Welcome to Muslim Voices Rise Up, a month-long project taking place during Ramadan where Muslim authors and bloggers share their experiences on various topics. This project is dedicated to centering Muslim experiences and showcasing the diversity within our own narratives. You can find more info, along with other blog posts for this project, on the introduction post. In this first post, four Muslim folks share what it means to them *personally* to be Muslim and I loved how different and yet somewhat similar the answers to the prompt were. Without further ado, here’s what they have to say:
When I was younger, religion never really seemed to play a factor in any division between myself and my classmates or neighbors. I have always lived in an area which is diverse and my schools took a lot of time and effort exploring religious and cultural holidays and traditions that were important to the students attending. Things began to change as terror attacks were reported on the news. All of a sudden, it felt like Islam was under a microscope and people who I had known my whole life were asking more and more questions.
This religion that I had grown up being a part of, that was so second nature to me, was suddenly at the forefront of conversations and it made me address the question – what does being Muslim mean to me? That answer has evolved and expanded over the years, as I have gotten older and this is where it currently stands.
To me, being a Muslim means finding peace in the chaos of life. Being a Muslim taught me how to find time for and focus on myself. It taught me not to judge and to get involved in petty gossip. There are still times that I struggle with this because life in a digital age means being constantly bombarded with information and getting an insight into so many different things but knowing that I can break away from it all, even if it’s just to pray, calms my mind.
Being Muslim to me also means being humbled and grounded throughout life. I’m reminded through acts such as charity and fasting that I am privileged in my life and have luxuries that others may not be able to afford. I am grateful for what I’ve been given and I’ve been taught the importance of giving back. No matter how much I acquire throughout my life seeing fellow Muslims perform Hajj and Umrah is a reminder that we are all equal so humility is an important trait to maintain.
Most importantly, to me, being a Muslim means being part of a community. I am always overwhelmed by the way Muslims come together at difficult times and how being brothers and sisters in faith means I have more family than I can count. Just knowing that someone else in my lab is also fasting or muttering an ‘Inshallah’ as you talk about getting successful results from a week long experiment can be a pick me up that’s needed when I’m hitting a wall.
These are the reasons that come to mind when people ask me about my faith and religion. There are other Muslims who may have similar feelings or who have completely different views. My advice to you if you are curious is to not make assumptions but to open up lines of communication because you might be surprised at the answers.
When my family started practicing Islam, we all banded together to look up every detail regarding the religion. Specifically, how to say prayers the right way, how to take part in Ramadan, what was and wasn’t permitted, etc.
I’ve been practicing Islam for years and I never once considered what being a Muslim means to me personally. Until this topic came up in Muslim Voices Rise Up. And you know I find that interesting in a way. I think many of us try so hard to fill in specifics regarding our faith that we never really consider what that means to us.
For me personally I just fell in love with the religion after I started wearing the Hijab. I didn’t think of much else but trying to please Allah and my family. And trying to improve in all aspects of the religion for myself and to be a good role model to my siblings.
After all these years I can now say that being a Muslim to me means being a humble person. I know this might surprise a lot of people seeing as I’ve been going on and on about practicing the religion and getting all the details right. And trying to please my family. I still firmly believe that being a humble person is everything.
Believe it or not being a humble person is highly recommended amongst practicing the religion. We’re not ever going to be perfect people and Allah knows that. Allah doesn’t really require that much out of us. I know it may seem like a lot sometimes, but it really isn’t. I know that’s also probably weird as I’ve mentioned that my family spent a long time researching, though at the end of the day it doesn’t really feel like much.
I really love that Allah wants the little things from us. Like being nice to somebody and even smiling at someone. Giving to charity and being respectful to the people around you. And so much more!
Therefore, to me being humble is what it means to be a Muslim.
