How to deal with fear

As humans we all experience fear, even some of the most successful and confident people experience fear. Fear can be a good thing because it prevents us from taking steps that can harm us, but quite often our fears are based on exaggerated assumptions. Corona, What would this person think, What will happen in the future, What about my children, Whats situation of Muslims etc.

These fearful thoughts come in the ways of working towards our goals & dreams. Fear stops us from moving forward, from letting go and taking risks.  Fear is like the birdcage, keeping us inside, dictating what we should do and what is or isn’t allowed.  It controls our being. Generally, there are 3 types of fears:

  1. Fear of pain is hurt that resurfaces from our past or worry about direct pain – physical or emotional. It is the disappointment we have endured and the loneliness we felt during those times, to staying in the wrong situation out of a belief of scarcity. It’s the belief that if you don’t jump on the idea or hold onto the object of desire, it will never come again.
  2. Fear of failure– being afraid of never having what it is that we want, or attaining what we want and not being satisfied, not knowing how to accept what we have asked for, and move into that place of pure bliss.
  3. Fear of inability comes from the belief that you are not enough. That little voice saying you aren’t there yet, you don’t have it, you’re not going to aspire to what it is that you wanted to aspire. I wont be able to drive or manage a team or hold down a job – imposter syndrome is a common term these days.

Thinking about these 3, only fear of pain is grounded in reality and the others are perceptions you have about the future – fearing you will fail and that you are not worthy. Islam does provide guidance on these which I’d like to discuss today.

Fear is a good, protective measure, when controlled

Failure is good for you – it exposes what you need to work on. It does not happen until you throw yourself into it. When completing my driving test, I made so many mistakes on my mock tests, when I reached my actual exam, I had experienced and mitigated each one.

Don’t be scared to try stuff – business, education etc. And importantly, don’t be depressed about failing. Many people run at the first sight of failure saying “it’s not even worth it any more” – remember, no pain, no gain. If you want the best out of your life, go through the pain of making mistakes. My favourite definition about an expert is the one who makes the most mistakes, and learns from them. Even the word miss-take asks you to re-take.

The one whose life was filled with fear

If we reflect on the Qur’anic example, you will notice that whenever the story of Musa(AS) is mentioned, there is usually a sense of fear. Thrown in a basket as a child by his mother in the powerful Nile river. As a child, growing up in the palace of the tyrant who was committing a genocide, specifically to prevent someone coming to challenge his authority. When Musa (AS) accidentally killed a man, he feared reprisals from Fir`awn’s people and ended up having to flee to save his life. When he met his future father-in-law in Madyan and told him of fleeing Egypt, the father told him to fear not, and be glad of his escape from unjust people. When he approached the fire on the hillside and Allah (swt) instructed him to throw his rod and it became a snake, he ran away in fright. Allah told him to return and not be fearful because he was in fact in a situation of security and safety. When Allah (swt) told him to put his hand in his bosom and bring it out, and it was glowing white, He then told him to keep it close to his side, to guard against feelings of terror. When he was ordered to return to counsel Fir`awn, he spoke of his fear of being caught and killed for the accidental manslaughter he had committed. He asked for his brother Haroon to be allowed to accompany him and help, because he feared the people would accuse him of falsehood. Allah (swt) said that He would strengthen him with his brother’s help and reassured him that the people would not be able to touch them with harm (Qur’an, 28:18-35).

But then, after all the spiritual lessons and experiences that Allah (swt) put him through, finally when he went to confront Fir`awn, he was fearless, steadfast and confident in trusting in Allah. When he was leading his people away from Egypt and the army was following them, it must have been like the manifestation of his earlier fears when he first left Egypt, but this time he did not waver. Take some time to read through how Allah(SWT) comforts, reassures and strengthens Musa(AS) in the preserved conversations in the Qur’an.

When his people cried out in fear: “We’ll surely be caught!” Musa said,“By no means! My Lord is with me! He will soon guide me” (Qur’an, 26:62).

The Fear setting technique

When we realise that we’re being excessively fearful, how do we over come them? Fear-setting is a technique to manage this – simply take a horizontal blank sheet of paper and with 3 columns:

Name & understand the fear #1: State “What is it that I fear? What is everything that can go wrong?”

The reason for the fear is often because our perspective of the situation is skewed. Our fears are often based on wrong assumptions. Be informed because ignorance only increases fear. It may also make you fearful of the wrong things, thereby placing you in more danger. Don’t read and react to every message you receive – rather listen to Allah’s message, sift good news and take time to think through what you hear. Discuss it with a trusted friend to get some perspective.

Prevent it #2: Answer the following question: “What can I do to prevent this from happening?”

  • Know you cant control everything, in fact, most things including others reactions are out of our hands. But everything is possible for Allah(SWT). The Prophet Mohamed (peace and blessings be upon him) said to Ibn Abbas: “if the whole nation were to gather together to benefit you they would only benefit you with that which Allah had already written [for] you, and if the whole nation were to gather to harm you they could only harm you with that which Allah had already written to harm you. The pen has been lifted and the ink has dried”. (5)

Manage it #3: Answer the following question: “How can I recover from this if it does happen?

If you have trust in Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala, then you can overcome anything. Allah also reassures us in the Qur’aan that:

“If Allah helps you, none can overcome you: If He forsakes you, who is there, after that, that can help you? In Allah, then, let believers put their trust.” [Qur’an Chapter 3 Verse 160]

Be fearless – under the protection of Allah(SWT)

“Whoever says, ‘In the name of Allāh with whose name nothing can harm on the earth or in the heaven, and He is the All-Hearing, All-Knowing’ three times in the morning and three times in the evening, nothing will harm him.” Narrated by Al-Bukhari in ‘Al-Adabul Mufrad’, on the authority of ‘Uthman

Transliteration: ‘Bismillaahil ladhi laa yadurru ma’ismihi shay’un, fil ardi wa laa fis samaa’i wahuwas samee’ul ‘aleem’

This is protection from everything that may harm a person. Imām Al-Qurtubi said, “I have been applying this duʿā’ since the day I learnt of it and nothing has harmed me since, except on one day when I was stung by a scorpion in Madīna. I began to think to myself and realised that I’d forgotten to say these words on that day.” l-Futoohaat Ar-Rabbaaniyyah by Ibn ‘Illaan

A close friend who became Muslim a few years ago told me his story of sharing his beliefs with his family. Coming from a Hindu family with strong faith and cultural links, he was very afraid about what would happen, having heard many stories of others, often praying in hiding in the house and fasting alone. After weeks of thinking through the impact and understanding his situation, his plan to prevent the damage was to share it with those he trusted most with the most flexible mindset – his sister. She accepted it immediately and shrugged it off, even helping to later break it to his parents. Both parents were surprised – his father more spiritually inclined and his mother worried about how their grandparents back home would react. He continued to make dua and fulfil his obligations – praying and treating others with good conduct. Although his parents grew to expect it, he feared what his grandparents would do. To his surprise, when they were told about it, they said “our best neighbours are Muslim and we think this is a good thing”.

Once you’ve answered them, discuss these questions with a close friend. Getting another point of view on the situation will help in getting a proper perspective.

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