A Practical Guide to Practicing Outside
How to Keep the Faith in the Mundane
From the title of this I’m sure you already know exactly what I’m talking about. That awkward moment your work colleague walks in on you in the bathroom with your foot in the sink while you’re trying to make wudhu (ritual ablution). Or that one time you were praying at school and somebody approached you and had a full blown conversation with you…during your prayer. Oh, or the other day when you had to pray on the dirt ridden floor of the restaurant because there was no room to accommodate you praying.
Yep, we’ve all had our fair share of those cringe-worthy experiences. Although they make for funny stories, these micro situations can really take the faith and spirituality out of our religious obligations. Especially if you’ve experienced and lived in some degree of a full time “Islamic” environment. When I think about prayer I think of peace and quiet; a serenity that surrounds and envelopes you, cutting you off from the world and all it’s distractions. The harsh reality in the society we live in today is that there are only few environments that are conducive to that level of focus and sincerity. Unless we pack our bags and travel to another country or seclude ourselves from the outside world, we wouldn’t be able to achieve such a utopian situation. All too often, we become sad and depressed because of the tough situations that make practicing Islam in the West just a little bit harder.
But fear not, there is much to learn in these trials. We cannot go through life and fear the hardships that we will face or grieve over the places that we cannot be in anymore. Here are a few pieces of advice that will help you navigate on your journey.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Growth occurs when we are tested beyond our means. Stepping outside of our comfort zones, taking chances, and just being ourselves – as unique and extraordinary as we are – pushes us to develop ourselves. The times where we feel most uncomfortable are actually the moments when we are closest to growth and development. Remember; life wasn’t meant to be easy! The struggle and hardship, the pain and discomfort are proof to us that we are alive and growing. Take these uncomfortable moments and turn them into situations that make a difference both within yourself and to the outer world.
- Don’t limit yourself
As a student of the one year Usul ud-Din program at Madina Institute, I became very deeply attached to the Mosque that we held our classes in and served (and practically lived in). Besides leaving my sisters and teachers, departing from the Mosque itself and returning home was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve experienced. Not only was I physically removing myself from the vicinity of the place that fostered my connection with God, but in my heart I believed that I was also departing from the only place I could feel that level of connection with God! When I returned home, I shut down opportunities of civic and religious engagement because I had convinced myself that no other experience would compare or nurture my connection with God. A few months down the line, I realized that I had created a bubble around myself, neither benefiting myself nor others. The truth is, no two communities or Mosque’s will ever be the same. All have beautiful opportunities and resources to offer you in different ways! We try to limit our connection with Allah to a certain place or time, telling ourselves that we’ll never be able to reach that level again. In reality, Allah is always there. As He tells us in the Qur’an, “When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them)” [Al Baqara: 186], and the Hadith that mentions, “I am near to the thought of My servant as he thinks about Me, and I am with him as he remembers Me.” It’s up to us whether we unveil ourselves to be in the Divine Presence.
- There’s beauty in the struggle
Isn’t something that you strive and work hard for so much more precious than something that comes easy? The struggle we go through trying to foster our connection with Allah in a Western society does not go unnoticed. We read in the Qur’an, “And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways.” [Al Ankabut: 69]. Allah promises to us that He will guide us if we struggle on His path. Therefore, there is beauty in that struggle that leads you closer to Allah.
- Your little secret
Maybe it’s just me, but I love how intimate and private our personal connection with Allah is. Sometimes at work I feel like I’m an undercover agent on a mission to please God! It’s such a silly concept, but I find that the intimacy allows you to be sincere in what you’re doing. It reminds me of when the Prophet ﷺ first received revelation and how it was only him and a few other loyal companions who had to secretly worship amidst the Quraysh. I grow in love for the Prophet ﷺ because I feel like I am taking part in a similar struggle! Also, fasting is one of the best ways to proclaim your love of Allah, and the best part is that nobody has to know. Another form of worship that doesn’t take much effort is Dhikr (remembrance of God). While you’re at work just quietly recite some phrases of remembrance or salawat (salutations upon the Prophetﷺ) to get your heart moving. It’s your little secret with Allah and that’s what makes it so beautiful.
- Don’t lose hope
God has informed us in the Qur’an that He will test human kind. We will face hardship, regardless of where we come from or where we go. However, God also reassures us that He will not burden us with more than we can bear. So believe it. We have learned this from our master Muhammadﷺ who went through the most difficult of challenges. After the first revelation, there was a period of time when the Prophetﷺ did not receive revelation for some months. People began to mock the Prophet ﷺ and tell him that his Lord had forsaken him. God sent down upon him a revelation that reassured him he was not abandoned and restored that hope. Now, we recite that verse in our prayers and homes, in hopes of restoring our hopes in Allah Ta’ala.
- Importance of prayer and supplication
Pray. Make supplication. Allah can change your situation in a heartbeat in ways that you can’t even fathom. Allah says in the Qur’an, “Invoke Me, I will respond to you” [Ghafir: 60]. If we look at the reasons for revelations (Asbab wa Nuzul), the supplications we read in the Qur’an were revealed at times when the believers were facing hardships and tribulations against the nonbelievers. It’s important to be steadfast with your prayers even if you don’t necessarily feel the pull in your heart. Allah is in control of our hearts and can put the most sincerity and love into it. Make dua (supplication) that Allah instills that pull within you and graces you with steadfastness and khushu’ (state of submission and humility) in prayer.
Don’t lose hope, folks. Allah tells us in the Qur’an, “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” [Al Baqara: 155]. Patience is the absolute key during hardship. As Ibn Ata’Allah Al Iskandari puts it in his Hikam (with commentary by Shaykh Abdullah Gangohi), “Man is perpetually in a state that is either pleasing or displeasing to his ego…every state (hal) has a right (haqq)…The right of a blessing is gratitude (shukr); and the right of the state of adversity is patience (sabr). It is, therefore, imperative for the servant to be patient or grateful for every moment of his life. Thus, he should not destroy even one minute of his life.”
May Allah assist all of us on our own paths towards Him and keep us unveiled so that we may continue to witness Him and His bounties upon us. May we never lose hope in Allah and may we always be patient and steadfast during trials and hardship!
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