Home / Islam / Aqeedah and Fiqh / Lessons from Ignorance: Part 1

Lessons from Ignorance:  Part 1

Lessons from Ignorance: Part 1

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Dilbert - Ignorance“So, what religion are you?”

“Ummm, I think I'm half-Muslim, half-Christian because my mom is Muslim, but my dad is Christian.”

This is just a guess on my part, but after reading that, I bet your thoughts may have looked something like the following:

“Subhaan'Allāh, this guy's a moron.”

“Great, another ABCD – American Born Confused Dummy.”

::smack!:: (the sound of your palm smacking your forehead)

“Look at the state of our Ummah – this misguided person doesn't know the difference between ethnicity and religion!”

For other interesting reactions, check out the post on the AlMaghrib forums:

Had I encountered someone who said something like that a few years ago, I'd probably have reacted the same way myself, except that the person who made those comments was none other than the author of this post at the age of 14.

That's right – I was the one who, while 100% a believing Muslim, called himself half-Muslim, half-Christian. I remember the desi kids who asked me that were like, “How does that work? Do you believe Jesus is the Son, but then you don't?”

As I think back on it even now, I can't help but find it funny. How could I have been so dumb? But there it was – I was practicing Islam to the best of the little-to-no-knowledge that I had (and I certainly had not an iota of Christian belief or practice that I followed), but somehow I had mixed up my concepts of race and ethnicity.

I'll bet if many of us were to take a moment now and reflect on some ideas or beliefs we held years ago, or some dumb statements that we made in the past, we'd find them pretty funny in retrospect.

There's an interesting story about 'Umar ibn al-Khattaab (ra) in which he was seen first laughing and then crying. When questioned about it, he said that he was remembering his life before Islam.

He recalled that at one time, he was in need a god to worship, but there were none available for him at that moment. So what did he do? He pulled out some dates from his pocket, formed them into a god, and then worshipped it.

So what's so funny about that? Was he laughing about committing shirk? Actually, he was laughing because after he was done with his worship, he became hungry and proceeded to EAT the god made of dates. Can you imagine how funny that must have seemed post-shahadah?

Of course, it's not always that we have happy memories of past mistakes – many times, there are moments of regret, of shame, of pain, of wanting to go back and undo mistakes that we had made. The same was true of 'Umar in this story.

He continued, explaining that he was crying because his wife at that time had delivered a baby girl, and as was the practice before Islam, he buried his daughter alive. He remembered being able to hear her coughing as the sand was covering her face, and this was what brought him to tears.

Another version of the story mentions she was a bit older, and while 'Umar was digging the hole to bury her, she would wipe the sand that would get in his beard, and this memory was what caused him to cry, wallaahu a'lam.

I have a few regrets myself from back in those high school years. During my junior year, I remember there were two Muslim sisters (both in Islam and family members) that stood out more so than all the other Muslim girls in our school because they did something unusual – they wore hijaab. By my senior year, another of their sisters had joined the school, and we had three sisters in our school, all hijaabis.

Can you imagine that? Three Muslim girls wearing hijaab in high school of all places? High school was the absolute worst place to look or dress differently than anyone else because of the social backlash that came with it, and come it did. I remember students would sometimes comment on them, wondering sarcastically if they were bald, or had bugs in their hair, or something else.

That wasn't the worst part. The worst was what I thought about them. Here I was, their Muslim brother, so ignorant of Islam that I myself never stood up for them, and even looked down on them. I remember one time thinking, don't you guys realize this isn't medieval times? We're in the 20th century now! May Allāh subhaana wa ta'aala reward them for their strength and resolve in the face of so much criticism.

It'd be great to ride a DeLorean Marty McFly style and change the past for the better, but what's happened has happened and what we can do is look back a bit and search for lessons to benefit ourselves for future use, inshā'Allāh.

One lesson I realized much later was that when I see people who are not practicing Islam properly (meaning, they have ideas about Islam that no scholar holds, or they are what we would call “nonpracticing”), it's not correct to automatically assume that everyone is at the same level of knowledge and understanding, and therefore condemn them if they don't know what is obvious to you (assuming you don't know them, or anything about them).

