“Beware of emotionalism. It is like a cheating spouse. Faithful to nothing except what excites it at the moment. Follow it and you’ll find yourself constantly off balance, furious, and confused, even if you’ve no idea why. Principles and morality are more dependable. They remain faithful, no matter what excitement is happening in the world. So choose principles and morality over emotionalism. They are the cornerstones of faith.”
—excerpt of FAITH. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah
When I returned to America after living in Saudi Arabia for seven years, I was facing a difficult time in my personal and spiritual life. I was going through a divorce and struggling to hold on to my emaan. I spent those first two years trying to come to terms with my new reality and to find meaningful companionship with fellow believers. I hoped that through connecting with other Muslims I’d find support and encouragement in practicing my faith. I’d never planned on returning to the States to live, so I hadn’t kept up with American Muslim communities while I was gone. So I really was learning everything anew.
During this time of readjustment, three incidents occurred that shocked and confused me: First, as I was reaching out to some sisters to find out about sports activities and upcoming Eid events, some refused to assist me because I was divorced and they didn’t want me around. Second, there were a couple of online advice blogs that had gone viral in which Muslims were told that drinking alcohol and wearing skimpy shorts was totally acceptable and that it’s okay to not pray the five daily Salaah so long as you intended to pray “eventually.” Third, two well-known hijabi Muslim women came out as gay, got legally married, and announced their “marriage” online—and many Muslims congratulated them with all the “mabrooks” and “May Allah bless your marriage!” that are customary in response to Islamic unions.
These three incidents hit me hard, and I found myself in a whirlwind of hurt, shock, and confusion. Not knowing where else to turn, I sought advice from a group of online Muslim women writers and Islamic teachers to gain a better understanding of the best way to address this celebration of open sin and obvious changing of the religion, particularly regarding Muslims’ understanding of sexuality and halaal relationships. In response, I was attacked for even asking the question and was accused of condoning the bullying of gay people. This sent me into even deeper hurt, shock, and confusion.
What is happening to us? I asked myself. I had no idea what on earth was going on with the Muslims. It was terrifying, and I begin to fear for my soul more than I had when I was in the deepest throes of nearly leaving Islam.
Upon realizing that I wasn’t going to get any helpful advice from this particular group of sisters, I left the online group with no intention of ever returning.
I then decided to turn to the only one I could right then: Allah, my Lord. I prayed to Him and asked His help in finding righteous companions, in clarifying to the believers the truth regarding the obligation of Salaah, and in clarifying to the believers the truth regarding halaal and haraam sexuality.
My du’aa eventually led me to writing two articles: “Gay and Muslim?” which is now featured in my book Let’s Talk About Sex and Muslim Love, and “I’m Muslim and Don’t Pray. What Should I Do?” which is now featured in my book, And Then I Gave Up: Essays About Faith and Spiritual Crisis in Islam.
While there were many Muslims who thanked and supported me for clarifying the Islamic truth on these issues, given the tragic spiritual state of Muslims today, I naturally received an uproar of criticism and opposition for writing these pieces. In nearly every criticism, there was the accusation that I was being “judgmental” instead of “compassionate” to Muslims who didn’t pray or who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Supporting Sin Equals Compassion?
This is a question that has weighed heavily on my heart for some time. Why has showing kindness and compassion come to mean openly supporting sin and wrongdoing? Why does it feel as if the ummah is gradually becoming two camps—the “judgmental” and the “compassionate”?
No, I do not mean we are becoming these two groups in front of Allah. I mean we are becoming these two groups in front of ourselves. Just as we have divided ourselves into manmade sects regarding which “version” of Islam we want to follow, we have divided ourselves into groups based upon how we respond to open sin and wronging our souls. Sometimes these transgressions go as far as to risk taking us outside the fold of Islam.
So Now Praying Is Extremism?
When I wrote “I’m Muslim and Don’t Pray. What Should I Do?” I received both private and public messages from Muslims expressing their disagreement with my “strict” and “judgmental” position that a Muslim is required to pray five times a day, no matter how difficult consistently praying may become for us. One woman who I loved dearly wrote me an angry message saying that she didn’t want to speak to me ever again and that reading my “strict” perspective made her feel like she didn’t want to be Muslim anymore.
