January 03, 2006

Bugs in my cereal

It's been a while since I wrote anything here. It was not for lack of content; recently, there have been many amusing stories in my life that some of my readers already know about. All I will say on that is that there are some search problems even Google can't solve. That's probably a good thing. When searching for your other half, the bumps and bruises along the way usually provide valuable lessons that can last a lifetime. If the results were instant, we'd miss out on one of life's most amusing adventures.

People have assumed that I have been unhappy of late. This is not necessarily true, but I won't deny that my behaviour and actions perhaps reflected an aura of unhappiness. Alhamdolillah, I'm very content these days, but somehow I haven't been able to show that. During my recent Toronto trip, I struggled to show much enthusiasm, which everyone seemed to notice. I'm not sure why; I've never been able to put a finger on it. But thanks to a blog post courtesy of Izzy Mo, I discovered that this feeling has a name; they call it quarter-life crisis.

It is a bit of a misnomer; we can never know what fraction of life has passed, but my understanding is that it represents that little transitionary period in the late teens and early 20s when so many of lifes major decisions come at once. Where is my life going? Am I directing it the right way? Incidentally, it's also the period in which people tend to start blogs, where they ask these same questions to whoever is listening.

Our generation must have invented this term, as we seem to have an obsession with depression. What should be considered as an exciting transitional period has been called a "crisis". Outwardly, we have little reason to be depressed. And inwardly, we don't have any valid reasons for depression either. But when we grow up hearing stupid song lyrics like "I'm not okay!! I'm not okay!" and "Life's not fair!", it is no surprise that when the slightest misdirection creeps into life, we fall into extended bouts of melancholy. Sure, we may live in nice homes in quiet neighbourhoods; we may have home-cooked food waiting for us every day; we may have university educations and challenging careers ahead of us, even. But we still play the victim, secretly seeking sympathy but publicly showing disdain for the world. As soon as conditions appear to be against our favour, we lash out at society for marginalizing us and disregarding our woes. Only in retrospect do we realize how irrelevant our "woes" actually were. We have never seen real adversity, but still believe it's us against the world.

This is partly why the Goth subculture has always fascinated and disgusted me. I've always wondered how so many people can get duped into a culture which unifies only on a colour and a sound; they stand up for so little, yet they attract so many followers. I was mistaken though; it's not the colour or the music which is the unifying force between them; it is the disdain of society, and the attraction towards depression and marginalization. These are often people who really are living privileged lives; I see them on the bus all the time, and I can tell where they live by the bus they take. Many live in half-million dollar homes, their parents are probably engineers, and they have incredibly nice schools and shopping centres all around them.

Still, our generation has created a culture that values being rejected. The Goth culture has responded by reflecting their anger at society by dressing like the Addams family. Another contingent has chosen the path of living the fake thug life. Again, people with all the privileges in the world choose to create this image where they are scorned by society and need to fight back. It's all so artificial, but reality has been losing a lot of battles these days.

The most ironic part of it all is that this disdain for society has been commercialized. Goths chose to express their individuality by dressing against social norms; now, most young people in Ottawa appear to dress that way. There are Goth megastores where you can buy these funky shirts with all the patches and slogans sewed on already. That crazy makeup that makes them all look so pale? Only 3,99$! They bought into the culture to show they were different; in the end, they've been sucked into a commercial jackpot like everyone else. Anti-commercialism itself has been commercialized.

This culture of angst fails because it unifies on something so meaningless. In the end, it will blow away like every other passing phase, and all these people will wonder what they were doing with their lives. They'll realize that this whole venture was a farce, and terms like quarter-life crisis will also disappear. Eventually, economic conditions will become much worse in North America, and we'll be reminded what used to be meant by "Depression". Hopefully, we'll learn to deal with the adversity rather than just mope about it.

Islam thrived because people were uniting on something meaningful; something which not only changed them, but changed society. I once did some research about the Goth perspective on Islam. I came across a messageboard where someone argued that "being Goth transcends all religion; you can be a buddhist, a jew, a muslim, or an atheist, and still be Goth." He added later that as long as the image was right, the ideology didn't matter. The image. That's all it is.

