How Do I Balance Having Spiritual Ambition With Being Humble and Not Burning Myself Out?
Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Khan
Question: What is the difference between humility in one’s works (given that it is not you that is producing them), and hopelessness with one’s ability to improve? I feel that I am constantly ‘waiting’ for Allah to inspire me with himmah and thus inadvertantly blaming Him for my pathetic spiritual state…
Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,
I pray this finds you in the best of health and states.
Striving and Lowliness
The sunna is to strive and exert oneself, in a balanced manner, to perform spiritual works, and then after their performance, to:
(a) attribute them to Allah and His infinite largess, for He alone is the Granter of tawfiq (ability and wherewithal to do the good); and
(b) forget about them, so that one sees himself as having fallen short and not done enough.
This attitude of lowliness and deeming oneself to be full of shortcomings does not negate effort and due diligence in performing the good. Both are essential traits of the sincere believer, but each has its appropriate ‘time’ vis-à-vis the good deed.
That is to say, spiritual effort and exertion precede the action, while gratitude, lowliness and spiritual humility come after the action.
Waiting for himma and blaming Allah for low himma is to be avoided. The treatment for spiritual laziness deals primarily with company: keep the company of people of exertion, and avoid the company of the idle and aloof. (Company, of course, includes digital and social media, including T.V., internet, blogs, facebook, youtube and the like…)
Allah Most High states, “And those who strive for Our sake, We will surely guide them to Our paths” (29:69).
Having said the above, it is important to keep in mind that the sunna is also to not take on more than one’s ability, lest one ‘burn out’. Unfortunately, this is far too common today, especially among younger Muslims who suddenly have ‘religious awakenings’ and get very excited about the deen, and frequently among those who follow modern revisionist Islam rather than traditional Sunni orthodoxy.
Our Beloved Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) warned us:”O people, take on of righteous actions only that which you can bear, for verily Allah does not tire until you tire. Indeed, the most beloved acts to Allah are those that last, even if little.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
It is based on this and similar hadiths that Imam Ghazali said, “If one’s spiritual drive diminishes and one’s ambition becomes weakened, and one knows that relaxation for some time by sleep, conversation, or joking would revive his drive, then that [relaxation] is better for him than praying while feeling bored. In reality, it entails following the Sacred Law, not following one’s caprice.”
[Nahlawi, Durar Mubaha]
And Allah knows best.
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani