This question has come up many a time from friends and family. This post is the story of my search for the answer to that question followed by an experiment on myself and its results. So it is a little long as it spans the period of approximately six months of experimentation and evaluation.
I am no expert in the life of the Prophet and the Quran, but I realized after some research that the answer is in at least three places in the Quran. The succinct one that comes to mind is:
in Surah Al Imran: 31 Allah (SWT) says “ O Nabi tell the people that if you truly love Allah then follow me in what I do (i.e. Prophet Muhammad PBUH) and Allah will love you and will forgive your mistakes as He (SWT) is supremely Forgiving and Raheem”
But then the question comes up, why not follow him only in his religious practices why in everything? What and how he ate? What he did or did not do and in his daily behavior?
As I understand it, (Allah knows best) Allah sent us Prophet Muhammad (SAS) for a reason. He was a human being who had human needs and emotions., and thus we could relate to him knowing that he shared all the fallibilities of being human.
Allah SWT could have sent us a saint or an angel who would not have all the attributes and vulnerabilities of a human being, and would have been hard to even imagine imitating.
He (SWT) did this so that we could follow the example of a human being and learn how to live with all the daily challenges of life and yet be subservient to Allah.
Since Islam is a way of life, Prophet Muhammad’s (SAS) way of living is the way to emulate for a Muslim. Understanding the basis of each and every one of his actions may become possible if one researches each aspect separately in detail and is cognizant and able to access the most recent scientific and sociologic resources.
It is almost impossible for an average person to have the resources, time & intellect to research all the sciences of food, sleep, sociology, medicine and human behavior. If an average person wants to get closer to Allah and live a happy and peaceful life, it would be difficult for him and her to research every aspect of life as illustrated by Prophet Muhammad. Thus even though at this time many of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAS) behaviors may be incompletely understood, or not understood at all by the average person, Allah made it easy for an average person to get closer to Him (SWT) by following Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
Since everyone may not have the ability or time or the resources to do all that research prior to understanding why Prophet Muhammad did certain things in a certain way and how are they beneficial to us, Allah SWT provided a living , breathing , normal human being to provide us an example of how to live with God consciousness (taqwa) in all aspects of life.
In other words he provided us with Cliff notes on how to get to jannah and leveled the playing field for all.
MY TAKE ON THIS:
Personally my “gegenhalten” attempts at following the Prophet have resulted in the evolution of the positive aspects in my life.
I personally started my path to follow the actions of the Rasool (PBUH) with Salah. This was something that the Prophet (SAS) did with love; He described it as “ the coolness of his eyes” it was his personal time with Allah. I on the other hand had always done salah as a duty as something I crossed off my “to do” list as “done” so that I could go on and do more fun stuff without feeling guilty. I stuck it in between my other activities, which were a priority for me. At that time of salah I may not have been dressed for it or in a mood for it or in a place for it and it was more a necessary chore rather than a priority.
The major difference in how I did Salah before and now was a change in attitude:
• Previously I did salah to get my credits up with Allah
• Now I do it like a phone call to chat with Him (SWT), tell him how I am doing and ask him for advice and help (For advice He (SWT) has commanded us to go to his book or He guides me and makes the path easy to take)
• Previously I fitted Salah when I could, in my daily activities and many times it did not fit in my lifestyle, as I may be at a place at Salah time where it was unclean, or public or noisy or not conducive to making that phone call to Allah, or even if I did I could not confide in Allah at that time.
• Now I try to plan my day around Salah. I do my daily work around Salah times. I try to make sure when I put on my clothes in the morning that they are clean and tayyab and that I would be able to pray in them and that I have appropriate head covering, available. As an extra I have a small back pack ready at all times in the car with my hijab, traveling prayer rug, a compass, Tasbeeh and a small book of supplications. I really do not need all of this, but if I am stuck waiting in line or in an office or on the plane, I can read and memorize some new adkaars or do Dhikr instead of reading something mindless to while away the time.
• I accept my dinner invitations based on: before or after Maghrib, unless I am sure I can pray where I am going, without tension.
• Previously I could not wait to finish my prayers so that I could go do what I needed or wanted to do
• Now I look forward to my next prayer and feel forlorn, if I cannot pray it at the optimal time (start of the prayer time).
HOW HAS THAT MADE A PRACTICAL DIFFERENCE IN MY LIFE?
Having to plan around my salah times has forced me to:
• Be punctual in my appointments, as I have to be punctual in my appointment with Allah.
• Be punctual in ending appointments as I have go do salah on time
• Forgo those activities especially late night ones (which are physically tiring and have no spiritual value and in no way enhance my closeness to Allah), as I know that if I partake of them, I will miss my fajr salah.
