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.