Everyone else is uniting on just an image, though some of them may claim otherwise. (You don't understand man, you gotta feel the music.) As Muslims, we must unite on the values Islam taught us. Those values will reflect on our image as well; indeed, they should. I listened to a talk recently by an amazing local Muslim scholar, who argued against the common refrain of "I've got Islam in my heart; that's all I need." He argued that the Islam in our heart must reflect on our actions, our character, and our appearance. He quoted an ayaah of Quran, where Allah compares the Imaan of a person to a tree, which has strong roots in the ground, outside of view, and branches and fruits springing forth out of the trunk. The branches and the fruits are the a'maal - the righteous actions, the sunnah of Rasulullah SAWS - that are outwardly reflected by those deep roots. Sure, a tree might have deep roots, but if it's not providing fruit, it's no good to anyone.

The challenge then is to decorate the belief in our hearts with the actions required by that belief. It is not enough just to hold the image; that won't last on it's own, just as all of these other cultures based on image won't last. And claiming that our roots are firm while failing to produce the fruits of Islam is also not enough. In the early stages, this tree needs constant care in order to eventually produce those fruits. And once it does, others will benefit from it too.


  1. That was a very insightful post, especially your analysis of the various teenage and post-teenage subcultures that exist in our societies.

    P.S. If you don't mind, can I ask you to email me at [e-mail address removed, Spam is bad!]? I'd like to discuss printing some of your work in a Toronto (UofT) magazine, The Muslim Voice. Thanks!

  2. You know you're big-time when UFT's MSA asks to include your writing in their newspaper, The Muslim Voice (TMV). :)

    Good post, Faraz... and yes, you looked totally out of it last weekend when you were here in TO. I would be too I guess if the Habs were losing alot...

  3. Wow Hajera, I had no idea that you were now soliciting on blogs. Have you no shame? >:) By the way, Nauman, it's a magazine, NOT a newspaper.

    About gothic culture being commercialized - everything in existence will one day be commercialized. It's enough to make someone go mad, really.

    I dislike it when cultural stuff goes on the market but it doesn't serve to garner respect for the culture it comes from. Take, for example, the recent upsurge of Indian-style clothes and jewelry on the market. Some people who wear this stuff are still bigots and will have no problem muttering racist slurs at anyone who's Indian-looking.

    In addtion, the culture of the supressed and oppressed somehow manages to becomes popular. Kind of like how it's in for people to dress like thugs...I suppose the government's way of quelling the threat of these marginalized groups is to promote their culture, while ignoring the real issues of the people.

  4. Assalamu'alaykum,
    Sister Hajera: I've been thinking about these "subcultures" for a while, mainly because it's always annoyed me that I sometimes feel shy about wearing sunnah when others are dressed all wacky. Why is it easy for them to go against the norm and difficult for us, when our sunnah is beautiful and meaningful and their image is meaningless?

    Nauman: I'm not sure if the Habs performance made things worse, but I do feel that I might have to finally surrender to my city and become a Senators fan. Argh.. Either way, I apologize for my lack of enthusiasm in TO.

    Sister Asmaa: I guess only in Toronto would Indian clothing become mainstream. I haven't noticed that myself, but the South Asian population here isn't nearly as large as it is in Toronto. You make a very interesting point that promoting these images could be an easy way to keep these marginalized groups quiet. But my complaint is really with the people that aren't discriminated against, who have all the luxuries, but put on this act so that they can sulk and wear slogans.

    Overall, this whole thing mainly bothers me because I see it as a weakness on my part that I'm not willing to stand up for a Muslim image (aside from the beard and kufis and stuff, which lots of non-Muslims have too) while so many others are standing up for their meaningless images.

    A few days ago, I was on a bus wearing a Saudi jalabiyya. An old guy asked me "What'chu wearing a dress for? You some kinda queer?" I responded by just laughing and saying, "Don't worry about it." Looking back, this could have been an opportunity for da'wah but instead I just answered vaguely and rather condescendingly.