• Be punctual in my social appointments, both in arrival and in departure as I have a priority, which has to be met after I leave.
• To simplify my self, as I cannot put on makeup four times a day after each prayer, thus I have resorted to less, allowing my skin to breathe and making me relax and accept who I am without a lot of fakeness put on for the benefit of others
• I am more comfortable in my skin. There is no confusion in my decision making as to whom do I have to please. I know that I only have to behave in a manner so as to please Allah and as a fall out my behavior pleases others also, as I attempt to follow the Prophet’s etiquette with people.
• Spiritually beautiful people and People with taqwa have come into my life, and I have recognized the goodness in my existing friends, giving me peace and beauty in my daily living. These wonderful people, old and new are not judging me in my material goods, where I live what I wear but are supporting me and helping me for the sake of Allah and Allah alone
• I thought there would be major fallout. People around me would get upset and would think I have gone crazy. None of this has happened.
• My night time wasting activities have fallen by the wayside, so I am not exhausted in the am
• My nightmares and night awakenings have disappeared since I started doing Isha and Witr and the night adkaars as the Prophet (SAS) did.
• I don’t enjoy obscene or violent movies, never did but watched them out of politeness to my company, I don’t now and no one is at a loss, and the gut wrenching feelings have passed.
• I don’t agonize over what people think of me, I try to do what would please Allah and leave it at that.
• I don’t try to please people and don’t get upset if they don’t like me. I try to do my best as to what would please Allah the most, in my behavior, and Alhamdolillah it works well with most people as the basic fitra of people in general is good, and appreciates a good effort.
• I don’t envy other people’s accomplishments and their children and am at peace with what Allah gave me or took away, even though I don’t know the reasons.
• My anxieties about my family still surface from time to time, I try to sort them out by separating the ones that have to do with the finality of Qadr and and those that are behavioral. I try to pray for change in the ones that have to do with the spirituality of the inner self by educating my self and them. The hardest part is to accept what ever they do after that and to accept that as their Qadr and to pray for guidance for them and me.
• All this sounds kind of soppy and “Yahweh”, I don’t have any new words to use to express the inner cleanliness and simplification of my life that I feel in my continuing attempts to follow Rasool Allah (SAS)
All of the challenges come from within. My desire to sleep through the dawn prayer, my desire to overeat, my desire to not have the regimentation of the five phone calls to Allah. My depression of losing my son, my regret of all the things I did not do with him, my regret of things I could have done in the past, and my regrets of things past.
My desire to change others without first practicing the change in my self until it is permanent.
Whenever I feel I have reached a stable state of Salah, Shaitan makes me slip or perhaps my Nafs does and…….. I slide.
I have noted that the slide is similar to the slide of the mountain climber, if you lose a footing a few rocks loosen and if you are paying attention you can regain your foothold. However if you are climbing in a cocky manner and are “full of yourself” that nothing can falter you, then the loss of the foot hold is hard to regain.
Paying attention or focus has been the key for me: What do I pay attention to? What is my focus?
If I pay attention to the distractions here and there and forget that my goal is to get to the peak of what I am climbing and be engulfed by His (SWT) love eternally, then the slide is bad and I may find myself at the bottom of the abyss, which is where I was when my son died.
I previously thought that I could see, hear and participate in everything with the non-believers in the name of “tolerance” and still be a functioning pure Muslim. I have found that I am weak.
I realized that there are eight doors to my heart: i.e. my five senses, my arms, my legs and my tongue. If I leave all these door open to unchannelled distractions, by the end of the day I am overwhelmed by what has entered through them and has affected my heart.
I find that I have not accomplished any thing and have lost my focus in salah. Whatever enters through those doors is either a potent distracter or is a potent support for helping me focus my efforts in my Salah and my climb towards Allah’s love.
I now know and admit that I am weak. I cannot pour distractions in the form of TV news, violent movies, mindless novels, non-energizing music and disaster announcing newspapers and politics, through the doors into my heart and be unaffected by them. I know that these distractions deter my focus, in my search to find happiness, peace and tranquility for my soul through Salah and are an impediment in obtaining the connection that I seek with Allah (SWT)
No one ever told me till recently that the human beings were designed in a manner that the closer they came to their Creator (Allah) the happier they became. This was a foreign concept for me.
My western education had made me think that the avenues of happiness and religion were separate and different. Religion was the bitter pill you took to land in Paradise, but everyday happiness lay in the mundane distracters of “entertainment” Thus I undertook an experiment, with me as the guinea pig.
