One day my freshman year in high school, my principal, Mr. Pries, called me into his office. I was expecting to be chewed out for something, but instead, he smiled, looked me in the eye and asked me, “Who are you?” I was a little confused and mumbled an answer, an incomplete one. I had never really thought about it, so I didn’t know what to say. “When you can answer that question,” he said, “I’d like you to come back and tell me.”
His question planted a seed in me; not a seed of doubt, but of clarity. It dawned on me that the answer to it was the most important piece of knowledge I would acquire, if I could. The question always returned, despite the considerable distractions of being a teenager. I realized that I would not have been so baffled had I been asked this question just a few years earlier. It struck me then that you can learn your true nature only by retrieving and holding on to who you were as a child.
I learned that being true to one’s self means to believe in God alone and do the right thing, that is, that which is pleasing to Him. We know what that is from the revelation given to the prophets, but this is only a reminder. Before all else, we know what is right because it is inherent in our own souls, though we often fail to follow it, and I am the first to admit my failures and weaknesses. In every moment and aspect of our lives, we find the opportunity to do right with the time and resources apportioned to us. As for me, I feel especially inclined toward two goals: to help those who are oppressed or suffering, and to help end conflict and strife.
These are the words of Br. Ismail Royer writing to the judge presiding in his case. The rest of the letter focuses on Br. Ismail's journey to fulfill his goals and how he saw his actions which he was later prosecuted for. But I would like to stop at the first two paragraphs, because I can really relate to them.
I remember looking at myself in the mirror during my undergrad years and seeing an attractive young lady, but one who I didn't recognize as myself. And it wasn't just the physical aspect. That bothered me, but I couldn't figure out what to do about it. Besides, everyone else seemed to like me so I played along.
I finally found myself and was able to take off the mask I had unknowingly put on when I began caring more about pleasing Allah than pleasing people. A few months after first wearing hijab, I looked in the mirror and finally recognized the person I saw. It was not so much the piece of cloth, but the confidence of returning to my fitrah.
Anyways, back to Br. Ismail. Read the rest of his letter to the judge to find out more about his case. Read his recent letter from prison to get some insight into his thoughts on Islam and Muslims today. Excerpts below which offer some food for thought:
My main theme is that, just as many of Islam’s critics allege, it is true that Islam is incompatible with the modern world. That’s because the modern world is itself incompatible with the human soul, whereas Islam is the natural state of the human soul. Modernity is the product of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and related development, which were for the most part conscious revolts against God.
It is therefore impossible to coherently be a Muslim and at the same time have a mindset rooted in Enlightenment assumptions-just as it is impossible to be in submission to Allah while being in revolt against Him.
Incidentally, it is the latter position that cures the western Muslim’s soul of the schizophrenia arising from being a Western Muslim, for it is not the fact of being Western in heritage or language or culture that gives him schizophrenia, but it is in trying to synthesize Islam and Enlightenment ideology that does so. We reject the worship of other than Allah alone and what necessarily follows from that, but we do not reject being Western anymore than Bilal rejected being Ethiopian, or Salman rejected being Persian, or the Malay rejected being Malay when they embraced Islam.
In fact Islamic and Western culture overlap to a great extent, so aside from the issue of the recent hedonistic and other harmful elements in Western culture, the matter viewed in this light is no longer very intelligible. And even our rejection of any unjust actions of our people does not change who we are: “O my people! Yours is the kingdom this day!” cautioned the believing Egyptian.
This is not a new topic, actually it's one I am sometimes tired of, but I think Br. Ismail's letters do merit some thought and discussion, at the very least.