Search

Dew Point

This blog is dedicated to sharing my every-day discoveries of how the light and beauty of Islamic spirituality can be part of a modern, well-rounded way of life.

Month

November 2011

“Do good – and throw it in the sea”

“What you give is what you get”, or some variation thereof, is one of the most-common expressions we encounter in our lives about the consequences of our actions. This idea gives the impression that when we act virtuously we get an equal helping of good in return, and accordingly, our acts of cruelty eventually “come back around” to bite us.

Yet the reward-punishment equation is not as simple as this expression may suggest because in fact, the recompense of our good deeds is far greater than the reprisal for our bad deeds.

Throughout the day, Muslims, those striving to live in submission to the one almighty God, will say “Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Raheem”, meaning “In the name of God, the Most-Gracious, Most-Merciful”. It is probably the most-common invocation for God that we utter, yet we may not always think over what these qualities of benevolence and compassion mean for us in our daily lives.

God is constantly willing to multiply the rewards we receive for the energy we focus toward performing good deeds— charity to those in need; kindness to family, friends, colleagues and strangers; honesty, loyalty and sincerity in our conduct; keeping promises and working hard.

As for our negative acts of cruelty, cheating, dishonesty and jealousy, God will limit the return of these actions to a degree that is strictly equal to the deed we did—no more, no less.

“Whoever does a good deed will be repaid tenfold, but those who do a bad deed will only be repaid with its equivalent and they shall not be wronged,” the Holy Quran informs us very clearly. (Quran, The cattle, 6:160)

Meaning “Recitation” in English, the Quran is a composition of God’s message to humanity charting out the path we should take to strive toward eternal peace. In its pages, we are repeatedly reminded about the importance of doing good deeds and acting with kindness and mercy. When we give in charity, for instance, we learn that our wealth will be multiplied and have greater “baraka” (blessing) in it.

Similarly, when we display kindness and mercy to our parents even in their old age, and when we pray sincerely and fast regularly with the goal of giving thanks to God for the blessings in our lives, we are promised innumerable benefits that will reach us in this life as well as, more importantly, the next life.

Sometimes it can be difficult to believe with sincerity that good deeds are generously rewarded because in our daily lives, there appears to be limited incentive to act in an unselfish way. When we do something good, we will quite frequently seek benefits and rewards with immediacy from our family members, spouses, friends, colleagues, etc. And yet when we feel these deeds have not been appreciated or reciprocated adequately, we can often feel devalued and frustrated.

Over time, this may discourage us from acting altruistically, with great care and thoughtfulness because the benefits of magnanimity are not always directly apparent. What we should realise is that it is God who has the power to return the good we do back to us at the time and in the manner He chooses.

Sea at sunset, courtesy Flickr

There is an Arabic proverb that my mom will say quite frequently that goes: “عمل خير و إرميه في البحر”, which translates as, “Do good–and throw it into the sea”. In other words, we should do good for the sake of God, and not expect reward for our virtuous deeds.

As someone who has consistently striven to act with sincerity in her life, my mom will often say that while she has endeavoured to perform good deeds for others, she will often find that those deeds are not received with gratitude nor returned back.

By pronouncing this proverb, she is relieving herself of expectation that those around her should recognise and reciprocate any act of goodness she has done. Throwing good deeds “into the sea” so to speak is her way of performing acts of kindness and justice for God alone, being confident that God is collecting these deeds with Him, and that He will return them to her in a way that is greatly multiplied.

“For whatever good deed you send on before your souls, you will find it with God. It will be improved and richly rewarded by Him” (Quran, The wrapped one, 73:20)

Becoming spiritually punctual

(A version of this article was published in the Huffington Post)

Before I genuinely began to cultivate and nurture my relationship with God, I regarded the five daily prayers that Islam enjoins on believers as laborious. It seemed impractical to expect that I would be able to stop what I was doing during my busy work schedule to take time out and pray.

Working as a news wire journalist, I was often spending upwards of 10 hours a day in the office or at conferences, interviews and meetings, barely able to make time for a lunch break. If I wasn’t working, my time was divided between house chores, errands, family and friends, and exercise. I was punctual with everything in my life, except that I was late five times a day.

