By: Shannon Abulnasr
Part 1 covered planning and preparing for change, while Part 2 covered pressure, performance and avoiding burnout, and Part 3 covered harnessing positive thinking and coping with criticism from Muslims. This final part will discuss coping with unwarranted criticism from non-Muslims, standing your ground, and finding peace within yourself.
In problems and conflicts, whether between you and other Muslims, or between you and non-Muslims, there is usually underlying issues that trigger the conflict other than what is actually said.
Sometimes people say things and do things that may seem insulting or judgmental, but behind the words may be genuine concern, and ignorance that causes them to do or say those things.
You have to get to the root of the conflicts in order to fix them.
What People are Really Saying
Did you know that most people only pay attention to 25-50% of what is said to them?
Listening is an art form. If you are simply listening to respond to what is said, you have failed at listening. You must be self-aware when listening, and try to understand the hidden intention behind a discussion.
You may think the overall discussion is about one thing, but because you failed to notice body language and hidden connotations, you missed the entire point.
If your mother is saying to you: “I don’t want you wearing that (hijab) while outside in public”, you may take this as her being ashamed of the fact you are wearing it, but in actuality, she is fearing what people may do or say to you with sincere concern for you.
You may take what she said as a personal attack on the fact you are Muslim. I think you can see where learning the root cause is important in such situations.
Instead of lashing back with something harsh or rude, it would be better to ask “why?” to know for sure the intentions behind saying that. You don’t want to present hostility when it isn’t needed.
You need to ensure that when difficult conversations are presented not only make it clear you are actively listening, but know if the other person is also or not, otherwise you may end up in an endless circle of debating or arguing.
Active listening will get you much further when dealing with people that are trying to sway you to do what they want, because you will know how to positively respond to the real issue at hand and not what seems to be the issue.
Dealing with the Non-Muslim Critics
We all know there are plenty of these out there.
With Islamophobia on the rise, the criticisms will only increase. You must get yourself prepared for it.
You may not have all the answers for questions posed to you, or know how to refute misconceptions that are out there, but it will come with time as you gain knowledge.
Family can often be the biggest critics that will affect your state of mind and life most. You have to keep in mind that they may be ignorant about things related to Islam, and it generates fear in their minds for your well-being. They worry about you, as family is supposed to do.
The best tool to counter these criticisms is to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible about the common misconceptions that exist about Islam, and how to answer them. You don’t have to be a scholar, just read up on the common misconceptions, and how to respond with proper information.
The important thing to remember is that if they say something insulting about Islam, or twisting information, don’t do the same back at them about their own religion. Always reply in a calm way, and if you don’t know the answer to something, tell them that you will get the information for them, and follow up.
Never let them feel you have doubts about something simply because you are lacking knowledge on a topic, otherwise they will think they found your weak spot, and will focus on that area more in the future, to try to put doubt in your mind about Islam.
Even if you have this knowledge, some people simply are not interested to hear about it, much less accept it. YOU must accept THIS fact. Once you can accept this fact, you can feel more comfortable with knowing that you have done your best to respond in an intellectual matter.
Never get angry with people when they do these things, and don’t lash out at them. I know it is hard, especially when they are being vulgar and insulting, but always respond in a polite respectful manner. This will get you much further than returning insults. Lead by example, because they want you to respond in a negative manner. Stay polite, and positive.
Insha’Allah, over time, they will realize that they can’t sway you, and they will begin to accept your choices, even if they don’t like it.
Coping with Unfair Criticisms
Dealing with an unfair critic requires an immediate calm and balanced response without expressing anger or hatred. It can determine future interactions with this individual to be positive or negative. If you respond with anger or hostility, you will be digging a deeper hole to climb out of.
Take a moment to respond, collect yourself emotionally, and react with politeness ALWAYS. If they see they are getting a rise out of you, they will feel they have defeated you, and you will believe the same.
Make sure you are not misunderstanding criticism, by restating it to them in your own words for confirmation in a non-aggressive manner, and hopefully it will take the focus off the personality clash and focus solely on the matter being critiqued.
