By Sarah Joseph
I have experienced a lot of reactions from people when they found out that I became a Muslim. Confusion, happiness, incredulity, joy, outrage; but the reaction that I am most uncomfortable with is when a Muslim says to me, “You chose to be a Muslim. You are better than I am.”
I do not accept the idea of me being “better” in faith than someone else is. That’s really for God to decide. I know my own imperfections, and as I mull over them I know also that I cannot even console myself with “I try my best”. I know that my “best” can be better than it is currently. We should not judge another’s relationship with God – either to think theirs is better or worse than our own. Our duty is to our own relationship with The Divine.
“There is no compulsion in religion,” as the Qur’an loftily reminds us in Surat Al-Baqarah 2:256. Thus, everyone must make their own free choice to self-surrender their lives to God, or not.
Even if we can trace our lineage back to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) himself, we as an individual have to decide whether we are going to merely accept some inherited identities from our parents or whether we are going to actively own the faith for ourselves – intellectually, morally and spiritually.
We cannot inherit faith; it is something that has to come to our own hearts – through our own efforts and God’s grace.
Our daily lives are a constant distraction from God. Endless to-do lists, jobs, money, homes, studies, people, all compete for our attention. Most of us are surrounded by others, and in many ways we live our lives with and through them.
Our parents, siblings, cousins and other family members shape our early life. Teachers and first friends shape the next few years. Marital relationships and children take up our adulthood, and then work and social colleagues too. All of these people can be a conduit to our life choices – for better or for worse. Yet we will stand alone before God one Day, and thus we have to learn to be alone with God in this world too.
Being alone with God is not always easy. There is the mischief of the whisperer who whispers into the hearts of mankind (Qur’an 114:5) in order to distract us, and then there is self-realization and awareness of our own weaknesses. This can be a painful experience, but we cannot hide from them if we are true to ourselves.
We are never out of God’s presence. The question we have to ask ourselves is, are we happy to be in His presence? God is always there, but do we want to re-orientate our life’s compass and move towards Him? Do we want Him in our lives? Or is His presence a hindrance to all the other things we want to do, and which we think will give us pleasure?
God has promised in a hadith Qudsi:
“He who draws close to Me a hand’s span, I will draw close to him an arm’s length. And whoever draws near Me an arm’s length, I will draw near him a fathom’s length. And whoever comes to Me walking, I will go to him running.” (Muslim)
Thus, any small move towards God will bring Him close; even our sins are not a barrier to His engagement in our life for He has promised to provide forgiveness.
The only barrier is our decision. But it is not a once in a lifetime decision. We have to keep choosing God. Every day that we are alive, we have the opportunity to make a conscious decision to let the Creator of the universe be a central part of our day, or not.
As such, the fact I chose Islam does not seem to be very remarkable to me. We all have to choose, and I continue to choose Islam on a daily basis.
Once we make that choice, and once we draw near to God through worship then, as the hadith Qudsi promises, “I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks.” (Al-Bukhari) This is because our life then becomes orientated towards Him.
The article first appeared in Emel Magazine, Issue 77, February 2011.
Sarah Joseph is CEO and Editor of Muslim Lifestyle magazine(emel) and commentator on British Muslims. She is a writer and a broadcaster and lectures on Islam both within the UK and internationally (USA, Europe, Middle and Far East). Sarah converted to Islam at the age of 16 in 1988 after being brought up as a Catholic.