Looking Back at the Holy Month in Lockdown: What Did We Learn?

This has been a period of intidhar (waiting). Waiting for a new dawn of restored safety and freedom. It was necessary to wait but everyone was waiting in a different way.

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This has been a period of intidhar (waiting). Waiting for a new dawn of restored safety and freedom. It was necessary to wait but everyone was waiting in a different way.

“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” [Holy Quran, 2:155].

As we nervously await the latest government update on the Coronavirus pandemic and the anticipated easing of the lockdown rules, some of us will have mixed feelings about what’s passed and what’s to come. 

It struck me that I was both wishing for a continuation of the status quo but, paradoxically, an increase in freedom at the same time. Many of us took time to adapt to life at home, to little or no physical interaction with family and friends, and to suddenly taking on home-schooling and homeworking. It’s been challenging to harmonise all these elements, as well as weather everyone’s emotional states and achieve some kind of new norm.

The situation remained stressful, and a daily battle of wills and coordination. So why did I want this to continue? 

I came to realise that, to me, this felt like a turning point. I wasn’t ready to let go because I wasn’t sure I knew where to go from here. I wasn’t sure I had yet utilised and learned enough from this profound and unexpected lull. 

I found myself reflecting back to the beginning of all this, 8 weeks ago when restrictions were imposed and our lives changed overnight beyond recognition. While some of us were still allowing reality to sink in, other truly inspiring individuals set to work creating online workouts for housebound children, flyers to reach out to vulnerable neighbours, as well as a Thursday night clap for carers.

These initiatives all sprang up from the outset, almost as if they’d been planned prior. What is it that caused these individuals to leap into action so quickly, and benefit others in their endeavour? 

These people saw a need. They also spotted an opportunity. They were able to harness their talents and newfound time to give back to their communities, whether it was through simple individual gestures that exploded in popularity, or a combined effort to deliver something more substantial, like the plethora of online lectures and programmes made available to all of us during the holy month of Ramadan. People were called to action in extraordinary new ways- and grabbed it. This is tawfeeq (sucess). 

What is it that made people spring to action or at least see this period of pause as a gift to utilise? For us Muslims, it would have likely been the trust in Allah’s will in times of hardship. The firm belief that there is certainly some good, a silver lining, and an opportunity for growth in all things difficult. 

Many of us made some kind of resolution or decision to make use of this time at home with varying levels of success. We might have decided it would be a great time to read more, get fitter, elevate ourselves spiritually, or connect more with our families. A lot of us may have been over-ambitious and burned out soon after, leaving us with a valuable lesson about the importance of balance and realistic goals in achieving sustainability. 

As we look back now, how successful have we been? How much of a shift have we achieved? And how do we feel about that shift or lack thereof? Do we feel a sense of achievement or a sense of regret and longing? Do we have clarity on how we want our new ‘ post-Covid-19’ life to be? 

This has been a period of intidhar (waiting). Waiting for a new dawn of restored safety and freedom. It was necessary to wait but everyone was waiting in a different way. This waiting, much like life itself, was not necessarily free of obstacles and emotional turmoil. Losing loved ones to illness, financial hardship, and uncertainty as well as of course, battling illness ourselves. 

Ultimately, this waiting is not entirely different from our wait for the Saviour, our Mehdi

Waiting for some of us has been passive, keeping half an eye on the news for glimmers of a return to ‘normal life’, while passing the time watching movies and enjoying virtual entertainment. But all the while, a huge opportunity has been evading us, and we’ve been losing something we can never regain. Allah states in the Holy Quran: رسخ يفل ناسنلاا نا – indeed mankind is at a loss (103:2). Khusr is the diminishing of one’s capital, of our one true asset – time. 

On the other hand, some have used this time to benefit and improve themselves, be it through listening to more lectures, reading and gaining more knowledge, or connecting with estranged relatives and strengthening closer family ties. 

Others have also utilised this time to make significant and hopefully sustainable changes, like learning a new skill, mending relationships, and striving to improve or rid themselves of bad habits. It’s this striving (يعس: to move or run), irrespective of the degree of success, that has now left these people feeling successful.

Imam Ali (AS) said: نوبغم وهف هاموي ىواست نم: He whose two days are the same (without progress) is aggrieved. But more gravely he continues with: و وهف هيموي رش هدغ ناك نم مورحم – And if his tomorrow is worse than his today, then he is deprived.

All of us want to feel successful. We want to feel successful at work, in our relationships, and as parents. We want to feel successful physically, mentally, and socially. The good news is that the act of striving is really what matters in the end: نا و سيل ىعس ام لاا ناسنلال  – And there is not for man except that (good) for which he strives (53:39). 

So how do we achieve this feeling of success without feeling too overwhelmed by the mammoth size of the task? And how do we make sure our tomorrow is better than our today? Here are some tips that may help. 

