woman in black niqaab looking up reflectively

Protect Your Muslim Image or Muslim Soul?

“Your Muslim image, or your Muslim soul? At a certain point, you have to decide which is more important to you.”

—from the journal of Umm Zakiyyah

“How in the world are we supposed to invite Americans to Islam if women are walking around with their faces covered and Muslim men are marrying multiple wives?” This is a question I’ve heard so many times that I’ve lost count. And each time I hear it, my heart breaks just a little and my concern for my soul—and the souls of my brothers and sisters in faith—grows just a bit more.

But I get it. We want the world to see the beauty of Islam, without any embarrassing optics or “strange” lifestyles to explain away. We want Islam packaged in a way that makes it easier to “market” to the people whose love and approval we value most. But with all these “weird” dress codes and lifestyles amongst Muslims, we fear that we’ll scare people away.

Yet Islam remains the fastest growing religion in the United States and elsewhere.

Feeling Ashamed of Our Submission To Allah

With the religious inferiority complex that afflicts so many of us, our hearts continue to genuinely imagine that Islam is in need of people more than people are in need of Islam. Allah discusses this tendency within us when He says what has been translated to mean, “They consider it a favor to you [O Muhammad] that they have accepted Islam. Say, ‘Do not consider your Islam a favor to me. Rather, Allah has conferred favor upon you that He has guided you to the faith, if you should be truthful’”(Al-Hujuraat, 49:17).

Despite Islam being the greatest favor that anyone could be granted in this world, so many Muslims remain anxious and feel ashamed to embrace the parts of their faith that involve anything that the disbelievers might dislike. Whether it is the option (or obligation) for women to wear niqaab, or the right of Muslim women to live in any type of marriage they choose, whether in monogamy or polygyny; or whether it’s the Creator’s definition of male and female, or His moral guidelines surrounding halaal sexuality; we find a way to wriggle out of submission to Allah and avoid spiritual self-honesty.

We cringe. We apologize. We lie. We claim these are “cultural practices” that aren’t really parts of Islam, or we say these lifestyles were meant only for “ancient Muslims” or times of war. Or our favorite—these things aren’t relevant to Muslims in America because they clash with the culture in which we live.

Because somewhere along the line, we fabricated and embraced the Muslim apologist school of thought, which says Muslims aren’t allowed to obey Allah or believe in all of His revelation unless the disbelievers give their nod of approval.

In this, we’re frantic to force Islam—and our Muslim brothers and sisters—to align with the religious inferiority complexes in our hearts.

What Is Happening To Us?

Each Monday, Muslims all over the world sit with their hearts glued to Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk, and are filled with awe and admiration for Jada and Will’s commitment to dissolving God’s definition of marriage in favor of a “life partnership.” Through this, it is Jada and Will alone who decide what will and will not happen in their marriage—even if it means allowing any number of additional sexual partners in their union.

And our hearts are overwhelmed with respect and admiration for this man and woman being so “strong” and “self-honest” such that they openly do what works for them, even if it goes directly against nearly every concept of marriage that the society—and God—upholds.

Yet it doesn’t occur to us that we are walking contradictions when we as Muslims are able to admire and even applaud Jada and Will’s “unpopular” relationship choices while expressing shame and even opposition to Muslim men and women who choose similarly—but according to the guidelines of their Creator instead of their desires.

So it appears that for so many of us, any life that is rooted in Islamic spirituality more than arbitrary emotionalism is a cause for our deep shame, relentless opposition, and indignant concern.

The ‘Beautiful Path’ of Spiritual Loss

It is undeniable that many of our hearts are being tested with nifaaq (hypocrisy); may Allah heal us and guide us. Amongst the symptoms of this spiritual disease is that we admire and praise “unpopular” lifestyles of disbelievers, even if they transgress the limits of Allah. Yet we scorn and oppose the “unpopular” lifestyles of believers, even if they stay within the limits of Allah.

When we find ourselves falling into this mindset, we must sincerely ask ourselves if it is the deen of Allah that we truly desire, or the deen of desires and emotionalism.

With regards to the deen of Allah, our Creator says what has been translated to mean, “O you who believe! Enter into Islam kaaffah (completely and perfectly) and follow not the footsteps of Shaytaan (Satan). Verily, he is to you a plain enemy” (Al-Baqarah, 2:208).

In my blog, “Does Your Pride Make You Honorable,” I reflect on the meaning of this ayah:

The Arabic word kaaffah indicates an all-inclusive and all-encompassing submission. Thus, if we have entered into this merciful faith kaaffah, then we accept and obey all the rules, guidelines, and permissions of the religion, not just the parts we prefer in our own lives. Thus, anything short of a complete and all-inclusive submission to divine guidance—kaaffah—is following the pathway of Shaytaan, instead of Islam.

Unfortunately, in our modern practice of Islam, many of us embrace the parts of Islam that bring us comfort, stoke our egos, and make us feel good about what we want and prefer in our own lives. However, we reject or trivialize anything in Islam that makes us feel uncomfortable, that offends our pride and egos, that threatens our social standing amongst disbelievers, or that causes us emotional pain.

In the Qur’an, we are told how Iblis (Satan) said, “…I shall indeed adorn the path of error for them on earth…” (Al-Hijr, 15:39).

Consequently, many of us follow the footsteps of Shaytaan with our eyes wide open, even as we know that he is an open and obvious enemy to every human soul, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. In this, it is sufficient for us to agree to follow him so long as he continues to beautify for us our path to spiritual destruction.

