Exploring a New Faith

Why are we here and what is our purpose? These questions regarding the origin of humanity and what happens after we cease to exist can make us uncomfortable at times. Few people take the time to truly contemplate these questions, yet many have opinions regarding this matter. We’re all searching for answers from various sources, however I’m curious as to whether there even is a universal answer that we are capable of understanding. Can we ever truly know, or must we rely on faith?

For as long as we’ve been curious creatures, we’ve wondered. I know I’ve surely been wondering for a long time what the answers to these questions might consist of. I’ve thought about who we are in relation to the world and how we’ve come to be on this planet in the first place. The beginning of creation is seemingly unknowable by verifiable evidence because none of us were there to experience the start of it all. There is also a lack of awareness after death, so we can’t quite understand what occurs at the end of our physical lives.

But many religions around the world have produced and passed down answers to these long-lasting and essential questions. Believing in something that we have never seen, such as a new form of life after death, can be thought of through faith. I’ve never had much knowledge regarding world religions, but I have been a strong believer in there being more to life than the physical world.

As I was walking through central campus the other day, I stumbled upon a group that was tabling. I stopped because my attention was drawn to a young woman who was trying to educate students about Islam and the Muslim faith. She was providing an opportunity for those passing by to try on a hijab for the day.

 

Photo by Aley Vesia

 

I met Fatima as she patiently explained the purpose of wearing a hijab and what her Muslim faith provides to her inquisitive life. She kindly explained her story to me. She had been badly injured before a cross country meet in grade 10. She fell from a great height, and after wiping out, she felt as though she could have died. When she woke up in extreme pain, her knee was severely bleeding and she was screaming her lungs out. Her coach encouraged her to run and represent her high school, but after this incident she was unable to play sports.

Because she could no longer participate in mandatory gym classes, during those times, she contemplated what could have happened as she was constantly reminded that it was possible for her to have been in a coma after that terrible fall.

 

Photo by Kilarov Zaneit

 

Before the accident, she’d put all of her energy into sports, and the Toronto Olympic team even offered her a position early on. Afterwards, since she had more time to reflect on what her purpose was, Fatima made a decision to wear a hijab and represent her Muslim faith when she traveled home to visit her family. Coming back to Canada in high school, she remained uninfluenced by cliques at school, realizing early in life that when she dies, her friends do not leave this world with her. In regards to her wearing a hijab, she says, “I wish I had done it earlier but there’s a reason for everything, you know? I fell down but I woke up.”

For Fatima, her hijab serves as a form of physical and mental protection. Physically, it prevents exposure to the environment by covering not just the head, but the whole body. She has been asked whether she is hot under her hijab and dress, but she explained to me that it actually keeps her shaded from the sun. Along with serving as a protective barrier from the environment, it serves a protective barrier against others, indicating that physically, people can’t just touch her whenever they’d like. By wearing a hijab, Fatima feels as though she is less likely to be judged by others and by herself based on her bodily figure. Body image is an issue that many people struggle with, and she is less focused on and worried about her bodily image because she’s covered in public.

In a mental sense, a hijab sets a sort of expectation for how people should treat her. Fatima describes how the hijab represents and makes her who she is. “I don't have to pretend to be someone else,” she says, “and this actually communicates a lot more to others.”

 

Photo by Katsiaryna Endruszkiewicz

 

Regarding the essential meaning of her faith, Fatima has this to say: “It gives me purpose in this life, where I can strive and accomplish for the benefit of others. As Muslims, we are told that Allah loves those who are most useful to other people… Islam teaches Muslims what is right and what is wrong, what has happened and what will come to happen, so that we may prepare ourselves for it.”

She has remarked that we come into the world with nothing and we come out with nothing, too. Our actions, what we have done to benefit ourselves and others, will be brought to us on the day of judgment.  

Rather than being controlled by the norms and expectations from society, Fatima feels that Islam protects and puts her in power of herself, giving her a purpose so she doesn’t feel lost and instead feels safe. Her faith has helped her realize her purpose in this life, and Fatima believes that there is nothing more meaningful to life than realizing your purpose within it. “To have a purposes gives ease to your heart.”

 

Photo via Unsplash

 

It’s typical for us to rely on observation in order to believe, but faith provides us with a different sense of knowing. We spend the majority of our life on earth sick, asleep or at work. “That lifetime under the grave, is it not worth preparing for?” Fatima has been taught that, “death is not the final stage, but rather the beginning, and when we die we will only wake up to reality.”

She has chosen to face that reality. Muslims believe in the afterlife as infinite, eternal, everlasting, and most importantly, distinct from this trivial physical life. This is because the hereafter is much longer than life on this planet, so we must dedicate our efforts here accordingly.

Fatima is in her fifth year at York in a bachelor’s psychology program. She is an active volunteer member of the Muslim Students Association at York, a group on campus that specializes in facilitating and encouraging the practice and learning of Islam. Fatima is a dedicated student because she believes that we’re here to learn. We’re given a brain that no other species is given, and it’s amazing how we store and process information. If you put in a little bit of effort, the brain works for you. Fatima has given me the opportunity to explore a new kind of faith and for that I am very grateful.

 

Photo by Aley Vesia

 

If you’re interesting in learning about the Muslim faith, she suggests that we research the history, and read the Quran. People are quick to judge, but what seems to make the most difference is an attempt to learn and understand.