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Personal Development – Part (1/3)

It is my firm conviction that our community needs to be rebuilt around the commitment
to the divine mission and to America and around a visionary and competent leadership.
The founding paradigm that guided the community up to this moment was very limited
and limiting, and has simply served its time. A while ago, the community has reached
the low ceiling of that paradigm without starting the transition to a new
phase/stage/level. As a result, the community became/got stuck in transition, has been
spinning its wheels, and is going nowhere. It has been largely doing more of the same
and struggling to manage the status quo: maintaining or at best improving/expanding
existing activities and facilities, or starting new but similar ones. This is simply
because there is not much growth, development, relevance, or impact that could be
achieved within the exhausted paradigm. This is also because the community lacked a
rallying cause (after the campaign to establish Islamic Centers), and its leaders and
organizations lacked expansive vision and high aspirations. As a result, the community
got stuck in a type and level of activism that is not purpose-driven and that was built on
a weak and confused/vague intellectual and strategic foundation.
Such horizontal expansion, which is only spreading out the inherent/founding
deficiencies of the community, is soothing our people in their state of denial, eclipsing
the brutal reality, and stifling any real debate or change. The whole situation is playing
well with a community that not only has low aspirations and unhelpful
background/heritage that has been for quite some time pervaded with mediocrity,
irrelevance, and failure, but also started out with very limited goal and role that were
fulfilled fairly quickly.
Even though the organization and operation of the community leaves a lot to be desired
for, the change the community needs is not operational or organizational or
administrative. It is not about better management or more activities or bigger facilities.
What we need is a paradigm shift and a breakthrough that can no longer happen by
continuing to build up within the same prevailing paradigm.
Like every fundamental/structural change, it must originate in the intellectual and
strategic spheres, especially that our community’s intellectual and strategic foundations
were severely limited and inadequate. And since its founding, our community did not
witness any serious/significant intellectual and strategic efforts/production.
This situation is not likely to change so long as the chronic intellectual and strategic
void/drought persists, and so long as the community continues to lack a driving cause
and a driving force to transform it into a mission-driven country-focused community, or
simply a mainstream movement. Indeed, the next level that our community must (and
hasn’t been able to) move to is to become a mainstream mass movement whose
members have a cause and a country to fight for. Such movement must be relevant and
must have a significant and sustained impact and contribution to the welfare/wellbeing
of our country and of our fellow citizens.
Breaking through the current stalemate/deadlock and the transformation of our
isolated/disengaged, fragmented, stagnant, and largely irrelevant community into a
vibrant and relevant mainstream mass movement requires a lot of intellectual
creativity/innovation and strategic thinking/planning, and a driving cause and force to
rally the community. However, such humongous transformation may only happen
through the reformation of the individual and the family and requires that we
address/revisit the fundamental questions of identity (who we are) and mission (what is
our role, or what are we trying to achieve/accomplish). Indeed, because the
community must be redesigned for a very different role in very different circumstances,
its building blocks, the individual and the family, must be shaped and cemented in a
different way. This is the purpose of this guide.
Currently, as a result of the identity ambivalence/confusion, limited ambitions, and lack
of inspiring vision/leadership and inclusive forums, the majority of community
members and families are trying just to get buy, living in isolation not only from
society, but also from one another. People are desperate for meaning and purpose in
their life, which is also lacking spiritual and social vibrancy/vitality.
The community was built around organizations and centers that are sustained by few
activists and donors, and are offering some basic programs that are serving only a small
segment of the community. In this paradigm, the prevailing message that people are
getting is to be good Muslims, to attend the activities, and support the organizations.
Beyond this minimum, organizers and organizations don’t have much to offer. In
return, the general public are giving only little attention and committing and
contributing minimum time and resources.
In the current paradigm, organizations are usually focusing only on masjid
congregation, are managed by few activists and are treating people as guests in their
activities and customers/clients who get some services and provide some support.
There is no mission to drive the organizations or the individuals who rely completely on
organization, which, implicitly or explicitly, present itself and is considered as a
substitute for individuals’ initiatives and efforts. This should come as no surprise
because most first-generation American Muslims came from a background where they
used to rely completely on their governments, and did not have a significant civic or
entrepreneurial tradition/culture.
The change that we seek is to make this community to become not only mission-driven
and country-focused, but also individual/family-centered. Individuals and families
must be committed to the divine mission and to America and should be inspired and
empowered to fulfill the mission in their immediate environments, in cooperation with
their fellow citizens (Muslims and non-Muslims). Their joined/collective efforts should
focus on fulfilling the mission in the society at large, and to integrate their specialized
and/or localized efforts. This new paradigm is centered around the mission, the
individual, and the country (starting with the immediate environment of the individual)
rather than on activities/services, organizations, and the community. The new paradigm
directs individuals, organizations, activities/programs, and the whole community
towards the fulfillment of the mission and the betterment/service of the
country/society.
The goal/purpose of the new paradigm is to commit our fellow citizens (Muslims and
non-Muslims) to a life mission that galvanize/fire up their latent energy and channel it
towards the public/common/greater good. It is about inspiring and empowering our
fellow citizens to embark on a life journey of a meaningful self development (to realize
their full potential) and a meaningful outreach and civic engagement (to maximize their
impact and the social cohesion). It is about boosting people’s civic awareness and
engagement.
This focus on the individual/family development and civic engagement rather than on
organizations and activities also aims at making our community much more vibrant
both spiritually and socially.
For Muslims (particularly practicing Muslims), Islam shall be the main source of
inspiration and empowerment. This, in turn, requires that we rediscover and embrace
the original/authentic version of Islam as a divinely-inspired life mission that translates
into a lifelong journey of self-development, outreach, and civic engagement to increase
social cohesion and serve the greater good. Indeed, an essential component in the
rebuilding of our community is to rediscover and reintroduce Islam as a life mission
that is civically oriented even though its source and its ultimate goal are divine. That’s
how the proper understanding of Islam seamlessly fuses the religious and civic
elements/components of our identity and our mission. In contrast, the prevailing
version of (private) Islam isolates the individual and the community from the society,
and isolates the individual, literally and/or psychologically, from the community. No
wonder why the vast majority of our community members are socially isolated and
civically disengaged, and lack any sense of mission or sense of belonging in the society
or in the community itself. And without a sense of mission and a sense of belonging,
people have no incentive to push/challenge themselves to become active or to make a
contribution, neither to their community nor to the society at large.
We have no choice but to move to the next level (evolve) by giving this community a
cause and a country to work/'fight' for, something that is much larger and worthwhile
than to build facilities and organize activities simply to preserve our identity. This in
turn requires:
- Confrontation of the brutal reality (thorough and in-depth analysis of our history
and our situation)
- Proper and relevant understanding of Islam (as a mission) from the sources
without limiting ourselves to any work that was done in a different era or a different
part of the world, no matter how great it is.
- Clear, genuine, and coherent American Muslim identity
- Solid commitment to the divine mission and to America.
In other words, there is no choice for our community but to become a mission-driven,
country-focused, inclusive, mainstream, relevant, and rooted community. That requires
that our institutions reinvent themselves and go through a real paradigm shift, and
members of our community to embrace the divine mission and to genuinely commit to
America, and to embark on a process of meaningful self-development and civic
engagement. This is the main thrust of this guide for personal development and civic
engagement, which aims at inspiring and empowering members of our community to
model and champion the needed change, and do not wait for such change to happen by
itself or to be affected by or through existing institutions. We aspire to instill in our
people a sense of mission and to get them to have a sense of responsibility for
themselves and for their environment/entourage and to embark on this journey of self-
development, outreach, and civic engagement to fulfill that mission and live up to the
responsibility.
SELF-DEVELOPMENT:
Self-development is a continuous/lifelong, comprehensive, and integrated process or a
journey of constant personal growth, improvement, empowerment, evolution, and
renewal. The aim purpose of such process is for the person to fully cultivate and realize
his or her God-given potential and to maximize his or her impact. People who embark
on a serious process of self-development usually live a better and more meaningful and
harmonious life and they better understand and engage this world, starting with their
immediate environment. Those who don’t develop themselves and don’t cultivate their
potential, usually live a shallow and routine self-centered life with limited goals and
insignificant impact, hence the connection between self-development and relevance.
Even if they seem to be busy and working hard, they are usually spinning their wheels
and putting out fires. Their lives usually stagnate and freeze early and their world and
sphere of influence remain small and limited. If they ‘succeed’, their success is usually
unbalanced, unilateral or unsustainable. Plus, it hardly impacts anybody beyond
themselves.
Meaningful self-development is driven and prompted by a passion that comes either
from a commitment to a mission or from high aspirations. Indeed, a person does not
usually engage or persist/persevere in any meaningful self-development if he or she is
not committed to a mission or does not have high aspirations. On the other hand,
effective self-development shall be geared towards increasing and enhancing one’s
ability to fulfill his or her mission and aspirations.
Because our mission is to be fulfilled in society, a mission-driven self-development
process automatically necessitates and results in a process of civic engagement, thus
sealing a synergetic cycle that consists of (1) a commitment to the divine mission and to
America, (2) self-development, and (3) civic engagement. Indeed, self-development
and civic engagement feed into one another and together they help in our embodiment
of the divine guidance, our fulfillment of the divine mission and purpose, the discharge
of our role as God’s vicegerents and witnesses, and our increased and enhanced
contribution to the common good. The reason why our approach focuses on
committing people to the divine mission and to America (not on activities and
organizations) is because that is what sets off and sustains the cycle, and results in a
meaningful and purposeful personal development and civic engagement.
The process of self-development should be as much as possible a continuous,
comprehensive and balanced process that covers all aspects of life and the personality
including the spiritual, the intellectual, the physical, the emotional, the financial, the
professional, and the social dimensions. In all these aspects, we should be constantly
expanding and sharpening our knowledge and skills and seeking to excel in and perfect
everything we do, which amounts to striving to meet the divine expectations and
fulfilling the divine purpose. Through personal development we aspire to become the
best and most complete embodiments of the divine guidance, and through civic
engagement we aspire to become the most effective and sophisticated instruments of
the divine Will/Purpose.
As the name indicates, self-development is essentially the responsibility of individuals
and families, not organizations. One of the biggest flaws in the prevailing Islamic work
is to get individuals and families to rely on Islamic Centers and schools, and on the
educational programs offered by Muslim organizations for their own self-development
and the development of their children. Some parents went as far as delegating such
critical role to TV, video games, and other gadgets. It is no wonder that very few
members of our community are engaged in any meaningful self development process or
are mentoring anybody else including their own children. And an essential part of the
change that our movement aspires to affect is to reverse this trend of neglecting or
delegating self-development (or confusing it with shallow educational activities and
programs), and to inspire and empower individuals and families to take charge of their
self-development and the development of their children. This - we hope - shall result
from committing our people to the divine mission and to America, raising the bar of
aspirations for themselves and for their children, and getting them to live a life that is
bigger than their own. Indeed, our people shall embark on a meaningful self-
development and civic engagement if we succeed to fuse the Islamic and American
components of their identity, and the religious and civic dimensions of their mission.
Finally, personal responsibility for self-development does not negate the importance of
mentorship. Unfortunately, mentorship is largely lacking in our community and for
some reasons our people are not keen to mentor or to be mentored. And one of our
goals is to instill in our community a strong culture of self-development and mentorship
so that as many members of our community are engaged in a meaningful process of
self-development while being mentored and at the same time mentoring others.
Self-development is a continuous improvement process that consists mainly of two
dimensions: (1) self-purification (spiritual and character development), and (2) self-
empowerment (intellectual and physical development, skill-building,…).
Even though self and family development are primarily personal responsibility, the
process requires – and shall be substantially boosted by – meaningful relationships and
vibrant social life. It was said that you learn from the books you read and the people
you know. That’s why on one hand, we want our people to be constantly improving,
empowering themselves, expanding their network, and increasing the scope and the
effectiveness of their engagement. On the other hand, we want to enhance social
interaction of our members, make it more meaningful, and turn it into spontaneous and
fruitful exchange that serve/boost the process of self-development and civic
engagement.

