New York - “God Does Not Change People’s Condition unless They Change Their Inner Selves.” (Quran 13:11)
New York – “God Does Not Change People’s Condition unless They Change Their Inner Selves.” (Quran 13:11)
Recently, I have been doing a lot of self-evaluation. As part of this process, I decided to go through my old journals to gain clarity on certain issues and review my life goals. I wanted to check if I am on the right path and to verify if my intentions are sincere. I often think ofProphet Muhammad’s (PBUH) saying: “Whosoever knows himself knows his Lord.” Self-reflection is essential for spiritual growth because: “Reflection is the lamp of the heart. If it departs, the heart will have no light.” (Abd Allah ibn Alawi Attas).
Nothing can be truer for me. The days I wake up late, without leaving at least one hour for thinking, reading, or writing before starting work, go terribly wrong. My mind feels scattered all day, annoyed, compulsive and obsessive, nervous, agitated. When I reflect, I am instead calm and have clarity about the purpose of my life; I feel focused on whatever tasks I need to complete that day. I feel guided and convinced that everything is happening as it should. The value of self-reflection is immense.
Sincerity, Internal Work and its External Manifestations
Sincerity is a theme that preoccupies me because, how can we be certain that our intentions are sincere? Human beings are tremendously complex and our motivations have many layers, some of which escape us. Yet, it is crucial that we have a satisfied heart about the predominance of our sincerity in everything we do.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stated: “Actions are judged by intention.” I have noticed that we often get results based on what we intend, rather than on our actual deeds. If I am doing a seemingly good action, such as writing an article on Islam, but my main motivation is getting approval and praise, it is insincere and I will get negative internal and external consequences. If, however, I am writing with the hope of inspiring people, sharing what I believe in and wishing to put light into my heart and those of others, then this action is true and good for me, whether I get positive feedback or not.
I was relieved to confirm that what I am doing now and what I believe in today is consistent with what I have sought throughout my life. The sincerity and development of my faith were the main areas I reviewed.
Having grown up in a non-Muslim family, people often question why I chose Islam. Is it as rebellion against my own culture? Is it a form of escapism? Is it genuine? And worse even: do I actually understand Islam? This last question usually comes after I express liberal views. I find it absurd because, how can an intelligent person become Muslim if she doesn’t understand Islam?
On that note: I must state that I believe all interpretations of Islam are unavoidably subjective. I reject fundamentalism, monolithic views of Islam, and meaningless ritualistic approaches to the religion which rob it of its enormous depth and, failing to adapt to time and space, serve to exclude, judge, divide, constrain and generally damage human beings in all kinds of ways. This is not because I do not understand the more rigid approaches; it is because they go against my nature and against what I consider to be the spirit of Islam and of authentic spiritual development.
I am used to these types of questions and mainly disregard them.
Is My Islam True?
Recently, however, a teacher I hugely admire asked me if perhaps I had become a Muslim as rebellion. His question profoundly shook me. However, this emotional upheaval turned out to be a blessing because it made me think deeply about the sincerity of my beliefs and how they came into being.
I have lived long years of rebellion and self-destructive behaviors, but I felt certain that Islam was the opposite of this because in Islam, I found myself –the illusory nature of the “self” is a subject for later discussion; but, I found meaning, value and peace in my existence through Islam.
I realized that my professor’s question bothered me so much because of how important Islam has become to me and, also, because I didn’t want to imagine my life without it. I thought, what is he asking me? Am I supposed to go back to the dreadful emptiness of the past? But in so asking myself, I realized that actually, I could not go back, regardless of who questioned my motives.
The labyrinthic roads that brought me to Islam include my culture, my life experiences, my search for truth and existential meaning and, in fact, all of myself, which has become more authentic the more I know Islam and strip away the unnecessary false layers I had adopted in the past.
I never sought out this or any religion. But it came to me in various peculiar and unexpected ways. I ended up accepting it because to me, Islam is the truth. I am entirely convinced of this. And since I became certain of it, how could I deny my conviction? It would make no sense and would make me a liar.
The thing is, I am, as a human being, rather intense. Dickens’s David Copperfield’s description of himself perfectly applies to me: “My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.”
And so, when I found Islam, I dove fully into its exploration, reading, thinking and studying it constantly. Islam is deeper than any ocean and one’s study of it is by necessity life long. Our understanding of Islam is never static, it changes, deepening and increasing, as we grow.
Islam results in spiritual growth and in the corresponding observable changes that flow from it. It is not a series of robotically performed rituals or sets of external rules and prohibitions. The internal type of Islam, the one nobody can observe except God and one’s soul, takes a lifetime and beyond to perfect.
