My Vision – Revisited

Building confidence in our community

Last September I published a post setting out my vision for a confidence-building programme delivered independently in our communities and culminating in a shared obstacle course challenge.

While initial feedback was positive, an attempt to pursue it with local community groups was not particularly fruitful. Those I spoke to reasonably cited logistical and capacity concerns: their programmes were already full to bursting and the prospect of setting up the obstacle course challenge filled them with dread.

In any case, perhaps schools and the growing Muslim Scouting movement are already well placed to deliver the desired outcomes: promoting self-confidence and self-esteem amongst young people in our communities in a more long-lasting and structured format. Perhaps I was trying to reinvent the wheel.

So after an initial flurry of interest, I parked the idea and consigned it to my archive of “nice ideas” – along with several unfinished pieces of writing and various half-baked schemes. Until this afternoon, that is, when I learned that Islamic Relief will be running two mud run obstacle course challenges this summer: one for men, the other for ladies only (update 26.06.15: this will not be happening this year now, apparently).

With these events taking place in early August, it’s obviously too late in the day now to set up a formal programme like the one I outlined in September, but perhaps it would still be possible to run a casual initiative amongst groups made up of friends, students, colleagues or families between now and then, culminating in teams taking part in the Islamic Relief challenge in August.

I’d envisage a programme based loosely on the well-known Couch to 5K running plan, for which numerous self-directed smartphone Apps exist — but other models could be adopted. The main point is that it would bring individuals together — whether friends, young adults and not-so-young adults — to meet to improve their fitness, while reflecting on pertinent topics.

During Ramadan, which falls midway between now and August, those groups could maintain a decent level of fitness by walking regularly instead.

Would an informal schedule like the one outlined below be achievable, with minimal organisation and outside intervention? Perhaps it’s too much to ask, but it could nevertheless be a starting point for those minded to take part in the Islamic Relief challenge, or other similar events.

They say that to establish any good habit, you need to adhere to a routine for 40 days in a row.  There are 100 days between now and August – meet three times a week and that’s 30 days of preparation.

Personally I lack the self-discipline to adhere to a programme consistently over a long period – be it exercise, language study, performing Sunnah prayers or reading – but it’s something I aspire to. And I’m sure I’m not alone. Perhaps a team programme such as this would help provide the constancy and support required to make real progress.

An outline programme

The outline below is a very rough sketch of the kind of programme I have in mind, built upon a topic for reflection, combined with exercise.

Week 1: Setting and achieving goals

4 – 10 May

Reflections on setting and achieving goals. The group will talk about the plan to get to a point of being able to run 5K non-stop, by gradually building up stamina over the next 14 weeks. A secondary objective could be set, such as to praying Fajr and Isha prayer in congregation every day or making a wird to read the Qur’an regularly.

Exercise

Three times a week: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

Week 2: Co-operation

11 – 17 May

Reflections on co-operation. The group will reflect on how they can achieve more by working together as a team, recognising that they each have different strengths and weaknesses. They will learn to work as a supportive group: the fast and strong to support the weak and slow; the brains to solve problems; the wealthy to help the poor.

Exercise

Three times a week: brisk five-minute warmup walk, then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

Week 3: Commitment

18 – 24 May

Reflections on commitment. The group considers the importance of remaining committed to a course of action, reflecting on the hadith“The dearest of actions to Allah is that which is done regularly, even if it is small.”

Exercise

Three times a week: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then do two repetitions of the following:

  1. Jog 200 metres (or 90 seconds)
  2. Walk 200 metres (or 90 seconds)
  3. Jog 400 metres (or 3 minutes)
  4. Walk 400 metres (or three minutes)

Week 4: Communication

25 – 31 May

Reflections on effective communication. The group will consider the benefits of communicating effectively and learn techniques to establish better communication.

Exercise

Three times a week: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  1. Jog 400m (or 3 minutes)
  2. Walk 200m (or 90 seconds)
  3. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)
  4. Walk 400m (or 2-1/2 minutes)
  5. Jog 400m (or 3 minutes)
  6. Walk 200m (or 90 seconds)
  7. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)

Week 5: Good citizenship

1 – 7 June

Reflections on good citizenship. The group may set itself community-centred tasks, such as picking litter in their neighbourhood or helping a neighbour with shopping. They will reflect on the ayat:

“Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good — to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and what your right hands possess: for God loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious.” — Quran – 4:36

Exercise

Day 1: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  1. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)
  2. Walk 400m (or 3 minutes)
  3. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)
  4. Walk 400m (or 3 minutes)
  5. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)

Day 2: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  1. Jog 1.2km (or 8 minutes)
  2. Walk 800m (or 5 minutes)
  3. Jog 1.2km (or 8 minutes)

Day 3: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then jog 3.2km (or 20 minutes) with no walking.

Week 6: The natural environment

8 – 14 June

Reflections on the natural environment. The group should try to get into the countryside for at least one of their training sessions, reflecting on the ayat:

“In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, and the ships that run in the sea with that which profits men, and the water that Allah sends down from the sky, then gives life therewith to the earth after its death and spreads in it all kinds of animals, and the changing of the winds and the clouds made subservient between heaven and earth, there are surely signs for a people who understand.” — Qur’an 2:164

Exercise

Day 1: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  1. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)
  2. Walk 400m (or 3 minutes)
  3. Jog 1.2km (or 8 minutes)
  4. Walk 400m (or 3 minutes)
  5. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)

Day 2: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  1. Jog 1.6km (or 10 minutes)
  2. Walk 400m (or 3 minutes)
  3. Jog 1.6km (or 10 minutes)

Day 3: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then jog 3.6km (or 25 minutes) with no walking.

