Sunday, December 15, 2013

Increasing Eemaan

When I first left home for university in the United States, I began to experience a feeling of constriction of my chest, lack of natural enthusiasm and a general feeling of uncleanliness of the heart. I was healthy otherwise and progressing well with my studies and work, but this uneasiness did not leave me. I tried many techniques to overcome it. I started yoga, jogging and meditation. Nothing really helped. I could not understand this phenomenon, until I studied Islam. Now I know that it was a decrease in the level of my eemaan which has caused this feeling.

Therefore (for) whomsoever Allah intends that He would guide him aright, He expands his breast for Islam, and (for) whomsoever He intends that He should cause him to err, He makes his breast strait and narrow as though he were ascending upwards; thus does Allah lay uncleanness on those who do not believe. (Al Anaan, 6:125)

So what exactly is eemaan? The English words often used to translate eemaan are "faith", "belief" and  "conviction". In aqeeda, this faith encompasses the faith in Allah (SWT), the angels, the prophets, divine scriptures, the Last Day and divine pre-ordainment. An incorrect belief in any one of these makes one's eemaan incomplete. Physically eemaan causes a feeling of well being, wholesomeness, satisfaction, patience, energy, joie de vivre (joy of living) and a spiritual expansion of the heart. Lack of eemaan causes the opposite feelings of crankiness, uncleanliness, guilt, constriction, unease, lack of concentration, laziness, etc.

It is He who sent down tranquility into the hearts of the believers that they would increase in faith along with their [present] faith. And to Allah belong the soldiers of the heavens and the earth, and ever is Allah Knowing and Wise. (Al Fath 48:4) 

The majority of Islamic scholars agree that eemaan entails a faith expressed by words which find conviction in the heart and results in actions of the limbs that attest to it. Thus words are not enough, nor is belief in the heart by itself. All three need to manifest themselves to indicate to a person whether he has eemaan. The majority of scholars also agree that the level of eemaan  does not stay constant. It increases and decreases. Thus a wise practicing Muslim will seek out ways to constantly grow his eemaan.  In Urdu, we have a word called eemaandaar. It is used for an honest/upright person, but literally it means someone who constantly monitors the level of his eemaan. A Muslim must be sensitive of how he feels. If he feels down some day he should try to determine its cause and engage in those activities which can raise his eemaan.

One way to increase eemaan is to seek knowledge which complies with Islam. By constantly learning about aspects of Reality which reinforces faith, one will find certainty in thought and actions. Reciting the Quran with proper tajweed while understanding its meaning has a great effect on eemaan. A person engaged in learning about the unseen will have stronger faith in it than someone who has not studied it.  Another means of upgrading eemaan in translating that knowledge in to actions by doing good deeds. By doing so one internalizes that knowledge and it becomes part of him. Thus by obeying and worshipping Allah (SWT), his belief in Him (SWT) increases. In contrast, engaging in desires and sins dwindles eemaan. Another effective strategy to increase eemaan is engaging in rememberance and contemplation of Allah (SWT), His attributes, His Creation and how He regulates all things. Thus dhikr  and taffakkar are excellent means of raising one's eemaan. Try spending some time daily in contemplation. Think about your past, how Allah (SWT) has influenced it, His wisdom in your life, the true nature of things, etc.

As a student, I saw others around me choose detrimental ways to deal with the lack of eemaan. Some started smoking, drinking, experimenting with drugs, having girlfriends, partying, listening to hard music, watching bad movies, etc. while I suffered silently, trying to find natural cures to this common malady. By trying to study and implement Islam, I have found the cure to that uneasy feeling that I first felt when I was eighteen. By repeatedly articulating statements of faith, having conviction in my heart and engaging in the resulting good actions eemaan gets established. It can be raised by seeking knowledge, implementing it, rememberance and deep contemplation. A life lived in this way is the only sure cure to the constriction of the heart and related psychosomatic maladies. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Early Hours

Sprinters of the 100m dash confide to us that the most critical factor in their race is the start. The difference between a winner and loser often boils down to a perfect start. The same is true for the rest of us. All we have in our control is the day we live. We can’t change the past and we can’t lose sleep over the future. The only thing we can do is get today right and the way to get it right is to start it right. If we resolve to do this day after day, weekday and weekend, work day and holiday, etc. we have set ourselves up to succeed in life.

