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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

When You Are the Other

By Anthea Davis
Jan. 18, 2006


Do you sometimes feel left out? Do you sometimes feel that you do not belong? How did you get to be "the other"? Is it just a one-off thing or is it more complicated than that? Do people sometimes treat you like "the other" because of your belief in Islam?
There is nothing new about one group becoming dominant and the other groups being left to struggle and to be considered second best. There is a constant fluctuation of good and evil in this world and it has been so since the beginning of time. When evil dominates, good is pushed down; and when goodness dominates, evil is pushed down. We are therefore in a continuous state of struggle to raise the level of goodness wherever we are and let it dominate so that people get their rights and are secure, happy, and safe.
There is a good example of a group of people who were considered to be "the other" just because they adhered to piety and belief in Allah. This story is in the Qur'an, where Allah the Almighty mentioned the People of the Ditch in Surat Al-Buruj. They refused to give up their belief in Allah even if it meant death. They peacefully resisted and were firm. They were too outnumbered to even think of resisting. The leader of that area at the time sat with his evil followers and laughed and mocked while the believers (the "others") were cast into a pit of fire. But Allah in His mercy compared these strong and faithful believers to the stars in the sky likening their goodness and sincerity to the brightness, beauty, and wonder of the constellations.
These true believers have the company of others who, throughout the ages, have undergone all kinds of hardship for the sake of preserving their Islamic identity. These are people who do things like:

Continuing to pray even though it's difficult to find a place to do so

Continuing to wear hijab even though people stare at them, laugh, or ridicule them

Refusing to go to places where there are forbidden things like free mixing of the sexes, dancing, alcohol, drugs and such things — even though their peers pressure them to go

Being good to their families even though their families might be harsh and unfair

Refusing to steal or commit violent acts even though the people around them try to justify such actions

Continuing to be involved in their community doing volunteer work and serving mankind as the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered us to do

Striving to excel in studies and self development in order to give back to the world, even though the people around them say it's a waste of time

Refusing to stop loving and fearing Allah even though people around them turn away from religion and seek more and more material gain

These are just a few examples. Nowadays in some areas of the world, Muslims are still called upon to choose between belief and ridicule, intimidation, or even death.
In other places of the world there is pressure to conform, to be like everyone else, and that usually means giving up some parts of Islam. This is certainly a huge test. We also face the challenge of learning how to make the balance between backing off from society and isolating ourselves or giving up and becoming part of a non-Muslim society and giving up your Islam while doing so, or retaining our Islamic identity and steering a course of involvement, development, and positive change. This is no easy task.
The Confused Muslim Youth
On one hand, if you give up practicing Islam and give into the pressure of non-Muslim society it means not wearing hijab or dressing modestly, mixing freely with the opposite sex, not praying, and losing the spiritual quality of your life that brings you close to Allah and gives you peace. Many such young Muslims are likely to be pulled (by peer pressure) into the cycle of boyfriends or girlfriends as a way of life, drugs, joining a gang, being far from parents and family, and joining the realm of those Muslim youth who deep down know they're Muslim but feel guilty because they know they're doing something wrong. These bad feelings can be temporarily drowned out by smoking, drinking, using drugs, and so on but they'll keep coming back.
There are also Muslim youth who try to keep one foot in the Islamic arena and the other foot in worldly life. They might fast in Ramadan or join in Friday prayer but in every other aspect of life they are far from Islam, for example they

Speak to their parents disrespectfully

Become violent and destructive — perhaps joining gangs

Disrespect women and womanhood

Become careless about their education and ignore their future

Live off government money or take money from their parents without trying to be independent and to "give" (Some do this and still sit around on the streets grumbling about life.)

Then there are the Muslim youth who insist and persist on trying to live Islam but they think that in order to do so they have to isolate themselves.
But there is another alternative. It requires adopting the principle of "accept and respect" while mixing with others but maintaining your own identity. If you do so, you will have the chance to spread the beautiful message of Islam through kind words and a good example. You will have the chance to give advice whereas if you isolate yourself from others you will become like a dried up leaf; with no life, interest, or ambition and you will be depriving yourself and those around you of the many opportunities there are in life to live.
Especially in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and many more there are many opportunities to mix with the society in a positive way. Muslim youth can organize outings, conferences, sports activities, volunteer work, visits — anything! They have many forms of media to communicate what they are doing like the Internet, e-mails, e-groups, posters, radio broadcasts, TV, brochures, and so much more.
The point is that there are always groups within one society that differ with each other and may even oppose each other but there are still many other chances to give, to learn, to mix, to correct the negative image of Islam and live Islam in the form of spreading knowledge and doing good deeds. If all we think about is that "we are the other" and try to blend in and lose our Islamic identity, we will be losing everything.

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