I always found myself drawn to people who had an element of certainty to them. It wasn’t the kind of insufferable single-mindedness of powerful people, nor was it the brazen overconfidence of youth. It wasn’t that they necessarily knew more than others, nor did they claim to. They didn’t always get things right, and that wasn’t their end game anyway. I’m not sure what the word was at the time to describe this it-factor. What I knew was that they had reasons – clearly defined, purposeful reasons for why they were doing what they were doing or saying what they were saying or behaving how they were behaving. And not in a carefully-curated, image-conscious way, because they were genuine people. It simply was never willy-nilly with them; they didn’t use the phrase “oh, just because.” Looking back, they were probably best described as intentional.
Sunday school taught me the various du`a’s (supplications) for niyyah (intention). I learned to make intentions before a prayer, before a fast. I was reminded to renew my intentions often, particularly when doing community work. But it wasn’t until later that I could understand the concept broadened to a lifestyle. The first of Imam Nawawi’s 40 hadith, “Actions are according to intention,” is a succinct illustration of the power of intention and the link between our hearts and our deeds. It implies a necessary connection of one’s internal and external states. In a goal-focused, action-oriented culture, it is the internal state that is so easily neglected, and it is cultivated in large part by this quality of being intentional.
Living intentionally is different from setting goals. Goals are yet another outward measure, an accomplishment set in the future, whereas being intentional is an inward existence, and one focused on the present. If goals are the mile markers on our life’s path, intention is our day-to-day walk along it – the pace we’re going at and the route we traverse upon. Without goals, we are caught in a drift, with little direction until we find ourselves asking, perhaps years later, “What am I doing here?” But without intention, we might find ourselves in an arguably worse situation: “What was the purpose of all this?” Intention gives meaning to our movement.
The value of intentional living is hardly taught and often lost, but establishing it results in a much more enriching existence. What I saw in individuals who practiced this skill was how purposeful they were and how much more of life they experienced. And it is a skill, which means it can be learned. Here’s what I have found to be a few ways to develop it:
Change the question
On a more macro level, start shifting the question from asking yourself, “What do I want to get done today/next week/this year?” to, “How do I want to be today/next week/this year?” On a micro level, ask yourself why you are doing the things you’re doing as they occur. Why am I participating in this activity? Why am I posting this status on Facebook? Why am I sharing this thing told to me in confidence, or why am I not sharing more of myself in this relationship?
Be mindful of the moment
Being intentional, by definition, requires us to be engaged with ourselves in the present. For those not introspective to begin with, start with mindful ‘extrospection’ – noticing things around you that you otherwise miss as you move about your day. Being present with your environment can help you better connect with yourself.
Examine your past
Whether it’s at the end of the day, the end of the year, or looking back all the way to your childhood, reflecting upon your past actions for their intentions gives you a better framework from which to either continue those or make changes. Your own history is the best determinant of your future.
Just do it. And then keep doing it, before every action, big or small.
Samaiya Mushtaq is a resident physician training in psychiatry. She is particularly interested in the intersection of mental health, wellness, and spirituality in Muslim populations.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) said, “Allah made the early hours blessed for my Ummah.”
I was once a morning person.
Every day at a time when the rest of the world were a few hours into their sleep, I would wake up and get up from bed within a few seconds. I would then make wudhu before returning to my room to pray the night prayer and read Qur’an. There would usually be a considerable amount of time before Fajr so you would find me doing my homework/revising/reading until Fajr. Sleep was nowhere near as exciting as these moments and a little nap before I had to get ready for school was more than sufficient.
I understood everything I studied and with time I started to build a relationship with the Qur’an where I would not be able to leave it. My concentration and focus were on point in everything that I did and I enjoyed an immense vigour and energy in learning that I have not felt since.
Regrettably, it is something I have lost gradually over the past few years and I crave its return more than anything. Therefore, having previously experienced the barakah (blessings) of the mornings, I can truly say that success does lie in the mornings, and I pray that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He) allows myself and others to seize this remarkable treasure of time from now onwards.
“Whoever prays the Fajr prayer, he or she is then under Allah’s protection. So beware, O son or daughter of Adam, that Allah does not call you to account for being absent from His protection for any reason.”
No wonder there is something very special about this time in the morning. To be under the guard of The One who created us and the very world we live in is indeed an extraordinary endowment. Imagine having the protection of the most powerful being that has ever existed for the rest of the day, every day. Is it not worth winning the battle of the bed for this?
Some of the greatest people in history seized these very hours, which is why they managed to achieve exponentially more than we are able to using the same 24 hours in each day. This portion of time is what allows us to train ourselves, prepare our minds, our hearts, our characters ready to take on the rest of the world and the rest of the day. It is a time were we reconnect with our mission and our purpose. We meet with God to begin our days and we are no longer lost like the man without a mission, wandering aimlessly throughout the day.
