While I was living in Zambia, about 4 years ago, I had begun thinking about Islam. I began talking to people about it and reading up on it, to try and get more of an idea of what it was about. About a month after that, I moved to Egypt. My quest for knowledge ground to a halt when I saw what life was like in an “Islamic” country.
I was 16 at the time, and so it was hard for me to realize that what Egyptians were practicing was something different from Islam: it was a mixture of culture, tradition, and Islam that had been mixed together for so long no one could tell them apart anymore. People were rude, people were impatient, there was rampant sexism everywhere, there was an unbelievable amount of sexual harassment, the driving was intolerable, and life in general was frustrating. At the same time, most Egyptians claimed to be very religious. They would pray, fast, pay zakat, and fulfill all other outward obligations. So I stopped thinking of becoming a practicing Muslim because to put it simply – Egypt turned me off Islam.
When I began university, things changed. I began reading, talking to other people, and exposing myself to alternative ideas of Islam. That’s when I realized how far Islamic societies are from what the Qur’an states. That’s when I realized that many Muslims fulfill their OUTWARD obligations (i.e. things other Muslims will see) while ignoring their inward ones, such as compassion, forgiveness, justice, etc.
I would read the Qur’an and get one image of Islam, then interact with Muslims and get another. At the time I thought it was just Egyptians who had it wrong. But now I can see that not only Arabs have warped Islam. Converts, Americans, Europeans, Africans – there are people within every group that prefers to focus on showing others how Islamic they are, rather than showing God. Similarly, there are people that like to complicate Islam and make it much harder than it needs to be, thinking this is the fastest way to get to heaven.
My question is, how happy are you with the Ummah? Do you feel like Muslims make it harder or easier for you to practice Islam the way you see fit? Do you find that your views on Islam are the same as other Muslims around you, or are they different?
(This post doesn’t apply to all Egyptians of course. Just to the majority of those I have interacted with/observed).