By Sundus Alsharif
When you hear the words peer pressure, what comes to mind?
Defined straight from Webster’s Dictionary, peer pressure means “influence of one’s friends on morals”. That being said, peer pressure can be both positive and negative. However, I am going to discuss the negative sides of peer pressure in the Muslim community. In addition to looking at the dark side of peer pressure, we will explore how to avoid peer pressure and what to do if you have already endured peer pressure.
From the outside looking in, it is so easy for all of us to look at our Muslim friends that are engaging in haram activities as “bad” or “sinful”. But what we fail to understand is that our friends did not end up this way overnight. They did not just wake up and say “Today, I feel like displeasing Allah (SWT)”. Changes in behavior, whether they are beneficial or malignant, take time. I remember reading somewhere that shaytan whispers to people to engage in small sins first, then he works his way up to the larger sins. This is a very dangerous tactic. In our minds, it is only a small sin, right? But to shaytan, and some of our friends, it is a plan that leads us to bigger sins.
The best way to avoid peer pressure is to avoid any situation that makes it easy for haram activities to occur. What do I mean by this? If you are invited to a party by people that are known to drink, and you think / know there is going to be the consumption of alcoholic drinks there, simply do not go. Come up with an excuse as to why you cannot go. If you keep making excuses and not showing up, the people inviting you will eventually get the message in a kind way that you do not want to be around risky environments. Even if you think you can handle going to a party where risky behavior is going on, there are no guarantees. Once you are in that situation, it does not matter how religious you are. It does not matter how much Quran you have memorized, or how many Sunnah prayers you make. Human nature is human nature. This is perfectly illustrated when we see the most religious family turn out to have kids that are addicted to drugs, partying, and more. This could happen to anyone, and it does not happen overnight. I am not saying you will be able to avoid every situation that could lead to haram. Why that would be impossible! All I am saying is that it is essential we avoid all the situations that could lead to haram as much as we can. That way, if we have to battle one or two situations every once and a while, it would not be as difficult as avoiding that situation every time you have an outing with friends.
Now that I have discussed how to avoid peer pressure, it is imperative we look at what to do if you have already given into negative peer pressure. If you have already been affected by peer pressure, the first step is recognizing it. Most people who have been affected by peer pressure do not even realize it. Or, they convince themselves that they are doing these haram activities out of their own wishes, and that other people have nothing to do with it. The question you must ask yourself is, “If I was living alone on Earth, only with the purpose of serving Allah (SWT), would I be engaging in this haram activity? Anyone that is a true Muslim would answer no to that. We all want to please Allah (SWT) and have the reward of the hereafter.
The second step is having patience when making change. As I said earlier, the changes made in life happen over a span of time. None of us makes a change completely correct after the first attempt. Change at a pace that you are doing something, but not too slow that nothing gets done. A quote I find really helpful for destroying habits is “There is no need to fight old habits. Start new ones. It is the resisting of an old habit that puts you in that trench. Starting a new pattern is easy when done with childlike disregard for imagined difficulties. You can prove this to yourself by your own experience.”- W. Timothy Gallwey.
The third step is making the change for Allah (SWT) only. When you try to change for your parents, friends, or strangers on the street, the change does not last. The reason it does not last is because those people are not always with you. If you are changing for other people, you will go back to your old ways as soon as no one is looking. This is between you and Allah (SWT), no one else. Making a change can be difficult. Not only do you have to deal with the personal struggle between you and Allah (SWT), but you also have to deal with what everyone else says about you. You have to deal with people scorning, saying things like “Oh so you want to change now, after all of the bad things you have done?!!!” You have to deal with saying goodbye to the friends that used to put you into haram situations. The way to deal with it is to focus on you. People are going to make hurtful comments, especially if they are not following the way of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Remember, this is not about them. It is about following Allah (SWT) and trying to make new, Islamic choices. And maybe, just maybe, you will stumble upon some people that know how to give advice Islamically. If you do, hold on to them. It is rare to find a person that gives advice with gentleness, which is what we all need in times when we are engaging in haram activity.
Before you think you are alone, remember, this could have happened to anyone. Even if we all are not facing your problems exactly, we are all struggling in this religion to obey Allah(SWT). It is something worth struggling for.