Note: This series, inspired by the lessons of ipersonalenrichment.com was supposed to be four parts, but because of its delay, parts 3 and 4 have been combined with an added Ramadan bonus video. While this series focuses mostly on concepts, the program works to internalize them.
We mentioned in Parts 1 and 2 of this series what it means to Race to Allah (swt), and the need to Let Go. To accomplish this, we have to understand what it is we are liberating ourselves from on a spiritual level. There is no better time to get serious with freeing our souls, than in the blessed month of Ramadan.
Four Common Emotional Weights:1. Sadness
Some of the Sufis in history used to consider sadness a station of spirituality and wrote poetry and works in that regard, but Ibn al-Qayyim rejected this concept as being foreign to Islam.1 If holding onto sadness 2 was a good thing, we would not have been taught to make the Prophetic prayer that starts with, “Oh Allah I seek refuge in you from worry and sadness.”
Musicians, who are consistently sad or grieving, nourish sadness and grief in those who listen to their music, beautiful as it may be. And people who feel sad, and who want to continue to feel sad are drawn to that type of music because it deepens and validates the mode they are already in. Spiritual growth is very similar. There is a message that can be found in some (not all) historical writings for those who want to stay in sadness mode in which it is considered a good thing, even considered a ‘station’ to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). Yet, there is also a message for those who choose the path of strength and empowerment built on true contentment with Allah (swt).
The general rule in Islam is we always pray and strive for the best. We don’t ask for the lowest level of Jannah and we don’t ask to be a weaker Muslim in the race. We ask to be strong Muslims, to reach the Highest Paradise; we ask for good in this life and the next; and we seek refuge from all that is heavy upon us in the race to Allah (swt).
It would also be a mistake to equate heavy emotions on either end with spirituality as Allah (swt) mentions,
“No misfortune can happen, neither in the earth nor in your selves that was not set down in writing before We brought it into being – that is easy for Allah. So you need not grieve over what you miss or be overjoyed by what you gain.” (Qur’an 57:22-23)
And again, there’s a difference between initial regular human sadness when calamity hits, and choosing to hold onto it for a prolonged period of time, and even more-so if there are experienced community members (shuyukh, therapists, counselors, etc.) in the race who offer to help remove this load. When it gets to a point where a person can not function, there is an attachment that must be let go. In this sense, heavy emotions can in and of themselves be signs of attachments, of weights that slow the person down in their race to Allah (swt).
When people wake up in the morning feeling down, they carry a weight of apathy that needs to be released. If that emotional load gets too heavy, they don’t want to wake up. They become numb, and sleep in late regularly because sleep is a break from having to deal with the waking hours. They feel sleepier because the weight of their suppressed emotions have drained them of energy. They might turn to different types of addictions that can also allow them stay numb from the pain inside them. Rather than racing the race, they begin to give up on things they used to have hope in accomplishing because they are simply too heavy. They may even look forward to death as an escape from this life, and again, this is not spirituality. This is the negative state of apathy which the Prophet ﷺ commanded against:
“None of you should wish for death because of some harm that has befallen him. If he must wish for it, then let him say, “Oh Allah, keep me alive so long as living is good for me, and cause me to die when death is good for me.” (Bukhari)
Compare the person who is apathetic and heavy, unmotivated to pray, to move or even live, to the companion who was inspired to embrace life, giving it his best efforts, when he saw that death was imminent.
Ibn Kathir mentions in his tafsir:
“Anas said: “My paternal uncle Anas bin Al-Nadr, may Allah be pleased with him, after whom I was named, was not present with this Messenger of Allah at Badr, and this distressed him. He said: `The first battle at which the Messenger of Allah was present, and I was absent; if Allah shows me another battle with the Messenger of Allah, Allah will see what I will do!’ He did not want to say more than that. He was present with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ at Uhud, where he met Sa`d bin Mu`adh, may Allah be pleased with him. Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, said to him, `O Abu `Amr! Where are you going?’ He replied, `I long for the fragrance of Paradise and I have found it near the mountain of Uhud.’ He fought them until he was killed, may Allah be pleased with him. Eighty-odd stab wounds and spear wounds were found on his body, and his sister, my paternal aunt Ar-Rabayyi` bint Al-Nadr said, `I only recognized my brother by his fingertips.’ Then this ayah [verse] was revealed:
“Among the believers are men who have been true to their covenant with Allah […]” (Qur’an, 33:23)
This is the spiritual response of courage and fearlessness, of strength and embracing the very last moments of life to do the most good deeds possible in his context.
