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The grain of character – grit ( istiqaama )

Alhamdulillah, we have entered the month of Rajab and are less than 2 months till Ramadan. Many of us remember our first Ramadan ever in lockdown – no salaah in jamaat, no taraweeh and no itikaaf in the masjid. For some it was a massive shortcoming in their normal activities in Ramadan while for others it enabled them to involve their family in ibaadaat more than ever before. And as every Ramadan comes to an end, we wish for those blessed days again – many of us would have increased our Qur’an and our salaah and perhaps left many evil thing in this month. Rather than reflecting on the month though, I’d like us to think about what we have retained, 10 months on, from Ramadan.

Why is this important? In every rak’ah of our salaah, we ask for guidance to the straight path which is characterised as mustaqeem. This is often lost in the translation but the word istiqaamah is an essential characteristic, some would say, the most essential characteristic for each of us. Allah(SWT) relates:

Surely those who said: “Our Lord is Allah” and then remained steadfast shall have nothing to fear nor to grieve. [Al-Ahqaf: 13]

Also, Sufyan ibn Abdullah reported: I said, “O Messenger of Allah, tell me of a word in Islam I will not need to ask of anyone after you.” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Say, ‘I have faith in Allah,’ and then remain steadfast (fastaqim).” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 38]

In contemporary language, I think an appropriate translation of istiqaamah, rather than steadfastness, is grit. Grit is refusing to give up. It’s persistence. It is integrity. Grit is the stubborn refusal to quit. Grit, in a word, is stamina, not just stamina in your effort but also in your direction and interests.

In the last century, Muhammad Ali, the GOAT of heavweight boxing, started as an amateur boxer at age 12. By 18, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics and turned professional that same year. He became a Muslim at 19 years old, at a time when blacks and Muslims were looked down upon. He went on to win the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston at age 22. At the peak of his career, aged 24, the US government requested all youth of fighting age to be drafted into the military, including Muhammad Ali. However, he stood true to his beliefs and ethically opposed the Vietnam War, the IndoChina war of its time and for that he faced 5 years in prison and was stripped of his boxing titles. He returned to face the formidable Joe Frazier in the fight of the century and went on to win 51 more in his career! He also left the Nation of Islam and adopted the mainstream Islamic belief. In single-person sports there is a statement called throwing in the towel when you know are defeated. However, its important to remember that you have a choice – you can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat off your face!

Dreamer or doer?

Many people go through life dreaming – becoming financially independent, powerful, famous, respected … the list goes on. And its good to have dreams, however, the difference between who you are and who you want to be, is what you do. Your dreams are on the other side of your grit. Dreams don’t work unless you do. Every day do something that will inch you closer to be a better tomorrow.

Angela Lee Duckworth, a 7th grade Math teacher, said that “Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals”. Think about that. In history, who do you know who has a more long term goal than Jannah itself? Grit is about sustained, consistent effort toward a goal even when we struggle, falter, or temporarily fail.

The great scholar, Imam Mohammad Al She’rawi (rh) relates in relation to the tafsir of the main story of Surah al Baqarah from ayah 67.  Thousands of years ago, in a small village, there lived a very poor but righteous man.  He did not have much in life….a small hut and a good wife.  He earned his living doing manual labor for the people of his village.  This man was honest in all his dealing, even though the villagers around him were mostly greedy and corrupt.

His dream in life was to buy a goat; a goat is easy to take care of, and it would give him and his family milk to drink, and some to sell.  He needed the extra income because his wife just gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.

The man took all his savings and went to the town square to buy a goat, but he could not find a goat that he could afford because the merchants did not treat the poor well, and often cheated their customers.  The man was devastated.

As he left the market, a vendor yelled ‘Hey you, come on back, I have something for you.”  “Why don’t you buy this calf!’

‘A calf” thought the man “I could never afford one.”

He turned around and saw the calf the vendor was trying to sell him.  He immediately understood why.  It was an odd-looking calf that was very weak and sick.

He thought to himself, “a calf is much more expensive to raise than a goat; it will not give me any milk for another year or two.  But this is all I can afford…maybe if I work extra hard and take excellent care of it, I can have a small fortune.”

Sure enough, the man bought the calf and took on a couple of extra evening jobs to raise it.

After a few months of hard work, the man fell ill.  He tried to rest and drink whatever medicine he could afford.  But his health kept deteriorating.  He soon realized that he would not live for much longer.

Who would take care of my family?” He thought. “My wife cannot afford to take care of my son and feed this calf…..I have to do something.”

The next morning, he took the calf to the town square to look for someone to raise it for his family.

When the merchants saw this dying man with a calf, they rushed to take advantage of him.  He went from merchant to merchant, only to see greed in their eyes.  He could not trust them with his only possession.  Devastated, the man returned home with the calf.

