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Willpower between Reliance on God and Self-Confidence

By Khurram Murad

To achieve the ultimate goal in life requires a sustained determination to do so, a willpower that is forever responsive and strong. In Qur’anic terminology this is called iradah. Iradah is basic to all our efforts. Without willing to do something you cannot do anything.

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Self-confidence is borne from the believer’s intimate knowledge and understanding that Allah is ever ready to assist those who strive in His way

Iradah is very different from desire. You always hear people reflecting upon unfulfilled aspirations. One of the main reasons why aspirations and dreams remain unfulfilled is that they are no more than desires which faded to assume the status of iradah.

The Qur’an explains that one of the basic weaknesses in human nature which impedes self-development is the weakness of will. While narrating the story of Adam, Allah informs:

And, indeed, long ago We made Our covenant with Adam; but he forgot and We found no firmness of purpose in him. (Ta-Ha 20:115)

Iradah requires strength and consistency and is indeed the antithesis of doubt, hesitation or lethargy. Once iradah is firmly in place, then you must have no doubts and you must not hesitate.

Now, what purpose should iradah serve? The Qur’an makes it clear that this will power must be a firm resolve to seek the pleasure of Allah because this is the part of the bargain that you must deliver:

And whoever desires (arada) the Life to Come, and strive for it as it ought to be striven for, and are (true) believers withal-they are the ones whose striving finds favour (with God). (Al-Isra’ 17: 19)

Reliance on Allah

Self-confidence is borne from the believer’s intimate knowledge and understanding that Allah is ever ready to assist those who strive and struggle in His way. Self-confidence comes from depending upon Allah and knowing that He is there to help you, protect you and shower His mercies upon you:

So he who gives (in charity) and fears (Allah) and (in all sincerity) testifies to the best- We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Bliss. (Al-Layl 92:5-7)

Self-confidence also emanates from knowing that Allah in His infinite mercy has equipped you with all that you require to undertake the tasks set before you. It is not characteristic of the One that is Most Just and Most Merciful to prepare you for a duel without equipping you with the necessary tools.

Self-confidence is thus borne of total reliance and trust in Allah. It is knowing that at every step of your journey Allah is there assisting you. If you constantly hold yourself back believing that you are weak and incapable and blame your incompetence on minor inadequacies, then you are bound to fail. You must never allow yourself to believe or feel that Allah has treated you unfairly or that He has placed upon you a burden you cannot shoulder for “on no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear”. (Al-Baqarah 2:286)

Likewise, hope is central to your efforts and your success. You must sincerely hope and believe that everything you do to earn the pleasure of Allah will lead you to fulfillment. A superiority complex negates the task of self-development. An inferiority complex is derived from a lack of confidence in Allah and oneself. You should never allow yourself to believe that you cannot fulfill your obligations nor should you despair of the mercy of Allah.

Confidence, hope and determination are all important ingredients for your success:

Those unto whom men said: Lo! the people have gathered against you, therefore fear them. But it only increased them in faith and they cried.. Allah is sufficient for us! Most Excellent is He in Whom we trust! (Aal `Imran 3:173-174)

You must be wary, however, of the kind of self-confidence that causes a person to proclaim himself self-sufficient. Modern concepts of self-sufficiency are indeed an evil form of shirk or polytheism. To ascribe self-sufficiency to one’s self is to assume for oneself an attribute reserved only for Allah.

For the Muslim, self-confidence is wholly dependent upon the trust one places in Allah; it is not an arrogant proclamation of complete independence from Allah. Allah alone is self-Sufficient. All else is reliant upon Him for existence.

The Best Use of Time

Time is not money or gold; it is life and it is limited. You must begin to appreciate every moment of your life and always strive to make the best use of it. With all the demands of worldly life on your time, you will yet need to find time for self-development and maximize its potential.

The better route towards self-development is, of course, to integrate all your efforts into a structured daily life. Imam Al-Ghazali, may God have mercy on him, in his great work, Ihya’ `Ulum Ad-Deen, gives the following advice:

“You should structure your time, arrange your regular devotions and assign to each function a set period of time during which it is given first priority but which it does not overstep. For if you abandon yourself to neglect and purposelessness, as cattle do, and just do anything that may occur to you at any time it happens to occur to you, most of your time will be wasted. Your time is your life, and your life is your capital; it is the basis of your transactions (with God), and the means to attain to everlasting felicity, in the proximity of God the Exalted. Each of your breaths is a priceless jewel, and when it passes away it never returns.”

