Self discipline is something that modernity seems to have displaced. Everything is available to us instantly. Friendship is now at a click of a button, not after lots of time and effort, for example.
I think this is part of the reason why modern Muslims are opting more for the “cultural Muslim” label. After all, when everything in life is about avoiding self discipline, Islam becomes a burden. Why? Because Islam is a deen of self discipline.
Guidance is a mixture of actions and beliefs
The opening chapter of the Qur’an, Surah Fatiha, is a duaa for guidance. This prayer for guidance is extremely important for the believer. In fact, it is so important that this Surah is meant to be said several times a day in our obligatory worship, salaah.
The problem, however, with merely praying for guidance is that we must still tie our camels. We can’t just pray for guidance and still carry on as usual. We need to make small, daily changes towards Allah’s obedience. This isn’t anything unusual. The sahaba didn’t say their shahada and suddenly become masters of the nafs. It took years of facing trials and self discipline.
If you have the Orientalist belief that the Qur’an is in a random order, you might miss something very important. In fact, some of the scholars have said that the rest of the Qur’an is the explanation of Surah Fatiha. Which means if you want to find out how to become and stay guided, you need to keep reading. And the answer to the issue of keeping faith (staying guided) is answered in the very beginning of Surah Baqarah, 2-5:
This (Qur’an) is the book with no doubt in it, guidance for those who are mindfully aware.
Those who believe in the unseen, establish salaah, and spend (in charity) from what We have provided.
And those who believe in what We have revealed to You (O Muhammad), and what was revealed before you, and in the Hereafter they are convinced.
Those are the ones who are upon guidance from their Lord, and those are the ones who are successful.
Above, we can see that guidance is a mixture of actions and beliefs. But there’s a huge problem:
We have largely disconnected actions and belief
You will find, in this world, Muslims who seem to have it all together. They read salaah on time. They say the duaa after the azaan. Every single day, they recite a specified portion of the Qur’an in Arabic. They even give the obligatory, annual charity. But frequently, these people who have rituals of worship down to a T have some of the worst manners you’ve ever seen.
Why is this? Many of them have disconnected actions and belief. They do these actions not because of the love of Allah SWT, not because they are convinced they are good for their souls. They do them because they have to. Without any thought as to why, what benefit, what inner change should be connected to them.
Frequently, these ritualistic people are those who have never read the Qur’an for understanding. This is a huge problem, as Allah SWT says in Surah Hashr, verse 21:
We present these examples (in the Qur’an) to the people so that perhaps they will ponder (over them).
How exactly can we take Allah’s advice to ponder over the message of the Qur’an when we don’t take the time to understand what we’re reading, either with a translation or by learning Arabic?
We need to reconnect with the Qur’an and the Sunnah
Yes, the solution to this disconnect of actions and thoughts is to connect deeply with our religion. The steps are relatively simple:
- Read the Qur’an for understanding
- Study the explanation of the Qur’an from someone of knowledge
- Implement what you’re learning as you learn it
Read the Qur’an for understanding
In an ideal world, the best way to accomplish this is to learn the Arabic of the Qur’an. If you are capable of doing this, please do so. It is a difficult task but it is so worth it. The Qur’an absolutely comes alive in Arabic. In fact, you will find that most of the “arguments” people have regarding the Qur’an results from translation and not from the actual Arabic itself.
But this is real life. Some people are not adept at learning new languages. Others do not have the resources to do so. If you’re in this situation, then simply read a translation of the Qur’an. This is less than ideal but certainly it has great benefit.
Study the explanation (tafseer) of the Qur’an
Ideally, one would find a local scholar and sit with him or her to understand the Qur’an. This is not available to everyone, however.
There are many online resources, video series, audio series, and even podcasts dedicated to understanding the Qur’an. Find one of these with a scholar whose teachings make you aware of Qiyamah, and dig in. I recommend starting from the last portion of the Qur’an, as these are usually the surahs people know already. And knowing the meaning of what you’re saying while in salaah will help a lot with your sincerity and connection in prayer.
A good study of the Qur’an will also draw in the seerah (history) and Sunnah. So make sure whoever you’re learning from, online or in person, has given greater context to the revelation of the Qur’an. Without that, the study is incomplete.
Implement what you’re learning as you learn it
The whole point of learning the deen is to practice it. And we say “practice” because it is impossible to follow all of it correctly, all of the time. But what you should be doing is implementing what you learn as you learn it.
If this makes your studies slower, so be it. I once heard a Shaykh say that the sahaba would memorize around 10 verses at a time while implementing them in their lives, and they would only move forward once that had been done. You don’t need to rush and try to finish everything as fast as possible. Take your time, and strive for deep understanding and implementation.
This all boils down to one thing: Self discipline
Islam when it is is fully implemented is a deen of self discipline. You learn to have sabr (steadfastness and patience) when you’re hit with a trial. Your emotions no longer can control you – instead you begin to master controlling them. You can’t just stuff your face while you’re implementing the sunnah of eating.
Exercise even becomes an act of worship when you are following the deen properly. The most mundane actions are brought under control, which in turn keeps the nafs (ego) from spilling over and tainting so many areas of living.
And this is why most people who are doing all the actions but aren’t engaging the heart often wind up looking ugly. They are doing all the exercise without understanding why. It’s like the guys who work out in the gym just to make certain muscles large, but they are otherwise incapable of doing any heavy labor!
It really is that simple
Only by connecting with the Qur’an and Sunnah can we fully connect our hearts to our acts of worship. This is a simple task that is not easy. It is simple because it is not complicated. It is not easy because it requires effort, perseverance, and introspection.
But if we don’t do it for ourselves, we have to know that no one else is going to do it for us. And we cannot guide the future generations if we ourselves are lost. If our deeds and hearts are disconnected, then the job on the next generation is that much more difficult. That’s not fair to us or them. So we must commit to implementing our religion, one piece at a time, for the sake of the entire ummah. In shaa Allah!