, we can ignore the guilt-ridden jibes of critics in order to point out what needs to be pointed out in order to enable those who sincerely want to please Allah to go on treading the thorny path of Islam. So, read on below to identify the different kinds of people who will oppose you when you actually start practicing your religion:
The Unannounced Apostates and Atheists
These people happened to be born into Muslim families. They probably have Muslim parents and siblings, and Islam is – whether they like it or not – a part of their family lineage, childhood history and ethnic origin. They were probably raised as Muslims, but left Islam by chance or conscious choice, as a result of laziness, ignorance, or pursuit of a different kind of life in a non-Muslim culture where the practice of ritualistic Islam became – well – a hindrance or ‘headache’ that was eventually just discarded for the sake of convenience, career progression, a secular lifestyle and/or inter-race marriage.
You will find these people extremely uncomfortable and downright sullen in the presence of practicing Muslims. Every “astaghfirullah” or “Assalamu alaikum” that falls into their ears reminds them of the past that they ditched for acquiring the benefits of the world or for satiating the desires of their base self. They avoid all Muslims and Muslim events like the plague. They love hanging out with people who have no open association or affiliation to anything even remotely faith-based. However, they have a calm and polite demeanor and get along very well with secular-minded, successful “good people” viz. philanthropists, community workers and humanitarians. They also tend to do a lot of work for welfare organizations.
وَدُّواْ لَوْ تَكْفُرُونَ كَمَا كَفَرُواْ فَتَكُونُونَ سَوَاء فَلاَ تَتَّخِذُواْ مِنْهُمْ أَوْلِيَاء
“They would love to see you deny the truth even as they have denied it, so that you should be like them”. [Quran – 4:89]
Though they never openly admit it, they are no longer Muslim. In fact, to them, Islam was not worth following or sticking to in the first place. So whatever chance they get, they diss Islam, Muslims and anything even remotely connected to the faith, but only in settings where they have others who are like-minded also present in a large number. However, outwardly you will find some of them more polite and respectful of practicing Muslims than even the proggies (coming next).
The “progressive Muslims” or modernists are those who want to change Islam in order to make it more applicable to current world events and circumstances. Though they openly associate with Islam and call themselves Muslim, they have some “problems” or “issues” with the orthodox faith. They have a whole list of things (commands of Islam) that they think are illogical and inapplicable, which they think should not be followed in today’s time (I seek refuge with Allah for even saying this). For example, they think homosexuality is a natural occurrence and should not be punishable under Islamic law. They deem hijab to not be obligatory in today’s world, with modest clothing being the only requirement. They think dogs make adorable indoor pets. And so on.
وَإِذَا لَقُوكُمْ قَالُواْ آمَنَّا وَإِذَا خَلَوْاْ عَضُّواْ عَلَيْكُمُ الأَنَامِلَ مِنَ الْغَيْظِ
“When they meet you, they say, “We believe”. But when they are alone, they bite off the very tips of their fingers at you in rage”. [Quran – 3:119]
The proggies also sometimes have major problems with the Prophet Muhammad [صلى الله عليه و سلم] and his actions as well (again, I seek refuge with Allah). Anyway, you get the idea. Though they associate with Islam and Muslims, and probably work a lot for, and spend considerably on, Muslim events and Islamic Center activities, they are the foremost in relentlessly criticizing or putting down anyone who appears to be adhering to the Quran and Sunnah. One of their favorite pastimes is dissing maulvi’s, mullani’s and any efforts the latter might be making to convey the orthodox, authentic message of Islam to the world.
The Half-Baked Swingers
مُّذَبْذَبِينَ بَيْنَ ذَلِكَ لاَ إِلَى هَـؤُلاء وَلاَ إِلَى هَـؤُلاء
“Swaying between this and that, belonging neither to these nor to those.” [Quran – 4:143]
I apologize for using the word “swinger” here, but no other word came to mind when I was attempting to describe this category of Muslims. The reason I used this word for them (not to be confused with its other, more vulgar connotation) is because they swing like a pendulum from one state – that of religiosity – to another – that of being totally besotted with the world, its pomp, gaiety and glitter.