3. Worry and Stress
In the Prophetic du`a’s (supplications), we were taught to face our hardships with these words:
“O Allah, Your mercy do I hope for, so do not leave me to my nafs [self]; not even for the blinking of an eye. And make well for me all of my affairs. There is none worthy of worship except you.”
“O Allah, verily I am your slave, the son of your slaves; my forelock is in your hand, your order concerning me will be executed and just is your judgment upon me. I ask You by all of Your names that You have named Yourself with, have revealed in Your book, have taught to one of Your creation, or is in Your knowledge only (from the matters of the unseen) – make the Qur’an the spring of my heart, the light of my chest, the remover of my sadness, and the purger of my anxiety.”
“O Allah, I seek refuge in you from anxiety and grief, from inability and laziness, from avarice and cowardice, from overwhelming debt, and from the oppression of men.”
“Allah is Sufficient for us, and He is the Best Disposer of affairs for us.”
Now, many people would make these prayers, and still continue to worry. This is a mistake in understanding. Du`a’ alone is not the answer where human effort can also be exerted. People allow their minds to actively engage thoughts that cause them distress, whether it’s repeating bad memories, or even good memories, focusing on possible dangers for different situations, over-planning things. Worrying, like sadness and apathy, is also a choice, just as quieting a distracted mind takes effort. A good measurement of how quiet and tranquil the mind is can be found in evaluating one’s khushu’ (concentration and focus) in prayer. Another is if a person spends more time thinking than doing what it is they are thinking about. Distraction often comes from worldly attachment and the uncontrolled emotions related to them, while stress results in not releasing these worries, but rather bottling them up.
While it’s normal to experience stress and worry, the believer should always strive to remove these weights, as the prayers themselves indicate. Rida (contentment with Allah) is the natural state we should try to return to, as Umar radi Allahu ‘anhu (may God be pleased with him) stated, “If you cannot have rida, then at least have patience.” And even the word patience in Arabic does not mean passive acceptance of difficulties. It means perseverance through them, always choosing what Allah (swt) would be pleased with.
Fear is the fourth most common weight that holds people down. Many people freeze in the race because of fears and insecurities. Subhan’ Allah (glory be to God), even when it comes to getting away from something harmful, Allah (swt) still uses the imagery of actively rushing to Him:
“So flee to Allah.” (Qur’an 51:50)
The Prophetic prayer, “Oh Allah I seek refuge in You from You,” reflects the concept that the sanctuary and the trial itself are both from Allah (swt). Ibn al-Qayyim mentions in this regard:
“There is nothing in the universe that one would flee or seek protection from but is created and originated by Allah […] (Man) would then know that all that he flees from exists by Allah’s will, power and creation. This would not leave in his heart any fear of other than his Creator and Maker. This in turn causes him to turn to Allah alone[…]”
Why fully depend on any of the creation, when Allah (swt) is al-Mawlaa (The Protector), and you may go directly to Him, interacting with His creation feeling secure in His presence? This does not contradict taking smart measures, but the hope and security is in Allah (swt), and not in the measures by themselves. Furthermore how can holding onto fear of anything or anyone else protect a person, when they all belong to Allah (swt)? Very simply: fear does not protect. Allah does.
***If you want a practical assignment write down all your life goals according to the following categories:
3. Islamic Work
4. Family and Relationships of Brotherhood/Sisterhood
Then go through each goal and write down what you’re afraid would happen if this goal actually came true. Each of these fears are a load weighing you down from competing fully in the race. Also write down all the advantages you have in not accomplishing your goals. This is what you’re holding onto, so let it go.
