In Ramaḍān, from the balcony of my flat in the United Arab Emirates, I can hear the boom of a cannon fired from a few kilometres away signalling the end of a day's fast. Following immediately is the call to the Maghrib prayer – 3 different adhāns in fact, from the 3 masjids within the vicinity of my home, blending synchronously (and sometimes not so much) each with the other. For those of us in the Middle East, we don't often consider ourselves fortunate, taking for granting the many liberties associated with living in a Muslim majority part of the world. “The heat is unbearable!” we complain, “and the summer days far too long!'”

We forget that during Ramaḍān, our working hours are shortened by law, so that we can take the rest of the day to recuperate, break fast with family, and spend time in worship. It slips our minds that food establishments have been instructed to open for business only the hour of Iftar onwards, and those that are operational during the daylight hours, have to serve non-fasting customers behind a screen, so that devotees aren't tempted. Irrespective of when we're fasting we forget, too, that wherever we are, and at any part of the day, we will be within distance of a designated prayer area, be it a full-blown state-funded mosque or a carpeted prayer room in a shopping centre (some particularly large malls accommodating more than one). The sight of a veiled woman is far from an anomaly, as is the casual drop of insha'Allah in conversations between Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Up until last year I considered myself fortunate for all of the above. Hearing of the hardships my Muslim comrades in the West and the other parts of the Muslim-minority world would have to face solely for choosing to practice their faith made me feel all the more grateful, and subsequently increasingly concerned for their state of affairs.

I have always been an advocate for travel. Never for the sole sake of satiating an empty desire to stake claim to conversation, but primarily for the learning experience packed into the luggage along with the other souvenirs. The history, the culture, and more importantly, the true appreciation for a people through the exposition of their way of life.

This was however, my first trip to North America, and family packed me off with many a warning, and too frequent a spattering of the words airport security and Islamophobia. Thankfully – to the disappointment of some exhibitionists I know – I have no 'stories' to report from JFK, and the good citizens of New York have been nothing short of hospitable.

Even if they weren't, I was too preoccupied with other quandaries to notice.

I would forget (as I always seem to when I travel abroad) that I'd have to question everything edible that had me drooling on sight for either alcohol, swine, or non-zabiha flesh content. Oh, parting is such sweet sorrow!
Though armed with the advantage of the traveler's shortened prayer card, in very nearly forgetting my ṣalāh, I realized how much I take for granted the audible reminder of the adhān I'd grown accustomed to. But most infuriatingly, I found myself grappling with the experience of always being miles away from the comforting convenience of a prayer spot just around the corner; my only option instead being to spread out a borrowed travel prayer rug and pray – around the corner, yes – but at the most discreet nook at the bend of a crowded walkway. Only twice during my 6-day stay in the city did I find the closest semblance to a place of prayer, and those too only because I actively sought them out: The Islamic Society of Mid-Manhattan was a slightly humble affair (for no fault of their own) that I nearly missed if not for the green awning and crescent demarcating it from the other building facades. The elevators had been switched off temporarily as they needed to save electricity, and although exemplarily clean, the wear-and-tear was blatant – and this made my heart ache.

The Islamic Cultural Center of New York on the other hand, was a more respectable edifice – and obviously better financed – and the only structure I had encountered that actually resembled a mosque: dome, minarets, et al., which had me, a Middle Easterner, uttering in pleasant surprise, “Oh my word. A proper masjid!”

So for the rest of my sojourn in the Big Apple, my forehead was introduced – through my friend's thin travel rug – to the marble tiles at the MET, the plush stairwell of the Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Ave, the faux-bricks by a beatnik art gallery in Chelsea Market, and an apartment in Times Square (among others). Rest assured, I returned with a most well-traveled brow.

This trip in particular was an eye-opener. I came to realize first-hand how challenging it can be for some, to fulfill the very basics of worship. And although I am grateful to be home to my halal steaks and pork gelatin – free gummy sweets, I found myself no longer sympathetic, but dare I say it, rather envious instead.

Envious because I now feel I'm not being tested half as harshly, having only briefly experienced the struggle of mettle that my brethren in the States are privy to every single day. Jealous that I may not be receiving as bountiful a reward for not having to stave off my stomach juices a few more minutes just so that I can make it to the halal pizza guy. Absolutely green even, that I'm not being challenged with having to rely solely on my biological alarm, with no symbolic physical reminder in sight, but on the (very) audible call(s) to prayer summoning me to worship.
Perhaps I come across as being ungrateful, and maybe even as trivializing a circumstance that is in fact very real, but I've now come to realize the significance of this verse, and that too in a new light:

You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. [Surah Ale-Imran; 186]

Where the possessions in this instance refer to the 'wealth' of ease, the comfort of plenty positing the ready 'availability' of Islam. So much so that more often than not, this affluence of the den – as expressed in Muslim majority nations – teeters more towards it resulting in a cultural obligation rather than a spiritual endeavor.

Where women don the abaya for reasons pertaining to societal pressure as opposed to true devotion. Where men hurry to the masjid just because 'it's there.' Where there is very limited empathy towards having to fight the urge to dig into an alcohol-laced dessert, or having to endure abdominal moaning and the involuntary salivation of true temptation while fasting.

This test of wealth and comfort warns of a faith so easily practiced that it becomes mundane. Where every act becomes robotic instead of a cause for reflection. A risk of devaluation, as is with a designer bag when its non-exclusivity is exposed.

Perhaps it's time we Muslims in the Middle East probe a little deeper into the many 'trials' we take for granted, and renew all acts of our Ibadan as though in the shoes of someone from whom these luxuries are withheld. Would we keep up this pace if our roles were reversed? Would we strive to represent?