I recall that later as I started to learn more of Islam in college, I would start looking at others thinking, why isn't he doing this, or why isn't she doing that? Astagfirillaah, how could someone say that?! That was the type of attitude I had towards other people's personal flaws or mistakes in understanding, meanwhile I was (and still am) a work in progress.

After having this type of attitude for many years, eventually I realized, hey, what if someone looked at me the same way because of how I practiced or thought Islam was, back when I was ridiculously ignorant? That ignorance was really not my fault – I was not taught these issues growing up by my family, and maybe, just maybe, those other people I was looking down on now might be in the same situation I was in way back when. Shouldn't I find out more about them first before inwardly condemning and feeling offended by them?

I recall Shaykh Muḥammad Alshareef once use a metaphor for moving one's life in the right direction. He said that if you're trying to get to some destination, if you ask someone for directions, the first question they'll ask you is, “Where are you right now?” Knowing where you are, you can get relevant directions to where you need to go.

Likewise when approaching people with the intent of helping them become better practicing Muslims – before we can tell them what they should do and why, we can't assume they're parked right next to us in terms of our own knowledge, practice, and understanding. We need to first figure out where they're at, and then help provide a solution that's appropriate for that them, not ourselves.

Many of us know the story of the bedouin who walked into the masjid, picked a corner, and proceeded relieve himself there. We also know the way that the Companions wanted to deal with him, and we know how the Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallim treated him, seeing that he was a bedouin – he didn't assume that the man knew that urinating in the masjid was not allowed, and so he explained to him in a kind and merciful manner that one didn't do this kind of thing in the masjid.

Surprising as it may seem, smashing someone on the head with a hammer (as I once used to do) is often not the best way to help bring our brothers and sisters in Islam to proper knowledge and better practice. It's been my experience over the years that mercy, kindness, and not being personally offended go a long way in helping people come closer to Allāh subhaana wa ta'aala, and one of the best ways to achieve that mercy and kindness is to lay off on the assumptions and pre-judgements until one has a clear picture of who they're really dealing with and trying to help, inshā'Allāh.

These are just small samplings of the mistakes in my understanding of Islam (among many) that I've had over the years – how about you? What mistakes in understanding and knowledge have you learned lessons from over the years?

allah insha'allah masjid muhammad

About Siraaj

Siraaj is a software engineer whose interests lay in the intersection of personal development and practical Islamic living, particularly with respect to time management and physical fitness. He remains an incorrigible news junkie and lives in the bay area with his family

34 comments

  1. welcome to our new assoc. writer – siraaj :)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Yes, welcome indeed… hopefully your Part 2 and Part 3 won’t take forever like some of ours’ ;)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Haha, jazakallaah khayr for the welcome and the opportunity to write for MM.

    Siraaj

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. I’ve been through this change as well. I wasn’t taught Islam though I was told I was Muslim. I had what I considered a Muslim dad and a half-Muslim mom. And things were told to me more in terms of culture than spriituality or practice. Now that I have accepted Islam, alhumdulillah, and am happy with my identity as Muslim, I find it much easier to be less judgmental of others who are maybe even making the same mistakes as I was (or that I still make).

    I remember one brother at the masjid stopped me after a prayer to let me know that I wasn’t covering properly for prayer. I was really offended by him, and held it against him for years. But subhan’Allah it couldn’t have been easy to approach me, and he was right. I hadn’t been praying long and didn’t know. I mistook the man’s genuine concern that my prayers might not be accepted for overbearing extremism. In the end, it turned out that I was simply oversensitive because I was so busy judging others I assumed he must be doing the same to me. May Allah reward him for his thoughtfulness and sincerity.

