Updated: Mar 11, 2021
By Lamisa H.
New decade, new me, right? As I was reading over my goals for this new decade, I realised that I’d written “strengthen faith” as a separate resolution, alongside the rest. Generally, my self-help style new years resolutions have been rooted in finding fulfilment within myself for myself, with the end goal of becoming “content”. The difference in approaching it from an Islamic perspective to me is that the end goal is a greater sense of purpose: worship. For years, I have genuinely struggled to incorporate intentional worship into my day, treating my life and my faith as two separate entities, but Islam offers a holistic guide on how to navigate the human experience on the path of self-development, nurturing of the soul.
Ihsan is when you can perform daily tasks with the constant remembrance of God. Now, I don’t anticipate that I’ll completely reach that goal this year but I can start with aligning my existing resolutions with an Islamic perspective. I found Imam Al-Ghazali’s Alchemy of Happiness to be a beautiful and trusted resource to help me ground my intentions. My aim in 2020 is to perform my faith so that it becomes a transformational experience, rather than a mere transaction between me and God.
So here is my more holistic breakdown of my new year’s resolutions, through an Islamic perspective.
1) Re-evaluate how I measure success
Taken out of context, a quote like “he who knows himself is truly happy” can look like your typical Tumblr quote with a fancy font and a pastel pink background. However, Al-Ghazali’s core idea in this is that happiness consists of transformation of the self, and that this transformation is in the realisation that one is primarily a spiritual being. In saying this, Al Ghazali expresses that it is only through a balanced observance of inner knowledge (‘ilm al-batin) and inner actions (al-a‘mal al-batinah), can our good deeds achieve their goals and are conducive to nurturing the Ruh (soul).
For me, success has always meant achieving small everyday tasks in order to reach the bigger goal of self-improvement. It is about how well I can grow as a person, rather than earning money or reaching big milestones. Re-framing this view through an Islamic perspective has meant that instead of striving for personal happiness, I have shifted my focus overtime to how I constantly seek ways to develop spiritually, and nurture my soul.
I just have to keep reminding myself to align my daily actions with my faith, as they are essentially one in the same. Making sure I have the right intentions is the ultimate success.
2) Allow myself to keep learning
The key to unlocking the full potential of your mind has always been known to be education, but it’s benefits for the soul are not nearly as widely broadcast. In Al-Ghazali’s teachings, much of his spirituality relies on his continual pursuit of knowledge, both of himself and the world around him in relation to God. He writes:
“Knowledge exists potentially in the human soul like the seed in the soil; by learning the potential becomes actual.”
I felt this quote connected beautifully with my efforts to adopt a growth mindset in my everyday life rather than labouring through a fixed one. It means that I have better incentive to give myself the time to learn a new skill, read a book or find new avenues for the task that I am completing. As a teacher, my whole life revolves around guiding people to learn. Yet ironically, I struggle to find the time and energy to keep learning myself. In our busy lives filled with other commitments, the task of continuous learning can turn into a stressful endeavour rather than a fruitful one. But when I reframe it through making the right intentions (as an inherent act of worship), it transforms the act of learning into the keystone of restoring my relationship with my faith.
3) Invest in the relationships that benefit me
This brings me to my intentions with renewing the meaningful relationships I have in my life in the new year. Our support network is our catalyst for self-authorship, and essential for the growth of our spirituality. By making meaningful connections, we improve our ability to confidently, rationally and wisely make difficult decisions about ourselves and our lives. My intention with this resolution is to nurture my connections with people that carry the knowledge of faith. We all need consistent guidance, reminders and direction when it comes to keeping imaan strong.
I can remember clearly how strong my faith was in high school, because I had a valuable support network that I could learn and grow from, and how this contrasts with the lack of this sort of support I experienced in uni, and my subsequent lowering of imaan. An equally important aspect of meaningful relationships is love, and the ability to listen without judgement. I realised that in my most spiritually fulfilling times throughout my life, I was surrounded by people who nurtured my faith and helped me strengthen it.
