By Karim Serageldin
When I was seven years old, I used to attend a halaqa (religious lesson). We would learn what I would call today the Islam of “no’s”. One summer day upon entering class, my teacher and I got into this dialogue.
“What is this?” My teacher glared at the shiny bracelet around my tanned wrist.
“It’s a bracelet; my grandmother got it for me.” I said nonchalantly.
“Didn’t I tell you jewelry is haram [forbidden]?”
“But it’s silver. Boys can wear silver. My grandma got it for my birthday.”
“Didn’t I tell you it is haram to celebrate birthdays?” His expression was more serious.
“But all we did was go to McDonald’s and eat chicken nuggets.”
“Didn’t I tell you McDonald’s is haram?!”
Seriously, that’s what happened. Growing up, many Muslims constantly heard the word “no”. “No, you can’t do that”, “no you can’t eat that”, “no you can’t see that/listen to that/touch that”. I heard a joke once that some masjids (mosques) should be called “No Happiness Allowed” Centers. Surely, boundaries are necessary in life, but what happens when we focus entirely on them?
When we are constantly reminded with what we are forbidden to do, we develop a relationship with God that is based on fear and anxiety. Psychologically, a self-destructive trend develops: a trend of fear of punishment, worry about going to hell and a constant feeling of guilt which overcomes the joy of God’s presence and blessings in our lives. Some of our brothers and sisters have developed severe obsessive-compulsive disorder because of this trend. The term is called scrupulosity and it is a dangerous and sad state of being. I once consulted a brother who would take one hour to make wudu’ (ablution) and two to three hours to pray. He would repeat rituals over and over again until he got them perfect. He did this out of fear that his prayer would not be accepted due to his wrong impression of God as powerful and judgmental. I have personally worked with clients who had psychotic breakdowns as a result of this mentality. May the Divine help us.
One of the ways I help such people is by asking clients to re-frame their perception of Islam as a “Yes Religion”. Everything is, by default, halal (permissible) except for what has been made haram. Islam is not merely a religion of regulations and deprivations. We have to look at the “yes” side, the plus side, the blessings and gifts God has actually given us. Living Islam is a path that gives much more than it takes.
Reflect on this:
- We get 24 hours a day, and we are expected to spend about 25 to 30 minutes of the day connecting with our Creator through prayer. That is 1.7% of the day in prayer. The rest is our time. We have twelve months a year. Only one month a year, God asks us to practice self-discipline through fasting and focusing on His worship. Through this fast, we still get to eat and drink by sunset and gain physical and psycho-spiritual benefits. That is 92% percent of the year left to us to eat whenever we wish.
- Yes, God asks us to give about 2.5% of our wealth to those in need, those less privileged than us. But, you still get to keep about 97.5% of your wealth and assets.
- If we are financially and physically able, God calls on us to make pilgrimage to Mecca only one time in our whole life, in return for His forgiveness! Not once a year, not once a decade, but once in our entire life. If you live to be 80 years old, performing one hajj requires only about 0.017% of your time. We can eat and drink everything except the few things which are harmful to us: pork, alcohol, and carnivores like lions, tigers and bears, which are not a common food source for human beings anyway. Other than that, you may enjoy all kinds of food and drink.
There are many more examples that show that Islam is a “Yes Religion”. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said ”yes” to nearly all requests that came his way, as well as:
- Forgiving people and being patient in the face of wrongdoings.
- Flexibility and tolerance to other people’s culture and customs
- Letting everyone accept da`wa (the call to Islam) in their own time, without passing judgments
- Helping and supporting others
- Being optimistic, friendly, and meeting people with a smile
It has even been said that if it were not for the “no” in the shahada (there is no god other than God), the Prophet ﷺ might have never used the word.
I encourage you to reframe your perspective and make your own list of how Islam gives more than it takes. Focus on what Islam offers more than what it forbids. Let’s get back to this “yes” mentality. Let’s acknowledge the gifts and the blessings, and appreciate all that God has granted us. Let’s turn towards God with love. Let’s pray because we want to. Let’s find joy in existence and look forward to meeting our Lord.