It is prime time. Contrary to popular belief it is a time where we possess our highest levels of focus, willpower and energy; we unlock these treasures only when we know how to seize this gift from Allah (swt), and what a gift it is. What better way is there to start our days than by meeting with God? What better way is there than by receiving His Protection? Fajr sets the tone for the day. The word itself means dawn in Arabic and is derived from the root word infijar, to ’burst forth’. This denotes the sunlight erupting into the darkness of the night at that time of morning,illuminating the world, replacing darkness with light, clarity and vitality. Likewise, this time of day replaces the darkness in our hearts with light, clarity, and vitality.
And you know what is really amazing about this gift?
It is offered to us every single day.
Every single day we are being given the chance to change our spiritual architecture for the better. We can start each day equipped with a psychological edge and incredible mental confidence that carries through for the next 24 hours. It’s like a kaleidoscope. This barakah from Allah (swt) is like a kaleidoscope, a chain reaction. Once we are able to overcome the struggle within ourselves in the morning, it then opens more and more doors to success. Once seizing the morning becomes hardwired into our minds, it then becomes easier to incorporate other facets of discipline into our lives.
And that is how Allah (swt) guides the believers. We walk towards Him and He runs towards us. He gives and gives and gives.
The question is, will we take it?
We have awoken, and all of creation has awoken, for Allah, Lord of all the Worlds. Allah, I ask You for the best the day has to offer, victory, support, light, blessings and guidance; and I seek refuge in You from the evil in it, and the evil to come after it. Ameen.
To the heart that is numb,
Standing in taraweeh (Ramadan night prayers) while everyone is weeping – except you. Your friends talk about how exhilarating fasting is for them – but all you feel is irritation; and that is if you feel anything at all. Your du`as (supplications) are just words you repeat – without heart.
What is the point of all of it? Your actions are robotic. Monotone. Without soul.
You wish you could be like that person praying next to you in taraweeh who sobs during every prostration. You want to be the one passionately pleading with Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) with humility. Your hope is that you can be that person whose heart is broken before God.
You know what, though? You, too, are special to Allah (swt).
You who recites the Qur’an because you know it is good.
You who prays because Allah (swt) commanded you to.
You who attends lectures on Islam because you want to feel closer to Him.
The Prophet ﷺ told us that the person who recites the Qur’an and struggles with the recitation receives twice the reward: for their recitation and for their effort and struggle. Ibn Al-Qayyim used this hadith (tradition of the Prophet ﷺ) as the basis for his statement that the person who struggles to be devoted in prayer gets twice the reward: for the parts that he was devoted, and for his struggle to stay focused.
As long as you are trying, Allah (swt) is with you.
The fact that you get up to pray qiyaam (night prayer) even though you feel nothing is appreciated by Allah (swt). When you mouth the words to your du`a even when your heart is numb, Allah (swt) knows how you feel. And you are rewarded for that. Do not think that this will go to waste.
Allah (swt) gets it.
Because you are not worshiping a feeling. You do not bow down solely for that ‘high’. You prostrate only to the Lord of the feelings and the One who is the Most High. You submit to Him – through your prayers, fasting and supplication – because you know you have a Merciful, Just, Appreciative, Forgiving God, Who has the power to give life to everything that is dead.
Including your heart.
You know you have a Nurturing, Patient, Generous, Subtle and Kind Lord who is can bring back whatever is lost.
He can bring you back.
So to the heart that is numb: Do not give up just yet. Your heart is on a journey. You are first and foremost worshiping your Lord. And He has promised you:
“And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.” (Qur’an, 29:69)
As long as you are doing good, Allah (swt) will guide you and He is with you. Do you know what that means?
Imam Ash-Shawkani stated that Allah (swt) being with someone means more care, honoring and preference for the person.
And you what else? Allah loves what you do. He tells us:
“Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds – the Most Merciful will appoint for them affection.” (Qur’an, 19:96)
Allah will not only love you, but He will show that love for you. He will bestow His affection upon you, and your heart will feel it.
So keep trekking. Your heart will open – He is, after all, al-Fattah. Al-Fattah is He who opens whatever is closed; your heart included. You might wonder when and how, but just know that it will happen. It could be on the last night of Ramadan or it could be a month after Ramadan – your heart will open, God willing. The daily exercise you do might not look like much, but you will inevitably see the results if you persevere. Similarly, your good actions slowly chip away at what has been hardening your heart and, eventually, you will feel.
And if it gets too much, just talk to Allah (swt). Tell Him how you feel, and tell Him how you want to feel. Do it every night, and every time you feel empty. God is there; never underestimate your turning to Him. ‘Turning to Him’ does not just mean prayers and supplications; you can just tell Him what is in your heart.
On the Day of Judgment, you will be grateful for your perseverance and your hope in Him, because it will matter more than you will ever know. So push yourself and exert all the effort you can muster. The tiniest ray of light can brighten the darkest of places.
A fellow heart that is* numb
Ramadan is always a time filled with hope; a time to start over with a clean record and get back on track. But for some – or many – of us, it may feel like we were never on track to begin with. It may feel like we are too far out to ever find the way back. What is the point of trying this Ramadan, when we so inevitably slip back into our old habits? Whatever the reason for our apprehension, Allah’s got us covered. He has a Name, or rather, three Names, that address all of our insecurities. For those of us who say:
I doubt you can recognize us anymore. It’s difficult to live up to who you thought we would be and everything you wanted us to become. We wanted that for ourselves, too. We never imagined it would be like this, that it would be this hard. But should you ever find yourself wondering where we are, know this: You will never have to look too far.
We are a part of you, and you of us. We are the pulse of your heart—without us, you are nothing—for we are the reflection of your efforts and the manifestation of your actions, the sigh of relief at the end of a long day and the ache that keeps you up at night. We are your downfall and your only hope, your heartbreak and your salvation. You are a reflection of us just as we are a reflection of you, and while we define each other, together, we define the future.
Find us, learn us, save us.
We are inhabitants of a digital world. We are navigating our way through tweets and statuses, through profiles and articles and newsfeeds, essentially scrolling our lives away. Because this is how we live: gazing out of monitors instead of windows, choosing the hum of a laptop over the thrum of the trees, taking pictures of thousands of brilliant sunsets that we’ve never really seen. We make wishes on blinking lights instead of shooting stars. We ignore the glorious earth that we are destined to become a part of. Don’t let the only light in our eyes be reflections of the screens that surround us. Don’t let the last fleeting thought before we reluctantly put our phones down to go to sleep be the profound feeling of missing something we’ve never really known.
We are home. Home is here. We are not from a land in which the adhan (call to prayer) echoes off the rooftops of a small village, nor from a land in which rays of light reflect off of countless minarets as the sun lazily returns to rest. We cannot promise to walk life with the confidence you carry in the faith that wove into your culture hundreds of years before you were born. We cannot promise that our tongues will roll as smoothly over the beautiful language your mouth is accustomed to carrying, nor to always wear the clothes that symbolize the rich legacy of your homeland that you don with your stunning, melancholy pride. We are looking for home on this shore thousands of miles from your own. We are finding home in this land you sought opportunity for us in, a land that, oddly enough, is often as unfamiliar to us as it is to you. We are making home in the journey. We are home.
Islam is strange to us. Islam is strange to this country, to this culture, to this media, to this society, to these schools, these books, and these people—our people. It is strange to us.
It is a religion we are still learning to love and that’s the heavy truth that you might not be ready to hear. We try not to find it where it is shoved at us: on the news story blaring about the terror wreaked by those plagued by ignorance, in the bitter words strung together by the nation’s top analysts and the books that vehemently line shelves, drawing countless readers into the defamation they perpetuate. We try not to find it in the subtle nuances that our teachers and peers disguise their remarks in, nor in the resentful glances that are haphazardly hurled our way the day after a particularly nasty story airs.
Instead, we find Islam in the room at the end of the hall that’s usually emptied around two o’clock, where a couple of us can pray in between classes. We find it in the knowing smile exchanged with the lady who we always see shopping at Target, the one whose kids always tug on her headscarf while she tries to pay the cashier. We find it in the verse that we’ve heard a thousand times that never ceases to startle us, in the reluctance of our heads to get up from prostration after a long day, in the moments our hearts ache for a fulfillment that this world cannot provide. We find it in the serendipity that allows us to conclude that good things don’t happen to us—they happen for us, and in the knowledge of the One Who we forget despite all that He does to cause us to remember.
Have faith in us.
Do not prevent us from falling, for fall we must. But understand that walking a paved road is not the same as forging one’s own path. We are aliens to this land and often to you: unrecognizable to those who birthed us and to the land we are born to. Do not let us be extrinsic. Bring us back to you. Remind us who we are because while everyone sees the flower and sometimes the thorns, you are the roots. Keep us grounded and keep us safe. Don’t prevent us from crossing the street, but teach us to look both ways. We know you worry. We worry too—all the time. There is so much at stake. The future of our Hereafter is no small price to pay. But let us find our way there, our way, and know that while our paths will not be the same, they will inevitably merge. But if you ever feel as though we are going too far, moving too fast, know that with every step we take we promise to look back for your blessing, your guidance, your prayers, and if you ever feel the distance is too great, that we are going too far too fast, that we won’t come back to you--
Don’t mind the gap. Let us grow in that space instead.
(Source: written by Guest Author H.M at Virtual Mosque)
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