Why Habits Eat Willpower for Breakfast – Sidi Tushar Imdad

One of the most common excuses I hear for not completing big goals is ‘I just don’t have the willpower’ or the common variant: ‘I need to have more discipline.’

Even if people don’t verbalise these beliefs aloud, their actions speak for them: they are waiting until they feel motivated or are hoping that, somehow, they can summon up willpower later. Then they’ll get onto fulfilling their dreams.

A surprising find of modern research is that willpower is overrated. As James Clear, in Atomic Habits, has noted:

“When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.”

So that sister you see going on a jog every morning, or the brother who consistently makes Fajr, probably are no more ‘disciplined’ than you. They’ve managed to establish a habit – which requires hardly any willpower to maintain.

If you think about your own life, I guarantee there is at least one habit which you do regularly that others find extremely hard.

Don’t believe me? Try driving. I have relatives – both male and female – who are in their thirties and still can’t drive. For them, the thought of paying for and taking dozens of lessons, preparing for the theory and practical exam, etc., is like a mountain of willpower they need to overcome.

But if you are one of the thousands of drivers reading this, it’s no sweat at all. Driving – which is an incredibly complex skill if you think about it – is completely second nature for us.

Much more important than willpower in breaking or making habits, is environment.

Here’s a powerful proof of this assertion.

During the Vietnam War the American public were shocked to find that up to a whopping 20% of soldiers and service users were addicted to heroin. This caused consternation and immediate government intervention, with the setting up of organisations and research initiatives. One of the startling findings was that 90% of these addicts managed to eliminate their habits overnight.

But how? They came home.

Conventional wisdom preached that these soldiers must have been morally corrupt or undisciplined.

But the truth was that the constant stress of war and the particular friendships made on the battlefield all created triggers for heroin use.

Once the soldiers returned to the USA they were removed from the environment. Remove the cues/triggers and you remove the habit.

What was supposed to be a permanent, irreversible condition got treated in one day.

Islamically, we can call this the power of our suhba – which is both the company we keep and environment.

Think of the famous hadith of the man who murdered 100 people (if you don’t know it, or need a reminder, you can read it here: before finding a monk who wisely advised him to travel to a certain village. He passed away before reaching his destination, but Allah, in His mercy, accepted this serial murderer’s repentance and forgave him!

SubhanAllah, let’s think about this hadith in the context of our discussion on habits. This man was saved due to the advice to change his environment, change his suhba. He wasn’t advised to spend time in isolation, work on himself or to do this deed or that deed.

He was directed to completely change his environment, as that is one of the most powerful ways to uproot your habits and replace bad deeds with good ones.

The Qur’an itself encourages one to seek a positive environment in the strongest terms. In Surah Nisa (4:97) we read a powerful dialogue between the angels and the sinners whose souls they are taking (Allah, cause us to die in a goodly state! Amin!). The sinners complain, ‘We were too weak and oppressed on earth.’ But the angels reply:

‘Was God’s earth not vast enough for you to migrate to some other place?’

In my own life, and with many of my friends, I’ve seen this principle played out through witnessing countless sincere Muslims making ‘hijra’ (emigration for Allah’s sake). Many moved to the Middle East to be in a Muslim country where they could hear the azan resounding and reminding five times a day; others moved to live with their shaykh and his community of students. Even my beloved city, Leicester Sharif, is fondly known as ‘The Medina of England’ and attracts many practising Muslims who move here for the quality of Hifz and Islamic education, abundant masajid and active scholarly community.

Another surpassing wisdom of our Deen is the encouragement – and with men, the near obligation – of praying our salahs in the masjid. Allah knew in His infinite wisdom – before science caught up to confirm – that we need to be constantly buffeted by an environment of Dhikr (remembrance) and that’s why places, like the masjid, or Makkah Sharif,  or houses of remembrance, are one of the most sanctified places in our life.