Indeed there is such a thing as the trial of ease; a trial – dare I say – potentially as arduous as the trials of hardship.

18 Responses

  1. Umm ZAKAriyya

    Jazakillah khair for the reminder sister.
    Your article reminded me of what my mum used to tell us when facing hardship( big or trivial )
    , in practicing our deen , back in India after having lived in Saudi Arabia .

    Also ,sometimes,living alongside other faiths helps you appreciate islam more .

    Alhamdulillah everything is good for a believer!

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  2. Zane

    BarakAllah feek for writing and sharing this. I work and live in London, and often struggle in alligning my faith with the corporate world. Everything seems to be challenge- I appreciate people in the world have it far worse, Alhamdulillah, but there’s always a notion of incompatability in the air. Even something as trivial as eating with your right hand is considered different in these countries, let alone prayer, adhans, and specifities in food intake. You’re article really helped. It gives me a sense of time and effort not wasted. Sometimes its easy to overlook that even the most insignificant of struggles will be rewarded, for He is the most Just. Thanks for writing, and sharing. Look forward to reading more of your work. Salaam

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    • Shaahima

      Walaikumsalam, and jazakAllahukhair for the encouraging words. Indeed no struggle, however trivial-seeming, goes unaccounted for. May your efforts be rewarded.

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  3. Rehan Ul Haque

    I, totally, absolutely, second the views expressed in this article. Having emigrated from a 97% muslim country to the west only 11 months ago, I feel I had it very easy before.

    Just simple basic religious previleges are such a struggle now, that its not even funny. But then, you feel closer to Allah for having borne these and stop taking these previleges for granted.

    Thank You. Jazak Allah Khair.

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    • Shaahima

      Waiyyakum, and jazakAllahukhair for your comment. Sometimes all we need is a little sense of perspective, to be able to truly appreciate where we stand.

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  4. UmOuthmaan

    As salaam alaykum was rahmatullahi was barakatuh,
    Jazakillahu khairan. To be honest, when you enumerated all of the “trials” that we as american Muslims and go through everyday, I realized why so many immigrants find it hard to maintain their religious practice here. For me, as an American Muslim born and raised, I always viewed these struggles as normal. I almost wish I hadn’t read your article because now I may feel proud of these little things we have to do to obey Allah SWT. But you know, I really sympathize with my immigrant brothers and sisters now. It is not easy to move from a country where halaal is a given, to a country where you have to basically get s degree in industrial food lingo just to eat….especially when the language on food packaging isn’t your mother tongue….or even a language you understand at all.

    But the Muslims in Muslim countries have a more dangerous test that you alluded to…that of your niyyaah. Since Islam is almost a cultural norm, you have to check you intentions for everything you do, even if everyone else is doing it, just to make sure you don’t commit shirk via riyaa. That is very difficult and I pray that Allah SWT help us all pass the trials that He gives us.

    Very thought provoking article. Jazakillahu khairan again!

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    • Umm ZAKAriyya

      @umm Othman: In the end I think the cultural advantage of the east and opportunities for personal struggle in the west balance out eachother .

      It’s amazing how Just Allah is !

      So maybe there’s no need to for us to feel proud at all . Just a reason to be happy and not give up :) hope this makes you feel better :)

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  5. Bint Yasa'ah

    Assalamu Alaikum

    You got a lot of the greater struggles that we go through here in the West. But you forgot the greatest one of all.

    When we’re out and about and we get the sudden urge to relieve ourselves, there are three options:

    1. Wait till we get home

    2. Risk using the washroom and dying in a state of impurity if we do

    3. Take water bottle in the washroom and ignore all the weird looks we get

    Funny but sad truth.

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  6. 3abdullaah

    Salaams,

    Mahsha’allah, great article. Having lived in both places, I can definitely, positively say that I’d choose living in a Muslim country in a heartbeat. Yes, one side of the coin is “the greater the struggle, the more the Ajr” right? However, here in the West, Sin is literally everywhere. Among other things, I am mainly talking about the promiscuity of women’s dress here whether in public, at school, work, or on billboards and such. Some places, (like malls for example) Everywhere you look, you see haram. You avert your gaze and look elsewhere only to see another scene of haram.

    It may be true that many women in Muslim countries dress in Hijab and Abaya for cultural reasons but their niyah is between them and Allah. The fact that they are dressed modestly is a benefit to the people around them

    Alhamdulillah, I work in male-dominated industry so I don’t deal much with this but I can only imagine if I spent most of my day having to deal with women who dress and act improperly.

    Basically in the West, it is easier to sin but the reward for good deeds are higher. In Muslim countries, it is easier to be a Muslim but you have to consistently check and renew your niyah and (at least for myself) I would be in a better spiritual state.

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  7. O H

    Jazaki Allaahu Khair for the great article. Wallahi this relates to me a lot!! Born in Saudi Arabia and living in Australia for the last few years I ve really been missing KSA and I ve realised how we took so many of the blessings for granted when I was there which has enabled me to appreciate things more, Alhamdulillaah. However sister, you are doing well staying in a Muslim majority country as the scary ayah below may not apply on you! But I do agree about the trial of ease which the scholars have said maybe a bigger trial than one of hardship. May Allaah keep us all steadfast on the truth and persevere with patience. Ameen

    http://quran.com/4/97

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  8. pinks

    I agree with ur struggles living in west but also I have lived in middle east actually was born their but middle east also have its trail and tribulation the difference is only how much u can save ur self any where ,prostitution is very common every where .Bad company can destroy u any where .Alcohol can easily be purchased and consumed there.The thing is if a person is pious he can resist all any where for sake of Allah.

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