Let’s stick to the drinks that are in the picture, Amani.
It’s 12 AM and I’m currently at a party surrounded by drunk college kids, limitless booze, lowered inhibitions, and an eagerness to have a good time. I usually don’t consciously make the decision to be in these types of settings, but even though my social life does find itself wandering into this territory, it’s also common for me to attend conferences or organizations or meetings that at some point host a social hour, which always comes with booze. Lots of it.
This sounds like a dream to the average person my age, but I’m a Muslim girl that doesn’t drink.
Usually this isn’t a problem at all for me. I really don’t care for peer pressure and I can totally navigate myself around drunk people (my friends tell me I’m so outgoing that I seem drunk even when I’m sober) and I tend to make the best of whatever situation I’m in. This one time, I was at a conference where everyone was getting blitzed and I could tell that the very few other Muslims there were kind of uncomfortable, so I made a “non-alcoholic bar” where I mixed drinks solely from the unopened sodas and juices for us to enjoy. It was such a hit that even our drunk peers came and sat with us to try our non-alcoholic concoctions.
Tonight was kind of different though, because for the first time I was really tempted to drink. That automated “Stay away — that’s haram!” internal response system of mine was on low battery, and I found myself depending solely on will power and self-control to stop myself from drinking. And that’s when it crosses into dangerous territory. It was a weird sensation for me and I felt really uncomfortable, so I knew I had to get away. I moved to the basement, where I’m now currently watching Catfish surrounded by a bunch of empty beer cans left behind by kids that joined the party upstairs.
As I type this out on my phone I question whether or not I should even publish this. The last thing I’d want is to be a negative influence, especially on girls younger than me, because I know I really shouldn’t let myself be in these types of situations no matter the reason. Islam not only forbids sins that can harm us, but also the avenues that could lead to those sins, as kind of a preventative measure from us being tempted to do something we might regret later. At the same time, part of my intentions in starting this site has been to help young women navigate an Islamic lifestyle in our society, and not blogging about this moment might be a disservice to others that have the same struggle. It’s unrealistic to imagine being a college girl in an American university and not coming into contact with alcohol… or even a lot of it.
If you do find yourself in a similar situation or being tempted by whatever temptation befalls you, know that you are strong enough to withstand it and remember that you are not alone; there are many other people, Muslim or not, that experience this challenge, so you’re definitely not a weirdo. Get comfortable with being the only ‘sober’ one. It might seem awkward at first, but it’s only as awkward as you make it. And, honestly, you being sober might be a source of strength for other people. I can’t tell you how many times Muslim friends of mine that otherwise would drink in social settings (yes, they do exist) would tell me they didn’t feel like drinking because they didn’t “have” to since they had another sober person with them.
And, you should also know that your strength is admired. Don’t feel embarrassed to say “I don’t drink,” because, remember, there are non-Muslims that don’t drink either, and people will always respect that decision (and if they don’t, you really shouldn’t be around them in the first place.) Plus, people are aware of just in fact how difficult it is to not drink in a situation where everyone else is, so expect respect instead of ostracization.
One thing I will never forget is a conversation I had during my freshman year of college. It was one of the first times I was surrounded by alcohol, and one of my peers came up to me with a drink in hand and asked me why I wasn’t drinking. When I told him that I don’t drink alcohol, his facial expression changed. “Wow, I was exactly like you,” he said. “I used to not drink, but I couldn’t handle being the only person not drinking at parties anymore. You’re so strong. Stay you. Don’t be like me.”
Just a note, though — you really shouldn’t rely on just strength. Strength can give out eventually, as my experience tonight is finally teaching me. I’m really lucky that things didn’t end up worse for me tonight, and this is an opportunity for me to reevaluate my decisions to make sure I don’t find myself in the same place again. But, to deal with this situation, there are certain things you can do, which I’ve listed out below.
