بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
I wrote this reflection as a student of the Quran, when I was 21~22 years old and had just started hijab. I submitted this ‘article’ somewhere, hoping that they’d publish it on their website, but they didn’t. I became disappointed in my ability to write, and stopped writing completely, until 5 years later, in 2006, when I took up “the pen” again, only as ‘a last resort’ after becoming a mother – in order to try and spread the message of Islam to others from within my home, where I was now spending most of my time with a baby. 🙂
Lesson learnt: never let one closed door make you lose faith in the talents and resources that your Creator has blessed you with. It is an ingratitude to His infinite blessings upon you!
That is why, I have decided to label this untitled post simply as, “Hope”.
الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ
“He Who taught (the use of) the pen.” [Quran, 96:4]
ن وَالْقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطُرُونَ
“Noon. By the Pen, and that which they are writing.” [Quran, 68:1]
Overwhelmed by the sheer magnanimity of the change in the state of my heart and way of thinking, driven by the urge to pen down my experience – the experience of walking on the path of Allah – in order to be able to invite others to it through this gesture of sharing, I started to write. And yet, now, words seem to fail me, when I realize the enormity of the task I am about to undertake. How does one contain, or try to contain, a sea in a bottle? The amount one can write about our Creator is endless. And yet, something must be written, in order to communicate to others what they are missing!
Faith or “imaan“, is but the seed in the heart which needs to be nurtured for it to grow. Alhamdulillah, most of us Muslims today have this seed in our hearts. So what connects this seed to one’s actions? How does one conform oneself according to this seed?
I was just like any other Pakistani girl, brought up in a loving family and provided a good education: things I earlier took for granted, but which, I now know, were all provided by Allah’s Grace only. Like all Muslims, I, too, was granted the blessing of having the basic Islamic faith in my heart. This faith went through many storms, but by the Grace of the Almighty, it survived and weathered them all. Like all girls, I had my questions about my religion. I had my doubts and uncertainties. And the quest for the answers led me to my Rabb. But how? What happened along the way?
We never question the basic five tenets of Islam. We were taught in our childhood to count our fingers and then associate each finger to one foundational pillar of our religion. Easy! This religion is fun! The problem was actually doing it. I grew up being reminded about the absolute necessity of the five salats of the day. I figured that since the basic pillars have to be upheld, of course I must do it. And by the Grace of Allah, I did manage to fulfill this obligation. I was, however, quite in the dark about my Creator. Who is He? Where is He? How do I get to know Him? These questions were yet unanswered. In my simple mind, I had to prove my faith by offering the five prayers and fasting every Ramadan, which I tried to do. The kalimah I had already recited, and the remaining two pillars (Hajj and Zakah)…….well, I was as yet still ‘a kid’ for them!
Teenage years drifted by. At school, students would at times bring up the topic of Islam and immediately, tempers would rise and voices would be raised. I noticed how sensitive people were about this topic. Why? I wondered. People stressed that religion was an extremely “personal” thing which should be left un-discussed. Okay, fine. Every discussion would end with everyone walking off convinced that he or she was right.
The questions just wouldn’t stop. There were so many “why’s”. Why should I cover my head? Why should I fast? Why was I born? Why are there so many restrictions in Islam? How do I know for sure that the Quran is the word of Allah? What is written in the Quran anyway…….?
This led me to eventually pick up the Quranic translation. Now I convinced myself that a “good Muslim” is the one who fulfills the five pillars of Islam and tries to understand the Quran by reading its translation. After all, we read all other books; why is this the only book we recite without comprehension, and never bother to understand? “If this is the book of Allah, it must have something no other book has”, I convinced myself. And so on I read, one page per day.
Sadly, it gave rise to more and more questions. I was confused. I sought Islamic books to find the answers. Sometimes I got the answers, sometimes I didn’t. I admit it was hijab that bothered me the most. Studying in a co-educational school, I had seemed to survive without hijab. So why was it a must, I wondered? Satan made his way in. He convinced me that hijab applied only to the time of the Prophet [صلى الله عليه و سلم]. “Of course,” I thought, “in those old days the cities were rampant with uneducated people. They were not like us…..we are educated and civilized! So we don’t need to do hijab. Now I get it!”