Yet the position I shared is not mine. It is Allah’s.
I have no idea if I conveyed this position in the best way, or if there was someone else who could have done a better job. But because I am a human being who is full of faults, I would imagine that that the answer is this: Yes, I could’ve conveyed the message in a better way, and there is definitely someone else who could have done a better job.
However, as time goes on, I’m noticing that the root of many complaints about Muslims who are “judgmental” is not in how they’re saying what they’re saying; it’s that they’re saying anything about our faith at all.
Some professed Muslims have even turned following Islam itself into “religious deviance,” whereby Muslims who obey the rules of Islam and remind others to do the same are labeled fundamentalists and extremists. And they are vilified for no crime other than pushing a “traditional” practice of Islam, which requires praying five times a day, wearing hijab, adhering to the Islamic limits regarding sexual behavior, and encouraging others to do the same.
They refer to this obedience of Allah as being “rigid” and “judgmental.”
Sometimes Being ‘Rigid’ Is Necessary
Here is my response to a commenter who criticized my piece on Salaah for being traditional, rigid, and judgmental, allegedly due to my lack of understanding for what it means to struggle in my faith:
Some “traditional perspectives” are correct perspectives, even though we might think of them as “rigid.” If you think of the definition of the word “pillar,” it is by definition something “rigid,” in that it must remain in place at all times. Some people think that the requirement of Tawheed (believing in the Oneness of Allah) to get to Paradise is rigid, and maybe it is. But it’s still an inflexible requirement to enter Paradise.
As a general rule the foundations of any faith are “rigid.” This is because they form the very definition and foundations of the faith itself. It might appeal to our hearts and weaknesses to read posts and articles that effectively tell you that the foundations of our faith aren’t really the foundations of our faith, but that doesn’t make them true. Personally, I’d rather risk sounding “rigid” than risk speaking falsehood about Islam because it “sounds better.”
Obligatory Prayer Isn’t My Opinion
Salaah is a foundational pillar of Islam, so it is not subject to an opinion that says anything differently. As such, Salaah can never be about “What works for one, doesn’t work for all.” However, if what is meant by this is that one author’s method of explaining the truth may be more appealing or more inspirational than another author’s way of explaining the truth, then I agree wholeheartedly.
I claim no perfection in my ability to explain the truth and beauty of Allah’s religion. Like all humans, I am deeply flawed and will certainly say or write something in a way that another believer can do a much better job. And for that, I ask Allah’s mercy and forgiveness; and I pray more believers will help me and each other upon the lofty goal of speaking the truth in the most beautiful manner.
In any case, what we share with each other must be truth, and the claim that it’s okay not to pray if you intend to pray eventually, is completely incorrect, no matter how “compassionate” and “non-judgmental” it sounds.
Don’t Judge Me Either
“If you haven’t struggled with faith beyond the occasional dip,” the woman told me in her disagreement with my Salaah article, “as much as you try to empathize, you won’t be able to understand the struggles of someone who has struggled being Muslim from the get go. Don’t judge nor condemn.”
This is very true. But remember, this goes both ways. A part of not judging and condemning is recognizing that you have absolutely no idea of anyone’s struggles, even people who appear to have it all together. Personally, I definitely know how it feels to struggle with my faith far beyond the “occasional dip,” hence my video “I Never Thought It Would Be Me” and my book and video series, I Almost Left Islam: How I Reclaimed My Faith in which I talk about thinking I could no longer be Muslim.
And one of the things that consistently made my spiritual struggles worse was hearing false information about my faith. Constantly hearing this falsehood reminded me of my weakest points in which my nafs and Shaytaan were pulling me away from being Muslim by using “step by step” methods that sound nice at first but ultimately lead me to trivialize important parts of Islam.
‘The Problem Is Your Judgmental Attitude!’
I claim no perfection in conveying the truth. However, I encourage each of us to sincerely reflect on the fact that our reactions and opinions do not reflect reality. They reflect only our personal feelings, emotions, and opinions. Thus, to use terms like “judgmental attitude” indicate a very faulty path in communication and perception, as they imply that our internal world reflects the reality of the world around us.
And how do we decide whose feelings and emotions matter more (yours or mine)? Or are all of our feelings valid? If so, then exactly what does “judgmental attitude” mean to us?
But more importantly, what does it mean to Allah?
So I caution us to be very careful with our words, especially when they are casting wide nets of judgments on someone for no crime other than conveying the truth of Islam in a way we don’t like.
Yes, it is helpful to share our personal struggles and emotionalism from time to time, as this allows us to be more aware and sensitive to those around us. However, the problem is when we process our personal struggles and emotions as an external problem in someone else (i.e. judgmental attitude) instead of an internal human experience that reflects only ourselves.
Our Hurt Feelings Mean Nothing
Unfortunately, we are a generation that has been raised upon narcissism more than righteousness. Thus, anything that hurts our feelings or bothers us in any way is automatically viewed as wrongdoing or lacking compassion.
Some of us have taken this so far that we now believe that anything from Allah or His Messenger (sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam) that we find difficult, burdensome, or uncomfortable is automatically viewed as “rigid” or “extreme” in the religion of Islam itself. Thus, we can leave off the five prayers, deny the authority of hadith, violate (or support violating) the limits Allah has put on sexual behavior, and remove (or support removing) hijab; and then call this “compassion” and “moderation” in practicing our faith.
Is Being Compassionate a Means or a Goal?
We know that being compassionate and non-judgmental is definitely rooted in the teachings of Allah and His Messenger (sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam). However, where things become befuddled is in answering the question why. When we look at the actual divine teachings, we see that everything in our faith—without exception—is rooted in calling ourselves and others to the purpose of our creation, worshipping and obeying Allah.
Allah says what has been translated to mean, “And I have only created jinn and humans, that they may worship [and serve] Me [alone]” (Adh-Dhaariyaat, 51:56).
Thus, it is inconceivable that any divinely instructed behavior or emotion, whether in rigidity or compassion, has a purpose that deviates from this goal of servitude of Allah.
Every day in prayer we ask Allah to guide us on the Straight Path. In supplicating to Him regarding this, we are asking our Creator to allow the means (i.e. the roads we take in this life) to lead us to the ultimate goal: pleasing Him and entering Paradise.
Therefore, to view showing compassion as a goal in itself—instead of a means to take us to Paradise—is about as sensible as viewing learning to drive on physical roads as having no relation to reaching an actual destination.
So when we use the necessity to be “compassionate” and “non-judgmental” as a license to abandon Salaah, to reject hadith, to engage in or support haraam sexuality, or to remove (or support removing) the hijab; then we must realize that this use of the terms has no relation to the religion of Allah. Rather, it relates only to viewing “compassion” and “non-judgmental” as supporting disobedience to Allah.
This attitude is not reflective of the religion of Islam. It is reflective of the religion of emotionalism.
Our Culture of Emotionalism
In the religion of emotionalism—where hurt feelings equal wrongdoing and emotional desires equal ultimate good—I’m always amazed by whose feelings we ultimately choose to measure wrongdoing, and whose feelings we pretend don’t exist.
Naturally, every human has feelings, so a culture of emotionalism is valid only insomuch as we measure right and wrong based on the feelings of everyone equally. However, this isn’t what we do. Instead, we assign ourselves and those we care about as the only humans on earth. We then proceed with our self-serving principles of emotionalism to accuse others of wronging us and those we care about.
That it never occurs to us to apply our principles from the opposite vantage point (i.e. in the experience of those we accuse of wrongdoing) suggests that it isn’t hurt feelings or emotional desires that we are using to measure right and wrong. It is ourselves—whom we’ve effectively placed as a god above everyone else.
Every nation has the one idol that they don’t want to give up. Ours is human emotions and desires. And nowhere is this shirk more obvious than in our practice of Islam (in how the rules change based on how we feel), and in our personal relationships—whether in marriage (in how we seek to control our husbands and wives) or in how we view sexuality when it violates the Book of Allah.
Every argument we have boils down to how someone feels or what they want—except when someone feels genuine emaan and wants to obey Allah. Then and only then do we say feelings and desires should be ignored. Because the religion of emotions and desires dictates that the most unforgivable sin is to put God before anything else.
