Growing up I was often told to be grateful that I am born Muslim, and that I am living in a country that is predominantly Muslim. While this is true, the concept of “being grateful” sometimes blinds our eyes to the flip side of the scenario: i.e. the issues we faced as a result of being born and bred in a predominantly Muslim country.
Some would even say to question is to be ungrateful of this blessing. “Other people have it worse,” they would say. But that’s not the point. In any situation there is good and bad. Likewise, being a Muslim in a country where the official religion is Islam, can be a blessing or a test. To acknowledge this is not to be ungrateful, it is to be realistic.
Having two kids of my own now, I find myself constantly wondering the kind of thoughts, ideas, and influences that will shape their behavior and how best could I play my role as a parent to navigate them through this thing we all call life.
I pen down my thoughts here to Musa and Umar, even if its unpopular to do so. Because these are real issues facing our society, myself, and potentially my kids as they grow up - and I want them to have the opportunity to read and evaluate this, when they grow older and come to grasp with their own identity as a Muslim.
Tradition vs Religion
Dear Musa and Umar,
Living in a predominantly Muslim society will sometimes blur the line between what is tradition, and what is religion. Both tradition and religion are sometimes used interchangeably, as if they carry the same weight - when they don’t. In fact, Islamic rulings have been interpreted to suit one’s custom and tradition, making the distinction between the two even more grey.
There is nothing wrong with the above, for as long as the religion is the pillar that drives the custom and not the other way around. This is principal to any scenario. When custom contradicts our religious teachings, and used in the name of Islam - it is important to know and denounce this. To question and not to accept a practice as given is key. For example, not letting women work, go to school or drive is not an Islamic thing, it’s custom. Islam is a religion that empowers and lifts the standard of women and it is not befitting to say that such practice is an “Islamic Practice”.
Closer to home, polygamy is often used in the name of Islam. While it is accepted - lies, betrayal, injustice and worse, infidelity are never linked to Islamic values and if the polygamy is build on this principle, then it is no where near the kind of polygamy that our religion speaks of.
Why do I want you both to know this? Because I myself went through a period where I doubted my own religion because I was not able to distinguish tradition to religion. I could not understand nor justify why my religion supports the weirdest things because I see men justifying their actions in the name of Islam, I see my own gender being denied the opportunity to grow in the name of Islam. I shy away from discussing this because I thought my religion “was in the wrong”. I couldn’t be more wrong. Equip yourself with knowledge, and don’t let the society norms nor custom tells you what is right. You will grow stronger when your beliefs are built on knowledge, not customary practices.
The Prophet PBUH mentioned that the believers before the Conquest of Makkah are better than the believers after the Conquest of Makkah, for they believed with conviction even when they were a minority and they persevered what others would never experience having been the majority of nation after the Conquest of Makkah. This dilemma rings true even to the Muslim nation today. A person, born within the majority of a specific group will have the tendency to develop superiority complex. Feeling you are better than anyone else - sometimes simply because you are larger in number.
It is made worse with phrases like “Islam is the best of nation” - words from the Quran that was taken directly and misused to our benefit. I have some problem with the way we use this phrase. The way I see the phrase is Allah wanting us to be the best of nation, that we have to work hard, we have to live up to the expectation, we have to show compassion and we have to demonstrate that we are worthy of being “the best of nation”. But I have also seen such phrase being used as given.
That just because we are Muslims, we are given to be the best. Sometimes to the point of us degrading other people. I couldn’t connect to this belief, because how can the best of nation look down to other people? This phrase also sometimes is used to fuel the spirit to fight against other group of people, even to justify terrorism which is completely against the concept of best of nation.
Oh, Musa and Umar, never think you are better than others just because you are Muslims. I have seen so many non-Muslims more worthy of mention than fellow Muslims. The core to Islam is the concept of humility - our strength is built on humilty not pride. Know that we have our flaws and our gaps, hence the need to continuously learn. Know that there is always knowledge out there we have yet to to grasp and respect the possibility that others opinions may differ to ours. This concept of humility is important so that we are able to respect differences of opinions without the need to kill each other over it. It is only when you have this approach in life, you will be a better person and ultimately be the building block to the best of nation.