Or so I thought. I read and re-read the ayaah’s of hijab. I thought, if the command applied only to the time it was revealed, why was it stated so openly, for all times to come? At times I would talk to Allah in my heart: “my Lord, this demand of you from me is too great. I just cannot do this. I can not even think about doing this”. With this, I would keep away the Quran with a heavy heart, and go do something else. I would be far from convinced; my heart in a state of unrest.
Meanwhile, life went on. Sometimes, things would happen which would make me turn to “Him” – the ever-present Being I totally believed in, but didn’t submit to, except for a ceremonial five-time prayer. I would know He was there when I prayed. But again, I’d say: “I wish I could access some scholar of Islam, who would answer all my questions and give me an insight into my religion – how can you expect me to change, my Lord, when my heart has not yet encompassed what you want from me?” I wished and wished. These prayers were especially earnest during the times I was hurt by someone, or when suddenly, for some reason, the ever-glamorous world would lose its temporary glitter, and I’d realize that there is more to life than just eat, drink and “do your thing”.
I always took Allah for granted. I wanted to do what I wanted, always. I had pre-conditions for worship: “I will only do this much, not more”. I dared to disobey Him repeatedly, yet turned only to Him when I got hurt as a result of my own sins. And yet, in those sore moments, when I realized that to please Him, I would have to do such-and-such thing, I’d stop. I’d hesitate, maybe even cringe. I’d say, “No”, and turn back to the world, which was always glittering at a distance. Satan would whisper, “you can’t do this, you don’t even know if this command is true or not…. Just forget this whole thing and go on as before.”
There came a time when these whispers just weren’t convincing enough anymore. I knew there was a Lord. I knew He had to be obeyed no matter what. This knowledge had seeped inside me during the successive half-hours of one-page Quranic reading throughout the years. I’d keep thinking, “I don’t have a choice….. I have to submit. There is no other way to please Him. There is just no other way”.
I hadn’t realized that pleasing Him had become a priority. When did this happen? Maybe it had happened discreetly, as a result of the prayers I made during tough times, which always resulted in the descent of tremendous peace in my heart. Maybe it brought me closer to Him. Maybe now it mattered more to me what He wanted from me, instead of what I wanted for myself.
Whatever it was, I knew I was not the same as before. I cared. For the first time in my life, I cared. I cared whether He was angry with me or not. I cared whether I was obeying Him or disobeying Him. It mattered. It left me with a terrible feeling knowing I was doing something He didn’t want me to do. And it made me feel wonderful knowing I had done something He liked.
Slowly, my relationship with Allah grew. The Quran was now not just a means of satisfying my curiosity; it was a source of getting to know Allah, recognizing Him, getting closer to Him. I craved it more. It was now something very “personal”. The wish in my heart for access to a scholar, one who would answer all my questions, still persisted. At times, I was overcome by the yearning to learn Arabic, so that I could read Allah’s words directly. It was like talking to a dear friend via an interpreter, a decoder. I wanted to communicate with my friend (yes, He was becoming my friend) directly, openly…without having to depend on a third party’s translation. I had no idea how to satisfy my wishes. I just yearned and craved.
Soon, the point came when I had to take the plunge about the one command any “educated and modern” Pakistani girl fears to accept: hijab. The concept of “modernism” found in the educated class acted as the biggest barrier. Donning the hijab meant buying a one-way ticket to the Old Age. It was a social taboo. I can list down all the fears and apprehensions Satan put in my mind. What my family, friends and classmates would think; how my “image” would be ‘tarnished’; how I would be classified as a “mullaani”; how no proposals would come for me. And on and on he went, barraging into my mind with all kinds of convincingly solid arguments. And yet, at the end of the day, one thought would answer all his endeavors: “but if this is what Allah wants me to do, I must do it”.
Making one’s faith public is the most difficult part. When faith is a seed, or even a growing seedling, it resides quietly in the heart. But when Allah enables it to grow with the rays of sound knowledge, it fights to break free of the chains of fear and apprehension which cage it. In other words, it rises to that level at which it blatantly announces itself via the person’s deeds and actions. It is an announcement that “now my faith is strong enough to make me sacrifice my wants and wishes, and those of my society, before those of my Creator”. And this announcement is what does not go down too well with the members of society. This announcement is quite simply, for them, a BIG problem.