In this part of the guide, we will discuss the different dimensions/aspects of self-
development and how they are related, with the emphasis on the need of the process to
be balanced and integrated. This is meant to be only a guide or a primer for the process
of self-development and civic engagement. The spoon-feeding approach that some
groups adopt is futile/ineffective, and there is no plan that will fit every person. Our
approach aims at teaching people how to fish rather than feeding them a fish, and at
developing them into leaders and self-starters rather than passive learners, followers,
and helpers.
1- Spiritual Development:
Spirituality is a fundamental tenet of life and faith that is largely misunderstood and
overlooked/neglected by many Muslims. This was partly because our life became too
materialistic and demanding/exhausting, and partly because of some over-sensitivity to
– and abuse of the concept of bida’aa, and an overreaction to the excesses/deviation of
some sufi groups.
Even the most committed Muslims tend to neglect spirituality and tend to focus their
efforts on knowledge or activism, even if the usefulness/relevance of such knowledge
and the relevance/impact of such activism remain questionable. No wonder why Islam
became largely a ritualistic/routine and dull/monotonous religion that is lacking
spiritual vitality/vibrancy.
Even though the contemporary Islamic movement started with a heavy spiritual dose, a
number of factors, including the intimidation from some Islamic groups and schools of
thoughts, combined to marginalize this vital dimension of Islam and Islamic
movement. And while other dimensions were blown out of proportion and sucked all
the time and efforts, spirituality was relegated to some sporadic routine activities. It is
also widely misunderstood.
The essence of spiritual development is a concerted and sustained efforts to know
Allah, love Him, live with Him, get constantly closer to Him, and nurture all aspects of
our relationships to Him including love, fear, reverence, gratitude, trust, and
dependence. It is about striving to be godly devoted servants who are mindful of Allah
as is His due. Like physical wellness, spiritual wellness requires adequate hygiene,
healthy diet and regular exercise, except that the focus is not on our body but on our
hearts and souls. In the spiritual arena, this means that we guard our senses, we
adequately feed our hearts and minds, and we perfect and intensify our worship (our
spiritual exercise). And while thikr, reflection on Allah’s names and attributes,
contemplation on Allah’s creation, and all acts of worship are needed and helpful, the
key instruments of spiritual development are prayers (connection with Allah) and the
study of the Quran (the divine guidance which is essentially about Allah).
When it is not neglected/relegated, spirituality is misunderstood and is usually
associated with isolation, disengagement, and passivity/passiveness.
Our goal is not only to revive the spiritual dimension of Islam but also to link it – like
all other elements/tenets of personal development – to the mission/cause. Indeed, one
of the best characterizations of the prophet’s companions was “monks at night and
knights during the day”. They properly understood spirituality as a process of self
renewal/revival and a process of self-purification from the past and self-empowerment
(with spiritual fuel/energy) for the future.
When properly understood and effectively cultivated, spirituality should result in :
• Strong/intimate and vibrant relationship with Allah in all its aspects,
which include love, fear, reverence, gratitude, trust, and dependence. Indeed,
spirituality essentially means godliness, and spiritual development means
purification of the soul/heart and cultivation of godliness and the different
aspects of our relationship with Allah. Effective spiritual development brings
you closer and closer to Allah, and makes you more and more mindful and
obedient of Allah. It increases Allah’s presence in our life to a point where we
become truly living with Allah. As a result of such intimate relationship, one
would find the joy/pleasure of praying, worshipping, obeying/serving, and
praising Allah (swt), which in turn express and nurture the intimate relationship,
thus creating a synergetic cycle. Effective spiritual development shall transform
worship from a duty to a pleasure. In worshipping Allah, we both express and
nurture our feelings of love, fear, gratitude, dependence, and trust, and we seek
His guidance, help, forgiveness, and protection. Allah (swt) says:
13:28 "Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of
Allah. for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.
And He says:
8:2 For, Believers are those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a tremor in their hearts,
and when they hear His signs rehearsed, find their faith strengthened, and put (all) their
trust in their Lord;
And the Quran if full of verses that describe the characteristics of true faith and the
characteristics of true believers and the manifestations of their relationship with Allah.
And an important part of our spiritual development is to trace those verses, check
ourselves against them, and strive to fully embody them.

Directly and through the intimate and vibrant relationship with Allah,
effective spiritual development shall result in an intimate and vibrant
relationship and interaction with the Quran, the Book of Allah. This is
because Quran is the words of Allah and is essentially about Allah. In the
Quran, Allah reveals Himself and His Will, and speaks to each one of us.
No wonder why, Al-Hassan al-Basri, one of the great scholars in the
history of Islam “if you want to speak to Allah establish prayer, and if you
want Allah to speak to you read the Quran”. (takshairru). A spiritually
sound heart is a heart that finds peace in the remembrance of Allah and
‘responds’ to the verses of the Quran whether through reading or listening.
Allah (swt) says “39:23 Allah has revealed (from time to time) the most
beautiful Message in the form of a Book, consistent with itself, (yet)
repeating (its teaching in various aspects): the skins of those who fear their
Lord tremble thereat; then their skins and their hearts do soften to the
celebration of Allah's praises. Such is the guidance of Allah.
Abandoning/deserting the Quran or even not responding to its verses is
both an indication and a cause of weak faith and ‘sick’ heart. 57:16 Has
not the Time arrived for the Believers that their hearts in all humility
should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has
been revealed (to them), and that they should not become like those to
whom was given Revelation aforetime, but long ages passed over them
and their hearts grew hard? For many among them are rebellious
transgressors.
• Love of the prophet (pbuh) and following his sunnah: indeed, effective
spiritual development should engender and sustain/nurture an in-depth and
vibrant faith. The prophet indicated that one of the characterization of such
faith is to love Allah and the prophet more than anything else. Also, Quran tells
us that people’s intimate relationship with Allah should translate into loving and
following the prophet, which in turn shall lead to Allah’s love of people. 3:31
Say: "If ye do love Allah, Follow me: Allah will love you and forgive you your
sins: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." Quran also linked the
obedience of Allah with the obedience of the prophet. 4:80 He who obeys the
Messenger, obeys Allah. But if any turn away, We have not sent thee to watch
over their (evil deeds). An effective spiritual development should nurture an
intimate relationship with Allah and with the prophet, and an attachment to the
Quran and to the Sunnah of the prophet.

• Remembrance of death and the Hereafter: a vibrant spirituality is also


reflected in a yearning/longing for Heaven and an anxiety/fear of Hellfire,
which in turn should reflect in frequent remembrance of death and the
Hereafter. After the belief in Allah, the belief in the Hereafter is our second
biggest source of motivation to obey Allah and conduct a righteous life. That’s
what the Quran indicates in several verses that say (if ye do believe in Allah and
the Last Day); that’s why in many verses the Quran links the belief in – and the
fear from – Allah with the belief in – and the fear from – the Hereafter; and
that’s why in several hadiths, the prophet (pbuh) directs his recommendations to
those who believe in Allah and in the Hereafter. Unfortunately, like our belief
in Allah, our belief in the Hereafter was reduced to a mere acceptance. And a
key element in the spiritual development is to revive/reawaken/restore the belief
in the Hereafter that not only motivates but also instills a sense of urgency, and
that makes people yearn for heaven and rewards (and don’t take it for granted),
and strive to avoid punishment (and don’t take it lightly). Indeed, Quran tells us
that taking heaven for granted and taking the punishment lightly was one of the
main reasons that led people astray. On the other hand, Quran uses – in
different ways – death and the Day of Judgment/reckoning to motivate/inspire
people and urge them to rush in seeking Allah’s pleasure and rewards and in
shielding themselves from Allah’s wrath and punishment. And the prophet
(pbuh) advised us to remember death frequently and used such remembrance as
a criterion to evaluate people.

Then what?
Many people ends their spiritual journey at this point or continue but in the wrong
direction. Such people isolate themselves, shun people and society, and become
indifferent/uncaring to what happens around them. They may also become judgmental
or hostile/antagonistic towards people.
Instead, a sound spirituality and an effective spiritual development should result in:
• A compassion towards people (Allah’s creation) which should propel us
towards reaching out, building relationships, and helping those who need help,
and
• An outrage towards mischief, injustice, and indecency, which should
propel us towards relentless civic engagement to uphold justice,
advocate/promote that which is right, and contend with that which is wrong.
That’s what all messengers did once they were commissioned. Their main duty was to
embody and deliver the message and to engage their societies, and they did with full
compassion as indicated in their dialogue with their people.
Not only many Muslims are neglecting spirituality, but also those who don’t they
usually fail to make this connection between spirituality and spiritual development on
one hand and outreach and civic engagement on the other. It is this positive and
dynamic spirituality that Islam promotes and we are trying to revive.
In the dawn of Islam, night prayers, one of the greatest symbol of spirituality and one of
the most effective tool of spiritual development, was mandatory. The verses that
prescribed night prayers and other spiritual activities (praising Allah, reading Quran)
linked all that to the momentous message and mission that was commissioned to the
prophet.
In a famous hadith* (of Jibril) the prophet (pbuh) made it unequivocally clear that
isolation/disengagement and indifference are wrong and cannot be justified in the name
of piety and worship.
Quran tells us that the prophets’ piety and spirituality did not drive them into isolation
and apathy. In the contrary, their piety and their anxiety about the Day of Reckoning
translated into a proportional compassion and propelled them to reach out to their
people to deliver their compassionate message and contribute to their wellbeing to the
point where one of them, Shuaib, summarized his message/mission by saying to his
people “I only desire your betterment to the best of my ability”.
Quran also tells us in an indirect admonition that the fear of Allah and the Day of
Judgment should translate into charitable work and helping those who are in need. “They
perform (their) vows, and they fear a Day whose evil flies far and wide. And they feed,
for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive,-(Saying),"We feed you for
the sake of Allah alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks. "We only fear a
Day of distressful Wrath from the side of our Lord." [76:7-10]

In summary, spiritual development starts with a strive to surrender yourself to Allah, but
does not end there. It should lead you to become an instrument of Allah’s Will and
doing His Work.