Remember also that “the deeds most loved by Allah (are those) done regularly, even if they are few.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim.)

While you must always strive to make the best use of your time, you must always aim for excellence in everything you undertake, whether at school, at home, at work or at play. Indeed, the Prophet has said, “Verily Allah has prescribed ihsan (proficiency and excellence) in all things”. (Muslim.)

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The article is excerpted from the author’s book “In the Early Hours: Reflections on Spiritual and Self-Development”.

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Dhikr: God’s Always Open Door

dhikr

Dhikr purifies your heart and makes it sound. And you can only attain salvation and true success by having such a heart.

In a verse of the Qur’an that I love very much, Allah (Most Gracious and Loving) commends:

Remember Me and I shall remember you. Be grateful unto Me and deny Me not. (Al-Baqarah 2:152)

Can you imagine a more gratifying state than this; where, when you remember Allah, the Creator, Sustainer and Lord of the Universe, He remembers you in return?

The same exhortation has been beautifully conveyed in a hadith qudsi:

“I treat My servant as he hopes that I would treat him. I am with him whenever he remembers Me: if he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him in My `heart’; if he remembers Me in a gathering, I remember him in a gathering far better than that gathering; if he draws near to Me a hand’s span, I draw near to him an arm’s length; if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Those who remember Allah standing, sitting and reclining and who reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth are highly commended in the Noble Quran. They are wise in that they fill their hearts with the remembrance of God in every, moment, in every circumstance and in every posture of their lives. (Aal `Imran 3:191)

The exhortation to remember Allah at all times is a reflection of Allah’s all-embracing and overwhelming love for us. The door to Allah is always open to us: Remember Me and 1 will remember you. We need only find our way to and through that door.

The Significance of Dhikr

Regarding the significance of dhikr (of Allah) or the remembrance of God, Allah says in the Qur’an, itself “the ultimate reminder (dhikr) to all the worlds”. (Sad 38:87), the following:

Remember Allah. for He has guided you. (Al-Baqarah 2:198)

O you who believe! Remember Allah often with much remembrance. And glorify Him morning and evening. (Luqman 31:41-42)

And men who remember God much and women who remember – God has prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward. (Al-Ahzab 33:35)

Hadith literature is similarly replete with references to the remembrance of Allah:

“The servant cannot perform a better deed which will save him from God’s punishment than the remembrance of God.” (Malik)

“Whoever wishes to feast in the gardens of Paradise, let him remember God often.” (At-Tirmidhi)

Indeed, with regard to dhikr, the Qur’an concludes: “And the remembrance of Allah is the greatest deed without doubt.” (Al-`Ankabut 29:45)

The significance of dhikr lies in the fact that it is God’s own chosen and recommended mode by which the believers show gratitude for having been shown the straight path. In addition, it is indeed the surest way of attaining God’s forgiveness and achieving the ultimate reward of Paradise.

The importance of dhikr then is not difficult to understand. It is dhikr that purifies your  heart and makes it sound. And you can only attain salvation and true success by having a pure and sound heart.

Heart-based Process

The ‘heart’ referred to here is not the pump in your breast that pushes blood around your body but rather the center or locus of your personality which pumps out your desires and motivations and which makes you conduct yourself as you do. It is this heart that lies at your center and dictates your actions which is the key to your ultimate success. Thus, with reference to the Day of Judgment, the Qur’an declares:

(It will be a Day) when neither wealth nor children shall profit (and when) only he (will be saved) who comes before God with a sound heart (free of evil). (Ash-Shu`ara’ 26:88-89)

This point is more elaborately made in a hadith in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) says:

“Listen (to me) carefully. There is a lump of flesh in the body – if it is set right and made good, the entire body becomes good and healthy; but if it becomes diseased, the entire body becomes diseased. Remember well – it is the Heart.” (Al-Bukhari)

If the heart is the key to ultimate salvation and success, it may, likewise, be the seat of much corruption and open doors to many evils. It may facilitate the corruption of political and economic activities and ultimately the social institutions of a society. Where such a state prevails, the Qur’an suggests that it is because people, individually, have become “diseased in their hearts”. (Al-Baqarah 2:10)

In this state, people stop seeing and doing what is right. The Qur’an explains that this “is not because they have become blind in their eyes but because their hearts have become blind.

Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts. (Al-Hajj 22:46)

This blindness only draws them nearer to the ultimate chastisement.

It is the heart, as the decider of our ultimate fate, that must then be the starting point of any tazkiyah (purification) program, to purify this heart and then summon it to the service of mankind.

Ibn Al-Qayyim, one of the great scholars of Islam, states in his Kitab Al Adhkar (The Book of Remembrance), that “the heart which is devoid of the remembrance of Allah is a heart that is dead’; it is dead even and long before the body carrying the heart reaches its grave. Indeed, this living body that carries the heart is the heart’s grave.”

Ibn Al-Qayyim’s statement is reminiscent of the hadith of tire Prophet which states: “The difference between someone who remembers His Lord and someone who does not is like the difference between the living and the dead.” (Al-Bukhari.)

The statement is also reminiscent of the following verse of the Qur’an: “Do not become like those who forget Allah and Allah makes them forget themselves. It is they who are truly deprived.” (Al-Hashr 59:19)

The purpose of tazkiyah is to ensure that the heart never falls into a sorry state of being and that it is always alive with the remembrance of God. Prosperous indeed is one who purifies himself and remembers the name of His Guardian-Lord, and prays (unto Him). (Al-A`la 87:14-15)

The Prophet further emphasized the importance of dhikr when he said to his Companions:

“Shall I not inform you of the best of your actions, the purest in the sight of your Lord, which raises your rank to the highest, which is better for you than spending gold and silver, better than meeting your enemy so that you strike at their necks and they strike at yours?’ They replied: ‘Yes, indeed,’ and he said: ‘It is the remembrance of Allah.’” (At-Tirmidhi)

Strive then, to fill all your moments, all your thoughts and all your actions with His remembrance. Recite tasbeeh or words of glorification and praise to punctuate all your actions and achievements.

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The article is excerpted from the author’s In the Early Hours: Reflections on Spiritual and Self-Development.

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How to Develop Your Level of Faith through Dhikr

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Dhikr must not only be felt by the heart and uttered with the tongue, but must also affect and effect good deeds.

What is the precise meaning of ‘dhikr’? What is its scope and what does it entail? Does it simply involve certain utterances of the tongue, like Subhanallah (I glorify Allah’s absolute perfection), Alhamdulillah (All praise be to Allah), Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest), La ilaha illa Allah (There is no god but Allah) and the recitation of some other selected verses of the Qur’an, or is there more to it?

Of course, such utterances of the tongue and recitation of verses of the Qur’an are important.

In fact they are very important forms of dhikr for, indeed, the best forms of remembrance are those that involve both the heart and the tongue. You must understand, however, that the scope of dhikr is considerably wider.

Dhikr must not only be felt by the heart and uttered with the tongue, but must also affect and effect good deeds.

All Aspects of Life

Significantly, Ibn Al-Qayyim suggests that dhikr encompasses ‘any and every particular moment when you are thinking, saying or doing things which Allah likes: Hence, if your conversation is filled with the words of God, this is dhikr and if all your actions are in accordance with His will, this is dhikr.

Indeed Allah commands that we remember Him while standing, sitting and even while reclining. This is only possible if dhikr embraces every single aspect of life. Consider for example the following verse of the Qur’an where dhikr is emphasized in both Prayer and business activity:

O Believers, when the call to Payer is sounded on the Day of Congregation, hasten to Allah’s remembrance and leave all worldly commerce. This a for your own good, if you but knew . And when the Prayer it finished then disperse through the land, and seek of the bounty of Allah; and remember Allah frequently that you may prosper. (Al-Jumu`ah 62:9,10)

Attending the Jumu`ah Prayer (Friday Prayer), listening to the khutbah (sermon) and performing the Congregational Prayer are all well known as forms of dhikr. But in our worldly pursuits as well we are urged to remember Allah even more often.

We may thus conclude, that attending to your personal needs, earning a livelihood and spending on your family are all forms of dhikr.

But of course, they can only be dhikr if, alongside with the relevant adhkar (supplications) in the heart and on the tongue, they are done in obedience to Allah, for His pleasure, to attain Jannah. Otherwise, as the Qur’an warns us, far from being dhikr, they may have the opposite effect:

Let not your worldly possessions and your children make you neglectful of Allah’s remembrance. But spend in the way of Allah. (Al-Munafiqun 63:9,10)

Methods of Dhikr

There are basically two forms of dhikr. The first involves continuous and sustained inner awareness of Allah in all that we say and do in our daily lives. The second involves mechanisms, whether performed individually or collectively, that help to develop the first.

