Background story: I’m a Chinese and have yet to convert, but am on my way to learning about Islam and embracing it. This article was just a mini-epiphany experienced after a tough day.
Today I sit in front of my notebook determined to write, because there is no other way I can adequately express this emotional journey I’ve been on.
I’ve always been adventurous and rebellious in a way. I conform to societal norms (most of the time), yet there is this tiny part of me that enjoys doing something deviant. Doing something deviant like getting a tattoo. Doing something deviant like dyeing my hair. Doing something deviant like getting piercings. Doing things that leave people in awe from the unpredictability of my actions. I’m a good kid and a bad kid.
This is why I find it hard to reconcile Islam with my identity. I’ve been told to keep my body pure. I’ve been told to be disciplined. I’ve been told to be demure, to be constrained with my words and my actions. With the way I dress. With the food I eat. But why? Why should I? I know I’m a good person; that’s all it takes for me to lead a meaningful life, no?
Yet today I’ve also realised that it’s not about all this, not on the level that I’ve always been seeing it. It’s not about what I can or cannot do. It’s not about how people see me. Instead, it’s about how I can tame my heart and mind beyond these needs, these yearnings for expression of self or attention; of egocentrism. Beyond a focus on ‘me’, these needs are…nothing.
Cliche as it may sound, it was really about finding this inner peace. The discipline Islam teaches is to help us to let go. Let go of this need for expression, this self-centered egocentrism, and to focus on living a simple and pure life. To see beyond the focus on the self, and the need for people to see us. Only with such a heart and mind divorced from worldly attachments will we be in the best state to pray for His blessings for others and ourselves.
All this dawned upon me when I stopped to ask myself why I couldn’t pray for others around me when they were going through such hard times. The helplessness overwhelmed me. Why is it that I can’t pray, because I have a tattoo? Why is it that I can’t pray, because I have yet to convert to a halal diet? Why is it that I can’t pray, because I’m not a disciplined, ‘pure’ Muslim? Then I realised that these things didn’t really matter. It was was simply because my mind wasn’t free of these worldly attachments, and hence my mind and heart wouldn’t be suited for prayers with the purest of intentions.
And so, ‘be in this life as if you were a stranger, or a traveller on a path…’ because life is simply a transient path, that will eventually pass with the natural cycle of life and death.