Spiritual growth and inner peace is the result of our patience born out of suffering and not pleasure.
By Dr. Nabi Raza Abidi
Comfort and leisure are important in Islam. People are nowadays lucky if they work 40 hours a week. Comfort and leisure are needed to unwind after stressful days. Yet we also know that Islam makes demands on us. We need to pray five times a day beginning at dawn, we need to fast during the month of Ramadan where we can’t eat or drink during the day. We also need to watch out for our “spiritual hygiene” (taharah) by keeping ourselves ritually clean. We must also avoid certain foods and drinks which non-Muslims in our environment would not find problematic.
Spiritual progress requires some level of physical and mental toil. Perhaps universal in all religious traditions is that we must struggle to a certain extent in order to make spiritual progress.
Our world places a great deal of emphasis on comfort and avoiding anything that doesn’t bring about pleasure. When Islam is ridiculed, some of us may keep quiet. If prayer and fasting gets in our way of having fun with our colleagues or friends at work, some of us may avoiding fasting and we pray our salat in the last minute, or forgo it altogether.
Choosing pleasure only and taking the easy way out sets the course for spiritual decline. No one in this world can escape hardship and suffering. At one point, pain will come knocking on the door. It is therefore the virtue of mindful patience (sabr) that will save us from despair and spiritual depression. Much like how a child is born out of the pain of a mother, so is sabr born out of physical and mental toll.
Sabr is not just control over our actions and deeds, but it is an ongoing process of understanding that God is always there to pull us back from the brink of total mental collapse and thereby instilling the virtue of tawakkul or reliance on Him; it is a process of realization that as our hearts are shattered and crushed by the pains of this world, we get closer to the image of God by simply trying to put the pieces back together. Being in the image of God does not mean that we become God, but that we grow closer to Him in communion and witness the His living light in our hearts which grants our souls tranquility.
As per the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (s), as gold is purified by fire, so are our hearts by the trials we face. Ironically, in living a life solely based on comfort and pleasure, we deny ourselves the opportunity to grow in the image of God and thereby miss out on the chance to acquire inner peace, a real pleasure whose joy is infinitely more intense than any worldly pleasure can give us.
Dr. Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center