There is so much I have always attributed to a strict, Christian upbringing which should probably be more correctly associated with my undying timidity. When I begin exploring past events a bit more, it occurs to me that a normal youngster would have just asserted themselves to demand whatever their heart desired. Few would have been as passive as me, forever in fear of the consequences for transgressing the norms set out by the significant adults around me.
Amusingly, some of my attempts to conform to the expectations of family landed me in more trouble than would have been the case had I been a rebel. One such example being the expectation of chastity in relationships, complicated by my oscillation between atheism and agnosticism in my late teens. I had reached a juncture where I no longer believed in Trinitarian Christianity, but nevertheless continued to adhere to its moral precepts, largely due to fear of my family, itself a consequence of my perennial shyness.
Thus, in my perception, relationships were complicated, likely to be aborted from the get-go due to worries about the expectations of the girl. The typical boyfriend-girlfriend relationship — getting off and getting laid — as practised by youngsters all around me was not going to work with my family. Of course, this will sound daft to anyone not raised in a traditional religious or cultural milieu, but it was my reality. Most girls I would come into contact with daily were not going to have any notion of chastity as understood by a practising Christian family. However, rather than discuss this, I simply fled.
To my naive young mind, there was a solution: to attempt to pursue a relationship with a girl from a traditional culture for whom notions of chastity were still very well understood. Unfortunately this manoeuvre is better know by its colloquial name, “Jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.” I understood the idea of abstinence and modesty very well. However, I was completely oblivious to the concept of honour and what was deemed culturally appropriate. Little did I know that my desire to do the right thing was in fact the worst thing I could have done, sending me into conflict with others repeatedly.
Most people reading this would at this point be thinking, “What on earth was wrong with you?” But this comes back to my opening: my unceasing shyness paralysed me in my youth. I was never assertive. I never rebelled. I constantly tried to do the right thing. Of course you would say, “But, Tim, how can you say you never rebelled? You’re from this mega-practising Christian family, and you became a Muslim!” But I would say that was not rebellion; that was coming home. That was taking every lesson from Sunday School to heart and being obedient to that call to sincerity: “You shall have no other gods except Me.”
My timidity was so pervasive that even at the age of twenty-four, I still felt I could not assert my right to a relationship of my choosing. Despite having left home, I still allowed others to dictate to me what was acceptable and what was not. That trial, of having my entire family opposing my desire to pursue a wholesome, virtuous relationship pushed me close to the edge. After weeks being put under intense pressure to abandon a relationship that should have been considered moral and upright, I fell down on my face in prayer, begging my Lord to take me back to Him, thinking that trial too hard to bear. My passive timidity again!
Looking back now, of course I can say to myself: “You were a grown adult! Why didn’t you just say it’s none of your business? Why did you let others infantilise you?” It does indeed seem strange today, but back then, unbeknownst to me, something else was going on. Something broadly like this:
Although the behavioural phenotype may be variable, on average boys and men with the condition are at risk for difficulties with social interactions and social adjustment. These social difficulties include shyness, social withdrawal, social anxiety, difficulties in peer-relationships, social impulsivity, communication difficulties, depressed adaptive skills, and reduced social assertiveness.
It turns out that my behaviour wasn’t just because I was a good little boy, obedient to the Christian morality that had pervaded my entire childhood. It wasn’t just that I had had a strict upbringing. It had a lot more to do with my innate character governed by a genetic condition I knew nothing about at the time. My behaviour was not in fact normal in any sense. At the age of twenty-four, I was still behaving much more like a shy teenager, thinking I had to defer to others in my pursuit of what was good and proper.
But perhaps I just had to learn to break free, and stand up on my own two feet. So yes, ultimately that’s what I did. In the end, I was timid to my morality, and went ahead with that marriage anyway. Alhamdulilah for that. Alhamdulilah for my shyness before that woman. Twenty-one years on, I couldn’t imagine my life without her. Alhamdulilah for my undying timidity, which turns out to have been a special kind of assertiveness in disguise: the pursuit of truth and virtue.