Defining My Identity: What Does Being A “Muslim” Mean?

Defining My Identity: What Does Being A "Muslim" Mean?

I often hear the question – why are Muslims murderers and terrorists? Every time I come across this question, it makes me really sad and, at times, angry. I don’t really know how to respond in a way that would maintain the “perfect” image of my religion. The last time someone asked me this, I somehow found the perfect answer. In this article, I will talk about what my Muslim identity means to me.

What Does Being A “Muslim” Mean?

Not all Muslims are murderers, and not all murderers are Muslim.

There are so many ruthless murderers in this world but the Muslim ones get the most attention. Whenever a Muslim kills or steals, or fights or insults another, it is discussed widely all over the world.

Why?

Because for the malicious minds, it is a cause for celebration — “the Muslims messed up too, we aren’t the only ones messing up!”

But for many others, it is a cause of disappointment. They expect perfection from the Muslim community; it is in the Muslim community that many people see hope for good, after all.

As Allah says in The Quran 03/110:

You are the best Ummah raised up for people: you enjoin good and forbid evil and you believe in Allah.

Islam remains strange to the masses because, unlike other religions, Islam is not just a religion. It is also an identity — a form of self-definition that has already been defined by our Maker in The Holy Quran for anyone who chooses to take the path of righteousness.

Yes, I am a Muslim.

When someone looks me in the eye and calls my people terrorists/murderers, as much as it pains me, it highlights three things for me:

  1. I am always being watched, not just by those around me but, most importantly, by Allah. It is my duty to be righteous, otherwise I may ruin not just my image but also the image of the entire Muslim fraternity. In doing so, I am avoiding sin and the Wrath of Allah, and also ensuring that my community is not judged for my shortcomings.
  2. Before anything else, I am a Muslim. When people look at me they do not see me, they see Islam. I am an ambassador of Islam, a soldier of Allah. Whatever I do, however I represent myself publicly, reflects my Deen and its principles. So I must be careful at all times. This does not take away my right to be whoever I want to be. It just means that whatever else I may choose to be — teacher, doctor, lawyer, accountant — my faith holds first place. As much as we enjoy the worldly pleasures and the person that we “really” are, none of it is real or permanent. Allah says in The Quran 03/185 – “And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion.”
  3. Islam is not just a religion, it is an identity. For a Muslim, Islam defines their personal identity in relation to Allah because they have fully submitted to the Will of Allah as revealed to us in The Noble Quran and the perfect example of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It is this very relationship with our Creator which defines, establishes and maintains our identity. It is from Allah Himself that we derive our understanding and knowledge of what is right, what is wrong, how we came to be, who and what we are, and what the purpose of our life here on this planet is!

Yes, it pains me when my people are called murderers or terrorists. But before explaining to others, we must remind ourselves of our Muslim identity. Lashing back at critics is not something that we, as Muslims, should do. As Allah tells us in The Quran 20/44:

And speak to them with gentle speech that perhaps they may be reminded or fear (Allah).

A Muslim in not just words, but also actions.

Both our words and deeds must speak for themselves. Each time we remain constant to our daily prayers, fast in Ramadan for the sake of Allah, give out in charity as our Lord has instructed — in spite of all the ridicule, accusations and harm that is thrown our way by the critics, we do justice to our own selves as Muslims. The fact that even in the face of adversity we say Salam (Peace) to people shows what being a Muslim is all about.

Everything in this world comes and goes, the titles that we hold, the roles that we play, the power and position that we hold in the society — all of it will one day fade. The only thing that does remain behind is the way we believe and practise our faith.

Muslims all over the world are nowadays facing several challenges. Islamophobes and popular media alike are keen on painting us as “the bad guys”. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the Opinion of Allah the Almighty, the One in-charge of our souls, is the only one that matters. And Allah has ordained this world to be a test for the believers, as is mentioned in The Quran 47/31:

And We will surely test you until We make evident those who strive among you (for the Cause of Allah) and the patient, and We will test your affairs.

Lastly, everything on this planet nowadays has a label or a tag associated with it. The “Muslim” label, though, is the most pronounced one – it may upset the haters, or please the righteous.

At the end of the day, being a Muslim means we must identify ourselves as servants of Allah, and strive to adhere to the path of helpfulness and peace that is ordained for us. No matter what the world says, only the truth matters. To quote WC Fields:

It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.