By Abid Mohammed
This is the second in a series of articles entitled “10 Steps to Ace Your Exams”, in which I hope to extract gems from traditional Islamic sources that would be of benefit to students struggling to revise for their exams.
- Yours Sincerely
“And whoever submits his face to Allah while he is a doer of good – then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold. And to Allah will be the outcome of [all] matters.” (Qur’an, 31:22)
Ali ibn Abi Talib (radi Allahu `anhu—may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Do not long for anything other than your Lord.”
“But seek, through that which Allah has given you…” (Qur’an, 28:77)
Imam Al Muhasibi said, “Make the world a vehicle.”
True sincerity as a whole is a difficult goal to achieve in the short time period that many have between now and their exams, at least without expert help. There are certain steps that can be taken, however, to enable us to be more sincere in our revision.
First, let’s talk about our intention. Four approaches can be used. There are those that “just want to pass” or even become “top of the class” with God not having much to do with their desire for either. Some take this a step further by saying they want to “revise or pass their exams for the sake of God,” but with this goal, the details of how they plan to use their exams as a “vehicle” to God are missing. Yet others attempt to be more specific by saying, for example, “I want to pass my psychology exam for the sake of God so that I can try to develop a groundbreaking new form of psychotherapy and thereby help fulfill my function as a member of the ummah (global community of Muslim believers) of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. ‘You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind’ (Qur’an, 3:110).” However, the ideal intention would be to combine sincerity with the specifics and not leave it as an afterthought: “I want to pass my science exam for the sake of God so that I can find the next medical breakthrough and thereby fulfill the Prophet’s ﷺ command to ‘seek medical treatment’ as it is a part of ‘God’s Providence’ (Ibn Majah), for the sake of God.” Combining sincerity with the specifics will help ensure that you are actually being sincere to God and will continue to do so while traveling towards Him.
If our intentions are truly renewed, then we will see clear practical results in our revision. This does not just mean that we will generally find our revision easier, but specifically we will adopt habits that not only are more conducive for our learning but also will reinforce our sincerity. For example, we will no longer feel shy to participate in group revision sessions or seek help from others, nor will we feel the urge to waste our time in trying to “show off” our knowledge to those around us. This is because our revision is purely for God’s sake – it does not matter whether people think we are dim-witted or intelligent. As Al-Khalil bin Ahmad said: “The station of ignorance is between shyness and arrogance.” The station we hope to adopt is that of attaining knowledge, sincerely.
- Placing your trust in your rope?
Ibn `Ata’ Allah Al-Iskandari said, “A feeling of discouragement when you slip up is a sure sign that you put your faith in deeds.”
He also said, “Relax from being obsessed with your plans; what someone else has undertaken on your behalf, do not burden yourself with it.”
Having trust in God is easier said than done when it comes to revision. Everyone and everything around us is telling us at every single moment that our results are only as good as the amount of work we’ve put in, and so if we have not done “enough” work, we are going to fail our exams. While Islam emphasizes the importance of tying one’s rope, it also stresses that we must never put our “faith in deeds”. Our reliance should not be upon our own actions, but solely on God. By trusting in Him, we no longer fall into despair as a result of falling behind in our revision, because our hearts are not tied to our volatile actions – they are bound to Him, perpetually filled with awe at His continuous and everlasting magnificence. Whether we are ahead of schedule or behind schedule, His Power, Mercy and Lordship remains the same. By trusting in Him, not only are we obeying His commandment, but it also protects us from procrastinating on tasks in order to defend our self-worth and enables us to be consistent with regards to our learning.