“Prophet Muhammad (SAW) taught us that Faith is never static. It increases and decreases, or waxes and wanes. It is our responsibility to assess where our faith is, and make it our duty to constantly work towards improving it.”1
It is a sunny, yet chilly Wednesday morning, as I sit inside one of my university’s campus lounges, feverishly going over class notes for a midterm exam that I would take in two hours. I knew I should have studied harder, I think sourly to myself, sulking through the load of reading material before me. With so much to cover and so little time, there’s just no way I’ll be able to get through this exam with a passing grade. I continue to study for the next hour or so, until I am greeted by one of my friends. Happy to see her (and to escape from the anxiety of midterm cramming), I give her my salams and offer her a seat next to me. But to my surprise, our conversation doesn’t start off with school-related matters or our exams. Instead, my friend turns to me and says, “I feel like my Iman is weak. I’m starting to have doubts about practices that I’ve been following for so long, and its bothering me. Why are these thoughts suddenly coming to me now?”
I was taken aback by her words. Of course, I gave her the best advice I could, reminding her that its normal for her Iman to fluctuate every now and then, as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that no Muslim’s Iman is ever static. As long as she remains strong against these thoughts and strives to make changes to improve her strength in Islam each day, she will be okay. But as I sought to comfort my friend, the shock her words gave me would not wear off – not because of the nature of her situation – but because of how much I could relate to it. Little did my friend know that my words of advice were also a reminder to myself, that I shouldn’t also give up, that my Iman needed just as much fixing up as did hers, as it had also grown weak.
As my friend and I continued our discussion, my pre-exam anxiety feelings drifted away and I began to realize how much the strength of my faith had deteriorated. This was my first time at a university, and I was exposed to a new environment unlike the one I was in three years ago, an Islamic community surrounded by my family and friends. While my worst expectations weren’t realized, a lot of the changes that I had to adjust to affected my Iman on some level. The scheduling of my classes prevented me from praying on time, which led me to neglect some of my prayers entirely. The company I felt with my family and friends back in high school was no longer with me in college; I wondered if my personality had anything to do with it and whether I should drop my interests so I wouldn’t have to feel so lonely. It was not only inside university, but outside of it that my Islamic practices began to plummet. I became lazy and my heart lost the desire and love it once felt for Islam; thoughts, just like those of my friend, were starting to cloud my mind too. I knew deep down that I still loved Allah (SWT), but my actions were not strong enough to show it.
Time and again I repeatedly tried to change myself by doing something, anything to regain the “Iman Rush” that I had once felt, but each of my attempts were in vain. I’d begin to pray on time, or make dhikr, only to lose momentum and become lazy again. I believed that I needed to jump back into the ocean in order to collect all those fish at once. And when that didn’t work, to me, there was just no other way.
When my friend approached me an hour before my midterm exam on Wednesday to tell me of her troubles, I realized that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t the only Muslim who was struggling with her Iman. There are other Muslims out there like my friend who wish to strengthen their faith and keep themselves from straying away from their purpose in life. And that’s when it hits me – Iman isn’t something that could be easily perfected overnight. It’s a continuous process of improvement and growth, shaped by the trials of life and the manner in which we handle those trials. As long as we keep trying and don’t give up, our Iman will remain leveled in our favor.
So instead of jumping directly into the ocean for those fish, why don’t we try to catch them using a fishing rod instead? Step by step, closer and closer, we will reach the original amount of fish we aimed for, and more.