Why I stopped being a Salafi

To understand this, you need to understand my background as a Muslim, what my sources of education were and what experiences I went through. Mere arguments are not what brought me to this change.

I grew up knowing very little about Islam. My understanding was essentially that I was not supposed to drink, eat pork, or have girlfriends. I knew there were 5 daily prayers, but could not mention their number of rakahs, much less their names. I was ignorant of my ignorance.

When I entered college, I envisioned myself engaging in sins just like the people around me. But something happened, and my mother’s lessons from childhood really made me reconsider. Mind you, the skinny ignorant 18 year old version of myself was offered drugs, alcohol and zinnah on a daily basis – literally. On the weekends, my hallmates would go out and live that typical freshman college lifestyle. They would come back at 4am and talking about who was “so wasted” and how hot some girl was. All the while, I sat in my dorm and did nothing. TV was boring, no one was on AIM, sites like Facebook did not exist. Every week I looked forward to the weekend so that I could have time off school, and every weekend I looked forward to the week to rescue me from loneliness. You might find this crazy, but I watched all three of the Godfather movies around 9 times each, just to pacify myself.

I discovered the MSA around the same time. They were a beacon of hope. Here are Muslims who are funny, smart, educated, good looking…and yet religious. Just what I needed. They were the alternative to the corruption I was around. One day, I attended a halaqa, which they would have once a week or so, and the speaker talked about the dhikr (remembrances done as a chant) after prayer. I had been taught them as a child, but forgot what they were, so I asked. One of the guys there, an Afghan, told me them, wrote it down on a paper, and gave it to me. I used that paper for a few months to come.

It just so happened that a few days later I was going to meet this girl I was semi-interested in for lunch, when I ran into that same Afghan guy again. He said he had been thinking of me and wanted to teach me some more. Instead of meeting that girl, I went to his place where I met his roommates. He made food for everyone and we spent a few hours talking. I said I was interested in learning about Islam more, and he was much obliged. I remember, he re-taught me how to read Arabic, some basic fiqh, other aspects that I simply did not learn as a child.

During those lessons, he would gradually slip in a few Salafi talking points. I still recall the very first one, that Allah has a hand, how? We don’t know. The book of graciously provided was Nasir al-Deen al-Albani’s book. I was told that the Asharis were bad and corrupt, though I cannot recall the word ‘deviant’ ever used. I accepted then without question. What else did I know?

Around the same time, I started asking slightly more detailed questions about the Deen, mostly revolving around practice (fiqh). From the MSA, I was introduced to the concept of the madhhabs. This notion seemed entirely alien to me. So now there are four versions of Islam? I was taught since childhood that there was only one Islam. This particular dispute caused some arguments, but nothing serious. Even my immediate roommate and I would argue, but it never caused any serious problems.

After two years, I later transferred to another university. Most of the MSA were Salafi, but I did not think much of it. In retrospect, I realized that they were slowly unintentionally influencing me. I also started taking Al-Maghrib classes for the first time. Honestly, I benefited a lot. I started praying Fajr on a consistent basis for the first time, I started to appreciate the Qur’an more, started to expand my understanding of the Deen, lots more. When I graduated, I started taking Islam more seriously than I ever had before. I read more books, took more classes, attended the masjid on a nightly basis, and so on. I used to go to a local Islamic book store, purchase a book or two, and read it within the week. For a short time, I cut Facebook and AIM. Once, my mom walked into my room to find me memorizing the Qur’an. It was a great time and I think Allah for it.

Around this time, I completely accepted the ideas of Salafiyya. I perceived it as a pure Islam, not invaded by cultural innovations. Keep in mind, I was somewhat critical of Pakistani culture throughout this, so kind of “Pakistani Islam” was wrong, while I perceived all Arab culture as 100% pure Islam.

Then the break…there were two main breaks in my acceptance of Salafiyya, one was a sudden loss based on emotion, and the other was gradual and intellectual.

The emotional break took place over the course of a few days. I found myself very depressed. Deeply depressed. But, reading the same books, the same articles, all the intellectualism that Salafiyya offered did not help me. I would get upset or find ways to argue against the answers it provided me. The worst betrayal was how the Salafis would treat me. When I would speak to them or ask probing questions in my desperation, I would get yelled at or talked down to. In one particular case, it was especially offensive and rude from someone who had studied for a long time. I thought to myself, how can someone who studied so much behave this way? Hasn’t Islam tempered his emotions and made his character like that of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم? This was not the first time I had seen this kind of behavior, but it was a major turning point.

The intellectual change was different. It started with fiqh. The argument I was taught was that we follow the Qur’an and Sunnah say, not what an Imam from 1400 years ago said. I liked the idea of following the Qur’an and Sunnah overly blindly following some mere interpretation. But what I started to realize was that I was doing exactly that – I was blindly following the interpretations of the likes of Al-Albani. What different did it make whether I was following a Salafi Shaykh’s opinion? It was blind following both ways. But at least the madhhabs were from the period of the Salaf, while these people were from contemporary times. I was already on my way out of it, and it was an Al-Maghrib teacher who ultimately solidified my resolve, and I chose the Shafi’i madhhab. With regards the ‘aqidah, I found them placing a lot of emphasis on things that really had no importance to me in my day to day life, like where is Allah and what kind of hand he has. With regards to spirituality, I felt that the Salafi approach was empty. It was about actions, but when push came to shove, it offered no solution to finding a way out. What helped me out where the long talks I had with my friend of the Shadhili Sufi tariqa.

For a short while I fell in line with the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Tariqa. But to be honest, they were constantly rude, insulting, and condescending to me. Their local leader would use extremely hurtful comments to me, sometimes for fun as if it was a sport. Their Shaykh once started calling me “Pepsi” because I was wearing a shirt that had a Pepsi logo on it. I found that rude. I heard him curse on two separate occasions, very unbecoming. Their Shaykh barely knows Arabic and mispronounces tons of words. They pray faster than anyone can, even faster than I can recite Surah al-Fatiha even if I rush it. I know on at least one occasion the constant rude comments almost resulted in a fight breaking out between a mureed and a former Shi’a. They overate and talked down about women and many times directly to women. They all but completely reject learning Islamic knowledge So that Tariqa turned me off. However, I also saw many good things in them. So I was confused.

While I liked the Shadhili order, their Shaykh is about a 2 hour drive away from me. I needed something a bit more consistent. I found the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi tariqa. I like them a lot, they married Islamic knowledge with spirituality. I wish I could be half of what their mureeds are like.

I could go on…but that’s enough for now.