    You’re right. We’re not perfect. We are works in progress, no matter how firm we feel our faith is. I still find myself falling back into what I consider “backbiting” mode now and again. But it gets easier every day, and posts like this that demonstrate it’s an issue for others really helps to reinforce my resolve to change. Masha’Allah, nice post and I look forward to the others.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Asalaamu Alaaikum

    Very good post. I’ve had very simliar experiences. Think of it this way, you (directed to everyone) were lost at one point in your life, and Allah SWT guided you. Now that He SWT has are you going to turn into this arrogant person? And look down on those now who were just like you then? No.

    Insha’Allah looking forward to next parts

    Wa’alaykum Asalaam

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Great post!

    JazakAllahu Khair

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Asalaamu alaikum. Great post on an important topic.

    In addition to making sure we know what level of knowledge and understanding our fellow Muslims (especially new converts) are at, we need to use care in what knowledge we share. I know one convert sister who asked excellent questions as she became more willing to say the shahadah – for instance, she accepted tawheed fully but asked why the profession of faith also required acknowledging Muhammad (SAW), which seemed to her to put the Prophet on the same level as God. Great question – and she had it answered, and became Muslim. Unfortunately, when the sisters took her under their wing what she came away with was don’t wear high heels, don’t clip your nails after sunset, and get rid of your dogs.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah – Welcome bro Siraaj to MM :)

    I remember saying some reeeeally dumb things way back when, and thinking even worse things – and I probably still do! May Allah forgive me, and protect me from further instances of stupidity.

    Putting yourself in other people’s shoes does help a lot, especially if you remember that you were donning the same pair of loafers (or high heels), not so long ago. :)

    The story about Umar burying his daughter alive is very sad… you can only imagine how much it hurt him to think of that incident, with a heart as soft as his. I think we often get the image that Umar was some big, tough guy – and yes, he was certainly tough – but not in the way we imagine modern “macho men” to be. He was not emotionally detached; his immense fear of Allah kept his heart alive and in touch with the suffering of others. May Allah be pleased with him.

    I look forward to parts 2 & 3, insha’Allah.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. As-salaamu ‘alaikum, and jazakAllahu khair for a great post!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Salaam alaykum all,

    Shawna and Anisa:
    Yeah, it’s really interesting how we sometimes project ourselves, our thoughts and intentions, on others. And yes, the works in progress realization with a very late breakthrough for me, and in the context of this article, just as I may be further along than others, others are also further along than me – what if they looked at me negatively the way I looked at others who I had “judged” to be behind me?

    Ruth:
    Masha’Allah, you beat me to the punch – insha’Allah the next article will touch on this very issue, so stay tuned =)

    iMuslim:
    Although putting myself in other’s high heels may be a bit difficult (my feet are big and I’m not very well coordinated), the ability to understand and listening empathetically are so so important – I recall first encountering this idea in Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and understanding in theory what that means and actually practicing it, it’s been a serious struggle for me, and I can see at times it is a struggle for many others as well.

    Siraaj

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Mashallah very enlightening article, looking forward to the other parts inshallah.

    Acknowledging aspects of my faith and learning to respect other people’s beliefs and thoughts about certain things is something I came to terms with in my late teenage years as well. I remember a specific incident a few years back where a Muslim sister and dear friend of mine persisted on changing my mind about something I believed in. Trying not to be rude, I listenened and showed understanding, but after a while my patience ran out unfortunately and I made a firm intention to counter her arguments. So we debated and debated and of course nothing came of it. The day after I realized that things of the nature we were debating (methodology etc) are not things to be debated or presuaded about, but should just be accepted and move on. I realized there’s so many other things we can learn about and spend our time wisely discussing.
    I think when reading this most people, if not everyone, can take a trip back through time and realize some things you mentioned which also relate to them. It takes experience and learning through mistakes to realize what one should/should do in terms of actions and beliefs. For me, this has played out in regards to helping a few close friends of mine who reverted to Islam find their way into the deen. There are a few things which I think I did wrong or could have done better, but alhamdulillah Allah gives us lesson through our mistakes, so I’m glad those few odd occurences happened, otherwise I wouldn’t know what I do today. It’s important like you say, to realize that not everyone is “parked right next to us” in terms of knowledge and practice. Assessing where a person is the first step to helping them. And if you don’t know where they are you can’t help them get to where they want to be. Thanks for addressing this.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. You know on the whole half Muslim half Christian thing, I think the sad truth is that for the most part in the US religion is more cultural than devotional. Muslims are Muslims because of the food they eat and Christian are Christians because they celebrate Christmas. For many people that’s as deep as it goes but it still represents their identity which is scary because then it becomes as dangerous as the ignorance of nationalism. Where it’s all about competing identities rather than devotion to ALLAH. What is supposed to be spiritual quest and struggle becomes a flag waving contest.

