Ramadan: Recognizing the Traps (7)

InshaAllah, we have no doubts, we’re following the Quran and Sunnah, we’re staying far away from the major sins and avoiding the minor sins, and we’re making dua that Allah keep us from straying too far from His path, but the Devil has more traps laid for us.

Last time, I mentioned the grey area between Halal and Haram, and the disliked actions that the devils like to draw us towards, Audhu Billah. But it’s not just disliked actions that can get us, Satan and his little buddies like to get us to waste time on permitted things: Audhu Billah!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog—and I suspect that you’re not—you know that it’s been mostly a photography-related thing for several years now. I’m taking a break from posting about photography, and mostly a break from photography altogether,  though I still carry a camera everywhere I go, and I did make a few portraits of my sister in-law by her request one afternoon.

Photography is, as far as I understand it, completely permitted. Unlike sculpture or painting, I’m not creating anything, really, when I photograph my darling adorable wife, I’m capturing what she looked like in one fraction of a second. Allah azza wa jall made Hanabibti, and He alone sustained her in that moment, and in all moments before or since, and in all moments to come, and may He grant her long life, health, peace, and joy, Ameen.

(Here, I acknowledge that some people do, indeed argue that photography is completely haram, following a couple of hadiths of the Prophet, peace be upon him.  These same people also ban all video and audio recording along the same lines. Allah knows best, and He knows our intentions and He will judge us all, and if I am in error—and I am, if not on this, then certainly on many many other things—may He forgive me and guide me to correct action. Since innumerable scholars videotape themselves and push those recordings far beyond the reach of this humble blog, I assume some photographs of my wife, or flowers, or trees, or water, or random whatever are fine too. And Allah knows best.)

Anyway, as far as I understand it, photography is permitted.

The problem, for me, is that I spend loads of time on it. I’m trying to cut down, but shooting film, developing it at home, scanning and correcting the negatives, and writing the posts to share those pictures all takes a long time. And that’s time that would be better spent kissing my darling, adorable wife, or helping clean up the house, or doing one or another of the items on my (nonexistent, as far as I know) HoneyDo list.*

Am I wasting time on the Permissible?

Astaghfirullah. Undoubtedly, I do, sometimes. There are times when I’m deep into some editing or something and the adhan goes and I keep on playing right through it and after. It would be much better for me to stop whatever I’m doing whenever I hear the adhan, repeat or recite along with it, and start getting my mind calmed down and cleared out and get myself ready to worship Allah azza wa jall. Alhamdulillah, I don’t think I’m excessive with this occasional slight delay of the salat. The local masjid often delays the prayer an hour or more to make it easier for people to come from work or wherever, but I should still pause for the adhan and start to center my focus. Alhamdulillah in my years as a Muslim, I overslept and missed Fajr one time, but otherwise have not missed any Salat. That said, Astagfirullah I’ve missed concentration in my salat more times than I can count. Sometimes, I’ve gone through Salat thinking, in part at least, about photography.

Ya Allah! Forgive me and guide me to better!

Anytime I find myself standing in Salat and thinking about some hobby or something, it’s an indication that I’m wasting time on the permissible, and that I need to step back and refocus my energies.

And that’s partly what my vacation from photography is about this month.

I’m sorry to have just this one example, and to be so long-winded about it, when there are many other examples. It’s just that I’m stuck in my own head and I can’t imagine being very serious about anything else.

Edit: I’ve thought of another example, in a completely different realm: sugar and junk foods…

Candy, cookies, crackers, and the like are all perfectly permissible, and a little bit every now and again InshaAllah doesn’t hurt. But I struggle to keep a balance.

Lately, I’ve begun really listening to this body that Allah blessed me with, and I’m starting to notice some things. When I eat random sweet or savory processed foods regularly, I become irritable, anxious, impatient, and I have trouble concentrating in Salat. If I go too long without processed foodstuffs, I get moody, depressed, negative. But after a few days without, I emerge as if from a fog and with just a little bit of exercise, find that concentration in Salat is easier, that minor aggravations stay minor, that I’m more confident and more patient. I’ve suspected this for quite some time, but only recently did I really see it.

I’m writing this on Monday evening. On Saturday, I had some of the most focused, tranquil prayers ever. Alhamdulillahi rabbil alalmin. I really tasted the sweetness of Salat.

