Stop for a Sincerity Check

sincerityTo my disappointment, they had returned once again. I had seen no creatures so persevere as the spiders. It had only been a fortnight since I last swept away their creepy dwellings, and there they were back again. Who says housekeeping is easy? I picked up a broom and got to work, and as it brushed away those tiny quarters, my mind went back to another house; the house of emotions and intentions.

Yes indeed, our heart houses our intentions and requires frequent cleaning, too. Silently Riya (dissimulation, show-off) crawls in and spins its webs in every unheeded nook and cranny. We start something solely for the sake of Allah (swt) the Almighty, yet Shaytan does not forget to sneak his part. We human beings may become negligent; however, Iblees never misses a chance to deprive us of our good deeds.

Riya – more dangerous than the Dajjal

Our Beloved Prophet (sa) warned us: “The thing that I fear most for you is the minor Shirk; Riya (Ahmad) And it also states in another authentic Hadeeth that, he considered it even more dangerous for us than the Dajjal. It is what turns even the greatest of deeds to zero. Even if you sacrificed all your wealth and your whole life in Allah’s (swt) path, but you were not sincere; you expected praise from people or were trying to escape their criticism, everything you did will go in vain. You did pay the price, but got nothing in return; just because Shaytan was successful enough to rob your sincerity.

We think we are doing a great job; however, God forbid, what will our condition be if we reach our final destination to find it was all a mirage? We have nothing to acquire Jannah! The time is up, we lost all our investment and Hellfire is there waiting for us. This is the ultimate failure. Astaghfirallah!

Allah (swt) says in his book: “Say (O Muhammad): Shall We tell you the greatest losers in respect of (their) deeds? Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they thought that they were acquiring good by their deeds! They are those who deny the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) of their Lord and the Meeting with Him (in the Hereafter). So their works are in vain, and on the Day of Resurrection, We shall not give them any weight.” (Al-Kahf 18:103-105)

Stay on guard – be mindful of your acts

One of the things that needs constant vigilance is our intention. We must check it every day, every minute, before we perform any deed. There are a number of things that become routine for us, and we don’t keep in mind the fact that we are doing it for Allah (swt).

For example our Salah; is it just an exercise or our secret meeting with Allah (swt)? Another example is how we deal with the people around us; are we being nice just for the sake of it or do we seek Allah’s (swt) pleasure? It is our intentions that change the status of our deeds from mere routine work to deeds of worship. A man naturally provides for his family; however, if this is done with the proper intention, it can become a Sadaqah for him.

Helpers along the way

Here are a few tips to help you gain sincerity:

1. As human beings we tend to be forgetful. One of the ways to keep ourselves reminded is holding fast to our Quran. This best friend gives us repetitive reminders; reciting, pondering and going though it provides a healing potion to our souls. The Quran should stay by our side all the time, in our bags, on our work desk, on our kitchen table, in the living room, simply everywhere!

2. In the fore mentioned verse, the rationale cited behind people’s loss is denial of Lord’s verses and His meeting with His slaves. It is true that our intentions lose track when we become unaware of Allah (swt) and forget that we have to face Him one day. The signs of our Creator are scattered all over; what we need to do is notice them, observe them, reflect and remember the power and wisdom of Allah (swt). This is one of the ways that can help us stay conscious about He, who is All-Hearing and All-Seeing. Reflecting over Al-Asma ul Husna (The beautiful names) of Allah (swt) can also be helpful in this regard.

3. We must stop ourselves and refresh our intentions in the beginning, middle and end of all our actions.

4. A time of the day can be fixed to review what you have been doing and the intentions you had for your deeds. This is just a five minute exercise, and if you have simply no other time, then it can be done while travelling or before going to bed.

5. Try best to hide your good deeds and perform some special secret actions just for the sake of Allah (swt).

6. Don’t seek or consent the praise of people. Remember your shortcomings, and that any virtue obtained is only by the grace of Almighty Allah (swt). The love of praise and appreciation can prove to be very fatal for our faith.

