Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.
“We are neither Sunni, Shia nor Ibadi (the third intellectual branch of Islam that is often overlooked).
Instead, our parents raised us to use the Qur’an only and form our own ideas in regards to faith from there.”
There is so much within Islamic History (arguably, also, there is a distinction to be made between ‘Islamic’ history and ‘Muslim’ history) and within the Islamic sciences that I, at present, am not so well-acquainted with. Oceans of knowledge to explore, Masha Allah. ‘Ibadis’: according to a quick Google search, they are an intellectual branch of Islam dominant in Oman, and also present in parts of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and East Africa, and they emerged within the first century of Islam (Islam in this case i.e. the Muhammadan confirmation, and not the primordial, Adāmic-and-onwards Hanif tradition).
So, so much to learn, Insha Allah: who are, for example, the ‘Ash’aris? What makes the Shafi’is different from the… Hanafis? Mālikis? Hanbalis? What do Atharis think? The Mu’tazilites? Etc.
How syncretic in nature, for instance, is Sufism? What makes a person ‘Salafi’? And so on.
ع [an Arabic letter. There is no equivalent in the English alphabet, but it denotes a unique guttural ‘a’ sound] is quite interested in Islamic history. Born in Chelmsford, Essex, to Pakistani parents who encouraged an attitude of respectful intellectual exploration within the Deen, ع’s family moved to Bromley in London some sixteen years ago, since they had found a home there with suitable facilities for his sibling who has a disability.
Over the years, he explains, ع’s current area of residence has become more ethnically diverse, yet when they had first moved in there, they had been the only BAME family around. ع has faced several incidents of racial prejudice (he can recall about twelve explicitly racist incidents that have occurred over the time his family has been living there, from one set of neighbours…).
The second Muslim, BAME family to have moved into the area (through Qadr) had been ع’s neighbour Shabbir’s family. ع and he had essentially grown up together: although they had attended different schools and such, they are very close friends (Masha Allah) and ع considers Shabbir’s family to be “amazing and you couldn’t ask for better neighbours even if you wanted to”; “his family (mum, dad and 5 sons) are the most kind and well-mannered people you will ever meet”*.
But: “Being a minority in a predominantly white area has meant that I never really connected with my endz”.
ع’s parents encouraged their children to also study other religious scriptures such as the Bible, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita, the Avesta, and so on.
“In my studies I’ve found that pretty much all these books are derived from one eternal source of truth.
You can find the Qur’anic essence in many religious scriptures (evidence that Allah did indeed send prophets to all people).”
The Muslim belief is that the ‘Hanif’ (Pure Monotheistic) tradition has been here since the time of Ādam (AS), the first human being. And yet, over time, and as a result of different people’s choices and actions, other scriptures have since been distorted, with some things added, and maybe with some things taken away, altered, over time.
“They [his parents] just wanted me to have conviction in what ever it was I do believe in and to never follow anyone or anything blindly (yes, including the Qur’an too). This has pretty much been their approach to most things other than faith.” He adds:
“Of course, cleaning my room is non-negotiable.”
ع initially questioned things, including whether God is there or not. Something that did not really quite help: a visiting relative who decided to scream at him over it. To encourage a person towards Islam necessitates understanding of them, emotional/interpersonal awareness, as well as the understanding that human beings do not guide: Allah does.
ع began to become more spiritually-inclined over time, just as a lot of people (know to) do. ‘Spirituality’: it’s interesting, sometimes, when you ask someone to try to define it. They might sometimes might say they can’t, exactly, yet we do have an intrinsic knowing of what it is. To be… connected. To Greater than ourselves.
“I then dug deeper into the Qur’an. I looked at it honestly, but also critically.
I eventually accepted that the Qur’an was sent to us by Allah, and said my Shahādah* with conviction for the first time in my life at the age of 17.
I remember that day vividly. I was alone in my room at around 01:00.” He recalls feeling, in that moment:
“A joyful happiness knowing that Allah is there for me.”
“Ultimately, my journey to Islam wasn’t the most conventional but I got there in the end. In many ways I’m glad it happened this way because I can say with certainty that everything I do is honest and true to myself.”
Being Muslim is a lifelong journey of learning.
“There are still many things that I’m trying to work out but now I have no doubts about the existence of Allah. It’s the one thing I can say with absolute certainty. I know for a fact Allah’s got my back and that Allah will never forsake me. Allah’s been there since day one.”
“Most people tend to think I’m weird when I tell them I only recognise the Qur’an as the sole spiritual authority in my Islam.”
Personally, I can understand this sentiment, and my view is that the Qur’an is the main spiritual authority. And, yet, I also believe that Muhammad (SAW) had been sent not only as a transmitter of the Word through speech, but also through action, an elucidator of what is meant, for example, by ‘establish the Salāh’, and ‘observe fasting’. His wife ‘A’isha (RA) had described him as being a “walking Qur’an”, and so I adhere to the belief that we should seek to follow the Qur’an and (by extension, perhaps) the Sunnah*.
‘Hadīth’ are sayings, narrations, historical recordings of this Sunnah. Some are weak, sure. But I think that we can often forget that the sources of guidance in Islam are: Reason, Revelation (the Qur’an, and the Prophet (SAW), who embodied Allah’s directions), and… Al-Hayy (the Ever-Living), Al-Mujeeb (The One who Responds). I genuinely do think that questions can, and perhaps should, be referred to, asked to, Allah: Du’a, and maintaining that connection (“You we ask for help”, from Surah Fātihah) is a form of worship, and integral to faith.
ع writes about, for example, his interactions with a person who is half-Czech, half-Assyrian, with ancestry from the Jacobites (one of the earliest communities of Christians) and a conversation that took place between them, while they had been out for lunch, pertaining to the Halal food he had ordered. “A beautiful moment of cross-cultural harmony. A ‘redneck’ and a Muslim learning about each others’ lifestyles and breaking down barriers.”
The chef had also asked for ع’s social media; ع writes that he frequently finds that people he comes across in public seem to want to become friends with him (Masha Allah).
He is grateful to his parents for giving him not only guidance, but also love and space for him to grow and develop (Masha Allah, Allahummabārik).
“I’m still learning every day. Ultimately only Allah has the full picture. But what I can say is that I strive to be honest in my beliefs and my approach.“
- After taking a gap year [i.e. time away from formal schooling], he is going to study Policy, Politics, and Economics at university, Insha Allah.
*Excerpts from an email submission for this series, written by ع.
*Shahādah — the Islamic declaration of faith. Bearing witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah, and that Muhammad (SAW) is His Prophet, servant and Messenger.
*Sunnah — the Way shown to us by Muhammad (SAW).
“Thus it is due to mercy from Allah that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hard-hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you.” — Qur’an (3:159)