Imagine for a moment that you were transported to a time and place where you had attained the exact measure of worldly success that you had ever aspired to. Would there be anything that could make you bow away from it? Shelli did exactly that. Turning to Allah (SWT) meant letting go of a prestigious job and all the luxuries money can buy – but it was a change she embraced with the strength and fervour of a true Mu’minah.
(Hend) How did you come to Islam?
(Shelli) I reverted to Islam, from the Christian faith, after being introduced to it by a friend. Initially I studied the faith in efforts to prove my friend wrong in what he informed me regarding the Islamic perspective on Jesus (AS). In turn, I was proven wrong. Once I had discovered the truth, it was impossible for me not to come to Islam. I studied the faith for about six months before making the decision to convert.
(Hend) How had you defined yourself up until that point?
(Shelli) Prior to coming into Islam, I defined myself by all superficial things – my job title (especially my job!), the amount of money I had in the bank and all that it could buy, what designer label I was wearing and even what ‘knowledge’ I believed I possessed. In hindsight, it was all really silly.
(Hend) What made you question the permissibility of your job and your lifestyle?
(Shelli) I was a Network Engineer in the male dominated field of Information Technology. While that in and of itself is not necessarily haram, the environment lends itself to free-mixing, which is haram. Furthermore, all of the superficial things I placed value upon caused me to be arrogant, looking down upon others who did not have the same things or more. Additionally, my reliance on my own ‘knowledge’ inhibited me from full reliance on Allah (SWT).
(Hend) Tell me a little about how you changed this materialistic way of thinking.
(Shelli) Well, simply the act of offering salat several times a day caused me to take the focus off of me. I had to check my ego at the edge of my prayer mat. Prayer is extremely humbling; I had to bow before Allah (SWT) at a prescribed time. It didn’t matter what I had going on, I had to stop what I was doing to submit myself in obedience and worship. I also lost the job that ‘defined’ me. The company was going out of business, unbeknownst to me. Alhamdulillah, I was let go just shy of the company going under. Subsequently, all of the other things went with the job. I had no other choice but to understand that who and what I am are not defined by anything that money can buy. The situation caused me to take an introspective look at my life. With the removal of all of the things I thought made me who I was, I was forced to dig a little deeper. I was forced to see who I was – and I was not so impressed. But it caused me to build upon the attributes that I came to know as more important.
(Hend) Was this transformation a struggle?
(Shelli) It was not easy at all! I had years of practice at being haughty. Plus, it was ingrained in me that ‘your job is your best friend’, as quoted by my mother. I was taught, from a very early age, to believe that where you work, what title you hold and the figures on your paycheck are extremely important. It was hard to shake such thinking. I still struggle. I still have a desire for the status and things. However, understanding that those thoughts and behaviours are not pleasing to Allah (SWT) aids in curbing them. But, it is still not what I would consider easy.
(Hend) How do you define yourself now?
(Shelli) I now define myself as a Muslim, first and foremost. Then as a woman. Under the umbrella of being a Muslim and a woman, I see myself as a loving wife and mother, a productive contributor to my Ummah, as a counsellor and as a friend. Before, being a Muslim and a woman were not enough. Now they are more than enough, subhan Allah.
(Hend) Do you think that you would be happier with the impressive job and the material things that went with it? Do you ever regret this change?
(Shelli) I am certain I would not be happier with these things in life. I had them and I wasn’t happy – I was simply existing. In fact, I was pretty unhappy. I don’t regret or resent the change. But, like with any other addiction, I have a desire for the familiar occasionally. I am able to abstain only by the grace of Allah (SWT). Desiring for Him to be pleased with me keeps me in a state of determination to leave off those things for good. Knowing that it has been reported that ‘leave off something for the sake of Allah, He will replace it with something better’ is enough to keep me going.
(Hend) What advice would you give to someone who is too comfortable in a questionable career and materialistic lifestyle that she feels unable to surrender?
(Shelli) I would tell them that it will not be easy, but that is not to say it is impossible. Do it for the sake of Allah (SWT) and pray that He gives you ease in the transition – believing sincerely that He will grant your request. If she is feeling that she is unable to surrender, she needs to spend more time learning about the attributes of Allah (SWT). Study His beautiful names – it will give her a better understanding that nothing is impossible with Him. Study the stories of the prophets and the extreme struggles they faced. If Allah (SWT) could guide them in overcoming situations many of us would have died in, then surely what she faces is easily conquered. Also, check your ego at the door. Release what your mind believes to be true and understand what Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (SAW) have revealed as true! When all else fails, engage in the remembrance of Allah (SWT) – dhikr, dhikr, and more dhikr!
(Hend) How do you think your journey of self-definition – first from the materialistic labels then elevating to spiritual motivation – will affect how you raise your own children?
(Shelli) I want to give my children a more balanced understanding of work, describing it as a means to halal sustenance, a means which does NOT define who you are. Any skill you have is a gift bestowed by Allah (SWT) and not of your own merit.
These days, it is the norm in many societies for women to put increased focus on their careers. While this is not always negative, it is detrimental if that focus pulls us away from the noble characteristic of humility and humanity and takes us away from our true calling: the worship of Allah (SWT). May Shelli’s experience be a reminder to all of us to keep our spiritual needs in the forefront and our worldly desires in check.
Hend Hegazi is an Egyptian American freelance writer and editor with a degree in biology from Smith College. Her first novel, Normal Calm, was published in January 2014 by FB Publishing. Her second novel, Behind Picket Fences, is due out in July 2016. Hend currently resides in Alexandria, Egypt with her husband and four children. To check out her books, keep updated with her writing, or contact her, please visit her website, www.hendhegazi.com.