Performance Indicators for Spiritual Development:


Obviously, there is no scientific way to measure spirituality, and there is no way to
evaluate the spirituality of others. However, each one of us may have a good
assessment of his/her own spirituality and the progress/effectiveness of his/her spiritual
development program. The answers to the following questions may give you an
indication about the vibrancy of your spirituality:
How intimate is your relationship with Allah? how strong is your love of Allah, your
fear and reverence of Allah, your gratitude towards Allah, your dependence on Allah,
and your trust of Allah.
To what extent Allah is present in your life? how frequently you remember and praise
Allah? is your remembrance of Allah the norm or the exception.
What is the quality of your prayers? Do you pray on time and in Jamaa whenever you
can? How is your level of concentration (kushu’) in your prayer?
How is your relationship with the Quran? Do your read it properly and regularly? Does
your heart respond to the verses of Quran when you read them or listen to them.
How frequently you remember death? Does this instill in you any sense of urgency?
To what extent the Day of Judgment is present in your life? do you truly yearn/long to
Paradise? Are you anxious about Hellfire and its punishment? What is your response to
the verses that talk about the Day of Judgment, Paradise, and Hellfire?
How do you feel when you commit a sin? How quick and sincere is your repentance?
What is your reaction towards munkar (mischief, injustice, vices).
How compassionate you are? Do you like helping others? how is your involvement in
charity (donating your money, volunteering your time)?

Methodology and Tools for Spiritual Development:


Because spirituality is essentially about intimate relationship with Allah, the bulk of
spiritual development efforts should be geared towards knowing Allah and cultivating
and nurturing that relationship. Indeed, all aspects of our relationship with Allah (love,
fear, gratitude, dependence, trust,…) stems from knowing Him. It was said that
whoever knows Allah loves Him. Unfortunately, many of us don’t know Allah enough
and don’t make serious efforts to know Him, and that’s the main reason behind our
lackluster spirituality.
The best way to know Allah is through His Names and Attributes, His Words (the
Quran), His Creation (His open book), and His Messenger (the model life that
exemplified and explained the divine guidance). And the best ‘practical’ way to
connect with Allah is the prayer, glorification (thikr), meditation (tafakkur), and doing
His Work. All these actions help building and nurturing an intimate relationship with
Allah.
1. Reflecting/Pondering on Allah’s Names and Attributes:
The beautiful names and attributes of Allah says a lot about Him, and therefore are very
helpful to knowing Allah and in nurturing the different aspects of our relationship with
Allah. Indeed the Names and Attributes of Allah engender fear, reverence, hope, love,
gratitude, trust, and dependence. They also invite people to seek forgiveness, to be
grateful, and to make supplication. Therefore, studying and memorizing Allah’s Names
and Attributes, and reflecting/pondering on their meaning and on their implications on
our behavior and on our relationship with Allah is an effective spiritual exercise and
should be a staple/essential element of our spiritual development. This could be done
individually or collectively, and relevant literature could be helpful.
2. Quran Study (reading Quran properly and regularly):
There is hardly anything more effective and more comprehensive way to develop and
nurture an intimate relationship with Allah than the proper and regular reading and
studying of the Quran. And on the Day of Judgment, your relationship with the Quran
will be a decisive factor that will determine your destiny/fate. The Quran will be a
strong argument for you or against you.
Unfortunately, many Muslims largely abandoned the Quran, even though almost every
Muslim is still emotionally attached to the Quran. Some people do read the Quran
more or less regularly, but not many people read/study it regularly and properly.
Like praying without concentration and fasting without abstaining from sins, reading
the Quran without reflection/pondering may bring you some reward, but may not help
you in terms of spirituality and guidance. Only when properly read and
studied/explored does the Quran fulfills its main function of guiding us, curing and
cleansing our hearts, and nurture our intimate relationship with Allah.
Quran is essentially a book about Allah. Just the word ‘Allah’ was mentioned 2698
times. The number increases significantly when we include all names and attributes.
But when we include all the verses that talk about Allah directly and indirectly, we
cover most of the Quran.
In Quran, Allah reveals/explains Himself. In many different ways, the Quran tells us
about what Allah likes and doesn’t like…what pleases Him and what makes Him
angry. Quran also tells us about the rules (sunan) that Allah embedded in this universe
to govern it, both the physical part of it but most important the human part of it,
particularly the rules that govern the success and failure of people and the rise and fall
of nations.
Moreover, the Quran tells us about the purpose of creation, about our role and mission
in life, and about the type of life that Allah has chosen for us. In other words, Quran
tells us about how should we conduct our life to seek Allah’s pleasure and therefore
succeed in this life and in the Hereafter.
The proper reading of Quran means reading it as a personal message from Allah to you,
and reading it to seek guidance. As you read and contemplate on the verses of the
Quran, you should ask yourself the following questions:
• What does it mean in our time and our circumstances? What is the
message that the verse conveys?
• How best can I apply it and incorporate it in my life?
• How can I best convey it to people around me: conveying the right verse
to the right person at the right time
• How can I infuse it in society and translate it into action that serves the
common good?
Proper reading of the Quran also means using it as a means of self-
diagnosis/assessment. Because the Quran tells us, in many explicit and implicit ways,
what Allah likes and does not like, we need to check ourselves against those standards.
When such diagnosis reveals something good in our behavior, we should thank Allah
for it, and make sure to enhance it or at least preserve it. And when such diagnosis
reveals something bad in our behavior, we should resolve to get rid of it immediately or
at least gradually. We should also think of people around us. Indeed, the Quran is like
a pharmacy, and when we explore it, we should not think of ourselves and our own
spiritual health and diseases only, but we should also think of people around us: who
would need which medicine, and how can we make sure to take it to them in the right
dose and the right time.
Studying the Quran properly and regularly will constantly transform and renew your
life, and as a result, you will constantly become a better person with a more sound
heart. Organizing Quran study circles with family and/or friends shall enrich the
discussion and maximize the benefits.
It is not true that the Quran is complicated and only few people can understand it. In a
verse that was repeated 4 times in chapter 54, Allah says “And We have indeed made
the Quran easy to understand and remember”. As long our purpose is not to extract or
issue a ruling (a hukm or fatwa), we should make our own efforts to understand the
Quran. We can always consult books of tafseer (explanation of the Quran), but such
books should neither be a limiting factor nor should it be an excuse for not making an
effort to understand.
The Quran is a timeless book of guidance. It was meant to guide the life of people at all
times and in all places. Therefore, it is expected that some verses will be more useful
and relevant to our reality than others. We may need to focus more on such verses. But
the key message of Quran is a message of tawheed. And its main purpose is for us to
develop and nurture an intimate relationship with Allah, which translates into a
righteous and pleasant/happy life, and active and significant contribution to the
common good. The Quran delivers its message in 3 main scenes:
• Stories of the prophets and previous nations
• Scenes of the Day of Judgment
• Scenes from this universe
3. Reflecting/pondering on Allah’s Creation:
This is another way to know Allah and appreciate His Might/Power and His
Greatness/Magnificence which are reflected in His creation. Many verses in Quran
urge us to ponder on Allah’s creation and praise those who do, and reprimand/admonish
those who don’t. 3:191 Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and
lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and
the earth, (With the thought): "Our Lord! not for naught Hast Thou created (all) this!
Glory to Thee! Give us salvation from the penalty of the Fire.
The verse beautifully links praising Allah with the contemplation on His creation.
Basic understanding of the human body, of the earth planet, and of the universe
(Astronomy), and exploration of animals and plants are some ways to reflect/ponder on
Allah’s creation. This can be done by reading (books and magazines), visiting natural
scenes and museums, or watching documentaries (TV, video, DVD, internet).
4. Perfecting Prayer: (and performing night prayer):
Prayer is the foundation of Islam, second only to the Shahada. It forms with the Quran
the main pillars of our relationship with Allah. Al-Hassan al-Basri, one of the greatest
scholars in the history of Islam, said “if you want to speak to Allah, perform prayers,
and if you want Allah to speak to you read the Quran”.
Linguistically, salat (prayer) comes from the word silat (relationship/connection).
Indeed, there is hardly anything that reflects the quality of our relationship with Allah
more than the quality of our prayers (tell me how is your prayers I will tell you how is
your relationship with Allah).
Prayers are the most important appointments and activities of the day, because prayers
are essentially about meeting and standing before Allah. It is the opportunity:
• To express to Allah our love, our reverence, our gratitude, and our
dependence, and at the same time reinforcing those feelings.
• To seek Allah’s Help, Guidance, Forgiveness, and Protection, and put
before Allah our sins, our needs, our concerns, our aspirations, our weakness.
However, like reading the Quran and performing any act of worship, only when it is
performed properly does prayer produce the intended benefits. Otherwise, the prayer
becomes mechanical and produces limited or no effects.
Properly performed, the prayer establishes a true connection with Allah and
refuels/recharges our spirituality. In other words, we should emerge from the prayer
stronger and more fresh spiritually. Therefore, our job is not just to perform prayer but
to perfect our prayers, hoping to make every prayer a better and more fruitful spiritual
experience than the previous one.
Perfecting our prayers means:
1. Praying in the masjid whenever possible.
2. Praying in time whenever possible.
3. Praying in congregation even when praying at home.
4. Take your time in praying so that you achieve stillness in every move.
5. Trying to achieve the highest level of concentration in all prayers (to be
aware of what you are saying and to mean it)
6. Pray the sunan (extra prayers) to make up for any shortcoming in the
mandatory prayers.
One of the most effective spiritual exercise is the night prayer: waking up at night to
pray while people are asleep. No wonder why in the early days of Islam, night prayers
were mandatory, and the verses that prescribed them clearly indicated that such spiritual
exercise was meant to be a preparation for the momentous message/mission.
O thou folded in garments! Stand (to prayer) by night, but not all night,- Half of it,- or a
little less, Or a little more; and recite the Qur'an in slow, measured rhythmic tones. Soon
shall We send down to thee a weighty Message. Truly the rising by night is most potent
for governing (the soul), and most suitable for (framing) the Word (of Prayer and Praise).
True, there is for thee by day prolonged occupation with ordinary duties: But keep in
remembrance the name of thy Lord and devote thyself to Him whole-heartedly. [73:1-8]