In today’s article I’ve scratched the surface on the power of habits to transform our lives. We’ve explored how one’s environment and suhba can easily overpower willpower. Building up to Ramadan, my series of articles termed the ‘Pre-Ramadan Runway’ will explore other aspects of habit forming that we can utilise in the holy month, and in life generally.

For now, if you ever start thinking that you’re not disciplined enough or are short on willpower, ask a different question. How can you improve your environment or suhba?

Tushar Imdad (aka Tushar Mohammed Imdad-ul-Haque Bhuiya) is an Islamic Time Management Coach and Educational Entrepreneur. Professionally trained as a high school English teacher, Tushar has taught or managed prominent Islamic schools in Leicester, UK, between 2007-2016. With a flair for managing multiple roles, Tushar is also a GCSE English examiner, a teacher trainer for AMS UK; professional proofreader; former lead instructor at Madrasa Manara; and is currently the Director of Shaykhspeare’s Online English Academy and High Impact Tutors.  
 A long-term student of knowledge, Tushar has studied a range of Islamic sciences at the feet of scholars such as Shaykh Nuh Keller, Umm Sahl, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Maulana Ilyas Patel and Ustadh Tabraze Azam. In 2015 he completed Level 5 of the Classical Arabic Program from the prestigious Qasid Institute, Amman.   
Throughout his varied career, Tushar has always been driven by a passion for time management. Starting in 2009, he has delivered a mixture of workshops, webinars, web-coaching and client visits, attracting delegates as varied as CEOs, corporate professionals, housewives, dentists and scholars from places spanning the UK, US and Middle East. Tushar has published articles and delivered training for, and (now Kiflayn). In recent years he has immersed himself in  productivity systems, learning from world-class experts such as Demir Bentley, the authors of The One Thing, Leo Babuta and James Clear. His recent courses have included  ‘Principles of Islamic Time Management’, ‘Time Tactics 101’ and ‘The Breakthrough Habit’.

The Ethical Treatment of Animals

Cori Mancuso reflects on the Islamic moral and theological approach towards the treatment of animals, the controversial practices of industrial animal farming, and provides practical advice and recommendations on ethical consumerism in the Muslim community.


What are the Rights of Animals in the Modern World?  

Animals are part of our everyday lives and environment; whether one owns a pet, keeps livestock, or eats meat. Yet few Muslims today are aware of Islam’s rulings regarding ethical animal treatment and consumption, or the centuries’ worth of scholarly literature on the topic. This literature reflects our scholars’ profound understanding of the rights and responsibilities that come with our relationship with animals. Modern agricultural and farming practices such as intensive animal farming, machine slaughtering, and animal experimentation, are among a few of the most controversial trends which directly oppose the Islamic moral and ethical treatment of animals.

As consumers and participants in the global world, it is essential that Muslims make every effort in aligning their actions and attitude towards a greater awareness of the proper treatment of animals in their everyday lives.


What Does the Qur’an Say About Our Relationship With Animals?

The Qur’an and Hadith outline the moral and theological significance of animals and their relationship with mankind. Allah Most High says in the Qu’ran “It is He who created for you all of that which is on the earth.” (Surah al Baqarah 2:29) Human beings were given permission to make use of animals in terms of transportation, clothing, shelter, warfare, hunting, food, and drink. (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals) The Qu’ran honors several types of animals, including livestock, camels, birds, cows, sheep, and fish. There are three chapters of the Qur’an named after specific animals, such as The Bee (Surah an Nahl 16), The Ant (Surah an Naml 27), The Spider (Surah al Ankabut 29) and The Elephant (Surah al Fil 105). We are encouraged to reflect upon animals and created beings as a means of gratefulness and appreciation towards The Creator. One’s treatment towards animals reflects one’s state of guidance; ethical treatment of animals is a sign of guidance and appreciation, while one’s mistreatment of animals is a sign of misguidance and ungratefulness towards the Creator and His creation. (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals) Our state of guidance is reflected in our behavior towards animals, making it of utmost priority to realign our behavior towards that which we were commanded and created to uphold.


