It is our duty as human beings to make good use of our time, especially at this moment, when life as we know it has come to a halt and we need physical, emotional, and spiritual resilience. It is essential to take breaks from giving our attention to the news and use our time to nourish our spirits too. We can spend some time daily learning, reflecting, and generally improving ourselves in order to come out of this pandemic and isolation wiser, stronger, and better equipped to make significant contributions to the world. The following Islamic teachings can help us do that:
Hope and Faith
Pessimism is poisonous and an act of disbelief. The Quran plainly states: “And who but those who have gone astray despair and abandon hope of their Lord’s Mercy?” (15:56). If we have strong faith, we do not despair or succumb to hopelessness or pessimism. During the times we are living, it is easy to falter and feel that God has abandoned us, falling prey to fear and weakness.
“Faith wears out in the heart of anyone of you just as clothes wear out, so ask Allah to renew the faith in your hearts.”
If we have difficulty maintaining a hopeful attitude during dark times, or are unable to feel secure in our faith, we can follow Prophet Muhammad’s example and regularly pray to God, asking Him to increase faith in us. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Faith wears out in the heart of anyone of you just as clothes wear out, so ask Allah to renew the faith in your hearts.” This is an ideal time to focus inwardly, take care of our hearts and ask God to renew our faith and give us strength and hope.
As Muslims, we believe God is the Most Merciful and Most Compassionate, as well as the Most Powerful. Pessimism and hopelessness are a denial of these truths and, therefore, of our faith. If we have tried to do something and failed repeatedly, our efforts are not wasted. We have learned and gained countless insights through them. We should not feel disappointed or pessimistic and we must never give up. God’s promises are true and will happen if we stay strong in our faith, regardless of the external circumstances. Being proactive, hopeful, and perseverant are real ways to express our faith in action. Stating we believe in God and in Islam while acting in self-defeating negative ways is a form of falsehood. Faith and action always go together.
Hope and optimism are the very essence of our faith and our lifesavers during these trying times.
When facing a trying situation, we can remember that we are only able to see a small part of the whole picture. The complete state of affairs is known only to God. His grace is always present. It is good to make affirmations that remind us that God created us, He loves us, and is in charge of our affairs. It is helpful to remind ourselves that we trust Him completely and believe there will be a positive outcome in the situation we are in. Hope and optimism are, therefore, the very essence of our faith and our lifesavers during these trying times.
The Power of Prayer
Our faith is directly connected to our prayers. Prayer can take many forms. In fact, every single thought we have is a prayer that eventually manifests in our lives. Prayer can help us achieve miraculous results we would never be able to attain on our own. Prayer is our conversation with God and what we ask Him, He will give us. If we want healing, faith, spiritual expansion, or a life purpose, we should ask God. Very little is accomplished with will power alone.
Although prayer is tremendously beneficial to all of us, it must be done attentively for “there is calamity for those who pray, who are unmindful in their prayer” (Quran 107:4-5).
Being mindless about what we ask for in our thoughts, actions, and conversations with God can have disastrous results.
Being mindless about what we ask for in our thoughts, actions, and conversations with God can have disastrous results. As Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed writes in his wonderful book “The Quran and the Life of Excellence,” praying mindlessly “damages a person’s spirit and produces chaos in his/her life. It is because of a lack of understanding of this fact that so many people who pray regularly live failed lives. Others see them and conclude that it is better to stay away from religion” (p. 71, location 587, Kindle Edition).
But obviously, staying away from prayer is not the answer. The solution is to realize that the main purpose of prayer is to connect with God and, through this communication, move to a better and more meaningful life. The quality of our prayers is vital and should not be overlooked. The warning of the Quran is a pretty serious one: disaster is a consequence of heedless prayer.
Mindful prayer works miraculously because what we focus our attention on expands and becomes a reality in our lives.
On the other hand, mindful prayer works miraculously because what we focus our attention on, on a systematic basis, expands and becomes a reality in our lives. The words we use to pray are means of invoking the corresponding feelings. We pray with what is in our hearts. And if our hearts are absent from our prayers, our lives will reflect this deficiency and will become similarly empty or chaotic.
It is simple to be grateful when we feel our lives are going well, but significantly more challenging when facing illness, financial difficulties, and losses of all kinds—including our livelihood, the company of our loved ones, and all the activities that once filled our time. It is easy to feel our heart filled with gratitude when we think of all the wonderful people and blessings in our life, but it is a bit more challenging to actually live in gratitude. Gratitude is much deeper than verbal or emotional expressions. We can aspire to make gratitude our way of life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind.”
Gratitude “is expressed with the heart, with the tongue and with your limbs.”
Our entire lives can be oriented towards and centered in gratitude, which would bring us much joy. Our character can be made better through thankfulness. Ibn al-Jawzi, a premodern Islamic scholar, stated that gratitude “is expressed with the heart, with the tongue and with your limbs. Giving thanks from your heart is when you think of doing something good for God’s creation. Giving thanks with your tongue is when you praise God. Expressing gratitude with your limbs is by using them for a good purpose, and not using them to do harm. For example, gratitude with your eyes is when you see defects in someone and do not publicize them. Giving thanks with the ears is when you hear something bad about someone and do not repeat it. Giving thanks with your tongue is when you express pleasure with what God has given you.”[i]
True gratitude, then, means using our time, faculties, talents, and wealth in the right ways. Al-Jawzi writes: “Being thankful means using what God has given you in ways that please Him, ingratitude is the opposite of this, you either do not use what has been given to you or use it in undesirable ways.” This statement is quite profound. Gratitude in its full meaning demands deep self-knowledge and knowledge of what pleases God. And, as Al-Jawzi explains, knowing what pleases God requires a heart with insight, which is extremely rare.
Gratitude in its full meaning demands deep self-knowledge and knowledge of what pleases God.
This sentence by Al-Jawzi particularly struck me: “Anyone who makes utensils out of gold and silver is ungrateful, because it is similar to taking a wise man and assigning him to manual work which anyone can do.” We each have unique talents and gifts and it is our responsibility to discover what these are, develop them, and use them for a high purpose that brings us joy and helps others.
[i] Quotes are taken from an unpublished essay translated by Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed, author of The Quran and the Life of Excellence, based on the writings of ‘Abdur-Rahman ibn ‘Ali ibn Jafar al-Jawzi.