Most of the prayer-related indicators (including night prayers) can be measured, and
you could easily create a spreadsheet to track your numbers and monitor your progress.
5. Praising Allah:
One of the great comprehensive advices of the prophet was to keep our tongue busy
with the remembrance/praise of Allah. Indeed, if the prayer constitutes the peak of our
connection with Allah, remembrance/praise of Allah is the way to stay connected in-
between prayers. And connection to Allah is the best protection against shaytan and his
tricks (if you are connected you are protected).
God-consciousness or being mindful of Allah is the essence of piety (taqwa). One
should try to be connected and mindful of Allah most of the time, if not all the time.
There are two forms of remembrance of Allah (thikr):
• Specific thikr: associated with each of our daily routine from the time we
wake up to the time we go to sleep. One should memorize the thikr associated
with every act and make sure to say it wholeheartedly. Some acts for which
there is a special thikr include waking up and sleeping, start and finish eating,
leaving and entering the house,…
• General thikr: this include tasbeeh, tahleel, and takbeer (glorification of
Allah), istighfar (seeking forgiveness). One should do as much as possible
especially during dead times (driving, waiting,…).
Thikr is not a passive uttering of words, but it must be done wholeheartedly and should
translate into a positive action. Allah (swt) instructed Dawood and his people to express
their gratitude in action 34/13.
6. Meditation: and Duaa
Meditation (tafakkur), intimate communication with Allah (munajat), and supplication
(duaa) are special types of connection, remembrance, and mindfulness of Allah. Taking
private time more or less regularly to perform these spiritual exercises may be very
effective in promoting our spiritual growth and vibrancy.
Some of the themes/issues that our deep reflection may concentrate/focus on include
Allah’s Names and Attributes, the creation and its purpose, our mission/role in life, our
relationship and status/record with Allah, our deeds (good and bad), death, and the
Hereafter and our destiny.
Like remembrance/praise of Allah, intimate discourse and supplication to Allah
(munajat and duaa) are the essence of the salat (prayer) and the Quran itself. Indeed,
many verses mention thikr, salat, and the Quran together and interchangeably. All
converge towards building and nurturing an intimate relationship/connection with
Allah. In the same verse 3/91, Quran praised those who remember/praise Allah in all
circumstances and reflect/contemplate on the creation of heaven and earth.
It was narrated that Duaa (supplication) is the essence of worship. It is the way that
Allah showed us to express our need, our dependence, and our trust in Allah. Duaa is
also a very powerful tool in our hand because it isthe means by which we get Allah’s
Help, Protection, and Guidance; and that’s all what we need to cope with the demands
of our mission and the difficulties of life. Yet, for different reasons not many people
take advantage (make use) of this powerful tool. First, because of the weakness of their
faith/belief and trust in Allah, and their relationship with Allah in general, people are
not motivated to make supplication. People are also discouraged from making
supplication because they think that their supplication was not answered in the past and
therefore may not be answered in the future.
First of all, we need to know that unlike people who may be irritated when their help is
solicited, Allah (SWT) is not pleased with those who don’t ask Him and don’t solicit
His Help.
2:186 When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen
to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will,
Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way. 40:60 And
your Lord says: "Call on Me; I will answer your (Prayer): but those who are too
arrogant to serve Me will surely find themselves in Hell - in humiliation!"
It may true that people’s supplication is not answered for some valid reasons that the
prophet explained in some of his hadiths*.
However, the prophet assured us that in general when one pleads to Allah, Allah does
not send him empty-handed. When we make duaa, Allah will either grant us what we
want when He wills, or He will spare us some harm that was coming our way, or He
will save the favor for us when we need it the most: on the Day of Judgment. And
Quran tells us that what we desire may not necessarily be good for us
2:216 But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a
thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.
4:19 it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of
good.
Therefore, it is crucial both for our spiritual growth and for our success in life to be
constantly making duaa with sincerity and certainty, particularly at the recommended
times and circumstances, such as before fajr, between Azan and Iqamat, during sujood,
after salat, when traveling,…
7. Studying the model life (saying and actions) of the Messenger:
The life of the prophet is the best illustration and perfect implementation of the Quran,
i.e., the Will of Allah. The prophet’s actions and sayings were vetted and backed by
revelation. His wife Aisha said “his manners were embodiment of the Quran”. The
prophet is the most beloved person to Allah. In several verses, Allah expressed His
love of the prophet and praised him, and indicated that emulating the prophet is a
proof of the love of Allah and a condition for Allah’s love of people:
15:72 Verily, by thy life (O Prophet)
68:4 And thou (standest) on an exalted standard of character.
3:31 Say: "If ye do love Allah, Follow me: Allah will love you and forgive you your
sins: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."
The prophet indicated that one of the characteristics of a vibrant faith and of tasting the
beauty of faith is to love Allah and the prophet more than anything else.
The life of the prophet is the life that Allah chose for us, and if Allah’s pleasure is truly
our ultimate goal then emulating the prophet is the surest way since nobody pleased
Allah more than prophet Mohammad (pbuh).
However, in spite of all these solid arguments, loving the prophet and expressing that
love is hampered among many Muslims by concern for shirk and bidaa, and by
overreaction to excesses by some Muslim and non-Muslim groups in revering their
prophet. That’s why many Muslims are not emotionally attached to the prophet, except
probably becoming angry when he is attacked!
An essential part of our attempt to rediscover, revive, and renew our faith and an
essential part of our personal development in general and spiritual development in
particular is to study/explore the life of the prophet which shall certainly lead to
knowing him and therefore loving and emulating him. Indeed, the purpose of spiritual
development is to develop and nurture an intimate relationship with Allah (and with the
Quran and with the messenger), and the prophet is the one who established the most
intimate relationship with Allah.
Also, the purpose of our personal development is to realize our full potential and full
impact, and to achieve the highest level of distinctiveness and strength/empowerment.
And again studying the life of the prophet is an effective tool because he was the most
influential person in the human history, and the person who has achieved the highest
level of spiritual strength and moral distinctiveness.
Obviously, the prophet’s life is good not only for spiritual development, but also for
character development, community building, and for understanding, living, and
promoting/advocating Islam and infusing its teaching for the welfare of people.
For all these reasons, we need to be constantly studying the authentic sayings and
actions of the prophet with the same approach of studying the Quran (see above), and
for the purpose of understanding his personality to a point where we can figure out how
he would handle the circumstances that we face. And while all aspects of the prophet
seera are important, we should focus on more on his methodology of understanding,
applying/embodying, teaching, and disseminating the divine guidance, and his approach
to fulfill the mission and build and lead the community of believers (the movement).
Indeed, if properly understood, the life of the prophet (pbuh) is a perfect example/model
for living the mission and the perfect guide for personal-development, outreach, and
civic engagement. Studying the prophet seera and sunna could be done individually,
but the benefit will maximized if the life of the prophet is studied in a collective way
with family and/or friends.
8. Guarding one’s senses
Like physical wellness, spiritual wellness requires adequate hygiene, healthy diet and
regular exercise, except that the focus is not on our body but on our hearts and souls.
And like with physical wellness, in spiritual wellness one ounce of prevention is better
than one pound than a pound of cure.
Spiritual exercises are meant to be always mindful and connected to Allah and to keep
our hearts pure, sound, and vibrant. And guarding our senses is the preventive measure
that keeps our hearts pure and prevents any distraction.
Guarding one’s senses play the role of diet in physical wellness. To maintain physical
health you must watch what you eat, and to maintain a spiritual health, you must watch
what you hear, see, and say. Failure to strictly guard your senses will allow spiritual
‘poisons’ into your heart and into your brain, which will require tremendous subsequent
efforts of ‘cleansing’, and such vicious cycle will more than likely prevent any
significant spiritual growth.
Guarding one’s senses is necessary not only to maintain spiritual and mental lucidity
but also to prevent sin complacency (ilf al-maasiya), which usually paves the way for
committing sins. Guarding our senses means to avoid hearing, seeing, and saying not
only what is prohibited, but also what is useless. Quran tells us that one of the
characteristics of the successful believers (after their concentration in prayers) is that
they shun vain talk. Allah (swt) praises the believers who avoid vain talk 23/3.
The prophet tells us that looking at what is forbidden is like being hit by a poisonous
arrow of shaytan, and told his companion Muaath that most people are led to Hellfire
by their tongues. And In one comprehensive advice the prophet said that “whoever
believes in Allah and the Hereafter, let him say something good or keep quite”. Indeed,
we need to make every effort to utter, hear, and see/watch only that which is lawful and
useful/fruitful. This is crucial not only for the individual spiritual growth but also for
healthy relationships and social harmony.
Guarding one’s senses used to be a challenge primarily in public places. However, with
the TV, satellite, internet, and cell phones the challenge became bigger and more
omnipresent.
It is very important for our spiritual health and growth to strictly guard our senses, to
keep them busy with useful tasks, and to surround ourselves with people who help us
guarding our senses.
9. Worship (Ibadat is the road to taqwa)
Worship is the purpose of creation, and therefore the struggle of our life is to transform
it into a continuous act of worship. That’s the meaning of the verse that says: 51:56 I
have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve Me.
However, in order for our worship to encompass our life, regain vibrancy/vitality, and
become an effective spiritual exercise, both the concept and the purpose of worship
need to be clarified. Worship is not limited to rituals, and rituals if they are not
properly performed may not be accepted as act of worships. Worship is a
comprehensive concept that means being mindful and obedient of Allah, and doing the
right thing at the right time in the right way. As long as you are mindful and obedient
of Allah, you are in a state of worship. And any act that is right/correct and done for
the sake of Allah is an act of worship. Worship is and should be purposeful, and should
never be allowed to become a mere habit or a routine activity. And the key is to have
our intentions always renewed, so that complacency does not creep in.
The purpose of creation is worship, and the purpose of worship is taqwa (God-
consciousness). That’s what Quran tells us about worship in general, and about specific
acts of worship:
o About worship in general:2:21 O ye people! Adore your Guardian-Lord,
who created you and those who came before you, that ye may have the chance to learn
righteousness;
o About fasting: 2:183 O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it
was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint,-
o About prayer: 29:45 Recite what is sent of the Book by inspiration to
thee, and establish regular Prayer: for Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds;
and remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And Allah knows
the (deeds) that ye do.
o About hajj: 2:197 For Hajj are the months well known. If any one
undertakes that duty therein, Let there be no obscenity, nor wickedness, nor wrangling in
the Hajj. And whatever good ye do, (be sure) Allah knoweth it. And take a provision
(With you) for the journey, but the best of provisions is right conduct. So fear Me, o ye
that are wise.
o About zakat and sadaqa: 9:103 Of their goods, take alms, that so thou
mightest purify and sanctify them; and pray on their behalf. Verily thy prayers are a
source of security for them: And Allah is One Who heareth and knoweth.
Our worship should be a fruitful and effective spiritual exercise that bolsters our
spiritual growth. That applies to every act of worship be it our salat, our fasting, our
charity, our reading of the Quran, our thikr,…. Each one of those acts should be
properly performed and should produce a tangible positive effect on our spiritual
growth/development and a tangible progress in our spiritual journey. And the key is
renewed intention, adequate preparation, and proper performance.
On the other hand, we need to strive to be always mindful of Allah and to align all our
acts with His Will and dedicate all our life to Him
6:162 Say: "Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are
(all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds:
And the key to all of this is to be always aware of what we are doing and why, to be
very careful about everything we do or we say, and to make sure that everything we do
or we say is ultimately intended to seek the good pleasure of Allah, or at least doesn’t
violate any of Allah’s commandments. Therefore, asking ourselves the WHY question
before we do anything and performing regular self-assessment (muhasaba) may be very
helpful both to ensure that our worship acts are not reduced to mere habits and routine
acts, and to turn many of our habits and routine acts into acts of worship. The bottom
line is to be always in the business of improving/perfecting and intensifying worship.
Indeed, no matter how good you think your worship is, you should and could constantly
improve and increase it.
10. Doing Allah’s Work: (it leads to Allah’s pleasure and love, our
ultimate objective):
Islam is usually defined as submission to Allah. This is a true definition. But for many
people it carries a passive connotation and implies that the maximum one should and
could hope for is to be a good observant/practicing Muslim. Such misconception about
Islam has been the main reason behind the isolation and disengagement of many
Muslims who don’t feel the need to do anything more than observing the rituals of
Islam, applying/practicing Islam in their own lives, and possibly actively seeking
Islamic knowledge, or being active within the Muslim community..
Islam is neither a religion in the tradition sense of the word nor even a way of life.
Rather, Islam is a life mission. Therefore, Muslims are not supposed to be just good
servants of Allah or even to be active in some way, but also to strive to be
good/effective instruments of Allah’s Will and to effectively and persistently do His
Work.
Not only that we need to understand/rediscover Islam as a mission that must be pursued
through outreach and civic engagement, but also this essential aspect of Islam should be
fully integrated with personal development in general and spiritual development in
particular. In other words, our personal development efforts to embody the teachings of
Islam are not separate from our civic engagement efforts to infuse the teachings of
Islam into the service of people welfare (common/greater good). These are not two
separate activities that we may choose among them or at most reconcile or balance
them. Rather, these are two essential aspects/dimensions of Islam that need to be fully
integrated to produce the needed synergy and self-reinforcing cycle between personal
development and civic engagement. As a result, our civic engagement should not only
serve the common good but also help our personal growth, and our personal
development in general and spiritual development in particular should boost our civic
engagement by bolstering our compassion towards people and our rejection of mischief
and injustice.
Overall, the purpose of spiritual development is to develop, nurture, and sustain an
intimate relationship with Allah. As a result, the person becomes fixated on what
pleases Allah (SWT), which is achieved by different acts at different times and in
different circumstances. Such acts fall in two main categories:
• An act of spiritual (or personal) development that uplifts the person and
reinforces his/her embodiment of the divine guidance and his/her intimate
relationship with Allah.
• An act of charity or advocacy that further/advance the
work/cause/purpose of Allah, which is essentially the welfare of people.
These are not acts to choose from or to try to balance and reconcile. These are different
acts to be taken at different times and circumstances for the very same purpose.

