The Stranger

Humanity will only quench their thirst until they reach the Prophet . [Reach him in status of] him and from his noble traits, his characteristics, his beauty, his miracles, his person, his perfection. When a person sees all of that, a person’s soul will find the quench of its thirst. A person’s soul finds relief, finds escape, finds tranquillity, finds its solution, and finds its success in the person of the Prophet

(Shaykh Aslam: defining “Shama-il” in the introduction of Imam at-Tirmidhi’s Ash-Shama’il al Muhammadiyya)

I have always been a stranger, alienated from the ideal that society falsely promises us. The promise that society will lead us to the epitome of our satisfaction. I’m not satisfied by that promise. It does not quench my thirst. How can my thirst be quenched by that promise when Allah created the beloved Prophet

It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: Islam initiated as something strange, and it would revert to its (old position) of being strange. so good tidings for the stranger.

(Sahih Muslim)

It was not until recently that I began to appreciate the blessing, the Rahma, of being a Muslim. Yet I am only starting to understand, nor will I ever completely understand who ar-Raheem is.

I would not be the Muslim who I was if it wasn’t for the people I surrounded myself with — Hajj truly enlightened me of this reality. Another immense blessing. We’re social beings, we need people around us. Yet, there is this worry that has been ingrained in us, that we’re defined by how much we conform to our social groups. A false promise of modern society. We are left conflicted. Something I have been for more than half my life, striving for the balance between an excellent group of friends yet not allowing the sociality to exert a negative influence on us. I continue to see this struggle Muslims uniquely experience in the Modern World. I cannot help but empathise.

وَإِن تُطِعْ أَكْثَرَ مَن فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ يُضِلُّوكَ عَن سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا ٱلظَّنَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَخْرُصُونَ

If you obeyed most of those on earth, they would lead you away from the path of God. They follow nothing but speculation; they are merely guessing.

(Surah al-An’aam [Chapter 6: 116])

Alongside these above reasons (and more), I started to read more. I saw myself through books, and The Book, The Quran al-Kareem. We see ourselves in books, through stories, through primordial nature, and the signs that are the creation of The Divine Creator. It is through these books that I am going to present my story.

We wear masks and hide our skin, our Muslimness, an idea Yassir Morsi wrote about in Radical Skin, Moderate Masks. I grew up in an ethnic community of Muslims and an Islamic school where the masks we wore was that of the dunya; wealth and its associated prestige. I struggled to wear that mask as a Muslim, the Fabulous Mask; look at this bloke, He’s one of those good Muslim that can be like us too. I hear Malcom’ Xs voice ringing in my head “Man, don’t live up to the white man’s expectations”. Being a practising Muslim was just a side hustle, and almost frowned until you become established in the world. Yet being a kid, a young naive teen, I made mistakes which I was subjected to my community’s gaze. Through gossip, they ostracised my family from the community. Moreover, when my parents attempted to raise concerns about the teaching practices, culture and ethos of the school, they we’re shunned, being told if you don’t like it, you’re welcome to leave. We became Othered.

The infamous Islamic School I went to was culturally Muslimaic, and was the epitome of The Fabulous Mask, trying to be like the dominant “normal” person (i.e. the White Australian), focusing solely on getting one to university, getting a job, contributing to the economy. I remember orientation day, the principal sternly advised us the school was not for us if we didn’t want to go to university. That was the intention of the school, and verily actions are defined by their intentions. We we’re to become cogs in the murder machine of capitalism. The school intended to nurture us to become the Kafkaesque ungezeifer (vermin).

Gregor as an ungezeifer

Being surrounded by non-muslims, selective school, and non-selective school kids, I saw the imbalance and the facade of the Fabulous Mask. Consequently, as every teenager does, I rebelled as I didn’t see the School culture as “normal”, yet they didn’t see me as normal either. I further became Othered. The memory that comes to mind as I am writing this is that some of the guys in class we’re watching pornography in Islamic Studies. If that is Muslimaic -Culturally Muslim - would you want to be part of it? I certainly did not. I Othered them triumphantly claiming this isn’t Islam (I now say how foolish and arrogant of me). I so dearly desired an idealistic utopian Muslimaic culture. Searching to fulfil this desire, I put on the second Mask Yassir refers to; The Militant Mask, searching for the good Muslims, and staying away from the bad/weird ones. But my experience of secular education in a Muslimaic environment drove me to pursue the good Muslims that was defined by those who wear the Fabulous Mask. I was still idealising the dominant and what’s socially normal.

