To become a faithful believer is not easy. This thought occurs to me repeatedly as I set out to renew my faith and recommit myself to God. This voyage has recommenced many times over, only for me to stumble again within days. This time I’m serious, I tell myself, but still it is a struggle.
In ten years I have never abandoned the prayer, but there is more to the deen than this. Over the years I have become but a shell, fulfilling the minimum of our obligations, my prayers often rotten beneath the surface, their core like dust. As the months and years passed by I emptied sins into my book of deeds, always oblivious to their gravity, returning to them often as if they were of no consequence. To lift oneself from the habit of certain sins is a real test, for after a few days they pull at the heart, the symptoms of that addiction soon infecting one’s whole being. And so, once more, I slip.
Perhaps this time is better than all those previous occasions, I think to myself, because this time I have learned of the gravity of those sins; because this time my response is founded on knowledge and certainty. Right now I cannot imagine returning to them. It would, for me, be like drinking alcohol, stealing or taking a life. If I returned to them now, would I just give up? I pray I do not return to them. I pray I do not return.
And so it is that I find myself, a decade after I uttered my testimony of faith, making my first faltering steps along this way, and it is hard. How easy it is to fit in one’s prayers at home between one task and another, ending the day upon the prayer mat just metres from one’s bed. But to await the congregation, to venture outdoors when already tired, to head out to one’s place of prayer as others are preparing to sleep: for one unaccustomed to striving in the way of God, by the third day exhaustion has set in. And what of arising early in the morning to return? Here the fears for our community set in, for when those grey and white haired ones pass away, will the mosque any more open in the morning? One day I make it on time, the next day I awake just as the congregation draws together, the following day, who knows?
As each evening draws in, I commit to abandoning the computer and the internet, in order to sit and read instead. I have found this a blessing, a habit I could easily get used to. Yet my eyes are constantly drooping, a heaviness descending, craving for sleep, though there seems to be no time for it after work, in-between study, prayer and food, and so I find myself wondering how I will ever conquer my laziness and retrain my soul. Though a decade has now passed since I first uttered my testimony of faith, all I carry with me is a smattering of du’as and the shortest chapters of the Qur’an. Where have all the years gone and how is it that I learnt so little, committing to memory so few words?
To make up for lost time is hard, to be patient is hard, to maintain constancy is hard, to stop grieving over one’s sins is hard, to become a servant of God is hard. And so it should be. In life, we are told by those around us, you get nothing for free. Although the billions of blessings from our Lord cast doubt upon this claim, it nevertheless puts the difficulties of our spiritual quest into perspective: if, in life, we get nothing for free, why then should I demand an easy approach to the hereafter?
Taking stock of how far I have put myself back, how much I have oppressed my own soul and how little I have done to rectify my situation, it becomes apparent that this struggle of mine is not just necessary, but obligatory. It is my jihad: a real struggle, not a leisurely sojourn. Hence these first faltering steps of mine.