3 Buckets

by Omar Jamil

Everyone is busy. In fact, everyone believes that they are busier than the average person (which is impossible!). Though people generally recognize that others have commitments and obligations, they only have a firsthand view of their own requirements, and so we perceive ourselves to be busier than those around us.

Whether you ask a 3rd grader or a freshman in college, both will tell you that they have too much work! Is a freshman in college objectively busier than a 3rd grader? Of course, but both are busy according to their own capacities.

While everyone shares a common thread of being busy at their own level, we share something else that is even more important.

Really, we are not that busy, and could be using our time much more efficiently. We waste way too much time. All of us. Take it upon yourself to tabulate how much time you are using inefficiently. Every minute that you spend on social media, playing games on your phone, perusing the internet, engaging in useless talk or simply doing nothing, and you will find that your hours of productivity may equal or be outweighed by your hours of waste.

Imam Ghazali, may Allah be pleased with him, was not only a master of the Islamic sciences, but was an excellent life coach in his own right. Imam Ghazali wrote “The Revival of the Religious Sciences,” one of his many works, in only a few years. That feat in itself requires incredible dedication and an excellent use of time. But more noteworthy was the way he wrote “The Beginning of Guidance.” One of Imam Ghazali’s students asked him for a summary of “The Revival,” citing the length of the work. In response, Imam Ghazali later that day gave the student the completed work called “The Beginning of Guidance”. Both novice and elite students of knowledge now uses that text as a one stop shop for Islamic development. Not surprisingly, in the text, Imam Ghazali discusses the importance of using our time wisely, and how that is an essential component in our progress as Muslims.

So what can we do to use our time more efficiently? Primarily, we need to identify our priorities. Imagine that time if water flowing out of a faucet, and that we must catch it in buckets. The 3 buckets that will help you use this time the best; the three buckets without holes in them are Islam, your family/social obligations/rest and work/school. Your prayers goes into Bucket 1, talking to your parents and checking on your friends and sleeping falls into Bucket 2, your homework and extra curricular activities fall into Bucket 3. All of these things are productive. All of these activities allow us to catch time without wasting any of it. Other buckets exist but are not as reliable. Social media, video games, TV shows, movies, gossip etc. These buckets may seem to help you bond with friends or relax, but understand that they have holes in them, and that at the end of these activities, you will have nothing to show for them, and usually come away with some sins. If we examine our actions we will quickly find that much of our time is spent filling up faulty buckets, and we are accumulating little water in the three buckets that matter most.

In the Qur’an Allah SWT says in a Surah we have all memorized that “By Time, Indeed Man is in Loss” (103:1-2). If we can remind ourselves of how quickly time if passing by, and focus on catching it with our most productive activities, we will not only be more productive in this world, but have more to show for our actions in the hereafter.


Shooting at the Right Target

by Faraz Baig

If anyone has ever played rec league basketball as a kid, you probably remember the time one of the players got the ball and started going towards the wrong goal. Everyone shouts frantically at him to stop, but the kid is on a mission! With laser-like focus, he swoops towards the goal, shoots, scores, and turns around with a huge grin on his face, ready to celebrate. And then…the realization hits. Woops. Yup…the rec league basketball experience never seems complete without that guy.

Just like the scenario above, with anything you do in life, you have to understand where you are trying to go before you start worrying about the how. It sounds rather easy, right? But it’s not always as black-and-white as it would be in basketball. At least in basketball, you have people desperately yelling at you when you start going the wrong way. But in real life, you usually only find out after you’ve scored in the wrong goal.

Allah, through His Mercy, has informed us of the ultimate goal: Paradise. He has also informed us of the reality of this life. The translation of verses 20-21 of Surah al-Hadid reads, “Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion?

Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden whose width is like the width of the heavens and Earth, prepared for those who believed in Allah and His messengers.

Certainly, it’s very liberating to know that this life is ultimately worth nothing and that the real prize is in the Hereafter. But just knowing the ultimate goal isn’t enough: you also have to have specific goals to keep you on track day-to-day.

