“My wearing hijab is like for show, a facade,” a sister once said to me. “There is no iman inside.”

“I used to be so close to Allah. Now I can’t go back to that state anymore.”

Another sister, who was struggling to perform her daily prayers, asked me for advice. Surprisingly, whatever advice I gave her, she already knew beforehand. In fact, she probably knew about it better than me. Her problem wasn’t a lack of knowledge, but something totally different.

Many Muslims suffer from this spiritual degeneration. Once upon a time, we used to be exemplary Muslims. We were close to Allah. We took religion very seriously in every sphere of life. We were mesmerized by the Quran; we felt blessed to be close to Allah. We were full of enthusiasm to be good believers.

But somewhere along the way, things started to go wrong. Maybe it started with a tiredness, a burnout from doing too much. Maybe we gave in to a particular sin. It’s different for each of us. but the end result is the same – we started losing enthusiasm for religion. Now the daily prayers have become a chore, a tedious obligation. Fasting has become like torture. Following the rules of Islam has become suffocating.

We still appear very religious to other people, who look at us and exclaim enviously, “Ma sha’Allah! She is so modest,” or, “Wow! He is so knowledgeable.” Such praise makes us ashamed and uncomfortable, because we know that the reality is quite different, and ugly.

If you have experienced this, you are not alone. The Prophet warned us about this:

From the things that I fear for you is a man who recites the Quran until you see its splendor upon him. His cloak is Islam and he wears it until Allah wishes and then he throws it behind his back and attacks his neighbor with a sword and accuses him of polytheism. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Vol. 3, p.252, quoted in Ashqar 43)

It’s very hard to hold on to the ‘rope of Allah,’ especially in today’s world. We are bombarded with temptations from all sides, and it’s difficult not to give in.

And once we do give in, we turn on the process of spiritual degeneration.

How the Quran Describes Spiritual Degeneration

No one knows us better than Allah does. So if we want a solution to this problem, the best place to look for it is in the Quran.

And thus do We [explain in] detail the verses,  so that they may return [to the way of Allah]. [Surat al-A’raf, 7:174]

So let’s look at how Allah describes this spiritual degeneration:

And recite to them, [O Muhammad], the news of him to whom we gave [knowledge of] Our signs, but he detached himself from them; so Satan pursued him, and he became of the deviators. [Surat Al-A’raf, 7:175]

Imam Zamakhshari remarks in his tafsirAl-Kashshaf, that this ayah is speaking about the Children of Israel. Allah explains their case in detail throughout the Quran, the major reason for their downfall being, not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of application of their knowledge in their own lives. Allah likens these people to donkeys who carry volumes of books—but are not benefitted by their contents. (Surat Al-Jumu’ah, 62:5)

That is exactly the case with us. We know Islam is beautiful, we know some ayat of the Quran and what they mean. But we go against it.

In other words, Allah had given us his ayat, and we threw them behind our backs and denied their existence.

The Shedding of Skin

The word used for “detached” in the above ayah {7:175] is insalakha, which denotes the shedding of skin in certain animals. A snake, for example, sheds its skin when it is no longer wanted. We admire the beautiful scales it left behind, not realising that it’s only dead tissue and not the real living thing.

“Allah is actually painting the picture of a person who kept the religion on the outside but slithered out of it from the inside,” explains Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan. “So the religion was only something they wore, almost like a disguise.”

Allah’s religion and His ayat are our protective layer, our cocoon in which Shaytan can’t touch us. When that is gone, we become exposed to Shaytan. He sticks to us like a piece of chewing gum. This is captured in the word atba‘a [7:175].

He sits on AlSirat Al-Mustaqim (the Straight Path), and whenever he catches one of us deviating, he jumps at the opportunity.

Ustadh Nouman explains this scenario, “We’re learning something very interesting about Shaytan now – that the people who come towards Allah, whom Allah gives guidance, when they start slipping, Shaytan seizes the opportunity, and he gets on your case—like you become his main project.”

Because we have left behind the guiding light, the Quran, which used to guide us along Al-Sirat Al-Mustaqim, we don’t know where we are heading. And now we have become ghawin (deviated). Surat Al- Fatihah calls this people al-maghdub ‘alayhim (those who incurred anger).

In the next ayah, Allah says:

And if We had willed, we could have elevated him thereby, but he adhered [instead] to the earth and followed his own whims. [Surat al- A’raf, 7:176]

If we hadn’t thrown away the ayat, these same ayat would have become the means of our spiritual elevation. Allah would have kept raising our iman. But instead, we chose to stick to the ground, to walk on all fours like animals. We adhered to worldly pursuits. We no longer focused on the hereafter. Money, fame, power, love, food – these became our sole aspirations.

The Metaphor of a Sick Dog

Allah then says:

So his example is like that of the dog: if you chase him, he pants, or if you leave him, he [still] pants. That is the example of the people who denied Our signs. So relate the stories that perhaps they will give thought. [Surat Al-A’raf, 7:176]

A dog pants to expel body heat. Excessive panting also indicates that the dog is too thirsty, irritated, in pain, or exhausted. In other words, panting means restlessness and discomfort.

