Growing up in an Asian household in London, religion didn’t play a big part in my life. But I was fascinated to know about certain other religions, especially when I compared them to Islam. Being Muslim meant nothing to me as a young girl, I only related it to going to Qur’an classes, or men with beards; neither of which I found exciting or interesting. I was a curious little girl, who lived my childhood asking a thousand and one questions a day – fortunately my parents had the patience to answer them.
Going back to my eagerness to learn about other religions, the one that stuck out for me was Hinduism, a religion that was full of colour, joy and music (well that was my interpretation anyway). I never looked at the Hindu gods, nor did I refer to what Islam says about polytheism. It was purely a shallow look at the many Hindu rituals. What I liked most about it was that, a person could enjoy themselves, unlike my own religion which seemed very boring with a couple of celebrations a year. So secretly, I told myself that I liked Hinduism better than Islam, my judgment purely being based on what looked fun, and not related to what the actual teachings of the faith were.
As I grew older, my interest in my own faith decreased, with no real increase of interest in other religions. What did bother me though was the meaning of my life. Was it all about enjoyment? If so, how would I fulfill that, and live-life-for-fun seemed a little empty. So if life wasn’t only about enjoyment, then surely there was more meaning to it? And I needed to find this meaning, and understand how it all related to my life. Yes, I know, I thought a lot for a young person.
As I tried to figure out my reason for existence, I happened to go to East London Masjid and got myself a book about ‘Prophets in Islam’. And this marked the beginning of my greatest comforts – reading about how beautifully Allah guides us through His Messengers. I was so excited!
In the book, ‘Prophets in Islam’, was the story of Prophet Ibrahim (as); the father of Prophets. His story absolutely amazed me. In particular when not even being a teenager (and I myself being about 12), he questions his father about idol worshipping. This made me think about Hinduism and the many gods worshipped by Hindus. Prophet Ibrahim (as) not only challenged the worshipping of lifeless idols, but using a great amount of hikmah (even as a child), he tried to convince his people of the flaws in worshipping mere idols. How would I even attempt to do such a thing? This famous part of Prophet Ibrahim’s (as) story stuck with me for days, trying to understand why he did what he did, and what he was trying to tell people. This led me to look into Islam and what it taught us. The first and maybe a very important lesson I learnt from the story was not to follow any ideas or beliefs just because I was born into it; I was going to question it and then follow what I thought made sense! Obviously, the thoughts were not as deep as I describe them now, but it was heading along these lines.
It was difficult to understand Islam, when I wasn’t around many people that actually took any real interest in it. I somehow managed to get hold of a book about the basic understanding of Islam and what it meant being a Muslim. Looking back at it now, I can’t believe such a simple book taught me the most fundamental element in life, my purpose.
“And I (Allah) created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (Alone)” [TMQ 51:56].
The above ayah made me think and wanted to know more. I related this ayah to the message relayed by Prophet Ibrahim (as), it gave me a clear understanding that Allah created me, He (swt) created me to worship Him (swt), and that was the meaning of my life. Hence, why I say Prophet Ibrahim (as) made me think, he made me think about my life.
It’s important to note here, that I was very young, and had very limited knowledge about Islam in general, other than how to read the Qur’an (which wasn’t even the correct way). Even though, I knew the purpose of my life, it took me a few more years to make practical sense of what it actually meant (my other posts go further into these details). What it did do was take away all my doubts about religions and their relevance in a person’s life. Until then, religions were mere rituals, something you enacted once or twice in a year on special occasions. So this was the beginning of Tafkir Al-Islami, and what a beautiful and challenging path it has been spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
I would urge all to read the beautiful story of Ibrahim (as), not because it’s the perfect fairy tale, but because of the tests, the courage, the perseverance he underwent to please the Creator, to ensure the haqq was propagated. It rounds off our purpose in life, helping us to live our lives that much more devoted to Allah.