We live in a time where we depend on social acceptance and “likes” to validate our efforts. So what happens when we are alone with just ourselves? Can we find that motivation within ourselves to succeed when something is hard or when we don’t have an audience? Is our relationship with Allah solid and strong enough to motivate us to do what is right even though it may be difficult? Allah warns us that Shaytan lays in wait and wants to “…avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer.” (Quran 5:91)
I’ve had conversations with friends and youth who have told me “I can’t pray all five prayers so I don’t see the point in even starting” or, “I can’t see myself wearing hijab fulltime so might as well not wear it at all.” Somehow they have convinced themselves that if something can’t be done 100% it isn’t worth even starting. What is it that has convinced them that to do nothing is the best course of action? Is it Shaytan? Their own laziness? A lack of understanding of our faith? Fear about the judgement of others? This mentality is not from our religion. The Prophet (SAW) said, “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.”(Sunan Ibn Mājah 4240) The example of the Prophet is that small actions are highly rewarded. That a small sincere action will create a connection and sincerity with Allah that if we continue to act upon it, our love of the Creator will increase, and eventually those small actions will turn into bigger actions. First however, we must at least start.
While I mention the above, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t think about my own lack of action when it comes to faith. There is this part of my personality that wants to be the best in everything I do. Not necessarily better than others, the competition is within myself. If I take interest in something it almost becomes an obsession. It takes over my thoughts and I spend all of my time thinking about how to be better or improve myself in whatever “it” is. In my last post I mentioned that when I became Muslim I wanted to learn everything as fast as I could and as quickly as possible. I hated being told to “take it easy”. In hindsight I can see this was just one more example of the aforementioned part of my personality in full force. The slow and difficult realization I have been making, is that living this way isn’t sustainable. Eventually, I just burn out. The plans I make begin to fail, or I cannot achieve the desired outcome, and the result is major feelings of inadequacy and quitting what I have started.
Over the years, I have seen this part of my personality become more and more prevalent when it comes to how I practice my faith. My heart wants to come closer to Allah and I have all of these lofty goals about my pursuit of knowledge, but the dreams feel like I can or will never reach them, so I just give up. This has been the case regarding my memorization of Quran, learning of Arabic and finishing courses I have taken or considered taking. When I reflect on this, I am reminded of this story.
The Prophet (SAW) once entered the mosque and saw a rope hanging between its two pillars. He said, “ What is this rope?” the people said, “This rope is for Zainab. When she feels tired, she holds it (to keep standing for the prayer.)” The Prophet said, “Don’t use it. Remove the rope. You should pray as long as you feel active, and when you get tired, sit down.” Sahih Bukhari
Placing burdens and expectations on myself more than I can sustain is not only unrealistic, but it isn’t based on the practice or advice of our prophet (SAW). His advice is always “moderation”, or in Arabic, “wasat”. Ar-Razi explains wasat as being the furthest point between two extremes. In other words, the middle point. In hindsight, perhaps this is what those people were trying to hint to me when they were telling me that I should “take it easy” when I first became Muslim. Perhaps they had the wisdom to know that eventually it would lead to burnout.
Between the example of my friends/youth (not even starting an action) and myself (taking on too much to the point of failure) there is wasat, the middle point, the recommended course of action. The Prophet (SAW) said “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately. Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, V. 8, Hadith 470
The great thing is, we can always renew our intention and correct course. We were created to worship our Creator. We must not allow our own frustrations, inadequacies, or the deception of the Shaytan to take us away from that. Stop telling yourself you can’t do it, or you aren’t good enough, or that you don’t have time. (Know I giving this advice to myself first). Make the intention right now to do something small, but consistent. Start with one prayer, memorize one verse, try to wear hijab while visiting a trusted friend… whatever your area of weakness is, know Allah is strong enough to help you overcome it. Most importantly, be sincere in your intention, and start today.