SPIRITUAL MEDICINE; LIFE AS A TEST;


Everything mentioned so far, be it a spiritual preventive measure or exercise is a
voluntary task. However, for many people, the most effective spiritual treatment is
unwished for, and people are forced to take it. It consists of the trials and tribulations
that characterize our life. Indeed, while life is a mission and an endless struggle for
perfection to realize our full potential and full impact, it is also a trust and a test ground.
Indeed, everything in our hands is a trust from Allah (swt) to try which of us is best in
deed.
He Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed 67/2
As long we are alive, we will be tested both with ease and hardship.
21:35 and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. to Us must ye return.
People differ a great deal in their response to the trials and tribulations of life. Many fall
in despair and depression, ask the wrong questions (why me? Why does Allah do this to
me?), and may resort to desperate, avoidance, and self-defeating/self-destructive
measures.
Others may be awaken by trial and tribulation but the effect is only temporary/short-
lived. In several verses, the Quran tells us about those who, when they are desperate,
call on Allah (swt) and pledge to Him to obey Him and be righteous, only to relapse and
digress shortly after He saves them.
The proper handling of trials and tribulations starts by knowing the nature of life and
therefore expecting them. This will help eliminating or at least substantially reducing
the shock effect, which is usually devastating. One scholar said that the essence of
patience is upon the first shock. The second element in the proper handling of trials and
tribulations is to remember that everything belongs to Allah (both what He keeps with us
and what He takes away) and Allah decrees and does what He wills. Therefore, we
should receive His decrees with patience and acceptance (ridha) as we receive His
commandments with submission and obedience. Indeed, one of the most useful effects
of trials is to workout our third type patience muscles*, and to remember that we are
totally dependent on Allah and completely helpless before Him. And therefore, trials
help bringing us back to Allah, the Only One who can remove or at least alleviate
calamities and who can grant us the needed patience and perseverance.
When properly handled, calamities bring us back to Allah from another angle. Indeed,
while we need to receive them as tests, we should never rule out the possibility that we
may be facing what we are facing as a punishment for some sins. Therefore, we should
take calamities as call to repent and seek forgiveness from our sins, both the ones that
we are aware of and the ones that we are not aware of. However, we need to keep in
mind that hardship is not an indication that Allah is angry/displeased with you and ease
is not an indication that Allah is pleased with you. They are just different tests that
should be met with patience and gratitude, respectively. That’s what makes a believer
always in a win-win situation. The prophet (pbuh) indicated that all matters of the
believer are good for him, and that’s only for the believer. If he is tested with ease and
he is thankful, it is good for him, and if he is tested with hardship and remain patient, it
is good for him. And Omar ibn al-Khattab said that if gratitude and patience are two
horses, it does not matter which one he rides, which means that he realizes that they are
just two different ways to deal with two different tests for the same purpose. If
anything, if Allah guides to handle them properly, trials and tribulations may be a sign
that Allah loves you and want you to get rid of your sins and benefit from the countless
rewards reserved for those who persevere
39:10 those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure!"
The prophet (pbuh) indicated that Allah will reward or forgive the believe for every
calamity that affect even if it were a thorn.
Indeed, only after they are completely purified that people may be admitted in Heaven.
Allah gave us plenty of opportunities to get rid of our sins. They include repentance and
performing good deeds like prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and charity. But, they also
include remaining patient in the face of calamities. Otherwise, one has to be purified in
the grave or in hellfire, which none of us wish for. Indeed, hardship/calamities do to our
hearts and our deeds, what fire does to gold: purification.
2:214 Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as
came to those who passed away before you? they encountered suffering and adversity,
and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with
him cried: "When (will come) the help of Allah." Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is
(always) near!
Even though, it is not easy to see anything good in calamities, but Quran tells us that we
may dislike something and it is good for us, for Allah knows and we know not. And
what Allah chooses for you is better than what you choose for yourself, especially when
both this life and the Hereafter are taken into consideration. Indeed, even though we
should not wish to be tested, when properly handled, hardship may have countless
benefits, not only in the Hereafter but also in this life as well. Oftentimes, we learn very
useful lessons only the hard way. That’s what happened to the companions several
times even as the prophet was amongst them, and the Quran will then be revealed to help
them drawing lessons from the test. (uhud, ahzab, hunayn). And oftentimes, we take
Allah’s bounties for granted and we don’t appreciate them until we loose them
completely, or partially, or temporarily.
In conclusion, the main tenets of our spiritual development process include:
- Good spiritual diet that consists of guarding your senses and shunning
anything that is prohibited or even useless
- Consistent and effective spiritual exercise to establish and nurture an
intimate relationship with Allah, and cultivate all aspects of your relationship
with Him, such as love, fear, gratitude, dependence, and trust.
- Good company to help you in your diet and your exercise. The prophet
(pbuh) recommended that we take as a friend the one who remind you of Allah.
- Finally, properly handling the tests of this life may take us a long way in
our spiritual development. Indeed, like with physical wellness, sometimes
medicine or even surgery becomes inevitable. Similarly, the tests of this life may
help our spiritual growth and vibrancy in a way that none of the other
mechanisms do.
No wonder that the Quran says:
O ye who believe! seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for Allah is with those
who patiently persevere. And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah. "They
are dead." Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not. Be sure we shall test you with
something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but
give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, Who say, when afflicted with
calamity: "To Allah We belong, and to Him is our return":- They are those on whom
(Descend) blessings from Allah, and Mercy, and they are the ones that receive guidance.
Personal Development – Part (2/3)

