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On Loneliness

May 1, 2011
Fact: the Islamic faith is deeply rooted in a sense of community. I don’t need to regurgitate the many hadiths that address how the ummah is like the body, or how one should be generous with their time and company and food with their families and neighbors, or how a true Muslims are always willing to step across the threshold to extend a hand not just because they are ordained to, but they love and fear Allah too much not to.To a great extent our ummah does embody this beautiful tradition. There are myriads of heartwarming stories about people moving from one corner of the world to another to find that they are completely at home when they are in their mosques. The mosque should function that way. It’s the anchor of the community, where Muslims gather to worship, reflect, and remember where it is they ultimately belong.

But not all stories are this heartwarming. The reality of Muslim interconnectedness is quite different. It was different for me when I first landed in a new country, so I am sure it was different for other Muslims in my situation as well.

For the mosque did not offer me much solace. There was, at many times, a relief in being amongst others of my faith, to sit in silence and listen to a sermon, to get up together and pray. But there was nothing apart from that. I walked out of that building feeling as disconnected from other humans as I felt walking into it.

Maybe it’s the state of mind I was in at that time. Maybe I was unlucky. And I know far better than to hold my community accountable for not being more open and accessible. Our religious and cultural fabrics are woven with the threads of social bonding. We are entwined in our family lives, our study groups, our friends, and our voluntary activities. I can’t blame others for thinking that I was just like them, and that I had the same social richness to return to when I left the masjid.

What the Sunnah teaches us is deeply true to fact that man is a social animal, and I have learned that being ordained to be social as Muslims is a blessing of inconceivable proportions. As someone who has been on the opposite end of the spectrum, who has felt like she is on the other end of a screen and banged and banged on it while the rest of the world walked on, oblivious to the banging, I tell you this, my Muslim brothers and sisters. Irritating as the family and social dynamics can get at times–especially for those of us who prefer solitude–the social aspect of our faith is more of a mercy than you can ever imagine. Having been through involuntary solitude, I can tell you that. For maybe I went through it so that you wouldn’t have to.

It’s a mercy, really, to be pulled in these different directions: to be on the phone with one person, to end the conversation with another one online, to leave the room to find a parent in the living room or the kitchen, to go to class with a study partner and then go have coffee with a friend. Be grateful for these small blessings, and never cease to be grateful for them, for you wouldn’t know how much you needed them until Allah holds them back to test you.

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