You see, there’s this law psychologists have called “Parkinson’s Principle.” It basically says that “the amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.” In other words, if I asked you to turn in an assignment in 30 minutes, you’d finish it up and have it to me in 30 minutes. But if I asked you to turn the same assignment in next Monday morning, guess what? You’d probably take all the way until Monday morning to finish because it tends to go to the bottom of your to-do list until then. The takeaway point: people respond to deadlines. We need deadlines in front of us; otherwise, nothing gets done.

Isn’t this so true for us as Muslims? How tempting is it to say, “I’ll become more serious about Islam later?” It’s good that we realize the importance of being serious, but unfortunately, “later” usually starts off as “after high school,” and then it becomes “after college,” and then it becomes “after I get a job,” and then it becomes “after marriage,” and so on. All this while, we can’t escape this fact: we have no idea when our time will expire.

So since we don’t know when “the” deadline (i.e. death) is, having short-term goals can give us some deadlines to help us stay on track inshaAllah.

Much has been written about harnessing the power of good goals in order to achieve success. Below are some good tips for setting good goals. By no means is this an all-inclusive list of advices for goal-setting…it’s just some nice advices I have received and have found useful:

  1. Intentions, intentions, intentions

Every action starts here. If you have this step down, then your pursuit will be successful, plain and simple. The Prophet (SAW) said, “The deeds are considered by the intentions, and a person will get the reward according to his intention.” (Bukhari and Muslim) So if one just has a sincere intention to seek reward from Allah, then he is already on the path to success.

  1. Shoot high!

Nobody shoots for the bottom in worldly affairs, right? We want the best grades, the best jobs, etc. Religion doesn’t have to be any different. Why shoot for the bottom ranks of Paradise when everyone is qualified to shoot for the top?

I love some cliché old sayings…even though they might seem cheesy, they still can drive home points, so here’s a relevant one: “Shoot for the moon, and if you miss, you’ll still land amongst the stars.”

  1. Be specific

“Be good” isn’t exactly the best goal. It’s similar to shooting baskets blind-folded: one knows the general direction to go in, but it leaves an awful lot to chance. Specific goals are much more meaningful. Something like “Pray 5x a day,” “recite 15 minutes of Quran before going to sleep,” “give x amount of charity once a month,” etc. will be much more useful in leading to actions.

  1. No action is too small!

Some of the best actions in Islam are the smallest ones. The hadith literature makes clear that many seemingly small actions, such as praying on time, reciting Quran, cleaning the Masjid, remembering Allah, standing in the front row of prayers, and even just smiling at your brother carry a humongous amount of reward. There are many more actions which yield huge blessings despite requiring only minimal effort. So if these small actions are turned into daily habits, then the rewards start to add up in a big-time hurry!

  1. Keep on moving forward!

Brother Imran Salha has been giving some very beneficial classes on tazkiyyah (self-purification) at IFN. One of the key points he drove home at a recent session was that in order to purify ourselves, we have to keep striving and not get lazy. A very eloquent example he used was that of water: water that is dormant gets contaminated, but water that is flowing tends to stay fresh and clean. Similarly, as Muslims, if we get lazy and stop trying to improve ourselves, we’ll decay, but if we keep pushing, we’ll keep on purifying ourselves inshaAllah.

These are just a few points. For the interested reader, there are many other materials related to goal-setting that are definitely worth reading. There are some sites specifically tailored to Muslims as well, such as productivemuslim.com.

Just remember that at the end of the day, taking any steps to please Allah pays huge dividends. As the Prophet (SAW) related to us, Allah says “He who draws close to Me a hand’s span, I will draw close to him an arm’s length. And whoever draws near Me an arm’s length, I will draw near him a fathom’s length. And whoever comes to Me walking, I will go to him running.” (Sahih Muslim)

And Allah knows best. We ask Allah to send His peace and blessings on the Prophet (SAW).