7. Last, but not the least is making Dua! Prophet Muhammad (sa) has taught us a specific Dua for this: “Allahumma innaa na`oothu bika an-nushrika bika shay`an na`lamuhu, wa nastagfiruka limaa laa na`lamuh. (O Allah, we seek refuge in you from committing shirk knowingly, and ask your forgiveness for (the shirk that we may commit unknowingly”)

In a nutshell, the worry shouldn’t just be about the quantity, rather it should be about the quality of actions; we need to purify our hearts and make our inner selves better and stronger than the outer selves. Ibn Al Qayyim in his book Madarij-us-Salikeen has put it very nicely: “Ikhlas (sincerity) is when the servant’s internal and external actions are the same. And Riya is when the external actions are better than the internal actions (of the heart). Truthfulness in one’s sincerity is when the internal is better (developed) than the external.”

Quran is a Treasure – Preserve it in Your Heart

إن له لحلاوة.. و إن عليه لطلاوة.. و إن أعلاه لمثمر.. و إن أسفله لمغدق.. و إنه ليعلو و لا يعلي عليهQuran-550x412

[Indeed, it has sweetness and indeed it is adorned with beauty and charm. Surely, its first part is fruitful and its last part is abundant.

It conquers all speech and remains unconquered! It shatters and destroys all that has come before it!]

Those were the timeless words of Al-Waleed ibn Al-Mugheerah when he was asked by the Mushrikeen of Quraish to describe the speech of Allah (swt).

روى ابن ماجة وأحمد  عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ رضي الله عنه قَالَ : قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : ( إِنَّ لِلَّهِ أَهْلِينَ مِنْ النَّاسِ ) قَالُوا : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ، مَنْ هُمْ ؟

(قال: أهل القرآن هم أهل الله و خاصته)

The Messenger of Allah (swt) said: “The people of the Quran are the people of Allah (swt) and His special servants.” (An-Nisa, Ibn Majah and Al-Hakim)

There are more than a billion Muslims in the world. Only a few million can read the Quran fluently. From those million, only a few people are destined to memorize the Quran. These are the people of Allah (swt) and His special servants!

This is a series of advice, incentives, methods and secrets to memorizing the Quran and becoming the best of the best, InshaAllah.

Advice #1: Sincere Intentions

The first step to fulfilling your goal of memorizing the Quran is sincerity. Ibn ‘Abbas (rta)  said: “Indeed, a person shall memorize according to his sincerity.” Meaning the sincerity of your intention will determine the strength and amount you memorize.

Actually, this is not just the first step. You need to refresh your intention at every step.

It is reported from Ali (rta) that Prophet (sa) said: “The one who shows off has three characteristics: He is lazy when by himself, he is lively and energetic when with others and he increases in his actions when he is praised and decreases in them when he is criticized.”

1- Dua, Dua, Dua – ask Allah (swt) to purify your heart from hypocrisy and boastfulness   and to protect you from the evils of your soul and its treachery.

2- Do not be deceived by praise. Nobody knows you better than you know your own self. If they praise, they only praise the blessings of Allah (swt) that they see on you; while you are the one who truly knows the reality of your heart and Allah (swt) knows you better than you know yourself. Remember, pride was Shaitan’s downfall.

Abu Bakr (rta) would make a prayer every time he would be praised:

اللهم اجعلني خيراً مما يظنون  ولا تؤاخذني بما يقولون واغفر لي ما لا يعلمون

“O Allah (swt), make me better than what they think and do not hold me accountable for what they say and forgive me for what they do not know.”

3- Beware of secret sins. “Nothing is more disgusting than a sinful reciter.”