Sustained Awareness of Allah

Let us begin with a discussion of the first form and its methods. How can you remember Allah throughout the normal course of your day without withdrawing from the routine of your daily worldly life?

How can you ensure that your personal life, family life, professional life and other activities all continue in full swing, and yet, at the same time, ensure that your life as a whole – every moment of it – is permeated with remembrance of Allah?

Such an all-pervading dhikr can be an onerous task, but one can accomplish – with some ease. Therefore, there’re four states of consciousness that you must strive to develop by remembering certain things, absorbing them and reminding yourself of them often.

1- Say to yourself: I am in Allah’s presence; He is watching me

Have you not seen that Allah knows all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth? There is no secret conference of three but He is their fourth, nor of five but He is their sixth, nor of less than that or more but He is with them wheresoever they may be. (Al-Mujadilah 58:7)

He is nearer to you than your-jugular vein. (Qaf 50:16,18)

He is watching everything that you do and hearing everything that you say. He is ever present and His knowledge is all encompassing.

Remind yourself of this as often as you can, and throughout the day- every time you begin a new task, and every time you speak. Indeed, your aim should be to impress this on your heart in such a way that it ultimately becomes your very breath.

When the Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked by a Companion about the best method of purifying himself, he replied: “You should always remember that Allah is with you wherever you are.” (Al-Tirmidhi)

2- Say to yourself: Everything I have has been given to me by Allah

All that there is – surrounding you, on you and in you – comes from Allah alone. There is none that creates or gives anything but Allah.

And Allah brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers knowing nothing, and gave you hearing and sight and hearts that haply ye might give thanks. (An-Nahl 16:78)

A sign for them is the dead earth. We revive it, and We bring forth from it grain so that they eat thereof; And We have placed therein gardens of the date-palm and grapes, and We have caused springs of water to gush forth therein, that they may eat of the fruit thereof, and their hands made it not. Will they not, then, give thanks? (Ya-Sin 36:33-35)

Therefore, reflect upon all the blessing that He has created you with and be thankful to Him.

In all the adhkar that the Prophet has taught us, gratefulness to Allah is a constant theme. Many of these adhkar are simple to learn, and indeed, it was the most simple of his adhkar that he used most frequently.

When the Prophet rose in the morning, he would say Alhamdulillah; whenever he ate or drank he would say Alhamdulillah; and even when he relieved himself he would give thanks to Allah.

Learn as many of the adhkar as you can, and throughout the day, as you witness all that Allah has blessed you with, punctuate your day with these adhkar.

If ever you appear to be short of things to be thankful for, recall the hadith of the Prophet: “There are 360 joints in the body and for each joint you must give a sadaqah (thanks/charity) each day”. (Al-Bukhari.)

You must give a sadaqah for each one of them because without any one of them you will be incomplete and handicapped. You must do this on a daily basis for should any one of them

become damaged one day, you will similarly become incapacitated.

Additionally, you may remind yourself that, as we now know from our knowledge of human physiology, your heart beats 72 times a minute. Every time it beats, it does so with the permission of Allah. The moment He withdraws that permission, the heart will stop beating and your life will certainly come to an end.

If you feel that there is nothing else to thank Allah for, then thank him for the life that He has given you – for, so long as there is life, there is hope.

3- Say to yourself: Nothing in this world can happen without His permission

Everything lies in the hands of Allah. No harm can befall you and no benefit can reach you except as Allah ordains. It is as the Qur’an informs us:

If God should touch you with misfortune, none can remove it but He, and if He should touch you with good fortune, He has power over all things. He alone holds sway over His creatures; He is the All-wise, the All-aware. (Al-An`am 6:17,18)

The Prophet Muhammad would supplicate to Allah after each Prayer:

“O Allah, whatever You want to give me, no one can stop it from coming to me and whatever You want to prevent from coming to me, nobody can give to me.”

Prayer after Prayer, you should recite these beautiful words. And beyond that, remind yourself as much as you can and throughout the day, especially as you expect something to happen, or not to happen, that everything happens only as He commands, and by His permission.

4- Say to yourself: I am going to return to Allah one day and that day could be today

You do not know when you will leave this world. It may be that the coming morning is your last morning, or perhaps the coming evening is your last evening.