Accomplishing goals on a general level usually means change, and people fear change because it is part of the unknown. We are sometimes afraid of growing as a person because we think our present self would die. The same holds true for improving relationships. People fear no longer being ‘cool’ or having fun. They fear pain, work, happiness, jealousy and harm from others, failure if they try, embarrassment—they even fear beauty. There are plenty of fears I did not mention, and all of them are nonsense. Subhan’Allah, letting go of the loads actually brings us back to our pure state, and closer to the fitrah, our original nature, making us feel more alive than ever. Allah (swt) is Al-Hayy, The Eternally Living, the Giver of life, and He wants us to embrace living our lives for Him. We have to want spiritual freedom more than we want anything else in this life, because it is in being free, detached from the heaviness of unnecessary weights and loads, that we can run the fastest to Allah (swt), utilizing all the blessings we have at our disposal in this life to reach the highest place in the next.
How do you actually remove the weights and loads?
People have been letting go of their pain, fears, and negative emotions for the sake of Allah (swt) since the beginning of Islam. Part of it has to do with releasing (as opposed to suppressing) the constriction inside the body as one confronts and lets go of the limiting emotions.
Musa (as) made the du`a’, “My Lord, expand for me my breast” (Qur’an, 20:25)
Allah (swt) told the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, “Did We not expand for you your breast?” (94:1)
So the first step is seeking the help of Allah (swt) and making du`a’. The second is the actual process of trying to release the weights. Even in tazkiyah (purification), we have to try and tie our camels and then have tawakkul (trust in Allah). We don’t simply pray for relief without actively striving for it. I have to mention here that different methods work at different levels for different people. They are all safe, and it doesn’t hurt to try!
1. Sending Prayers on the Prophet ﷺ:
Ubayy bin Ka`b relates: I said, “O Messenger of Allah ﷺ, I send much blessings on you. What proportion of my prayer should I devote to (sending blessings on) you?”
He said, “As much as you like.”
I said, “A quarter?” He said, “As much as you like, and if you increased it would only be better for you.”
I said, “Then a half?” He said, “As much as you like and if you increased then it would only be better for you.”
I said, “Then two thirds?” He said, “As much as you like and if you increased it would only be better for you.”
I said, “I will devote all of my prayers to sending blessings on you.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “In that case it will suffice you from your worries and your sins will be forgiven.” (Tirmidhi)
2. Reading, Listening to, and Implementing the Qur’an:
Let’s go back to a prayer mentioned when discussing the Prophetic du`a’s for seeking relief:
‘Abd-Allaah ibn Mas’ood narrated:” The Messenger of Allaah ﷺ said: “There is no-one who is afflicted by distress and grief, and says: ‘Allaahumma inni ‘abduka ibn ‘abdika ibn amatija naasyati bi yadika, maada fiyya hukmuka, ‘adlun fiyya qadaa’uka. As’aluka bi kulli ismin huwa laka sammayta bihi nafsaka aw anzaltahu fi kitaabika aw ‘allamtahu ahadan min khalqika aw ista’tharta bihi fi ‘ilm il-ghayb ‘indaka an taj’al al-Qur’aana rabee’ qalbi wa noor sadri wa jalaa’ huzni wa dhihaab hammi (O Allah, I am Your slave, son of Your slave, son of Your maidservant; my forelock is in Your hand, Your command over me is forever executed and Your decree over me is just. I ask You by every name belonging to You which You have named Yourself with, or revealed in Your Book, or You taught to any of Your creation, or You have preserved in the knowledge of the Unseen with You, that You make the Qur’an the life of my heart and the light of my breast, and a departure for my sorrow and a release for my anxiety),’ but Allah will take away his distress and grief, and replace it with joy.” He was asked: “O Messenger of Allah, should we learn this?” He said: “Of course, everyone who hears it should learn it.”
