Photos: Maira Nguyen.
At 22, I said goodbye to my undergraduate years. Although I still study for my masters, it’s different. The biggest change is perhaps how I see myself. During my undergraduate years, I was confident. I didn’t care how others perceive me and only focused on performing my best with my assignments. However, the master of teaching crushed me as it lay bare my weak speaking skill, my awkwardness in social conversations, and my insensitivity to the workplace politics. After all, I’ve always been an introvert, who prefers keeping thoughts to herself, who struggles in an alien environment and who hardly cares what people think. Yet, suddenly I am placed in situations where I actually have to care about how I appear to other people, how I control my expression, how I act and behave. Suddenly I begin to ask myself: “Does this person like me?”; “Am I acting appropriately?”, “how can I fit in?”; “am i dumb?” The result is that I lost my confidence and began to hate myself, including my islamic identity. I became a slave of the world even without me realising it, and when I looked at my mirror asking myself who I am, I was at the state of loss. Therefore, at the age of 22, I understand why Bendiuzzaman Said Nurse said: “Know, O Friend, that we forget, and the worst kind of forgetting is forgetting one’s self.”
At 22, I said goodbye to some of my dear friends. Only when they departed did I comprehend why they were so important to me. To be honest, we are not so compatible in terms of our tastes and personalities. However, what connects us is our love for Islam. I miss those times when we read Quran, praised God, and learned Islam together. I miss those times when we shared our reflections on the universe, the Quran, and the prophets. These discussions helped us to remind ourselves in the midst of assignments, work schedules and relationships of why we embrace this beautiful religion and of why we have to be patient, sincere and compassionate. When they left, the discussion also stopped. I continued to read and study Islam myself, but still there was something missing, something that was irreplaceable. For the first time in my life, I felt thirsty of a community – or a group of Muslims learning Islam together. Thus, at the age of 22, I recognise Allah’s Mercy when He has given me so many sincere Muslim sisters to assist me throughout this journey. I also realise that nobody can be an island by him/herself, especially those follow Islam, because Islam is about collaboration and mutual assistance.
At 22, I learn to deal with solitude and free time. Being alone is not fun, and I have tried to distract myself with entertainment, social media and projects to make me avoid the ’time for myself’. However, yesterday I came to realise that i need to stop running around to avoid solitude. Most prophets at some point face solitude, and they use it effectively to reflect on God. That’s what I should do… I have always made excuses to NOT learn Arabic properly. Now it’s time to learn. I have always made excuses to NOT read the history, literature and Islamic books scattered on my bookshelves. Now it’s time to read them. It’s time to leave the world and focus on myself. It’s time to embrace solitude, struggle with the naifs and inshAllah employ it as a vehicle to reach closer to The Creator.
At 22, I know I have changed. I’m no longer the crazy, ambitious idealistic girl who were so fascinated with ideals and dreams. I have become more practical, more vulnerable and more skeptical. Things that I used to believe are no longer what I hold true. Things that I find obvious are no longer valid. I even wonder if my thoughts at the moment are ‘enlightenment’ or actually the whispers of my ego (naifs). I get used to saying “I don’t know” more often.
At 22, amid the changes, losses and several ups and downs of my faith, there is one thing I still believe firmly. That there is a God who is Omnipresent, Merciful and Compassionate. That He wants me to grow up, strengthen my Faith, do righteous deeds and remain hopeful and patient. Thus, when Islam still touches my heart, when difficulties are still present , I know that God is still giving me a chance. And for that, I want to say Alhamdulilah.
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
Verily Man is in loss,
Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds,
and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth,
and of Patience and Constancy.
Sura Al-Asr. The Quran. Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali