Growing up, I didn’t really have a sense of ownership over my religion. To make matters worse, it seemed like I always was doing things that were wrong. There weren’t many that made me think I could be anything better and I felt quite low at times after interacting with some who made me feel I didn’t have a place to belong. The worst part about it all? I believed it. I believed every look of perceived condescension, I believed every murmur and whisper, I believed every glare and judgmental comment and never thought twice about it. It was easier not to. People who “looked” religious thought I was bad and I thought they must have known what they were talking about since they looked the part so well.
In retrospect, there were definitely people who treated me poorly. But I myself also played a role in how I felt by already presuming that I wouldn’t fit in and that people wouldn’t accept me.
It can be quite daunting to walk into a room where you either are different from everyone, or you believe you are different, you know no one, and you are also embarrassed that most of the people there have probably been there for years while you are still trying to figure out the basics. Where most people were in the wrong wasn’t because they were being jerks and making me feel like I shouldn’t have come. The only mistake that most made was not making a concerted effort to realize that there were people like me who were nervous being there and understanding that they could alleviate a lot of that fear just by smiling at me and saying welcome.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Allah is kind and loves kindness and gives for gentleness what he does not give for harshness nor for anything else.”
The well-known Muslim poet Rumi wrote:
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving — it doesn’t matter,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times,
Come, come again, come. ~ rumi
Not everyone knows everything about their faith, nor are they meant to. But everyone is entitled to being encouraged to do their very best. It’s simple things that keep us together. A kind word or smile can do a lot for someone who is just trying to figure out for themselves where they fit in and belong. It was the kindness of a couple of people that made me believe I could be more than what I thought of myself to be. Let’s start being the reason that someone feels like they can stick around, not the reason that they feel like they should never come back.
Imam Khalid Latif is a University Chaplain for New York University, Executive Director of the Islamic Center at NYU, and a Chaplain for the NYPD. He is also the co-founder of Honest Chops, the first-ever all-natural/organic halal butcher in NYC, the Muslim Wedding Service, an agency specializing in providing charismatic and inspirational marriage officiants for wedding ceremonies.
Resources for Seekers:
Is There a Prophetic Supplication to Relieve My Hopelessness?
On Humility and being gentle with the believers
How Do You Know If Your Repentance is Sincere?
The Dowdy Muslim
The Door of Repentance and Return to Allah is Always Open
Having Hatred for a Sinful Person
Is Repentance Always Accepted?
My Husband Doesnt Pray: How Do I Advise Him?
Lesson on the Secrets of Seeking Repentance
Prayer of Repentance: Salat al-Tawba
Is Regret a Blessing from Allah?