The tragedy of the “leaking bucket”

Recently on Twitter, there was a sister who was trying to fill her leaking bucket with good deeds. Now, I don’t want to get into the specifics of this sister for a couple of reasons. The first being, I don’t want to broadcast the sins of another. I wouldn’t like that happening to me! The second is because the leaking bucket is a highly common problem. Therefore I don’t even need to use her as an example.

What is a leaking bucket?

This is a problem whereby the Muslim is trying to gather good deeds, but another sin is causing their reward to risk being wasted completely. The ulama have spoken about this topic at length over the years, at least here in South Africa. If you’ve never heard about this before then, alhamdulillah, I am very happy you are reading this. It might just save your aakhira!

Are your sins giving you a leaking bucket?

Some examples of leaking buckets

  • You lower your gaze but wear skinny jeans (men and women)
  • You cover your hair with a scarf but intentionally let some hang out
  • You wear an abaya but use a belt to show off your waist
  • You cook food for the poor but only to show off to others
  • You invite people over for Islamic teachings but also to gossip
  • You read your salaah but you wait until the last few minutes of the salaah time
  • You post Islamic reminders on social media but your intention is to gain followers
  • You correct someone but your intention is to cut them with your words
  • You fast in Ramadan but carry on using foul language
  • You give to your poor family members but always hold your charity over their heads
  • You’re a perfect Muslim outside in regards to adab but when you get home, you are physically and/or emotionally abusive to your family

The examples are actually endless but the concept is very simple. I encourage you to sit in quiet reflection, perhaps after salaah, and write down the ways you are causing your buckets to leak.

Strategies to fix a leaking bucket

Fixing a leaking bucket is easy – in theory. It can be quite difficult in reality.

Be aware of the issue: This comes from the self reflection encouraged above. Let’s face it – if you don’t know what your leaking bucket is, how are you going to patch the hole?

Focus on self awareness: We are humans, which means we are the sum of our habits. If you’re flying around on autopilot all the time, you’re going to fall back into bad behavior. So try and be in the present moment, especially in situations where you are going to be tempted to fall into that same leaking sin again.

Taqwa AKA Allah consciousness: Once you’re self aware, deepen that awareness by recognizing that Allah sees everything. Tune in and feel Allah’s presence. Remember that your goal for this life is actually the next life, and try to make all your actions the ones you want to see on the Day of Judgement.

Self discipline: One of the forgotten aspects of deen is that of self discipline. Keeping the nafs in line is necessary to succeed in the aakhira. You can read more about self discipline here.

Avoidance: Learn what situations are extremely difficult for you to avoid that particular sin. You might want to avoid those situations if possible, at least temporarily. If you can’t avoid them, then approach them well rested and with a lot of duaa. And avoid sugar – you’d be surprised how much excess sugar can cause your nafs to get the better of you.

Tawbah AKA repentance: The next step is holding yourself accountable for those sins. Make lots of tawbah to Allah when you realize you’ve done it again. Purify that sin by doing more good deeds. (And the number of good deeds we can perform is almost infinite.)

Spiritual remedies: One of my friends suggested to me that when I fell into a certain sin, I immediately perform wudhu and make two rakats of nafl salaah. He said that this will cause Shaytaan to stop inspiring you to do this sin, because Shaytaan hates it when people worship Allah. So far, this has been sound advice, and I really recommend it.

You don’t have to limit your spiritual remedy to salaah. If swearing is your issue, for example, you can set up a swearing jar and place a designated amount of money in it every time you do it. That money then goes to a charity. Or you can do a certain zikr, which is great for purifying sins of the tongue.

The nafs and the leaking bucket

Many times in our lives, our nafs (egos) have rejected advice from others. Just like this woman on social media, you might be convinced by your nafs that you are doing good therefore who cares if you sin while doing it.

This is a dangerous thought! Look, our goal is supposed to be the next life – the aakhira. And while we definitely should try and make this world a better place for others, we need to go about bringing that change the correct way.

How would you feel if, on the Day of Judgement, some super amazing, difficult set of deeds you performed were ignored because of all the sins you piled up whilst doing them? It would be a tragedy for you. So I beg you, do not let your nafs convince you that your sins are OK because of all your good deeds. You can’t possibly know that for sure.

Final thoughts

First, I want to make sure this is clear: I also have a leaking bucket. We all do. I am nowhere near perfect, nor do I claim that my nafs has been purified. It hasn’t. My nafs is a horrible thing that quite frequently gets the best of me.

Part of being a Muslim is in exercising humility. Humility doesn’t mean you think less of yourself but that you think of yourself less. So if someone gives you a correction, even if it seems harsh or judgemental, take a step back. Ask yourself if they’re right. Really search your soul. I know this is difficult to do, but try. This self reflection might just save your soul. And if they are really being a jerk, they also have a leaking bucket. And now you know how to advise them.

Finally, by working on one leaking bucket, you have just entered the path of wilaya. And once you taste the sweetness of being a wali, you will not want to return to your previous life.

Are your sins giving you a leaking bucket?