SHAFAQNA- Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (49:13) One major pillar of human nature is the ability to interact with one another. It is very normal to want to be part of a group. We learn when around other. We grow as humans when we reflect upon the speech and actions of others. In short, the need to ‘fit in’ is a natural human instinct that we cannot, in the normal way of things, ignore. Nevertheless, when it comes to ‘fitting in’, one needs to be very careful as it can lead to undesirable downfalls.
One major determining factor of downfalls is cultural and social norms. However, it is not the essence of culture that affects the ‘fitting in’; it is the position culture stands in relative to religion.
To avoid any misconceptions, it is important to realize that culture does not necessarily stand against religious teachings. In fact, some of the jurisprudential laws on specific matters, such as the prohibited forms of music, are dependent on social norms in the absolute ruling on any given case.
The Outcast Effect
Any group is usually characterized by certain commonalities. The more the common factors, the tighter the group. This is true for friends, family, college, workplace, or any other place where groups exist. Take for example a group of friends. If all but one of them smokes, that exception may feel a bit on the outside. This person will want to strengthen his belonging to the group. This person will want to ‘fit in’ entirely, not partially. This feeling as an outcast may cause him to consider smoking just to impress everyone else or just to feel on the same level as everyone else. This example may be extreme, but it can be applied to bigger or smaller matters.
It becomes more serious when society and culture transform things and make them norms and standards. Anyone who belongs to that society and does not follow these norms and traditions will feel like that person who is not smoking among a group of smokers.
When a society makes listening to music a normal and recommended practice, when it makes non-Hijabi women its image, and when the inter-gender interaction becomes stripped of all barriers, then those who are holding onto Islamic teachings will face the ‘outcast effect’.
Of course, those who are firm in their belief will not be affected by such tides, but if our youth who are in the process of being ‘molded’ feel as outcasts early in their life, their instinctive need to ‘fit in’ will take over and shape their future decisions.
In fact, this is the case where we find the common phrase, “But everyone else is doing it, why can’t I?” Of course, this phenomenon is what sociologists and psychologists refer to as ‘peer pressure’.
Today’s culture and societies impose a dilemma, do we go with the flow or do we hold onto our beliefs and risk being on the outside?
Rational thinking suggests that we do what is right. Now, “what is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular.” This is the real equation. If our deciding factor is what everyone does or expects us to do, then we taking the ‘popular route’.
This route is the same route that causes Muslim brothers and sisters to shake hands with non-Mahrams in both Western and even Islamic cultures. Why? Because it is normal. Because it is recommended. And more importantly, because if they do not, they will be labeled as ‘different’.
This is sometimes justified by saying it would be embarrassing not to shake hands. However, if the same person who extended their hand knowing that you should not shake it offers a glass of alcohol, will the same argument of it being embarrassing hold? Is it because alcohol is a taboo in religion? Or is it that alcohol is associated with bad (and deadly) incidents that one needs to take care with it? Is it okay to disobey Allah in one instance but not in another? Or is it that society views shaking of the hands as a requirement to belong to it?
All these questions may be targeted at a specific example, but they extend to every matter. They extend to listening to music, going to mixed-gender gatherings, gossip, business deals, and literally any other matter that we might encounter in everyday life.
So how can we ourselves avoid this dilemma? How can we educate our youths to not go with the flow in all cases? What can we do to overcome the ‘outcast effect’?
Allah gives us the solution in the Qur’an when He says, “And whoever is conscious of Allah – He will make for him a way out.” (65:2)
Indeed, God-consciousness and adherence to Islamic teachings is the guarantee to overcoming this whole dilemma. Islamic teachings provide us with both absolute and relative laws that when we apply them to our everyday life, we will find it simple to know when we can go with the flow and when we should hold back.
And as for our youth, teaching them the laws of Islam is just a single step. It is also important to acknowledge the issue and make them aware of what dangers lay before them. After all, to solve a problem, one needs to understand it fully.
Keeping our religion in our mind, let everyone do what they will. It is no longer a deciding factor for us whether everybody does something or they do not. Our deciding factor is the pleasure of Allah. Our deciding factor is following the teachings of the Prophet and his Holy Progeny (peace be upon them all).
So, next time you see everyone doing something, stop and think to yourself: is that which is seemingly popular now “right” according to Islam? If yes, then proceed without worry. If no, then again, do not worry. They may treat you as an outcast, but Allah guarantee that He will help you pull through triumphantly.