Treatment of Animals in the Hadith Literature

As the Qur’an clearly outlines the proper moral and theological approach towards animals, the Hadith specifies how one should properly interact with and keep animals. The Hadith collections emphasize the overall necessity of mercy, avoidance of harm, and proper care towards animals. For those who mistreat animals, this is a major sin worthy of Allah’s punishment (Musa Furber; Rights and Duties Pertaining to Kept Animals). In a well-known hadith, reported from Ibn Umar, Allah be pleased with him, says “The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: ‘A woman was tormented because of a cat she had confined until it died and for this she entered Hellfire. She did not provide it with food or drink as it was confined, nor did she free it so that is might eat the vermin of the earth.’” (Muslim ibn al-hajjaj; al-Musnad al-sahih) For those who treat animals with mercy and compassion, there is a great reward with Allah Most High. The companions of the Prophet, Allah be pleased with them, asked the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace “O Messenger of Allah, is there a reward for us even for serving these animals?” He said ‘Yes, there is a reward for rendering service to every living animal.’” (Bukhari; al-Sahih)


Injunction of Eating Halal and Tayyib

In the modern global economy, there is a veil between humans and animals in terms of meat and dairy production. Although there is a growing movement towards farm to table, organic, and humane certified products, the vast majority of people participate in the industrialized agricultural system of slaughter, production, and consumption. Animals living under these conditions have little to no movement, are raised in inappropriate housing without sunlight or air, and face regular trauma and injury (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming). All of these practices violate Islamic law and our religious principles. Animals cannot be raised under these conditions for the mere purpose of economic gain or efficiency. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, warned the believers that committing unlawful acts affects the acceptance of our deeds.

Allah has enjoined us to avoid the doubtful and unlawful matters. This alone should be enough to concern us regarding our direct and indirect involvement in industrial animal farming production and consumption. As individuals and as a community, we must strive to prevent, alleviate, and offer alternatives to industrial animal farming.


Practical Advice on Ethical Consumerism  

Muslims are commanded to eat of the halal and tayyib, “O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Satan.” (Surah al Baqarah 2:168) We are reminded to do all things in the most excellent manner and with ihsan. This includes making conscious decisions surrounding our purchases and consumption of animal products and goods. How does one go about acquiring halal and tayyib products?

For starters, Muslims should purchase halal-certified meat products, preferably from local farmers and butchers. When inquiring about the farming and production practices of a halal farmer or business, one should be asking the following questions “Is the animal raised in a wholesome and humane environment? Is the animal distressed or mishandled during transportation? Are the animals slaughtered in an ethical and merciful manner? Are the animals killed away from the view of other animals?” (Ezra Ereckson; Animals in Islam).

This is easier to recognize when one purchases locally or as a group from a local halal butcher. In cases where this is not applicable or accessible, there are other options such as inquiring into the specific halal certification on the label and purchasing meat and animal products online. There is no standard government sanctioned or internationally recognized halal certification, so we must be cautious about this labelling. Most halal certifications regulate the slaughter of the animal, not the conditions in which they are kept or how they are raised. In terms of halal and tayyib meat and dairy products, Beyond offers an online directory of farmers and businesses around the world which are providing quality halal meats and dairy products.

Mufti Musa Furber, offers several recommendations for individuals, communities, and scholars to address the inhumane production and consumption of animals. (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming) Although Vegetarianism and Veganism are on the rise, these are not viable options for most of the Muslim community given that Islam still requires animal sacrifice for specific religious rites. Also, they do not address or counteract the mainstream practice of industrial animal farming. It is among the sunnah of our Prophet, and all the Prophets, Allah bless and give peace on all of them, to eat meat in moderation. It would be beneficial to reduce the amount of meat in one’s diet, or to adopt more healthy alternatives to meat products.