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT:
I firmly believe that any real change should start in the spiritual and intellectual spheres
and with an unequivocal resolution of the fundamental questions of identity (who you
are?) and mission (what is your role and what do you want to accomplish?). A clear
vision and a sound strategy are then needed to inspire, maintain focus, and affect the
needed change.
I should confess that it wasn’t easy to choose which aspect/dimension of personal
development to cover after the spiritual part. To be effective, personal development must
be comprehensive and integrated, and it is hard to prioritize the different
aspects/dimensions of personal development. They are like pieces of a puzzle.
Neglecting any one of them may hurt/compromise the whole process.
However, I chose character development to be second because it has to do with the
interaction and relationship with people, and it was narrated that muaamala (interaction
with people) is the essence of faith*. So, I thought that spiritual development and
character development combine to fix our relationship with Allah and our relationship
with one another.
Moreover, the choice of character development was also reinforced by the hadith of the
prophet in which he says “he was sent but to perfect/complete people’s good manners”.
And the famous poet, Ahmad Shawky, stated that the prosperity/welfare of
people/nations hinges on their character, and they are bound to decline if their character
weaken/decay/degenerate/deteriorate. Indeed, the status of countries and nations very
much reflect/mirror the character of their people.
Unfortunately, Muslims’ manners were severely altered as a result of a combination of
the steady decline of Muslims in the last couple of centuries together with the detrimental
effects of the globalization of the materialism and consumerism.
Like other fundamental Islamic concepts, such as worship, Dawa, taqwa, character was
substantially weakened, twisted or misunderstood, and therefore needs to be
unequivocally defined before we can discuss character development. Indeed, the
prevailing understanding of Islamic character is both partial and superficial. People tend
to focus only on some limited aspects of Islamic character, and tend to confound genuine
and robust character with image/façade and impression. As a result, rather than making
an effort to develop and root genuine character, they concentrate on ‘polishing’ their
images and impressing one another. They usually end up putting different masks in
different settings, saying things they don’t mean, telling people what they want to hear,
concealing their true self, censoring their true feelings and thoughts. Consequently, their
true character and personality don’t develop, plus such superficial manners/character and
artificial interaction don’t allow for more than superficial and artificial relationships.
Genuine characters are not to be confounded with the masks that an individual put to look
good or to impress or deceive others. Authentic characters need to be rooted and
nurtured and are proven when tested. Character development means working on your
inner/true self so that it is reflected in your appearance and you become yourself.
Progress on character development eliminates the need and the tendency to put masks.
But, in this shallow and artificial time/world, image is considered to be everything, and
people prefer shortcuts. That’s why rather than improving and displaying their true self,
they choose to invest in their image and hide behind it. They end up developing
superficial outward characters that are exposed by tests and meaningful interactions. No
wonder why character shallowness and ambivalence is so widespread that people –
including many Muslims – find it normal, and compatibility between words and
deeds/actions or even consistency of either became rare commodity. Those who insist on
consistency find it increasingly difficult to interact with people and are often shunned.
In addition to the endemic obsession with the image/impression, people don’t embark on
any meaningful character development because they don’t realize that good manners
could be acquired (and therefore there is no need to fake them) and bad manners could be
eliminated (rather than just concealing them). Indeed, many people are don’t improve
their character because they don’t realize that not only it is possible for people to change
their manners, but also character development is a lifelong struggle and there is no
limit/ceiling to character perfection.
The vast majority of people don’t embark on any meaningful process of character
development because of the misconceptions they have about character, because they lack
incentives, because they are content with the cheaper artificial and superficial manners,
and because they don’t believe they can change/improve their manners. Unfortunately,
superficial character don’t allow for more than superficial relationships (because of the
gap between the person’s neglected inner reality and the heavily boosted
image/impression), and the two combine to create a self-reinforcing cycle that weaken
both the individual and the community/society.
The purpose of character development is to constantly bolster/perfect and deeply
root/entrench/engrain existing good manners, acquiring new/missing ones, and spotting
and eliminating bad manners. The resulting genuine and robust characters manifest
themselves in what people do and say consistently in their substantive/meaningful
interactions, but they stem/originate from sound/pure hearts. Indeed, character
development and spiritual development are closely linked/intertwined. No wonder why
the prophet indicated that taqwa (God-consciousness) and good manners are the main
reasons that leads people to heaven, and that the better the believers manners are the more
complete is their faith. He also said that if the heart is sound, the person is righteous, and
the opposite is true.
For our character to be genuine and robust, the aim of our character development should
not be to impress people and boost our image. Rather, the aim should be to meet Allah’s
expectations, improve our status/rank with Him, and embody the perfect character of our
beloved prophet. The prophet defined al-birr, which is a word that encompass all aspects
of goodness, as the good manners/character. And in the same hadith, he defined sin as
any of your characteristics that you don’t want people to know about. And the purpose of
character development should be to eliminate those embarrassing traits rather than
concealing them.
No matter how good we think our manners are, there is always a long list of good
manners to acquire, and a similar one of bad manners to rid ourselves of and inoculate
ourselves against. However, there are few good and bad cardinal/mother manners. The
good ones should be maintained at all times and the bad ones should be completely
avoided. For example the prophet indicated that truthfulness leads to all kinds of
goodness (al-birr) and lying leads to all kinds of wickedness (al-fujoor). We also know
that it was arrogance and envy that led shaytan astray and led Cain to murder/slay his
brother Abel, and led to unthinkable mischief, killing, and injustice throughout the human
history.
Rather than closing the gap between the reality and the image through a meaningful
character development (and personal development in general), many people try to
preserve their image by limiting their social interaction. This is both a wrong and a futile
approach.
Because of flawed character, or psychological immaturity, or social disability, many
people chose to live largely isolated or interact only with few likeminded. For such
people, relationships are a zero sum game. On the other hand, an effective character
development helps the person to confront himself/herself, to find and to be his/her true
self, which allow him/her to reach out and effectively engage all kinds of people.
The key to a meaningful/effective character development are truthfulness and humility.
On the other hand, dishonesty/deception and arrogance constitute the mother of all
character flaws and the biggest obstacle to any fruitful character development.
Truthfulness is one of those traits that are indivisible. You either have it or you don’t.
You can’t be partially or occasionally truthful. At the very least, truthfulness means to
never lie and never deceive people by saying half-truths or mixing truth with falsehood.
Truthfulness is a 3 dimensional character: with Allah, with ourselves, and with people.
Truthfulness with Allah means sincerity, and always seeking His Pleasure and doing
everything for His sake. Truthfulness with yourself means to know who you truly are
and constantly evaluate and confront yourself. Truthfulness with people means to be
yourself, to speak your mind and your conscious, to say the whole truth and nothing but
the truth, to keep your word/promise, and to ensure that what you say and what you do
truly reflect your true self, your true feelings, thoughts, and
beliefs/principles/convictions. Also, a truthful person should ensure that what he/she
says is accurate and complete, and that the picture that people get is as close as possible
to what he/she intended, and what has actually happened. In other words, the facts, the
words that convey them, and the impression must be as consistent as possible. Overall,
truthfulness means not to say or do anything or to harbor any feeling or thought that may
deceive people and/or embarrass you. That’s how the life of our prophet was: both
simple and an open book. Even when he jokes the prophet does not say anything that is
not true.
Truthfulness is very connected to two other cardinal virtues: trust and justice/fairness,
which were combined in one verse.
6:152 And come not nigh to the orphan's property, except to improve it, until he attain the
age of full strength; give measure and weight with (full) justice;- no burden do We place
on any soul, but that which it can bear;- whenever ye speak, speak justly, even if a near
relative is concerned; and fulfil the covenant of Allah. thus doth He command you, that
ye may remember.
Indeed, justice/fairness is defined as the virtue that gives everyone his due, and a person
who always seek and say the truth will more than likely be fair and trustworthy. These 3
virtues are critical to build resilient credibility and robust relationships.
Humility/humbleness is another master virtue. In many verses, and in many ways, the
Quran emphasizes humility as it emphasizes truthfulness, trust, and justice. Indeed,
Quran reminds us of our origin and our destiny, and tells us about the greatness of Allah
and of the universe, and relays the ruin of arrogant people and nations throughout the
human history.
Humility entails knowing and focusing on yourself and your own limitations,
shortcomings, and deficiencies, not on others’. The prophet indicated that leaving that
which does not concern you is a sign of a good faith. And while we must be very
ambitious and determined to achieve/fulfill our aspirations, we should always put
ourselves where we belong or even lower, but definitely not higher.
Humility also entails not expecting, let alone demanding from people anything more than
what you deserve, or to give you any special treatment. It was narrated that whenever
they meet the prophet and his companions, the visitors of the Medina would ask “who
amongst you is Muhammad?”, because he did not distinguish himself in anyway.
Humility results in respecting people and bowing to the truth, and therefore opens the
door for constantly improving and learning and accepting advice from everybody (any
source). No wonder that Allah raises in ranks those who sincerely humble themselves.
Unfortunately, humility is one of characters/virtues that could be easily faked, and rather
than training themselves on genuine humility, many people find it easier to put the mask
of humbleness. The prophet corrected the misunderstanding of his companions and
decoupled arrogance (and therefore humility) from the appearances, and defined
arrogance as “rejecting the truth and denying people their due rights/credits”.
Other virtues that are critical for fruitful and robust relationships include
kindness/compassion, fidelity/faithfulness (wafaa), and patience. Kindness/compassion
stems automatically from proper and effective spiritual development and from humility,
