By Alveena Salim
What is it like being a young Muslim living in Britain? Alveena Salim, a University student from London gives her personal account.
I spend a lot of my time completing questionnaires in women’s magazines. I love hearing what others have to say about me.
The other day I was filling out a questionnaire with my sister, after answering twenty questions she loudly read out the results “You’re a Sad Loner Who Needs To Get A Life”.
I double checked just to make sure she wasn’t winding me up as usual, but she was right my results did indicate that I was a sad loner with no life (Charming!).
So maybe I do make excuses to get out of mixed parties, maybe I don’t flirt/free mix with boys, maybe I do enjoy being by myself rather then being with a group of loud, giggly, embarrassing girls and maybe I don’t like spending hours and hours on the phone waffling with the same people that I just spent a whole day with.
But does that really make me a “sad little loner”. I don’t know, maybe it does, but now that I’m a bit older it doesn’t bother me one bit.
Living a Double Life?
There was a time though, when things weren’t as straightforward. A time when I so desperately wanted to fit in and be accepted by everyone. Peer pressure is an incredibly powerful force, and when this is mixed with the lack of confidence of a young teenager, it has a dangerous effect.
I tried to be a good Muslim, an obedient daughter, a popular teenager, a British citizen and a Pakistani all at the same time. I worked very hard at fitting in and being accepted by the “popular crew” at school, after school I’d grab my Hijaab and rush to Mosque (trying to impress my Mosque teacher) and my evenings were spent wearing Shalwar Kameez (Pakistani dress) and being a good little “mummy’s girl”.
I realised though, that one can not compromise, obviously something is bound to suffer. I couldn’t have it all. How could I be a “good Muslim” if my friends expected me to bunk Mosque and go shopping or to the Cinema’s with them after school?
How could I be an “obedient daughter” if I went out with my friends whilst my parents thought that I was in Mosque learning Arabic? And how could I be “popular” if I didn’t go out with my friends?
I realised that one can not do, think, or feel two things at the same time, especially when they are at two different poles in the Universe. I couldn’t lead several lives, and be someone else at home and someone else at school.
I couldn’t keep my friends, parents AND my Creator happy at the same time. So after a lot of agonising soul searching and help from a religious friend, much to the shock and horror of my friends I decided to become “practising”.
It was difficult, and I initially did feel like a loner. I didn’t think I’d change as a person-but I did. As soon as I adopted the Hijaab, my personality/attitude and behaviour automatically changed too. I no longer wanted to be “noticed” or be “popular”.
I found that I had a quieter way of conducting myself. I stopped running for the bus, and stopped associating with girls who had a loud and boisterous way of behaving in public. People automatically knew that I was a Muslim, without having to ask me and I also noticed that people began to take me a lot more seriously.
They valued and respected what I had to say, people began to judge me on my mind, soul, heart and spirit and not on my appearance and this is something that I didn’t realise until I began to cover.
I realised that as Muslims we all have our own individuality, but we all carry several identities. So as well as being a Muslim, I am also British, a Pakistani, a sister, a daughter and a student. All these factors shape who I am, but obviously the overriding factor is that I am first and foremost a Muslim, and my role/behaviour as a British, a Pakistani, a sister, a daughter and a student are shaped by the teachings of my religion.
In our society immoral behaviour is shamelessly encouraged. As a result we’re confronted with many tempting situations such as the endless choice of cable/satellite channels, obscene billboards that are plastered all over the place, the increasing number of people who are shamelessly involved in boyfriend/girlfriend relationships and affairs, magazines that teach you how to flirt and grab the attention of other men, and the minimal clothing that some women adopt as soon as temperatures increase that sometimes make you seem trampy in comparison.
On top of that, the image of Islam is tarnished because of the extreme actions of a few misguided Muslims. The Muslim guy with a beard is a terrorist (but David Beckham with his Mohican haircut and piercings is a trendsetter), the mysterious woman in black is an oppressed, unfulfilled Muslim woman.
But the woman “free” enough to go out semi-naked is “liberated”. It is sheer ignorance which keeps the Muslims and the non Muslims divided. It’s important to remember that most religions share more things in common then differences, though we (and the media) have a tendency to only highlight the differences.
Walking, Talking Adverts For Islam
Muslims today are walking, talking adverts for Islam. Islam is criticised and analysed by our actions. Whatever Muslims do has a rippling effect on the name of Islam, positive or negative. This is why we should always double check our actions and think twice before doing something that may negatively effect the name of Islam, because we’re in the spotlight 24/7.
Being a role model is an effective way of calling people to Islam; we should bear in mind the example of the Holy Prophet (saw) who won the hearts of people just by the way he behaved. So the minimum requirement of every Muslim especially in the West is to think carefully before we do anything.
The best thing we can do is be a role model to the community, especially in University/ school/ college/work etc. where non Muslims can turn round and say “she’s a Muslim, and this is Islam”.
It can be very difficult at times to practise ones religion, sometimes internal influences (desires, ego etc.) pull you down and sometimes external influences, such as family, friends and society pull you down. Having said that, I’ am more then happy with where I live and have no desire to move.
This is because living in a country and not giving in to the temptation that’s in your face 24/7, results in Muslims who are of higher Iman (faith) and Taqwa (piety) as opposed to those who live in an Islamic country with little or no opportunities to be tempted. If one rejects something that isn’t even offered to them or isn’t even in their face, where’s the difficult in that?
When we look at society around us, we can see that most of the worldly distractions, such as music, relationships, clubs, magazines, fashion etc., are all specifically targeted at the young.
It is difficult to commit oneself to the laws and commands of Allah (swt) when an individual is young; this is because of all the temptations that surround it. Allah (swt) has promised seven types of people His shade on the Day of Judgement, as a mark of distinction and honour.
Teenagers who spend their youth as devout and conscious Muslims in the face of overwhelming temptations and seductions are one of the seven people and so is a man/woman who refused to be seduced out of fear of Allah (swt).
What Does Islam Offer You?
To me, Islam is all about peace, security, reassurance, comfort; it’s sort of like a safety net. The idea that a superior Being is looking after you, watching you, listening to you, diverting trials and tribulations away from you, caring for you and wanting only good things for you is enough to make anyone feel good.
When I was younger, I found comfort in fairy tales, in which the good people always ‘lived happily ever after’. When I rediscovered Islam I started to believe in ‘happy endings’ all over again in which bad and good people got what they rightfully deserve. To me, Islam is the only way out, the only way to survive and the answer to all your problems.
I believe that life isn’t all about ease and acting like spoilt teenagers- rejecting temptation makes one stronger. Yes, it can get very difficult at times, and does demand a lot of self control and self discipline, but it is the hardship, difficulties, and inconveniences suffered for the sake of Allah (swt) which will bring us immeasurable rewards and a multitude of spiritual benefits.
So, maybe based on a questionnaire in a women’s magazine I am a “Loner”, but who really wants to be a sheep? Is it wrong to be different? Should I colour my hair blond (regardless of whether it suits me or not) and spend my time clubbing just because that’s what my friends are doing?
I was popular once, but contrary to contemporary opinion, my popularity did not bring me peace or happiness, which is why I’m more than happy to be a so-called “Loner”.