How can I approach spiritual self-care as a Muslim woman, especially in quarantine during a global pandemic? That’s what I ask myself and others. At my work, for example, there is definitely more talk about implementing self-care routines, and I appreciate that. But sometimes, answering questions about how I personally engage in it can be complicated. I often feel that I can’t really get into my true feelings about it because my self-care is about my spiritual path, and that is a taboo subject for a lot of people – especially in the workplace. However, on Muslim Women’s Day, it’s fitting to talk about what it means to practice self-care as a Muslim, and building that spiritual connection.
Islam is a holistic religion, not a compartmentalized set of practices. It covers every area of life, from eating and drinking, how we sleep, how we pray and worship, how we raise our children, and even how we walk or talk. In that sense, Islam is about everything in life, and everything in life is about Islam. With that thought, here are a few spiritual self-care practices that are essential for me as a Muslim woman in a pandemic and beyond.
Non-Judgement and Radical Acceptance
Having faith in Allah’s (SWT) Omnipotence, Benevolence, and Mercy means we must accept whatever Allah (SWT) has written for us. One of the ways I think about this is a Sufi story you can read here. For a quick summary, this is what the story is about:
Once there was a king who had an advisor. The advisor always answered everything with “Khair, inshallah.” The king was fencing, and his fencing partner cut his finger off. The advisor, as always said, “Khair, inshallah.” Furious, the king threw him in the dungeon.
Then when the king was out hunting, cannibals captured him. But the cannibals only ate people who had no body parts missing, so they let him go. The king, astounded, saw the wisdom of his advisor. He rushed to the dungeon to let him go, apologizing for his mistake. The advisor, said, “No, my King. ‘Khair, inshallah.'” The king, again, astounded asked him what he meant. The advisor said, “If you had not thrown me in the dungeon, no doubt I would have accompanied you hunting. I would have been eaten by the cannibals.” The king said, “Now I understand. Allah (SWT) is the best of planners.”
Amid COVID19, there has been so much suffering. The fact that Allah (SWT) is the best of planners has been a foundation for my serenity. Non-judgement is a tool that can only make life easier, lower blood pressure, and calm the nerves.
COVID19? “Khair, inshallah.”
An Attitude of Gratitude
Because Allah (SWT) is the best of planners, the believer accepts the bad with patience (Khair, inshallah) and the good with gratitude. Maintaining an attitude where I focus on Allah’s (SWT) mercy has been part of my spiritual self-care. Gratitude is proven to provide a lot of relief in all kinds of circumstances, as well as increase my own happiness.
Of course, I am often ungrateful, and part of my self-care work is my commitment to ongoing tawbah about my lack of gratitude. Many of us are familiar with the verse in the Quran, “If you are grateful I will give you more.” Sometimes we forget the second half of the verse, “and if you are ungrateful, surely my punishment is severe.” I spend time doing istighfar for my ingratitude as well as thanking Allah for my blessings.
Yes, 2020 was one of the hardest years in recent memory, but at least we beat Trump. Sure, quarantine is incredibly hard, but it appears that there may be a glimmer of light with the vaccines being administered. True, life is often hard, but, “Do you think you would believe and not be tested?” This is making us stronger, and, “The strong believer is better than the weak one!”
There is a wonderful hadith that says, “Whoever travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah (SWT) will make easy for him a path to Paradise.” One of the joys of the pandemic, as well as one of the challenges, is that all education has gone online. I had the opportunity to take classes and do a certificate program over the last few months because of online COVID learning. Learning is something that I love to do; it keeps me alert, alive, and challenged. In addition to certificate programs, there are many halaqas that have gone online, including one which I could never attend pre-COVID, as it was too far to travel. The move to put halaqas, lectures, classes, and webinars online has made learning accessible.
The benefits of mindfulness are well-documented. But how do we practice mindfulness as a Muslim? People will ask, “Isn’t it a Buddhist idea?” As a convert, I practiced meditation from the Buddhist tradition, and I am sure many Muslims have. The main way I practice mindfulness is to bring my attention to things, to be present with myself; and sometimes it’s powerful to just name it. Letting go, practicing presence and awareness, and being honest about my feelings are big mindfulness practices for me. Just to be aware that this is a pandemic we are living through, and here we are, walking our way through it together, is a mindfulness practice in itself.
The main mindfulness practice for a lot of Muslims is prayer. It’s a basic and obvious idea that stopping and spending time with Allah (SWT) is a self-care practice. Who better to take care of us than our Creator, our Sustainer, our Cherisher, and our Friend? For me, often I’m not present in my prayer the way I should be, but the movements represent a conscious effort to make sure that the most important needs that I have as a creation are met with the love of the Creator.
Spending Time Outside
I would close with the importance of spending time in nature, which can be done easily and effortlessly. Just taking a walk, and seeing the sky, the ground, can be tremendously liberating from the chaos of stress and anxiety involved in quarantine.
A Final Thought: The Light of Islam for a Muslim Woman
These are universal ideas, and grounded in my personal experience, applicable to anyone, while reflecting my daily practice, and what has worked for me. I hope there’s something that can benefit others in these ideas, even as they are quite obvious, and most people already practice them and know them. Above all, I am so grateful I am a Muslim woman. My whole life is better and happier because of my religion. My faith orients my self-care, and my faith is my self-care. I know from speaking with my sisters that many people feel this way. The light of Islam is its own relief, beyond any practice, or action, or thought, availably to us all, without going anywhere but to our hearts.