4- Re-read and revise the Ahadeeth that talk about the punishment for the one who memorizes the Quran in order to be praised. Prophet (sa) said:

إن الله تبارك و تعالى إذا كان يوم القيامة ينزل إلى العباد ليقضي بينهم و كل أمة جاثية فأول من يدعى رجل جمع القرآن و رجل يقتل في سبيل الله و رجل كثير المال فيقول الله للقارئ: ألم أعلمك ما أنزلت على رسولي؟ قال: بلى يا رب. قال: فماذا عملت فيما علمت؟ قال: كنت أقوم به آناء الليل و آناء النهار. فيقول له: كذبت و تقول له الملائكة: كذبت. و يقول الله: بل أردت أن يقال أن فلاناً قارئ فقد قيل ذاك ثم أمر به فسحب على وجهه حتى ألقي في النار

“The first amongst mankind to be judged on the Day of Judgement is a man who studied knowledge and taught it and who used to recite the Quran. He will be brought and Allah (swt) will make known to him His favours and he will recognize them.

Allah (swt) will say: And what did you do about them? He will say: I studied knowledge and I taught it and I recited the Quran for Your sake. He will say: You have lied – rather, you learned knowledge to be called a scholar and you memorized to be called a recitor and so it was said and you got your reward from those whom you sought it from. Then he will be dragged by his face and thrown into the fire of Hell.”

5- Remember always that the one who memorizes the Quran to be praised and to show off has no reward for his efforts and he is indeed sinful.

In conclusion, the intention is a very important, yet overlooked and sometimes undermined step towards memorizing the Quran. It may not be the only step but it is the most difficult to control and maintain.

It is reported from Sahl bin Abdullah (ra)that Prophet (sa) said: “There is nothing which is tougher upon the soul than (achieving) sincerity of intention. How many times have I tried to remove the  love of praise from my heart except that it sprouted in a different colour (i.e. in a different form).

Advice #2: Correct Recitation

The second step in this spiritual journey is to learn the correct recitation and articulation of the Quran. The second condition (after a sincere intention) for any deed to be accepted by Allah (swt) is that it should done according to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (swt).  Someone who wants to memorize the Book of Allah (swt) must learn it from those who are knowledgeable; and it is never sufficient for him to rely on his own self.

This is one of the most amazingly unique aspects of the Quran – there has always been a one-on-one student-teacher interaction with regards to studying it. Jibrael (as) taught it to the Messenger of Allah (swt) who in turn taught it to his companions (rta)  and that’s how its reached us: pristine, complete, unchanged, unaltered and unadulterated.

There are various steps to learn the correct recitation of the Quran:

1- Use the same copy of the Quran – this will help you to get accustomed to the text, the number of verses per line and it’ll keep your comments and corrections organized (use a pencil and mark your mistakes!); use highlighters and sticky notes for help.

2- Find a teacher – somebody who is well-versed in Tajweed and can accurately point out your mistakes. It’s best to recite the Quran to a teacher before starting to memorize, so that he/she may correct any mispronunciation. Begin to learn the basic rules of Tajweed.

3- Repeat the verses – repeating the same page at least ten times will help you grasp a stronger hold of the difficult letters such as the Qaaf (القاف) and Raa’ (الراء). Bishr bin as-Sirri (ra) said, “Verily, each verse is like a date: the more you chew it, the more of its sweetness is released.” Abu Sulayman (ra) heard this and commented: “True. It is the case with one of you that if he begins one chapter of it, he wants to read it to the end.”

4- Use your senses – listening to an audio recitation of the Quran by a skilled reciter while reading the verses from your copy of the Quran is extremely beneficial.

5- Write it down – write down the verses that you find most difficult to recite; that will help you concentrate on each word separately and this has been the way of the students of knowledge.

Lastly, don’t give up! The Messenger of Allah (swt) said:

.عن عائشة عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قالمثل الذي يقرأ القرآن وهو حافظ له مع السفرة الكرام البررة ومثل الذي يقرأ وهو يتعاهده وهو عليه شديد فله أجران

“The example of the one who recites the Quran and is fluent in it is as if he is with the noble pious angels and the example of the one who recites the Quran and stammers in it has two rewards as it is difficult for him.”

Remember to renew your intention every single time you begin reciting so that you may relish the beauty of wandering in the gardens of the remembrance of Allah (swt).

‘Uthman bin ‘Affan (ra) said: “If our hearts were truly pure, we would never get enough of the Words of our Lord and I hate even if one day passes with me not looking into the Quran.”