How to Treat Others in Islam

by Safiya Arif

Every time there’s a holiday about appreciating others (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, etc.) my parents always say something like “Every day is Mother’s Day.” While they appreciate the extra love that day, they remind us that we’re supposed to constantly show love and respect to everyone around us, including but definitely not limited to our parents, siblings, and friends. They remind us that our kindness shouldn’t be a one-day production, but rather a part of everyday life. And they’re right!

Our character and the way we treat others are major aspects of the teachings of the Prophet (S). He (S) was kind to everyone he met, even to his enemies. He made people feel respected and special to the point where each one of his companions thought they were his favorite. In any and every situation RasulAllah (S) was the epitome of perfect character and as Muslims, we should strive to embody that.

Over winter break my siblings and I went to Toronto to attend the Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention. One lecture given by Shaykha Muslema Purmul particularly stood out to me and it relates really well to this topic. She spoke about improving our relationships with our families and friends, and she gave us 4 guidelines to focus on.

  1. Rahma Mercy

Be merciful with the people around you. Give them more than what they ask for out of love for them. Go out of your way to make others happy.

This is applicable every day, when you get home from school and your parents excitedly ask you, “What did you do today?” Instead of replying with the usual “nothing,” (It’s okay, that’s what I used to say too…) respond with a proper answer. You might be exhausted and not in the mood to talk, but that’s what’s meant by being merciful with those around you. Have a conversation about your day, because even if it doesn’t mean much to you, it’ll mean the world to them. And by making your parents happy, you are making Allah swt happy inshallah. Your parents have shown you this kind of love since the moment you were born. They don’t have to drive you to your friend’s house or buy you all the things you want, but they’re good parents so they do it to make you happy. And since they love you so much, your happiness brings them joy. As children we should also try to make our parents happy, and we should find joy in their happiness.

Rahma is also important with your siblings. When your brother or sister comes into your room and starts bothering you, usually it’s because they want your attention. Instead of telling them to go away, reply by giving them what they want. Next time your brother wants to play basketball and you would rather read a book, consider playing with him to spend time with him. Next time your sister wants to go shopping and you would rather go biking, consider giving her this one and making her happy.

Our religion is so beautiful that even smiling is an act of charity and worship. Imagine the reward you will get for going beyond that when you act selflessly with those around you.

  1. Karam – Generosity

Be generous with your love and kindness for others by always highlighting the good characteristics of people. Be thankful for the beautiful traits you find in people and love them despite their flaws. Affection comes from gratitude, and generosity comes from affection. So ultimately, you will be a more giving person if you are thankful.

For example, let’s say you and your friend had an argument about something. Suddenly all of that friend’s bad characteristics come to mind and you’re so irritated that you wonder why you’re friends with that person in the first place. At this point you can only see their flaws. This happens in every relationship. At some point someone will say or do something that bothers you. It’s important, however, to be generous with them and give them the benefit of the doubt. Think about what may have caused them to say what they’ve said and do what they’ve done. Try to come up with excuses for them before you think anything bad about them. And remember all the good of their personality, how much fun you always have with each other, and what a great friend they’ve been to you since you met them. Suddenly that friend doesn’t seem so bad and you’re not as angry anymore.

Generosity can be applied with strangers as well. Sometimes when I’m driving I’ll notice a car cutting everyone off and dangerously speeding through traffic. Part of me gets really annoyed and I’m hoping a police officer will stop them. But another part of me likes to pretend that the driver is rushing to the hospital because his wife is about to have a baby. Suddenly I’m making dua that he gets there safely and that the baby is born healthy. The same type of generosity goes for when someone bumps in to you at school. You can become angry and wonder what you did to deserve it, or you can give them the benefit of the doubt and think it was probably just an accident.

“If you’re good to those who are good to you, then what good are you?” – Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ninowy

When you give others the benefit of the doubt and focus on the good, you’ll find that your relationship with them will only improve.

  1. Sakina – Tranquility

Tranquility is extremely important when dealing with others. You shouldn’t feel like you’re walking on eggshells around people and you shouldn’t make people feel like they’re walking on eggshells around you. You should feel safe to be yourself and have differences of opinions. One disagreement shouldn’t ruin everything. Respect and forgiveness play a huge role here.

