I suppose some will see it as courageous to share with the world why I almost left Islam. And maybe some will see it as the unnecessary uncovering of my faults. But for me, it wasn’t a choice. Yes, it’s humiliating and embarrassing, but due to all the stress I was under, the decision was effectively made for me. It was either speak up or allow the burden of silence to eat away at my emaan.
There is so much that I learned during this trial, and ironically, almost letting go of Islam gave me a clarity about Islam that I don’t believe I would have had I not faced this spiritual trial. Allah has made our faith clear and easy to understand and live, but so many of us wish to add or take away from what He has revealed in the Book and prophetic Wisdom. And the excuses and justifications abound for the long list of sins, innovations, and shirk that so many of us wish to justify or teach as part of Allah’s Religion.
We’re Right, They’re Wrong!
As I was coming out of my spiritual crisis, I saw clearly how Shaytaan had seduced so many of us into voluntary blindness through the simple use of labels and name-calling. For this reason, till today, I strive to stay away from viewing truth and falsehood through the lens of the praiseworthy names we give ourselves and the derogatory names we give others. When facing those who disagree with us, this “They’re just a bunch of Wahhabis!” or “They’re just a bunch of Sufis!” tactic is the very essence of voluntary blindness, and it helps neither ourselves nor those we claim are on the wrong path.
So why do we do it?
The truth is, every Muslim group or sect has some truth to it—otherwise they wouldn’t be Muslim—and every Muslim group or sect has some falsehood in it—otherwise they wouldn’t be human. And here I am speaking about our manmade groups and sects, not the believers whom Allah praises in the Qur’an and not the group of believers whom the Prophet (peace be upon him) said will be on the right path until the end of time. And no, we don’t become a part of this blessed group by simply slapping on ourselves the label we love, whether that label is “traditional Islam,” Sunni, Salafi, Sufi, Tasawwuf, or any other label we believe will miraculously keep us safe from misguidance.
The Link Between Labels and Rejecting Truth
What terrifies me about this generation’s obsession with labels is that, during my studies and travels, I have never met a group of Muslims who fixate on labels more than spiritual truth except that they are involved in some clear evil and wrongdoing that they refuse to give up. No reminders of Allah affect them. No mention of the Sunnah affects them. Not even the fact that we’re all human—and thus subject to error or sin—affects them.
The only thing they can think of when someone suggests they are doing something wrong is that this person must be part of the “misguided group” so they immediately shun the person and the advice. It doesn’t occur to them that even if the person is part of that “other” group, this fact has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they themselves are doing something wrong in front of Allah.
But as psychologists have pointed out on many an occasion, humans are more rationalizing beings than they are rational beings. We are motivated more by the need to believe we’re right than by the need to actually be right.
May Allah help us.
The Truth Is Scary
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t say all of this to suggest that I myself have figured it all out or that I am on the right path to the exclusion of all these groups and sects. As I mentioned above, every manmade group has truth to it, and every manmade group has falsehood in it. The same is true for each individual Muslim, myself included, who is striving to follow truth free from groups and sects. Just as no single group or sect can guarantee us protection from misguidance, the decision to not become involved in groups or sects also cannot guarantee us protection from misguidance.
However, for myself, striving to not voluntarily blind myself through an “I am saved” label and a “That other group is misguided” mindset helps me stay focused on what is required of all believers in this world: following truth and staying away from falsehood (even as I am human and will naturally err and sin from time to time, may Allah forgive us).
Then what do we do? we might ask. Practically speaking, this means striving to benefit from authentic Islamic knowledge wherever we can find it, irrespective of the label or group who is sharing it. And in this confusing world, we can only benefit from spiritual truth by constantly supplicating to Allah to help us, as there is no guaranteed safety in specific personalities, schools of thought, or sects, no matter how knowledgeable or praiseworthy they appear to be.
And that’s the scary truth. You’re going to have to do the work, no matter what. No one can do it on your behalf. No group can protect you from the need to do it. And there are no shortcuts to striving upon the right path.
Safety Is in the Struggle
If there is one painful lesson I learned when I almost left Islam, it is that there is no guaranteed religious safety in this world. And the closest we can get to religious safety is recognizing this painful truth and humbly embracing the daily struggle to meet Allah with emaan in our hearts.
The necessity of this continuous struggle—with absolutely no foolproof guarantees—is definitely a scary truth. But it is also a freeing truth. Through it we learn that we should submit ourselves fully to Allah and understand that only He has the ability to save us from ourselves, and in His infinite mercy, He has not tasked us with carrying this burden alone. He is there with us every step of the way.
O Allah! Show us truth as truth and help us follow it, and show us falsehood as falsehood and protect us from it! And forgive our sins and take our souls as believers!
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