4) Master the art of not buying
Whenever I lose sight of the purpose of my journey towards sustainability, I ask myself: At what point does my lifestyle impinge on the haq- the rights of others? My love of retail therapy is something I’m working on reforming with this resolution. For the past year I have been on a journey towards sustainability, after becoming aware of the severity of the climate crisis. Since writing the piece “Buying Ourselves Into Oblivion”, I’ve learned more about battling the seeming futility of efforts to reduce our carbon footprint, and rather than replacing what we have with more sustainable options, the answer lies truly in reforming our buying habits.
Since I was very small, shopping together was an activity that my mother and I would do that would bond us, and because of this, it holds a very special magic for me. However, it’s not sustainable. When I ask myself that key question from earlier, I have no trouble putting my efforts towards maintaining what I already have. Islam encourages a lifestyle of minimalism, of learning to live within limits. I’m redirecting my love for shopping with my mother, to the renewal of skills we neglected overtime together, such as sewing and creating new, personalised items of clothing. By investing in fruitful experiences rather than objects, you free up mindspace to focus on your ruh. Integrating the teachings of my faith has given the journey of sustainability a higher purpose than it already had.
5) Keep working on respecting my body
While “body positivity” may have been the buzzword of the last decade, the perspective of body neutrality is more notably aligned with an Islamic perspective of the body. In understanding my body as a vehicle for achieving the functions of my everyday life, aligned with the concept of our bodies as vessels for our Ruh (souls).Al Ghazali stated that “It is the knowledge of this entity [our bodies] and its attributes which is the key to the knowledge of God”. Therefore , a deeper understanding and appreciation of what my body is and does, is a stepping stone for a deeper knowledge of God.
In moving away from the limiting perspective of body positivity towards a more holistic neutrality, I can focus on nurturing my intentions, mindfulness and spiritual growth. My body allows me to experience new places and cultures; to embrace the people I love; to laugh with my friends. Most importantly, my body allows me to perform acts of worship. Therefore, I remind myself that to improve on my spiritual health, I need to take care of my physical health. Basically, it's not about keeping my body in good shape, but rather keeping it, and by extension my Ruh, in good health.
6) Don’t forget about the community
As I do not live in a vacuum, my action or inaction has a consequence on the rest of humanity, however big or small I think the consequence may be. Islam inherently asks me to assist in benefiting the community, by laying fundamental pillars such as Zakat in place. Before reframing this resolution, activities such as raising money and volunteering filled my checklist for feeling content with my life and what it represented. I liked the idea of trying to live my life in the service of others, but because of the stifling pressure for religious perfection, I failed to preform it as an act worship.
The goal is rejecting individualism, and accepting social responsibility. Using the example of the money-making aspect of the sustainability industry, when we opt for something ethical, we are making ourselves feel better and absolving ourselves from all other responsibility. This resolution is a reminder to myself not to forget about the community, that there are other people around me that need my expertise or need my skills or maybe they just need a second pair of hands or a talk. It’s constantly reminding ourselves that we are not the entirety of our own worlds.
A Note To End On
My faith is a difficult topic for me to talk about. Religion is easy to love and discuss theoretically, as it has always made sense to me, but in terms of my personal imaan, the conversation becomes stifling, and with an added layer of shame about my practice.
With the rise of the new ‘Roaring Twenties’, I feel positive about my growth because I am not executing my goals behaving like a drill sergeant with myself. Islam is where you can perform daily tasks with a constant remembrance of God, but I’m not forcing myself to do that straight away. I’m holding myself accountable but I’m giving myself time. As much time as I need, without anyone else telling me how much it should take.
I thought the lifestyles we had to lead in this day and age made it impossible to prioritise our spiritual growth, but in writing this piece I’ve learned where I’ve been falling short with my ‘new year’s resolutions’, and life goals in general. In overcoming the difficulty in confronting my level of spiritual practice, I’ve been able to refocus my efforts with better intentions and a fresh excitement, because I know that the end goal is so much more important than me.
Lead Editor: Palwasha A.