When you and your friend don’t disagree on something, you should respect their opinion and know that they’re allowed to have one that’s different from yours. It’s okay to have a discussion about it but try to be kind and courteous about it. Try not to alienate them for having a mind of their own.

Allah swt created us all to have our own personalities. We should appreciate each other for the unique traits we have and try to learn from each other. And we shouldn’t feel weird for being different ourselves. Instead, know that you have something that nobody else has to contribute to the world and be proud of it. Know that weird is actually awesome.

  1. Mawaddah – Compassion

Take a moment to think about the people closest to you. They’re the people who are happy when you’re happy. They’re the people who support you when you’re down. They’re the people that value mawaddah.

RasulAllah (S) said, “The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Nowadays people’s first instinct is to put each other down. When you see someone succeeding, be happy for them and be inspired by them. The same goes for when people are struggling. Be empathetic and if you can, help them.

Decide what kind of person you want to be, set out on working on improving your good characteristics and diminishing your flaws. Be the best you can be and touch the lives of the people in your life.

The Prophet (S) said, “There are seven whom Allah will shade on His Shade on the Day when there is no shade except His Shade.” Of those seven categories, one is “two men who love each other for Allah’s sake, meeting for that and parting upon that” [Al-Bukhaari and Muslim]. Inshallah we can all make the intention to treat our families, friends, and anyone else we come across with kindness and respect, for no other reason but to please Allah swt. May Allah swt make us people of this category and grant us His Shade on the Day of Judgment. Ameen.

Have you used any of these guidelines with your family or friends? Have they shown rahma, karam, sakina, or mawaddah toward you? Do you have any other strategies that can help us become people of this category? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Lent 101

by Sara Fadlalla

So, what is Lent? That is the question I wonder each year when the Easter candy starts springing up in the store aisles, and fast food chains have special deals on their fish sandwiches. Learning about different religions and their religious practices is crucial, especially when respecting other’s faiths is important and specifically stated in the Quran and Hadith. So where does Lent come from in the scriptural texts and why is it so important?

Lent historically was a means for early Christians to self-examine and self-deny in preparation for Easter. Because of this self-denial and self-examination, early Christians used fasting to demonstrate those actions. By denying oneself food, he or she is then able to really reflect and examine oneself. This is not too far off from what happens during Ramadan; when we stop eating and drinking, we grow weak, tired, and our true selves present themselves, and in that way we are able to evaluate our character, and grow and think more clearly. Today, though, there are various more lax stipulations about Lent, although the two major notions of self-denial and self-examination still exist. Catholics, for example, have relaxed some of the stricter fasting rules making only Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the Fridays preceding Lent days of fasting. This is not fasting in the Muslim sense, but fasting from, what was considered luxurious, so meat specifically and some Christians likewise avoid eating dairy products and eggs because of their medieval stance as luxury. This explains why restaurants begin providing an even greater variety of fish, which historically was viewed as less of a luxury item, and much more commonplace.

Why do people give something up during Lent? Well, if you recall the rationale behind Lent are those of self-denial and self-examination; therefore, denying oneself pleasurable and desired things (like chocolate, sweets, or other delights) helps in reflection and examination through denial of chosen item. This also shows some overlap with Ramadan in our restraint from things that are halal, yet still impede in our ability to truly benefit from Ramadan. An example of this may be limiting the amount of time spent playing video games or watching television in order to read more Quran and pray Taraweeh in the Masjid.

Basically, Lent is the Christian derivation of self-reflection, self-denial, and self-examination, and when we really think about it, Ramadan has a lot of those same characteristics. So, whenever I ask a friend what they’ve given up for Lent, I think having a grasp of why they choose to do so will allow me to never belittle their religious experience just because I think mine may be seemingly “more difficult” because, at the end of the day, denying oneself of something for the sake of their beliefs is a struggle many faith traditions can agree upon is both very challenging and rewarding.