Islamic Studies

New Years and the Struggle For Self Definition

By Yunus Abdullah

This year has been one that I’m certain I’ll always vividly remember, ironically because of things I’m trying desperately to forget. I’ve anxiously anticipated the year 2007 since I was in elementary school; it was to be the year that I turned eighteen, the year that I graduated highschool, the year that I moved out, and the year that I started college. Thankfully, I’ve accomplished all of the above, but neither one in the fashion that I first imagined amid the sandbox in the playground behind my grade school classroom. Now it’s 12:30 am, January 1, 2008; that year withered away faster than that sand did from my fingers.

My brother once told me that the New Year is a time to reflect upon the successes and failures of the departing year, so I am. One thing I recall was constantly assuring myself and those around me was that I was always busy, in fact I felt so overwhelmed that I took a cue from him and started to make to-do lists in an attempt to tailor my time wisely. Nevertheless I still endured nights of sleeplessness and bouts of anxiety over my ‘priorities’. I was too busy many times to pray, too busy to review the Quran I learned as a child, too busy help out the mosque when they asked, too busy to call my parents, too busy to care. What was it that made me so busy?

I realize now that as my lists were vanquished by ambitious checkmark after checkmark that I haven’t really accomplished all that much. In retrospect, what I did accomplish was… rather vain.

Now here I am, in 2008 and 8000 miles away from the US in the Middle East, where it is being made painfully clear to me that much, if not most of the world doesn’t lead the kind of life I do, the kind I’ve loved to be ungrateful for. Uncharacteristic of me, I have managed thus far to refrain from excess complaining about the lack of luxury and ‘entertainment’ which distinguishes the developing nations of the Muslim world. I might even go as far as to say I’m relieved to be distant from the woes of compulsively pursuing the next fix of entertainment, the addiction of our generation. I believe the sobriety is forcing the pieces to coalesce, and recently I’ve realize that I can’t get these two verses from the Quran out of my head, the first two of chapter takathur: “The rivalry in worldly increase distracts you, until you come to the graves.” (102:1-2).

No, two thousand seven is no different than any other year. Time is never going to slow down for you or me. Assuming I live the full life expectancy of an American male, I’m approximately one quarter done with my life. I’m racing to think of what I’ve done with thus far. It seems all I’ve really done is make friends, hang out, and find new ways to waste time. I don’t think many of my peers can disagree. It’s really all I’ve seen in college as well, sure we all study (well, most of us), but it seems as if the social element of college casts a vast shadow over its academia.

So then where does it end? Does it end? Is that really the purpose of life? Whoever dies and either has or did the most stuff wins? I asked a friend of mine a similar question to which he immediately replied his life was his own and people were free to ‘pursue happiness’, a reference to the first amendment, no matter what it may be – drugs, alcohol, sex, money,… whatever! Fair enough, I think he was right. These people are in the pursuit of happiness, but they never reach their destination. They die in pursuit. My life up until the present has been largely a hedonistic obsession with all of the above, and, paradoxically, they haven’t made me happy. Drugs lead me to a crushing addiction, more sex just made me feel empty, and money just bought me more trouble. And my friends? Well, most of them just helped me waste my time. No, I don’t chasing whatever fun catches your eye will ever make anyone happy.

When I finally stumbled across these thoughts it dawned upon me that I needed to do what would give me peace of mind and not what would just give me something to do on the weekends. I found I already knew the only thing that could give me that peace… Islam. Honestly, it repulsed me at first; I thought the life of a devout Muslim to be depressingly sterile. I think a lot of Muslim youth (and a lot of not-so-Muslim youth) would concur. Since then I’ve managed to come to terms with those preliminary despairs of that epiphany. I have come to believe that the life of a true Muslim is, in fact, realistically attainable. It’s not the absolute easiest way, but it’s definitely not the most difficult. It’s the middle way, but in the end everyone must make their own choices. Sooner or later everyone must, or rather should, ask themselves what they really want out of life. Only when you know can you really start living your life, otherwise you’re just an existence.

And whatever worldly things you are given are only the comforts of this life and its show, but what is with Allah is better and more lasting. Then will you not be wise?
– Qasas 60

I hope you find what you’re looking for,

Yunus Abdullah

About the author

Guest Authors

Guest Authors

As a virtual mosque, we strive to provide a safe space for learning and discussion. We would like to invite our readers to join this process. Everyone has a reflection to share, expertise on a specific topic, or a new idea. We hope, by opening up submissions from guest authors, that we can highlight the work of new, talented writers in our virtual community.

Add Comment

  • i’m looking for myself not to waste time and to prioritize my life. to have strong objectives which help me stay focused. i have them, alHamdolilah, but need to keep motivated. keep us in your dua’as.

  • Asalaamu alikum,

    A beautiful sorry, masha’allah- the verses from Surah Takathur were particularly poignant in defining our generation. They really him home.

    It was interesting to read your thoughts regarding new year related issues: yesterday’s nightmares and tomorrow’s unseen dreams…these are all considered in the New Year Reflection series at Don’t be said. Please do journey by when you get the time, you are most welcome and so are your comments, suggestions and criticisms.

    Jazak’allah khair

    Wa salaamu alikum

    Don’t be sad

Leave a Comment