I don’t really know where to go, and who to hang out with anymore. But then, on reflection, I realise I never did. I’m just an older, greyer version of the kid at school who would wander round and round the school grounds, aimlessly, alone, pretending to go somewhere, though fully conscious that I was going nowhere at all, for I had nowhere to go, forever the outsider.
Every night when I head to bed, a voice within says, “Be quiet.” Speak good or remain silent. Restrain your tongue and typing fingers. As I lay my head on my pillow, these inner thoughts recur: “Disappear. Withdraw.” And each morning when I arise, I ask myself whether today will be the day when I respond to the inner petition: will I find the courage to vanish; to keep my thoughts to myself; to be like the commoners of old who had no reach or influence beyond their village or family.
But then the day wears on, and another voice says, “Express yourself. Speak good. Say what needs to be said.” And once more I am hammering on the keyboard, convinced for a moment that my words are important. That my words must be freed. And for a while it seems to be so. But by nightfall, that inner voice will return, petitioning me to withdraw. To free myself of these burdens. To become the nobody who walks unknown, influencing only his family and close companions.
Day and night, it has become a heavy weight on me, rending me in two.
Without fail, every time I resolve to reform my soul, I almost immediately become preoccupied with new matters that do not concern me, which become an obsession, undermining my good intentions. In short, I replace one set of sins with another, and find myself entangled in a completely new web of my own making. It is a constant struggle.
A compulsion regularly comes over me which insists: “Write!” But in my heart, after all has been said and done, there is disquiet, regret, remorse: my writing betrays arrogance. After the fact, I wonder to myself: would silence not be better for you? Would it not be better not to release these words? Are you not only portraying your ignorance? Would it not be better to recognise your station and withdraw, to unpublish and retire? Each day, these are the thoughts that follow every essay. Am I merely just poisoning my own soul? And yet before I have had time to respond, there comes yet another compulsive urge to write down all that is on my mind. Once more I spill my soul onto the page, momentarily thinking it urgent, as if my words had any impact on the world. And then once more the regret and remorse: what an arrogant, conceited fool.
It occurs to me with increasing frequency, that all the words that have been flowing from my fingers of late are merely a substitute for all the transgressions that passed before them. It took me an age, but eventually I fell down in repentance, resolving to make everything right and not return to those wicked ways. I closed the door, though it pained me. But all of a sudden this: opinions, essays, thousands of words. Have I merely been hoodwinked into exchanging one set of sins for another?
I have a habit of burning bridges and sinking boats. My impetuous nature causes me to make hasty decisions. To leave a group suddenly. To delete a hundred files. To speak my mind too freely. To be cynical in the midst of a frenzy of adoration. And ultimately, at my turning away, all my companions turn away too, tired of my abrupt reversals. In the end, there is no love lost: better to abandon the impulsive one and his frequent about-turns, as he burns yet another bridge and puts up another wall. Why invest any more time in our ferocious friend, they ask themselves, when he will ultimately just let us down? My friends have my sympathy: I can barely tolerate myself either.
Stuck in the moment of his own despair, he carelessly says to another no longer stuck in their own moment of despair, “You have absolutely no idea what we’re going through”, absolutely oblivious to the fact that they know exactly what they are going through. The one who complains that others judge unfairly judges unfairly and refuses to acknowledge that he is not alone in the world, nor is his situation unique, and that his own words and assumptions hurt just as much as those he complains about. Empathy is a two-way street.
Want to be popular? Famous even? You do?
Then sign up to our free premium webinar today where we’ll teach you the very opposite of traditional Muslim spirituality. You’ll learn how to answer the base calls of your nafs to become a person of influence long before you’re ready and really know what you’re doing.
Sounds good? Of course it does! We know the lusts for power, fame and influence are hard to resist. That’s why you’ll gladly pay $1000s at the end of our introductory course to learn more.
No more climbing mountains to reflect on the wonders of God. No more tiring work in the community reforming hearts. No more thankless years calling to a heedless people. Learn how to build a massive following instantly, RIGHT NOW!
Not what Nuh, Isa or Muhammed, peace be upon them, would do? Don’t worry, our Islamic social media strategy is 100% halal and fully shariah compliant.
Sign up today and you’ll receive an Islamic pencil, absolutely FREE!
So what are you waiting for? Make your impact on the ummah today and leave a legacy to be proud of. Your nafs will never see it coming. The future is yours.
Others are tested by their circumstances. I am consistently tested by myself. And consistently fail. The battle with the nafs is unending. Success always illusory. Disappointed by myself but evidently not disappointed enough to change.
So I have withdrawn once again – or at least I have closed the door to Facebook. So I am heading for the hills once more – metaphorically speaking. It used to be that in times of crisis we would pull together and seek refuge in like-minded company. But on the internet this time, all we encounter is extreme polarisation. I don’t want to be a part of it. The perpetual cascade of news, opinions and stupidity is too much. The flood of excuses, conspiracy theories and discovered double-standards helps nobody – it just makes us reactionaries.
It was a tough decision. There are those I benefit from immensely, who I will miss. They have become true friends, although thousands of miles may separate us. But sometimes it is necessary to pull the plug – to go Cold Turkey, if you will – when the harm seems to outweigh the benefit. For me, the internal agitation to constantly check for updates, feedback, responses and the latest news. The new micro-rituals of reaching for a phone, or tablet, or switching tabs on the web browser to just quickly check, fifty times a day. A habit first thing in the morning and last thing at night. A growing dependence – an egocentric urge to be always connected to others elsewhere. No time for a break, for quiet reflection, for pause for thought, for silence. It is said, “A wise person once said nothing.” Social media makes no space for nothing.
For me, it was becoming like an addiction, preventing me from venturing out for the evening prayer. Or from making time for supplication and reflection. I could spend hours every evening doing very little, except follow a steady stream of articles, videos and unfounded, spurious claims. There would be no time to read a book. No time to study or learn something. In short, perhaps I have wasted two years of my life.
Yes, I make it sound so bad. What an incredible exaggeration! In truth I have benefited from the experience. I have made new friends. I have benefitted from others. But there is a balance, and sometimes it is hard to get that balance right. Years ago I took the same approach to another addiction. Some people viewed my response as an extreme reaction, but for me it was one of the best decisions I ever made. If you lack the self-restraint which allows you to act with moderation, sometimes the only course of action is to shut down the avenues to return to it completely.
Even now I am feeling the cravings for the news feed, but I am determined to turn back the clock a little, to that era before permanent connectivity. Who remembers the 1990s, or a time before that when we could exist without this perpetual narcissism? Yes, we should live in the age we find ourselves in, not in an imaginary past. But so too must we discover a way of living that provides equilibrium. For me, right now, the way ahead is to make time away from the glowing panels of glass. To make space for paper, driving rain and nothingness. An interlude away from the noise which populates too much of our lives.