By Karim Serageldin
When I was seven years old, I used to attend a halaqa (religious lesson). We would learn what I would call today the Islam of “no’s”. One summer day upon entering class, my teacher and I got into this dialogue.
“What is this?” My teacher glared at the shiny bracelet around my tanned wrist.
“It’s a bracelet; my grandmother got it for me.” I said nonchalantly.
“Didn’t I tell you jewelry is haram [forbidden]?”
“But it’s silver. Boys can wear silver. My grandma got it for my birthday.”
“Didn’t I tell you it is haram to celebrate birthdays?” His expression was more serious.
“But all we did was go to McDonald’s and eat chicken nuggets.”
“Didn’t I tell you McDonald’s is haram?!”
Seriously, that’s what happened. Growing up, many Muslims constantly heard the word “no”. “No, you can’t do that”, “no you can’t eat that”, “no you can’t see that/listen to that/touch that”. I heard a joke once that some masjids (mosques) should be called “No Happiness Allowed” Centers. Surely, boundaries are necessary in life, but what happens when we focus entirely on them?
When we are constantly reminded with what we are forbidden to do, we develop a relationship with God that is based on fear and anxiety. Psychologically, a self-destructive trend develops: a trend of fear of punishment, worry about going to hell and a constant feeling of guilt which overcomes the joy of God’s presence and blessings in our lives. Some of our brothers and sisters have developed severe obsessive-compulsive disorder because of this trend. The term is called scrupulosity and it is a dangerous and sad state of being. I once consulted a brother who would take one hour to make wudu’ (ablution) and two to three hours to pray. He would repeat rituals over and over again until he got them perfect. He did this out of fear that his prayer would not be accepted due to his wrong impression of God as powerful and judgmental. I have personally worked with clients who had psychotic breakdowns as a result of this mentality. May the Divine help us.
One of the ways I help such people is by asking clients to re-frame their perception of Islam as a “Yes Religion”. Everything is, by default, halal (permissible) except for what has been made haram. Islam is not merely a religion of regulations and deprivations. We have to look at the “yes” side, the plus side, the blessings and gifts God has actually given us. Living Islam is a path that gives much more than it takes.
Reflect on this:
- We get 24 hours a day, and we are expected to spend about 25 to 30 minutes of the day connecting with our Creator through prayer. That is 1.7% of the day in prayer. The rest is our time. We have twelve months a year. Only one month a year, God asks us to practice self-discipline through fasting and focusing on His worship. Through this fast, we still get to eat and drink by sunset and gain physical and psycho-spiritual benefits. That is 92% percent of the year left to us to eat whenever we wish.
- Yes, God asks us to give about 2.5% of our wealth to those in need, those less privileged than us. But, you still get to keep about 97.5% of your wealth and assets.
- If we are financially and physically able, God calls on us to make pilgrimage to Mecca only one time in our whole life, in return for His forgiveness! Not once a year, not once a decade, but once in our entire life. If you live to be 80 years old, performing one hajj requires only about 0.017% of your time. We can eat and drink everything except the few things which are harmful to us: pork, alcohol, and carnivores like lions, tigers and bears, which are not a common food source for human beings anyway. Other than that, you may enjoy all kinds of food and drink.
There are many more examples that show that Islam is a “Yes Religion”. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said ”yes” to nearly all requests that came his way, as well as:
- Forgiving people and being patient in the face of wrongdoings.
- Flexibility and tolerance to other people’s culture and customs
- Letting everyone accept da`wa (the call to Islam) in their own time, without passing judgments
- Helping and supporting others
- Being optimistic, friendly, and meeting people with a smile
It has even been said that if it were not for the “no” in the shahada (there is no god other than God), the Prophet ﷺ might have never used the word.
I encourage you to reframe your perspective and make your own list of how Islam gives more than it takes. Focus on what Islam offers more than what it forbids. Let’s get back to this “yes” mentality. Let’s acknowledge the gifts and the blessings, and appreciate all that God has granted us. Let’s turn towards God with love. Let’s pray because we want to. Let’s find joy in existence and look forward to meeting our Lord.
