I’ve always struggled with balancing my faith and worldly affairs. Praying five times a day, fasting during Ramadan, attending religious classes, and ngaji classes – I didn’t understand why I had to do all that as a kid. I remember my parents telling me that as a Muslim I have to do what God wants me to do, with no questions asked. Growing up, I saw the world as Muslims vs everyone else. I felt like we couldn’t coexist with the rest of the world because our practices are so different from the secular culture.
A major concern was, and still is, the influx and normalization of western cultures that don’t go hand in hand with Islam. Following a trend in the era of fast fashion that exposes your aurat, engaging in premarital sex as something that is “normal” in relationships, and championing the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Is this all part of Allah’s test for us? I had so many questions.
How do I socialise and have fun with my peers who aren’t Muslim? Do I have to inconvenience them to find halal food all the time just because I am joining them? Do I have to opt out every time they ask me to the club even when I know for a fact that I won’t touch an alcoholic drink? It’s the same for the other side. How do I try to assimilate with the Muslims in school when they know that I’m not that strong in my faith based on the way I dress and act?
See, this is why I categorize myself as “too haram for the halal and too halal for the haram”.
Now, as a young adult, despite learning more and more about my religion and wanting to practise my faith to the best of my ability, I realise that it is not easy. I am aware that I cannot speak on behalf of all Muslims. However, if you are like me, struggling to reconcile being Muslim and being accepted in secular society, I want to share the things that have helped me tremendously in my own journey.
1. Surrounding myself with friends who respect me, and my faith
Although I have lost some friends in my journey to better myself as a Muslim, the friends that I have now are those who I am incredibly close to. Most importantly, they are respectful and supportive of my faith, regardless of how imperfect it is at the moment.
2. Seeking help when I need it
I asked my ustazah (God bless her) a lot of questions about surahs, meanings of Qur’anic verses, how to read some Arabic words, and clarifying my (sometimes basic) concerns and confusions I had about Islam. What is comforting is knowing that sometimes the things you don’t know and are confused about are also things that many people are thinking about. So one should never be ashamed of having those questions.
When I expressed my intentions to become a better Muslim, the first thing my ustazah said to me was to pray whenever I can and to make time for my prayers. “Even if you have to take a selfie in your telekung and post it somewhere to tell people you have done your prayers, I’d rather you do that than miss your prayers altogether.” I thought it odd at the time but recall it fondly today because it reminds me that prayer should always be my first priority. We should plan our days around our prayer times and not the other way around. With prayer, everything else InshaAllah will come naturally. This I found to be true as when I started being more consistent in my prayers, I found myself being genuinely interested in reading the Qur’an. Now, to be completely honest, praying 5 times a day is still difficult for me but the point is to never stop trying.
4. Realizing that Muslims are imperfect too
In the conversations I have with my ustazah and friends who are more knowledgeable about Islam than I am, they always remind me that religion is a personal journey with Allah SWT. There are always going to be people who fully embrace the religion as it is and others who find it difficult and challenging. The “more religious” ones are never justified in looking down on those who are having a harder or slower time in embracing the religion. Everybody starts off somewhere and everyone has their own struggles! A real friend will accept them and guide them to the right path again.
The act of balancing the religion and secularity is indeed a difficult one, but we all can take steps in trying to allow both to coexist. Based on my personal experience, being in touch with Islam has taught me a lot about being accepting, being kind to others, and to always husnudzon - assume the best of everyone. Even if the religion doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with the culture that comes from secularity, it ultimately teaches us to be decent human beings. I’ve come to realize that Islam (just like any other religion for their believers), is truly a guide to living the most meaningful life.
The messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Whoever follows a path in the pursuit of knowledge, Allah will make a path to Paradise easy for him.” (pp. Sahih Darussalam, Book 41, Hadith 2)