Week 7: Self-improvement

15 – 21 June (Ramadan)

Reflections on self-improvement. The group will reflect on how they would like to make best use of Ramadan to improve their state of their hearts and lives. They will reflect on their ability to differentiate between the calls of their nafs versus the whispers of shaitan. They will set personal goals for self-improvement and will consider how they will achieve this.

Exercise

One day: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then jog 4km (or 25 minutes).

17 June – Ramadan begins. During Ramadan, walk 30 minutes three times a week.

Week 8: Being charitable

22 – 28 June (Ramadan)

Reflections on supporting charitable causes. It is said that the best charity is that given in Ramadan. The group will consider the needs of those less fortunate than them and think about the blessings attached to giving charity.

“Never disappoint a beggar who stands at your door; give him even as little as a date or less, for he is a gift from God to you. If you find nothing to give then send him away graciously with kind words and a promise.” — Al-Haddad, The Book of Assistance.

Exercise

During Ramadan, walk 30 minutes three times a week.

Week 9: Community Spirit

29 June – 5 July (Ramadan)

Reflections on community spirit. The group reflects on the experience of working together, the gladness it brings to the heart and the benefit inherent in it, in getting things done.

Exercise

During Ramadan, walk 30 minutes three times a week.

Week 10: Trust

6 – 12 July (Ramadan)

Reflections on trust. Reflections on this ayat:

“And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favour of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favour, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided.” — Qur’an 3:103

Exercise

During Ramadan, walk 30 minutes three times a week.

Week 11: Moderation

13 – 19 July (Ramadan)

Reflections on moderation. The group reflects on the need to have balance and not to go to extremes in anything. They consider their stepped approach to training. Instead of overdoing it for a short time and then giving up in exhaustion, they’re taking small, regular steps towards a higher goal.

Exercise

During Ramadan, walk 30 minutes three times a week.

17 July – Eid al-Fitr

Week 12: Self-confidence

20 – 26 July

Reflections on self-confidence. The group thinks about what it means to believe in yourself – not to become arrogant, for Muslims are “those who walk on the earth with humility” (Qur’an 25:63). They reflect on the example of the Caliph Umar, who although a great leader, used to reflect daily on what he had done and how he could improve. The group reflects on what they are able and unable to do, what they know and where they need to study more. This week is about believing in yourself, in order to make progress and build on that progress.

Exercise

Day 1: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  1. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)
  2. Walk 400m (or 3 minutes)
  3. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)
  4. Walk 400m (or 3 minutes)
  5. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)

Day 2: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  1. Jog 1.2km (or 8 minutes)
  2. Walk 800m (or 5 minutes)
  3. Jog 1.2km (or 8 minutes)

Day 3: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then jog 3.2km (or 20 minutes) with no walking.

Week 13: Success

27 July – 2 August

Reflections on success. The group contemplates what it means to succeed, in this world and in the hereafter, and from where success comes.  The free person is the one who is not a slave to any person or creation; whether wealth is given or taken away from him, he remains stable. Do not measure yourself against others – good or bad – but against the measure set by your Lord.

Exercise

Day 1: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  1. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)
  2. Walk 400m (or 3 minutes)
  3. Jog 1.2km (or 8 minutes)
  4. Walk 400m (or 3 minutes)
  5. Jog 800m (or 5 minutes)

Day 2: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  1. Jog 1.6km (or 10 minutes)
  2. Walk 400m (or 3 minutes)
  3. Jog 1.6km (or 10 minutes)

Day 3: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then jog 3.6km (or 25 minutes) with no walking.

Week 14: Taking ourselves to account

3 – 9 August

Reflections on taking ourselves to account. The group evaluates how far it has come, what it has achieved and what still needs to be done. The group revisits the goals they set in week one and considers how far they succeeded it meeting them.

Exercise

Three times a week: brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then jog 4km (or 25 minutes).

This week culminates in the groups taking on the Islamic Relief challenge:

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I appreciate that there’s a lot to consider here, but I expect such a programme would develop fairly organically for different groups – which is possibly a good thing, since we’re all at different levels. Those who already exercise regularly could follow a more advanced training programme than those of us trying desperately to lose the spare tyres of middle-age spread. And those already on a higher spiritual plane could reflect on other matters or concerns.

Futher, perhaps 14 weeks could be whittled down to 10, or 100 days down to 40. It is a shame that this challenge was not publicised much further in advance, which would have enabled us to develop a much less rushed and more considered programme – but there’s good in all things. Perhaps the short notice provides the incentive to spontaneously kick-start a plan of action that would otherwise be caught in a cycle of meetings, discussion and endless notes.

So let’s say groups of individuals come together to work with each other in their localities, following this sketch of a programme, setting themselves personal goals, training hard together, before ultimately taking part in the Islamic Relief challenge. What then?

I’d hope the various groups and participants would provide feedback on their experiences and lessons learned, which could be used to develop a more structured programme in the future, inshallah. This informal programme could be the makings of a blueprint for future action.

Indeed, if Islamic Relief is thinking of running the challenge annually, it may be possible to link up with them to establish a partnership programme, which supports their charity work, while simultaneously supporting spiritual growth in our communities. If successful, it could be a beautiful marriage.

Is there any mileage in any of the above? Only Allah really knows. If it is good for us, may He facilitate it for us, and decree the best outcome for us all. And if not: may He put in motion something better.

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