So, although you will find them crying their hearts out at congregations of Islamic knowledge and in similar gatherings when earnest dua is being made, with their heads wrapped tightly, their eyes wet with tears, and their hearts softened with newly-jarred, resonating faith, you might also have to experience the unfortunate faux pas of running into them at a glitzy, bling-infused wedding extravaganza, or fashion outlet opening, and see a totally different ‘version’ of them, making you want to kick yourself for having seen them there, since the run-in did nothing for the impression they had made in your mind hitherto.
These swingers have a problem hanging out with people who are apparently more “religious”/devout/practicing/rigid/(insert-appropriate-word) than them. Usually, they like being with the proggies or even with the unannounced atheists. Since hanging out with religious people makes them feel a tad inadequate, they hurriedly point out anything negative that they can about the former, whilst making sure they sing praises of proggies or any other not-so-religious person in their presence.
A classic example of this scenario, one that I have had to counter many a time unfortunately, is when anti-niqab hijabi’s diss niqab when they get together. And I mean, really diss it, such as calling niqabi’s demeaning words like “crazy”,”scary” or “freaks”. Some of these people, ironically, regularly attend Islamic lectures, and – please do not be surprised – some of them even teach the Quran regularly! Yes, they teach Islam to others! But if you meet them in their private social gatherings or at other events where they are among only their secular-minded, non-religious friends and family, you’ll see a totally different side of them – a side you never knew existed.
You might think that such people are harmless. Well, that means you haven’t seen anything yet. They like to keep your company in order to be associated with the religious brigade and get the stamp of “piety” adorned all over their persona. They want to be known for being good and righteous and Islamic. They like attending Islamic lectures and classes, and admire those who are righteous.
However, what they can still not let go off of yet, is their ‘other’ free, aristocratic lifestyle: the glitzy mixed parties where everyone tells them how good they look; the gush they feel when their husband looks at them admiringly as they shed their frumpy hijab and abaya to step out to attend corporate dinners wearing overpriced, elaborately embellished couture accentuated by designer pumps; the enormously funny jokes and humor that their male cousins, colleagues and friends make in their presence to make them flip their flimsily-covered heads back and exude high-pitched, appreciative laughs; the long, enjoyable and extravagant shopping trips with friends interspersed with unfettered repartee over cigarettes and coffee, during which obligatory prayers are conveniently forgotten or deliberately skipped; and the frank and free way everyone – everyone – comes up to them and makes hearty conversation at events – something that they know would never happen were they donned head-to-toe in the shapeless black sack that they wear to demure gatherings having religious talks/lectures (duroos).
No sir, no matter how good it feels to them to pray supererogatory prayers at night or to attend a riveting, soul-stirring Quran lecture, these “we-want-to-have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too” people are not willing to give “it all up” just yet. So they tend to regularly make snide, negative and underhanded comments about boring religious ‘bigots’ in order to confirm, and announce, that they have not morphed into one of them, so to speak.
وَدُّوا لَوْ تُدْهِنُ فَيُدْهِنُونَ
“They love that you would compromise, so they could also compromise”. [Quran – 68:9]
The classic litmus test (if you care enough to safeguard yourself from the company of two-faced people) is to test how these people behave in your presence at a social gathering that is thronged by non-religious people only, which has all the worldly glitter and glamor attached to it. Think a 5-star-hotel wedding, a celebrity-dotted charity event, a who’s-who fashion show, or a high-class restaurant where one can hardly pronounce half the menu. If they avoid eye contact, do not want to be seen with you, pretend to not see you when you try to catch their eye from afar, or plain act as if you suddenly have leprosy and talking to you might make them catch it, you know that they have the ‘swing factor’ attached to their faith.
