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Islam is a Marathon – Not a Sprint

Islam is a Marathon – Not a Sprint
To successfully race toward Allah, we need patience and perseverance, yes. But we also need firm belief in Him and in His plan for us.

“Just put one foot in front of the other,” I demanded of myself.

I was running uphill, past a water station, and felt like I wasn’t going to make it to the top.

It was the first marathon I had ever run—26.2 miles, a little over 40 kilometers. Before the marathon, people had told me about hitting “the wall,” the point where moving forward became the most difficult. I think I had about six miles left to run when I hit mine.

I remember just wanting to stop. Six more miles—another hour of running—seemed like way too much.

My pace lessened. Other runners passed me on my right and on my left. I felt discouraged. How long was it going to take me to finish?

Finish.

Yes, I reminded myself. That was my goal, to finish.

Something stirred inside of me. I had to keep going. My pace was slower, but I was still moving forward. I was, insha’Allah (God-willing), going to finish…”

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people run marathons—races that are 26.2 miles in length—all over the world.

Most of them are not professional runners. They come from various backgrounds and professions, speak different languages and have diverse reasons for running. However, all of them have something in common: they all have to train.

No one can just get up one morning and decide to run a twenty-six mile race because he heard an inspirational talk or read a motivational article about doing so.

Running a marathon takes months of training—physical training, yes, but also psychological training to develop the needed patience and perseverance to finish the course.

My own marathon training had begun months before the race. I followed a pretty strict schedule. In the first week, I would run two miles a day, four days of the week. At the end of the week, I would go out for a “long” run. Initially, my long run was just three or four miles. But with each week, I increased my mileage and my long runs got longer and longer.

After six months, my long run was almost twenty-six miles. I was ready to run my first marathon.

I know you might be wondering, what does training for a marathon have to do with Islam? Why tell this story now?

Well, training for and running a marathon taught me many things, but namely, how important patience and perseverance are when we want to accomplish something or go somewhere. This lesson is applicable in a lot of areas in life, but especially as we strive to grow in our faith.

Uncovering the Truth

Allah tells us that He has taken an oath from all the humans He created when we were in a realm of existence that preceded this physical world. The Quran refers to this:

{And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them bear witness against their own souls, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes! We bear witness.”} (7:172)

Thus, in each of us there is this truth, that Allah is our Lord and that we were created for His worship.

When this truth is not nurtured, it gets covered up by the spiritual dust we accumulate in life. We get so caught up in our ordinary routines, and so distracted by the glitz and glamour on display around us, that we forget that truth is even there.

Sometimes, by Allah’s will, a small piece of that truth peeks out at us from under the dust. Maybe it’s in response to an experience we have that reminds us of Allah, or because of a lecture we hear, or an article we read.

When this happens, we feel a burst of spiritual energy propel us forward, and we feel like we are at the start of a race, about to sprint out onto a brand new track. We want to run full-speed towards Allah, away from the self we so badly need to reform.

But after moving quickly forward for a few steps, we start to lose steam. We burn out. We feel like it’s just too far of a distance to be sprinting the whole way. Maybe we even stop altogether, wondering what we could have done wrong. Was our return to Allah not sincere?

Why can’t we keep moving forward at the same pace?

Our Problem

No. We haven’t done anything wrong.

No, there’s nothing lacking in the sincerity of our return. We’ve simply begun the race with the wrong premise, the wrong assumption.

You see, Islam is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.

Almost anyone can sprint quickly for a short distance and then stop. But a marathon is different. Even the best runners in the world cannot run at their sprint speed for 26.2 miles. They have to pace themselves to complete the course.

Our problem, thus, isn’t in the length of the race itself. It’s in the idea that we should undertake the race at full-speed, all at once.

Islam is a Marathon

Like a marathon, Islam is a long-distance course. It is a life-long endeavor that requires training of the self.

It also requires patience and perseverance. Patience to do what Allah has asked of us and stay away from that which He has prohibited; perseverance to continue following the light of Islam even when everything around us seems dark.

And like the marathon runner, sometimes we all hit spiritual “walls,” times when it seems difficult just to put one foot in front of the other. At such times, in addition to patience and perseverance, we need something else—something greater.

“…Six miles left, then five, then four. It wasn’t easy. Some moments were excruciating. I tried to remember Allah, to glorify Him with each step, and to remember that with each step, I was closer.

Soon, the end was in sight. I could see the huge stopwatch at the side of the finish. I had been running for over 4 hours; not a world record, not even close. But I had done my best, and all thanks was to Allah.

In a blur of people and noise, I crossed the finish line. The marathon had finally ended. I moved to the side, and kneeled over, just trying to catch my breath. I felt weak and tired, but exhilarated as well and very thankful to Allah. After so many months of training, I had finally completed the race.”

Allah Almighty tells us:

{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. That is the bounty of Allah which He gives to whom He wills, and Allah is the possessor of great bounty.} (57:21)

To successfully race toward Allah, we need patience and perseverance, yes. But we also need firm belief in Him and in His plan for us. We need to know that even though life is full of tests, a great bounty is waiting for us at the finish line—Allah’s forgiveness and Jannah (Paradise). That is what gives us peace, even in the face of challenges. That is what stirs something inside of us at difficult times and helps us keep going.

Anyone who’s run a marathon will tell you how challenging it is; they’ll also tell you that their happiness at the finish line outweighed the pain they undoubtedly felt during the race. But getting to the finish line takes more than just a sprint at the beginning. The same holds true when we talk about Islam.

True victory comes from following Allah’s guidance—with patience, perseverance, and a firm conviction that His promise for us is true—until when Allah wills for us, we finish the course.

May Allah help all of us to do so.

(This article is from Discovering Islam’s archive)


About Marwa Abdalla

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