We are now at the end of Ramadan and the last sermons usually focus on how to maintain the faith throughout the year. I wanted to seek the advice of a Muslim counselor who I respect and has helped some Muslims with this question many times as they battle drugs, addiction and other social problems. I emailed Hwaa Irfan, who was the former Managing Editor of the Social Desk at IslamOnline. With a background in psycho-spiritual counseling in the U.K., she practiced cross cultural counseling both at grassroots level within and without the mental health profession, on mental health issues pertaining to schizophrenia before establishing the Cybercounseling service. Since then, she has become adept at Islamic psychology and counseling as a natural medium for restoring mental, pyschological, and emotional well-being, for both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Wazwaz: As we are coming to an end in Ramadan, the worship which was easy or gave us pleasure will soon wane as the community solidarity wanes and people go in their separate lives. How do you counsel people who are struggling to maintain the faith after Ramadan, when the group solidarity and spiritual environment is no longer around to keep us strong?
Hwaa Irfan: Sometimes when we are in the throes of getting on with life, and we do not take the time out to reflect, we do not often see what is in front of our eyes. We assume God is far from our lives like those we know who distance themselves from us because a change in our lifestyle is not in keeping with theirs. But He is always present, and He couldn’t have made things easier when we remember Him.
Suddenly, we find it is easier to carry out our acts of worship. Life becomes easier, as we become less distracted by the illusions of this earth. Ramadhan reminds us how much easier it can become, because our mindset is in line with His mindset. But when we become distracted, more mindful of the past and the future instead of the present, we miss the tools, the opportunities, and the solutions we need, and more things are likely to go wrong.
When we listen to our lower selves, we get caught up with the machinations of thoughts, making them more real than reality, more real than our the reasoning heart, and we miss the ease that comes with remembrance of Allah and living in the present. Then when we are back on track, we miss the temporary pleasures of the haram, i.e. that which is against our souls.
We become used to ease, and not effort, and so we turn our weaknesses into virtues in order to feel not so bad about it. We might attend lectures, seminars, and workshops, but these only serve provide more information, and not the knowledge that leads to action. This of course is helpful to the lower self, because we have actually made no effort to understand our self more, and to increase that understanding for the sake of Allah.
We are also habituated to what gives us instant pleasure: praying served its purpose when it was pleasureable, and when it was no longer pleasureable, we wanted to return to other things that give us pleasure, and of course, pleasure for the sake of pleasure gets you nowhere. It can not. Like a perfume, your sense of smell becomes accustomed to the smell of the perfume to the point you can no longer smell it, while others can smell it on you, you can not, and so you want more!
In Islam, acts of worship take many forms. The obligatory ones like prayer we are aware of, but then it transforms into everyday life when one lives one’s life as prayer. For some people, the obligatory acts of worship remain just that, and take them nowhere, for some, obligatory acts of worship can take them further because their hearts are open enough to translate some if not all what they learn from those acts of worship into everyday life. For others, life is the teacher that will lead them to a fuller and more appreciative relationship with the obligatory acts of worship – in other words, some people can only learn through experience.
Experience presents a lesson, but are we awake enough in the present to take the necessary step and understand what that lesson means in relation to us?
If one can step outside of ourselves for one moment, in others words if one can just forget about the perception of self for one moment, and look at someone whom one may have passed by in the street, who is less fortunate than one, then reflect, one might discover that the next lesson is through others. Not everyone can learn from a lecture. Look at our neighbourhoods, and see who is doing what. Are there any charities that are helping others? If one could visit one of these charities, and see what they do, could one consider giving some of one’s spare time to that charity to help others? This may very well be the act of worship that one needs, the vehicle of learning that in turn can improve on one’s relationship with our Creator, Allah.
As much as we have been led to believe that we are born into this world for ourselves alone, and to serve our own interests, Allah created us for each other. So far your life has been for yourself. Maybe now it is time for it to be for someone else. Working with those in need, not only benefits those in need, but also nurtures one's capacity to give, to understand. To have compassion, to be responsible, and to not judge. It takes us outside of ourselves enough to realize that there is a large undiscovered part of ourselves to whom Allah presents Himself in so many ways. It is only for us to realize that, insha-Allah.
From a saying of Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, the Divine said “… O My servants! If the first and last of you, all the jinn and all the men among you, possessed the heart of the most evil man among you, that would not decrease My kingdom in any way. O My servants! If the first and last of you, all the jinn and all the men among you, were to stand in a single place and ask of Me, I could give to every man what he asks without that decreasing what I have any more than a needle when it enters the sea. O My servants! It is your actions for which I call you to account and then repay you in full. So anyone who finds good should praise Allah and anyone who finds something else should blame none but himself.”
Make wu`dhu (ablutions), and pray two rakats (rounds), and sit in silence for a while. Any thoughts that come, let them go, do not dwindle on them. More thoughts will keep coming, but let them go, until one comes to a point of silence is reached. This might not happen in the first sitting, because one’s mind has become accustomed to the monkey chatter, but with regular attempts, it will become easier like exercise. In this way you silence your conscious, and allow your subconscious to be heard, insha-Allah(God willing)!
From Him we come, and to Him we shall return….
Thank you so much Hwaa for your beautiful advice. As Hwaa suggested, the best way to maintain our faith is through understanding ourselves by serving those in need. This year, Muslims have come together to make this process easier by starting a Nation Wide Muslim Serve Initiative on the Anniversary of 9/11.
As we decide to commit ourselves and serve those in need, let us recall the hadith above so that we do not hold anyone indebted to us for those services. And that God has no need of our service, but rather the service we do to others puts us in position to receive emphathy, compassion, understanding and knowledge of our selves, each other and the acceptance and pleasure of God.