    This is best observed with the ever so popular ambiguous “facts” that begin “did you know that so and so famous historical figure was a Muslim?” But that, of course, is the one of the least harmful incarnations.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Jazaakallaahu khayran Bro. Siraaj. A very reflective post.

    I remember when I was in my final year in the college, a brother was recounting to me the experience they had while preaching to me when I was in my junior years and lack much of islamic understanding. He said, “do you remember what you said when we advised you against listening to music”. I said i could not remember. He then said, “you (i.e. myself) said, that you people should not even go there at all, if it is every other thing (like salah, etc), no problem, but as for music, No way! and its not possible”. Wow, that was a shock to me. Alhamdulillahi, it has really helped to shape my thought and interaction with people of lesser understanding. Although, I’ll say there is still a long way to go.

    May Allaah bless Bro. Siraaj for this loud reflection.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. MashaAllah, great article Siraaj. Looking forward to the series.

    It’s like a mental transition most newly practicing Muslims have to go through; being mindful for other people’s backgrounds before passing a judgment.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Before I got more involved in the Muslim faith, my mom would get somewhat frustrated( I don’t know but it seemed that way to me) by telling me That I shouldn’t claim the Christian faith if I’m going to the masjid. Initially, I just seen myself as just visiting, but I began to realize that I was visiting there more than church. . People can have an appreciation of one or more religions( which , if I had a family would like for them to do), but it may seem a little difficult to do both. Even in my former religion of Christianity, there was those being ” half-AME/Baptist”in my family, but at the end, I just went with the Baptist faith.Right now, I ‘m at neither as my classes has prevented me from going to masjid( though a couple of times, I was fortunate when my professor had conferences to attend), but my mind is focused totally on the Muslim faith.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. As a teacher, on a daily basis, I have to deal with high schoolers going through a transition in their life. Sometimes it is almost painful to watch their behavior, hear about their priorities, and moral dillemas. I often just want to grab their shoulders and shake them! But, then I have to remind myself of my *own* behavior when I was their age, and everything is put back into prospective. So I have to ask myself, “What would I have needed at that time in my life? Someone to judge me or someone to gently give me some advice and guide me.” As it turns out, the second option usually works a lot better, alhumdu’lillah.

    Great article, well written. I’m looking forward to reading more from you, insha’Allah.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. inexplicabletimelessness

    Great advice and article, mashaAllah.

    Just an FYI, sister Peaches, why don’t you check out the Islamway sisters site: http://sisters.islamway.com/forum
    There are many sisters from all over the world with similar backgrounds to you even who go there and learn and I think you’d love it!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. When I first became Muslim, i didn’t know any Muslim sisters. When I did eventually meet some, they were perhaps not the best people to deal with a new Muslim. They were very rigid in their opinions and very enthusiastic about enforcing them on others. Needless to say, I never went back to that masjid. Those experiences have had a lasting effect when it comes to my ideas regarding community, sisterhood and dawah. Whenever I enter a masjid or meet sisters I just waiting for the other shoe to drop. If it’s not the you are going to hell for wearing pants speech it’s usually the you are abnormal if you are not married monologue (shakes head) sigh…

