“The loneliest place to be is on a pedestal. No mercy lives there. No understanding. No
compassion. Only the expectation of perfection. Your humanness is not accepted on a pedestal—let alone celebrated. The most precious people in my life are the ones who see all of me. The sensitive, emotional side, along with the fighter. The teacher, but also the crazy girl who startles easy, laughs too hard, and drinks her coffee with more cream than coffee. The ones that love and accept the whole package-mess, vulnerability, flaws and all.”—Yasmin Mogahed
My daughter was so excited when she was chosen for yet another leadership position and honor society at her college. “I’m turning into you, Mommy!” she said in excitement. I forced a smile but couldn’t deny how scared I felt for her right then. Yes, I hugged her, congratulated her, and told her how proud I was of her. And that was the truth. I was very proud.
However, some time later I eventually sat her down and told her why I was scared. “You’ll be punished for your achievements,” I told her. “It’s not fair. It’s not right. But it’s what people do. If you’re intelligent and influential, and if people think good of you, they feel it’s their right to punish you for not living up to the expectations they have of you in their mind.”
Excessive admiration is just the flip side of cruelty, I explained, and eventually you’ll see the other side.
And how apt is the hadith of the Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, when he equates excessive praise of someone to cutting their neck. It really is a death sentence. Either you destroy yourself through becoming prideful because you believe the hype, or you’re destroyed by the pressures of perfection and the sharp tongues of people who constantly wound you under the assumption that your “fame” means you don’t have the ability—or right—to feel hurt.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that it’s cruel, harmful, or sinful to admire someone, to be inspired by someone, or to look up to them. When I speak of excessive admiration or praise, the key word is excessive. The term excessive implies that a boundary has been crossed and we have thus exceeded what is acceptable admiration or praise for someone who is merely a human being. When we have crossed this line, we begin to implicitly or explicitly think of the person as infallible or larger than life. When our praiseworthy thoughts of someone have crossed acceptable bounds, our hearts generally react in one of two ways (sometimes both): exaggerated admiration or exaggerated hatred. The former is a subtle form of shirk (assigning divine attributes to God’s creation) and the latter is a pernicious form of hasad (destructive envy)—hence the reality that cruelty is just the flip side of excessive admiration.
Generally, neither group (those guilty of excessive admiration or those guilty of excessive hatred) take responsibility for their own self-inflicted diseases of the heart, so it is the object of excessive admiration or resentment who suffers as a result, particularly the one who has claimed neither perfection nor superiority for himself or herself. Thus, when this object of excessive admiration or resentment falls into human error or sin—as all children of Adam do—they blame the person for not living up to the standards of human perfection that they crafted for them in their mind. It is when the object of “perfection” errs or sins when we see all excessive praise and admiration mutating into resentment and hatred. For those who formerly engaged in excessive praise, they express feelings of betrayal, hurt, and disappointment. For those who formerly engaged in excessive resentment, they express feelings of bitter victory, saying they knew all along that the person was a show-off, a liar, or a hypocrite who thought or acted like they were better than everyone else.
Thus, it’s a lose-lose situation for the object of excessive praise, which is why I find the prophetic analogy of cutting one’s neck to be chillingly apt in describing what actually happens. You are effectively punished—by others proverbially taking away your life—for the crime of other people’s diseases of the heart.
My Experience as a Muslim Girl
My punishment started in childhood, when I was a young girl. To get a glimpse into the painful lessons I learned from my experience, I’ll share an excerpt from a poem I wrote about that time:
I don’t know how to balance myself on the pedestal
Especially when I can hardly feel my legs
But I still don’t understand what a pedestal is
So I’d rather use the ground instead
But I first learned about the pedestal from my teachers
They forced me to stand on it
You know, like they forced the others to stand against the wall
But then they said I put myself there
And demanded that I get down
I didn’t know what they meant
Until a girl called me nigger then turned it all around
So I was punished for her tears
But nobody saw mine
But I know it’s my fault, I know that now
I never let them know that I was human
I never told them I had a heart
But I didn’t know they thought only girls with blond ponytails bleed
I didn’t know you had to show your hair for people to know you breathed
I didn’t know that having a funny name meant I didn’t have a soul
I didn’t know that following the rules made friends go cold
I thought I was supposed to do what I was supposed to do
Nobody told me that I wasn’t supposed to
So it’s my fault, I know that now
I never let them know I was human
So nobody knew I had a soul
Why I Wrote Muslim Girl
I wrote Muslim Girl to put humanity back into worldly achievement and ostensible goodness, and to put humanity back into the path of striving to please Allah. I want every Muslim girl—and boy, man, or woman—to know that it’s okay to be human. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to be confused. And we shouldn’t expect any more from those who’ve been tested with having more success and admiration than we do. And we certainly shouldn’t punish them for it either.
However, when we do err and fall into excessive praise of them, God usually brings us back to middle ground by allowing us to become disappointed, hence the inspiration behind my journal entry:
“I think disappointment in people is a mercy from God. It’s a reminder that we’ve lost focus and raised creation above the status that God has written for them. And in the process, we forgot where real greatness comes from—God alone.”—from the journal of Umm Zakiyyah
What Muslim Girl Is All About
Faith turns to shame, confidence to doubt, and conviction to rebellion.
Inaya was only nine years old when her mother converted to Islam and moved the family to Saudi Arabia. Excited about the move and their new faith, Inaya learned Arabic, memorized Qur’an, and inspired Muslim girls to wear hijab and love their religion. Now, at sixteen years old, Inaya returns to America with her family, and when a Muslim weekend school learns of Inaya, she is immediately asked to teach Qur’an. And again, she becomes an inspiration to other Muslims, this time to youth and adults alike.
But as a Muslim girl in public school, Inaya isn’t so sure of herself. Ashamed of her Muslim appearance, Inaya decides to remove her hijab and hide her religion…and she hopes to get the attention of a boy she likes. But she has no idea how to hide this double life from her mother and from everyone who admires her strong faith.
In other words, she’s a human being just like you.
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