Op-Ed: Islam as a Life-Guiding Principle
As honours students – whether following an Honours College track, taking individual honours classes or being a student at Leiden University College, we have an appetite for broadening and deepening our knowledge, becoming more open minded and considerate. However, as a Muslim honours student myself, I am noticing the growing stigmatisation and scepticism towards Islam, like many other interviewees in the final project of the Honours Class “Denktank Islam in Nederland.”When asked about what they connote Islam in The Netherlands with, many indicated negativity, problems, polarization, misperceptions and discrimination. Interestingly, some of the interviewees mentioned how people actually do not know about Islam, but believe in what they hear or read instead of inquire about the topic themselves. This is what I want to contribute to – to familiarize the reader with Islam, by writing about my life as a practicing Muslim and what it signifies to me.
As a practicing Muslim woman, once a year I observe Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn till dusk. I do not consume any alcohol, so besides not drinking, I must be very certain that there is not even a drop of alcohol in my food. I do not consume pork and my meat has to be halal. I do not go clubbing nor partying and I do not go to bars. I cover my hair by wearing a headscarf which is only a part of the hijab, the latter consisting of the covering of the body. I must be certain that my clothes are wide, semi-long, not sheer, cover my entire body except for my face, hands and feet. I pray five times a day, so I have to be careful not to miss or delay any prayers.
I can go on with all the Islam-related daily practices I have implemented in my life. But you get the picture. When faced with this life of mine and many other practicing Muslims, the picture of the receiver usually always at first consists of how horribly restricting my life must be. Then, in more general terms, there is great frustration and trouble understanding the why and the how – I receive questions such as why I do this to myself? Why do I wear the hijab, why do I pray five times a day and why am I so strict about small details which I might not even perceive? Why am I following all of these practices?
Faith is what answers all of these questions. It is because I have faith and because I believe in Allah that I follow these rules. Ultimately, faith can be argued to be irrational because it cannot be explained in terms of logic. The meaning of faith in Islam is not only believing in the existence of Allah, but it is submitting yourself to Him. Faith must manifest itself in the heart as sincerity, on the tongue as affirmation and on the limbs as action.
When I answer such questions as the ones above, I am often confronted with people having trouble fathoming my reasons. It comes across as bizarre. Which I understand: it is not easy to accept faith as a reason to commit yourself so strictly to certain religious rules, if you are not religious yourself. Faith is a metaphysical and spiritual concept, two fields of life which have been abandoned in the West, or neglected by believers themselves. Indeed, I am often confronted with either explicit or implicit belittlement. This I do not understand, especially not given the ‘liberalism’ and ‘tolerance’ we love to claim and praise ourselves with in the West.
It is faith in Allah that is the ground rule in Islam – whether you’re Sunni or Shia, whether you’re practicing or not. If you do not have faith, there is no point of calling yourself a Muslim or trying to follow Islamic jurisprudence. There really is no purpose left anymore if you are completely and fundamentally disconnected from Allah. However, faith, submission and consciousness form the answer to the why and how questions mentioned above – and the answer to how to balance the mundane and spiritual worlds.
I strongly believe that the spiritual or metaphysical realm is where the Muslim should mainly invest. And this is where I struggle the most myself. I might follow the necessary rules, but if I do not give meaning, value and essence to these, they are void. For example, before I perform my prayer (salah), and after I have done the necessary washing (wudu), I always aim to first take a moment to try to completely disconnect myself from the world. I sit down, slowly try to let go and change my perspective from the usual, to perceiving how I am just a speck of dust floating in the universe, while at the same time believing that the universe is in me.
Being constantly aware of Allah, and based on this consciousness, ‘doing righteous deeds’ (Quran 103:3) is what I should aim for. Have I been kind to people even though I felt like crap at that moment? Have I picked up that beer can I saw in the bushes to clean the park? Have I taken perfect care of the book that I borrowed from the library or from my classmate? I understand that it can be difficult to comprehend my life, my commitments and to fathom my faith in a Being you cannot perceive. However, if this is the case, try to refrain from having a condescending perception of those who do have faith and of those who have decided to commit their lives to their religion.
Based on faith and constant awareness, being Muslim is about being just and kind, forgiving and compassionate, honest and humble, it is about caring about the other person and caring about the environment. It is about believing that no human life is less or more valuable than another human life. It is about constantly changing yourself for the better and through this, bettering the world.
Learn more about the final project of the Honours Class “Denktank Islam in Nederland.”
(Photos and text by Hande Taner)