For example, when your mom criticizes your choice to start wearing hijab and says to you “Why must you show everyone that you are now one of ‘them’ terrorists by dressing like them?”, instead of yelling at her and calling her stupid, and storming out of the house, just repeat back to her in your own words the statement she made so that she can see how ridiculous it sounds.
Say: “so, by me wearing modest clothing, that makes me want to go around killing innocent people? Because if that is what you are saying then all Catholic nuns must also have intentions to kill people too! Do you really think I would do such things?”
She would either, leave it at that, and walk away herself, or she will continue to express her ignorance and hate. If she does the latter, you can respond by simply explaining that there is a dress code for Islam, but that there is no dress code for terrorists, because terrorists don’t properly represent any religion – yours or hers. Then walk away in grace with your head held high.
Ensure Others Know Their Boundaries
Boundaries are like a fence we build between us and others that define our limits of what we will allow to go outside the fence, and also what we allow to come inside.
It provides a guideline that one defines as what they consider to be permissible ways for others to act and speak around them, and how one will respond to what is said.
There are two types of boundaries that can exist in situations; they can be either healthy or unhealthy ones.
Let’s say for example that you still live with your parents, and they don’t want you to be Muslim, and try to control everything you say and do in their home, which makes being at home a place of discontentment instead of comfort and relaxation.
The unhealthy boundaries are usually set for you by others; they are hurtful, controlling, manipulative, intrusive, dominating, harsh, and non-removable.
This may manifest itself as your father demanding that if you pray in his home as a Muslim, then you will be kicked out of the house. This is a boundary for you (not by you), which results in a punishment, if you pray, which has not even affected your father. It is just a matter of control and manipulation to prevent you from practicing Islam.
The healthy boundaries are appropriate, clear, protective, firm, receptive, and most importantly determined by YOU.
If we use the previous example, a healthy boundary which would respect your father’s would be to agree to not pray in his presence, and to do it in a private room only, and to keep anything related to Islam, such as books, prayer rug, etc in your private quarters, and to agree to not preach about Islam to them if they don’t want to hear it.
This will allow you to still practice normally, and not have hostility between you and your parents. Both sides will have boundaries that please each person.
Standing Your Ground
If you own something expensive, you will safeguard it, right?
Your Islam is more valuable than anything you can find on this planet. So, shouldn’t you safeguard it more so than you would for your personal possessions?
Only you can take care of your own well-being, and not anyone else. Boundaries will only work if you enforce them. Stand your ground, because if they see they can cross those fences without consequences, they will do it again and again.
You can’t change others, only yourself, so set up boundaries on how they will be allowed to treat you. If you repeatedly plea for your racist, intolerant brother to stop insulting you, both privately and publicly, tell him that if he doesn’t stop, that you will leave, and then do it if he doesn’t.
Find Peace within Yourself
To feel peace within yourself you need to feel safe, stable, and comfortable; much like your home is from the rest of the world. Safe zones can be things other than just places, such as people, objects, or your faith.
Safe zones consist of people are those that you feel relaxed, and can be yourself around - like a best friend. Those consisting of an object may be a book or clothing, or a keepsake, while places could be a mosque where you are around like minded individuals that make you identify with.
For each type of “safe zone” you have, list a few for each, and then ask yourself a few questions.
1. Are they stable? – Is your friend always there for you when you need them to be?
2. Are you in control? – Can it be influenced or changed at your own desire?
3. Do you nurture it? – Do you invest time to improve it? If not, then they may not be as “safe” and comforting as you attribute to them.
Life, including its highs and lows, people and problems, make managing change stressful and overwhelming, so it is important to have and nurture your safe zones.
If you couple your safe zones with a firm belief in Islam, and know that Allah has power over all things, you will be safe.
Islam is a safe zone for all the believers to find solace, and comfort in the mercy and compassion of our Creator in this life and the hereafter.
“Verily, in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest.” (Qur’an 13:28)
(Continue reading parts 1, 2, and 3 of the series linked below)