Recently I had a run-in with an old friend who was telling me how she had tried praying her salah on time after almost three months without praying at all and how she didn’t feel different, or rejuvenated or closer to Allah. She was completely indifferent about the whole experience and had pretty much told me she saw no point in continuing to pray because of how extinct her feelings were. She was disheartened to say the least. Eventually though, after some consistent convincing and long chats, she decided to take things slowly but surely and got back into the habit of making sure to pray at least her asr prayer, on time.
It got me thinking though. We’re all so obsessed with everything being instant. Instant coffee, instant food, instant wins, instant online purchases, instant everything. We just want things to be there, done and completed in a moment’s haste, without there being much effort from our part. And apparently, it’s supposed to make our lives easier, but really, it’s just instilling a really false mentality within us that’s just going to end up being reflected on other aspects of our life.
Aspects like our faith for example.
We sometimes expect there to be instant answers to our prayers, instant reflections of our good deeds, we feel like changing parts of ourselves for the better but expect ourselves to do it all at once, as if somehow we’ll be perfect at praying salah on time or instantly develop awesome habits. We have an idea of what we’d like and somehow, because of what we’re so used to, we think that just because we want it to happen, it will. It doesn’t work that way. Things like perseverance, hard work, commitment, all seem to have been forgotten about, especially when it comes to our religion.
Don’t get disheartened when you don’t feel good after praying for the first time in months. Don’t feel sad that you still feel the same after reading the Quran. It takes time. It takes effort. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
From personal experiences, what I’ve learned to really appreciate was something one of my close friends once said. She compared the heart to a vessel, or cup. Imagine now, if that vessel is full to the top with say, water. The fact that it’s full implies that it’s going to be pretty difficult to pour any more water into the vessel. But what happens when you try to? Obviously the vessel will overflow and you really aren’t making much of a difference because the old water is still there and the new water is barely staying put. You just end up with a wet mess, a pile of damp tissues you tried cleaning up with and an angry mother who questions your reflexes because at twenty, pouring liquid into a mug isn’t exactly a difficult task. No one appreciates an angry mother, so what do you do? You decide you need to pour out some of the old water to make room for the new water.
In this dunya, we all genuinely want to do better in so many aspects of our lives and our faith. We all have certain intentions that we hope to put into practice and somehow improve ourselves, but we need to be really conscious about the way we go about doing this. We can’t expect ourselves to do the impossible. We’re only human. We forget, we fall, we’re easily amused and easily distracted, sometimes our priorities aren’t exactly on point and other times we just have too much on our plate. So in order for our new, good intentions to actually make a genuine difference in our hearts and essentially, in our lives, we need to pour out or let go of some of the less important things we give significance to. Otherwise, we’ll be overwhelmed with confusion as to why we’re not seeing the results we expected to see.
Let go of some of your old, bad habits and inclinations to make room for the more beneficial ones. Pour out some of the old water to make more room for cleaner, more nutritional water. That’s the only way the new water will stay inside.
Start by making some sincere intentions to Allah. Whatever you plan on doing, whether it involves praying on time, reading more of the Quran during the day, trying not to talk back to your parents, whatever, in your heart, make that intention and ask Allah to make it easy for you. Make that dua, ask Him for His help and trust me, sometimes we take how easy it is to just ask Allah for help for granted. Allah mentions in Surah Al-Baqarah, “And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” [2:186]
Then try to focus on lessening some of the things that may not be necessary or even beneficial to you, but you seem to love doing them out of pure habit. Things like listening to music for example. I’m not saying completely stop listening to it, or spontaneously delete your entire itunes library, but start limiting the amount of time you listen to it and be more conscious about it. This is just an example. Think about it though.
Limiting the time you spend on this habit makes a huge difference. You’re consciously reducing the effect music has on you. Instead of relying on music, your body, mind, heart and soul will require something else to cling onto instead of those one-dimensional lyrics and auto-tuned base lines. When you limit yourself in this sense, you’re giving yourself a better chance to appreciate the moments you do end up reading the Quran. You’re giving yourself a better chance to actually feel what you say during prayer. You’re giving yourself a better chance to rely on the words of Allah rather than on the words of man. You’re giving yourself the chance to feel what you’ve been missing all those other times. By pouring out that little bit of old, you have made enough room to let some new in.
Once you’ve started cutting back on some of the more pointless habits you have and have continuously asked Allah for His help, then you should start. Start praying at least one prayer on time and build your way up. Start reading five lines of the Quran a day. Start what you said you would. Start by doing something you can actually see yourself doing. The Prophet Muhammad, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, has mentioned that “every action is based upon its intention” and “the best actions are those which are small and consistent” (Bukhari, Bukhari & Muslim).
The key is to remember that your heart was created to love and worship Allah. It’s almost like an innate function that not all of us are even aware of. When we love something other than Allah our hearts may seem fulfilled but really, they don’t love what they were actually made to love. So it takes time to reset them to their original factory settings. Since you gave up some of those bad habits, since you made room in your heart for more good, that’s why you’ll be able to pour all that new water into your vessel and that’s why you’ll feel the difference in what you do and say and you’ll feel closer to Allah in doing them.
Islam isn’t about instant results, it’s about consistently disciplining yourself and enriching your soul over time, and something that requires this amount of conscious commitment will definitely be far more rewarding than anything that’s handed to you in a quick instant. So don’t give up and don’t let yourself become indifferent to something that can essentially bring you the greatest peace and quality of life and so much of those spiritual feelings your heart craves.
This guest article was contributed by Aaleen Anjum. To contribute an article, email firstname.lastname@example.org!