Time is precious: God granted us just so long here; only He knows how long we have. And He told us


By time

إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ

All humanity is in loss

إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ

Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.

I’ve been thinking lately (never a good thing) about the saying “it’s not what you believe, but what you do that defines you.” For Muslims, it’s a bit of both, but if you look at the above there’s belief, and then actions: doing righteous deeds, advising self and others to truth and right action, and advising towards patience. Plus, there’s action bound up in belief: you have to study to know what to believe and how to put that belief into action. I’ve spoken about this before.

What I haven’t mentioned so much is the time part… How should I spend my time? How can I occupy my time with more remembrance of Allah and His prophets, more time spent in direct or indirect forms of worship? How can I avoid being in loss?

In some sense it’s easy: believe, do good, advise good, be patient; or, learn, act, teach, be patient.

But in some other senses, it’s hard.

Many things can be worship: working to earn Allah’s sustenance for me and my family, for example, is worship if I remember that sustenance comes always and only from Allah, and that I’m working for Him, seeking His pleasure and His bounty, and only if I internalize that, believe it, and work at work, rather than, say, shop on the internets, or write blog posts, for that matter, even if they are posts encouraging worship.

But it’s not always easy to tell, or, rather, it’s not always easy to keep eyes and mind on the prize.

Take the tasbih, for example. After prayer, and at random points during the day, many Muslims recite the tasbih: Glory be to God (SubhanAllah) 33 times; All praise and thanks be to God (Alhamdulillah) 33 times; God is Greater (Allahu Akbar) 33 times. There is great reward in this, InshaAllah (God willing).

But if you’re reciting SubhanAllah and thinking about the football game or your grocery list, you can go ask the NFL or Tom Thumb for your reward, since they’re the ones you were worshiping.

So I’ve been thinking about how I spend my time, the things I actually do, how I do them, for what reason I do the things I do, and I’m finding myself by turns furiously angry and filled with despair. It’s sometimes very hard for me to tell just what I’m doing or why, and when I do think I know what I’m doing or why I’m doing, I find that I’m mistaken and know I could be doing better. Or I think back about some activity that I know I did only for the sake of Allah, only to worship Him, and try to objectively look at myself, how I acted, what my contribution was, etc., and again: furious or despairing.

There is probably some mental disease or defect involved in this, but maybe it’s also useful, at the very least, as a reminder that I too am a pathetic sinner, deeply in need of the mercy and forgiveness of Allah azza wa jall, Ar-Rahman, Ar-Raheem, Al-Ghafur (the Gracious, the Merciful, the Forgiving).

All I can really do is try to be conscious of what I’m doing, try to make sure my intention is correct, try to be the best James-the-Muslim as I can be. All I can do is try, really, and pray to God for His guidance, His mercy, His forgiveness.

Maybe you feel the same way sometimes. If so, maybe you can share some of your strategies for getting on with it… I feel sort of paralyzed and am unsure which way to go, what path towards Allah is the best for me, for my family, for right now. Ya Allah, guide me!

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