A learned Muslim once told us that a person’s true self will only be magnified as a musaffir (traveler). Meaning that if someone is nice when in a familiar environment, he or she will be nicer when away from home, and vice versa. When I heard this, I immediately thought of the post I wrote a while back where I disagree with those accusing the ‘bad West’ for the straying of young Muslim Malaysians when they go off to study in a western country. Even then I believe (which turns out to be true) that being away only brings out a person’s true character not because of influence, but because of new-found freedom.
Personally, I love the freedom that I have had for the past four years, not because I can go crazy and do whatever I want away from the watchful eyes of a judgmental society, but because I can grow at my own pace, in my own space. I love being in America, and now in the UK, because I can fill whatever void I have by learning about Islam the way that is best for me. That may be a sacrilegious statement because according to people back home, you cannot cherry-pick Islam to best fit you; but I have recently learned that Islam is in fact discretion. That is the marvelous beauty of the Quran. Islam is not solely about a set of practices that is set in stone, but it is a rational and logical religion that is applicable to multiple people in different scenarios. I have always reiterate that I do not really favor our celebrity ustaz in Malaysia because they tend to discuss what to do and what not to do, which is important, I definitely agree, but I feel like they don’t truly educate. They don’t rationalize the rules that they preach when Islam is nothing less than rational.
I love being away from Malaysia because I can feel that I am a better person over here, I am calmer in this environment, and my relationship with God grows every day as a result. I am more at peace with who I am and how I interact with others and with God. Last year, when I told people I dread going back to Malaysia, they uttered about “Hujan emas di negeri orang…” But it is not even about that. I don’t dread going back to Malaysia because of low purchasing power; I dread going back because I do not like who I was in the twenty years that I was there. I was angry, resentful, spiteful, judgmental, easily frustrated, disappointed, and many other negative traits that I wish to erase from my memory. Mostly it was my own fault, but I won’t deny that the environment I was in was also highly toxic.
On that note, I recently learned that who I am in a country where intellectual discourse is highly regarded does not represent my true self—my true Islam—because it is easy for me. It is being in Malaysia which is difficult. So, if I want to practice being a good Muslim, I need to learn to control my nafs(ego) when I am in a trying situation. It is not fair for me to be content with myself right now, because—paradoxically—at the moment I do not face the challenges that I do in Malaysia. If I wish to be a good Muslim, it should start with my interactions with those I find to be most difficult. After all, being angry means I refuse to let haqq (truth) wins over my nafs, and that will spoil the faith that I have worked so hard to build while being in two Muslim-minority countries. After all, wasn’t it Muhammad Abduh who said, “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.”
The question then is, why must I be angry? Just because I am annoyed does not mean I am correct.
“O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent—then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” (Quran 49: 11)
Sorry for the much rambling recently in this blog. I just feel like it helps in my understanding of Islam to voice out what I am feeling rather than to have a one-sided debate in my head.
Thank you for reading.