Karim Serageldin is a dedicated psychologist with years of experience working with the Muslim community. His practice is called Noor Psychology and he facilitates workshops, counseling and life coaching, with an integrated approach of Islamic spiritual values, contemporary psychology and scientific research.
Salaam. Excellent post. So many people confront Islam as a don’t-do-this-don’t-do-that way of life. Little rules, as if that is all there is to Islam. When I first professed myself as a Muslim, the VERY FIRST THING I was told was to cut my fingernails. Not how to establish a relationship with Allah (swt). Not how to make salaat. (I had to figure that out from a book.) Not how to make ablution. (I had to ask, and had not even been told that it was part of prayer.) No, cut my fingernails. That is the way Islam was presented to me: what sock to put on first, and the like. Is it any wonder that so many converts become puzzled and ask, Is this all there is to Islam? And some of them fall away.
Thank you for your reflections! I believe the top priority of any convert is a proper relationship to the Divine.
I think that is so, but unfortunately, as I indicated, that is sometimes (often?) not the way Islam is presented to (at least some) converts: not “a proper relationship to the Divine” but little rules of minute behavior, do this and don’t do that, and make sure you put your socks on in the right order (I am not kidding). The real question is, How should Islam properly be presented to inquirers (potential or actual converts), and how should the community deal with those who are more concerned with fingernails and socks than with one’s personal, profound relationship with Allah (swt), a relationship that might transform’s one life? It seems to me that in some places, at least, in the western countries, things are badly askew in how Islam is presented.
This is an ongoing journey Br Paul. Education towards an integrated Islamic understanding is needed in many parts of the world and of course here in the U.S. as the generations that came before, brought their “versions of Islam” which is highly shaped by culture and politics. I believe there are psycho-social and historical roots as to why our intellectual and spiritual tradition has lost it’s potency in practice. That is a another story.
I feel every individual must sincerely work on themselves, share their experiences, open conversations and those in position to teach, should teach. Alhamdulilah there are many brothers and sisters working towards re-education on the issue of Islamic understanding and practice. I am able to reach out through my workshops and the families and individuals I work with directly, as God blesses me to do so. Keep your ummah in your prayers!
beautiful reminder, but when you look closer you can see ALLAH gave us all the keys to get a better life and live in peace and quiet , we know what is right or not for us , if you want to perfect and represent this wonderful religion so correct yourself first and respect others people , ALLAH says in the Quran ” It’s not you call people to embracced Islam it’s ALLAH , your duty is only to have a good behaviour and learn your religion each day or once a week , because of ignorance many people don’t understand and makes mistakes.
Thank you for your comment. Yes knowledge is the greatest worship. Through knowledge we are illuminated and with this light we can see and act accordingly!
Thank you for your feedback. I concur. Individual responsibility must be revived in our hearts. Often we remain in a pattern of religious practice that was inherited from our families and cultures. Every one must seek knowledge and do their best to represent the values of Islam in an excellent way. May God forgive and bless us, Amin.
Yes, amazing indeed 🙂
Such a succinct and articulate piece! Beautiful 🙂
Thank you so much! Keep smiling, it’s Sunnah!
I think we should also reflect that, in many (most?) of the passages giving the rules and boundaries, whether in worship or in behaviour, it comes with indications of flexibility and conditions of relaxation, and/or with God’s names of ‘Forgiver’, ‘All-Merciful’, or along that theme. It is as though God has already anticipated we’re going to fail to live up to it at some point, which is when we would need to remember God is also Merciful and Forbearing.
Otherwise, we would become completely immobilised as a community, or give up entirely. Oh wait, we have now achieved this condition. :p
Thank you so much for your feedback. Absolutely, our tradition is supple and the attributes of Allah can play a large role in our personal development along with knowing the Divine deeply.
I find this piece inspiring and correctional of islam perception. We need this to moderate extremist/terrorost muslims.
Amin! I find that whenever extremes exist a middle course is usually closer to the truth. For example obsession, of punishment is no better than obsession with love of the Divine. Although I’d rather be in love more, still a healthy harmony is needed to stay on track.
Man aha Allah, a very wonderful lines. This will help in correcting the perspective of Islam and restrictions. Allah(swt) is All-mercifull.
Thank you for the support! God bless you!
Healing and law both work hand in hand