Disappointment

In my first year at university, there was a young man from my halls of residence who used to follow me around, condescendingly addressing me as “boy” whenever he had the opportunity. His role, it seemed, was to stop me talking to a young woman who was studying exactly the same subjects as me and was in all of my lectures and tutor groups. We considered one another friends — indeed, she described me as the first friend she made at university. But that young man was having none of it, and was determined to keep me in check.

Mindful of his unceasing interventions in the ordinary interactions between us, I confess I was disappointed in that self-proclaimed guardian when he laughed along with the innuendo of one of his friends. Innocent fun, he probably thought, though that was debatable, for the young man in question was already infamous around our halls for his serial conquests and one night stands. So it was that in the presence of us both, that confident young man invited our mutual friend up to his room.

“I’m not looking for a boyfriend,” she told him, waving him away, embarrassed.

“Just sleep with me then,” he replied instantly, causing my longtime foe to laugh out loud.

Hypocrite, I thought myself, for had I said that — though I never would have — that young man would have thumped me and shown me my place. But that guy was his mate, so he just laughed along and said nothing to him at all. For his own friend, he couldn’t even say, “Hey, boy, reign it in.” No, there I saw his interventions for what they were. Just yet more hypocrisy, forever disappointing. Disappointing, especially, because I had almost come to accept that his interventions were just, founded on firm principles.

In that same period, there was another young woman in our halls of residence who to me was a silent guide. She was of a similar background to that friend of mine; in fact, they were flatmates. Unlike my friend, however, she was a practising Muslim and had recently started wearing the hijab. To me, she seemed to stand out, for she always had a lovely smile on her face, and seemed so kind and polite. Whenever our paths crossed, she was always nice to me. Unbeknownst to her, she was one of my guides to the path, with her silent dawah showing me a better way.

I didn’t encounter her in my second year, because she was doing her year abroad in Alexandria as part of her degree in Arabic. She wouldn’t witness my shahada towards the end of that academic year, though I did remember her. I wouldn’t see her again until the beginning of my third year. I wanted to thank her for playing a part in my journey to faith. Only, whenever I saw her from then on, she seemed to absolutely detest me. Once I heard her agitating against me amongst a group of female Muslim students. Naturally, I was heartbroken, but of course I blamed myself, thinking myself deserving of her scorn.

It never occurred to me at the time that her hatred was borne not of my actions in the run up to my testimony of faith, but of a sectarianism I was not even cognisant of. In the end, it would seem that many of my fellow believers chose to anathematise me because students of a particular religious persuasion took me under their wing in the early days of my journey along this road.

Of course, I was completely oblivious to those inner conflicts in those days. I’d thought we were all one, united by our belief in the One. Instead, so intense was their hatred for the sectarian other, that while I could have been treated with kindness and respect as a non-Muslim, I deserved to be execrated and cast out as a fellow believer, simply for having friends of one persuasion or another. Hurtful, but true.

In life we must prepare to be disappointed. This is especially true where we project onto others great virtues and sincerity, forged in our understanding of their past interventions. If we imagine them to have been wholly virtuous, upholding moral values, honour and the best principles, soon enough those perceptions will come crashing down around us.

How many times have I expressed gratitude to others for them guiding me to this path, only to discover that they have abandoned all that they once held fast to entirely? Decades ago, they called to a better way, standing firm, but life has changed them and everything. Now, whatever they once condemned, they now embrace, and what they once embraced they now condemn.

I confess that I am often disappointed by the turn of events. Of course, nothing ever stays the same. Change is inevitable. All of us are changing constantly, our thoughts and opinions evolving, our worldview maturing. We’re not supposed to stand still, unmoving. But still, sometimes it’s hard to accept that all we once thought to be true was never true at all. Sometimes it’s painful to discover that there were no principles at stake. Nothing, really, was as we thought it was at all.

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