I remember laughing so hard. I remember friends. I remember feeling like I was flying. I remember summer. I remember music. I remember talking about how good life was. I remember me against the world. I remember being judged and not caring. I remember pretending.
If someone gave me a Quranic verse I would have found it wise, but I would have found a quote from Bob Marley wise too. How was I to differentiate?
I remember realising I was never flying , rather I was always falling. I remember dreams and I remember night terrors. I remember believing no one knew. I remember the disenchantment. I remember looking for something special. I remember trying to be content. I remember wanting to be understood but pretending not to care. I remember attempting to seek the truth but not knowing where to start, let alone where to go. I remember meaninglessness disguised by laughter and fake friendship. I yearned for something real as so many of us do, but I was slowly losing hope that something real even existed. What was ‘something real’ anyway? Perhaps something to understand the disillusion… something to understand the pain?
It is apparent to me now why political hip hop or rap resonates with the youth so much. It fills a gap. It talks about something greater than the individual and the young listener begins to feel understood, as well as being a part of a larger movement. One night when I was still trying to find my place in this world, I sat on YouTube and watched a video of UK rapper English Frank called ‘Free the Realness’ where he burned a pile of designer clothing. This act of rebellion resonated with my mind-set at the time; my anger at this unfair world, at anything fake, like the unfair standard of beauty and the destructive love of money. But was that it? Was that the realness my heart yearned so much for; a rapper complaining about life was my truth? Or better yet, would a simple YouTube video of a rapper burning designer clothing be enough to satisfy my heart? No, it certainly wasn’t, especially when taking into consideration the rapper would still wear designer clothes. So where was it? And where was I going to find the calmness to overcome my anger at this world before it destroyed me? How long was I going to pretend that life was okay and that I was happy when truly I would wake up on lonely nights engulfed with sorrow?
Sometimes a spiritual gem doesn’t do the trick, sometimes reading the Quran will not heal. We must know this when talking to people.
I always felt the ‘realness’ when I would go to the mosque, but I also felt that I wasn’t worthy and that same feeling would deter me from going. The fear of being judged and outcasted by the holier than thou faithful didn’t help either. Shaytan plays that trick on us sometimes. Just like when you’re late for work and avoid eye contact with your boss, or get a bad grade at school so you head straight to your room avoiding your parents, we are tricked into avoiding God. We simply don’t feel worthy so we look for the realness outside. We have to understand that God isn’t like that. He wants us to find Him. However far we have come, whatever we have done. If we drank, smoked, partied, stole, cheated or hurt anyone, Islam always has a way back for us. The doors of repentance are never closed.
I wish a Godly man would have sat with me in my darker days to tell me this, to really tell me this. We hear it all the time but we always hear it from the outside. I wish I could have heard it from someone who knew what I and guys/girls like me were going through, to take me by the hand and just tell me he felt my pain at the world and that he understood, but that hurting myself wouldn’t solve any of it. That I wasn’t too far gone. That truth wanted me just as much. If only I had this, I could have embraced Islam a lot sooner. All I needed was someone to talk to me at my level and that is why whenever I talk to the younger brothers and sisters I remember my younger self. I talk to him (the young me) and imagine how he would have reacted, if my words would resonate with him or spur him to change.
When talking to someone in hopes of offering some advice, be real. When I say real, I mean considering the very real situation that you and the person are living in, this world and all the experiences that it comes with. Sometimes a spiritual gem doesn’t do the trick, sometimes reading the Quran will not heal. We must know this when talking to people.
Whilst preparing to give lectures this Muharram I was speaking with my teacher on the content I had gathered revolving around the Quranic verse ‘ala bithikrillah tatma’inul quloob’ (“verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” 13:28), and how I would use that to spur people to change, but he didn’t seem to take much liking to the idea:
“What are you doing? This is wrong.”
“Because if someone is taking drugs, or drinking, or partying, or so far gone from the world of religion, or is depressed and lost all hope in life, you don’t tell him ala bithikrillah…. you have to speak to him on his level first. Once he is satisfied here in this world, then you can take him to ala bithikrillah.”
I realised the profundity of these words after further contemplation. I remembered myself at 19 again, the Tottenham boy living alone at Brunel University campus. How I saw the whole world as one big mystery, all the same, unable to trust anything or anyone, let alone religion. If someone gave me a Quranic verse I would have found it wise, but I would have found a quote from Bob Marley wise too. How was I to differentiate? A young man trying to find himself in such a huge world, struggling with an identity crisis, and going through the battle of origin VS upbringing.
How many young men and women struggle with the same issues, and when they do, who can they trust? We turned to music to sooth ourselves and our souls were negatively impacted by the words we would allow to enter our subconscious. Something so small and innocent on the outside was in essence a damaging cycle, slowly eating away at us and sending us into further depression. In our journey to find ourselves how much did we wander, but thankfully not all those who wander are lost. Yes, ala bithikrillah wouldn’t have done it for me, but someone being real with me would have. You can’t just act like these things don’t exist or are not happening; if you do then you’re not being real, and you’re not giving me any reason to trust you.
If someone genuinely came to me without trying to manipulate me and showed me he or she understood where I am and what I was going through, spoke to me about the world in the way that it is and gained my trust whilst helping me find my place in it, then perhaps they could have slowly brought me to the understanding of ala bithikrillah.
Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.The Holy Quran 13:28
To be continued…