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Strategies to develop mindfulness of God

“We have sent down the Quran in truth, and with the truth it has come down. We have sent you ˹O Prophet˺ only as a deliverer of good news and a warner.

˹It is˺ a Quran We have revealed in stages so that you may recite it to people at a deliberate pace. And We have sent it down in successive revelations.” [al-Israa: 105-106]

The ayah which follows this states “Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “Believe in this ˹Quran˺, or do not. Indeed, when it is recited to those who were gifted with knowledge1 before it ˹was revealed˺, they fall upon their faces in prostration”

These were the verses recited yesterday in taraweeh and there are some profound reflections for us here about our state and those who are described.

Alhamdulillah, we have reached the midway point of Ramadan and this is a great time to reflect on how we are getting on. What follows from today but fewer days than have passed.

The purpose of a review is to look over your time so far and ask yourself if you’re happy with it and how you aim to form your plan for the remainder of this month.

Often when I ask others how their Ramadan is, I hear “alhamdulillah, the first few days were a challenge but now I don’t even feel it” or “It’s just the sleep that gets me”. Its interesting that we seem to be in a race to forget we’re fasting or at least not yawning which seems like the opposite of what this month was intended for. Allah(SWT) says fasting was prescribed so that you may become of the mindful, not the mindless.

Others may respond when reflecting on the state of Ramadan “It could be better”, so the real question is how do you make it your best Ramadan yet?

We live in an age where the topic of mindfulness is more and more popular and there are many strategies to develop a more mindful state. I would like to reflect on the Islamic practices  which help develop mindfulness to see if we an use these to excel.

The linguistic meaning of Taqwa is “a shield or protective barrier”. It is to protect oneself from what angers Allah. Some scholars define Taqwa as placing a protective barrier between yourself and Allah’s punishment. Taqwa also means doing that which Allah has enjoined and avoiding that which He has forbidden.

Imam Bayhaqi (rahimahullah) has recorded that someone posed the question to Sayyiduna Abu Hurayrah (radiyallahu ‘anhu)

قال رجل لأبي هريرة: ما التقوى؟ قال: أخذت طريقا ذا شوك؟ قال: نعم قال: فكيف صنعت؟ قال: إذا رأيت الشوك عدلت عنه أو جاوزته أو قصرت عنه قال: ذاك التقوى

A man once asked Abu Hurayrah (radiyallahu ‘anhu), “What is Taqwa?” He replied, “Have you walked on a thorny pathway?” He replied, “Yes.” Abu Hurayrah (radiyallahu ‘anhu) asked, “How do you do so?” He replied, “When I see a thorn, I move away, cross over or avoid it.” Abu Hurayrah (radiyallahu ‘anhu) replied, “That is Taqwa.”

(Az Zuhdul Kabir, Hadith: 978. Also see: Ad Durrul Manthur, Surah Al Baqarah, Verse: 2, vol. 1 pg. 131)

Another analogy which I often share is to imagine yourself driving home on the motorway with family in the car, perhaps coming from a wedding in the North, well-fed and in a rush to get home to rest. Speeding down the motorway, you come to a bend and give it your best speed as it seems clear only to round the bend and see a police car in the slow lane. What do we all do? Slam on the brake, regardless of the impact to our dozing family who almost throw up everything they have eaten. The reaction when you know there are consequences for going beyond the limits may be a fitting analogy for taqwa. However, as I reflected on it this year, I thought that its difficult to maintain that heightened sense of tension continuously so are there other strategies to develop taqwa.

A very dear friend is caring for his elderly father who had a second stroke and is in a very difficult state. He said something which resonated with me on this topic. He said that this Ramadan was different because he was trying to do his salaah and reading but his mind was always thinking about his father. And I thought to myself, that state is taqwa – when its always on your mind, sometimes in the forefront but always there and persistent.

So how are we taught in Islam to develop this?

1.    Notice the signs around you

The Qur’an constantly reminds us to be present and notice the many miracles before us in our lives. When I had covid, I had the chance to look up at the sky and notice the clouds moving at pace around us – this world is spinning and the clouds move at 30-120mph … and yet we remain still! And the world is also moving in orbit at 30mph. Just to give you some context, the worlds fastest man can reach about 23mph for 10 seconds only – what about every moment of every day???

Allah(SWT) pumps at least 6000 litres of blood around our body at 3mph hour constantly. 6000 litres is the same as 12,000 of the water bottles we drink at taraweeh. And yet we are still busy looking for miracles!

Even this water we drink, just think about its journey. Every drop in it has been to so many places in the world. Allah(SWT) made the sun heat it to form vapour and join clouds carried hundreds of miles by the wind. Remember the water cycle from school? How long does it take a drop of water to travel through the water cycle? A drop of water may spend over 3,000 years in the ocean before evaporating into the air, while a drop of water spends an average of just nine days in the atmosphere before falling back to Earth.

When it was cooled, it became liquid or froze into ice crystals. When it was too heavy, Allah(SWT) pulled it back to the earth with the power of gravity. Perhaps it feel on a leaf of a tree or ran through some vegetation, sinking underground only to resurface after many years when pumped out of a well. It may have ended in a tap, a bottle or washing a car. Then its preserved and washed again and again to be drunk by you, passed through you, recycled to begin its journey again.