Allah (swt) also says in the Qur’an:
“O mankind, there has to come to you instruction from your Lord and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers.” (Qur’an 10:57)
And if We had made it a non-Arabic Qur’an, they would have said, “Why are its verses not explained in detail [in our language]? Is it a foreign [recitation] and an Arab [messenger]?” Say, “It is, for those who believe, a guidance and cure.” (Qur’an 41:44)
3. Calling Upon the Names of Allah (swt)
Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, “And to Allah belong the best names, so invoke Him by them.” (7:180)
The aforementioned du`a’ for relief specifically states, “I ask You by every name belonging to You which You have named Yourself with, or revealed in Your Book, or You taught to any of Your creation, or You have preserved in the knowledge of the Unseen with You.”
Subhan Allah, if we realize His Names as much as we can, letting go becomes practically effortless. How can you ask “why?” to the All- Wise, or “what if” to the Best of Planners? How can you feel unloved before The Most Loving, or sad when the past belongs to the dominion of Allah, The Perfect?
4. Modern Programs, tailored by Muslim Specialists
a.) There is a program available currently which teaches one extraordinarily effective method of releasing the weights that make us feel heavy and weak in the race to Allah (swt). This method, once learned, is a skill that can be practiced anywhere at any time, and is very spiritually rewarding because as you release the weights (or whims as it is called in the program), the reflections and realizations that come consistently bring a person back to affirming real tawheed (belief in the Oneness of Allah). This program can be found at ipersonalenrichment.com.
b.) Getting counseling from local trained and licensed Muslim therapists. It is no wonder that in Arabic, psychology is referred to as ‘ilm al-nafs’ (knowledge of the soul). Think of these methods as medicine—the means, the efforts that you take, the tying of the camel.
And keep in mind, you can take all these methods but in the end, it’s Allah (swt) who is al-Shaafi, The Healer, who allows the medicine to work, who removes the hurt from your heart. If you’re trying everything you can, and the hurt is still there, be patient because its time for removal will come. What you have left, is beautiful patience and perseverance, and in the context of the race, you’re actually getting stronger while fleeing to Him.
“And if Allah touches you with hurt, there is none who can remove it but He.” (Qur’an 10:107)
Finish Strong Insha’Allah (God willing)
Ibn al-Qayyim mentioned:
“I heard Shaykhul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (may God have mercy on him) say, “Indeed there is a paradise in this world, whoever doesn’t enter it will not enter the paradise of the Hereafter.”[…] Some of those known for their love of Allah said, “The truly unfortunate people of this world are those who leave the world without tasting the sweetest thing it contains.” When they were asked what it was, they replied: “The love of Allah, to feel comfortable in His company, to desire to meet Him, turning towards Him and turning away from everything besides Him.”
He also reported that Ibn Taymiyyah was a very content person, that people would come to him with the heaviness of their problems and he would help alleviate their issues, while not becoming weighed down by them himself. Subhan’Allah, this description is very beautiful to me as someone who was blessed to meet different humble shuyukh and teachers, whose tranquility and contentment are contagious to those around them, despite the fact that they had lived through some horrific life events. If it was not for them sharing their stories when prodded by others, we would not have guessed from looking at them, because the load was simply not there. Not in their eyes, or face, or tone of voice. As Umar’s wife once said, “You cannot make me miserable because my contentment is in my heart, and my heart belongs to Allah.”
This month of Ramadan is especially the time to liberate ourselves spiritually. No matter how you feel you’re doing in your relationship with Allah (swt), no matter what your past has been, what your issues are or how weak you may currently feel, you can always have hope in Allah (swt) to finish strong. Every day is an opportunity to get back into the race, and repent from what may haunt you. Deep inside of you there is courage to face all your fears, and throw off all the weights, and loads that have accumulated over time. Deep inside of you is a burning desire and strength to race to Allah (swt).
So do it.
May Allah (swt) help us all in the Amazing Race to Him.
- http://qaradawi.net/library/81/3960.html [↩]
- Please see the discussion in the comments of this article: http://www.virtualmosque.com/personaldvlpt/purification-heart/do-you-deserve-punishment/ [↩]