My sandals had a slight sparkle to them. I looked at them again, a scrutinizing look. Pale golden, with just a teensy amount of shimmer. No, no way, a voice in my head said, I would look such a show-off, it’s not a Valima after all. Oh, come on, the other voice said, they’ll do just fine, you won’t stick out even a bit. But what if I do? The nagging voice said. Now the second voice is silenced. So yeah, I did not wear those just-a-bit sparkly shoes. The fear of being the odd one out was too great.
We all have moments like these in our lives. Everyone has this ‘thing’ for fitting in. Conformity is a trait inculcated in us like a sacred moral code you must absolutely follow. Be it our attires or the food we eat, the music people listen to or the sports they are obsessed with, the gadgets they play with or the vocabulary that’s in vogue, you must observe the trend, you know. Because who on earth does not want to look cool, man! Even worse, who indeed would like to be accused of living under the rock, with no idea of what to wear and when? Shudders!
Being a stranger in a gathering is such a worse deal for so many. The odd one out – people would do anything to avoid this title. Some might go to immense trouble too, be it psychological, (for it wasn’t your choice in the first place), or economical (freaking pricey leading brands, you know), or physical, (them high heels ain’t no easy to don!), all for what? The desire to never be called a stranger, to always fit in!
Yet not all stick-out qualities are the same and equally eluded, are they? Not all of them are taboos, eh? The stranger that tops a class, those rare species that make it to headlines for their out-of-the-world ideas and actions, the authors who pen down the most unique and non-cliched stories are the most celebrated and, most of the time, envied.
So, what are we getting at? Being a black sheep isn’t so bad when you come to think of it. In fact, being a specific kind of black sheep is a requirement, remember that old survival-of-the-fittest theory?!
Come along, let me show you another brand of strangers. See that, the boy over there? Yeah, the one with a beard. ‘Oh, you mean the one whose ankles are showing through, what’s wrong with him? Is he wearing his old jeans or he can’t afford to buy his own size?’ You ask.
Moving on, let’s peek around in the college park. You must already know what I am trying to show you. ‘Yeah, I know’, you snigger, ‘those bunch of oddballs with their heads wrapped up. Maybe they have issues with their hair, the dye went wrong probably? Or perhaps some of them had to get ready in a hurry in the morning, no time for hair-do, poor souls!’ Er no, they are always dressed up like that. Wonder why, you sigh.
A third group. Remember those two guys in our group, those who never attend a concert? ‘Those morose souls’, you nod. ‘Imagine what lifeless lives they must be living, with no melodies and no tunes.’ How would you know?
Another bunch. The girls who don’t befriend any guys. They keep a stern tone with the other gender and never socialize unnecessarily with the mixed crowd. You think they are rude and unpleasant because they don’t giggle at that guy’s jokes. Their pastimes do not include cracking jokes about others’ appearances and dialects or indulging in mean, snobbish gossip. You will not see them fan-girling over popular celebrities or shows. Too much to make you an oddity, isn’t it? You nod fervently.
So, who are all these strangers? Oh, just simple beings, Muslims, trying to stick to the traditions of their Prophet. The first one is a stranger who keeps his pants above his ankles because his beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) strictly advised so. The second group, with pieces of cloth over their heads and some with that around their faces, are just observing Hijaab. Why? Because their Master said so, in His timeless Book. The guys who have quit music for life aren’t boring or tasteless, the simple fact is: their Prophet forbade them from indulging in it. A part of his mission was to destroy all kinds of musical instruments, why would they dare to do the opposite? They just listen to a different genre of music, the divine one. The recitation of their Master’s words is just sufficiently mellifluous a melody to enchant them. And the fourth group, the killjoy prototype girls, they aren’t rude. Their stern voice when talking to the guys is an outcome of the love for their Lord, who advised them against speaking in soft, dulcet tones with the other gender. They don’t care about adapting to their society.
You’ll find numerous other instances too. There exist those men and women who keep their gazes lowered and who don’t think hugging scenes in a movie are easy on the eyes, so they shall avoid them. You’ll come across weirdos who never cheat in their exams, those who don’t ever lie, however scary the circumstances are. There are those who never miss a prayer even when the function is at its climax (What?!), and those who have the nerve of saying ‘no’ to their best buddies when invited to a fishy task, and so on and so forth.
Why does following the Sunnah have to make them oddballs in the community?
Actually, it does not have to. But, when the masses choose to adopt a culture that is against their nature, (a borrowed one, frankly), when they choose to do what is easy and not so right, what is a demand of the baser self and not the lofty standard their souls were suited to, then what is right and not-so-easy, what is pure and somewhat hard becomes a rare sight. Most of the people will opt for the hill that is easy to climb in its initial slopes, yet only gets harder and craggier onwards. Alas, foresight and rational thinking aren’t a common gift. Many will just want to ‘fit in’.
A limited few shall dare to climb the hill that is daunting and scary in its first few paces and only gets easier on and forth. This requires hard work and grit, yes, but it will all be totally worth it. My Master promises so, and who is truer of his word than Him?
So, you see, hardship awaits us either way, but it pays off at the end of one, while the other one drags you to greater miseries and regrets. We simply need to pick our troubles judiciously.
Our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
“Islam began as a stranger, and it will return to being a stranger. So, glad tidings are for the strangers!”
A conformer to a borrowed culture and a slave of my desires which is so easy to become, and I end up in an eternity of trouble and the blazing Fire.
A non-conformer and a stranger to the irrational norms and a rebel against my lowly, oh-so-common desires, and I hop on to a ride that only gets more pleasing and finally, an abode of Salaaman Salaama (peace, only peace!) with lush gardens and serene, gushing rivers is right there.
What will I choose?
What will you choose?