Seeing Life in a New Light

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In August 1997, when I was about to leave for the United States for higher education, a lot of things were going on in my life. I had just recovered from a bout of Typhoid and Jaundice; I had screwed up my A-Levels exams; I was recovering from a broken heart and I was travelling hundreds of miles away from my home leaving family, friends and culture. My destination was a small city in the state of North Carolina called Raleigh. On the one hand, while I was sad to leave everything behind, I was also excited to go to ‘the land of opportunity’. Indeed at that time, my perception of America was a place where I would be free from the Pakistani society, and would be able to attend parties and ‘hang out’ with beautiful girls. Indeed until a few weeks back that was how my entire life was structured. I would go to parties on weekends, mingle with all these girls and generally have a lot of fun.
Amidst all this, I also became part of the growing Muslim community in Raleigh. I would go to the mosque every Friday, sit there, listen to what the Imam said in his speech and offer the prayer. I had grown up in a Muslim country, and hence took Islam as something that is there and a part of my life. However, aside from praying every day and fasting during the month of Ramadan, I seriously lacked any knowledge of what Islam really was. Here in a country filled with non-Muslims, I saw things I had never seen in a Muslim country. People would treat the mosque as a community center as well as a place of worship. People weren’t seen as Pakistanis, Indians, Arabs or Americans but were looked upon as Muslims. Regardless of their physical and cultural roots and regardless of the differences in the way they interpreted Islam, they were all one big community. Nobody was Sunni or Shia; nobody was Barelvi or Deobandi; everybody was Muslim.
Before returning to Karachi this summer, I had already started taking interest in what I practised and I started looking for knowledge. On the surface, I was still the same, going to parties and generally just being as I always was. But inside me there was a big change taking place. My whole way of thinking instead of being centered on my pleasure and my convenience was starting to center on Islam. Then I stopped going to parties and other places where I thought I would start doing something that is Haram. I started taking an active interest in the Muslim Students Association on the campus. As I researched and delved deeply into the root of my religion, I started to fear Allah more and more. The prayer was no longer a chore I had to perform 5 days a week, but a means of asking the Almighty for help.
My new way of thinking however disturbed all those who knew me. My family sent me e-mails asking me if I had suddenly become a ‘Tabhlighi’. My response was that I had not become ‘Tabhlighi’, but rather I had become a ‘better Muslim’. I was talking to my oldest friend one night and my new way of thinking certainly reflected in what I was saying because he asked me a question: ‘Are you alright?’ My response was Alhamdulillah I couldn’t be better. Another question that I was asked by my family was: ‘How did this happen?’ It happened because I started to research in what I claimed to believe but had no understanding of. I started to implement those beliefs in my life and slowly but steadily, the change became apparent. One of the main things that had kept me from implementing those beliefs was that in Pakistan anybody who starts to implement the rules of Qur’an and Sunnah in his life is branded as a ‘Mulla’ or a ‘Tabhlighi’. He is then cast aside by the society as a misfit and shunned by his own family.
Isn’t it funny that we call our country ‘The Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ but Islam is the thing that is lacking here? What we need is Islam. An Islamic state is not where our rulers steal from our coffers, or where alcohol flows like water behind closed doors. Neither is it the state where the young attend parties and both genders mix freely in an attempt to be cool. Islam needs to be implemented in our hearts and minds not just in our laws.
Therefore, I implore all of you to use your brains that Allah has given you and study the Qur’an and Sunnah. In addition to studying it, please try to implement it in your life to make it better. Insha’Allah the reward for this will come in the Hereafter.

Article published in Business Recorder (October 1998)
Article published in Renaissance (January 1999)

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15 thoughts on “Seeing Life in a New Light”

  1. As you have noticed, muslims in non-muslim countries live quite differently than they are in Pakistan or any other muslim nation. The sense of being a community, surrounded by Kufr, makes the bond between two strangers, reciting same Kalima, stronger than most of our blood relations.

    However, Pakistan has changed a lot, especially after 9/11. Many expats have returned and with them, they brought back their social networks and communities that they used to have abroad. Religious knowledge has spread rapidly in the upper-middle and affluent class and we have seen dars-e-quran taking place of milads / musical nights, ladies donning Hijab, Jazak’Allah replacing Thanks, and so forth. But how much of this zeal “to follow the right path” has impacted us? Are we different person now when dealing with employees, business partners, colleagues, family, friends and other characters in our daily lives?

    It has to be seen if this transformation is a fad or will it persist? only time will tell.

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    1. @ kashif

      You are correct. I was a much better muslim in the USA than I am here. The negative environment is a major motivator. Here the sense of being in an “Islamic” country lulls you in relaxing your iman until you find it is totally asleep.

