All my childhood, I sat on my prayer mat with tears in my eyes pleading Allah SWT for a best friend that truly understood me. A best friend that was similar to me in faith. I asked Allah SWT for an Iraqi Shia girl, just like me, in the hopes that I would never have to over-explain myself again. A girl that I could call sister and have sleepovers with. A friendship that would last in this life and the next. My heart desired a community, and Allah SWT brought me an abundance of love and faith through the beautiful people He has put in my life.
The majority of my childhood was spent in waiting for the right moment my parents would send me to Camp Taha—a Muslim camp in Michigan. The anticipation burned inside of me seeing my cousins and brothers attend each summer. Their stories and transformations made me yearn for a place I had not seen for more than a few minutes. I remember, in times where my family would drive down to visit my brother, the camp felt so large because my frame was so small.
The summer after the fifth grade I gladly informed my class I would be attending Camp Taha. My parents simply agreed because my eldest cousin said she would take care of me. At this time, my cousins were old enough to be camp counselors. Other than her, I knew no one else attending, and so the woods would offer me the challenge of making new friends.
The camp itself is quite nice—spacious cabins, secluded women's area, clear night sky, with activities kids can only dream of. The sisters could play sports and swim without hijab since a large white gate separated us from the rest of the facilities. All campers would attend Fajr (daybreak--first) prayer together, and spend time in the evening to eat ice cream while playing table tennis. The Muslim camp, which consisted of hundreds of campers from across the globe, would become home to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Camp Taha has not only provided me with life-changing relationships, but the resilience and strength to remain steadfast in my faith.
In 2019, there was not a doubt in my mind that I would return to camp the following year. I made dua (prayer) to Allah SWT to make me ready so that when I attended camp in 2020, I was exactly who I wanted to be. Little did I know that a virus would soon shut down the world. Camp was no longer a place I could go to, and since then, I have not stepped foot on the premises.
While I felt that I might have outgrown my camp’s borders as I grew taller in height and greater in wisdom, there is a developed profound appreciation for community, and I deeply miss it. Often I think of the late night chats, the older women that treated me as their own, and the Islamic discussions that would alter my life. There I learnt that I loved Allah SWT as much as I feared Him, and my love for Him was strengthened by the beautiful teachings of His mercy. Now, I find comfort in knowing new campers are finding that community in the same place I found mine.
Nevertheless, the community I made at camp was filled with friendships that have lasted me years. The girls that I have met there, especially the ones that live in Toronto, are girls I see getting married, graduating from university, and traveling beyond our Ontario to Michigan route. The peace they give me is beyond compare, for it is a level of comfort that goes beyond words. All the campers have the same morals, the same cultural expectations, the same understanding of what is haram (forbidden). At no point did I ever have to over-explain anything—there was no compromising my faith. There was simply community and belonging. Even in phases of my life where nothing felt constant, and I was constantly moving, I knew camp would stay the same. I knew that no matter what, the constellations would look the same in the night sky as I stood in the cleared path towards the cabins.
Before high school began, I desperately wanted to attend Islamic school. The fear of having no Islamic community made me anxious, and I was terrified that I would lose my own faith in the midst of the public school crowd. Though I never went to Islamic school, I found a solid community in high school that I loved dearly and look back at high school with pleasure. They were not Muslim, but they kept me cognizant of my deen (religion) and never made me feel bad for abstaining from haram. They are still my friends today. Similarly, the start of university felt lonely at times. There were so many amazing people in my classes and friend groups, but first year is a time of experimentation and freedom for many. Even my high school friends that hated drinking began to do it, and while I never judged, the jump from camp to reality was tantalizing. It was only in the second semester that I found other Muslims with similar views. Suddenly, I felt part of a beautiful hijabi community—one I always dreamed of. This same feeling was found in university salah (prayer) rooms, online Muslim communities, and yearly trips to the mosque for Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar). The uniformity of faith and devotion has saved me at each low point in my life.
Muslim friendships bring a profound sense of belonging and motivation in practicing Islam. Wearing the hijab, modesty, Islamic reading circles, salah, going to the mosque, even just trust in Allah SWT—these are all so much easier when surrounded by other like-minded individuals. We truly are a reflection of the friends we have, and just as the wrong friends—Muslim included—can make us fall into bad habits, the best friends can bring out the best in us.
It is not my intention to diminish the value non-Muslims bring to my life. Two of my best friends are non-Muslim and new, different perspectives help grow knowledge which is essential in Islam. However, it is unfair of me to deny the immense relief that Muslim friendships bring me—especially ones that are similar in culture, family dynamics, and boundaries. There is no over-explaining why I do not want to go on a date with a boy or why I don’t enjoy being with others while they’re drunk. There is comfort in the silence.
The little girl that used to pray for a Shia best friend got exactly what she wanted, but Allah SWT brought me more than what I asked for. My friends—Shia, Sunni, Muslim, and Non-Muslim made me closer to Allah SWT in their own ways, and for that I am grateful. In a way, I suppose this is a love letter to my friends and community. I love my camp community, I love my university community, I love my TMV community, and the list continues. Allah SWT has put so many beautiful people on this earth with similar experiences and hopes as you, dear reader, and community is Allah SWT’s gift to us to make this life a little easier until we make it to our eternal Paradise. May Allah SWT reunite us all in Jannah (Paradise). Ameen