It’s sneaking up on me again- low Iman. And I don’t mean my novelty-sized daughter. I mean my levels of faith, how alive my heart feels, how easily I wake up for Fajr and how hard I work to keep my mental jukebox clean and my thoughts of other people charitable. It’s predictable, really. In my case the smooth, downhill path takes some routine turns.
First, I stop making dua consciously. I figure I need to be quick and so I make it short, sweet, and mentally absent.
Rabbana aatina fiddunia hasanatuawn wa fil aakhirati hasanatauwn wa aqina ‘azhaban-naar. Ameen.
Our Lord, grant for us in this world Good and in the next world Good, and protect us from the fire of hell. Ameen. I make dua on auto-pilot and rush off to do something “more urgent” and soon, the loss of concentration in my prayers follows. It starts with a bit of mental wandering and gets so bad that I raise my hands for takbeer and greet the angels for tasleem and wander off knowing I’ve prayed only because my head is covered and I left my chair in the middle of the floor.
And then the time-wasting starts- crappy internet sites with top ten lists of information that add zero value to my existence as a human being. (Seventy years of TV catch-phrases, anyone?)
And then the video games sneak in and I turn my eyeballs to glue pitting the tiny forces of my massive army against the pathetic forces of some other tiny army waging epic battles that lead to nothing gained and hours lost.
And if you ask me when I find the time to do this, it’s now- when the kids and even HF are sleeping- when I should be asleep too, or at least working to clear the backlog of email that’s threatening me with a virtual avalanche. I stay up late for no reason, delay my salah until I no longer feel like skirmishing, pray late, wake up groggy, and every day find myself an few inches deeper into mental muck and a few inches farther away from wanting to get out of it. Because the farther I let myself wander from Ihsan and Taqwa, the harder my heart becomes and the harder it is to come back to it.
Other things follow too – hate.
Yep. Hate. I could be soft on myself and call it negative sentiment override, which is defined as seeing what someone else does in a primarily negative light even when it is neutral or even positive. But whatever you call it, it’s the jaundiced, shaitaan-powered frame of mind that tells you when a person doesn’t call, it’s not because they forgot to, but because they don’t care to because the entire history of your relationship is all take and no give. If they seem busy it’s because they don’t care to make time for you even when they have time for everyone else in the entire world. If they stepped on your toes and said sorry, they would only be apologizing because they were rubbing it in. That’s negative sentiment override, and it’s pure poison. The only way to get rid of it is to beg Allah for help, because allowing it to remain kills your heart.
I think it was Marx who called religion an opiate for the masses- an addictive drug to stifle the brain and drowse your way through the harsh realities of life without having to open your eyes to see them through. Other people have called religion a crutch for those too weak to handle reality. I tell you- religion is an antibiotic, a vaccine, a super-vitamin, and the only way to ensure good heart health. Without Islam on my compass, I would be wandering hell-bent on time wasting, hating my fellow man, playing video games all night and snapping at my children all day. You don’t want to see me without Islam. I never even want to be me without Islam. I go off course pretty regularly, but I still have a compass and Islam is still true North and Allah is my destination, whether I go to Him willingly or not. I just need a bit of help getting back on track.
So here, dear everybodies, for me moreso than you- is my list of things to help soften my heart and put my Iman back on track.
NOT SURFING THE INTERNET– This is in caps. This is important. Using the internet is one thing, but surfing is a matter of aimlessly clicking from one stupid black hole of time-loss to another. Surfing is the devil. You know what I mean.
Making dua with my eyes open and my brain on- I always thought it was funny how the major phone service provider in the UAE was called Etisalat- it shares the same root word as Salah- prayer- why? Because they are both words that imply connection. I need to make my dua a connection, a one-on-one conversation with God where I call upon Him in humility, hope, fear, and sincerity enough to say what I mean and mean what I say. That’s always a powerful heart-softener for me, because once I get started, it’s like the levy breaks and all the pent-up fear, frustration and need just pours out. It’s hard to describe how wonderful it feels to really pray- to break down before your Lord and ask to be built again. It’s humbling and calming and exhilarating and it makes me feel alive after having a half-dead heart for so long.