Make a plan and know what it is you want to achieve

At this time, most of us have more time than ever to reflect on our goals and aspirations. Although Ramadan has been sad without community and families coming together for iftar and worship, it has provided an ideal time for self-reflection and a break from the noise and chaos of everyday life.

We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘If we fail to plan, we plan to fail’, and this is much more true and significant than we may think. A plan forms the framework for what we want to achieve and will hugely enhance the chance of success. Fortunately, a plan doesn’t have to be boring, comprehensive, or lengthy. It can be broken up into manageable, rather intuitive steps to achieve our ultimate goal.

As long as there is some movement in the intended direction, the progress forward is usually more important than the pace. Ensure you start small to establish a habit that you can then build on. It might be making up two rakat a day of 1000 missed prayers over the years. You’ll feel successful as soon as you start making a dent in that big project. Remember slow and steady wins the race. 

Focus on how you want to feel

Research shows that emotions are a far greater motivator than actually achieving a goal. It’s the contrast in the emotional state between tearing open that envelope of exam results knowing you’ve done your best, versus knowing you’ve let yourself down and feeling guilt and regret.

If we imagine the feeling of profuse success and keep the focus on that, we are more likely to push through at difficult times to acquire that feeling. 

Create an environment that supports you and add your new habit to an existing habit

Manage your distractions (you know what yours are). Keep phones away from reach to give you the opportunity to focus when you need to. Keep friends who inspire you and support your aims. Your environment can help or hinder your progress.

Human beings are a collection of habits. It is the little everyday things that we do that ultimately paint our future and determine our direction of travel. Research shows that the best way to make a new habit stick is to pair it to an existing habit (for example, two rakat qadha after wajib salat, paying into a sadaqa box as you get out of bed, or reading a page of Quran in your lunch break). Small changes done regularly are more likely to be sustainable and become part of your routine. 

Keep a journal

As Muslims, we are strongly encouraged to reflect on ourselves and our deeds ( ةليللاو مويلا يف هسفن بساحي مل نم انم سيل: He who does not hold himself accountable daily is not from our followers). This need not be a negative, demoralising practice. Keeping a journal at a quiet minute in your day can help you reflect on what has gone well as well as identifying what hasn’t and making plans to improve this.

Research shows physically writing goals is extremely powerful. It helps us visualise and subconsciously move towards making it a reality. Journaling also helps us reflect on and identify areas where we need to seek istighfar (forgiveness) and patterns in our behaviour we may need to address. 

Be kind to yourself and never lose hope

It can be easy to feel like we have failed when we fall, or to think it is too late. Truth is, with each fall, we are learning how not to do it. Allah reassures us that we need never lost hope in his mercy and forgiveness: ا يدابع اي لق ل نيذ ا رس وطنقت لا مهسفنا ىلع اوف ا ميحرلا روفغلا وه هنا الله ةمحر نم بونذلا رفغي الله نا ج اعيم – Say: Oh my servants who have transgressed against themselves (by sinning), do not despair of the mercy of Allah, Indeed it is He who is the forgiving, the merciful (39:53).

Identify your sins, don’t deny them. Seek forgiveness from Allah ( ةبوت means return) and ask Him for His divine help. Allah describes Himself as the Tawwab (ever relenting), always ready to accept us back when we sincerely seek it.

Our hearts (بلق: meaning turning) are in a constant state of rotation, whilst seeking rest and peace. This is why we ask Allah in dua (كنيد ىلع انبولق تبث بولقلا بلقم اي: Oh turner of the heart, keep our hearts firmly on your religion). The heart is fickle and will ebb and flow. Seize the ebb to push yourself even further forward when the effort feels somewhat smaller. Be compassionate to yourself when the heart feels resistant. The important thing is to keep going. 

This lockdown has given us a chance to slow down, and evaluate what’s most important to us in life. And in a strange way, it’s almost been a small scale replica of the longer, ongoing, intidhar for our Imam (AJ). It can be viewed as a gift given to us to help identify our weaknesses and strengths, so we may seek to improve the former and utilise and harness the latter.

Those who are actively waiting most likely chose the route of immersing themselves in learning and improvement, and busying themselves with tasks to benefit their community and those around them. However, those waiting passively may have taken a more laid-back approach, with a wing of hope, but maybe missing the necessary wing of fear we are encouraged to balance this with to push us forward. Not taking heed of the position we are encouraged to adopt ( و فوخلا نيب ءاجرلا – between hope and fear).

By reflecting on our actions during the lockdown, and comparing them to what could have been, we can glean valuable ‘feedback’ to aid our improvement going forward. In doing so, we turn what some people may lament as a missed opportunity into an opportunity to better ourselves as individuals and contribute to the spiritual elevation of our communities to ultimately, better the state of our intidhar for our awaited Saviour the Mehdi (AJ).