A friend was once telling me about an Indonesian Muslim family that she knew back when she was still residing in a western country. The Mom is both religiously very devoted and yet open-minded at the same time, and she managed to raise her very young kids to be sharing similar traits. These kids pray, fast, and do all the obligatory deeds even though they were the only kids doing that in their school. At that time, I was wondering, ‘What she did was such a job. Was it not difficult to raise that kind of family in a country where Muslims are minorities?’
On the other hand, the family is not the strict type of saints as well. Exactly the type of spiritually obedient, yet nonjudgmental, ‘lakum deenukum wa liya deen’-sort of people.
Then a couple years pass, and I lived a life of being a Muslim in Edmonton. I grew from getting used to justifying salah jama’ in the first months, to trying to perform salah in their actual hours (still trying to get better!). From being okay with hanging out with friends while them getting drunk and me staying sane, to realizing that I was not comfortable and I’d rather find another circle that I could fit better. From never bothering to go to the university’s mosque, to trying to go their occasional events and performing congregational prayers there as much as I could do. All because of something I developed with each moment spent becoming the only person who does these among my friends.
I realized what makes me (and that teeny, tiny amount of everyone else who was doing the things that I also did)… unique.
And it was the time when I began to understand, how important it is to stay that way. To believe in something that people around you do not. To follow your own set of rules and boundaries that others do not have. To be as authentic of yourself as you could possibly become.
Sometimes I wondered, what were my friends doing if I woke up in the middle of the night praying? Some might be sleeping, some might be studying, some might be on anything else. But how many of them were awake and trying to have a conversation with their creator?
P.s.: I’m not trying to sound as if what I did was superior, I’m simply trying to picture the kind of difference that exists here. Imagine other times on a Sunday where I was out spending money at the mall while my Christian friends were at the church, for instance.
It was just really strange to think that in a vicinity of miles and miles, there might be very, very few people doing that thing that I did. Unlike if I were to be in Indonesia where I might suppose that my neighbors were awake, praying too, to the same God that I believe in.
But that’s when I came to realize that if I am already different, why not become authentic altogether? Why not doing the very best effort at it? Isn’t being ordinary a way too popular choice already?
By thinking that the difference that you possess is a good thing, you develop a sense of belonging towards that uniqueness that makes you you. And it doesn’t have to be about faith, or races, or the usual hot topics. You might be an artist growing up in a doctor family, you might be a natural-born vegan living in a Texan farmhouse, you might be anything else that most people around you are not. If you really believe in the worthiness of that difference, you’d understand how extraordinary it is to even become the very best of that kind. ‘Cause if you’re half-way unique, the difference might feel like you’re a bizarre creature living in a normative world; but if you’re giving it a 100% uniqueness, that difference means you’re a real, genuine kind. That’s when you would want to get committed, regardless of the surrounding challenges and unsupportive circumstances.
And even though there are so many ways to reach that level of commitment, I think my personal favorite way is through this. Through becoming a minority. Some people might find that being in a group filled with many people heading towards a similar goal is more helpful to become the best of yourself, but if you’re the type who’s always aiming to be unlike anybody else (like myself!), this might be an approach worth a shot.
Bonus: by possessing these feelings of appreciation towards who you are, you will eventually build the same understandings for others too. And maybe this is why most of my non-Muslim friends back at home tend to be much, much more religiously committed than my Muslim friends? (Even though the statistic might play a role as well–out of that many Muslims in Indonesia, there should be a higher proportion that is not a religious enthusiast as well, no?–but I feel that there might be other things going on, and it might be something that I’m currently encountering.) Or why my friends who are into some more “eccentric” field of studies (i.e. those of less popularity) tend to be really, exceptionally engaged in their researches. Or as simple as why those hipster friends of yours seem to be really proud of their ability to memorize Sigur Rós’ songs, or just generally their taste in popular culture. (Even though hipsters nowadays do not seem to come close to a minority, don’t you think.)
Am I suggesting that if you were given the chance, you should try becoming a minority? Yes! But should you become one for the rest of your life?
Well, if you had the chance to merge with the circle that makes you majorities, i.e. those sharing the vision that you do have, going back every once in a while would be the sane option. I’ve learned that while getting out of your comfort zone is one way to improve yourself as every quote would say, coming back to the circle that gives you your inner strength is utmost crucial. Because fighting is exhausting, and charging your inner power is essential. That is, by meeting people that you would effortlessly click with.
But for sure, try to earn a spot someplace where everyone else isn’t that same old, same old community. Like that lady and her family did, and look what it had made them become.