Saturday, 29 May 2010

Finding My Purpose

Sometimes you can’t fulfill your dreams, but you find yourself fulfilling another calling instead.

That’s the position I find myself in. After many years, many dollars, and many books lining the shelves of my hallway and office, many books overflowing from my desk, many books in a language I can’t fully comprehend (yet), I have come to grips with the fact that I can’t fulfill my dreams, but I might have found something that’s better for me.

I think it’s fair to say that most of the people I have met, who have begun studying Islam to any extent (I count here even listening to a few CD’s or reading a couple of books) has dreamt of becoming a person academically in tune with his or her religion. Maybe not necessarily a scholar in its proper right, but dreamt of being an advanced student well-versed in the minutiae of Islamic theological and jurisprudential issues.

Personally, my dream was to be a scholar of hadith, knowing the ins and outs of the Sunnah of the Prophet (sal-Allahu ‘alayhi was-sallam) and the authenticity of different texts, and so on. It didn’t happen.

Before I continue, it’s important for me to highlight an incident that happened to me a couple of years ago. I was attending a class with Shaykh Yaser Birjas, and it was a class I had been looking forward to for many months. I couldn’t get out of being ‘on-call’ at work that weekend, but I wasn’t worried as we normally didn’t get paged on weekends. Well, I got paged. And it wasn’t any run-of-the-mill issue, but the kind of call where I had to get out my laptop and sit on a 3 or 4 hour conference call to sort out the issue. I was thoroughly bummed out, assuring myself that this was some kind of a punishment and that I wasn’t fit for the knowledge I was seeking. After talking to Shaykh Yaser, he told me to flip the way I looked at the situation. Allah (swt) was testing me to see how dedicated I was to learning, and if I was going to let this prevent me from it, or if I was going to try harder and find another way to learn what I missed.

When giving khutbah, I often mention that everyone has a role to fulfill in the ummah. Allah (swt) blessed us all with different strengths and talents, but all of us have the ability to dedicate our lives to serving him and helping the community around us. Whether that contribution is humanitarian, environmental, academic, familial, communal, social, medical, technical – you get the idea – we have the ability to serve our Creator while helping those around us.

So while for me the dream of serving the ummah was academic in nature, I got tripped up. Learning Arabic? Way behind schedule. Memorizing Qur’an? Same story. Age? Getting up there. Time? Diminishing exponentially.

It was time to reassess what my contribution to the ummah is/was going to be. While I think I might be on the right track of doing what I can try to do best for the ummah [still a long way to go], another series of tests has popped up. How do you balance your time between projects and family? How do you maintain a balance between service and personal development? These are all issues I struggle with, and I’m quite sure the struggle will continue, as I know I haven’t always made the correct calls in regard to these issues.

There’s not much advice to give here, as I’m still struggling to find my way, but there are a couple of essential lessons I have learned from my mistakes that I hope others can also learn from before making similar mistakes.

1) Learn to say no. First to yourself, and then to others. You can’t save the world, we can barely save our own selves. Don’t overextend – especially when that extension comes at the price of family. Say no to others and don’t get bogged down. It’s better to say no to someone than to say yes and not be able to live up to your end of it. Don’t let anyone hustle you into “fee sabeelillah” work when you know it’s too much for your plate.

2) Keep priorities in order. I’m quite certain that my hadith scholar dream fell apart because of lack of prioritization. Worry about the 5 pillars. Worry about memorizing Qur’an, worry about pronouncing that Qur’an correctly. Worry about being good to your parents, your spouse, your children. Worry about staying away from looking at what displeases Allah, listening to what displeases Allah, and taking part in what displeases Allah. Then worry about the finer issues of academic Islam.

We have a long way to go, and we sometimes lose the ‘forest for the trees’.
My hope is that for those of us who have gotten involved in something and gotten burned out, finding your focus will help you get back in the swing of things. By refocusing my goals on how I want to contribute to the ummah, it has also refocused how I approach my study of Islam. I know, for example, that it is safe to say that I will not be named a senior scholar to AMJA’s fatwa committee anytime soon. I’m also fairly certain that I won’t be authoring any books of fiqh, teaching sarf/nahw, or doing tahqeeq or sharh of any major Islamic work. But I do know that I have a future in helping to work administratively with Islamic organizations (or even websites), and therefore it behooves me to bolster these skill sets to help whoever I am working with. Even if I cannot be a scholar, I know that I can work to provide support to them. I also know that I may be in the capacity of giving khutbah, or working with the youth. Therefore I know that when I study Islam, I need to focus on issues of general concern to the community at large in order to help myself and the average Muslim committed to the basic teachings of our religion that we so often neglect.

A focus on the basics is much needed in our times. My heart still aches at some of the comments on the post I made with an appeal for Haiti where some people raised issue with my supplicating to Allah to alleviate the pain and suffering of those harmed by the devastation there. Although I understand the technical argument some people may make (we should pray for their guidance instead), I do not think that argument is correct. We are commanded in Islam to help those in need, to help the poor, to help the orphan – no matter what their religion. But what this “academic” argument indicates to me is not a lack of understanding of the technicalities and intricacies of Islamic law – but that we are facing a bigger problem. Namely, the lack of compassion and mercy in our hearts, a direct consequence of our abandoning the practice of the real precepts of our religion, and instead devoting our time and attention to finer details in a vacuum devoid of reality.

I have forgotten which scholar said this (I believe it was Shaykh al-Albani), but it was said that our society faces an issue of adab (manners) moreso than an issue of knowledge. Many of us who have embarked upon the path of trying to “learn” more and be “students of knowledge” can surely recall having arguments with our parents.

These arguments would usually result in things like, “if you are so religious, why don’t you…..” and we would often scoff at those remarks thinking we were focusing on some greater issue of good and concern. In hindsight though, the remarks from our parents were most likely correct. We have not served the ummah in the best manner by paying more attention to researching a hypothetical issue of fiqh that does not apply to us than in practicing the basics such as being good to our own families.
So think about what is important to you, and think about what your strengths are. Then set out to utilize those strengths in the best way that you can. Keep your priorities in order, and always remember that Allah(swt) has placed us in situations and given us talents for a reason – use them, but use them wisely.