 
Women praying at Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Mandy Merzaban photo

In my mind, it was not viable to expect that I could wake up before the crack of dawn to pray the early-morning prayer, fajr, otherwise I would be too tired to work effectively later that morning. It also seemed inefficient to interrupt my work meetings to pray duhr, the mid-day prayer, and asr, the afternoon prayer.

Making the sunset prayer maghrib was often a challenge because the window to pray is typically quite short and coincides with the time between finishing work, having dinner and returning home. So, in effect, the only prayer that was feasible for me to pray on time was isha, the evening prayer. For most of my life, thus, I would at best pray all five prayers in the evening, or skip prayers here and there to accommodate my immediate commitments.

Without realising it, my inconsistency and approach to praying trivialised the principle behind performing prayers throughout the day. I believed in God and loved Him, but on my own terms, not on the terms very clearly set out in the Quran and Prophetic teachings. Yet praying the five daily prayers, at their prescribed times, is the backbone of being a Muslim; we cannot stand upright in our faith without them. It is one of the essential practices that God has called on those who endeavour to live in Islam, a state of existence whereby a human strives to live in submission to God.

When I came to truly understand the importance of prayer, the realisation was both overwhelming and quick. It dawned on me that if I was not fulfilling this precondition, then I really could not claim to be Muslim. Even if I desired to have a solid connection with the Almighty I was not taking the necessary steps to do so. I promptly reoriented my life and it has now been a year and a half that I have not intentionally missed a prayer time, whether I am in the office, mall, grocery store, out with friends or travelling.

Looking back, I see how wrong I was about the impracticality of Islamic prayers, which are succinct and straightforward notwithstanding their resonance. When I moved from trying to fit prayers into my life to fitting my life around my prayer schedule, I instantly removed a great deal of clutter from my daily routine. Since regular prayer promotes emotional consistency and tranquillity, I began to eliminate excess negativity and cut down on unnecessary chitchat, helping me be more focused, productive and patient.

Over a short period of time, what amazed me was how easy and fluid the prayers became. Performing the early-morning prayer actually gave me a burst of energy during the day and, gradually, the prayers that I had initially perceived as cumbersome became an essential facet of my routine. With God’s help, I would find ways to make a prayer regardless of the hurdles. While in Canada for the summer, I would often catch duhr prayer in a department store fitting room, with the help of a handy Islamic prayer compass application on my Iphone.

“’Verily the soul becomes accustomed to what you accustom it to.’ That is to say: what you at first burden the soul with becomes nature to it in the end.”

This is a line drawn from a magnificent book I am in the process of reading by great Islamic thinker Al-Ghazali, entitled Invocations and Supplications: Book IX of the Revival of Religious Sciences. Al-Ghazali describes a series of formulas, drawn from the Quran and Hadith, which we can repeat to help us attain greater proximity to the divine and purify our hearts.

Women praying outside Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia, by Mandy Merzaban

At each turn in my quest to enrich my faith, I have found that what at first appears difficult becomes easy when performed with sincerity. Soon after I reoriented my life to revolve around prayer, the five prayers felt insufficient in expressing my devotion. I examined Hadith, or the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and discovered there were optional prayers I could add to my routine. Since then, I have not let a day pass without praying them.

To supplement my prayers, I have integrated various zikr, or remembrance and mentioning of God, into my days. Zikr, including repeating such phrases as “la illa ha il Allah” (There is no God but God), habitually draws our attention back to God.

Among the many rich invocations mentioned in Ghazali’s book is this one which I have started to incorporate. As we leave our houses each day, if we say “In the name of God” (Bismillah), God will guide us; when we add “I trust in God” (Tawakalt al Allah), God will protect us; and if we conclude with “There is no might or power save with God” (La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah), God will guard us.

I suppose to an outsider, these acts of devotion can appear a bit obsessive, and I have had a couple of people say this to me. Yet it is an obsession with the greatest possible consequences that can improve rather than disintegrate one’s disposition. The more time I devote to God, the greater the peace of mind I find filling my life and the more focused I become on what is important – such as treating my family and friends honourably, working hard in my job, giving charity with compassion and generosity, and maintaining integrity.

Remembering God throughout the day, through prayer and invocation, truly does polish the heart as Hadith teaches; you erase obstructions that would impede faith in its purest form.