That night, during his prayers, he turned to God and said, “My Lord, Lord of Abraham and Jacob, I have tried my best, and I cannot find anyone whom I can trust but you.  I entrust my wife, my little boy, and my only possession, this calf, to your care.” The next morning he told his wife about his prayers, and then he let the calf loose.  Later that day, this righteous man died.

After a few years had passed, the mother turned to her grown son and said, “Son, your father left you a small fortune,  A calf that he bought a few months before he died; it should be a grown cow by now.”

The son was astonished, “that is great! Where is it?”

She replied, “Your father knew I could not take care of it, so he entrusted it to God and set it free, why don’t you go and look for it?”

‘You are joking, right?! Look for it….You want me to find a cow in the fields years after my dad let it go?! I wouldn’t even know where to start”

The mother looked at him and said, “Son, you are a good man; have some faith, be like your father and pray for God to guide you.’

That night, the son sat in prayer and said “Dear God, Lord of Abraham and Moses, I put my trust in you just as my father did, please guide me to my father’s cow.”

The next morning the young man set on his search.  He aimlessly roamed from field to field, not even sure what he was looking for.  Shortly after noon, a cow came out of the woods, walked towards him, and stopped submissively.  He could barely believe his eyes.  It was exactly as his mom described.  He checked it all around; there were no markings on it; its ears have not been tagged; this cow belonged to no one!

He peaked under the cow and found its udder overfilled with milk.  Thirsty from his search, he took a drink.  It was the best tasting milk he ever had!

‘Wow!” the young man thought to himself.

As he led the cow back to his hut, he started daydreaming, “Our poverty days are over!” “Thank God! Thank you, my Lord! We will have so much milk to drink, and so much leftover to sell.”

‘I can afford medicine for my mother, and in a month or two, I can fix the leaky roof, and maybe buy a chicken or two!” ‘If we sell enough of this tasty milk, I can get married next year.”

The young man was so lost in his daydreams that he did not notice the town’s merchants rushing at him.  “STOP,” one of them yelled, “STOP!”

The young man was startled as these men rushed in and started circling his cow.  This went on for almost two minutes until one of them said,

‘This is it…this is the yellow cow Moses has been describing to us!  Here young man, take five gold coins and give us the cow.”  The young man hesitated.  Another merchant said, “Give him more, here take ten gold coins for the cow.”

‘I…I cannot sell you this cow; it belongs to my family. I have to take it to my mother.”

The merchants said “We will go with you.” As they reached the hut, the merchants offered the mother 10 then 25 then 50 gold coins; all they heard from the mother was “I won’t sell for that price.”

The son got agitated and whispered to his mother “MOM…the cow is worth much less than they are offering…PLEASE take the money!”

But as the merchants got louder and more aggressive, the son became irritated with them and yelled, “I will not sell this cow without my mother’s approval even if you give me its skin-fill of gold.”  The mother smiled and said, “Let that be the price, The cow’s skin-fill of gold.”

The merchants who had endlessly argued with Prophet Moses had no choice.  They had backed themselves into a corner and had to buy this cow at any price.

Allah punished the merchants for their years of dishonesty and for the hardship they put Prophet Moses through.  Allah rewarded this low-income family because the father and mother were righteous people who took their faith seriously.

Through the good deeds of the parents, God facilitated the affairs of this child and enriched him beyond the wealthiest people of the town.  Allah teaches us that our good deeds are the best insurance policy for our kids.

What do we learn from this story about how to develop grit?

  1. Get control over how you respond to the adverse events you experience. He turned to Allah(SWT) and fully relied upon Him(SWT). We cant control others but we can control ourselves. Taking responsibility for your own actions is key – even the word responsibility is a compound word – response AND ability. You have have the power to decide how you respond, just like the righteous father and son in this example.
  2. Know that you only really appreciate light once you have been in darkness and the value of good health once you have experienced sickness. We can learn a lot about ourselves when we struggle through a bad experience. How have we come closer to Allah(SWT)? How have our relationships grown? How have we gained strength or perspective?
  3. Practice optimism. This is not a denial of the bad. It is an acknowledgment of the good and what is possible in your life. Pair this with self-compassion and treat yourself like you would others with gentleness and pick yourself up after every fall.The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for Allah to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming.

    Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements and to store his few possessions. But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky.

    The worst had happened; everything was lost. He was stunned with grief and anger. “Allah, how could you do this to me!” he cried.

    Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him. “How did you know I was here?” asked the weary man of his rescuers. “We saw your smoke signal,” they replied. It is easy to get discouraged when things are going badly. But we shouldn’t lose heart, because Allah is at work in our lives, even in the midst of pain and suffering. His hut burning was actually a blessing in disguise. Sometimes things go wrong and we are very upset but there may come a day when you look back at that event and thank Allah for it.

    Remember Allahs promise:

    Say, “O My servants who have exceeded the limits against their souls! Do not lose hope in Allah’s mercy, for Allah certainly forgives all sins. He is indeed the All-Forgiving, Most Merciful. [Surah az-Zumar: 53]


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