I remember the first time I went to the mosque alone. I had come of an age where I was deemed too old to continue accompanying my father in the men’s section and had to venture alone into the unfamiliar territory of the women’s section. I was 7-years-old and my sister was 5.
She held my hand firmly as we navigated our way through the prayer hall to find a place to sit and listen to the khutba (sermon). We fidgeted during the prayers (as children do), but it only garnered dirty glares from the aunties, angrily wondering where our mother was. My mother is not Sunni, so she did not come to our mosque. I tried my best to play the role of mother – telling my sister to be quiet and pay attention and follow my lead. I did not know what I was doing.
I knew the power and importance of salah but my actions seemed empty because I did not know what I was doing.
When it was time to line up for salah (prayer), I stayed towards the back. The back was my safe haven, a place where I could carefully watch the ladies in front of me and follow their lead without them knowing or judging. I had no idea how to perform the prayer. Before, I had just followed the motions of my dad and now, it was the aunties who I would follow. I felt detached from the performance.
I timed the motions carefully, delayed my actions by a few seconds to make it look natural, and my sister followed suit. The entire routine was an innocent submission to Allah. I knew the power and importance of salah, but my actions seemed empty because I did not know what I was doing. It was a series of motions timed to the sing-song voice of the Imam. Despite this rocky start, my relationship with salah grew from there and it soon became part of my Jihad.
The term jihad has become a taboo word these days. Jihad is terrorism, Al Qaeda, dictatorial militarism and Islamic extremism. It has been appropriated as a term used to describe the bloody and holy war against infidels. The orientalist perspective of East versus West. Us against them. The struggle to fight the corruptness towards Islam. A single definition that dominates the narrative about Islam. But how many of us are part of this jihad? How many of us can relate to this fight in its most real and raw form?
Instead, the rawness and connection comes from our own personal jihad. The struggle a Muslim faces within oneself to achieve a level of mindful spirituality amongst the temptations of materialism and our own active egos.
It is a marker of our fragility as humans that we struggle to balance spiritualism or mindfulness with how fast the rest of the world seems to be keeping up.
“The believers are those only who believe in Allah and His Messenger, then they doubt not, and struggle hard with their lives in the way of Allah. Such are the truthful ones.” Quran – 49:15
The real jihad is with nafs – in the Quran, this refers to our self, psyche, ego, and soul. This concept is not exclusive to just Muslims. It is a marker of our fragility as humans that we struggle to balance spiritualism or mindfulness (whether religious or otherwise) with how fast the rest of the world seems to be keeping up.
The first step in conquering our jihad is through our salah, as Allah (God) says:
“Seek (Allah’s) help with patient perseverance and prayer: It is indeed hard, except to those who bring a lowly spirit.” – Quran, 2:45
And the thing is – it really is hard. Consistent prayers five times a day is the hardest thing about being a Muslim because you have to make a conscious effort to put God before yourself. I struggle to put my ego and worldly desires aside for 5 minutes to bow down in submission to Allah and thank him for his bounty. Why? Because I am not a perfect Muslim. In fact, on paper, I am a terrible Muslim.
If you were going to judge me based on the 5 pillars and a few other hard and fast rules of Islam, I would be on a sure path to anywhere but Heaven. I struggle to reconcile my faith and my values with the cultures of my upbringing as well as my Canadian identity – the key word here being struggle (jihad). Yet, in my heart, I think that is where the beauty of Islam shines the most.
Islam to me is the guidance you seek when you struggle to find your path in this world. It is like a warm hug from a parent or loved one when you need it the most. God is aware of our imperfection as humans and yet, there is always a chance to seek mercy and forgiveness and find that guidance once more.
I am not a perfect Muslim.
It was about a year ago that I made an effort to consistently pray Fajr (morning prayer). I woke up early for class, so why could I not wake up a few minutes earlier to pray? Praying Fajr became a habit for me, but as I mentioned before, I am not perfect, and so on the weekends I never prayed Fajr. I chose to sleep in.
Half-way through my journey, I decided I wanted to try to pray the Dhuhr (prayer after midday) at my university. I went to the small prayer room and there were a bunch of Muslim women praying. I froze. In my eyes they looked perfect. They were covered from head to toe and they knew where to place their mats to pray. I had come in ripped jeans and was using my scarf as a hijab. I felt unworthy and out of place. So, I left and ran to the bathroom and cried.
I am not sure why I cried. It could have been a series of events that I had bottled up that were eventually catalyzed because I couldn’t pray or because I felt like I did not belong. Or maybe it was because I saw those other women as the ‘perfect Muslim.’ Or maybe it was because I was not your ‘typical’ Muslim and I saw myself as a bad one.
Yet, ‘bad Muslim’ is such a relative term and I feel like, as Muslim women, we tend to have a terrible habit of comparing ourselves or judging one another. But the thing is, we are all part of a collective whole that shares the same challenges faced by a personal jihad and so these judgments are only a reflection of ourselves.
We are all part of a collective whole that shares the same challenges faced by a personal jihad
If you feel like you are a bad Muslim, then you have to make a conscious effort to change. This effort stems from putting God first before our nafs (ego/psyche). Praying 5 times a day is hard and, especially in this day and age or if you live in the West, there are some obstacles that prevent us from maintaining that consistency. However, it is important to put forth a strong intention towards our salah.
The best nutrition for our mind, body, and soul is our prayers. The best way to overcome whatever struggles we face in our jihad is through prayers. I have found that through my journey to establish regular prayers, I have felt more at peace when times are more turbulent in my life. When I bow down to God in submission, all the worries from my heart are lifted and, for a brief moment – I am free from my troubles.
So, on paper, I am far from the perfect Muslim. But I have sure come a long way from that timid 7-year-old in the women’s section. When I perform the motions of prayer, I no longer feel that detachment. I feel closer to God. I am an imperfect Muslim and I struggle with my daily jihad. But when I bow my head down, when I freely submit myself to God and seek His forgiveness and guidance, I am one step closer to conquering my jihad.