Idols of Sexuality
Sexuality. It is now one of the idols of today, and it’s scary how so many of us rush to worship it, along with the idols of feelings and emotionalism, such that we cancel out God’s definitions of halaal relationships, and even “male” and “female.” Yet we claim to believe in Allah alone.
SubhaanAllah. I shudder at how easy it is for so many of us to shed our emaan and common sense in pursuit of the distractions of this world—and of the approval of those who mock our faith. What fools we are to trust their definitions of “science” and “orientations” more than we trust our Lord, the One who created science and nature itself.
“Do you wish to offer Allah open proof against yourselves?” Allah asks those who rush toward the love and acceptance of disbelievers over those with emaan (An-Nisaa, 4:144).
Meanwhile these self-proclaimed “tolerant, compassionate Muslims” viciously slander the believers who refuse to worship the idols of sexuality and emotionalism, calling them extremists and saying they have a “phobia” when they merely fear their Lord.
And no, our underlying desires, temptations, and feelings do not define who we are. Our belief and actions do. “But where in the Qur’an is it forbidden?” they ask boldly, hoping to hide that the correct question is really, “But where in the Qur’an is it permitted?” For both the Qur’an and Sunnah are undeniably clear that sexual relationships have the general rule of prohibition, and only that which is specifically mentioned as an exception is allowed in front of Allah.
Oh, but they wish to conceal what Allah has revealed and purchase error and falsehood at the price of guidance, as Allah tells us in the Qur’an. He says of them, “Ah! What boldness [they show] for the Fire!” (Al-Baqarah, 2:175).
Your Sexual Orientation or Spiritual Orientation?
Embracing your “sexual orientation” is what the world will encourage in embracing “who you really are.” However, we are spiritual beings more than we are sexual beings. It is our “spiritual orientation” that defines us, not our sexual inclinations.
In a spiritually healthy human being, spirituality guides sexuality; sexuality does not guide spirituality. If it did, morality would be rooted in whatever we desire. Thus, a person who has sexual desires for a young child could act on it freely based on the principle that human connection is ageless and that love knows no bounds. However, even those who champion sexual orientation over religious morality reject this on the principle of “consenting adults.” Here is where they contradict themselves quite obviously.
As I discuss in my book Let’s Talk About Sex and Muslim Love: If you believe that there is no sin in acting on any sexual orientation that (allegedly) defines you, but you then apply the condition of “consenting adults,” then you are agreeing to the same moral principle that defines religious guidance: Morality trumps desire, always.
In this, the only question is: What is your definition of “morality”? People who embrace authentic spirituality recognize only one authority in defining morality: God. Those who embrace “freedom of sexual expression” recognize only one authority in defining morality: the human being.
And here again, they contradict themselves. Because when one human being argues for sex with children (due to their “sexual orientation” of pedophilia), these people claim that this is immoral. But why? According to their own principles of sexual expression (i.e. human-defined morality), acting on pedophilia is completely moral.
“But it’s unnatural and wrong!” they’ll say.
And here again, we find another contradiction: Their words mirror precisely what people of faith say when they reject “sexual expression” in same sex relationships. So we’re back to square one: We all accept that the concepts of morality, “natural sexuality” and “wrong sexual expression” exist. But it is only the people of God who manage to not contradict themselves.
In any case, spiritual orientations are much more difficult to battle than sexual orientations. While withholding yourself from the sexual life your body craves can give you a difficult life in this world, withholding yourself from a spiritual life your soul craves can give you not only a difficult life in this world, but an unbearably difficult one in the Hereafter. And no matter how much we argue for an easy life in this world, nobody has an easy life in this world—no matter how things appear to an outsider looking in.
But one thing’s for sure: We will not be punished for fighting the urge to submit to our body’s sexual “needs”—or to our emotional urge to disobey God. But we will be punished for fighting the urge to submit to our soul’s spiritual need of submitting to God.
Thus, it is our spiritual orientations—not our emotionalism and sexuality—that are most urgent at all times.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. In 2019, she launched UZ Soul Gear, a passion project fueled by her love of both art and inspirational reflections. UZSoulGear.com offers apparel, wall décor, and more, aimed at supporting and inspiring the soul-centered lifestyle.
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