Unlike people who discovered Islam, we are the people where Islam “found” or “chose” us. We were born Muslim, and with that comes a certain set of pre-determined Islam that may or may not be correct. I truly believe to have a strong faith - one needs to go through the complete circle: To question, to seek for answers, to challenge, to doubt and to ultimately, believe with conviction on one’s set of beliefs. Being a born and bred Muslim, sometimes we skip this whole process and went straight to “believing”. Or rather, we only question those we have the answers to and we are scared to surface questions that we don’t have answers to. Sometimes we are even told NOT to question and we find ourselves struggling to marry what we know with what we face in our everyday life. This gives birth to selective Muslim society who chooses to practice only what’s convenient to them.
Herein lies my everyday struggle as a mother. I need both of you to go through that cycle: to question, to discover, to be able to express doubts when you have them, to weigh the different opinions and to ultimately believe with conviction. As a parent, it’s so easy for me to tell you to pray 5 times a day. It’s another to make you want to pray because you feel it really adds tangible value to you as a human being. It is what keeps me awake at night on my parenting approach and how best could I make you learn in a manner that you uncover and discover rather than being told to do so.
Perfection vs Repentance
A Muslim born in a Muslim country would typically attend Islamic school or classes - and the both of you are no exception. You will realiza that the way the education system is built will portray Islam as if its a set of do’s and don’ts. There is this concept in Islam called “Amar makruf nahi mungkar” which literally means encourage good and forbid evil. While this statement seems like common sense to most (which religion would advice otherwise?) this has somehow led to a doctrine of belief that we should always do good and we should always condemn evil. As a result, people become extremely vulgar when they see misdoing, condemning to a point where they feel their action is justified because they are “condemning evil”.
The globalization and social media influence have made this practice even more widespread with the birth of keyboard warriors.
If there is one lesson I could leave you kids with it is this: That Islam is not about perfection. Far from it. The most beloved to Allah is not someone who never sins. The most beloved to Allah is someone who sins, and then seek repentance. Allah loves repentance more than anything else in this world. He is the least judgmental, the one with the most open and loving heart. And don’t ever let your surrounding change your belief to otherwise. It is because of this supreme nature of Allah’s mercy that the Prophet (PBUH) was able to turn even the worst of men to see light and chance in Islam and eventually groom them to be the best of leaders in the Muslim world.
Just a couple of days ago, a tsunami hit the Sunda Strait of Indonesia. And a video of a performing band being hit by tsunami in the middle of the concert became viral. Some people felt it is their “obligation” to spread this “horrible ending” as a warning to those who are still alive to live a “better” life….without considering the feeling of the family members who are still suffering, perhaps still looking for the bodies of their loved ones. I shiver when people justify their action as Islamic when it involves shaming others. How could we judge a person based on the two minutes video we see on Social Media is beyond me. Are we so inhumane that we do not feel for the family, and honestly - would we still share the video, if that was our own son, husband, or brother?
It’s scary what has become acceptable in social media today. Being an active user myself, I know both of you will one day be expose to this world too. My advice as your mother, is to embrace the new era, do not shy away from any new digital platform. Because there is nothing that is purely good or purely evil - it is what you make it to be. Aunty Vivy and Aunty Mimak made tremendous success, and influence so much goodness through their social media - there is a lot of good that can be uncovered through the right approach. But don’t succumb to cheap publicity - never feel the need to share sensational news of others on Social Media. Use the platform to focus on yourself, practicing “Amar makruf nahi mungkar “ in your everyday life and not judging or labeling it unto others. Let your life, be your biggest source of influence to others - not the life of others.
Every Parent’s Dilemma
Sometime when I imagine the kind of parent I want to be, I thought of the Prophet PBUH. He always had the bigger picture in mind. He was able to question his own society, and distinguished between the good and the bad within the society. When confronted with rumors, he chose to remain silent rather than sensationalizing them - even when he was in the position to influence. He chose to always love rather than to shame, no matter how much others have hurt him. He let people question him, never to shut them down and he allowed for active debate - a practice which gave birth to renowned Muslim intellects. These are amazing, amazing values, and I would consider myself lucky if I could demonstrate even just a fraction of his values to both of you. As a result, the Prophet PBUH groomed a set of followers who continues to do good, even long after he is gone.
That is my vision for both of you. To always choose to do good, even long after I’m gone. To always learn, unlearn, question and keep humble, without losing your sense of humor and that ever innocent grins of yours.
I used to think to embrace Islam will require us to downscale on fun times, but know that this is not true. Islam is far from mundane, and I hope in this little borrowed time we have as family I am able to shower you both with a life filled with love and fun times in the embrace of Islam and all that it entails <3
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Note: Guys, if you have some cool parenting hack growing up or as a parent yourself do share with me, would love to hear them!