You have to forgive me for being seemingly negative and cynical. When you experience something negative, and the negativity affects your behaviour and the way you think about similar future experiences, you are suffering trauma. I was wounded and I had not known that I was suffering from it. When I started healing, I found a language and perspective to speak about this educational institution, and my experience in general. What contributes to this perspective is the frustration that results from the displacement of this perspective and language. This occurs when I am told that I am only saying this because I had a bad experience. Yes I have been intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually traumatised by this institution. Yes these bad experiences positioned me to have a unique positionality. I agree (with a grain of salt). It’s missing the bigger picture. I have to also answer, No! There are structural problems within this educational institution. The people that benefited and privileged from the very same institution that is being spoken about, they are struck with an anxiety that they use to silence and erase any perspective that doesn’t accept things for what they are; i.e. any critical perspective will be silenced.

I was the Other. That’s what my high school years taught me about being and living as a Muslim. I just wanted to belong; to fit in. We are social beings. Naturally, with this cooked experience of Muslimaic culture, I looked to people like me. I found them. The Others who had overcame their estrangement in ways that — in retrospect — we’re undoubtedly horrible. Reflecting back on this horrendous time that I will always regret, but can’t be grateful enough for, I now understand I wore the third mask Yassir mentions in his book; The Triumphant Mask, almost completely living the dominant and normal culture. Like Gregor in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, I idealised becoming an insurance broker. For me this desire had been shaped and constructed by my experiences of failing to find the ideal culture of Muslimness. It was in this failure that I was drawn into the dunya and its temptations, and subsequently its false promises. Like Gregor, I transformed into an ungezeifer, and wore The Triumphant mask, tailoring my life around the culture of the dunya.

I ripped off my masks. I looked into the mirror and I could not see who I had become. I had become thirsty for the pure and sweet deen, for True connection with Allah. However, Like Coleridge’s Mariner, I found myself in a situation where I was thirsty yet unable to drink:

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

- Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of The Ancient Mariner

An Illustration of Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

There’s no coincidences. Every creation follows its designated path. It is no coincidence that the perfect way of the Prophet ﷺ external and internal being quenches the thirst we are all looking for. It is no coincidence that I love these ayah

(68).أَفَرَءَيْتُمُ ٱلْمَآءَ ٱلَّذِى تَشْرَبُونَ

(69).ءَأَنتُمْ أَنزَلْتُمُوهُ مِنَ ٱلْمُزْنِ أَمْ نَحْنُ ٱلْمُنزِلُونَ

(70).لَوْ نَشَآءُ جَعَلْنَـٰهُ أُجَاجًۭا فَلَوْلَا تَشْكُرُونَ

Have you seen the water you drink?
is it you that bought it down from rain cloud or We?
If we had wished we could make it bitter, so why are you not grateful?

Surah al-Waqiah (56: 68–70)

Almost 3 years have passed since I first realised my state and desired this sweet and pure drink to quench my thirst, appreciating the clarity and coolness it could provide my heart. As I contemplate about the way Water continues to quenches and cools my heart, I think about the friends — the best friend and the close friends — that I lost because they weren’t happy that Allah Wills that I want to stick to the upright path. While reflecting about this state I had been in, the state of self-imposed social isolation, I am reminded of Said Nursi when he was exiled.

“As I recited “God is Sufficient for us; an excellent Guardian is He”, my heart recited “If they turned their backs, say “God is enough for me” There’s no God but He and in Him I put my trust. He is the lord of the mighty throne”
-Said Nursi

How could I not be grateful for our Guardian. How can I not be grateful for the quenching of my thirst. How can I not be grateful for the one that Willed for this coolness to be placed into my heart. How could I not be grateful. How can I be truly grateful, when my ability to be grateful comes from only From Him. How can I be lost and estranged when when I know that my existence is contingent on Allah Willing it into existence.

How can I be lost! How can I be lost! How can I be lost…

“What has he found if he has lost God and what had he lost if he found God?”
- Ibn Ata Allah al-Iskandari

References

Yassir Morsi’s Radical skin moderate masks: de-Racialising the Muslim in Post-Racial Societies

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

Malcom X’s Autobiography

Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Ibn Ata Allah’s Hikam

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Showcasing the intellectual and creative works of young Muslims from UNSW

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