As a Muslim community, we must create alternative farming initiatives which raise animals in a lawful manner and provide permissible and nourishing products to the community. As consumers, we must strive to find lawful sources of meat and dairy, even at the expense of paying higher prices. Lastly, many animal products can be substituted by alternative materials and consumable goods. Furber challenges the scholars and religious leaders of our time to address many of these controversial legal issues related to industrial animal farming and halal certification standards. (Musa Furber; Intensive Animal Farming)


As believers, we are called to be an example to humanity and stewards on this earth. This is a great honor and responsibility. We must be willing to start with ourselves and address our own individual lifestyles. Then we can begin to work as a community to adopt and promote the ethical treatment of animals according to our tradition. We have been commanded to be stewards of the earth, to eat of lawful and nourishing bounty, to perfect our character and actions, and to treat all animals with compassion and mercy.

Cori Mancuso is a graduate in Religious Studies at Lycoming College. While seeking sacred knowledge, she develops content for SeekersGuidance and Sabeel Community.


Reflecting on Water, the Anti-DAPL Movement, and Our Stewardship of the Earth

In response to the call from a native American tribal leader, there’s been a groundswell of support among North American based faith leaders to pray and reflect in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock working to preserve local waters from the DAPL project. Ustadh Sharif Rosen delivered the following reflection at a prayer vigil, with particular focus on working to preserve the blessing of water. This movement combining both social justice and our roles as stewards of the earth appears to be one that Muslims should be invested in, however possible, he writes.


Ustadh Sharif Rosen’s reflection

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
Allah, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth says in the Quran, in the chapter entitled “Rome”,
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ يُرِيكُمُ الْبَرْقَ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا وَيُنَزِّلُ مِنَ السَّمَاء مَاء فَيُحْيِي بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا
إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ
{And from His signs is that He shows you thunder which incites awe and hope, and He sends down waters from the sky by which the earth is revived after its death; indeed, in this, is a great sign for those of intellect} [30:24]
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
{Corruption has surfaced in the land and the sea from what human hands have earned that they might turn back} [30:41]
The current struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project in the United States represents only one flashpoint in the wider crisis affecting each living creature. The insatiable desire to control and exploit our most precious resources is nothing less than a declaration of war on our own selves.
God invites us to witness and reflection upon His signs in the creation; to view existence through the lens of sacred meanings embedded therein.  As scholars like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf remind us, we might then see that the state of the earth’s waters mirrors the inward and outward state of humanity who have been tasked as custodians of the earth.  Thus, when our oceans, rivers and streams are corrupted with acidity, garbage, and toxins; when our seas are over-fished and then, overrun with hyper-consumers like the brainless, heartless, spineless jellyfish on one hand; and the far more destructive predator, ourselves on the other, by sacred measures, the imbalance we have caused is setting the table for our own annihilation.
Water is among the greatest proofs of God’s mercy; in this life as our sustenance and means to purity; in the next life, where the lush, shaded groves of the Garden are nourished by pure, flowing waters.  The Arabic word for water is ma-a, whose letters form the roots for the word mahiya which means “essence”.  Water is who we are, in the very composition of our bodies, and what will enrich us again in the world to come.  Yet, in our relationship with water now — whether through our care or our abuse — we may see the reflection of who we really are, or rather, what we have become.
The noble poet, Imam Muhammad al-Busiri, God have mercy on him, may as well have been describing the blessing of water when he said, “The more familiar and obvious a thing, the more subtle and hidden it is.”
Our prayer is that we not be of those who let all of that which is most valuable, most near to us, go neglected, and then, damaged beyond repair.
May we aid the struggle to preserve the right of all peoples to access the cleansing and pure water that is among God’s great mercies to all of creation.
May we support the centuries-old cause of the native peoples of this continent, and in all lands as they defend their lives, their water, their cultures, their sovereignty and dignity.
May we apply our entire selves to the restoration of sanity and balance in this world — in its ecology, in our consumption, in our political and economic systems, in our social discourse, in our aspirations, in our religion and spirituality, and in our very souls.
May our life’s impact be wide in benefit, but our footprint, gentle.
And all praise is God’s alone.