When we stick to the earth, we become like animals. But unlike animals, our desires aren’t satiable. When an animal is hungry, it just needs to eat its fill to be comfortable again. But we aren’t satisfied so easily. Obesity has become a global pandemic. Even children suffer from it. Why? Because we are greedy. Eating our fill isn’t enough. Human beings can go on eating till their stomach is about to burst. The Prophet described this as eating with seven intestines.

We are like the abnormal dog which is always panting. When we are reminded of Allah, when we hear about Islam and Quran, we feel restless, disturbed. Why? Perhaps because it makes us feel ashamed of ourselves, or because it will make us leave the sin we’re enjoying so much.

But man desires to continue in sin. [Surat Al-Qiyamah, 75:5]

We don’t want to think about the Quran. We’d rather be watching movies.

But even when we’re watching movies, we’re still restless and disturbed. We keep watching movie after movie, but in the interval between closing the last movie and opening the next, we feel an unbearable void, restlessness, pain.

Perhaps we don’t like anything which reminds us of Allah’s ayat. We don’t feel like praying, and even if we do pray, we think of something else while parroting the ayat.

In reality, what we’re doing is denying Allah’s ayat, refusing to accept them as guidance. This phrase usually appears in the Quran in connection to disbelievers. Ustadh Nouman explains, “These people at this point are no different, as far as Allah is concerned, than disbelievers.”

What a severe punishment this is!

A Vicious Cycle of Punishment and Degeneration

Imagine you give your friend a nice gift. When they receive it, they open the gift, handle it for some time, and then toss it behind their back while you’re watching. How would that make you feel? Insulted? Hurt?

Allah is above all examples. When we deny Allah’s ultimate gift, His ayat, we’re disrespecting Him. And we deserve punishment for this disrespect.

[Shaytan’s] mastery is over those humans and jinn who are pleased with his ideas and those who are pleased to follow and obey him…. When they stretch [out] their hands to him, they become his prisoner as a type of punishment for their own acts. Allah did not give Satan power over any of his slaves until the slave himself opened the way for Satan by obeying him and associating him with Allah. then Allah allows Satan to subjugate the slave and have power over him. (Al-Ashqar, 40-41)

Does that mean we’re going to be prisoners of Shaytan forever, that we can never get back to that protective refuge that he can’t penetrate?

Shaytan deludes us to think it is so. We feel that our case is hopeless, that we can never change. And since our future is so blighted, we might as well enjoy the present life. And that makes us indulge in further sins. And the vicious cycle goes on.

Solution?

“Look who’s talking,” you’d gibe at me, if you knew my case. This is my struggle as much as yours. Moreover, each of us faces this problem in different ways, and so our solutions too will be slightly different.

What I can suggest is a set of general guidelines:

  1. Never say never.

I know it’s a cliché. But, like most clichés, it’s true.

Allah says,

O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah . Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful. [Surat Al-Zumar, 39:53]

The Prophet said,

When Allah completed the creation, He wrote in His Book which is with Him on His Throne, ‘My Mercy takes precedence over My Anger.’ (Bukhari)

This is a battle between you and Shaytan. Losing hope means you accept defeat.

Indeed, Satan is an enemy to you; so take him as an enemy. [Surat Al-Fatir, 35:6]

Don’t let Shaytan walk all over you. Fight! Fight till the last breath of your life.

  1. Don’t run away from yourself.

When we disobey Allah, our consciences ask uncomfortable questions. And in order to subdue the voice of our conscience, we try to keep ourselves busy. In short, we try to run away from ourselves.

When you find yourself doing this, stop a minute. Ask yourself, “Why am I running away? What am I afraid to face?” Be truthful to yourself, but don’t let the guilt get out of hand. Forgive yourself and be kind to yourself. Then reflect on your situation from a solution-oriented perspective. What went wrong? How did I end up here? What am I doing wrong? How can I set things right?

  1. Keep close to the ayat of Allah.

Reverse the act which led to this mess in the first place – disregard for the ayat of Allah.

Allah says to the Children of Israel:

Hold fast to what We have given you and bear its contents in mind, so that you may be conscious of God. [Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:63]

Holding on to the ayat of Allah in your life needs quwwa (strength). Stick to them with all your might, as much as you can. This takes a lot of mental and spiritual exertion, but it’s the only way to get healed.

Allah calls the Quran shifa’ (healing):

O mankind, there has to come to you instruction from your Lord and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers. [Surah Yunus, 10:57]

 

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References:

Abdel Haleem, Muhammad. The Qur’an: A New Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem. Oxford: Oxford, 2004.

Al-Ashqar, Umar Sulaiman. The World of the Jinn and Devils. Trans. Jamal al-Din Zarabozo. Al-Basheer, 1998. N.p.

