a young pakistani doctor blogs...
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
  Spiritual Journey III
I got totally derailed from my “Spiritual Journey” set of entries. I was actually building the entries up to make a point, but I somehow got off track.

For a time, a couple of years ago, I was very regular in my prayers. I not only prayed the 5 fardh prayers (on time) and their associated sunnah prayers, but would also pray many nafl prayers and study the Quran as well. The resultant feeling of spiritual energy was amazing. Putting it into words will just have me sounding off a series of clichés that’ll make me sound like some phony religious-channel broadcaster (I hate them!). The bottom line is that I really improved for the better because of my adherence to prayer. I don’t mean just mentally, but physically as well. I had more energy, felt more responsible, infinitely more patient, (add your own clichés here). Everything that’s positive that religion is supposed to do, it did do, and I’m grateful I got a chance to experience living live through that lens.

Later on, I realized that I was really praying hard for the wrong reason. I was under the mistaken belief that somehow rigorous adherence to my prayers would yield me success in life. I would lead a successful life, professionally, martially, financially, etc… This bullshit concept is borrowed from other spiritual philosophies (don’t want to get anyone pissed off here by naming any!) and I fell for it hook, line and prayer-mat. Anyway, after about half a year, during which I had discovered the understanding-islam site and went through it thoroughly, I come across the following text written by Moiz Amjad which deals with piety and success (in this world):

According to the teachings of Islam, piety and adherence to divine guidance does not guarantee worldly success and ease. Nevertheless, true faith does provide us with the strength to face the failures, disappointments and hard times during the life of this world.

Firstly, during the life of this world, God has generally preferred to maintain a cause and effect relationship in the happenings with and around us. Thus, success would generally follow when a person has generally made due provisions for the factors which are necessary for that success. Thus, success is generally not related to the piety of the successful or the impiety of the unsuccessful individual.

Secondly, success and failure, if seen in the perspective of the life of this world, are in fact two aspects of man's test. Each person that continues to breathe on the face of this earth continues to take the test that can ultimately take him to the everlasting bliss of God's paradise or render him deserving of God's wrath in the burning fires of Hell. Even the supplications and prayers of pious individuals cannot call off the tests that God has decided for an individual to face.

Thirdly, the outcome which a pious individual may perceive to be as his own or his loved one's success may, according to the absolute knowledge and wisdom of the Almighty, be harmful for him and his loved ones. Under such circumstances, God saves the pious individual, even in the face of his prayers to the contrary, from the ill effects of his perceived success.

In the ultimate analysis, it is important to remember that strong belief in God does not provide us with a panacea for worldly failures and disappointments; on the contrary it provides us with the strength to live through all failures and disappointment and never to despair in God's all encompassing mercy and love.

This was a big shock when I first read it, but in due course it made a lot of sense to me. While it is obvious to me now, it was not as obvious then. We Muslims have this concept drilled into our heads until it’s even implicated through constructs in our daily language. I suppose people find comfort in the belief that their success, in whatever form, is something they assure for themselves if only they pray hard enough.

However, that’s not the way it works. If you don’t work for what you want, you can pray till your eyes shed blood – it won’t happen. I always remember something an Imam said at a Friday prayers khutba (unlike most Imams at Friday prayers these days, this one always had something of practical use to tell us). He said before the battle of Badr, the Prophet was up till late night praying and crying to God, asking for victory in the battle. The Imam went on to say, that if the Prophet was so concerned about winning the battle that he cried for success while praying for it, how can we, so much less than a Prophet, assume worldly success is only lots of praying away. You’ve got to work your butt off for what you want. An angel isn’t going to come down to feed you and your kids.

While I came to firmly believe in this concept, it also led me to pray less regularly. I had been facing a spectacular series of personal failures in my life and had reached a point that when someone told me that praying was the answer, I was receptive. Then the folks at Understanding Islam said that this wasn’t so.

We weren’t put here on earth to make lots of money, or be really famous, or otherwise breeze through life without any problems. We’re all going to get it bad sooner or later in life. That’s just something in the fabric of the Universe. That’s how Allah meant for it to be. Prayer doesn’t avoid it; it just helps you to cope with it.