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. browngurl (and to other new muslim sisters),
    don’t let muslim sisters scare you. sometimes mosque crowds can get intense and often reflect one perspective that may be the over arching attitude of the mosque, maybe you should try and interact with student groups instead? I’ve found MSAs to be a lot more inclusive than mosques because the communities they serve, ie the university, doesn’t necessarily serve different groups of muslims, but are actually more willing to overlook smaller differences, they’re just happy to have more muslims around!
    women who are in university also sometimes are less domestically inclined than those whose lives revolve around their husbands and kids (not that being domestic is a bad thing at all) but it would probably mean that you are less likely to receive the ‘you are abnormal if you are not married monologue.’.
    Some of the smartest, most open minded and non-judgemental muslims I have met are masha Allah, practicing muslim sisters in the US. I grew up in pakistan and then the middle east and often felt judged and stifled, but Alhamdulillah, here you have the opportunity to meet sisters who shed cultural baggage and adopt sincere religion for the sake of religion, not for keeping up appearances in society, and are strengthened and empowered by the battles they have to fight in keeping true to Islam in a non-islamic place. That being said, sometimes you will meet women who still have culture and religion confused, don’t let that taint ur impression, keep looking :)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Assalaamu alaykum and welcome Siraaj. Hopefully you’ll write here more often than on your blog. 8)

    One mistake a lot of us make is lack of communication; not taking/making the initiative to talk to people.

    Example: A newly practicing sister/brother gives up listening to music and is about to get married. Her/his family plays music at the wedding. The sister/brother asks for it to be turned off, the family members get offended, the sister/brother is labeled as a Wahhabi, and the wedding festivity begins to turn a bit sour.

    This could have been avoided with some simple communication. Sometimes all it takes is to talk to people before these kinds of things happen, especially if you’ve made a change in your life. Let friends and family know that things a different as of late, and exactly what you’re cool with and what you’re not; it can go a long way.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Inexplicable,
    Thanks a bunch!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. some really important points have been made here. one scenario i have seen over and over again is guys who have “been around” in terms of going through different phases in their deen, when they see people start practicing or convert, they start to kind of police them telling what to listen to and not listen to, whose halaqahs to attend or not attend – obviously its done out of a zeal to keep them from being misled and to inshallah be on the straight path, however, its important to remember, the guidance of a person is not in our hands. if someone is sincere then Allah(swt) will guide them and give them tawfeeq, we have to always strive to learn and give dawah with hikmah.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. N Ali
    Yes, and the interesting thing is, when you keep looking back and reflecting on your own life and mistakes, there are sooooo many excellent lessons that can taken out with the new knowledge and perspective you on life.

    theManOfFewWords
    Completely agree with you. In fact, the next post in this series will attempt to address this phenomenon of nationalistic vs spiritual Islam.

    Abu Abdul
    Ha, music was one of my achilles heel issues too back in college. Alhamdulillaah, one thing that accelerated my getting over it was not having any denial over its ruling. There’s like a repeated smack to your system when you do something you know is wrong, and it eventually gets to you (or you need to follow another opinion to stay sane ;) ).

    Nahyan
    Yeah, it’s like, when books of knowledge are written, or classes are taught, we need our teachers to put out an IMMEDIATE disclaimer – you just gained knowledge, so don’t look down on others, and don’t expect them to know what you yourself didn’t know like 10 minutes ago.

    Peaches
    That’s an interesting way at looking at it – no one would have called you half this and that, but at the same, you had an appreciation for islam which eventually caused you to accept it wholeheartedly which is really awesome, masha’Allah.

    Ayesha
    I had similar experiences when I briefly taught Sunday school. I found some degree of success in influencing them by not treating them as me authority, you kids, do what I say! I was more like an older brother (the kind that’ll tease a bit, but that you could have fun with).

    browngurl
    Y’know, i mention this phenomenon as well in the next article in this series. A lot of born and raised Muslims have a few issues that are so near and dear to their hearts that it almost becomes like an aqeedah issue if you’re not following it. They identify that issue as part of being Muslim.

    Try to be patient with them, and even if they seem overly zealous, try to separate their attitude from the content of what they say and evaluate it on its own merits. Sometimes, good advice is poorly conveyed, but it still might (or might not) be good advice, insha’Allah.

