By Nur Fadhilah Wahid
“In order for us to realize our God-given potential within our lifetimes, we must break the cycles of stagnation that prevent us from doing so, by abandoning methods that have proven ineffective in fulfilling our responsibilities as people committed to Islam. We can accomplish this only by changing our current condition — this requires courage, commitment and above all, critical introspection.” — Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (Agenda to Change our Condition)
Habits and the Heart
Prophet Muhammad said: “Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh which, if it be whole, all the body is whole and which, if it be diseased, all of it is diseased. Truly it is the heart.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
As Muslims, we should be clear that in Islamic thought, the center of consciousness and conscience is actually the heart and not the brain as Western science tells us. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf said in recent times scientists have discovered that there are more than 40,000 neurons in the heart that communicate with the brain, meaning that not only does the brain send messages to the heart, but the heart does the same to the brain as well.
In a study conducted in the 1970s, for instance, two physiologists discovered that when the brain sent messages to the heart, “the heart did not automatically obey the messages. Sometimes the heart sped up, while other times it slowed down, indicating that the heart itself has its own type of intelligence”.
That said, the study of the brain is a relatively new science, while our knowledge of the heart and soul will always be limited as the Qur’an has mentioned:
“And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the soul. Say, “The soul is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind have not been given of knowledge except a little.” [Qur’an: Chapter 17, Verse 85].
There are three kinds of realizations we need to have before we take the steps to make changes in our lives. The first is knowing the state of our heart, the second is having the right intentions towards change, while the third is understanding the nature of change.
Realization 1: Knowing Our State
The first thing to realize in trying to take on good habits or remove bad ones is the state of our heart — the source of all actions. Only through reflection will we be able to know ourselves and who we really are, and this self-awareness is the basis of achieving good.
Reflection, with the knowledge that it is impossible to attain a pure heart, would then lead to shame and humility before Allah , causing us to implore Him to change our states. And truly, no power nor change happens except by the will of Allah .
Suggested action points:
· Look deep within yourself.
· Keep a daily journal.
· Write down all the things you do and feel; the conversations in your heart and mind.
· Take note of your weaknesses, your strengths, what makes you tick and what drives you.
· Learn to see yourself for who you really are
· Take note of the state of your heart.
Realization 2: Having the Right Intentions for Change
The second realization that we need to have is to understand that whatever change we intend to undertake should stem from the need to worship Allah better. Our raw intentions should root not from our ego, desires and wants.
Suggested action points:
· Check your intentions: Always do things for the sake of Allah . When we do things for Allah , we do things with ihsaan, with love and perfection; we don’t tell ourselves “better luck next year”. When we do things for Allah, we focus on the “You” and not the “I”.
· Shift your inner dialogue to one which is intent on giving instead of receiving, for in the giving is barakah and aid from Allah .
Realization 3: Understanding the Nature of Change
The third realization is to understand that the nature of mankind in adopting changes is through gradual changes, and not through an extreme makeover.
Although there are instances of people changing drastically literally overnight (for Allah is capable of doing anything He wishes), the nature of change generally is through gradual adoption of new habits.
Three Actions that Purify the Heart
With these realizations, we then need to work on purifying our heart, for a sound heart leads to sound limbs and actions. When the heart is good, everything else will follow, and habit-changing comes naturally.
Suggested action points:
First, when you know the state of your heart and the state of yourself, then you know what you need to make it easier to read the Qur’an.
Second, when you have the right intentions, know with firm belief that Allah will make it easier for you to start inculcating that new habit.
Third, when you understand the nature of change, you know that you have to start small, ‘small’ being that which is defined by your own abilities. If you have not been reading the Qur’an your whole life, start by reading half a page of the Qur’an each day.
The Prophet was asked, “What deeds are loved most by Allah?” He said, “The most regular constant deeds even though they may be few.” [Bukhari]