Seeking Perfection: Wajahat Ali

Seeking Perfection: Wajahat Ali August 15, 2011


I am hoping one day Muslim Americans can forgive themselves for simply being human.

We Muslims sure like to pretend we are perfect. At the very least, we love promoting the myth.

We preach it in our sermons, via our social propaganda to our non-Muslim neighbors, as talking points to the local and national press, and we even peddle it to our fellow community members at over-priced weddings in cramped banquet halls.

Everyone smiles, shows off their White teeth, engages in the usual-boilerplate-predictable pleasantries and says “Oh yes, everything is fine!” when asked “Is everything Ok?” by people who probably don’t really care but are forced to engage in ritual conversations as ordained by habit and custom.

But, a lot of the times things aren’t OK. If anyone bothers to pick up a paper, it’s clear that the news for many Americans is unsettling and uncertain to say the least. There is massive unemployment, reduced hours, decreased salaries, foreclosed homes, failed marriages, drug addictions and a host of other problems.

Regardless, we pretend we are perfect.

It’s our cover for the world.

Actually, we have to perform and wear this burdensome mask because our communities rarely forgive – and never forget.

Actually, it’s the appearance of “perfection,” albeit hypocritical, flawed, dishonest, and imprisoning, that is heavily promoted by nearly every religious Muslim American social circle I’ve met.

Actually, it seems more people are interested in “looking” perfect for the sake of protecting their reputation, instead of striving to perfect their etiquette and intention for the sake of pleasing their Creator.

The acknowledgement of problems, warts, and defects is tantamount to some sort of socially debilitating disease that will ostracize us in the eyes of our peers, who ironically have their very own dirty laundry comfortably hidden under their beds.

This problem of “faking perfection” afflicts nearly all religious communities, not just Muslims. And, of course, there is a tragic irony here considering all major religions treat the act of empathy and forgiveness with utmost reverence.

Ah, yes, forgiveness -perhaps the single most difficult and liberating spiritual act of them all.

There is something to be said of feeling “shame” and as a result wanting to hide our sins and defects. But, I’m discussing a different phenomenon in which people feel compelled to perpetually lie, subvert, hide and pretend due to upholding a fairy-tale of a life just so others will not condemn, mock, ridicule, or exploit them for their fallibilities.

Instead, we hide our pain, our mistakes, our weaknesses, our fragility, our “messiness” under the rug, we apply another layer of makeup, and we continue performing for the world.

But Ramadan is supposed to the annual game-changer. Ramadan is a moment of honest reflection and confrontation with oneself – an exercise in spiritual and physical dissection intended to purify and cleanse the whole. However, not only are many of us unable to confront our warts, we are unable to even acknowledge the inherent “messiness” of our existence and being.

There’s a beautiful concept of “striving” in Islam called Ihsan whereby we exert our best efforts to pursue excellence in both our intentions and deeds.  It’s part of the “I” trinity in Islam consisting of Islam (submission to Allah) and Iman (inner faith).  In fact, it’s a foundational aspect of the totality of our worship as a Muslim.  Another explanation of Ihsan is to do “beautiful deeds.”  Others have defined it as striving for “perfection” in faith.

But , we humans are imperfect beings simply by design and the Creator’s own intention.

I’m not suggesting we stop striving to improve our condition. There is something profoundly honorable and dignified in aiming for the Heavens even though we know we’ll fall short of the stars.

The difference here is to accept that we are simply human and designed to make mistakes.

We are fallible creatures despite our best or worst intentions. The attainment of perfection is a fool’s errand that will only result in failure, disappointment and heartbreak. Perhaps it’s time we at least acknowledge our true reality and use the month of Ramadan to not only ask Allah to help us achieve Ihsan, but also give us the strength and courage to forgive – our families, our communities, our enemies, and most importantly ourselves.

May we also have the humility to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged as well.

Hopefully, we can rise above our perpetual worry, concern and obsession of what others think of us and simply tune out all that jazz and seek Allah’s pleasure instead.

And, if we are lucky enough to achieve this moment of enlightenment, maybe we can forgive those around us who – for whatever reason – are simply living their life, trying to get by, with their mistakes hidden or openly displayed for the world to see and comment upon.

And, maybe then, we can stop trying to be so damn perfect all the time. After all, “perfect” people who always have their act together are pretty damn boring, colorless individuals. It’s the imperfect ones who give our life some flavor and, dare I say, purpose. After all, it’s those broken vessels among us who are usually the ones  perpetually striving for something better and inspiring the rest of us to do the same.

Most seek beauty in “perfection.”

But, you know what?

This Ramadan, I’m striving to discover and appreciate the beauty in our messiness.


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