We shall certainly test you with fear and hunger, and loss of property, lives, and crops. But [Prophet], give good news to those who are steadfast… (2:155)
Being a Muslim is very difficult in today’s turbulent world. Being a Muslim activist and confronting the turbulence and chaos directly is even harder. Daily, we face an onslaught of crises; from the genocide of Rohingyan Muslims, the mass internment of the Uighur Muslims, and the slaughter in Sudan, there seems to be no end to the bloodshed and violence faced by Muslims.
And then we look domestically, and see our angelic youth, the likes of Shukri Abdi, passing on to the Mercy of Allah in the most distressing of circumstances. Our activists are those brave enough to stand up to all of this and raise their voice against the forces of evil.
But the continual barrage of negativity and tragedies chip away at our will, until our tears dry, voices grow coarse, and nihilistic attitudes take hold. It is essential for all of us, especially our activists to look after themselves. Here’s several ways of doing so.
Understand the purpose of hardship
We are perhaps overexposed to reminders and quotes about hardship on social media. But a few seconds glancing at a quote by Mufti Menk will not foster the incisive insight into the purpose and machinations of hardship that is needed to transcend it. The ayaat and ahadith concerning hardship should be pondered over for hours, and recited over and over.
Some notable ayaat that remain inspirational for those undergoing hardship are 2:153 – 157, all of Surah Yusuf, Surah Yaseen, and Surah Inshirah, among many, many others. There is no replacement to spending time with the Quran in the blackest of nights and the darkest of hours. It is this time that you spend that will provide you with the firmest handhold in adversity.
A small paragraph cannot do justice to such a grand topic, but I will however mention a quote by the great Ibn Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) in his utterly exceptional work, the Invocation of God, which is deeply profound:
He enters as one whose heart has been broken by poverty and indigence, until neediness reaches his inner depths and he is shattered… He feels that every whit of his inner and outer being is completely in need of and dependent on his Lord.”
Remember Allah often
Words can seldom capture the magnanimity of remembering Allah. It suffices for our purposes, however, for us to understand that remembering Allah reminds us of at least three verities that can fortify our spirits. We first remember that, the purpose of hardship is to grow closer to Allah. Secondly, we remember and recall the ephemerality of this world, and subsequently, the ephemerality of the struggles that it contains. Thirdly, we are reminded of the unfathomable greatness of Allah, which casts our struggles in a light of humility, smallness and softness. When one utters a beautiful remembrance, what then can be said of the smallness of our enemies before the Greatness of our Lord?
Moreover, by constantly recalling Allah’s names, and glorifying His Names, the way in which we relate to and interpret the world changes. Falling leaves change from a sign of season change, to a reminder that that which was once beautiful and evergreen must perish. Constant remembrance thus enables us to reconstrue the entire world, granting us eyes of righteousness. With these eyes, we move through our lives being constantly reminded of Allah’s signs. We thus find ourselves immersed in His signs and His Mercy.
So, remembrance must be conscious, alert and thoughtful. It should not be a parochial and mindless repetition. The Invocation of God by Ibn Qayyim and The Goodly Word by Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah have mercy on him) are two extraordinary books for developing a constant and heartfelt habit of remembrance.
If you take nothing else from this article, please at least take up the advice from this hadith:
The Messenger of Allah (may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “is any of you incapable of gaining each day a thousand good deeds?” One of those who were sitting with him asked him: How does one of us gain a thousand good deeds? He said: “he says subhanallah a hundred times and there is written for him a thousand good deeds, or there are taken from him a thousand sins (Muslim).”
Remind yourself of what Allah wants from you
Our most fervent efforts can in our eyes fail to achieve what we set out to do. Indeed, our efforts may backfire, and the result could be getting hounded by the press or unsavoury lobbyists. When we find ourselves in such moments, the Quran as always reminds us of what is really of value:
[Prophet], if My servants ask you about Me, I am near. I respond to those who call Me, so let them respond to Me, and believe in Me, so that they may be guided.”
This verse is among the most endearing in the entire Quran, and it is cited as a heartfelt reminder that Allah is indeed near, and He is listening to our pleas. The latter half of the verse is also telling. Essentially, we are being told that responding to Allah’s call and believing in Him will result in us being guided. And this guidance is what will lead us to Allah’s pleasure.
So when you find yourself distressed with the affairs of the world, remind yourself that so long as your prayer, fasting, charity, and other responsibilities are in a good state, then you have nothing to fear. It is these deeds that render one’s existence successful.
Before exploring exercise and resilience, I’d like to say exercise should very much be a concern for the believer. This may seem as a foray out of the realms of spirituality, but, sharpening and strengthening our body is to manifest an attitude of respect and gratitude towards the One who gifted us our physical selves. Islam balances the various aspects of the human condition – including the physical – in an effortless and elegant synergy.
Returning to the topic at hand, exercise is associated with mood improvements by causing chemical changes in the brain. A study published by JAMA Psychiatry by research fellows at Harvard found that running for fifteen minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression. When we’re exposed to a constant stream of news about murder, genocide and rampant racism, our mental health can understandably deteriorate, possibly leading to a mental illness. Exercise is an effective buff against such a scenario, or if you suffer from a mental illness, an effective compliment to other forms of professional help.
Spending eons in a cramped and sweaty gym may not appeal to everybody. Fortunately, exercise can come in the form of a bike ride, martial arts training, or sports.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation which helps one experience the apex of the present moment by changing interactions with thoughts and emotions. Thoughts and emotions are akin to passing clouds; they exist, and they are real, but they are transient. They are a temporary foreground to the permanent background of the present moment. Thus, we focus on what is permanent, which is what happened here and now.
In practicing mindfulness, one develops a healthy and sustainable relationship with turbulent thoughts and emotions, enabling one to exist in the present moment, and witness however much of Allah’s blessings and signs that a human may. After some practice, the gentle tweeting of birds, the warmth of a hot drink, and a soft breeze become sources of immense joy. The small things in life are no longer small; they become colourful bursts of joy and relief. Our thoughts and emotions are no longer a blockade to experiencing Allah’s blessings.
Thus, mindfulness brings forth a balanced and sustainable method of dealing with oneself, and in doing so opens awareness of Allah’s myriad blessings that we seldom consider. This can transform our response to emotional trauma into something more resilient, robust and sustainable.
Another major advantage of mindfulness is that it adds more consciousness and awareness to our prayer, because we became adept in handling our thoughts. Prayer is, of course, the key to success, and must be clung to at all costs.
Take breaks from social media
Social media streams are absurd. They vary from pictures of friends sharing holidays, to traumatic images of wars and poverty, to memes about storming Area 51. It should come as no surprise that a constant stream of information about wars, poverty, and discrimination will have a downward impact on your spirits. Whilst we need to remain well-informed about the struggles that we care about, overexposure can have a significant effect on our wellbeing, and hence resilience. Regular detox periods are therefore advisable. They can be coupled together with a spiritual retreat, for example, during the last 10 days of Ramadan, or the first 10 days of Hajj. A combination of spending time with Allah and separating from social media can be a welcome stress relief.
Overtime, adopting the above methods will yield greater stability and resilience. In turn, this will vivify your struggles with increased efficacy through sustainability. You owe taking care of yourself to the struggles that you care for. Burning out will do no good. Your efforts are valued. Your valiance is admirable. And the reward from Allah is, insha Allah, great.
So truly where there is hardship there is also ease; truly where there is hardship there is also ease. (94:5-6)
…Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” (2:156)