Identity, Life

I grew up told by my Sunday School teachers to be terrified of God, but now everything’s different

I remember hearing messages like, "You will go to Hell if you don't fast. God will be angry if you don't pray 5 times a day."

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I have always been a very curious person, who wants to know the meaning behind everything. But I found that sometimes when I asked an elder relative why we had to do a certain thing in Islam, the response I received was something along the lines of “Because God said so.”

This answer was not very reassuring to me, and I felt like it was the end of the conversation. I wanted to know why certain things were not permissible; I was not challenging the word of God. Many years later, I learned that Islam actually encourages us to seek knowledge and ask questions.

I learned that Islam actually encourages us to seek knowledge and ask questions. Click To Tweet

As a kid, I would dread having my Quran teacher come and teach me how to read in Arabic. I would pretend I had a sore throat, make excuses to go to the bathroom, or get a drink of water- I was pretty creative in making excuses to escape my teacher. The truth is that I was extremely bored and had no idea what I was reading. I understand that there are blessings in reading the Quran in Arabic, but I’m sure my love for Islam would have increased had I been taught the meaning of what I was reciting.

I also did not look forward to going to Sunday School each week.

It consisted of sitting in a circle with other women, reading the Quran in Arabic, and constantly checking the clock to see how much time was left. The vibes I got from the people around me were serious and intimidating. The highlight of my day would be getting our pack of chips and juice box while waiting to get picked up by our parents.

Looking back, I realize that the majority of my experiences with my religion focused on this: having a fear of God rather than love.

I can’t pinpoint when and how I began to associate God with fear and anxiety, but I know that that’s how I felt for most of my life.

I remember hearing messages like, “You will go to Hell if you don’t fast, God will be angry if you don’t pray 5 times a day, We must be fearful of the Day of Judgement.” For any young child to hear these kinds of things is pretty scary. We are susceptible to believing what our elders tell us; it’s hard to know what is right and wrong or think for ourselves.

For any young child to hear these kinds of things, it's pretty scary. Click To Tweet

Maybe the fear of hell fire is more motivational for some people, but for me, the concept of love, compassion, and hope are what keep me going in this turbulent world.

So why is this issue even important?

Regardless of religion, if someone is feeling distressing emotions when it comes to their faith, they will be more likely to turn away from it. When I think of my religion, I want it to be there as a safe haven, where I feel connected to the universe and humanity.

When I think of my religion, I want it to be a safe haven. Click To Tweet

Because of this, I started being very hard on myself. No matter what I do, I will be sinning. There is always something I can work on in order to please God. These were the thoughts in my mind; I was not even aware of them until now.

I also started to fall into the trap of perfectionism, expecting myself to be hitting all the targets in terms of what a “good Muslim” does. I felt that no matter how hard I tried, I would not be good enough.

Through spending a lot of time journaling and self-reflecting, I had this epiphany: God knows me better than I even know myself; He knows my intentions and sees that I am trying my best.

So why beat myself up over my weaknesses? Why would the One who created me, punish me for being imperfect, when He is the One who made me that way in the first place?

God knows me better than I even know myself. Click To Tweet

112 out of the 113 chapters in the Quran start with the words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim, which is translated to “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.” Also, a hadith states that Allah loves His servant 70 times more than his/her own mother.

Now that seems like a lot of love.

My mind can not even begin to comprehend how much God loves you and me.

For a long time, I have had a greater fear of what other people think of me rather than what God thinks of me. But now, I feel at peace knowing that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone besides God.

Yasmin Irfani

Yasmin Irfani

Yasmin Irfani is a graduate student at Cal State Northridge, pursuing a Masters in College Counseling & Student Services. She received her BA in psychology from UC Santa Barbara in 2015. Yasmin loves to read, write, travel, and play with animals! She’s lived in California, Pakistan, and New York for different periods in her life and loves meeting new people. She is currently a Summer Editorial Fellow at the Tempest and loves connecting with others through writing.

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