Ibn Kathir. Tafsir. http://www.alim.org/library/quran/AlQuran-tafsir/TIK/7/175 . 27 Feb 2017

Khan, Nouman Ali. “Beware of the Panting Dog.” Sep 1, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlOcu4Lg824. 27 Feb 2017

Al-Zamakhshari, Abu-l-Qasim Mahmud ibn ‘Umar. Tafsir al-Kashshaf. Lebanon: Dar al-Marifah, 2009.

Tabassum Mosleh

TabassumMosleh is a freelance writer and Alimiyyah student at Al-Salam Institute, UK. Find out more at tabassummmosleh.wordpress.com.

12 Comments

  • Rasha Abdul Aziz

    Rasha Abdul Aziz

    Fri 24 Mar 2017 (25 Jumada Al Akhira 1438) - 8:42 am

    Cassy Rosario Hala Ahmed Tahani Bint Abdul Aziz

  • Horeiya Atteyeh

    Horeiya Atteyeh

    Fri 24 Mar 2017 (25 Jumada Al Akhira 1438) - 8:55 am

    Uma Tolmon Atteye ?

  • Amee Nah

    Amee Nah

    Fri 24 Mar 2017 (25 Jumada Al Akhira 1438) - 9:27 am

    Khalood Zai

  • Umm Rayyan

    Umm Rayyan

    Fri 24 Mar 2017 (25 Jumada Al Akhira 1438) - 9:47 am

    Iffat Abdullah Shariff

  • Elizabeth Simpson

    Elizabeth Simpson

    Fri 24 Mar 2017 (25 Jumada Al Akhira 1438) - 12:25 pm

    I got so excited at the beginning of the article as this has been my main question of late.
    Then the article went from low emaan to eating too much to comparing weak believers to dogs and finally saying that there is no difference between a believer with low faith and a non-Muslim… ok then.
    Then the final advice was ok but it kind of defeats the point ‘keep close to the Ayat of Allah’ if people were able to do that I guess they wouldn’t need the article?

    • Nadia Hussain

      Nadia Hussain

      Fri 24 Mar 2017 (25 Jumada Al Akhira 1438) - 11:19 pm

      Agree. The caption was deceiving

  • Umrana Afzal

    Umrana Afzal

    Fri 24 Mar 2017 (25 Jumada Al Akhira 1438) - 1:08 pm

    The empty feeling goes deeper than the wearing of hijab which is on the surface.

    We need to go deeper to a place of stillness and calm in order to reconnect to the divine within us.

    Feeling at a loss is part of the search so do not become disheartened dear sisters.

  • Samir Hussain

    Samir Hussain

    Fri 24 Mar 2017 (25 Jumada Al Akhira 1438) - 6:03 pm

    As someone else here mentioned, the premise of the article was excellent, but it didn’t offer much in the way of solutions. I’ve been going through a similar dry spell for the past year or so, and so here are some solutions I found via personal experience/reading books on tazkiyyah/tasawwuf:

    1) Fix your intentions. Sit down in a quiet place and reflect for an hour on your reflections, and write notes if needed. Carefully analyze your intentions for your actions and make sure all of it is for Allah alone.

    2) Slow down in prayers. Focus on quality instead of quantity. Work on khushu rather than number of rakats prayed. Prolong the ruku and sujud and read long surahs (with contemplation) for the prayers. Make each prayer memorable.

    3) Stop thinking highly of yourself. It’s easy to fool yourself and think you are a pious and righteous individual who Allah is absolutely pleased with. Rather look to your faults but don’t lose hope in His mercy and ask Allah to protect you from hypocrisy and disbelief.

    4) Make tons of dua. Not when you need it, but just make it everyday anyway.

    5) Stop wasting time with TV etc and fill free time with reading/studying etc. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it should be consistent, and it shouldn’t be a lot to the point where it becomes a difficulty or a drag.

    6) Do acts of worship that are easy and enjoyable. Don’t just force yourself to do things all the time.

    7) Make sure you are not consuming haram – be extremely careful about where your wealth is coming from.

    8) Read the stories of the righteous.

    9) Spend more time with the rigtheous, not only with yourself and family. Regularly meet righteous brothers and sisters who remind you of Allah and do dhikr together – either by reading the Qur’an or Hadith or group dhikr (if you follow the view of its permissibility).

    10) Lastly, and this is king – the night prayer. There is nothing else like it.

    • Lubna Sheikh Ghazali

      Lubna Sheikh Ghazali

      Sat 25 Mar 2017 (26 Jumada Al Akhira 1438) - 4:26 am

      Thank you so much for this.

    • Fatimah

      Sat 25 Mar 2017 (26 Jumada Al Akhira 1438) - 10:49 pm

      MashaAllah , I really appreciate this. May Allah reward you brother. Amin

  • Fatimah

    Sat 25 Mar 2017 (26 Jumada Al Akhira 1438) - 10:44 pm

    MashaAllah the whole point was to never give up. We will go through these life crisis, Allah will indeed test us ,but no matter what just don’t give up. We’re no perfect, no one is. May Allah make it easy for us to worship him. Ameen.

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