Driven by our spiritual beliefs, we Muslims demonstrated unrelenting dedication, commitment, and sincerity for the full month of Ramadan. We pushed to achieve more in reward by setting and keeping to a discipline without fail for the consecutive 30 days. For most of us, procrastination became a non-issue. We endured physical strain through long prayers, hunger and thirst during the day, and little and interrupted sleep schedules. All in all, we shirked little in stepping out of our comfort zones and though a positive mental attitude, focus and self motivation, not for a moment any of these stresses deterred us from attaining our spiritual goals.
Believe it or not – what most of us demonstrated for the full month of Ramadan were traits required to attain personal excellence. People have accomplished more, tackled and resolved the most difficult problems, and become effective leaders by espousing these traits of excellence. Why then, one wonders, do a majority of Muslims fail to achieve the same levels of excellence in other areas of their lives? Why is the plight of Muslims today only mediocre at best? Why do so many Muslims sincere and passionate in their prayers, fasting and other rituals snap out of the spirit of Islam in other aspects of their lives?
A chasm obviously exists between how we successfully step up to excel in our religious rituals and how we otherwise choose not to do so in other aspects of our lives. Because if we habitually lived by the same traits of excellence, we would excel more in our careers, learning and education, dealings with people, enjoy exemplary family lives, possess great health and healthy relationships, and dramatically improve all aspects of our lives. If each one of us did their part to drive toward excellence, the plight of Muslims the world over will be much better than what it is today.
The answer to this “disconnect” lies deep in our minds and is mostly attributed to our beliefs. Our beliefs ingrained in our psyche, whether spiritual or otherwise, provide us with feelings of certainty and drive us to take the right actions. So, while the strength of our spiritual beliefs drives us to take the right actions and consequently to excel on spiritual fronts (one proof of which we saw in Ramadan), lack of such strength in beliefs related to other areas of our lives keeps us from moving forward. Therefore, when we hold weak beliefs (or none at all) related to our desired actions, we only do the very minimal to get by – a far cry from what is needed to excel in those areas. As a result, we struggle in our relationships, have lower standards of education, pursue mediocre professional careers, struggle with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and so on.
Beliefs propel us to take action that we otherwise would struggle with. For example, how many chain smokers do you know of who can quit smoking for hours during Ramadan, which they are not able to do otherwise? How many brides and grooms do you know of who were able to lose weight a few weeks before their wedding that they otherwise could not do earlier? How many cardiac patients do you know of who were able to alter their diet plans and healthy lifestyles permanently after they endured a serious heart attack? In all such cases, something changes in their minds that make them take full-fledged action without fail. That is the power of beliefs.
In changing behaviors, forcing oneself to act without believing works only for the short term. Can you recall how many times have you forced yourself to get into the habit of doing something but reverted to your old way of doing things? How many times have you forced your children to do something only to see no change in their behavior for the long run? Quran teaches us too that simply the act of praying for example does not mean much unless one is grounded in the right beliefs. Consider this verse in the Quran:
Righteousness is not that you turn your faces towards the East or the West (in prayers), but righteousness is the one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book and the Prophets. [Surah al?Baqarah (2):177].
So, if you have failed to see certain results in any area of your life that is because you must address your underlying beliefs related to what you have been trying to change. Simply forcing yourself to act for the moment can get you only so far.
Forming of Beliefs
Your beliefs come together through a combination of your experiences, knowledge, and the process of thought and reflection. Such beliefs also strengthen (or weaken) through the interplay of the same three factors. You can probably easily see how the interplay of these three factors have shaped your spiritual beliefs. The exact same applies to other areas of your life as well.
We know for example, that some of the beliefs that you develop through your childhood experiences carry forward in your life. Research done over the years has proven conclusively that children who are physically and mentally abused, become desensitized to human feelings, and unless other factors intervene in that upbringing, many such children become criminals. Repetition and intensity of life’s experiences thus plays a major role in building associations in the human mind and forming of various types of beliefs.
To have the right beliefs, experience must be coupled with knowledge. A “Superstition” is an example where certain experiences help in the formation of beliefs without the foundations of knowledge. People wrongly associate certain actions (e.g. black cat crossing a path) to certain results (bringing misery). Acquiring knowledge thus can help dissolve those superstitious beliefs. The more we learn about a subject and the more we increase our knowledge, the stronger our beliefs get related to that area and the more it can influence us to take on the right agenda for excellence. For example, if you start to regularly read and learn about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you will surely become more aware of healthy eating habits, thus dramatically influencing your physical well being. However, it is also important to tap on the right knowledge in firming up our beliefs. In his book, Al-Fawaid, Ibn Qayyim said that any piece of knowledge that does not make faith (belief) stronger is abnormal. Distorted knowledge can help develop misaligned beliefs that can hurt more than it can help.
The process of thought and reflection (thinking, pondering, and critical questioning) is the third factor that guides our beliefs to get even more powerful. Investing some time to critically question ourselves, engaging in critical thinking, deep contemplation, examining the facts, putting together our knowledge and experiences, logical reasoning and other such behavior can help in uncovering more wisdom that can feed into the strengthening of our beliefs. The key again is to take the time to engage in such reflection and thought.
The Quran for example includes numerous verses to guide people to use critical thinking and questioning to help firm their spiritual beliefs. Sura Rahman for example is full of such questioning and critical reasoning verses after each of which Quran states: “Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both (jinns and men) deny?” [Sura Rahman].
The bottom line is that we need to develop the right beliefs for the various dimensions of our lives. This also means that we break through any limiting beliefs that may be limiting us from achieving our true potential. Consider the example of a cricket. When a cricket is placed in a closed jar, the cricket jumps and hits his head against the lid. After repeated attempts, if the jar’s lid is opened, the cricket jumps no higher than the jar lid because that’s how his experiences have conditioned him. This can happen to us. Through our experiences if we have been accustomed to do only so much for ourselves and for everyone around us, we may have developed limiting beliefs that keep us from achieving our true potential. Seeking more knowledge and reflecting on it can help reverse this dynamics and propel us on the avenues of excellence.
Roger Bannister, the person who first broke the record in the 1950s by running a distance of one mile in under 4-minutes, stated, “Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt…”. Yet, he first believed he could break that record and then practiced until he actually broke that record. Once he broke that record, many more athletes broke the same 4-minute barrier within a few months proving that wrong beliefs held in one’s mind can sometimes restrict our potential. As Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the top of Mount Everest said, “it is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”. (Ref )
Therefore, as we say goodbye to Ramadan until next year, we need to hang tight to the traits of personal excellence that each one of us demonstrated so passionately during that month and bring them into other areas of our lives by appropriately calibrating our beliefs. Because as we Muslims play the game of LIFE by the rules of Islam, we need to do it properly. Remember – Islam is a COMPLETE way of life and not one limited to the few rituals of praying and fasting. Ramadan helped us brush the dust off of our personal potentials. Given the right set of beliefs, it showed you and me how to excel in certain areas of our lives. There is no reason now to prorcrastinate in espousing those traits of excellence permanently and it’s time that you use that potential in all areas of your life.
…………… The IqraSense.com Blogger