I cpme from a country crowned as the nation with the biggest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia. But prior to that title, Indonesia was known as an archipelago which sat on a ticking time bomb. Here in Indonesia, we live in the ring of fire. With Paganism and Hindu as the main religion, the old traditions die hard. With millenniums of history and thousand of deities who were later assimilated into the Indonesian mythology, the Muslims of Indonesia were different than the other Muslims around the world.
Sure, we dress as Muslim, have Muslim name but you could grab any Indonesian Muslim and they’ll tell you the old age practices they’d assimilated into their daily lives, in the name of preserving traditions. This why for me being a Muslim means, you had to remain open to the past and look forward toward the future.
I love how the people of my nation remained humble and optimistic, despite the quality of life we experience everyday. Natural disasters are a weekly occurrence for us. We love life and realized that our laid back attitude emerged from our struggles. After all when you risk losing everything in the matter of seconds, your perspective will drastically shift.
Indonesians learned from the past. How we preserve our tradition was our way to retain our unique identity. And it made me grateful that I was born as an Indonesian and a Muslim. For me personally, being a Muslim means that you understand the way the universe works as all the answers already laid out in the Qur’an. It makes me awed by the greatness of Allah and humbles me at the same time.
Some of my earliest memories of seeking knowledge of Islam are of me reading short writings on Allah (SWT), the essence of him, basic rules of Islam, our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and how Islam came to be. Being a lover of reading, I found these to be so engaging! This, along with the basic rules which my parents had taught me, I thought I had a fair idea of my religion. Times were so simple back when I was younger.
But as I got into my teenage years, I tried to suppress my identity to become like my peers. In an attempt to fit in, I stopped seeking knowledge. I got extremely irregular at praying and reading Quran. I became very mainstream. This didn’t mean that I turned my back on being a Muslim, I practiced Islam, but I barely put effort into it. Over the years, I switched between praying regularly, irregularly-regular or not at all. The latter came easily to me because the world makes it really easy to slip away. But Islam is so much more, isn’t it? Of course, our prayers form the most fundamental and important part of our practice; but it also means being a human who genuinely tries to be good.
It was when I was 21 that I made a huge decision. I decided to wear the hijab. I remember being extremely nervous, worried that I would be judged, questioned for my sudden interest in my faith and various other worries . . . I’m sure many girls and women have felt this from time to time. But I had the support of my family and the company of my best friend who was also embarking on this journey along with me. With this decision, I changed my outlook on life.
Despite being strangely comfortable with the idea of being a visibly-practicing-Muslim, I felt like I was the stakeholder for Islam. An idea of diversity amongst majority. But being a Muslim is more than that. So what if I wear a hijab? So what if the world sees me as a token representation of my religion? All this wouldn’t matter if I didn’t practice my religion in my actions and in my heart. Over the years, I began to research on my own, tried to pray regularly, and read the Quran daily. During Ramadan, most of it has been easy (alhamdullilah) because of it being such a collective effort, but I’ve struggled during other times. However, no matter how far away I’ve gotten from my deen, struggled with the dunya, I have found a way to return. Islam has made a far deeper mark on me than I realized. These past few months, I have also learnt to utilize my privilege and take a stand against all the hate and speak out instead of ignoring it because of the fear of being judged. Things become easier when there’s only one entity you need to worry about disappointing.
So, what exactly does being a Muslim mean to me? What I feel is so much more than what I have put into words. I know that every time I’m lost, I can fall back on this for stability. It means that I can always come back to it no matter how far I stray. It means gaining peace of mind just by listening to the recitation of Quran. It means feeling content as I cry my heart out while praying. It means knowing that there is a plan for me. It’s having faith at the end of the day even if my priorities are blurred. It means going back and being accepted . . . It’s the choice to start again.
And it’s a wrap on the first post of Muslim Voices Rise up, friends! I hope you liked reading a few of my Muslim siblings speak about what being Muslim means to them as much as I did! You can head on to Aimal’s blog Saturday (instead of tomorrow) to read the second post!
A million thanks to Aimal for the graphic!
That’s it until next time.
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.