    SaqibSaab
    Hey, can you change my profile picture back to what it originally was? Metallic yellow is not my look ;) I had that exact experience with music at my waleema, but like you said, we made it clear it can’t happen in advance, and alhamdulillaah, when someone tried to play some, we were able to immediately shut it down with no muss, no fuss.

    ibnabeeomar
    So very true. It’s better to build up someone’s Islam rather than tear them and other people and organizations down if there is, generally speaking, there’s nothing too wild going on. And besides, it ain’t our job – there’s other people of knowledge to warn us if that if necessary ;)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Assalamualaikum!

    WOW…that must have been really difficult to have parents of two different faiths while growing up. I can’t even imagine myself like that, I probably would have been so confused. But Alhamdullilah I am glad Allah(SWT) has bought you into the light and may He(SWT) keep us all steadfast in this religion. You know sometimes even being born into an ALL muslim family we say things we are not suppose to. May Allah(SWT) forgive us all for those mistakes and guide us. Ameen.

    Your article was very beneficial brother. The lesson I learned was that if we ever come across someone in this situation we should guide them in an appropiate way. Kind of put yourself in their shoes and see how life is like and go on from there. And without knowing their background we cannot have preconceived notions about them. May Allah(SWT) give us all opportunities to guide people who are in need of a right direction. Ameen.

    JazakAllah! Very useful article. Hope to read Part 2 & 3 soon InshaAllah. Keep them coming!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. One more important thing…Once we help them, we should always remember that it is Allah(SWT) who guides a person. So leave the rest on Allah.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. I like to use the principle: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. bismillah. mashaAllah, last sunday i ask for articles, and here comes a series of them. jazak Allah khayr siraaj. i look forward to reading the series.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Silence in da’wah (many times, saying less is more, it strikes curiosity), mercy in da’wah, patience in da’wah, and common sense
    in da’wah -all these things must be kept in mind when dealing with the acute sensibilities of human beings.

    These traits need to go untamed, wild!

    The best da’wah tips are remembering our own mistakes subhanAllah, and what made us learn from them.

    This article rocked.
    JazakAllaho khairun.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. m_f
    As I became more practicing in my teenage years, there were some difficulties and tests from my father, but alhamdulillaah, Allah subhaana wa ta’aala strengthened my position with my mother’s help, may Allah subhaana wa ta’aala bless her.

    AbuAbdullaah
    I’m glad you’re looking forward to an article series, part 2 is complete, queued in line behind the other articles that were completed ahead of it, so look out for it in the weeks ahead, insha’Allah.

    US
    Completely agree with you. And when I think back to the times that I made changes in my own life, it was through people whom I had a degree of respect and trust and would respect their opinion in what they said, and those people tended not to be harsh or judgemental, alhamdulillaah.

    Siraaj

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. People making fun of those sisters hijaab reminds me of people making fun of my beard in high school. Ofcourse, sometimes practicing brothers would make fun of it as well, which was more confusing than kuffar making fun of it….

    And now Siraaj has the longest beard in Chicago. :)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. And now Siraaj has the longest beard in Chicago.

    Ha, I was once accused of having someone’s laptop in my beard on the almaghrib forums, and the sisters came to my defense (no lying when joking!), may Allah subhaana wa ta’aala reward them.

    Siraaj

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. US
    Regarding “silent Dawah.” Can’t remember the exact concept or wording, but I believe Ibn Taymiyya stated that if correcting a mistake or forbidding an evil will cause more evil and harm to result, then it is better to not correct the mistake or forbid the evil.

    This is especially hard to do sometimes, and definitely goes beyond the scope of just simple knowledge of “do this” “don’t do that.” It’s straight up a wisdom based judgment call. Obviously it’s not a definite rule meaning you permanently don’t forbid it, or you don’t try to indirectly forbid it, but the wisdom of the principle is obvious and important for all of us.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Leave a Reply

Scroll To Top