Guard your Gains
“And do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly or send it [in bribery] to the rulers in order that [they might aid] you [to] consume a portion of the wealth of the people in sin, while you know [it is unlawful]” (Quran 2:188). This verse comes immediately after a long description of fasting and the rules regarding the abstinence from food and drinks during the daytime of Ramadan. This sequence of rules communicates a simple and direct insight; that is, managing to stay away from the consumption of essential halal food temporarily empowers us to stay away from the engagement in haram behavior or transactions permanently. If we manage to avoid the halal during Ramadan, we can easily realize that we have the potential to avoid the haram after Ramadan. Only what we need is more discipline, not more motivation. Motivation does not change our behavior; discipline does.
Discipline is defined as “training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior.” The spiritual exercises in Islam, such as regular prayer, fasting, remembrance of Allah, du’a, giving, pilgrimage, self-examination, etc., are designed to facilitate our spiritual growth and character building. They are not mere ritualism. Being consistent in practicing these disciplines will eventually lead to spiritual “self-discipline” as we become more affirmed in our identity as believers.
Let us consider the five daily prayers and its role as a spiritual discipline. First, offering these prayers gives us a break from our exposure to sin or haram environment. If we keep exposing ourselves to the haram, we start developing an acquaintance with sin. This sinful familiarity will “minimize the burden of sin against the self and diminish the heart’s distaste of sinning” as explained by Imam al-Ghazali. Second, the regular observance of these prayers serves as protection from feelings of despair when we fall. During the prayers, we prostrate before Allah in complete surrender. This surrender is a way of renewing our covenant and relationship with Allah, a way of demonstrating who we are and who He is. A true humble servant finds joy in expressing this relation; yet, an arrogant heart, that idolizes itself, finds it difficult to express this obvious fact.
Moreover, when the prayers are offered in congregation, the spiritual benefits will be maximized as the daily prayers ensure the creation of a supportive community where you do not feel spiritually lonely in a world of materialism and distraction. It is hard to separate our spiritual growth from the environment we locate ourselves in. Learn from the Bonsai tree. Some tend to view it as a dwarf; yet, it has the same potential to grow as a full-size tree. It is the tiny pots it is raised in that restrict its growth.
By Sh. Ahmed Arafat