By Fizza Raza for KidSpirit's Fulfillment Issue
In the heart, there is a sense of loneliness,
there is fear and anxiety,
there is regret,
there is a sense of longing,
all of which can only be removed by complete submission to the will of Allah.
— Imam Ibn al-Qayyim
These are the words of a contemporary Islamic philosopher, reflecting on how fulfillment, inner peace, and happiness, are all approached by my faith, Islam — as rewards or post-requisites of submitting to the will of God (referred to as Allah in the Islamic faith). Almost every tenet of my faith revolves around the idea of submission to a higher power; the five daily prayers involve the bowing down of the believer in the direction of the Ka’bah (considered the home of God), and the Quran containing the words of God advises a lifestyle of modesty and prohibits certain acts, such as the consumption of intoxicants. To a person not of the Islamic faith, these practices may seem restricting, stifling, and, dare I say, even primitive. To a Muslim, these are the guidelines we follow and fall back on, not out of blind faith, but out of the belief that they make us better human beings.
Building more on this teaching of Islam, I believe that surrendering to the will of Allah holds great significance in being at peace with oneself beyond just the symbolic importance of submission. The idea of turning to Allah when at your lowest to ask for guidance is one on which Islam places great emphasis. Through my own experiences, I have realized that in doing so, a believer is not just asking for direction, but admitting their own inability to escape from what is bothering them. This is the ultimate dissociation from pride and the point at which a believer may be at their most vulnerable, without the fear of judgment that may come from opening up to their friends or family. Just the act of being so openly vulnerable is what, I believe, has enabled believers such as myself to be more accepting of their human flaws. Consistently turning to Allah in times of need allows for this cycle to be re-enacted, and I have realized that each time, it allows me to become freer from the constraints of my mind.
I can distinctly recall one time when I was horribly overworked due to school commitments and upcoming deadlines, and the tasks I had to complete seemed to be insurmountable. I remember how I just took a deep breath and turned to God, asking for His help in navigating the hardship I was facing and how instantly, just by asking for help, I was able to look at each task I had to do individually and not as a collective, insuperable pile of tasks. This was just one of many times when I felt helpless that turning to God has put my mind at ease.
The fact that Islam is an all-encompassing guideline on how to lead life may be seen as dictatorial, but I believe that it is this very fact that allows its followers to achieve inner peace. A believer in doubt turns to the Quran for advice on almost every worldly hardship. This shapes their actions and their understanding of how to deal with situations in keeping with Islamic teachings. I can recall multiple times when I have been befuddled about how to navigate a tricky situation, be it the moral question of a certain act or even a simple a fight with a friend, and turning to the Quran has brought clarity to my mind.
When a friend of mine found herself in a bind with her parents and asked me to cover for her by deceiving them, I remember feeling torn between wanting to do what she asked and the belief that in facilitating her, I was being a bad friend. Struggling with these thoughts, I turned to the Quran and read a verse that stated something akin to “doing the right thing is always hard but is what shows strength of character.” Although the Quran did not clearly state what action to take, it helped me come to terms with making the choice that I, in my gut, knew was the better choice for my friend. While it was still a difficult choice, I felt confident after turning to the words of God that it was the right one. When the values with which Muslims govern their lives have roots in the words of God himself, an unparalleled sense of tranquility is thus achieved. This sense is built on the foundation of faith, and any situations in life that may challenge a believer’s sense of self may be dealt with, especially with the understanding that one has the support of the Supreme in the actions they are taking.
Building more on this teaching of Islam, great emphasis is placed on achieving fulfillment through the distancing of oneself from worldly desires and becoming closer to Allah. The Quran states: “You are obsessed by greed for more and more, until you go down to your graves. Nay, in time you will come to understand! And once again: Nay, in time you will come to understand!” This verse is one I interpret to mean that in attempting to achieve the “best” in this life, man will sacrifice the “best” of the afterlife. As a reference to greed for wealth or for any sort of societal validation that comes at the cost of disregarding principles like modesty or kindness, my faith teaches that the only validation in a believer’s life should come from kindness and acts done to secure a place in the hereafter.
In my own life, when validation ceases to come from achieving milestones that I feel require a moral compromise, I turn instead to acts which grant me favor with God, such as helping someone out. I can recollect one instance of this with extreme clarity; I was in the running for a position, with many other friends also competing, and at one point, I understood that the only way I could attain it was if I deliberately sabotaged my friends. Although weighing this in my mind was a no-brainer, and I decided to retract myself from the selection process, I remember how I did not feel even slight melancholy, knowing that God would award me other opportunities. This did two things: it eliminated the subtle feeling of penitence that would have existed had I chosen to sabotage my friends, and it allowed me to feel independent of societal conceptions that assume wealth or power is the end-goal. The latter created a sense of moral righteousness through the idea that I am accountable only to a higher power and seek His approval over society’s. In fact, instead of being part of the emotionally taxing process of competing with my own friends, I was able to spend my time taking part in activities that allowed a sense of fulfillment, such as volunteering at a local orphanage.
For me, my faith has always been a constant, and while its presence in my life has not always been one I consciously felt, it has always served as the overarching guide on how to live my life with a sense of fulfillment. The way turning to the words of God or just asking Him for help brings me clarity could be compared to how the mist on a window clears up with the air conditioning; it is as if I already know the answers to the questions that confuse me or actions that I am unsure of taking, and my faith just helps me see that clearly.
When she wrote this piece, Fizza Raza was a 16-year-old from Lahore, Pakistan. She spends most of her time contemplating the glass ceiling or the ethics of modern-day capitalism.