Oh, it’s that feeling that most Muslims can probably relate to in some way or form; the feeling of being the odd one out. That feeling that seems to come about whenever friends, colleagues or even family members arrange a get together or just a day out. The thoughts that usually run through the mind are ‘is it halal?’ and ‘how do I explain myself if I refuse to attend, AGAIN?’
Well, it has taken me almost a decade to figure it out, but honesty really is the best policy (the answer was staring me in the face all along), and that doesn’t mean having to be alone. It does take me a bit of a ramble to get to the point, but Insha’Allah I hope you can bear with me.
I would be the first to admit that I took being brought up in a Muslim household for granted and up until my late teens, was more interested in the material world, friends, popularity and getting the best (or at least what I thought was best) of what I had at that very moment. The upshot of that was that I was unhappy; I was constantly seeking the approval of those around me (especially friends…that fear of being alone), which as we all know is unhealthy if a person never knows the true purpose of their actions, and indeed their life. Teenage years (and growing up in general) can be challenging enough without having to try and adjust every other term/semester in order to fit into the ‘in crowd’. But then it came, the Ramadan of 2006, the year it all changed for me.
“Verily, you (O Muhammad) guide not whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills. And He knows best those who are the guided.” (Qur’an, 28:56)
It came as a shock to me and those around me; I finally realised I was a Muslim. I have a purpose in life and that is to please Allah (swt). I do have guidance in the form of the Qur’an and Sunnah. I will be held accountable for my actions not by the ‘in crowd’ or the fashion gurus, but Allah (swt). I finally found a source of true happiness and purpose.
Of course with all this came a need for change and with change there can be hardship. But the Prophet (saw) said:
“Verily, if Allah loves a people, He makes them go through trials. Whoever is satisfied, for him is contentment, and whoever is angry upon him is wrath.” [Tirmidhi]
Alhamdulillah, I adorned the hijab with relative ease, but it took me by surprise just how much my social activities (and some friends) would have to change.
Now here’s what I realised when I got to college and university. Friends will ask you to go out with them and there will be events that will be considered practically mandatory, but saying yes to avoid being the odd one out isn’t the answer. Here are a few scenarios that I myself have experienced and witnessed (see if you can relate to them).
Scenario 1: Your friends (Muslim and/or non-Muslim) want to go to the students’ union bar and considering everyone on campus/on your course will be there, you’re pressurised to go.
Scenario 2: Your friends/colleagues have arranged a lunch/gathering/day out, but you find that there will be both males and females attending, so the likelihood is that there will be unnecessary free mixing.
Scenario 3: It is the end of the year or someone’s birthday/wedding and you’re expected to go because it is and will be all that everyone will be talking about. However, you don’t know if the event is segregated and what type of environment will be the setting.
Scenario 4: It is time for prayer but you don’t know how to excuse yourself from the middle of work/lunch/friends/colleagues.
Scenario 5: Those around you see you in Islamic dress and think for example that you may be oppressed, an extremist or plain old fashioned. They seem to have the wrong idea about Islam, do you say anything?
So what do you do? Do you shy away from telling them how you feel for fear of isolation? Do you say yes or agree because you don’t want to insult your friends/colleagues? Maybe you don’t want to cause a confrontation? What is the answer?
The best thing you can do is be straightforward with them, but remember to be gentle and calm just as the Prophet (saw). Most people (if not everyone) will be willing to understand if you just explain to them that it is against your religion for you to attend certain social gatherings/events if they are not in a halal setting (this may require some explanation so try and keep clued up on your deen). It may be that your friends are unaware of Islam (an opportunity for some dawah?). Perhaps there are other Muslims in the group who feel they cannot say no for fear of being an outcast, but will if they know they are not alone. You’ll be surprised how willing schools/colleges/universities/employers are willing to accommodate you for your five daily prayers and other obligations like fasting. Remember:
“Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. So will you not desist?” (Qur’an 5:91)
“And it has already been revealed to you in the Book (this Qur’an) that when you hear the Verses of Allah being denied and mocked at, then sit not with them, until they engage in a talk other than that; (but if you stayed with them) certainly in that case you would be like them. Surely, Allah will collect the hypocrites and disbelievers all together in Hell” [Qur’an 4:140]
“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him not sit at a table where alcohol is being passed around.” End quote. [Tafseer Ibn Katheer (2/435)]
“And those who do not bear witness to falsehood, and if they pass by some evil play or evil talk, they pass by it with dignity” [Qur'an 25:72]
It is without a doubt a challenging experience to try and keep a balance between the social and spiritual aspects of life. Even if you can’t remember a specific source or quote, if you are in doubt as to whether a thing is haram or halal, avoid it until you know. Never be afraid to say you don’t know, but always seek to find out because;
“..put your trust in Allah if you are believers indeed…” (Qur’an 5:23).
It is perfectly fine to be in the company of Muslims and non-Muslims, but if you find that you are unable to fully practice your deen because of some (and unfortunately at times all) of them, which consequently leads to you drifting apart, it is probably beneficial to you. After all, Allah (swt) knows best. This life is a test and we must have sabr because we will be held accountable for our own actions, and we are encouraged to stay in the presence of those who will help us in keeping on the straight path; gaining the best in this life and the next. Alhamdulillah, I myself have now been placed in the company of those who are understanding and remind me of what is good. If you find yourself alone or feeling down, remember that being the odd one out for a good reason is a good thing and:
“O you who believe! Seek help in patience and the prayer…” (Qur’an 2:153)
“So do not become weak, nor be sad…” (Qur’an 3:139)
“Verily, with hardship there is relief” (Qur’an 94:6)
You only have one life to make difference to yourself, others, the world around you, and the reward you will get from Allah (swt) Insha’Allah, so strive for the best in this world and the next.