I was at the threshold of graduation. My heart in those days was resonating with one beat: “I have to start hijab”. I started to hear about this lady who was in the city. She was preaching the Quran, and hearsay had it that she was good. I was stirred. But I had my final exams to prepare for.
When I did manage to listen to her for the first time, I cried. I cried when she talked about Allah. My heart trembled. She was talking about Islam in a way with which I could associate; it was not at all like what I had heard over the years. She was talking about Islam as something very “personal”, not just a performance of rituals. I knew something was happening to me which I couldn’t express. It was powerful and overwhelming.
I felt like someone who is about to dive into a deep, ominous-looking sea, with strong waves lashing out from all sides. I knew I just had to do this. Satan was beside me, fervently whispering, “Don’t do it, you’ll never be able to uphold it! What’s the point of trying to do something which is out of your capacity? It’s too difficult; you’ll soon revert to your old ways which will cause everyone to lament you even more….” And it seemed to me as if there was, in front of me, another hand held out in a sturdy invitation: “Come, don’t fear. I’ll always be by your side to help you. Don’t worry. Just trust me.” I took one look back at the life I knew I was leaving behind forever. It was glittering as always, but the glitter didn’t seem tempting to me anymore. By Allah’s Will, I ignored the whispers of Satan, and grasped the ever-strong hand-hold being extended to me. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes………and jumped.
On 7th January 2000, I started hijab. It felt absolutely exhilarating! Yes, there were problems which ensued. Yes, it was difficult……the waves of the deep sea were tough to fight. I’d come up to the surface, gasping for breath; I’d balance myself for some time, until I was plunged under again by another wave. That is how I learned to swim. Each time, I came up stronger, abler, by the Grace of Allah. Each time I was saved and brought up by the strong hand-hold I had grasped before jumping in.
As I said before, people in every society definitely have a problem accepting someone doing something which they have convinced themselves to be unnecessary and impractical. There were taunts and challenging jibes; in gatherings and functions, there were shocked expressions, slily-exchanged glances and knowing looks; there were direct insults and subtle remarks. But turning to Allah was the simple solution to even the biggest of these problems. He was the one I did not feel shy before, to cry my heart out, to express the pain that I felt. I would console myself with the thought which Allah put inside my head: “So what if a few words hurt? It’s all in the path of Allah, isn’t it? He knows and He listens. If He wills, He will recompense you for it all, and grant you patience”.
And so I went on. Allah had granted me my wishes – that of getting access to a scholar to satisfy in full all my questions, and the wish to be able to comprehend the Quran directly. Eventually, Allah granted me the patience to remain steadfast on the path of His Deen.
Many changes came about in my life. He granted me the confidence to hold my head high in a public place where not a single person was dressed like me. He granted me the knowledge and eloquence to answer, with composure, the people who challenged my actions, who demanded sound proofs for them from the Quran and Sunnah. He gave me pious friends, who shared my passion for Islam. He turned the hearts of my family members, who had at first taken their time to adjust to my changed lifestyle, to make them my most ardent supporters. He gave me the ability and the recurring chances to repent for my past sins and ask for forgiveness. The list of His benevolence on me can go on and on…
Allah’s unconditional love and mercy comes on one condition: sacrifice. This sacrifice has to be made concerning those things which are inherent in us: the desires of worldly benefits, and those of the self. Allah comes to save you, but the condition is, that you have to take the first step, the first painstaking effort, to give up something you love, only for Him. To defy all reasoning, logic and justification to submit to His Will.
That is your Rabb, Allah, for you – the Lord of the skies and the earth, the ever-present best friend who will never ever let you down; whose promises will always come true; the whole world can let you down but not Him; you can be alone in a desert with not a soul around you, but have peace in your heart as you look up at the vast blue sky and think: “someone up there likes me…… someone up there is my best friend; He loves me more than anyone ever can”.
And this faith, if weighed on any scale in the Universe, will outweigh the greatest wealth anyone can ever amass in their entire life.