Protecting The Environment – In Allah’s Words, by Shaykh Ali Hani

Shaykh Ali Hani is one of the greatest living experts of the Arabic language, the Quran and their sciences. In this video, Shaykh Ali describes what Allah tells us in the Quran about the environment – an important and timely lesson. The translator is Shaykh Hamza Karamali.

Resources on protecting the environment:

Living Right With This Planet

There are many crimes perpetrated in the modern world. The crimes against this planet, the tyranny of human beings against animals and the natural environment, are probably the worst, argues Dr Umar Faruq Abdallah.

As part of this tour of Malaysia, Dr Umar delivered this unequivocal condemnation of our violation of all that God has bestowed upon us, beginning first with a scathing attack on the mass food production industry.

Resources for Seekers on Living Right With This Planet

Cover photo by Юрий Бухановский.

Green and Environmental Stewardship in Islam

What is the place of green and environmental stewardship in Islam? Ustadh Amjad Tarsin answers by citing several prophetic traditions emphasizing environmental consciousness and awareness. He gives three practical steps that Muslims should take to fulfill their role as stewards of the earth. Our thanks to ISNA Canada for the recording.

Green andd

Resources on Green and Environmental Stewardship of the Earth

Cover photo by Tim Douglas

Video: Growing Ecologies of Peace, Compassion and Blessing – Dr. Aref Ali Nayed

Growing Ecologies of Peace, Compassion and Blessing

Dr. Aref Ali Nayed is Founder and Director of Kalam Research & Media (KRM). He currently lectures on Islamic Theology, Logic, and Spirituality at the restored Uthman Pasha Madrasa in Tripoli, Libya, and supervises Graduate Students at the Islamic Call College there. He is Senior Advisor to the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme; Fellow of the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute in Jordan; and was also recently appointed to the Board of Advisors of the Templeton Foundation. He was Professor at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (Rome), and the International Institute for Islamic Thought and Civilization (Malaysia). He has headed an Information Technology company. He received his BSc in Engineering, MA in the Philosophy of Science, and a PhD in Hermeneutics from the University of Guelph (Canada). He also studied at the University of Toronto and the Pontifical Gregorian University. He has been involved in various Inter-Faith initiatives since 1987, including the recent “A Common Word” process, and has authored several  scholarly works including, co-authored with Jeff Mitscherling and Tanya Ditommaso, The Author’s Intention (Lexington Books, 2004). His recently published book is Operational Hermeneutics: Interpretation as the Engagement of Operational Artifacts (KRM, 2011). His forthcoming books include Catholic Engagements: A Muslim Theologian’s Journey in Muslim-Catholic Dialogue (KRM) and Future of Muslim Theology (to be published by Blackwell in parallel with Future of Jewish Theology by Stephen Kepness and Future of Christian Theology by David F. Ford.

Dr. Aref Ali Nayed was also featured in the New York Times for his role in the Libyan Revolution: A Man of God and Technology, Trying to Steady Libya

The Inner Dimension of Going Green

“Our interaction with nature is clearly constrained and directed by such foundational ethical precepts as mercy, moderation, and gratitude, which, when systematically  understood  and  applied,  result  in  ecological health. But ethical precepts refer ultimately to human nature, and therefore ecological health is rooted in psychological health. From this deep-level perspective, environmental degradation is less a resource-problem than an attitude-problem. This psycho-ecological approach toward preserving and enhancing environmental health is explored by considering some pertinent aspects of Islamic socio-intellectual history and their relevance for re-articulating and re-applying authentic Islamic environmental ethical values in today’s world….”


green mosque

The Inner Dimension of Going Green: Articulating an Islamic Deep-Ecology – Adi Setia – Sunna Theologica (pdf)

Scholars say Islam teaches care for the environment

Shaykh Musa Furber, a leading American Muslim faqih and author, is interviewed on the Islamic perspective of caring for the environment.

Scholars say Islam teaches care for the environment– The National

Vesela Todorova

ABU DHABI // To many UAE residents, littering appears such a trivial matter it hardly warrants a second thought.