“Truly when a man loves a thing, he repeatedly mentions it, and when he repeatedly mentions a thing, even if that may be burdensome, he loves it,” writes Ghazali.

Keeping balance when emotional headwinds hit

The pressures of our personal and professional lives are constantly in conflict and competition with our struggle to find reasonable balance, oftentimes forcing even the strongest among us to lose footing. Despite our best efforts, feeling unhinged, helpless and alone can somehow find a way to flood back into our day-to-day lives. Earlier this week, I gave into such emotions. After driving my sister, brother-in-law and two darling nephews to the airport following a visit for Eid holiday came such a moment.

For the 10 days they were in town, my one-bedroom apartment was bustling, becoming a pleasant cacophony of laughter, childish jokes, playful songs, home-cooked meals, YouTube videos and cartoons. As we found creative ways to comfortably host five adults, a four-year-old and a toddler in his terrible twos, we managed to find balance and pleasure in an organised form of chaos.

Then, in a quick flash the vacation was over and they returned home, leaving an impression of vacancy in my apartment that became more palpable. The series of concerns I had tried to put aside during the hectic and eventful holiday abruptly flooded my mind again, and I was beset by an unsettling mix of emotions stemming from the fresh residue of a heart break and looming professional anxiety. As much as I may recognise that I shouldn’t allow negative thoughts get the upper hand, I couldn’t help but wallow in a bit of self pity.

Having deep faith in God, I knew in the back of my mind that everything is as it should be; that destiny unfolds as God wills and that He harbours our best interests however long we feel we are waiting to know what they are. Truly believing this means any struggle we face should be embraced wholeheartedly with patience and continual acceptance.

But moving this understanding from the back of my mind to the front can be a struggle at times. It is human nature to often give in to emotions of sadness, anger and angst, although to live in a state of unbridled submission to God, or Islam in Arabic, would all but eliminate such unconstructive emotions.

So there I was, more irritable and grouchy than I should be given the immense blessings in my life, moping around my apartment for much of the following day even though I knew I shouldn’t be. I asked God after my daily prayers to fill me with patience and tranquillity and pull me out of my gloom.

Seek and you will find. Something I have learned in the course of discovering my faith is that if you ask for a moment of clarity, God will surely help you locate it.

On this particular day, that moment came in the late afternoon as I looked out my bedroom window to the sky and found a most-exquisite sunset in progress. Following a rare rainfall the night prior, the day had been oddly dim and cloudy for the arid desert climate. I stared intently through the window as the sun descended through a dense pattern of broken clouds that scattered its rays in multiple directions. Watching this brilliant prism of shattered light beating through crevices of clouds, I repeated to myself ‘Subhan’Allah’, or Glorious is God.

As I stood there for about 10 minutes, rush of calm came over me. It was as though I was the only person in the world looking at the sunset; that somehow God had reserved a quiet moment like this for me so I could pause and realise that everything in my life that I was worrying about was as it should be, despite the uncertainty and sorrow I may be feeling. I seized the opportunity to move positive thoughts of my struggles to the forefront of my mind, and bury the negativity that had been weighing me down.  For the rest of the evening, I felt light and content.

“It is He who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the believers, to add faith to their faith,” reads the Holy Quran (48:4). “The forces of the heavens and the earth belong to Him. He is all-knowing and all-wise”.

Sometimes we need only a little push to make an effort to take the lessons embedded in the Quran and Hadith to heart, implement them in our lives and apply them to our struggles. My lesson that day was that even when my emotions get the better of me, I must trust God sincerely. Even in sadness, I must surrender to the idea that every step in our lives is a blessing, no matter how painful it may be.

Living in submission is not always easy; I constantly feel as though my faith is a work in progress and there are always multitudes of ways I could improve. Remembering that God is with us at all times—closer than the jugular vein in our necks as the Quran teaches us—is the best way to help us tackle our innermost fears and struggles.

When we remember Him, we are better positioned to recognise the blessings in everything that befalls us. Worry and sadness may be an inevitable part of life, but the burden they level can be lightened tremendously if we make small efforts to draw nearer to God and be receptive to the gifts He grants us each day rather than dwelling on the difficulties.

“Whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the strong hand-hold that will never break. God is all-hearing and all-knowing. God is the patron of the faithful. He leads them from darkness to light.” (Quran; 2:256-7)

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