Beacon Of Hope
I want to tell you a funny story of when I first entered boarding school. I was in the second intake of sixth formers and started my A-levels in January, while the first intake began in September. Because I was a new student, I had to arrive on the first day of term earlier than the older batch of students. When I arrived at my boarding house, I was directed to a list of names and rooms.
I saw on the list that I’d be sharing a room with a girl who I’ll call F. Although I attended a private boarding school that offered the British curriculum, the school also taught the national curriculum, which means there were loads of Malaysian students around and some of them were there on scholarship programmes.
At 16, I had just come out of international school and was exposed to a different kind of culture. I dressed like a typical, teenage KL girl (when my dad wasn’t looking lol) and although I wasn’t a wild child, I looked and sounded very KL (if you know, you know). The first time I met F, she looked so sweet in tudung labuh (wide hijab) and a very modest outfit while I was in my hoodie and skinny jeans.
Surprisingly, F and I got along very well—we connected over many things and that included our faith. F was bubbly and always so smiley. I believe it was the first week of school when she told me: “Sarina, I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable around me ok? Don’t feel like you have to be a certain way around me just because I do certain things differently.”
In my head, I was beyond relieved that she was aware of our differences. Yes, we may both be Malay Muslims but we grew up in very different environments and it was really apparent in the way we spoke, the way we dressed and the way we viewed the world around us.
F was true to her words and she never made me feel like I had to be more religious nor did she make me feel bad for being the way that I was. The only thing she did consciously help me improve on was praying early instead of waiting for the last 20 minutes of prayer time because she always saw me rushing through my prayers—hi, I’m a procrastinator.
There was one time, months later, when F spoke to me in private to tell me she noticed my feet have been placed wrongly during tashahhud (tahiyat akhir) and she apologised profusely before and after showing me the correct way of performing tashahhud.
I remembered being so touched by that act—not simply the act of correcting me—but her adab (etiquette) in correcting me. She didn’t need to say sorry, she wasn’t the one doing anything wrong, but she really didn’t want to hurt my feelings or embarrass me. Masha Allāh. May Allāh keep increasing her in iman and grant her the highest of Jannah. Amiin.
People sometimes look down on those who appear religious, assuming that they will have a holier-than-thou complex, but that’s simply a negative stereotype. If anyone has interactions with F or people who are just like her, I’m sure their negative presumptions of ‘religious people’ would change, too. Perhaps, they would feel more comfortable in sharing their struggles and be inspired to get closer to the deen.
BeinG Kind And Gentle Is Sunnah
My best friend and I attended an Islamic course last year called the Hikma Fellowship Programme—it was not compulsory for female participants to wear hijab although everyone did even if they didn’t wear it in their day-to-day lives. My best friend didn’t wear one during the course but throughout our seminars, no one showed her any disrespect.
In fact, in one of the seminars, she sat next to a Habib. A Habib is an honorific title to address a male Muslim scholar who is a descendant of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ; they are usually more senior and they would have a Syed/Sayyid/Said in front of their names.
My bestie was so touched that:
A scholar was at an Islamic course to increase his knowledge alongside other students who are far behind from him—that shows great humility and commitment to learning. Masha Allāh.
A scholar engaged in a meaningful discussion with her without passing any judgment.
She wrote in an IG post (her account is private): “When I attended the Hikma Fellowship 2018 a few weekends ago, I wasn’t sure whether to wear a headscarf and I ended up not wearing one and being the only sister there that was ‘freehair’ (Malay slang to describe someone who doesn’t cover their hair). I secretly regretted my decision and felt a bit weird.
But to my surprise, no brothers, sisters nor the teachers looked at me differently. All graced me with warmth. Even this one Habib who I had the honour of speaking to (why was he even there, he’s already learned!
I was humbled by that). It reminded me that while people’s religious and personal journey are different, you can help by inspiring them, not judging them. Welcome them with open arms. Show them that the space is safe for them to be themselves but to also guide them on the right path.”
Her reflection made me think of my roommate F and other people such as my own ustaz who has never been critical of me but instead, patient in guiding me throughout the years. He once told me that we cannot force people to become a certain way because perhaps they are not done learning what needs to be learned at their current state.
Sometimes, people aren’t ‘there yet’ in their spiritual journey not because they don’t want to be, they just don’t have the knowledge nor the hidayah (guidance) from Allāh to get there yet. That doesn’t mean they’ll never get there it just means their time has not arrived yet, and who knows, they may even surpass you in spiritual excellence.
A change of heart can only take place when the conditions are right. You can preach to a person as much as you want but when ‘ilm (knowledge) does not enter the heart, it cannot transform a person.
A Gift From Allah
Fun fact: Most Arabic words are constructed from 3 root letters (usul). Interestingly enough, both hidayah (guidance) and hadiyah (gift) share the same root letters: H-D-Y. It goes to show that the two are inter-connected: hidayah (guidance) is a hadiyah (gift) from Allāh.
Some people may receive the hidayah to preserve their 5 daily prayers.
Some people may receive the hidayah to cover their aurat perfectly.
Some people may receive the hidayah to never speak ill about anyone.
Some people may receive the hidayah to be in constant khidmat (service) to their community.
Everyone has their own set of weaknesses—some which are visible for others to see while some are only known to the person.
Likewise, everyone has their own strengths and if we used our strengths to support each other instead of using it as a free pass to be critical of others, we could be seeing a lot more struggling Muslims find the help they need within the ummah instead of going further and further away from the very people that are meant to show them love and understanding.
Life is hard and practising the deen in these times are even harder. Let’s make it easier for others.
Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said: “There will come a time when holding onto the religion will be like holding onto hot coal.”
Let’s not make it harder than it already is for our brothers and sisters to get closer to the deen. In this Holy Month, let’s reflect on how we can be a beacon of hope just the way Rasullulah ﷺ was.