and goes hand in hand with fairness. Allah (swt) says “60:8 Allah forbids you not, with
regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from
dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just. The prophet
said “everything is beautified by the presence of kindness and is spoiled by the absence
of kindness”. And all prophets were very compassionate towards their people, and in
tirelessly delivering their message and fulfilling their mission, they were driven by their
devotion to Allah and their compassion to their people. On the other hand, no
relationship could survive in the absence of fidelity/faithfulness. The prophet said that
Allah’s abundant Mercy does not include those who are not compassionate. He also said
that those who are ungrateful to people are ungrateful to Allah, and that Allah does not
have mercy on those who are not merciful.
Personal development in general is meant to help you embody the divine guidance,
realize your full potential, and effectively fulfill your mission and engage your
environment/world. Spiritual development establishes and nurtures an intimate
relationship with Allah and a vibrant spirituality, which results in tremendous passion for
the mission and compassion towards people. It is also your source of energy and
perseverance to meet the tremendous demands of the mission. Character development
helps you becoming a role model, which in turn enables you to mentor people and
influence them by example, and allows you to open up, reach out and build an extensive
network of robust relationships. This helps advancing the mission/cause and boosting the
common good and the social cohesion. The core virtues of honesty, humility, fairness,
and kindness are critical for the process of character development (and therefore the
process of personal development), especially in fostering fruitful interaction and robust
relationships among people.
It is for a reason that the prophet said that an atom-weight of arrogance in the heart of a
person is enough to bar/disqualify him/her from heaven, and asserted that a believer
cannot be a liar. Indeed, together with lying, arrogance is at the heart of most vices that
ruined the lives of so many people, communities, and nations throughout the human
history. In defining arrogance, the prophet clearly linked it to lying “arrogance is
rebuffing/snubbing the truth and denying people their due rights/credits”.
Lying encourages and leads to all kinds of vices by providing a cover for such vices and a
blank check for future sins. And the liar focuses on covering his deficiencies rather than
fixing them. On the other hand, arrogance (and self-centrism) prevents people from
learning and improving and rather channels their energy towards defending and justifying
what they do no matter how obviously wrong and futile it is. Also, arrogant people
usually feel they ‘know it all’ and they are ‘infallible’, and therefore they are usually
unwilling to learn, to admit mistakes, or to adjust/reassess their thoughts and conducts.
In contrast to truthfulness and humility, which instill tranquility and confidence, lying
and arrogance engender insecurity and anxiety, which usually makes the person
argumentative/belligerent.
Both lying and arrogance don’t only harm the individual but also relationships,
communities, and nations. Indeed, in most cases, broken relationship results from broken
promises, and throughout the human history, arrogance and lying caused and justified
most of the tyranny, injustice, oppression, killing, and destruction including racism,
slavery, genocide, colonialism, and wars. Once an individual, a race, or a nation feel they
are intrinsically better than others, everything becomes a fair game.
Another vice that may make everything a fair game is anger. Indeed, those who don’t
learn to control their anger may do all kinds of things to harm themselves and harm
others in ways they would not do in normal conditions/circumstances. No wonder why in
his response to a repeated request for advice, the prophet told the person not to get angry,
and promised him heaven if he restrains his anger.
Character development goes hand in hand with spiritual development and entails cleaning
not only our acts and our words but also our feelings and our thoughts, so that we don’t
do, say, or harbor any feelings or thoughts that may embarrass us before Allah who
knows what we reveal and what we conceal or before people neither in this life or in the
Hereafter. Like all aspects of personal development, character development is a process
of gradually but consistently incorporating and rooting sound characters and weeding out
bad characters. Exploring the Quran and the hadith is the best way to compile/identify
the good characters to be acquired and the bad characters to be weeded out. Priority
should be given to bad characters that are considered major sins (kabaa’ir) such as envy,
fornication, false testimony, lying, drinking alcohol, backbiting, and slander. Special
consideration should be given to the feelings, sayings, or actions that are considered
disqualifiers from heaven such as arrogance, slander, stinginess, ingratitude towards
parents, deserting kinsmen,… Like all other aspects of personal development, such
exercise could and should be pursued both individually and collectively.
Like many other qualities in life such as knowledge and skills, characters are changed,
acquired and rooted through dedication and practice. One may acquire a good character
or get rid of a bad one by practicing and forcing yourself until it becomes rooted in your
personality and therefore becomes part of your natural/spontaneous behavior. You must
train and force yourself on a particular character/virtue long enough until it becomes your
second nature. That’s how the prophet taught us about acquiring knowledge, kindness,
and patience. The same approach applies to the removal/elimination of bad habits.
Therefore, we should be constantly in the business of acquiring and
enhancing/reinforcing good manners and ridding ourselves of bad manners.
Individual successes and failures in any aspect of personal development have
considerable implications both on the individual himself/herself and on the community.
But there is probably no other aspect that has bigger, more direct, and more lasting effect
on the community than the character of its members in general and its leaders in
particular. This is because Dawa, mentorship, and relationships are directly and greatly
affected positively or negatively by sound/exemplary character and by character flaws,
respectively. Indeed character is much more contagious than other aspects of personal
development and have much bigger and more direct effect on the harmony of the family
and the cohesion of the community.
For all those reasons, a corner stone of the needed change in general and of personal
development in particular is to get our people to engage in a meaningful character
development, which should pave the way for effective mentorship and Dawa by example,
genuine relationships, harmonious family, and cohesive community. But character
development and all other aspects of personal development should be pursued for the
sake of Allah and as part of fulfilling His purpose and transforming all our lives into
worship.
INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT:
What many people don’t realize is that to be healthy, our brain/mind, like our body, needs
to be properly and consistently fed and worked out. As is the case in other areas of
personal development, intellectual development is both neglected and misunderstood. As
a result, not many Muslims are engaged in a consistent and effective/meaningful process
of personal development in general and intellectual development in particular.
One of the outrageous but true/accurate characterizations of Arabs/Muslims is that they
don’t read, or at least they don’t read regularly in disregard to the Quranic and prophetic
clear and preponderant commandments praising all aspects of learning. No wonder why
the vast majority of Muslims, including activists and leaders, are intellectually shallow
and stagnant/frozen. But this trend must be reversed and this reversal is an essential part
of the needed change.
Indeed, Muslims in general and leaders in particular must be aware of what is going on
and why, and must develop a coherent and sound intellectual and strategic framework
that helps to understand how the country and the world were shaped and are functioning
in order to effectively engage it and impact it.
Moreover, many people confound knowledge with the formal education to obtain a
degree. Such people usually limit their learning to their field of study (textbooks,
assignments), and largely stop learning after graduation. As a result, they usually know
very little outside their field of study.
Among those who do seek knowledge outside their field of study and/or after graduation,
many confound knowledge with information. They don’t distinguish between
systematically and consistently gaining useful and in-depth knowledge on one hand, and
haphazardly, sporadically, and superficially gathering/accumulating/memorizing
information. Knowledge like CPU is the ability to process information.
Another misconception related to intellectual development is the artificial distinction
between religious/Islamic and non-religious/non-Islamic knowledge, and many people
tend to disregard/overlook one or the other.
These are some of the misconceptions about intellectual development and some of the
reasons why most/many people don’t embark on any meaningful/effective process of
intellectual development.
In essence, intellectual development entails a concerted effort to broaden, deepen, and
refine/crystallize our understanding/comprehension of our faith and our life so that we
may effectively apply the former to uplift the latter. Intellectual development also entails
understanding our world and our role/mission, so that we may increase/boost our ability
and our efficiency in fulfilling our mission and engaging and shaping our world. Our
world starts with our own selves and ends with the world at large, which became a global
village, and includes everything in between: family, neighborhood, city, community,
state, and country.
This requires extensive and diverse reading and interaction with people to seek wisdom
and useful knowledge from all sources, thus fulfilling the prophetic characterization of
the believer as someone who is constantly searching for wisdom, and the Quranic
characterization of the believers as those who follow/implement the best of what they
learn.
As such, intellectual development intersects with spiritual development and character
development, because spiritual development is essentially about knowing the Creator and
Sustainer of the universe and establishing and nurturing an intimate relationship with
Him. On the other hand, as indicated above, character development is essentially about
building ourselves into a role model, which in turn should help us effectively
influencing/mentoring and engaging people.
Knowing your Creator and understanding your Deen and your world, both the human part
and the physical parts of it, are all essential and integrated parts of our intellectual
development that enable us to effectively fulfill our mission and engage our world and
our people. Indeed, Allah embedded the rules (sunan) that govern the universe/world
(both the human and physical parts of it) in the scriptures and in the universe. And
therefore, those rules (sunan) are to be discovered by studying/exploring Allah’s revealed
book (Quran) and His open book (the Universe) which encompasses both the fields of
sciences and humanities (history, sociology,…). That’s why throughout the history of
Islamic civilization, it wasn’t uncommon for a person to be a scientist, a religious
scholar/teacher, a devote worshipper, and in some cases a civic/political/military leader.
These people understood very well that the main purpose of Islam is the welfare and
harmony of people/humanity (al-maslaha and rafi’ al-haraj), and the prevalence of
justice*, which in turn requires to properly understand and effectively leverage the divine
rules that govern this universe and that Allah embedded both in His revelation and His
creation.
57:25 We sent aforetime our apostles with Clear Signs and sent down with them the
Book and the Balance (of Right and Wrong), that men may stand forth in justice