Indeed, it may be that this hour is your last hour, or even, that this moment is your last moment. Such an uncertainty does not, of course, justify a complete withdrawal from this life so as to prepare for the Next in some monastic fashion.

It is important, however, that you are always conscious of this uncertainty, to the extent that it motivates you to spend every moment of your remaining life seriously, considering it as a gift from Allah and spending the resources He has blessed you with – time, ability and energy – as He has advised.

Then, and only then, will your life have achieved what is required of it, and your return will achieve what is required of it. To help you attain this state of consciousness, recall and reflect upon the following Qur’anic verse as much as you can and throughout the day: “from Allah we came and to Him we shall return”. (Al-Baqarah 2:156)

These are the four states of consciousness that can help us achieve a life completely devoted to the remembrance of Allah. To try to reach these four states simultaneously, and with sincerity, can only purify you. To try in a determined fashion to reach these four states will lead you inevitably to Paradise.

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The article is excerpted from the author’s In the Early Hours: Reflections on Spiritual and Self-Development.

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Dhikr: Closeness through Worship

How can one get closer to God through specific acts of worship? Is it through obligatory or supererogatory acts we may reach such closeness? God says:

Closeness to God

For each specific obligatory `ibadah, there is an additional nafl or supererogatory equivalent.

Remember Me and I shall remember you. Be grateful unto Me and deny Me not.” (Al-Baqarah 2:152)

For us to achieve a continuous and sustained awareness of Him, Allah, in His Wisdom and Mercy, has taught us some very specific mechanisms of dhikr. These include: the formal `ibadah (worship) like salah (prayer), sawm (Fasting), Zakah and Hajj; tilawah of the Qur’an, du`aa’, istighfar (asking for forgiveness) and tawbah, seeking the company of the righteous and da`wah.

Together these mechanisms or methods constitute what we have classified above as the second form of dhikr– coming after dhikr as a way of continuous and sustained awareness of God– but here we may sub-divide them into two groups: those that can be performed individually and those that are performed collectively.

Methods of Individual Dhikr

The foremost of the specific methods pertaining to individual dhikr include the fard or obligatory `ibadah. Allah has said in a hadith qudsi (Divine hadith):

My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than what I have made obligatory. (Al-Bukhari)

Each specific formal `ibadah or act of servitude to God, has been ordained as an instrument of self-development. When we observe our salah regularly at the proper times, together in congregation whenever possible, with clear intentions and sincerity; when we fast in the month of Ramadan with awareness and resolve; when we give zakah as soon as it falls due with a generous heart; and when we fulfill the obligations of Hajj as soon as we have the means, we will gain that special closeness to Allah that He has promised.

Closeness through Worship

God says:

Those who remember Allah standing, sitting and reclining and who reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth are highly commended in the Noble Qur’an. They are wise in that they fill their hearts with the remembrance of God in every, moment, in every circumstance and in every posture of their lives. (Aal `Imran 3:191)

Indeed, we may get even closer to God through additional observance of these specific formal acts of servitude, for Allah continues in the hadith qudsi:

My servant continues to draw nearer to Me with additional devotions until I love him. When I love him, I become the hearing with which he hears, the sight with which he sees, the hand with which he strikes and the foot with which he walks. Were he to ask for something I would surely give it, and were he to ask for refuge, I would surely grant him refuge. (Al-Bukhari)

For each specific obligatory `ibadah, there is an additional nafl or supererogatory equivalent. These are as follows:

The Sunnah Prayers

These include the additional prayers before and after the five obligatory ones, but just as importantly the Tahajjud Prayer (optional late night Prayer).

The Sunnah Fasts

As recommended by the Prophet (peace be upon him) and to be practiced on Mondays and Thursdays of each week, the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth day of each lunar calendar month, and other recommended days in the Islamic year.

Sadaqah

The giving of voluntary charity, however much and whenever one can afford, for the pleasure of Allah.

The `Umrah

Performance of the voluntary short pilgrimage.

In addition to the obligatory and their related supererogatory `ibadah, there are two further specific methods of individual dhikr: the first is the daily recitation of the Qur’an, and the second, frequent du`aa’ or supplications to Allah for forgiveness, guidance and fulfillment of needs.

These specific methods of dhikr are instruments of tazkiyah (purification of the heart), dhikr, and  true closeness to God.

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The article is excerpted from the author’s In the Early Hours: Reflections on Spiritual and Self-Development.

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