And another note that I feel it’s important for me to make — drinking alcohol does not make someone a bad person. None of us have any right to judge another human being for their actions. That’s God’s domain, not ours. This article is for those that want to commit to the Islamic requirement of not drinking alcohol.
And one more note — if you do drink alcohol and want to stop, know that it’s not too late to start over and try again.
And another note — if you or someone you know is suffering from alcoholism, please have the strength to seek help, like counseling or alcohol rehab. There’s no shame.
I hope that you won’t find yourself in a situation like mine, but if you do, you’re a strong, smart, sassy woman and you are more capable than anyone to handle yourself with strength and grace. Here are some tips that I hope will help:
1. Remove yourself from the situation.
Go somewhere else. Head to a different social gathering if you can, or just go to a different area of the building or even go outside and take a walk. The goal is to place some distance between yourself and the temptation. You might get a few inquiries or puzzled expressions about why you’re voluntarily outcasting yourself, and it’s totally fine to make up some lame excuse and keep to yourself. Really, who cares what others think, as long as you gain the most important One’s favor? We all know that Hadith about holding onto your religion becoming as difficult as holding onto a hot piece of coal in the palm of your hand. Speaking from experience and recovering from a phase of “pretending” to be “cool” to satisfy others, you should never ever feel ashamed of the lengths you go to preserve your religion. Wear those struggles like a badge of honor (an unpretentious, non-self-righteous one!) What you’re doing is commendable and takes complete and utter strength.
2. Have a support system.
It’s a blessing to have good friends in your life that help you uphold – rather than take away from – your morals, and I am a very blessed person in this regard. I have a few (very few) close (super close) good friends that I trust enough to talk about my personal struggles with, in complete faith that they really love me and will give me advice and support that is in my best interest. I know that I can talk to them about absolutely anything without having to worry about them judging me (though that has never really been something that I worry or care about, but I do know that it’s a concern for some of us.) These are people in your life that you can turn to in a moment of weakness so they can help see you through.
Before I started typing this, I called up one of my closest friends and let her in on the situation I’m in and what I’m currently feeling (it’s necessary to be honest, with your friend and especially with yourself in these types of cases – otherwise, how will your friend be able to tell if they should be concerned?) She’s the one that gave me the idea to go outside and take a walk. “Amani, I really, really, really want you to leave the building. I need you to understand that it’s very important to me that you go outside.” (Note: if you need to do this and it’s late, make sure to take someone with you.) It’s really a very lucky thing to have people in your life that you can lean on when your own knees start to shake. It’s really one of the most valuable things you can have in your life.
Find the right people, develop your friendship with them, and never let them go. If you’re fortunate enough to already have those types of people in your life, have a conversation with them about a topic like this one and develop a mutual understanding of what things you’d like to help each other to do or stay away from, and develop an action plan you can take if either of you finds yourself in a less than desirable situation.
3. Distract yourself.
Like I said, I’m sitting here typing out a freaking article on a touch screen. Not the easiest of feats, but hey, it’s keeping me occupied. My friend told me to go outside, but I decided it was a better idea to chronicle this experience for (hopefully!) someone else’s benefit. Definitely don’t trick yourself into doing this if you’re just trying to make an excuse to remain in your lousy situation. Get your ass up and go if you have to. But there’s always the option of getting on a computer or picking up a magazine or anything else but playing a game of Survivor with your soul. Do something that occupies your attention and focus that will keep your eyes from wandering over to a bottle.
One thing that my friend reminded me on the phone a little while ago is that when that internal “stay away!” response system isn’t as responsive as it should be, it could be because your faith has weakened. Recharge that battery with a prayer — and that is something you can do anywhere, without having to worry about carrying around a USB charger. Find a corner somewhere and pray. Supplicate God for the patience to overcome any challenge. Recite some dhikr (“Allahu Akbar… Subhan Allah… Alhamdullah…”) That just might be enough for you to regain your footing and remind yourself of what’s important.
Know that you are strong enough. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of that.
Feel free to leave your own experiences and tips in the comments.