I have always been told that in order to be “educated” you must know current events, and be able to discuss them intelligently, thus the excuse of sensory overload with the TV, news and internet. I have also always been told that entertainment by defination is doing non-religious stuff.
I was at the bottom of the barrel drowning in unhappiness as anyone could be in the circumstances, with my mothers conflictual prolonged illness, her death followed shortly thereafter by my sons sudden death, the swirling paranoia of anti Muslim hatred, the continuous barrage of disrespectful tirades against the Prophet (PBUH) and the progressive verbal diarrhea against Islam had engulfed me and my surroundings.
My own state of no longer knowing what happiness meant added to it. I had tried every western method except alcohol to elevate my spirits and all methods failed. Every morning I saw the abyss of unending depression staring at me and getting out of bed seemed quite meaning less.
At a retreat I learnt that the closer you came to Allah the happier you became and the start of that road began with Salah and Dhikr, and exclusion of all the garbage and verbal and visual diarrhea of the media.
Thus as an experiment I took six months off from all input that was distracting to me from my Salah, i.e. radio, movies, newspapers, and most of the internet news, glossy women magazines and self help books, books about grief and how to handle it, dinner parties with people or conferences where Salah was not conducive. Browsing books in bookstores that had nothing to do with Salah or the Prophet (Peace be upon him).
This sounds grim and self-denying but the outcome was surprising.
I replaced the radio with CDs of the Seerah or qirat with meaning, or stories of the Prophet (PBUH) or reviews of how to make salah as the Prophet did. I replaced the music with Nasheeds and I replaced the movies with nasheed videos and videos of the Quranic verses recited with meaning on YouTube.
I replaced my Internet surfing to different sunnahs of the Prophet regarding Salah, and I continue to come up with priceless treasures from all over the world.
I did away with all chain emails
I replaced my secular self-help books with books on Salah and about the Quran, and some Tajweed and tafseer of the Quran on the Internet.
I connected with my saleh friends who send me resources and share their practical and spiritual attempts at refining the Sunnah of salah. The purification of mind and body before the salah and keeping the connection with Allah open after it.
I am at peace with myself in my skin for the first time in my life. I have not impacted or changed any happening in the world, by my not reading the news or listening to it on TV. I have lost no friends by not watching violent movies or listening to obscene jokes or music.
The only change was within me:
• I have lost some weight and gained energy without dieting or exercising, People ask me and I feel funny saying that all I have done is attempted to follow how the Prophet (SAS) lived.
• I was neither despondent nor angry when I went to the bookstore and saw all the violently antimuslim and aggressively evangelical material displayed. It disgusted me like the attempts of a spoilt child wanting to mess up a beautiful picture with his or her crayons. I prayed to Allah to guide them, and me.
• I went to a Muslim home and saw an artsy painting of a naked women hung very proudly and I felt surprise and sadness and prayed that Allah may lift the veil from their eyes and refocus their life away from material goals and their race towards being accepted in the eyes of the non believers.
• I neither approve nor disapprove when I see or hear something that a fellow Muslim is doing, as I know I have walked that path, though I do wish that I had been granted more guidance earlier.
• I know how fragile my own attempt is at focusing on Salah, I have to continue to struggle and cannot criticize others of their different focus.
• Actually I am actually quite stumped here, should I say something, should I provide some resources, should I make dua for them or like the American way: “ leave them alone”? I don’t know!
• I also don’t know if I am strong enough to be an example as I slide often in my attempts to keep my Salah and am struggling to decrease my distractions and increase my ilm about my deen.
I thus struggle with my selfish desire to perfect my deen first and ignore others and leave them on whatever path they are, and then I feel guilty at not sharing this wonderful way of life, a peace that everyone is searching for, that is not elusive, but is ignored because of all the other distractions made by us that keep it at bay.
• My thirst for knowledge is for what is there actually in the Quran. Being a story buff, I am amazed at the stories of the Prophet (PBUH) and how much is out there internationally in the form of CDs videos programs and on the Internet. My biggest stumbling block is that I am restricted because of language as most of the authentic information is expressed is in the rich ness of the Arabic language.
None so far
To become less judgmental
To become less selfish, and be able to gracefully share my focus in my search for the Prophets (PBUH) path, without being preachy.
To do those things that would bring me closer to Allah’s love and move away from those that are disliked by Allah.
To walk and travel and see the signs of Allah and recognise them and be thankful for them.
• I have to remind myself to fulfill my Haqooq al Ebad to the best of my ability which can sometimes be time consuming, and challenging
Please give me your advice on any of the aspects, mentioned here, or your own personal formula of following our beloved Prophet (PBUH)
What habits of our Prophet(PBUH) do you follow?