‹Islam began as something strange and it will return to being strange as it began. So Toobaa (goodness) is for the strangers.› —Prophet Muhammad (S) [Muslim]
I never felt like a stranger when I was in Kindergarten — I guess I was too young to understand. It wasn't until first grade that I remember feeling different. While my classmates were at Music Class, I stayed behind in our classroom. I sat at my desk watching my teacher grade papers, wondering why I wasn't with the rest. Sure, I understood music was haraam…but why was *I* the one who had to be different from everyone else? I asked myself the infamous question over and over. Why ME?
A month later, I dejectedly watched all my friends and classmates march proudly around the room -- and then the whole school — in their pumpkin, cats, witches, and ghosts costumes, hating the fact that I was the one who had to be Muslim -- and different. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentines, and Easter were no different. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, it was the same.
At home and after school, with the few Muslim friends I had in that remote Iowan town, the feeling would be gone and I would think to myself that being Muslim was the greatest thing in the world. Didn't my father just tell me the story of Ibrahim (AS) last night? The one who, at first, was all alone with his Islam? Yet he knew he had Allah. And what about the stories of strong, wise Umar, kind, gentle, truthful Abu Bakr, Allah-fearing, brave Bilal? With them, who needed Santa Clause, St.Valentines, and the Easter bunny-rabbit? They have Thanksgiving to thank God with — we have all year. But once in the classroom, surrounded by my friends and fellow students as they chattered excitedly about what they got for Christmas or where they were going for Easter, the beautiful stories and thoughts were gone, replaced with bitter resentment of my religion.
By fifth grade, things were somewhat better. I was a little older, understood a bit more, but the feeling was always there, especially powerful when I would hand slumber or birthday party invitations back to the owner and tell them politely that I was busy at so and so date. Or when, occasionally in the late spring, classmates would wonder aloud why I never wore shorts or mini skirts.
Up until around fourth grade, my friends were mostly boys. I learned early on that unless you fit in completely, it was hard to become close to most of the girls. They always formed cliques and, especially in the early years, "special clubs". With the boys, it wasn't the same. I secretly thought that usually the girls were awfully dull — boys were always much more exciting. But by the time they were 9 and 10, the boys were starting to form interest in the girls and vise versa. So from then on I was fully an outsider. I fit in with neither group.
I began wearing the scarf that year, but al-hamdulillah, all praise to Allah, it was one of the few things I was extremely honored about doing. I had gone to that same school since first grade so everyone knew me, and it came as no big surprise, seeing my mom come and go with the full hijaab, that I too, would wear it someday. It made it even easier that I never was into clothes, hair or personal appearance, as most of the girls were at that early age of 10 and 11.
During the summer before sixth grade, we moved to another state and my parents decided to home school me, the educational level in the schools at the state not being very high. Al-hamdullilah because it was one of the best choices they ever made. It gave me a full year to learn about myself and why I am here on earth in the first place. I had a lot more awareness and confidence in my religion and myself by the seventh grade, when my father's job forced us to move yet again to another town and I was put back into the public school. This time I was placed in a predominantly African-American school (it had a language-teaching program, Arabic being one of the languages taught), completely opposite from the all-white school I had gone to all my life. Al-hamdulillah, the change was for the better -- they were a lot more accepting of minorities and differences in that school. That wasn't the only "change-for-the-better". This time the issue wasn't the hating of being different. Now, there was a change in me. I hated the way my classmates acted, the things they talked about, the way they dressed. The bottom line was that I hated being with the kufaar. Finally, I loved being different.
That year was the last year I went to public school. My parents decided to home school me from then on, at last fully realizing the effect of public school. "I don't have to be The Stranger anymore!" I remember excitedly writing in my journal in the beginning of eighth grade. Little did I know.
The next year we moved to a city with a large Muslim community. I was really excited, thinking that now, at long last, I would fit in, be where I belonged. I felt like it was a dream come true. And it was…but only partly, if not less.
Every now and then, while I'm talking with another Muslim about how music is forbidden, or why we shouldn't go to the movie theater, or why it's better to wear jilbaab and not just a long skirt and shirt, or why we have to follow the Prophet (S)'s sunnah and not just the Qur'an, I get this sudden pang of, "I'm so different, so strange! WHY?" Sometimes when I'm sitting with a group of Muslim girls around my age, talking, maybe laughing and joking, when the conversation somehow turns to Will Smith or Madonna or the latest make-up tip in Seventeen, a sudden chill goes through my body and I feel as though they're, the lot of them, one thing and I am another. "I'm among Muslims now but I'm still an outsider," I think as I watch them.
But it's not like the years before when I would dislike who I was because I was different. Because now I smile and find strength in remembering the words of Allah's Messenger (S), ‹Glad tidings are for the strangers.›
All praise is due to Allah Who guided this sister to the safety of His religion. How few stories there are like hers! Let no Muslim parent think that his child "will be fine" living and growing up in the West. Most children (the sister above is a rare exception) who go through the school systems in America or Europe are unable to withstand the corrupting influences of "peer pressure" and an unislaamic education. We ask Allaah to make it easy for us to raise our children in supportive, positive Muslim environments, as He says in the Qur'aan (translated): «Oh you who believe, save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is men and stones….» (At-Tahreem)