The Holier-Than-Thou Religious Organization Loyalists
Last, but definitely not the least, on the list of people who criticize, challenge and deride religious people, are other kinds of religious people themselves (!). Yes, you heard me right. This category of people, who try to stomp on you when you least expect it, consist of preachers, teachers and writers who are unflinchingly loyal to their particular religious school of jurisprudence, or institution/organization.
These well-meaning busy bees are utterly lost in their self-imposed bubble, viz. they do not read any books, listen to any lectures or tapes, attend any events, or mingle socially with any Muslims – scholars or otherwise – besides those of their own religious organization. They have no idea who the other good scholars of the ummah are, but can narrate the entire biography and list of accomplishments of their own religious leader from memory, as well as the names and contacts of their most ardent donors and financial sponsors (the pockets of gold they turn to whenever they need resources). Their prime concern is the progression, uplift and promotion of their particular religious organization. Rather, I should go so far as to say that it is the main goal of their lives.
These religious people have the tendency to assume that they are the only ones who are spending their days and nights “doing the work of Allah”, and that people who do not attend their classes or events are lazy, non-committed da’ees (callers to Islam), who are just sitting at home idly twiddling their thumbs, or watching obnoxious soap operas on television. Their constant mission is acquiring volunteers to do their work, beyond which they do not know if someone exists or has disappeared into misguided oblivion.
So, if you can offer them your services (free of charge, of course), they will be enthusiastically calling you up, including you in their social events’ list of invitees, sending you their dua’s and wishing you well. All of this, only as long as you keep showing up to do their work. Also, the larger the donations you make to their cause, the more they suck up to you and drown you in their sweet smiles and greetings.
However, as soon as you make it clear to them that you cannot provide them any services or donations, you will stop hearing from them. Even if you are sick, on your deathbed, or if your parent/husband dies, or even if YOU die, they will never know, since you stopped coming to their doorstep to submissively offer to do some of their work, and stopped mutely acquiescing to their demands on your time and resources.
When you happen to meet such religious people, they inevitably start talking about their work and your work, until some difference of viewpoint or opinion comes up. It could be anything, from the name of the tafsir that you read/consult, to the imam behind whom you pray taraweeh, to the fatwa authority that you quote from in your classes and writings.
Once they find out a couple of things that enable them to stick you into a certain slot, they start their finger-pointing and challenging arguments that are aimed at establishing how their choice in these matters is better and more acceptable to Allah than yours. So, about 15 minutes after the start of the meeting, you are left silently nodding your head in forced agreement as they go on and on about the superiority of their religious thought, leader, institution, or reference books.
What to do?
Good question, eh? This is actually the crux of the whole problem. So what do we do when one of the above kinds of people make remarks, either in public or private, that make you feel like a roach that just crawled out of the drain?
وَلاَ يَحْزُنكَ قَوْلُهُمْ إِنَّ الْعِزَّةَ لِلّهِ جَمِيعًا
“And let not their words grieve you. Indeed, all the honor is for Allah..” [Quran – 10:65]
The single most effective means to face the criticism and derision of people who try to put you down in any way because of your positive work of Deen, or adherence to Islam, is to not allow their scathing words to ruffle your feathers, cloud your mind with negative thoughts, make you angry, entice you towards similarly-tinged revenge, or stifle your good work. It is definitely easier said than done, I know. But this is the solution that Allah has Himself proposed to Prophet Muhammad [صلى الله عليه و سلم] in the Quran, whenever the latter would be bogged down by his antagonists’ wicked plots, hurtful statements and ill-intended schemes.
