The Matchbox

When I first became Muslim, I was very protective of my new ‘sinlessness’. My past had been erased by the acceptance of Islam, and I was hyper-aware that sins would taint that gift. I very clearly remember one of the very first meals I ate as a Muslim. I made sure I cleaned my plate completely so I didn’t waste any food, not even a grain of rice.  If I sinned it was agonizing. I’m talking sobbing, can’t catch my breath because of the tears kind of agonizing. Somewhere, somehow that changed. When and how did I stop crying when I did something displeasing to my Lord? I can’t recall any specific moment or event. It reminds me of the example of a baby. Every day that baby changes and grows, but because you see him/her daily, you don’t notice the difference. Then one day you look at that child and realize he/she is grown-up. This is what it feels like, the change happened right before my eyes, and I wasn’t even aware.

I recently learned that after Muhammad Ali converted to Islam, he would carry a box of matches around in his pocket. Every time he was tempted to do a sin, he would pull out a match, burn it and hold it to his hand. It was his way of reminding himself if he couldn’t bear the heat for a mere second or two, then how would he ever risk doing something that may result in the Hellfire.  For some that probably seems extreme, but in honesty, I understand the motivation. It was his way of staying conscious of his actions.

The Arabic word for human being is “Insaan”. This is the word used in the Quran. Interestingly enough, the word has the same linguistic root ın Arabic, as the verb “to forget”. That is not a coincidence.  Allah is telling us that man’s basic tendency is “to forget”. Add that to the fact that The Fire has been surrounded by lusts and desires and Paradise by hardships” (Bukhari) and it seems inevitable that we would fall away from Allah if we are not consciously remembering Him.

In hindsight, I think I slowly I allowed my time to be filled with other things… worldly things. Spending less and less time with Allah and more time doing that were of no benefit to my faith. All of these things caused me to be distracted. Not only that, but perhaps there were times when the content of these past-times was not pleasing to Allah. The more I exposed myself to these things, the more normal they became, even to the point that content which should have made me cringe, became “normal”.

The Prophet (SAW) warned us “Verily, when the servant commits a sin, a black mark appears upon his heart.” (Tirmidhi ) Small black dots on my heart became more and more prevalent. The worst thing is, the cause of them became so normal that I became desensitized. I wasn’t even aware they were building up… I didn’t hold that match to my palm.

Allah has made us with a fitra (the pure state of the soul) that desires to worship Him. If we don’t protect the natural pure state of the soul, then guidance starts to not make sense. The Prophet (SAW) told us we must “worship Allah as if you can see him, and if you cant know that he sees you”. We can’t look at the size of our sins, and think “it’s no big deal”, but rather we should look at the One we have disobeyed. Not being conscious of our actions leads to the hardness of our heart, and Allah says “Woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allah.” Qur’an (39:22).

Am I living every day knowing Allah is watching me? Would I change my behavior if the Prophet (SAW) was next to me? I don’t think I will carry a box of matches around in my pocket, but  I need to stop trivializing my actions. I’m not saying I will never watch movies, or participate in activities that are not faith-based, that isn’t realistic. What I have realized is that I need to go back and question the content. If the content is not an issue, then I need to first question my priorities. Have I spent time with Allah before I have spent time with my worldly desires? Did I read a page of Quran today before spending an hour on my phone or watching a film? Have I prayed for those who are important to me before I have read the latest tweets and headlines about people I don’t even know?

I don’t know if I will ever get back to the point where I cry after every sin I commit. The one thing that does make me emotional enough to cry from is this… Allah tells us over and over again, that we can come back to Him at any time.  All we need to do is ask for forgiveness and turn away from the sin. No matter how far gone we think we are, Allah is always waiting to forgive. Not only is He waiting to forgive, He has provided the supplications in the Quran for us.

 “Our Lord, do not impose blame upon us if we have forgotten or erred… Our Lord, and burden us not with that which we have no ability to bear. And pardon us; and forgive us; and have mercy upon us.” (2:286)

Allah knew we would forget, it is written right there in the supplication He provided. He shows us we can ask for forgiveness for the sins we commit knowingly and unknowingly. The amazing thing is, once that forgiveness is sought, those black dots are removed from our hearts, and its true nature is restored…

So maybe there is hope that I will shed those tears again after all.




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