Saturday evening, I needed to break a $20 and so I picked up a packet of honey roasted peanuts. Except for the couple of teaspoons in the cup of coffee, of which I drank half, I hadn’t had any sugar in several days. I had a handful of peanuts after dinner Saturday night, and another handful Sunday morning, and the quality of my Salat dropped by half.

Sunday night, we had an invite, and I enjoyed some nice baklava for afters, and today, my Salat was back to pre-Ramadan levels, may Allah forgive me.

I suspect it was the sugar in the baklava, but it might also be the grease in the meal (though I usually have some sugar and rarely have greasy stuff), and so InshaAllah I’m going to cut most sugar from my diet for a few days. InshaAllah I’ll be able to enjoy the sweetness of Salat instead.

I took the first step tonight, by skipping completely the various boxed sweets that our wonderful neighbors sent around, may Allah reward them and bless them, but I’ve got to take care of myself and my Salat first.

Beyond focus in prayer, and even if it doesn’t interfere with relationships or your daily life, sugar and processed foods have long term health effects, and can lead to diabetes, heart disease, all sorts of issues with the digestive system, etc. etc. etc. It’s better to limit your exposure to them.

I remember something from my time as a Christian…

All things are lawful [that is, morally legitimate, permissible], but not all things are beneficial or advantageous. All things are lawful, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life].

1 Corinthians 10:23

In Islam, not everything is permissible—eating pig and drinking alcohol, for example, are absolutely prohibited—and not every permissible thing is beneficial or constructive to character and edifying to spiritual life.

In general, I think the cut off is Salat. When something begins to interfere with your Salat, you’re in way too deep. Say “Audhu Billah” and seek forgiveness and start trying to get better. Beyond that, if your hobby or activity interferes your family obligations or relationships, your finances and spending in the path of Allah, or any other purely halal activity, then you’ve likely gone too far and need to try and pull it back a bit.

I know I’ve fallen into this at times, and it takes great will power and (perceived) sacrifice to stop  and read Quran or make some nafl Salat or some dhikr; to stop whatever it is that I’m doing and go hang out with my wife or help her with dinner or do some things around the house; to stop whatever it is I’m doing and call my mother or father or old friends.

But how?

Dua is key, but it’s going to take will power too, and other tools can help.

You can try limiting your hobby time to a couple of evenings per week, but if your life is anything like mine, you’ll have something come up almost every night that needs your attention or that you need to forego your hobby time to take care of. In the end, it made me resentful and angry, and I abandoned the schedule. These days, I take a half a day on the weekend, if I can, and as many late afternoons and evenings during the week, but I try to remain flexible. But it’s still a struggle to keep the hobby a side-project and focus on worship first.

If your hobby is a creative pursuit, don’t abandon it: if you’re like me, you need the activity to keep an even keel. But if your hobby is something mindless—television, say—try to cut back slowly, try to integrate worship into the hobby. (I know that sounds bad, but if you’re very deep into the permissible, then you need to start wherever you can.) In any case, baby steps are the best.

With foodstuffs and other physical addictions, cold turkey is probably the best way. If you’re into something really bad (something that would fall into the Major Sins camp, probably), you may need to take it a bit slow: I know that going cold turkey on some things can be deadly. But for most things—even cigarettes, even alcohol: trust me, I know and by the Grace of God I did it with both—cold turkey is the best.

InshaAllah, exercise will help take your mind off. Deep breaths, meditation, prayer, and some foods can help too, but just stay off of the bad stuff for a few days or a week, and the painful part will be over and you can start to work on the maintenance part…

Once you stop, or slow down on your overly-pursued permissible things, it’s important not to slip back into it, and you must make dua and be vigilant.

Seek protection, make dua, be patient, focus on your goal, and with God’s help and by His will alone, you will succeed and come closer to Him. InshaAllah you’ll also see improved relations with your spouse and friends, improved ability to handle actual and perceived crises, and all manner of other benefits.

May Allah help us to be better, Ameen.

*Or, given how much I do with the pictures I make, it’s likely that my time would be better spent doing anything else, as long as whatever I ended up doing was permissible, at least. And Allah knows best.

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