بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم
In the past few years I’ve seen more seekers of knowledge and du’āt talk about ‘making Islam a natural part of our lives’, in that it integrates seamlessly into our personality and worldview to the point where it doesn’t feel forced and unnatural. I was one of these people for a short duration, but upon further introspection and deeper reading in tasawwuf, I am much more hesitant to use this rhetoric without some sort of qualification.
The main problem is that while we all understand the importance and need to let Islam become a natural part of our lives, concepts like mujāhadah (struggle) and mukhālafat al-nafs (contradicting the nafs or self) are a necessary part of being a Muslim.
In the Qur’an Allah mentions the 3 different types of nafs: the Nafs ul-Lawwāmah, the Nafs-ul-Mutma’innah and the Nafs-ul Ammārah bil-Sū. The first is the chaotic and debatably psychological aspect of ourselves similar to consciousness, the second is the more spiritual aspect of ourselves which is only at peace when in the presence of Allah, and the last is what entices us to evil. Part of being Muslim is to struggle with the Nafs-ul-Lawwāmah and orient it towards the Nafs-ul-Mut’mainnah, fighting (mukhalafah) with the Nafs-ul-Ammārah bil-Sū in the process.
This requires a great deal of mujāhadah (struggle), in both the bātin (inner) and dhahir (aspects) of one’s person. Inwardly we need to control how we think and feel regarding our beliefs and what is Islamically considered ethical or unethical. Outwardly we need to obey (tā’ah) Allah and His Messenger and follow their commands and prohibitions. For example, waking up for the Fajr prayer is not easy, you need to sleep early. Being honest in business is hard, some jobs or industries might not be appropriate to work in. Controlling your anger can be an exceedingly difficult challenge that requires you to change your personality & temperament. Being good to parents is literally a form of jihad for some people, you may have to adjust your life goals accordingly. Expecting being Muslim to be a seamless integration into your personality and lifestyle is unrealistic and incorrect.
So ‘making Islam a natural part of our lives’ isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Many young Muslims today have taken it to mean that Islam’s integration into our worldview, culture & lifestyle should be seamless to the point where select orthodox beliefs, religious obligations, recommendations and disliked or impermissible acts are either rejected or incorrectly modified. While this is the case for issues in which there is a legitimate difference of analysis among Islamic scholars, it is according to the rules of interpretation and the their deductions, not according to whatever one feels is seamless and wholly pliable according to their personal preferences. There are non-negotiables that cause some level of hardship and require us to break or bend ourselves to some extent to accept and act upon.
But I don’t want to completely let go of this idea of ‘making Islam a natural part of our lives’. Rather I want to propose a systematic way to understand this principle. Making Islam a natural part of our lives involves:
1) Ontological change. Our worldview and interpretation of reality, our lives and our purpose should be aligned with that of the Qur’an and Sunnah. We should either discard or make into subsidiaries those components of our worldview which are foreign to what the Qur’an and Sunnah are telling us about the universe, humanity, and ourselves. Part of this is to recognize that one is a slave of Allah and thus obliged to obey Him.
2) Ethical change. Although this is part of the first, I want to emphasize this. The Qur’an and Sunnah should be the ultimate arbiters of our ethical world view. Yes, there are nuances here and there but there are also non-negotiables. Shirk is bad. Zina is bad. Tawhid is good. Modesty is good.
These two are what ultimately make Islam a ‘natural part of our lives’. It becomes the lens by which we see the world and live in it. It becomes the guide for our personal dealings and social interactions. And it requires change. Change can be difficult, even if it is only occurring the mind and heart.
3) Lastly, one should accept that being Muslim is not going to be without some level of struggle. Beyond the change mentioned in the above two points, we are going to need to put in effort to obey Allah and His Messenger. And this is not too different from other aspects of life we put in effort for. Because we have all accepted them as part of our ontological and ethical reality, we all know that we need to eat healthy, clean the house, raise our kids and go to work. That effort is not always ‘seamless’ in the sense that either involves some level of interruption in our worldview, lifestyle, and society. Many of us are prone to laziness or apathy and would prefer to just eat anything, let the house get messy, not start a family or an unemployed slacker. But we do not. We recognize those as ontological responsibilities and ethical goods.
As such when we accept the ontological and ethical realities that the Qur’an and Sunnah inform us about and change ourselves accordingly, the same thing should happen with what requires effort and struggle in Islam. We need to believe in a Creator, we need to believe in Heaven/Hell, we need to pray 5 times a day, we need to avoid certain actions. All this needs to happen even if it feels like an ‘interruption’ of some seamless integration of Islam into our lives.
This is of course, not even mentioning the difficulties of being Muslim today due to Islamophobia, political oppression, and materialism and the political, philosophical, cultural and social influences that must be resisted as well.
Allah alone is sought help from, and He is the most knowing.