It’s an universal law– intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.
Some Muslims seem to think that starting to practice the deen ¹ is like moving over to the safe side where the grass is greener. Once you get there, you ‘made’ it and you look back to the poor suckers who are roaming around unawares. Arrogance. I was there and Allaah brought me down to my knees over and over again in the infamous deen burn-out spurts that many are familiar with. You know you start practicing, you feel good, you aim higher and take on too much too soon, you collapse.You pin it down to external factors bringing down your eemaan so you punish your nafs (self) with an even stricter deen-regimen, if you will. How long can one keep this up? 5-10 years? Then what? This is a walk, a stroll in the park, not a sprint. Not even a marathon. The pace doesn’t matter, just as long as you keep your eyes on the road.
But it’s inevitable, hiccups and breakdowns. And I have a bone to pick with people who descend on fragile individuals when they are already down, picking them apart with criticisms and lecturing; crushing them with a judgemental glance. They might feel obliged to ‘save’ this person from themselves, to admonish them before they disappear forever from the road. And they unleash harshness and stinging scolding in a bid to ‘make’ the person comply, but this only shreds their already frail self-esteem to smithereens and hope dies, buried by the wayside.
Check yourself. You didn’t even know about the road and where it led just a while ago, and now you’re the traffic police? Get over yourself. I get that you are full of anger and self-loathing and can’t help treating others like you do yourself, but please please don’t do it under the guise of righteousness. Have the guts to look yourself squarely in the mirror and admit your issues. You don’t know what that person you condemned is going through. You have no right to sentence people as if you are a judge. Do you really think that the person whose predicament is obvious to you, somehow escapes their own attention and therefore require you pointing it out? You don’t know what they are going through. You don’t know the grander scheme of things so stop assuming that you have a cheat sheet to everything in life. If you can’t genuinely care about the person without a pretext to offload your guilty conscience on them by criticizing them, then don’t bother. The fact that you are judging the person is a sign of your arrogance. The fact that you believe that you somehow can sway someone into complying to your image of what righteousness is, is blatantly patronizing.
I sound harsh, which is ironic given the topic at hand. But I’m berating myself, really. I revisit every moment I was guilty of this and I am overcome with…despondence. The real enemy was myself. I was judging others because I was judging myself. I felt scrutinized but it was all in my heart. But then again, one’s mindset is one’s world, so it was a scary world I lived in. I was so deeply ashamed of myself and I felt the only way to make up for my lack of worth was to aim for perfectionism. That’s the only way God would accept me, or so I believed. Because I grew up thinking that was the only way my parents would accept me; by making my existence worth-while. Back then, it was about grades. My life consisted of comparison. Looking down on the C-graders and envying the A-graders.
Now, with the deen, it became about envying and aiming to compete with those who memorized the Qur’aan in 6 months ( or 2!), those who lived in Makkah and Madinah ³, those who’d sit at the feet of the scholars. I wasn’t good enough until I became that. Until my life was the perfect example. Conversely, I looked down on everyone who reminded me of me; those who showed sign of imperfection, flaws, human weakness.
Whenever people spoke about moderation and taking things slow, I quite literally would shake my head in vehemence. Ahadeeth ² like the one quoted in Sahih al-Bukhari: ” The most beloved deeds to Allaah are the regular ones, even though they may small”, did not go down well with me because the idea of doing things small and pacing myself flew in the face of everything I aimed for; perfection. The idea was so absurd to me ! So I’d look for texts that supported my quest, and what I found over and over again (to my dismayal ) was the overarching message of moderation. The likes of these ahadeeth were cropping up wherever I looked:
“Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshipping in the mornings, the nights.”
I wanted to believe I was the exception. I needed to believe that. Whenever someone would urge me to take it slow, I’d look at them in shock and think to myself; ‘ what am I going to do in the meanwhile? Taking things slow gives me no meaning.’ I was high on the loftiness of my goals as I believed that once I achieved those, I’d finally become complete…
All I’m trying to say is that the deen isn’t as cut-and-dried as people would make it seem. It takes delving into the deepest recesses of your being and refining the soul. Simply listening to lectures and cramming ayaat won’t change your heart. One gets rewarded for whatever was done with a conscious heart. Changing others is not a substitute for self-growth. Manipulating others into buying the lie you tell yourself won’t change the reality at hand. What matters is who you are when you are alone, in the dead of the night, not who you are in the public eye. It’s all charades. Who are you behind the mask? If you took the time to answer that, you wouldn’t be so focused on criticizing others.
¹ Deen: Usually translated as ‘religion’ but it connotes much more. It entails a spiritual way of life.
²Ahadeeth ( sing. Hadeeth): The sayings,actions,concessions, and tacit approvals of the Prophet Muhammad ( صلى الله عليه و سلم) used in conjuction with the Qur’aan in practicing Islaam.
³ Makkah, Madinah: The two sacred cities in Saudi Arabia and birthplace of Islam. Makkah is where Muslim go for pilgrimage.