For the longest time I believed practicing Muslims are very different from non-practicing Muslims, but I’ve realized I couldn’t be more wrong and I think its time we talk about this.
When Muslims appear in the media we encounter the same obstacles over and over again: Who speaks for Muslims? What language and vocabulary can be used to speak about Arabic terms? Who has the religious authority and knowledge of Islam and the English skills to convey it? What cultural similarity can we share with the non-Muslim listeners? How can we attract people to us without pandering or downplaying Islam, or reducing it to superficial border issues like brown skill and smells?
The answer to all these questions is we bridge the divide between non-practicing and practicing Muslims. We cannot expect realistically for the practicing Muslims to be experts in all things. And we cannot expect Islam to survive by cutting off Muslims who are not practicing. In fact, that is when Islam is most critical, at the point where it is weakest, that we have to make sure it thrives.
Just as non-Muslims have preconceptions and presumptions about Muslims, so too we Muslims have certain presumptions and preconceptions of our fellow Muslims, whether they are practicing or not-so-practicing. Lets remedy this with some realism.
The practicing Muslim is often weak on morality, is selfish (after all being religious is for your own personal benefit) and likes to think they could easily be wealthy and successful if they really wanted to. The non-practicing Muslim, often financially successful, is confused about life, negligent about God but likes to think they could easily go to the mosque regularly and intend to do great worship in their old age. Likely both are weak when it comes to halal income but easily conceal this shortcoming. We are all equally hypocritical, albeit, in our own unique ways.
Regardless of religiosity, everyone has their own wisdom and life experience. Both practicing and non-practicing are willing to stand by their community, even in hard times. Both are indebted to each other. There is so much khayr non-practicing Muslims have done for the Muslim community and are so dedicated to the community like no other. The non-practicing Muslim is eager to help Muslims out with money and resources whenever he can and the practicing Muslim always keep the whole community in their duas, even those they dislike. Non-practicing and practicing Muslims may not communicate very much or get along always, but at the end of the day, they try.
And in each family there are practicing Muslims and non-practicing Muslims, and that too there are phases in everybody’s life where they are more religious or less so, and in different ways, often due to life circumstances. We all have times when we are closer to Allah and at times when we aren’t. Its internal so we can’t know externally. We all have different types of personalities and our hearts are not equally soft or hard, no matter how we look.
And practicing Muslims have to accept the fact some Muslims will not become religious no matter how hard you preach. Its just how they are and you have to accept it and love them as Muslims regardless. And non-practicing Muslims have to accept the fact some Muslims will not succeed materially no matter how modernized they become and that not every practicing Muslim has a holier-than-thou attitude, they are just caring for you in their own unique way or too busy thinking about Allah and His Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam).
The grey area and pretexts
Religion can be a pretext. Some sisters wear hijab because it makes them look more attractive. Some Shias don’t know how they are different from Sunnis and their understanding of Islam is Sunni, even if they are Shia in name. There are Zaydi Shias, whom Sunnis think are Shia and Shia think are Sunni. Some preachers may be charlatans. I never assume anything about a community unless I have direct experience. Hearsay is not something the Prophet relied upon, but would say “I know nothing of them but good.”
And Allah will judge us all differently based on our circumstances, chances are the ulema have a harder judgement than the unknowing average Muslim. This is not to give excuses, but to point out the reality of the human condition.
Let us talk about perspective. From the standpoint of God, we are all human beings in His care. From the standpoint of Satan, we are all just human beings who should be debased, one way or another. From the standpoint of the community imam, you are just one in a flock whose salvation is important – the imam will do your aqiqa (birth ceremony), your janaza (funeral) and pray for you when you are sick. The imam is more religious than anyone but doesn’t look down. From the standpoint of the government and media, you are a citizen, with a family, health problems, jobs, community contributions or a potential criminal problem. The government is completely non-religious but does a great deal of good. From the standpoint of God, Satan, the imam and the government, we are a community and we either rise together or we fall together, there is no individual falling or individual success.
We have to remember Abu Hanifa had an alcoholic neighbour who would play music loudly all night long. And Abu Hanifa did not rebuke this person because of the right of the neighbor and interceded before the judge when he was charged with a crime. Even earlier on, there was a time when Islam was not about practice. In Islam’s infancy, there was only the shahada and the prayer, not even the 5 daily prayers but the night prayer in the middle of the night. And that too only repeating the same few early surahs of the Qur’an, since most of the Qur’an hadn’t been revealed yet. You can imagine Hamzah, the uncle of the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam) drunk in the daytime, reciting a few verses in Surah Qaf in the night prayer. It was only later on alcohol was forbidden, 5 prayers prescribed and the Qur’an was completely revealed. In the early days, Islam was about strengthening belief and secrecy, not about external acts of worship and identity pride. Allah revealed the Qur’an slowly, because Allah wanted Muslims to become practicing in increments, bit-by-bit, year after year, whereas previous nations like the Children of Israel had to become practicing all at once. We should take solace in this and think if Allah cut us some slack from Day 1, then maybe we should cut each other some slack too?
Labels are Meaningless, Its all Relative
By the time you are 40 something and if you have listened to 1 sermon every week very closely, you have probably learned an equal amount about Islam as the 80 year-old practicing Muslim who only give the sermon half their attention. Most practicing Muslims don’t know much about the life of the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam) and their is no kindergarten-level or high school-level of knowledge of Islam. In fact, many preachers of Islam make mistakes without realizing because of their limited knowledge and limited study of Islam. Knowledge of Islam is fragmentary in our time, not holistic; we all have pieces, but only a few have the whole picture.
Try your best
There is a reason why the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasalam) taught an Islam that isn’t about maximal worship, but about optimal moderation. Because moderation is sustainable. And by moderation I don’t mean doing as little as possible, but doing as much as one honestly can do. Moderation means being able to honestly say, “Allah, I am trying my best.” One cannot be all things religious at all times. Its just not humanly possible. There are ups and downs. And there are times when you struggle and overcome, and then get weak and have to overcome again. But that is because it is worth it. The amount of struggle involved to just arrive at the Friday prayers on time, and then run back to work, can be a weekly test of faith for some people. The misbehaviour, the bad parking, the lengthy sermon and all that is a trial for the practicing and non-practicing Muslims. But they endure it because of Allah, because if they did it for the sake of a Muslim they like, they wouldn’t do it.
All or Nothing is False
We can’t think of ourselves in an all-or-nothing dichotomy, be immaculate or be filthy is the binary, as if we are robots. If we were to think like this, then shaytan would win overnight. But we have to keep trying, wherever we are, how many sins or good deeds we’ve done or what impression we cast on the people around us. But thats false, we have to try and do what we can and we slip and have weak points. We have to bring each other up and that should be the goal because we are in the same boat together.
And if this all doesn’t draw it all home, then just read about Jews during the Holocaust. In their last moments, as they were bussed to the concentration camps, young Jewish kids were fornicating next to Jews praying their kaddish prayer for the dead. At the end of the day, we are a community, for better or worse and those who hate us, hate us all equally.
Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illa Ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.