Living Intentionally

In the Qur’an, Allah relates stories of the many prophets who were sent to call their people to guidance. More often than not, they were scorned and turned away- not because of the absurdity of their claims, but because their people were prideful and arrogant. They did not want to turn from the religion that their forefathers had been following, or submit to Allah. No matter the clear, rational proofs their prophets provided, or the obvious miracles that they brought forth, they insisted on the existence of the so-called gods that their ancestors worshiped. In fact, they were offended at being asked to leave the religion of their predecessors - an act akin to betrayal of a long line of family.

This pattern of lack of thought, denial, and continued delusion is unfortunately still prevalent today. It’s almost scary how often I see this happening. Even within the Muslim community, people no longer actively think about their own beliefs, why they follow what they follow, or even why they act the way they do. We’ve begun to take our beliefs for granted. It seems that critical thought has become a thing of the past., and the only reason they retain their Islam is because that’s what they were taught since they were young. That’s what their parents did, so they do it as well.

If you come from a South Asian background like I do, your parents likely emphasized learning how to read and write in Arabic in your childhood. This enables us to read the Qur’an, recite it, and memorize it. But the interaction with Allah’s Book often stops there. Most of us neither understand what we’re saying nor why we’re saying it. Some may attempt to read translations of the Qur’an or even to study tafseers on their own, but the majority of us do not comprehend or contemplate His Book to the level that it deserves. How, then, do we expect to hold on to our faith and stand firm in the face of modern trials?

Unfortunately, because of our lack of understanding, our remembrance of God and our worship of Him is often reduced to habit and tradition. It’s increasingly rare for people to actually try to know God. We don’t come to our own conclusions in religion; we either accept what we are told or feel indifferent about it, and that’s the extent of our internal dialogue.

On the other hand, living in a world that hails concepts like progressivism, liberalism, and freedom from societal constraints is hugely detrimental to our view of the deen. The conflict between Western and Islamic values combined with the seeming correctness of modern Western ideals over traditional Islam has resulted in more and more of the younger generations leaving Islam. Why? As individuals, we don’t have enough conviction in our deen and knowledge about it to stand up for what we believe in.

Practical aspects of our religion– how to pray, how to respect our parents, and even interpret the Qur’an– have come to us from a long chain going back to the Prophet (s). In this, we are right to accept what we are taught and follow it as closely as possible.

But our beliefs, our ‘aqidah, is the one foundation we can not take from others. There is no such thing in Islam as blind acceptance, or a ‘leap of faith’ as many philosophers have called it. Nothing under the level of complete and utter certainty in Allah and what He revealed to us is acceptable in Islam. And because this is an individual obligation upon each and every one of us, it’s important that we come to these conclusions on our own.

Once we realize the weak points in our religious knowledge, we can try to rectify them through personal study, beginning with the intention of improving ourselves and fulfilling our religious obligations. Often, the ones among us who try to pursue additional religious knowledge, like basic understanding of Arabic of studying a text, are hailed as “religious” and “Mashallah kids.” In reality, we each have an individual responsibility to search for the truth, and apply it in our lives. After all, each of us will be held accountable for our actions, and no one can lift that weight from us.

The first thing generations lose is their language. Then, the culture, and finally, the religion. I pray that Allah keeps us and the future generations upon the straight path.

What I’m doing:

Personally, I am not satisfied with where I am in my knowledge. For that reason, I decided to pursue study and made what at the time seemed to be a very dramatic decision and complete change of lifestyle. I took a year off of college to travel across the world and learn the basic tenets of Islam: Arabic to understand the Qur’an and historical works, practically applicable fiqh, our foundational beliefs, and other supplementary studies. I’ve realized since then that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the religious sciences.

Pursuing knowledge:

The opportunity to travel halfway across the world isn’t an option for the majority of people. Thankfully, there are many, many resources for people who are motivated enough, especially those of us who are blessed to live in the US, to self-learn. MYNA happens to be one of them.

It's important to start with foundational study in each of the three components of faith: Iman, Islam, and Ihsan. First, focusing on iman, we learn what our religion is and what it truly means to be Muslim. What do we believe in? How do we know Allah (swt) to be? And why is our belief rationally necessary?

Once we have established who we are, we learn how to practically implement what we believe. Since we know Allah (swt) and everything he sent down to be true, believe in heaven, hell, and the final accountability, we can then learn what His commands are and how to properly obey them. This is the study of fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, focusing on the acts of worship– prayer, fasting, zakat, and hajj. When we think of religion, these pillars typically come to mind. Yet it encompasses so much more than just the ritual acts of worship. We should seek to incorporate Islam into our mindset, our day to day behavior, our career, and our relationships.

Finally comes, arguably, the most difficult part of the deen, but also where the sweetness lies: how do we draw near to Allah (swt) to please Him? How do we rise above our humanity and perfect our behavior? This is spiritual purification, the way to excellence in Islam. 

Moving towards Allah, whether through knowledge, acts of worship, or service in humanity, is a continuous process, but one that is always open to any seeker. The path is easily picked up if one has the motivation and desire to follow it. The most important thing is to keep returning to it, no matter how much you might veer off. I pray that Allah keeps the desire for knowing Him strong in the hearts of Muslim youth.

Resources for the knowledge hungry individual:

  • Your local youth group or masjid
  • SeekersHub: a free online platform for learning traditional sciences
  • Qalam Institute’s various intensive and travel opportunities
  • 80% Words for learning important Qur’anic vocabulary
  • MYNA’s weekly MYNA personal development halaqas, regional camps, and yearly convention
  • ISRAA, MYNA’s online intensive program for females
  • Me (sarah7321@gmail.com)