Living in the western hemisphere might bear this notion of unlimited freedom, at least compared to living in Indonesia. But somehow, our contributor, Rizky Danurwindo, found his experience living and studying in London bringing him closer to his faith through the hardships he endured and some cosmic coincidences. This is a story about finding things you didn’t know you needed and wanted in the most unusual place.
On a popular viewpoint, everyone agrees that living in the Western civilization is all about freedom. People are free to express themselves, to do things they want, as well as to practice their faith. Born and raised as a Muslim in the country with the largest Islam adherents statistically, prior to mid-2014 I was a kid who just occasionally observed rites and never really paid attention to religious substances. Nevertheless, the experience of studying abroad and living in London unexpectedly redefined my perspective towards religion.
I lived in the East End district within the vicinity of the East London Mosque, Brick Lane Mosque, and also Globe Town Mosque. Since the London Borough of Tower Hamlets was the administrative unit with the highest proportion of Muslims in England (34.5%, according to the 2011 census), Muslim culture was considerably perceptible throughout the neighborhoods. Women wearing hijab and abaya or men using ankle-length garment and turban were widely found in the borough, halal cuisines were sold and served in many places; even I could hear the sound of adhan in my bedroom. During my early days, I wondered whether I resided in a European or Middle Eastern city. Shortly I figured out that the Muslim immigrants community in London had been coexisting peacefully with the native British, and then I started to be more comfortable with the circumstance and I was no longer timid for possessing the intrinsic identity as a Muslim guy.
We humans tend to seek our inner peace while we’re away from our comfort zone or else when we’re hitting the lowest state of mind. I was experiencing both states as I moved abroad to study while simultaneously my mother was just released from a hospital in Jakarta. Moreover, my mother was also scheduled to perform hajj on her own, only accompanied by her fellow group of pilgrims whom I never got acquainted in person. In such worrisome circumstances, I supposed that sending prayers was the most appropriate action I could do from the distance. Eventually, praying regularly relieved my restlessness and it effectively helped me to get through the adaptation phase.
Living in a cosmopolitan city like London entitles freedom of practicing religion to its residents, including the Muslim community. I hardly managed myself to practice salah five times a day before moving to the United Kingdom, but the universal conspiracy seemed to support me performing five obligatory prayers. In the university, I had to pass by the praying room while going from the main building to the department’s building. The university also provided two halls for Muslim men to do Friday prayer, in addition the lecturer allowed me to attend the Friday-afternoon class immediately after finishing Friday prayer. Every time I came over to my friends’ places, they always provided me space to do salah. When I stayed up until late night at the library to do group assignments, oftentimes my classmates reminded me to pray once the reminder on my phone vibrated. Also few times in public places, I performed prayer in a department store fitting room, on emergency stairs, or sitting in the intercity train or bus. Little by little, I started to ruminate that if I could take care of my daily prayers in Greater London with limited worship facilities throughout the boroughs, why couldn’t I do it in Greater Jakarta with numerous mosques and praying rooms in each sub-district?
Another noteworthy factor that strengthened my faith was simply, but importantly, the feeling of gratitude. Having been awarded scholarship by the government to study overseas; I realized that there were a lot of people out there who were unsuccessful in attaining the same opportunity. Those who did not get such chance might be quite intelligent or might have received plenty certified achievements, meanwhile I guess I was just fairly fortunate to pass the series of scholarship admission tests. Whenever I felt demotivated, I kept in mind that a powerful force had brought me to London so I should never give up. Hence, gradually I drove myself to manage prayers disciplinarily as the manifestation of my thankfulness to the Gracious for directing my life path.
Ultimately, the most important takeaway was that being a minority in London taught me the real-life proof of interfaith tolerance. Preserving religious identity while simultaneously blending in with the British culture, likewise with other ethnicities and religious groups, was factually feasible. Every time I went out socially with non-Indonesian friends who usually stopped by the bar or pub just to hang around, nobody ever bothered if I didn’t order any alcoholic beverages or foods containing pork. What mattered to my friends was that I could spend time with them, regardless of my abstinence in consuming any non-halal refreshments. By embracing diversity, my closest social circle gave me lessons to respect any minority groups within the society. Showing respect is the key to live peacefully in a multicultural environment; a virtue that I must apply anywhere, especially in Indonesia whose citizens are somehow pretty sensitive regarding religious affairs.
Looking back to those days in London, I find it funny how living in a city that I supposed might bring up the secular in me instead brought me closer to the Almighty. It’s also pretty weird that I discovered Islam more profoundly in the United Kingdom; not in Saudi Arabia or any other Muslim-majority countries. Anywhere you reside and any belief you rest assured in, always be thankful for anything you have received in any way you can express. Be grateful; because life is wonderful.