2.    Be grateful

One of the best ways to develop mindfulness is to remember Allahs countless favours upon you –you’re healthy enough to be here today, you’re guided enough to be praying, you’re wealthy enough to have a meal every day, you’re safe enough to retreat to your home. Remember all these are priceless gifts which many do not enjoy right now.

3.    Know your mantra

As I was discussing how to develop mindfulness with a friend, he said that we need to remember Allah(SWT) in every thing we do. I responded that sounds unrealistic until I realised we were both going into work and everyone in the office was repeating the same mantra – how do we make the nation healthier. For us, how do we get closer to Allah(SWT) better than to constantly remember him – yaa Allah, how perfectly you have created everything, thank you for everything you have blessed us with, there is nothing I should devote myself to other than you and there is nothing greater than you – that is some of our most oft-repeated mantra and adhkaar.

4.    Recognise you’re accountable

Every blessing and opportunity you have given me, I will be accounted for on the Day I meet You.

Al-Bukhaari (6308) narrated that Ibn Mas‘ood (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “The believer regards his sins as if he is sitting beneath a mountain that he fears will fall on him, and the evildoer regards his sins as flies that pass in front of his nose and he does like this to them [waving them away with his hand].”

5.    Watch your thoughts

When Allah revealed the last verses of chapter 2, the companions were overwhelmed:

To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. Whether you show what is within yourselves or conceal it, Allah will bring you to account for it. (2:284)

The companions were very sincere generation, and they tried to implement every verse of the Quran. So trying to implement these verses, trying to control the thoughts that would occur in their minds was overwhelming. How do you control what happens in your heart and mind?

The above verse stated that if a thought crosses your mind, whether you make it apparent as in act on it or verbalize it, or you conceal it and do nothing about it, Allah will still hold you to account for it. Overwhelmed, the companions came to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), they fell on their knees in humility and said:

O Prophet of Allah, you ordered us to pray and we prayed, you ordered us to give zakat and we gave it, and you ordered us to struggle in the way of Allah and we did. But now a command has come that we simply can’t do it. How can you control a thoughts that cross your mind and then before the majesty of Allah be held accountable for it?

So Prophet Muhammad said: Do you wish to say, “we hear and we disobey?” instead say, “we hear and we obey. Your forgiveness  oh Lord.

So the companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), these super human giants, on their knees start begging:

“O Lord, we hear and we obey, we seek your forgiveness. (Muslim)

As they utter this, and submission takes over their hearts completely, Gabriel (peace be upon him) came with the concession that Allah the Most High said:

Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity. It will have [the consequence of] what [good] it has gained, and it will bear [the consequence of] what [evil] it has earned. “Our Lord, do not impose blame upon us if we have forgotten or erred. Our Lord, and lay not upon us a burden like that which You laid upon those before us. Our Lord, and burden us not with that which we have no ability to bear. And pardon us; and forgive us; and have mercy upon us. You are our protector, so give us victory over the disbelieving people.” (2:286)

Watch your Thoughts, they become Words! Watch your Words, they become Actions! Watch your Actions, they become Habits! Watch your Habits, they become Character! Watch your CHARACTER! ..It becomes your DESTINY!!!And whenever you give your words,  say the truth [surah al-Anam; 6:152]

6.    Take precaution from what harms you

Ibn al-Mubaarak narrated in az-Zuhd (157) that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, says: ‘By My might, I will not let My slave suffer from fear in two realms or feel safe in two realms. If he feels safe from Me in this world, I will make him feel fear on the Day of Resurrection, but if he fears Me in this world, I will make him feel safe on the Day of Resurrection.’”

7.    Travel in the world don’t get consumed by it

Remember the temporary nature of life. Like the analogy of fasting for 15/16 hours and craving food but then getting full after just a few bites is a perfect analogy of how short the pleasure of this dunya is and how long it lasts.

Rather what should you be consuming. We are created in 2 parts – the body and the soul. In the hadith of intercession, the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “I will be the leader of the people on the Day of Resurrection. Do you know why that is? Allah will gather together the first and the last in one plain, so that the onlooker will be able to see them and the caller will be able to make them hear. The sun will be brought close to them, And some of the people will say: ‘Do you not see the state you are in? Do you not see what has happened  to you. Why do you not look for someone who will intercede for you with your Lord?’ Some of the people will say, ‘[Go to] your father Adam.’ So they will go to him and say, ‘O Adam, you are the father of mankind, Allah created you with His own hand and breathed into you the soul that He had created for you, and commanded the angels to prostrate to you, and He caused you to dwell in Paradise. Intercede for us with your Lord. Do you not see the state we are in? Do you not see what has happened to us?’ [Adam] will say: ‘My Lord is angry today in a way in which He has never been angry before and will never be angry again. He forbade me to approach the tree, but I disobeyed Him. Myself, myself. Go to someone else, go to Nooh…’” Narrated by al-Bukhaari (3340) and Muslim (194).

Imam ad-Daarimi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: Allah created Adam with His hand directly; He did not create any other animate being with His hands. Thus He singled him out, favoured him and honoured him with that renown. [Naqd ad-Daarimi ‘ala al-Mureesi, p. 64]

The more you appreciate and reflect on the treasure of the Qur’an the more heightened your senses will you and you will develop a sense for the unseen – the angels around you right now, Allah(SWT) saving you from circumstances and bringing people into your life.

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