But if those same people were to research the religious significance of the act, they might well think again.

Littering, according to Sheikh Musa Furber, a researcher and scholar of Islamic sciences with the Abu Dhabi-based Tabah Foundation, goes against one of the most important tenets of Islam: doing good for others.

The subject is mentioned in one of the hadiths, of which about 60,000 are known to exist. Reported by Abu Hurairah, a companion of the Prophet, the hadith dictates that removing harmful things from pathways is an act of charity.

“The phrase also indicates that just as there is some reward for performing this action, there is a penalty for performing its opposite,” said Sheikh Furber, an American who discovered Islam while earning a linguistics degree in his native country.

Some scholars say the hadith is just one indication of many that environmental responsibility is deeply rooted in Islamic teachings, even if the concept is only just gaining traction.

In a June speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Britain’s Prince Charles asked the audience to consider Islam’s teachings on the subject.

“The inconvenient truth is that we share this planet with the rest of creation for a very good reason – and that is, we cannot exist on our own without the intricately balanced web of life around us,” Prince Charles was quoted as saying. “Islam has always taught this and to ignore that lesson is to default on our contract with creation.”

The same month Friday sermons waded into the realm of environmentalism, reminding worshippers that conserving water was a religious duty. Sermons delivered at the UAE’s mosques are drafted by the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department.

“Let us conserve water as it is an invaluable treasure, and the country is doing a great deal to conserve it so we should value these efforts by not wasting it,” said the sermon.

Last November religious leaders gathered at Windsor Castle for Many Heavens, One Earth, an event organised by the United Nations and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation to encourage environmental action among a variety of faiths. The event helped create momentum for The Muslim Seven Year Action Plan On Climate Change (2010-2017).

The plan, supported by muftis and scholars from a variety of countries including Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and launched back in 2008, seeks to “re-introduce Islamic rituals from the environmental perspective”, take steps to create a “green Haj”, build a prototype for a “green mosque” and work towards publishing the Quran on recycled paper.

The idea that everything on Earth is inter-related is contained in a concept known to Islamic scholars as “takaful”. Although the concept is now applied mainly to insurance, where it refers to a sharing of risks, takaful also means a cosmic symbiosis or balance, according to Sheikh Furber.

“What God created is a complex system of elements dependent on each other, they are inter-related and in balance,” he said. “You cannot alter or play with that system without disturbing it.”

Islamic scholars needed to go back to the original sources and use them to explain issues faced by people today, such as conservation or global warming, said Sheikh Furber. But some basic “green” tenets of Islam were universal and easily understood.

Grand Mufti, Dr Ali Ahmed Mashael, said that another basic idea in Islam was that humans were custodians of the Earth. This concept, known to scholars as “khilafah”, came with a responsibility for humans who needed to be compassionate to other creatures and to use resources carefully.

“The Prophet said it is forbidden to kill or hurt animals without reason,” said Dr Mashael. “He also said that people should not harm themselves or others and this applies to animals as well.”

The Quran and hadiths made many references to being modest when using water, food or buying possessions, said Dr Mashael.

“People should buy only what is enough for them,” he said. “If they do not want it any more or they do not use it, they can donate.”

In Islamic law, for a sale and purchase to be considered valid they needed to have “positive wholesome use”, said Sheikh Furber.

“It is about balance and limits,” he said. “In cases where the item is useful, it is fine. But if we have too much, then no, there is a problem with that. There is a difference between having one TV set and having three or five, between driving one car and driving three or five.”

A paper published more than a decade ago is considered to contain some of the best writing to date on the topic. Environmental Protection in Islam was written by four scholars from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq with support from Saudi Arabia’s Meteorological and Environmental Protection Association and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

“Most Islamic nations are developing and must expand economically in order to meet basic needs,” the authors argued. “Should this expansion pass through the same evolutionary cycle as prior industrial development, the environmental impacts could be disastrous.”

Shaykh Musa Furber has translated Imam al-Nawawi’s Etiquette with the Quran available for purchase through Firdous Books