I’m from the Outkast, Goodie Mob, TLC, LaFace Records Atlanta. The Usher Raymond, Jermaine Dupree, Jagged Edge Atlanta. And of course I can’t forget the traffic jam, Bill Campbell, Freaknik Atlanta. So naturally I have a little bit of the southern colloquial slang, that if you have lived in Georgia for any extended period of time, you know is quite commonplace among native residents. Besides my speech their are some aspects of my life that are simply ingrained in me; such as the need to let people know what area I’m from or what high school I attended growing up. Perhaps I may become nostalgic when a Lil’ Jon song is played between the current rotation on the radio station and get a little “turnt up” (back in my day we called it “crunk”…but whatever) while on the way to work. It’s natural for me, and although not everyone is privileged to see that side, it does rear it’s big head from time to time without asking permission. I mentioned just a few of the idiosyncrasies that make me who I am. We all have them and it’s what makes us individuals. It’s what makes us unique.
Wouldn’t we lead such a bland existence if we were all the same?
Alternately, their is another side of me that I didn’t know existed until several years ago. It’s strange because this other side is still the me that I have always known but it’s on another level. A higher level. It’s similar to when you turn 30 and you think back to all of the stupid things you thought or the reckless actions you made in your teens or twenties and are amazed at how much you’ve matured…and that you’ve managed to stay alive. You’re still you but…better. That’s how I feel about embracing Islam. I’m still me but…better. “When you know better you do better”. I can’t say that anyone has ever stated that cliche to me directly but I’ve heard it more than once in some form or another. You could say that’s where I am right now with my faith. I know better, so in turn I must do better. It’s an expression that on the surface is inconsequential and stated simply for effect in most cases, but it’s a heavy statement. Forget about anyone else for a moment. Let’s focus on you. Don’t YOU owe it to YOU to hold yourself to a higher standard once knowledge of your Creator has been received? In a purely basic way, that is Islam to me.
….Say, “Are they ever equal, those who know and those who do not know? Only the people of discernment will reflect (on the distinction between knowledge and ignorance, and obedience to Allah and disobedience,) and be mindful.
~ Quran 39:9
So here is where the dilemma attempts to rear it’s ugly head. Connecting who you were before receiving knowledge to who you are after. How do you balance the two? Can you? Do you have to abandon the first in order to hold on to the second? To me it’s like asking do I have to cease being American in order to be Muslim. I cannot denounce that I am an American no more than I can nullify the fact that I am Black; the two must simply co-exist. Likewise, I won’t simply eradicate who I was before because I am Muslim now. After all, didn’t Allah choose me? Didn’t He know who I was before and bestowed His mercy upon me anyway? Allah knows your inner most being so I will assume that He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, an intangible that was there from the beginning.
Assuredly, it is We Who have created human, and We know what suggestions his soul makes to him. We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.
~ Quran 50:16
I’m no religious scholar. Not even close. I can only humbly provide you with my personal experience thus far. I’ve learned that the human being is continually growing; changing. That not only includes individuals but it also takes into account all of humanity. The knowledge one receives impacts each person differently. For instance, upon my first introduction to the Quran I began to ponder everything. I viewed my life through an unfiltered lens with a child-like youthfulness. Blue skies. Dazzling stars. Bumblebees. Butterflies. I may sound crazy to some but it’s beautiful to me. I had taken Allah’s creations for granted.
No words can truly describe the Quran’s impact on my life. Four years later this book of revelation is still influencing my thoughts and actions. I have progressively grown but I am still me. No, I don’t engage in all of the previous activities in which I would frequently participate, but refraining from doing so does not automatically cause a metamorphosis. I don’t run into a telephone booth (do they even have those anymore?) and come out with a full burqa. Let’s be realistic, it simply doesn’t work like that. Even if it did, that may not be my particular truth. Growth blossoms like a flower and each petal, although similar, won’t look the same.
I’m still a lover of good music, just about any dessert with frosting, and the average asinine television show from time to time (okay I’m working on that last one). I can become upset or lose my sense of purpose on various occasions just like the average person. We’re all human which by our very nature makes us imperfect. Days merge into weeks into months into years; what you have left are memories that eventually fade. I don’t think about the “old” me as if I have to converge the past with the present. I simply think of now. Who I am today and who I am striving to become. At the end of the night that is all that matters. No one is going to want to know what you were like three years ago to determine if the person standing in front of them at this very moment is a good person. The CEO of an IT company won’t make a decision on whether he (or she) will hire you as a computer technician based on that one time you fixed your brother’s Nintendo back in 1987. It’s irrelevant! So the perceived dilemma results in a question. Not how do I hold on to remnants of my former self?
How can I be the best me…..today…..while also pleasing Allah?2