Are we ready to understand and place value on the qualities of Allah? How do we value the knowledge that we receive and the value that we place on ourselves? If we belong to Allah, Allah will elevate us in every aspect. That elevation is not earned by our beauty and bank accounts, but according to our piety. Knowledge is not inborn, but something we aspire to and work for. The journey of iman is founded on showing gratitude to Allah. We will never be able to thank Him enough even if we tried, because behind every bounty we are grateful for, there are thousands of others that we are not even aware of.
So why do we need to know and respect the names of Allah? It is to personalize Allah to us so that we have an understanding of why we are worshipping Him, what we need to do to get closer to Him and what we can do to please Him. This itself is the essence of tawheed, and the foundation of our deen.
'Umar RA advised us to judge ourselves before Allah judges us on the Day of Judgment. Weigh your actions now while you still have the opportunity to rectify your lifestyle. Slow down from the fast paced material life, and remember the destroyer of pleasure – death. Plan what you are packing for your journey to the hereafter – your provisions should include your faith, a firm relationship with Allah and your good deeds. Everything else will speak against you when your good and bad deeds are being weighed. You are the one packing your provisions, and you are the one who decides what to bring with you.
In an ideal world, those closest to us would support us with our iman and be role models in our journey. Often the opposite is true.
What about people who make tahajjud and wear niqab, but in between their Qur'anic recitations and religious classes, are cruel, stingy and spend hours being lost watching television? Their journey of iman is still work in progress, and such is the case where the knowledge is not implemented once their class is over or after they've closed the Qur'an. If even the Muslim environment is not perfect, what more the outside environment?
A misconception is that the journey of knowledge means that we can dictate and change the environment to be a perfect for us. In reality this will never exist. We will never fully like the environment that we are in because we have to deal with people from all walks of life: believers, hypocrites and non believers, young and old.
The environment is part of our trial. There will be times where you are keen to get closer to Allah but your family prefers dunia. There will be times where our closest relatives become hostile when they see us taking our deen seriously. There are many cases of women wanting to wear the hijab but are prevented by the parents or husbands. There are times where we will have to oppose those beloved to us, because they are preventing us from taking the right path. Our work environment also plays a role in affecting our deen, and all these are part of our trial.
Don't feel upset even if it is your own family creating a poisonous environment. Every family is rife with problems. This is part of our journey and theirs. If their behaviour is repulsive and against the knowledge of Islam, we should thank Allah that we do not have the same characteristics as they do.
Allah will never change anyone until they change themselves internally first. The transformation of others is beyond our control. What we can control is our own spiritual evolution. If we can't change the environment, our minimum is to rise above it.
We cannot get impatient when the environment is not to our liking. Even the environment has been determined by Allah. We cannot escape from being handed out things that we severely dislike.
Think of the people who are falsely charged and wrongly imprisoned. Think of those who are persecuted and have to flee their homes because of political situations outside of their control. Think of how difficult it would have been to practice Islam in the household of the Pharaoh, but his wife did it anyway and did not use him as an excuse to shy away from Islam. What about the casualties of war – innocent civilians being caught in crossfire or targeted by military strikes? What are our obstacles to the deen compared to theirs?
We cannot divorce ourselves from our realities. Even the way we look and the talents we have are things that we must live with in contentment – our inability to accept our natural looks are the foundations on which the cosmetics industries thrive.
The manner of remembering and calling Allah must be respected. What is the value of the zikr, if we have no contentment or patience? We do zikr but we are continuously angry and frustrated at our circumstances. Who created the situation? Many people fail to make that connection, not realizing that being upset with their circumstances means that they are indirectly angry with Allah.
In Islam there is no room for blaming and complaining. We have expectations which are often against how real life unfolds. We are happy when Allah gives us something sweet, but we swing the other way when Allah gives us something bitter.
If we were given a cake, but it's missing one slice, what do we focus on? The cake or the missing piece? This is a component of our journey of iman, which is often founded by our situations being riddled by the imperfect and the incomplete.
So how come some with hijab, beard, niqab and other cosmetic components of Islam have bad manners? This is because they do not know the reality of their journeys. Their behaviours clash with true Islamic behaviour, and thus their appearance is just window dressing to a dirty or empty shop.
Listening is one thing, understanding is one thing, developing the journey is another matter. Many people believe that the Islamic appearance is the pinnacle of worship and stop their journey there. Without the effort to work on fixing their spiritual diseases, there is no improvement at all to the individual, and the entire journey is stunted because of the lack of self development and spiritual enrichment.
This is why Islam always comes with "homework" – it is an active, living religion, and not something that belongs on a dusty bookshelf! However, the challenges and obstacles will always remain. Many of the early Companions were chained up and brutalised by their own family members. Nowadays, even in an Islamic family, the veneer of Islam is very thin, and their daily rituals, goals, lifestyles and alliances are to materialism and even to non Islamic cultures. Many second generation Muslims in Western countries are now accustomed to celebrating Christmas in their households, and discard their Muslim names in favour of Moe for Muhammad and Faye for Fatimah, because they are slowly adopting the cultures of other religious celebrations to feel included in society. Many Muslims are regressing to jahiliyyah behaviour without realising it. Similarly, if you feel isolated and strange if you want to step back into the Islamic path, this is also a normal reaction.
There is only one Islam, and it is based on the Qur'an and Sunnah. Always remember to follow the religion as taught by Rasulullah SAW, and not the religion as practiced by your friends and family – in that way, you are sure to be on the right path – even if you are the only one in the family travelling that direction.