I Used To Know So Little About Islam

When you think about it, everyone has a starting point. Everyone started by knowing nothing, initially. And this holds true about everything.

Nobody was born with knowledge. We all are born as a blank slate, and we learn as soon as we come out of our mother’s womb. Things like walking, talking – things that require very little thinking on our part, were all things that we had learned. Even the favourite activity of going to sleep on our own, without needing anyone to sing and soothe and rock us to sleep – we learned this.

And, just as how some babies learn to talk first and some babies learn how to walk first, we learn different things at very different paces.

This is how I view the way I learned about Islam.

Currently, at this point in my life, some of my friends labelled me as the more ‘religious’ type. My headscarf is appropriately long, covering my chest. I wear handsocks and tend to feel sleeveless without them. I wear socks and make sure they’re thick and have no holes in them. Sometimes, I become the person of reference when it comes to asking questions regarding Islam.

But that’s because in my circle of friends, Islam is not something that crops up as a topic of daily conversation. If I were to join my husband’s group of friends, I’d be the one who knows so, so little.

Once upon a time, I knew very little about Islam. I was like that baby just learning how to crawl.

When I was in primary school, I went to sekolah agama until Year 5. So I had learned the basics, back then. I knew the names of the prophets, though I didn’t know all their stories. I knew (most of) the names of the ten angels, even though I tend to mix up their roles. I knew about fifteen surahs from Juz 30 of the Quran, which I had memorised when I was nine. All the short surahs. I knew some bits and pieces here and there.

Then we went to the UK for four years. And the expansion of my knowledge about Islam was on hold for those four years. Like I had hit the pause button, and my knowledge stayed the same from when I was eleven until I was seventeen. In school, there wasn’t a subject on Islamic Studies. I had no books to read and study. I actually had no reason to study about Islam – it just never crossed my mind.

I fasted and did my five daily prayers. I was active writing and learning to make websites. I was studying for my GCSEs. But I didn’t study any further about Islam. My knowledge halted to the extent of what I had learned when I was 11 years old.

When we came back to Malaysia and I went to UiTM, I had a culture shock. Haha. I didn’t have a culture shock in the UK, but I certainly did have one in Malaysia. There were all these weird groups. And I didn’t understand why they were even categorised into groups. The freehairs. The hijabis. Nobody seemed to be venturing out from their respective groups and there I was, confused as to where I stood.

I casted myself aside. I became the one with no cliques. The one who befriended everyone, yet belonging to no group. The one who, when the time comes for a group assignment, will always be in the group ‘with whoever is left’.

I don’t know when my burning desire to learn about Islam started, but I remember it being most prominent towards the end of my degree, once I started to really feel comfortable living in Malaysia again.

Maybe it’s because suddenly, it’s just so easy to find a place to pray. No more praying in the corridor or at the parking lot or under the stairs. No more hiding when taking ablution, or face the agony of public restrooms where the only source of water was the sink. Suddenly I could hear the adhan everywhere. Suddenly it seemed that every week, every other day, there’s another Islamic talk here and there. But I was suddenly overwhelmed with how little I knew as a Muslim.

So I began to study.

Quite literally, I spent my money on books and tickets for one convention after another, one class after another. RM150 for this convention. RM250 for this class. RM100 for this book. RM1500 to spend a month learning Arabic and Quran with Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan. I had no concept on expensive or cheap when it came to knowledge. It’s no wonder that by the time I quit PETRONAS, my savings were not as big as they could have been – my scholarship allowance and my salary largely went to my thirst for knowledge. I had a hunger inside me that wasn’t going away. A thirst that kept on growing, especially as the more I studied, the less I knew.

It was a long journey. When people asked me why I chose to go to USIM to do my Master’s, I said it was for the environment. In my list, there was only USIM and IIUM. My attire began to change, slowly. And my knowledge began to gradually increase. I even looked for a husband who would definitely know more about Islam than myself, who could teach me all my life. But there was still so much, so much I still didn’t know.

Recently, I listened to a lecture series by Sheikh Yasir Qadhi on the Seerah of the Prophet PBUH. Before that, the only thing I knew about our Prophet PBUH, really, was when he was born (12 Rabi’ulawal, the year of the Elephant) and the names of his mother and father (Aminah binti Wahab and Abdullah bin Abdul Mutallib). I knew he was an orphan. I knew he lived in Mekah, then moved to Madinah. I knew his closest sahabah was Abu Bakar. I knew very little else. I didn’t know about his sons and daughters. I didn’t know about the wars. I knew many of his miracles, but I didn’t know when it happened and the context in which it occurred. I knew so little.

When I went to perform my umrah, this was pretty much the historical knowledge that I knew of the Prophet. We visited certain sites, and our guide mentioned this and that about the history, but I could relate so little. It was such a sad thing, to be there where Rasulullah SAW had been and not know his history.

So I went back. And studied the seerah. And I learned things I wished I knew when I did the umrah. And I’m still learning. There’s still so much I don’t know about Islam.

When I first went on this journey, I was overwhelmed. Will I ever learn enough? What if I die before I learn all I wanted? It seemed like a never-ending path, as the more I learned, the more it opened doors to what else I needed to learn.

Then I listened to a lecture by Nouman Ali Khan, about the tafsir of surah al-Fatihah. I read that surah in my prayers seventeen times every day, for the past fifteen years, but I never knew what it meant. It was only then that I learned, the fifth ayah, “Guide us to the straight path”, that I learned I was doing okay.

Because from the ayah, we are asking Allah SWT to guide us to “the straight path”. And really, it’s strange. When we ask for directions, we normally ask for a destination. Where’s the shopping mall? Where’s the university? Rarely do we ask directions to a road, or a path. But what that means is that all we need to do, really, is to be on that straight path. And when you’re on a road to somewhere, it doesn’t matter if you’re going fast or slow. As long as you’re on the right road, you’ll get to your destination.

So where am I, with Islam? Alhamdulillah. I know more than where I was five years ago. I still have a lot more to learn. I still have a lot to improve. But. At least I’m on that path. And as long as I stay on this path and keep on learning, insyaAllah, I pray I’ll get there someday.

Maibreakstheice is a blog where I like to tackle life questions through my personal experiences and, where applicable, through my knowledge as a graduate in family counselling. Keep your eye out for updates every Tuesday, or subscribe via email to receive updates straight to your mailbox!

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