I attended an Islamic school my whole life, and many kids spend several years in the school with each other before leaving, so we all knew each others’ class standing, i.e. who was the best in math, who memorized the most Qur’an, who knew the best Tajweed, who had the worst handwriting, etc. On occasion, new students would come. If they came from a nonpracticing family, they would be bullied or made fun of. Even the teachers would sometimes ridicule them for not knowing “the basics of Islam.” I had always grown up in an ultra-conservative, religious environment with my dad leaving no stone unturned to teach me surahs and du’as and practices from the Sunnah, so when I came across kids in the 3rd or 4th grade who didn’t know how to pray or kids in 8th grade who could barely read Qur’an, I would wonder: “How? How can he not know how to pray? How can she be so bad at reading Qur’an?” because I had simply never experienced the tragedy of the answer that the students always gave whenever they were asked how they “didn’t know anything” (about Islam). They always said: “No one taught me.” I would be shocked, as well would the other kids. We would ask about why their parents didn’t teach them, if they were born Muslim or if they even cared about learning how to pray. I remember seeing shame in these kids’ eyes, sometimes coupled with fear, at other times with anger. Some of these kids left the school because they felt pressurized while others left because the teachers couldn’t handle the “bad influence” they were having on the other kids. Some of them stayed with us and learned and improved and became our friends, Alhamdulillah.
Whatever their fate, they left me with a question: Why could I never say “no one taught me”? The answer was simple: because they did. Everyone around me was constantly teaching me something. My dad, my grandma and my teachers, were always teaching me something and giving me life lessons. They never left me alone to figure things out, but instead guided me carefully along the path of learning and motivated me every time I wanted to give up.
Finally, when I was in high school, I wanted to improve my level of Islamic practice, and that’s when I realized that there was so much I needed to know. It was the time when I understood that just because I had been passing all the religious education milestones in an Islamic school and getting good grades and recognition for it didn’t mean that I knew everything. I was so used to things just coming to me that when I actually had to use my mind to understand something, it opened up my eyes to how easy I had it all along.
I remember on several occasions admitting to classmates that I didn’t know how to pray Salatul Janazah or the ‘Eid prayer (with all its Takbeeraat). I remember the shock on their faces as I choked out the words: “No one taught me.”
“But you’ve been in an Islamic school forever, how do you not know how to pray these simple prayers?”
Again, my reply would be the same as I could feel my heart crushing under the weight of my ignorance.
It was only then did I understand the pain of those kids who I had met long ago who were treated like outcasts just because they didn’t know something. No doubt, their lack of knowledge concerning our religion was detrimental, but I still think that it was our intolerance and lack of understanding that pushed them away from Islam more.
It’s true that you never understand another’s pain until you are in their shoes. You never know their hurt and their feelings until you feel it yourself.
If there is anything I want someone to take away from this, it’s the fact that Allah has gifted some people more than others, and He has gifted people differently. If you are better than others in some things, it doesn’t mean you’re better than them. If there are those who are lacking in outward goodness, maybe they have been given kind hearts. If you feel that you are better, that automatically makes you worse.
Allah’s gifts are meant to be cherished. to be grateful for and to share with others, not to stroke your own ego. It doesn’t take Allah long to take away what He Wills, as it doesn’t take Him long to give.