The early hours, i.e. hours before fajr are the most productive hours you can spend awake. The mind is fresh, the heart is receptive, the soul is tranquil as the night and there is no one / nothing to disturb your train of thought. In a life full of appointments, it is a “me time” no one should consider squandering. Once you fall into the routine of waking up for in the early hours and sleeping right after ishaa, you have set yourself up to live a most productive life. To help me achieve this routine, the first thing I do after waking up is to have a shower to completely rejuvenate myself. I excuse myself for all appointments after ishaa, even those on the weekends and encourage my family to go to bed early as well.

It is the best time to submit to Allah (SWT), express regret for the past (seek forgiveness),  plan for the present day and articulate one's aspirations for the future (make supplications).

Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said: ‘In the last third of every night our Rabb (Cherisher and Sustainer) (Allah (SWT)) descends to the lowermost heaven and says; “Who is calling Me, so that I may answer him? Who is asking Me so that may I grant him? Who is seeking forgiveness from Me so that I may forgive him?”‘ [Sahih al-Bukhari]

By taking time out to pray qiyaam ul lail regularly, one is resolving to spend one's days (and thus one's life) for Allah (SWT) in the pursuit of goals and aspirations that are pleasing to Him (SWT) and not chasing after one fleeting mirage after another by being a slave of others, the dunya or one's nafs.

Waking up early is a natural routine followed by so much of Allah’s (SWT) creation. In the past, with the absence of electricity which extended the days into nights this was the routine of the pious people of our salaf. Slaves used to commiserate each other if their master’s family did not wake up to pray tahajjud every day. Muslim scholars were able to write books during these hours. The polymath, Ibn Sina, used to spend his day carrying out his duties as the vizier of Amir Shams Ad-Dawla of Hamadan, while writing famous encyclopedias like the Cannon of Medicine and Book of Healing in the early hours. When he faced a mental block, he used to pray for inspiration to Allah (SWT). Those nine years were the most productive of his blessed life.

As opposed to those who wake up late and spend the whole day running from appointment to appointment, chore to chore, deadline to deadline, etc. a person who uses his early hours for praying, studying and planning the day has the day under his control. He has control over his time and as time is life, he has control over his life. Thus he can begin to achieve the responsibilities of vice-regency that Allah (SWT) has meant for the son of Adam (AS). This routine also minimizes anxieties and other psychological maladies that are so common in today’s lifestyle.

Waking up at this time was only obligatory on the Prophet (SWAS) and not his Ummah. This is a mercy from Allah (SWT) as He (SWT) is best aware of man’s nature and his weaknesses. Nevertheless, those of his Ummah who have high aspirations cannot properly achieve them while fulfilling all their responsibilities without adopting this important sunnah in their lives. A productive Muslim has no choice but to be a morning person.

Ever wonder why the Prophet (SWAS) did not need to go on a "vacation" or the Sahaba (RA) long for the "weekend"? It was partially because of this routine, in which one does not "burn out" but achieves all multifaceted goals with optimum effort. Every day was productive, every minute was cherished and used wisely. There was no question of taking "breaks" as the whole life was integrated and holistically structured to constantly achieve without the need for discontinuities.

If one wants to be a high achiever and leave a legacy in life, one must learn to use time wisely. By waking up before fajr, one can plan one's day out perfectly – the day being all that he has control over. A life spent with this routine, will not only be according to nature, it will be most productive. Some of the most productive thinking time is before dawn. A wise Muslim will make it his daily habit to use it to achieve all his goals without burning out, bi-izn Allah.