Paying attention to Salah: The wonderful thing about actually paying attention to Salah is that it becomes some sort of… religious experience. Irony intended. How many of us could call our Salah a religious experience, and how many other things do we call religious experiences instead? One thing that helps for me is not using the short surahs from the very end of the Qur’an that we’re all taught as kids. I know that Surah Ikhlas represents something as immense as the Oneness of Allah and His right to be worshipped, but I start from the first Qul and stop at the last Ahad without ever feeling the weight of those verses. For me, the verses that have the most meaning and hold my attention best are those I learned as an adult because my understanding and appreciation of their message is more mature. I recite lines that are close to my heart, that I learned during times of difficulty and stress, that bring me relief and when I repeat them, I remember what a comfort and what a blessing it was just to read them.
(Verily, We have created man in toil. Surah Balad 90:4)
(There is no soul but that it has over it a protector. Surah At-Tariq 86:4)
Reading Quran: It’s sad, but when my Iman is low I find this the hardest thing to do. Why? Because I still struggle with reading the Arabic, but I recognize that much of the experience is lost if I only read the English. So doing the right thing is too hard but doing the next best thing is no fun, so I end up doing nothing. What I ought to do is recognize that one of shaitaan’s most powerful tool is laziness, and hit myself over the head with the Qur’an (reverently, of course) and then just start reading. Once I start, I love it. It’s getting started that’s hard.
Using YouTube: There are some people for whom YouTube is a huge Fitna. Alhamdulillah, I’m not one of them. It is a relief and blessing and an immense kindness from Allah that I, who can get addicted to anything and distracted by reading about bacon-flavored mouthwash- find no such allure in YouTube, and my playlist is filled with things that comfort and inspire me, my ultimate favorite being this beautiful recitation of Surah Mutaffifin by Mishary Rashid Al Afasy:
And then this one,
Because I love the last part of the Surah that describes how, when the call is sounded on the Day of Judgment, man will flee from his brother, and his father and his mother, and his wife and children out of fear of his own account. It gives me the God-fearing goosebumps, it does. What can I say, Haq ka khauf ajab ghum hay. I don’t know much in Urdu, but I know this line from my Arabic teacher, who taught Owl and I years ago one sentence to separate the Letters of the Sun (Haroof Shams) from the Letters of the Moon (Haruf Qamar), and it’s composed of only Letters of the Moon. Loosely (and badly) translated, it means that Fear of Truth/God/Justice is an amazing/wonderful sadness. So yeah, YouTube, heh.
Write Something: It’s fairly obvious that I use my blog for catharsis, but I also really need it for reinforcing my Iman. It’s said that the best way to learn something is to try and teach it to someone else, and in my case, the best way of remembering something is for me to tell someone else about it. Plus, I like to write/do/create/color/sew/Photoshop- arts and crafts was my favorite activity in summer camp and when Khalid and Iman and I sit down to color, I’m looking forward to 96 crayons and some glitter as much as they are. I just like to make things. So when I feel down and dead, I like doing things that are creative. And blogging is easier than writing a poem, so hence, this blog entry. :p
See? I’m sounding more positive already. 🙂 Alhamdulillah. My Iman may be low (and my daughter is short, too) but I have control over which direction I let it go in. And recognizing that shaitaan has tons of seemingly harmless distractions can help me avoid them. I don’t really ever *need* video games. If my head is full of steam then I need to vent to Allah or work on solving my problems instead of inflicting destruction upon fake civilizations. No one really needs to know about bacon flavored mouthwash or seventy years of TV tag lines, and if I’m stressed out and need to unwind, I have a thousand ways of doing so that don’t look like banana peels on the gravelly path to perdition. So take that, Sid Meyer. :p