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Finding Our Way (Part 2)

Part 1

When speaking with young adults, I often ask them to do certain activities.

One such activity involves drawing a rectangle on a piece of paper. In the space outside the rectangle I ask everyone to write words describing how they feel other people view them. Some might write words like “responsible” or “smart,” others might write things like “funny” or “happy”.

Inside the rectangle, I ask everyone to write words that describe how they see themselves. Often, the words on the inside of the rectangle are directly opposed to those outside of it. Why is this the case?

How we see and evaluate ourselves, our self-esteem, is extremely important. A lot of us judge ourselves much more harshly than we judge others. And while it’s important to identify areas we need to work on, it’s also important to develop confidence in who we are and in the skills Allah has blessed us with.

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The Prophet Muhammad taught his companions to be confident without being arrogant. We can do this by recognizing the good in ourselves as a blessing from Allah, being thankful to Him, and continuously trying to earn His pleasure and improve ourselves for His sake.

Often in my talks with young adults, I’ll use acronyms to help us remember certain concepts. The acronym GREAT reminds us of things we can focus on in an effort to improve ourselves.

G: is for Grateful. Did you know that practicing gratitude is one of the most important things we can do to keep us healthy? Scientists who study gratitude have shown that feeling thankful for what we have can have a positive effect on our physical health, on our psychological well-being, and on our relationships with others. In other words, being grateful for what Allah has given us helps keep our minds, bodies and souls healthier.

One of the most common phrases the Muslim will repeat in his or her life is the phrase: Alhamdulillah. We recite this phrase in the beginning of Surat Al-Fatiha in every raka’ (unit) of prayer we pray. When asked how we are doing, we usually begin by saying “Alhamdulillah.” Most of us are used to saying Alhamdulillah when something good or that we perceive as good happens.

But what about when something that we think is bad happens to us? Even then, Islam teaches us that being grateful is still very important. How can we be grateful when things aren’t going our way? Firstly, we can remind ourselves that whatever is happening to us is by the will of Allah and that Allah always wants what is best for us and is more Merciful towards us than even our parents.

We can also remember that regardless of how bad things may seem, they could have been worse. One of the companions, Omar ibn Al-Khatab, used to always feel grateful that whatever calamity he was suffering did not cause him to lose his faith.

Practicing gratitude involves more than just lip-service. If we say Alhamdulillah but we don’t really mean it or feel it at the level of our hearts than our practice of gratitude really isn’t complete. We should do our best to think about the blessings in our lives and really feel thankful at the level of our hearts.

R: is for Respectful. We should be respectful of ourselves and of others. Respect is a feeling of deep admiration for someone that stems from that person’s abilities or qualities. Islam teaches that all people are inherently good and are honored and dignified by their Creator. When we think about ourselves and whenever we conduct ourselves, we need to do so with respect. Allah has blessed us with minds, bodies, and souls, that we need to take care of, and part of this involves not putting ourselves down or doing things that debase us or humiliate us.

Respecting others involves a lot of things, but maybe the most important place to begin is to give people the benefit of the doubt and do our best not to judge others. What we see of other people is only a superficial part of them. None of us really knows what is going on in the lives of others—they may be dealing with a stressful situation at home, or just going through a tough time. Throughout life, respecting others in the way we speak to them and interact with them—even in the way we think about them—will help us build the foundations for healthy relationships later on in life.

E: Energetic. The Prophet used to seek refuge with Allah from laziness. Feeling lazy makes us less energetic to do good. In the Quran, when Allah talks about the people who believe, He follows it with “and do good deeds.” Belief and doing good are closely tied together in Islam. As Muslims, whenever there is the opportunity to do good, whether it be with our parents, neighbors, friends, or communities, we should be energetic about taking advantage of it. When we feel tired or lazy, let us remember that any good we do, if done sincerely for the sake of Allah, will not only earn us reward in the hereafter, but will also, Insha’Allah, be of good to us in this life.

A: Aware. Awareness is fundamental in Islam. Actually, the time before Islam was revealed is often referred to as the time of “ignorance,” or jahiliya. The Prophet was asked about taqwa and he pointed to his heart and said three times:

“Taqwa is here.”

Taqwa is an Arabic word that means to shield oneself or protect oneself. When we have taqwa, we are aware that Allah is watching us and we do whatever we can to shield ourselves from displeasing Him. That means we don’t use our eyes to look at things or our ears to hear things that would displease Allah. It also means we watch who we are hanging around with and what we are doing with our time. Remembering that Allah is with us all the time, even when we are alone, helps us stay away from things that could harm us.

Knowing that Allah is with us also helps us when we feel like we’re going through something difficult. Allah tells us to call upon Him, to ask His help, to make du’a for Him and to remember Him. In Surat Al Baqarah, Allah says:

{And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.} (Quran 2:186)

T: Thoughtful. We should always be thoughtful about how we can improve ourselves. As young adults, it’s often tempting to say, “that’s it, I’m good enough,” and stop working on our imaan. But doing so is dangerous, because usually in life, if we aren’t getting better at something, we’re getting worse at it.

Think about athletes. They can’t just train for a few weeks a year and then expect to stay in shape. They are constantly trying to improve their game, their speed, or their level of fitness. The same is true of us. We should always be trying to improve ourselves—how to improve our knowledge, our skills, and our imaan.

Read Part 3.

About Marwa Abdalla
Marwa Abdalla received her B.A. in political science from Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Texas, and is currently working toward a degree in Islamic Studies with the American Open University. She is interested in writing about Islam, marriage and family. Her writing has been published in a book entitled Toward the Well Being of Humanity as well as on numerous websites. She lives with her husband and three daughters in San Diego, CA.