Advice #3: Chalk Out a Plan

The third most important step is to have a plan. This means you must designate an assigned portion that you intend to memorize every day. Be warned, planning is the easiest part. You must have will power and a strong sense of purpose in order to stick to it.

Do not try to aim too high and keep the planning moderate. That way, if you have extra time and end up memorizing more than planned, you’ll feel more encouraged to move forward consistently Insha’Allah.

The Messenger (sa) said:

خذوا من الأعمال ما تطيقون فإن الله لا يمل حتى تملوا و أحب الأعمال إلى الله ما داوم عليه صاحبه و إن قل

“Take from the deeds how much you can bear because Allah (swt) does not tire (of rewarding you) until you tire (of doing the deed). The most beloved of deeds to Allah (swt) are those that are done consistently by a person, even if they are small.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

The Salaf would say: “The one who does little consistently is better than the one who does a lot inconsistently.”

Follow these practical steps in order to lay out your plan and stick to it:

1- Learn about the way the Quran is divided.

  • 114 Surahs: each of the Surahs are of varying number of verses and the verses are varying in length.
  • 30 Juz’: each Juz’ is twenty to twenty one pages long
  • 60 Hizb: each Juz’ is divided into two almost equal subparts
  • You can decide to memorize according to the meaning and Tafseer of the verses, for example, Surah Yusuf has one primary topic, yet it can be divided according to the events that occurred: his dream and conversation with Yaqoob (as), being thrown into the well, the incident with the Aziz’s wife etc.
  • Additionally, scholars of the Quran have divided it this way:

i.            السبع الطوال– The Seven Long Surahs: this includes Surah Al Baqarah, Al-Imran, An- Nisa, Al-Maida, Al-Anam, Al-Araf and the seventh is either At-Taubah or Yunus.

ii.            المئون– The Hundreds: this includes almost all the Surahs that come after the previous seven and the number of verses in these Surahs reach approximately a hundred.

iii.            3-المثاني– The Repetitions: this includes all the Surahs that come after the previous and the number of verses in these Surahs reach approximately two hundred.

iv.            المفصل– The Separated Ones: this includes all the Surahs from Surah Al-Hujurat to Surah An-Nas

2- Decide which method of division is easiest for you to follow. Consider your daily routine. Make productive use of holidays, weekends and free time.

3- Start early! Prophet (sa) said:

اللهم بارك لأمتي في بكورها

“O Allah (swt)! Bless my Ummah in its early hours.” (Sahih Al Jami)

Therefore make use of the blessed hours before and after the Fajr Salah. This will also help you start the rest of your day with a sense of accomplishment.

4- Write it down everywhere! Draw out a neat little memorization plan for yourself and tick it as you go or if you are tech-savvy, use Microsoft Excel or Word.

5- Remember to include new memorization (parts you’ve memorized in the last few days), old memorization (parts you’ve memorized in the last month) and your new lesson (parts you memorized that day in particular). The new lesson you’ve memorized will stay in your short-term memory until you revise it consistently and transfer it to your long-term memory.

Finally, none of this will help you unless you have a strong determination to move forward. Do not burden yourself. Scholar of Fiqh and teacher of Imam Abu Hanifa (rta), Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman would say: “Learn three issues every day and do not increase it to anything else. Know that your heart is a part of your body and it is able to carry some things while unable to carry other things.”

6- Tea-time – If you are unable to move forward and feel stressed, give yourself a break. Relax and renew your intentions. I remember having a very fruitful month finishing one Juz’ every week and suddenly I found myself unable to memorize anything new. It would take me a whole hour to finish a page unlike the better days when I would memorize a page in thirty minutes. I made myself a revision plan and gave the memorization a break. After a few days, I had everything revised as planned, which encouraged me to get back on track, Alhamdulillah!

Remember that no matter how much you plan and organize, there will occasionally be setbacks. Do not despair; it is better to start afresh than to never get started at all!

[To be continued Insha Allah]