Glimpses of the lives of young and old Muslims alike who rediscovered their faith in God, experiencing religious and spiritual awakening along the way.
This year I’m finally older than my mother and father were when they had my eldest brother. Whether in dearth or in excess of their guidance throughout my life, three words of wisdom passed down from my grandfather to my father still resonate strongly in my heart: Never lose faith. Faith in God, faith in myself or faith in humanity; it could be faith in anything. My father would often offer me a word of advice and end it with those three words — vagueness at its highest order. Three words so simple yet profound, being thrown around a lot, but never too much, when I was a kid growing up in a Muslim household.
In a day and age where Western culture reigns supreme, most youths tend to get lost in what they see on television, what they hear on radio or what they read on the Internet. Young impressionable Muslims who have been blinded by the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood lifestyle they perceive as pristine often lose touch with their roots. They slowly stray from their religion as their knees unknowingly buckle to the perversion of hypnotic, synthetic lights. Their judgement is clouded by television series such as Mad Men, in which fashionable men and women dressed in fancy suits and cute vintage dresses sip fine whiskey. These youth end up falling by the wayside. Without even noticing it, they drown deeper into the oblivion of religious anonymity.
Sayyid Qutb, renowned for his social and political role in Islam, authored influential books such as Social Justice, Milestones and, his most famous, In The Shade Of The Qur’an. The latter delves into his vision of an Islamic state and society. He was at the forefront of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 60s and before his ‘conversion’ to Islam he was a part of the Egyptian intellectual elite. He enrolled in universities in Colorado, California and Washington, DC, which gradually exposed him to Western culture. It was through this first-hand exposure rather than blind faith that led to his aversion to Western culture. His is a classic case of a ‘born again’ Muslim who abandoned the influence of the West to discover the path towards his personal Zahir as a devout Muslim.
There are others who rediscover their faith in times of pressure and hardship. They hit rock bottom and slowly rediscover their faith in God, actively deciding to be a Muslim in every way, or in the best way that they can. They will create a shift from not just accepting the religion of their parents, but making Islam their own faith; an emblem of their belief. They start with an occasional prayer, which ignites the darkened crevices of their hearts with glorious light, allowing them to think more clearly and breathe more easily. The waswas (satanic whispers) that encapsulate them slowly evaporate as their faith becomes stronger while their heart grows fonder, eviscerating all the doubts they’ve ever had about the meaning of life and their faith in the One True Almighty God. Alhamdulillah!
I have acquired a sort of freedom that I never knew existed, and I came to that realisation only after I’ve rediscovered my faith
A mother of two, Nuraini Jasmani, 29, is a born-again Muslim . She rediscovered her faith when motherhood paved the way for a new chapter in her life. Nuraini sends her two sons to jum’ah and patiently waits for them as they attend a two-hour religious class afterwards. When asked what inspired her to embrace her religion, she says that it was her duty as a mother to lead her sons towards the correct direction in life. She believes that having strong faith in God is essential for her children’s development and, on the other hand, it has also helped her restore her own faith in Him. She excitedly discloses her plans for a pilgrimage to Mecca next year and adds, ‘I would like to learn more about my religion and be a better Muslim before I attend Hajj.’ She adds that her friends feel sorry for her as they think she is forced to wear the hijab. They believed that her freedom had been taken away from her. ‘People think I’m trapped or that I’m forced to wear a hijab. They give me looks as though to say: “Oh, you poor thing, I feel so sorry for you.”
‘But they don’t realise that this is freedom, the most freedom to me. Freedom to protect myself; freedom to express my beliefs; freedom to protect my modesty. And I believe that I have acquired a sort of freedom that I never knew existed, and I came to that realisation only after I rediscovered my faith. After reciting the Shahadah, I felt as if I was born again. I felt like a baby and I became a Muslim not just by way of identification but by truly practising every facet that comes with being a Muslim.’
Being a Muslim really helped me go through all the trials and tribulations I faced
Adam Hussein, a 52-year-old ustaz, told his tale of redemption; how his life spiralled out of control when he was young. ‘I was drunk one night, drifting in and out of consciousness, walking through the streets aimlessly. As I sobered up, I found myself surrounded by strangers, and I was immediately shamed into an awareness of what I had become and what my parents would think if they knew their son was still out at this hour, embarrassing himself. The random faces threw dirty looks at me; looks so vile that I believed that if I were to stand in front of a mirror, it would shatter into a million pieces in disgust. That was the eye-opener, like a new truth revealed to me. The next day I changed my ways and told myself never to go down that road again. Being a Muslim really helped me go through all the trials and tribulations I faced. People at the mosque showed belief in me that I’d never received before and they moulded me into the man that I am today. I am a proud father of three kids, mothered by the love of my life and I cannot ask for more. Alhamdulillah.’
It has to start from somewhere pure in your heart. It shouldn’t be forced; it should never be forced
Twenty-one-year-old Imran Shah, a student, reiterates that being a devoted Muslim must begin from within. ‘It has to start from somewhere pure in your heart. It shouldn’t be forced; it should never be forced. Some people pray five times a day for peace and tranquillity, and some do it to cleanse their body from any sin they have committed. I am not one to judge. If people rediscover their faith in God in whatever shape or form, I commend them wholeheartedly.’
There are constant debates over how Muslims should lead their lives. The truth is that incorporating small tweaks here and there in your life won’t hurt. If you ever doubt yourself, say a prayer, take a deep breath, exhale calmly and may the waswas be gone!
There’s no rush towards redemption. After the turmoil in our lives settles down, it is only apt for us to reflect and try to better ourselves. One by one, souls that have been found write their own stories of blissful atonement, clawing steadily inch by inch towards the surface of where they want to be. Once everything is gone, faith is the only piece left by mortality that keeps us afloat. It is the only thing that is constant. It is never too late to be a born-again Muslim.
‘Dear God, I am finally speaking to You. I’ve lived in darkened silence and secrecy for the most part of my life so far. I’ve now cleaned up and rediscovered my faith, and things have never been better. I attended jum’ah three months ago and it awakened my innate senses. It reminded me of the intimacy that my father and I shared. When I was a child, my father used to bring me to the mosque for Friday prayers without fail. The memories naturally brought tears to my eyes. I will never lose faith. I sit beside his grave every week after jum’ah with a soothing calmness in my blood and eternal peace in my heart.’
After entering a mosque and performing the ritual ablution known as wudhu, they join others who are waiting for the muezzin to make the call to prayer, called the azan, usually 15 to 20 minutes before the start of jum’ah. While waiting for the commencement of jum’ah, people usually sit adjacent to one another, exchange handshakes with the ones next to them and discuss how their week has gone. Good or bad, it is not a place or time to pass judgments. By the end of it all, unseen faces become familiar, unheard voices become recognisable and strangers turn into friends.The khatib, who usually takes the role of imam, promptly takes his designated position on the mimbar, and the Azan echoes blissfully in the closed quarters of the holy place. He delivers two sermons soon after, pausing between them. The first is usually longer and has more content on the subject at hand, whereas the second is usually brief and straight to the point. An invocation marks the completion of the sermon.
After these have gone smoothly, the Iqama signals the commencement of the main two raka’at prayers for jum’ah. Some choose to keep to themselves and reflect during the sermon to cleanse their souls of sins they may have committed between that Friday and the previous one. Prayers and jum’ah may be the regular practice of resolute Muslims, but for those who have lost their way, they are also a step towards religious and spiritual enlightenment.