The famous Companion Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “When Allah created Paradise and Hellfire, He sent [the angel] Gabriel to Paradise saying, ‘Behold it and what I have prepared therein for its people.’ Gabriel came and looked at it and what Allah had prepared therein for its people. He returned to Allah and he said, ‘By Your Might, no one will hear of it but that he will enter it. Allah ordered that it be surrounded by adversity and He said, ‘Return to it and behold what I have prepared therein for its people.’ Gabriel returned and found that it was surrounded by hardship. He returned to Allah and he said, ‘By Your Might, I fear that no one will enter it.’ Allah said, ‘Go to the Hellfire and behold it and what I have prepared therein for its people.’ Gabriel found that it was in layers, one above another. He returned to Allah and he said, ‘By Your Might, no one who hears of it will enter it.’ Allah ordered that it be surrounded by desires and He said, ‘Return to it.’ Gabriel returned and he said, ‘By Your Might, I fear that no one will escape it’” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2560, Sahih by Al-Tirmidhi).

In the “beautiful path” of spiritual loss that Iblis continuously beckons us toward—and that so many of us willingly accept—our souls suffer “pleasurably” and “peacefully” on the path to Hellfire. Hence, the popularity of the deen of desires and emotionalism (even amongst professed Muslims) more than sincere belief in and submission to the deen of Allah, kaaffah.

Understanding the Deen of Desires and Emotionalism

In my book, Faith. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah, I share this reflection:

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 marriages (in how we seek to control our husbands and wives) and in how we view others’ 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 (faith or authentic spirituality) and wants to obey God. 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.

It is heartbreaking to see so many Muslims adhering to this ideology, eagerly aligning their hearts and souls with the disbelievers who embrace it wholeheartedly. These Muslims even go as far as to oppose and slander any believers who put their Creator above their desires and emotions, and call others to do likewise.

Consequently, if a believer should share a single reminder about humans’ spiritual obligation to define gender, marriage, and sexuality according to only divine revelation and prophetic guidance, these Muslims accuse them of preaching “hate” and “intolerance,” or they label them as having a “phobia.” In this, these Muslims love and defend people who define themselves by their desires and emotions while displaying hatred and opposition to people who define themselves by their spiritual obligation to their Creator.

This is no doubt clear evidence of following the religion of desires and emotionalism instead of the guidance of Allah.

‘But We Need Beneficial Alliances!’

Some of us do not openly adhere to the religion of desires and emotionalism. Instead we show overwhelming compassion and understanding toward those committed to defining themselves by their sexual orientation instead of their spiritual orientation. Meanwhile we distance ourselves from any Muslims with “weird” or “scary” lifestyles, such as women covering their faces with niqaab or believers living in polygyny.

In this, we imagine that any association with these “strange Muslims” will cause us to compromise the respectable social standing and acceptance that we seek amongst the American disbelievers, in whose hands we imagine all worldly honor and power rests. For this reason, we eagerly scramble for social and political alliances with them.

Yet Allah says what has been translated to mean, “Those who take disbelievers as allies instead of the believers. Do they seek with them honor [through power]? But indeed, honor belongs to Allah entirely”(An-Nisaa’, 4:139).

“We can’t just live in a bubble!’” many of us say. “We need to establish beneficial alliances to protect Muslims from harm in this country!”

Yet Allah says, “And you see those in whose hearts there is a disease [of hypocrisy], they hurry to their friendship, saying: ‘We fear lest some misfortune of a disaster may befall us…’” (Al-Maa’idah, 5:52).

In this, we forget that it is Allah who holds the path to worldly safety and victory, so there is no need to harbor in hearts spiritual hypocrisy and shame of being associated with believers. Allah says, “…Perhaps Allah may bring a victory or a decision according to His Will. Then they will become regretful for what they have been keeping as a secret in themselves” (Al-Maa’idah, 5:52)

“The Prophet, peace be upon him, himself made alliances with the disbelievers!” we say. And through this claim, we consciously and intentionally ignore the central purpose and clear agreement that was at the heart of every single alliance he made: Inherent in every “interfaith prophetic alliance” was the promise of Muslims being protected in openly and unapologetically calling non-Muslims to Islam—kaaffah—and in Muslims openly living and teaching every part of their faith, including those parts that the disbelievers disliked. This prophetic alliance even included the promise of safety and protection in sharing and living the parts of Islam that contradicted the most coveted beliefs and lifestyles of the very disbelievers granting him this social and political protection.

In a sentence, every prophetic alliance placed the souls of the Muslims and their obligation to their Creator above all else, without compromising or apologizing for a single part of this beautiful faith—and while making it clear to every disbeliever that they themselves needed Islam to save their souls.

However, nearly every “beneficial alliance” we seek today is founded on the exact opposite: We agree to hide, deny, or trivialize the parts of our faith that the disbelievers dislike, while spending not a moment of our time inviting them to Islam and thus making it clear to them that they need to believe in Allah and the prophethood of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) if they are to save their souls from spiritual harm and ultimately enter Paradise.

Moreover, in these so-called “mutually beneficial alliances,” we do not openly and proudly embrace all of the obligations, permissions, and lifestyles of our faith. Rather, we seek to hide or deny any Islamic belief or lifestyle that contradicts what the disbelievers love and value. In this, we are willing to make life more difficult for practicing Muslims if it means gaining social or political acceptance for ourselves.

Meanwhile we remain eerily silent in the face of open disbelief and sin.

Yet we have the audacity to compare our religious inferiority complex approach to “interfaith alliance” to the prophetic model of openly calling to all of Islam—while gaining the full support of disbelievers who were confident enough in the integrity of both the Prophet and the Muslims to fully back him and this “strange” faith.

On the rare occasions that we do find our voice amidst those whom we rush to align ourselves with, our words make it very clear that we are seeking to protect our Muslim image more than we are seeking to protect anyone’s Muslim soul.

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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