    I guess that just means my roots are weak, so I'm not bearing fruits. I need to correct those roots first.

  5. Don't be too hard on yourself. You write wonderfully, by the way.

  6. Assalamu'alaykum sister Safiyyah, thank you for the kind comments.

    I also generally tell people not to be so hard on themselves whenever they chide themselves over their own faith. But then I wonder sometimes though at how some Sahabah - even the most prominent ones like Abu Bakr and Umar RadhiAllahu'anhuma - used to have misgivings about their faith, thinking themselves to be hypocrites. Now I think a little doubt and worry is okay every once in a while, because it is a sign of sincerity in our faith and gives us a reason to work harder.

    SubhanAllah, they were so far ahead of us, yet still...

  7. Reaching a point where you are a true representative of Islam is one of the most trying and most difficult goals to have.

    The most discouraging thing about it is that if a person really is an ideal Muslim, then having the "image" would come completely naturally. It is then arrived at that we are not in any way the ideal Muslims we sometimes suppose ourselves to be.

    I agree with you; it's the root that needs working on. Image is nothing.

  8. I'm an ottawa resident as well and I'm also a sometime member of the goth subculture.

    I agree with allot of what you're saying about the subculture.

    I however don't mind our culture being commercailized, in fact I prefer it. That way more goth products and culture become more availible.

    I really really liked your insight as a newcommer into canada about how stupid it is for the privedged her to jion a culture that wants to be rejected by society.

    I never really looked at the goth culture from the perspective of someone already outside the mainstream.

  9. Sister Asmaa: We have a rich history on which to base our understanding of ideal Muslims; we shouldn't be discouraged by our shortcomings compared to them, but rather be inspired by them and their devotion.

    Roberto: Welcome to Irrelevant Opinions! It's great to hear your perspective on all this. You mentioned that you prefer the commercialization of goth culture; I'm curious though, doesn't that defeat the purpose of the subculture? If part of the subculture is a desire to be outside the mainstream, doesn't the easy availability of the products and clothing cheapen it?

    Or maybe I just really don't understand the whole culture altogether.

  10. Salaam alaikum Faraz and Eid Mubarak! What is so annoying about this transitional period is that you feel guilty about being depressed so you become even more depressed. I pray we can use our youth for something vital and important and not wallowing away in confusion and sadness. I try to remind myself that others don't have it as good as I do so I need to stop whining and get to work.

  11. Assalaamu'alaykum wa rahmatu Allah

    Aint that the truth! Sometimes though, we need to feel a little removed and introspective. There's good in it. I remember Shaykh Talal once saying that when something constricts us it could be for two reasons: 1) it could be a matter of this world which can easily be taken care of and then the constriction leaves, or 2) it could be a constriction due to our imaan strengthening because it hurts for our imaan to grow.

    Sidi Omar Mahmoud once said (something to the effect) that our imaan goes through a loop..it's high, then it drops.. but some of us get discouraged when it drops and in fact that's where we need to work harder to continue to the loop and thus perserverence takes us a long way.

    I seem to sway into the same thoughts... and if I allow myself to think about it now ..shucks..guilty. 25 years means close to half that of a lifetime. Anything after 60 is 'bonus' the way I see it..but anything past puberty (when our sins are enumerated) is a blessing since it's more time to either earn rewards or to repent, insha'Allah.

    Sorry.. I digress. Unfortunately I think this response may be of more benefit to me than to you..my apologies.

    May Allah give you baraka in your life, ameen. All the best, insha'Allah!

  12. Assalamu'alaykum anonymous,

    No need for the "unfortunately", that response definitely was of benefit to me! I really appreciate your comments; I haven't come back and visited this post in months, and was happy to see some scholarly advice reflecting my random thoughts on a significant problem.

    Ameen to your du'as, and may Allah grant you the best, and to all other anonymous people out there insha-Allah. :)