My identification with Islam is as intense and deep as I am as a person. Therefore, the external manifestations of my spiritual quest are strong and baffling to many, including myself at times. It is as if I became a new person, but this new person is much more myself than all of my past selves ever were.
Road to Mecca
It may be impossible for both born Muslims and Westerners to understand the depth, sincerity, and strength with which a person who accepted Islam later in life identifies with it emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and psychologically.
Muhammad Asad writes in Road to Mecca: “when my activities… made it obvious that I identified myself not merely ‘functionally’ but also emotionally and intellectually with the political and cultural aims of the Muslim world in general, they became somewhat perplexed.”
Muhammad Asad’s faith “came upon him” as “a conscious, wholehearted transference of allegiance from one cultural environment to another, entirely different one. And this appeared very strange to most of [his] Western friends. They could not quite picture to themselves how a man of Western birth and upbringing could have so fully, and apparently with no mental reservations whatever, identified himself with the Muslim world; how it had been possible for him to exchange his Western cultural heritage for that of Islam.”
I felt validated when I read this because it describes my situation precisely. Much like Muhammad Asad, my identification with Islam and the Muslim world is profound and wholehearted. And just as he states, this appears quite odd to Westerners and to many born-Muslims.
I cannot explain to them how or why this happens, but it does. The best I can come up with is: I feel as if I already knew the teachings of Islam deep within myself. In Islam, I recognized my innate beliefs, ideas, feelings and opinions. Islam eloquently expressed intuitions I had had for a long time. My feelings upon encountering this religion were more akin to recognition than discovery of something foreign to me.
When I found a journal dated 2007 with notes from Al-Ghazzali books, Al-Hallaj Mansur quotes, Rumi poems and some verses copied directly from the Quran, I was surprised. I did not realize that I had been seriously interested in Islam for so long. My exploration of Islam has been a long and thorough one: I did not accept Islam until 2013. It was not done by any means on impulse, as rebellion, or without years of deep reflection.
How Change Manifests
Going back in time through my writing was an enlightening adventure. I realized how much I have struggled to make certain changes in my life over the past years. But once they finally manifested, they appeared magical to me, and disconnected from the effort and struggle they involved.
But of course they are not. External manifestations are the culmination of very long periods of effort, inner work and accumulation of energy. Truly, everything we pray for we get and, as the Quran teaches: Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of harm will see it (Quran 99:7-8).
Negative habits I had battled for many years, such as laziness, drinking, eating unhealthy foods, being unable to finish writing pieces that I started, being unable to sit still with my thoughts, suddenly dissolved. It was as if one day I woke up and they had magically evaporated.
But actually, it was not magic. Dr. Sultan explains this phenomenon perfectly in The Quran and the Life of Excellence: “There may not be a visible change for a long time, but the unseen strength of their thoughts is gathering and collecting into a force. Then one day, a breakthrough occurs. They experience a huge change in a short time. It is as if time expanded. The progress you make in a few minutes, or a few hours, or a few days, is more than what was possible previously even in many years. You experience divine power flowing through you.”
Writing: A Powerful Tool for Change
“He has taught with the pen, has taught men what he knew not.” (Quran 96:4-5)
Writing has been my passion as far back as I have use of reason, which I think starts at the age of 5, when I read my first book, The Diary of Anne Frank, and, inspired by it, began keeping a diary. During my recent review of old journals, I found many entries expressing concern about the egotistical nature of writing and years later, pages expressing relief when I understood, thanks to the same teacher I mentioned earlier, that writing is a powerful way to make a contribution to the world. Again, it all depends on our intention.
Writing is the only way I am able to figure out how I feel. Sometimes, I am entirely unsure about what I think until I write about it. Or I imagine I am confused, but writing reveals to me that I am actually clear and that many ideas and values have been consistent throughout the years. Everything fits and matches, but I don’t discover this except when I write. I recommend wholeheartedly that all of us who are blessed to know how to read and write take advantage of it fully.
Besides teaching us about ourselves and being a perfect tool for self-reflection, writing is a powerful way to manifest our goals and desires. When I write down the things I want to accomplish, they are much more likely to come true than if I just think them.
A daily practice of free writing, that is, writing for 15 minutes or so without stopping, without censoring yourself, or editing mistakes, is a great way to get to know yourself. Write first thing in the morning, or at night, or during your lunch break at work, even if you find nothing to write about, write that.
The thoughts will come to you. Put aside these pages for some months and then go back to them; you will find deep insights about the state of your heart and clarity about your thought patterns. I have found this practice to be a catalyst for change because one can only write the same complaints and negative thoughts so many times before becoming utterly sick of them and aware of how ridiculous they are. And once your thoughts are better, your life automatically becomes better. Writing in this way will change your life.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed without permission