However, my priorities were different. Also I loved the place I was in spiritually speaking, my motivations were selfish. I want to ‘succeed’ in this life. When I found out that I wouldn’t necessarily have that by all the praying I was doing, I unconsciously became less enthused with the concept. Eventually I got careless in my prayers, I lost what spirituality I had, and reverted back to all my old habits. I turned into a person I didn’t like anymore. However I always remembered the person I was during the time I would pray intensely. Although it was for the wrong motivations, I believe the effect would have been the same. At the end of the day, I was keenly developing a rapport with God and I still remember how tremendously positive that experience was for me. This is what I had lost. If perhaps I had not taken what I had for granted, then perhaps I wouldn’t have given it up so cheaply. In hindsight I recognize what a wonderful thing it is to have taqwa and how it’s something that must be strictly guarded against from complacency. I know things now that I didn’t know before

Which leads us to today, some three years later.

I started writing this whole spiritual journey stuff to clear my head. To sort of make a roadmap of how I got to where I am and chronicle the stops I made along the way. By writing it, I’m announcing my intention to try my best to regain that same spirituality I once had. By this, I mean to say that I’m going to try my best to pray five times a day, to pray nafl, perhaps to start praying tahajjud (I used to do a lot of that), to read the Quran more. Right now, I don’t pray at all. Over the last three years, I’ve tried many times to get back to that former spiritual state. Tried and failed. Many times.

I don’t know if I’ll succeed this time around. I’ve written it down, maybe that will help. If you have any suggestions, do make them and if you’ve had similar experiences, let me know.

And do pray for me! For my ‘success’ ;)
 
Comments:
this was like a flashback of wht happend to me as well.although the reasons i guess were different but i never realy analyzed it or thought about it like you did.just strayed away a little more everyday.this ws like a much needed slap to wake me up.thnks fr tht
 
Dr sahib, always be careful when writing something. Many people might be attached emotionally to one concept and one should always watch the keys while typing.
For example the two concepts that you have debated are very old and are competing ones. There roots go to the old problem of " Jabr and qadr" free will or predestination. The whole thing started with Motazalla and Asharia school of thought. I don't want to go into the details but let me tell you something writing something "bullshit" is too harsh. One thing that lacks Muslims these days is tolerance of an opposing opinion. We must be able to respect the opposite opinion.
 
I didn't write it with the intention of offending anyone (something I made clear in the same sentence). I was actually being critical of the beliefs I myself held at the time. But I see what you mean - to anyone with the same beliefs, it might have seemed insulting.

I agree there's a tremendous lack of tolerance amongst most people, not just muslims, for the opposing viewpoint. It's really is a huge problem. One might even say it's bullshit ;)
 
I don't understand why people think it'such a big deal to offere your prayers "5 times a day" ... I mean isn't that the second pillar of islam after Tauheed ... and something that leaves no room for debate whether to say it or not ??? Allah makes it clear ... it's the key to heaven ... but nowhere has He mentioned that just because we pray to Him so He would somehow feel bound to answer all our prayers . If that were so the old widowed maid that has been in our family for the past 10 years should become the Queen of the World . Seen from our eyes she has nothing to really thank God for, no money, no status in society, etc but she offers her prayers "religiously" without even the thought ever crossing her mind to stop praying for Allah hasn't been listening to her . Why can't we do the same ? Just pray 'cause it's our duty to Him as believers and not as a special favor to Him .
 
Wo...I've been there too and I'm still tryin to regain my balance, religiously speaking. I can totally relate and understand. Just one bit of advice though, start doing your tahajudds regularly, if you can. They REALLY REALLY help.
 
where art thou o Dr. Pak?
 
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Recent med school graduate from Peshawar, Pakistan. Started blogging when in throes of final year exams. Currently studying for USMLE Step 1. Aiming for the 2008 Match. I blog about my studies, my worries, and my thoughts on life. I live in Islamabad.

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