وَلَقَدْ نَعْلَمُ أَنَّكَ يَضِيقُ صَدْرُكَ بِمَا يَقُولُونَ
“Indeed we know that your heart is distressed by what they say…” [Quran – 15:97]
However, many a time, ignoring them and simply returning their bad behavior with good words and undeterred smiles just doesn’t work. Sometimes, politeness invites them to walk all over you even more, and they seem to think that you are fair game at any event or social gathering. So, when your consistent good demeanor doesn’t discourage or shame them into letting go of their spiteful overtures, Allah has suggested another beautiful methodology:
ادْعُ إِلِى سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ
“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious…” [Quran – 16:125]
Therefore, even though ignoring such people is the first, optimum approach to acquire against their attacks, if they are not discouraged, you as a da’ee (caller to Islam) are allowed by Allah to argue with them, but only in ways that are the best; most beautiful. You should not resort to angry, emotional backstabbing or abusiveness when returning tit for tat. Rather, the argument should be polite and well-worded.
The fact of the matter, though, is that if you are serious about attaining the success of the Hereafter by living a life here on earth that is geared proactively in the pursuit of Allah’s pleasure on a superlative level (that of meticulously observing and following even the mustahbbaat, for example); that you are unapologetic and confident to the point of being unabashedly, “in-your-face” bold about the practice of Islam, then you will receive more than your fair share of verbal and emotional criticism. And this will never end; it will continue until you leave this world.
It is this human behavior, the root cause of which I wanted to share with you today (hence the long post)! Whenever you feel that someone is getting on your case even though you cannot, no matter how hard you rack your brain, remember even the slightest wrong or misdeed that you did to them, and you are at your wits’ end trying to figure out just why they have this anger, rebellious antagonism, malice, or hatred for you, please try to remember that it is not you.
Yes, it is NOT you who is the cause of the venom spewing from their lips. It is what you embody, what you remind them of, that is causing them to behave this way. When you pray in front of them, they are reminded of the fact that they do not pray; of how, even though they refuse to bow down and prostrate to the Lord who created them and gave them everything, there are others who still love to heed His call to prayer and answer it in a prompt and beautiful manner.
They dislike it when they see someone controlling their desires and not giving in to free mixing, flirting, partying, dancing, drinking, smoking and having flings, because they cannot imagine the world ever being an interesting and fun place without the prevalence of such ‘pleasures’. When they see someone stoically refuse to throw caution to the wind and refuse to disregard Islamic restrictions (of dress, behavior, diet or social interaction) that they find too claustrophobically confining, they swell with innate hatred and anger at witnessing this show of loyalty to Allah and His Scripture.
Consequently, the only course of action left for them to do, in order to fend off the nagging guilt that creeps into their hearts and makes them downright uncomfortable, is to diss you in any way that they can. And that, my dear friend, is the reason why this happens to you so often, so unexpectedly, in so many forms and from so many different sources. What you really need to remember, though, is that its nothing personal. Really.
The basic reason why any human being tries to put down another is always the same. Its the reason why Nadeem F. Paracha, sitting in his little black, smoke-filled hole, has been dissing army generals who met their end by being blown into pieces decades ago, unrelentingly expressing his opinions even though no one asks him to do so, and meticulously pointing out the mistakes of reverted singers who opted for Islam by openly renouncing the world of music, easy money, alcohol, dancing and adulating women.
You’d think he’d tire of churning out the same drivel week after week, month after month, year after year. But he doesn’t. He goes on and on about issues related to his past, with any symbolism of religion (viz. beards, hijabs, mullah’s et al) irking his ire until his loyal and grudging readers, both, are subjected to yet another one of his spite-infused op-eds, making one shake one’s head and wonder aloud: “Why? Can you not shut up already!?”
The same question comes to one’s mind when one reads the umpteenth online article or blog post dissing Al-Huda or Farhat Hashmi, Zaid Hamid or Zakir Naik, Junaid Jamshed or Yasir Qadhi. One wonders why is it that otherwise calm, collected, I-respect-you-for-your-choice-of-religion advocates of freedom of expression and freedom of choice halt in their tracks, let go of their otherwise unruffled demeanor, and start bashing religious people left, right and center?
The answer is simple: it makes them feel better about themselves.
And it is nothing personal. Really.