When I first started getting serious about my faith, I thought I had the whole picture figured out. I saw my upcoming journey as a gradual climb in my level of faith – a clean graph with an exponentially increasing slope. I knew it would be smooth, because why would I ever weaken in my faith or ibadah, right? I was so wrong; if I only knew. This journey is just like any other journey. It isn’t a constant rise; it isn’t clean; it isn’t smooth. But what I never foresaw in the beginning is how bad it could get at certain points. Sometimes I feel like I am on a never-ending decline that I don’t know how to stop. Some days I feel like I am an awful excuse for a Muslim – with a spotless exterior holding a rotten, hardened heart at the core. A heart that sometimes gets so attached to this world, to things and people, that it would rather spend all of its time doing nothing, thinking nothing…than to indulge in ibadah and ponder over the afterlife.
In life, there are things you want and there are things you need. If you are a practicing Muslim, oftentimes the two do not coincide – especially if you are at an early stage of faith. And sometimes it gets extremely difficult to accept the fact that what you need is so different from what you want; to accept that you aren’t being able to fully want what you should be wanting. I’m writing this random rant because right now I’m going through one of the most severe cases of that feeling in my life so far. It’s a feeling of helplessness – to realize you have no control over the things you desire and crave. The cynic in you might constantly tell you that it’s unnatural to force yourself to not have what you want – is it even worth it? Why are you even doing this? You deserve good things in life! – it keeps whispering and then shouting and then screeching at an unbearable pitch until you really start doubting yourself.
But wait, could I say that to a diabetic patient when they crave sweets? Would I tell them, “If it’s what you want, why not just have it? Stop being so stuck up, it’s just sweets. You deserve good things in life, you deserve the sweetest of sweets. Stop holding yourself back, that’s just unnatural!” Would I have said that to my 4 year old brother when he wanted to jump off the window ledge to reveal his flying skills?
Between being a 4 year old kid trying to fly and a 60 year old diabetic wanting sweets, we humans never really change. Deep inside, we are still the comfortably irrational beings who are at a constant conflict between wanting the right thing and wanting the fun thing. Swinging between being an “instant gratification monkey” and a seeker of eternal happiness – most days I have a hard time accepting my own thoughts. One of my favorite ayahs in the Quran is this profound statement by prophet Yusuf (AS):
“And I do not declare myself free (from blame). Indeed, the soul constantly commands to evil, except those upon which my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.”
– Surah Yusuf, 12:53
Basically, as a human, I’ll never be able to NOT want what I shouldn’t, *unless* Allah SWT shows mercy on me and guides my heart to rise above. Which also means, I cannot stay away from evil or immorality by sheer willpower: it just isn’t enough. I need to constantly ask Allah for help as well.
This is comforting and scary at the same time. Comforting because now I know that my difficulty in always wanting or doing the right thing is actually natural, that’s how the soul is supposed to act – it inclines towards evil. And the fact that my Lord is always there to help me through it, that He will keep being Merciful and forgiving, as long as I ask Him, is the most comforting thing ever. Why scary? Because despite knowing this, I’m not praying enough to Allah, I’m not pouring out my heart in dua to ask Him for guidance. I’m still relying too much on myself, and disregarding the only way out – Allah’s mercy.
We’re either too confident that we are already guided enough, that we don’t need help (which is ironic, because an arrogant person cannot enter Jannah), or we are too convinced that it’s too big of a task to change for the better, to become more practicing, to get more regular and sincere in ibadah. We are constantly so busy either overestimating or underestimating our souls – that we forget the biggest piece of the puzzle – Allah’s power to change our state. Do we realize how narcissistic we are? We are practically placing our state of mind over the power of Allah SWT. Maybe we humans just really like to stay in a rut, even when we know the way out.
Five times a day, we are supposed to forget everything else and sincerely say to Allah – “ihdinaa as-Siraat al-mustaqeem” – Guide us to the straight path! The most important thing in life we could ask for, and we skim through it as if it’s nothing. In fact, most times we don’t even mean it when we say it. Heck, we don’t even REALIZE that we’re saying it. How do I expect to be guided if I’m deliberately skipping my chance to ask Allah for guidance, day after day, every single time? Do we really think we don’t need His mercy and guidance? If this isn’t the worst sort of arrogance, I don’t know what is.
Anyhow, back to where I started: ups and downs in the faith-graph. There is one hadith that gives me hope about this hopeless state:
Sahih Muslim Book 037, Hadith Number 6623:
Hanzala Usayyidi, who was amongst the scribes of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), reported: I met Abu Bakr. He said: Who are you? He (Hanzala) said: Hanzala has turned to be a hypocrite. He (Abu Bakr) said: Hallowed be Allah, what are you saying? Thereupon he said: I say that when we are in the company of Allah’s Messenger ( ) we ponder over Hell-Fire and Paradise as if we are seeing them with our very eyes and when we are away from Allah’s Messenger ( ) we attend to our wives, our children, our business; most of these things (pertaining to After-life) slip out of our minds. Abu Bakr said: By Allah, I also experience the same. So I and Abu Bakr went to Allah’s Messenger ( ) and said to him: Allah’s Messenger, Hanzala has turned to be a hypocrite. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger ( ) said: What has happened to you? I said: Allah’s Messenger, when we are in your company, we are reminded of Hell-Fire and Paradise as if we are seeing them with our own eyes, but whenever we go away from you and attend to our wives, children and business, much of these things go out of our minds. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger ( ) said: By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if your state of mind remains the same as it is in my presence and you are always busy in remembrance (of Allah), the Angels will shake hands with you in your beds and in your paths but, Hanzala, time should be devoted (to the worldly affairs) and time (should be devoted to prayer and meditation). He (the Holy Prophet) said this thrice.
If we want to keep our faith up, we gotta give regular time to prayer, and to think, and converse about the deen – about Paradise and Hell-fire, about our Lord. We need to attend halaqas, discussions, lectures, whatever we can find, or maybe at least watch videos and read things – Hadith, Tafsir, books, articles (apart from the regular Quran reading of course). Because you know what? Iman doesn’t appear magically in the heart, neither does it stay there magically once it arrives. It is hard to find and easy to lose. We have to set away time for our souls – call it soul workouts if you may. Because if we lose our faith, nothing else we achieve on earth would mean a thing. And we can’t afford to lose it all, not when we know and realize the consequences; not when we’ve been given the blessing to understand.
He gives wisdom to whom He wills, and whoever has been given wisdom has certainly been given much good. And none will remember except those of understanding.
– Surah Baqara, 2:269
And the worldly life is not but amusement and diversion; but the home of the Hereafter is best for those who fear Allah, so will you not the understand?
– Surah Anam, 6:32