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  2. I agree with you that Muslims abroad are generally more observant and active in practicing their faith. Probably because they’re a minority.
    Still, the first time I learnt women in America could attend mosques, I was shocked – and envious =|

    “One of the main things that had kept me from implementing those beliefs was that in Pakistan anybody who starts to implement the rules of Qur’an and Sunnah in his life is branded as a ‘Mulla’ or a ‘Tabhlighi’. ”
    SO TRUE. It’s really sad how people can’t tell the difference between extremism and being a practicing moderate Muslim. The current portrayal of ‘moderate’ Muslims in the media is so frustrating. I don’t condone forcing religion on others but at the same time, I feel frustrated at being thought an extremist/maulani just because I choose to practice the tenets of my faith.

    I’ll stop rambling now but great post – written from the pulpit indeed =)

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  3. Great post , I agree that Mostly Muslims are abroad have come to know the Islam’s benefit and also how protect us in every stage of life.

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  4. Its good to interpret circumstances as our master, however transcending religion before accepting it is a better idea. We better use our intelligence in understanding the broader picture of the ‘Purpose’ rather than conflicting ideologies of different religions. Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, etc, are all fingers of the same palm. We should try to reach the palm instead, than believing ourselves as right.

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    1. @ Shahjamal:

      It is a basic belief of Muslims that Islam is the religion revealed to mankind at various stages through different Prophets (AS). The final message which is to remain unchanged till the end of the world was revealed through Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and it is the religion that we now call Islam.

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  5. living in a nonmuslim country, u are usually asked a lot of questions about ur faith, something which makes u ponder over why u are a muslim in the first place….at least thats wat happened to me. here everyone takes islam for granted and something more of a tradition rather than a religion….but things are changing Alhamdulillah and a lot of people now make an attempt to understand the true teachings of Islam

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  6. Brother Aly,

    I have a story of my college years that is a parallel to yours, but it end quite differently.

    I learnt more about my religion in the US that I ever did in Pakistan. I poured through translations of the quran and hadith, becoming more and more convinced that the religion of my birth was the true path. It made sense; it fit; this had to be from God. I started praying regularly for the first time in my life, and visits to the masjid gave me a sense of peace.

    I researched almost every religion out there, and with each tome of knowledge ingested, Islam seemed more and more to be the most logical and complete of them all. I delved into Shintoism, Sikhism, Catholism, Evangelical Protestantism, Hinduism, and Judaism, and it only made my belief in Islam stronger.

    But at age 28 my life and work gradually started to make me things see differently, and more clearly for the first time.

    On my birthday, at age 29, I too grew a beard. But it wasn’t one of conviction, but one born out of irony. I had finally realized the truth; there simply is no God, or gods, or any such being.

    Consider the Judeo-Christian-Islamic storyline:

    There is an omnipotent, omniscient God, but he has a legion of angels to help him (certainly not just to keep him company). The evil in the world is blamed on a fallen angel, or more correctly a Jinn raised to angel form, that itself is a creation of God.

    A God that gives us free will, yet has predestined everything, making the entire exercise of life a poor joke.

    There’s a prophet who lives inside a fish for 3 days, and another who parts the sea. Then there’s the prophet who offers his daughters to be raped by an angry mob so that he can protect the 2 angels in his house.

    Not to forget the worldwide flood that there’s no evidence of, and the ridiculous idea that an ark was built that contained a pair each of the millions, nay billions, of land animal species on the planet.

    And there’s the one who raises people from the dead, and was born of a virgin mother; incidentally having the same godly qualities that his contemporary gods from the same time had: Horus in Egypt, and Krishna in India.

    But the splitting of the moon is easier to believe for the fragile human psyche that the truth; there is no God.

    We continue to cling to these bronze age beliefs as if gives our minds comfort that there’s some meaning to life and that it does not end with death.

    We laugh at the Scientology story of the alien overlord Xenu but fail to see that the Abrahamic myths are no different; except that childhood brainwashing makes them seem unquestionably true.

    Contrary to common thought, losing God has not resulted in losing my morality. I still know right from wrong, and I credit Muhammad, the most influential man/philosopher who ever lived, for leaving behind a legacy of good examples and good deeds. But a lot of the same can be learnt from Buddha or Confucius, or even the first 2-3 gurus of Sikhism, or the rishis of Hinduism.

    I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink; out of my own choice and sake of my health.

    Life is too short to remain ignorant, and creating an exclusionary society on beliefs that have no evidence.

    I am now an atheist in a muslim land. I’m an all-accepting tolerant person surrounded in a sea of intolerance. Simply admitting who I am would mean excommunication by family and friends, and even death at the hands ‘true’ believers.

    I may not have truth in daily life, but I have truth in my mind. I pray, I fast, and I blend in, because in this country I can either be a hypocrite or be dead.

    I leave you with these thoughts. For “verily, these are signs for those of understanding.”

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