Intellectual development is essentially a concerted effort of learning and


reflecting/thinking to better understand how this world was shaped and how does it
function, and better understand and fulfill our role/mission, which is essentially to
effectively engage this world and constantly shape a better one. It is no coincidence that
the Quran is full of verses that invites us to study history (particularly the rise and fall of
nations) and to explore the universe, as part of the Quran’s main role of guiding people to
their happiness and harmony in this life, and their success and salvation in the Hereafter.
Some ways that may be pursued in your intellectual growth includes studying the Quran,
exploring the internet, and regularly reading books. However, interacting with people
and civic engagement are essential means of our intellectual growth. The essential thing
is that you should not only constantly feed your brain but also constantly work it out
through critical reading and thinking, and through fruitful intellectual
debates/engagements.
The purpose of learning is not to stack information. Rather, it should be to build and
constantly upgrade a frame of reference and a coherent thought process that allow for
constant increase of our ability and efficiency in processing information. Bloom’s
taxonomy establishes six levels of learning: knowledge, comprehension, application,
analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Unfortunately, most people rarely move beyond the
first levels which involve mostly memorization and superficial knowledge.
What is worrisome is that not only the vast majority of Muslims are not engaged in any
significant intellectual development, but also the vast majority of organizations’ activists,
leaders, and speakers are not growing intellectually in any significant way. Moreover,
the tremendous community activities, services, and facilities hardly include any
significant intellectual debate, activity, or production. And because people can’t give that
which they don’t have, those activists, leaders, and speakers are not inspiring the masses
to engage in any meaningful process of self-development in general and intellectual
development in particular.
Nobody is expected to know and gain expertise in everything, and it is understood that
different people have different capacities and circumstances, and as a result, in their
intellectual journey, they may have a different starting points, take different routes, and
learn at different paces. But the bottom line is that every person should develop the thirst
for knowledge, which shall prompt him/her to engage in a meaningful, continuous, and
balanced process/journey of intellectual growth and learning from all sources, namely
books and people (they say you learn from the books you read and the people you
know). And while specialization is inevitable and highly encouraged, people should
strive to learn the basics of as many fields/areas of knowledge as possible, and to reduce
the number of intellectual ‘blind spots’ or the fields/areas that they are totally ignorant
about. Such task was substantially facilitated by the internet, which allows for quick
search, and by the widespread publications on the basics of every field/area of
knowledge. Following are some recommended areas of focus in a comprehensive and
effective intellectual development plan:
Understanding your Deen:
Learning your Deen through systematic study to better understand and apply/implement
Islam in a relevant way. This should include different branches of Islamic studies such as
aqeedah, seerah, kasas, Islamic history, Islamic thought, fiqh, usul al-fiqh, tafseer, hadith,
… The focus should be on useful/needed and practical knowledge, on quality rather than
quantity, and on concepts rather than information. In other words, we should concentrate
on mastering the basic/fundamental concepts and on the ability to use and
share/disseminate useful and practical knowledge rather than covering a lot of material
without retaining or mastering much.
Understanding yourself and people, especially your inner circle:
Basic Psychology: this is critical to understand your own self and maintain your
psychological/mental health, but it is also critical to understand people and properly
engage them. In particular, understanding the psychology of the opposite gender and the
child psychology are vital for our success in building a harmonious family and raising our
children. Indeed, a reasonable part of our lifelong learning should include literature
about spousal/family relations and parenting at different stages. Lots of family and social
problems result from the endemic ignorance on such basic issues.
Sexual education: this is another fundamental issue that has a lot of bearings on the
spousal relations, and therefore on the family and social life. Indeed, sexual ignorance
combined with psychological ignorance accounts fully or at least partially for almost all
family problems and failures. This is mainly because in the conservative Muslim culture,
sex is a taboo, and people either learn about it in a wrong and/or haphazard ways. And
people’s ego/pride (especially among males/men) usually preclude them from
acknowledging any deficiency (particularly in this area) and therefore from learning. As
a result, so many people and families suffer indefinitely and/or may resort to improper
ways because of sexual deficiencies/ignorance that oftentimes could be easily fixed with
basic sexual education.
Understanding your body and your health: a basic health and nutritional
awareness/education is critical for physical wellness and a healthy lifestyle, which in turn
is critical for sound judgment/thinking and for fulfilling our momentous mission.
Understanding your world with more focus on the more immediate/closer circles, where
you could and should have the bigger impact. Those close circles include every circle
from your neighborhood/city to your country. Indeed, we should have a reasonable/basic
understanding of how our world was shaped and how does it function, so that we may
engage it effectively and help shaping its future. Following are some aspects of our
intellectual development program that may help gaining such understanding:
Basic understanding of history: this is because the future could not be shaped without
understanding the present time, which in turn could not be achieved without
understanding history. No wonder why history constitutes about one third of the Quran.
Therefore, knowing the history of your city, your state, and America and having some
basic understanding of world and Islamic history is critical.
Basic understanding of America and American society. This includes politics and
political system, culture, religious landscape, civil society, economy, finances, media,..
Basic understanding of different branches of physical sciences and social sciences
(sociology, political sciences,..).
Another type of material that should be part of our lifelong intellectual development
curriculum and our personal development program in general is the books and trainings
on self-help and leadership. Even though, this material is useful for different aspects of
personal development, it is listed under intellectual development because it consists of a
knowledge that needs to be acquired before it can be leveraged.
In addition to your steady program of intellectual development, you need to educate
yourself about contemporary issues and to keep up with the important local, domestic,
and global issues. For some of those issues at least, you should go beyond the news
flashes/clips and read some background information/facts and different
analysis/perspectives.
Finally, studying/reading is just one track of intellectual development. Effective
intellectual growth requires extensive outreach (and interaction with people) and effective
civic engagement. Interaction with people allows us to learn from their expertise and
experience, and fruitful discussion with people challenge our thoughts, helps to enrich,
refine/sharpen, and amend them, and helps us to spot/discover our ignorance and the
weakness or vagueness of our thoughts. In brief fruitful interaction with people in and of
itself is important for our intellectual growth/development, and stimulates further
learning. On the other hand, civic engagement is an effective practical way to have a
first-hand understanding of our world and involvement in its dynamics.
PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL WELLNESS:
One of the cardinal and distinctive element of our faith is the firm belief that everything
belongs to Allah, and everything in our hands/possession is a divine trust. On top of
these trusts come our body/health, time, and money. And careful management of these 3
great assets is an act of worship and is critical for our success in general and in fulfilling
the divine mission and realizing our potential. On the other hand, if any of the 3 assets is
handled recklessly, one wouldn’t be able to do much beyond struggling to fulfill the
basic/absolute necessities of life.
Maintaining a good health not only increases your effectiveness/efficiency and
endurance, but is also essential for developing yourself into a role model and therefore be
able to inspire people in general and young people in particular. This is especially true
because we live at a time and in a culture that value/emphasize physical wellness and
being in good shape, which usually reflects a high level of discipline and commitment as
related to dieting and exercising.
Your body is also the basis of people’s first impression about you, which substantially
affect their readiness to hear your message, especially if that message is about change and
self-development.
Indeed, people would certainly be much more eager to listen to your message and to
know about other aspects of your life, and ultimately to follow your example if your body
says that you’re maintaining a good health, or that you have gone through a great
transformation (for those who already know you). On the other hand, an unhealthy body
(obese, overweight) may well project an image of lack of discipline and commitment, and
may well indicate serious deficiencies in other aspects of life and personality. And
therefore, people will more than likely be less receptive to your message and your story
and less eager to know more about you.
One does not need to be overwhelmed by the saga about diet and exercise. Sufficient is
to watch what you eat, exercise regularly, and observe some basic healthy habits such as
sleeping and waking-up early.
Like with our spiritual development (to maintain a sound heart), to ensure our physical
wellness, one ounce of prevention is worth more than one pound of cure. And one of the
most effective preventive measures is to maintain a normal/healthy weight, and to avoid
at all cost overweight, let alone obesity. Food should remain more as a necessity, and
should never become a hobby or pastime. One simple but incredibly effective diet to
follow is the prophetic diet which simply consists of eating only when you are hungry
and when you eat not to fill up.
It is crucial for physical wellness to watch for your intake of fat, carbohydrates, and
calories; to make your diet as natural as possible (fruits and vegetables); and to avoid
food with chemicals and artificial additives. As indicated in the intellectual a
minimum/reasonable health and diet education/awareness is needed.
Physical wellness is critical for sound thinking but also for psychological wellness, which
is in turn crucial for someone whose mission calls on him/her to lead people and/or to
extensively interact with them (). Indeed, unlike someone who is largely isolated, as a
civic leader and community organizer, you’ll have to deal with all kinds of people in all
kinds of circumstances. To effectively and properly engage those people and handle
those situations, you need not only to have a sound character/manners, but also a
coherent, balanced, and mature personality. Lack of such vital elements may push the
person into isolation, and if he/she interacts with people he/she may well cause more
harm/damage than good.
Whatever was said about the importance and the consequences of being healthy applies
also to being neat and maintaining good hygienic habits, and being organized.
Finally, outreach and civic engagement are critical for our personal and family
development in general and for our psychological wellness in particular. Indeed, self-
development and civic engagement constitute a self-feeding cycle. The healthier the
personality or the family is the more ready it will be to open up, reach out to people,
cultivate relationships, and engage their environment. The opposite is also true. And
while it may seem to spare individuals and families the headache of interacting with
people, isolation is not only wrong/unthinkable for someone with a mission and a
message, it is also detrimental/harmful for the psychological wellness of individuals and
for the harmony of the family. Moreover, it is critical for the proper development of our
children to prevent them from becoming comfortable in isolation, and to encourage them
and put them in different contexts/situations that force them to intermingle with diverse
people, not just like-minded.
PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL WELLNESS:
It goes without saying that the state of our health could be either very empowering or
very limiting to the success of the individual and his/her ability to contribute to the
cause and to the community. But even without accurate statistics, one can easily
observe that when it comes to physical wellness, many members of our community lack
awareness and commitment/discipline. And in spite of some noticeable recent
improvement, we still have a long way to go to instill in our community awareness and
a tradition of physical wellness.
There are many unhealthy habits both in our cultures of origin and in the American
culture that are widespread in our community. The effects of those habits may not be
felt immediately, but cause enormous health risks in the long run, and may not be
detected until it’s too late.
Currently, there is a very limited space in our plans, our activities, and our facilities for
physical wellness. And the situation is much worse for Muslim women. But unhealthy
lifestyle has enormous negative effects on individuals and families, and therefore on the
community.
Like all other aspects of the needed change, the change towards healthy lifestyle must
be rooted in religion. Indeed, from Islamic perspective, everything in this life including
our body is a divine trust and therefore it is our religious obligation to take good care of
it, and on the Day of Judgment, Allah (SWT) will hold us accountable for that. And, a
strong believer is more beloved to Allah than a weak believer. Plus, our body is our
apparatus/means to fulfill the divine mission and our vehicle in our lifelong journey of
self-development and civic engagement. And without a healthy and strong body, we
can’t do much or go too far.
One of the cardinal and distinctive element of our faith is the firm belief that everything
belongs to Allah, and everything in our hands/possession is a divine trust. On top of
these trusts come our body/health, time, and money. And careful management of these
3 great assets is an act of worship and is critical for our success in general and in
fulfilling the divine mission and realizing our potential. On the other hand, if any of the
3 assets is handled recklessly, one wouldn’t be able to do much beyond struggling to
fulfill the basic/absolute necessities of life.
However, more than other aspects, the religious argument for physical wellness could be
considerably augmented with the practical argument simply because the effects of our
lifestyle are much more tangible and obvious.
Like with other aspects of change, those who stand to lead the change should model it
and reach out to people to make a compelling case for it, raise people awareness, and
build a momentum. Ultimately, a critical mass will be reached and the prevailing norms
will change. In other words, our approach to affect change is built on the developing
models (example), delivering the message (education), and building a momentum to
change the prevailing norms.
Maintaining a good health not only increases your effectiveness/efficiency and
endurance, but is also essential for developing yourself into a role model and therefore
be able to inspire people in general and young people in particular. This is especially
true because we live at a time and in a culture that value/emphasize physical wellness
and being in good shape, which usually reflects a high level of discipline and
commitment as related to dieting and exercising.
Your body is also the basis of people’s first impression about you, which substantially
affect their readiness to hear your message, especially if that message is about change
and self-development.
Indeed, people would certainly be much more eager to listen to your message and to
know about other aspects of your life, and ultimately to follow your example if your
body says that you’re maintaining a good health, or that you have gone through a great
transformation (for those who already know you). On the other hand, an unhealthy
body (obese, overweight) may well project an image of lack of discipline and
commitment, and may well indicate serious deficiencies in other aspects of life and
personality. And therefore, people will more than likely be less receptive to your
message and your story and less eager to know more about you.
One does not need to be overwhelmed by the saga about diet and exercise. Sufficient is
to watch what you eat, exercise regularly, and observe some basic healthy habits such as
sleeping and waking-up early. Indeed, physical wellness is not about being too anxious
about diet and exercise. It’s about watching what you eat, engaging in some reasonable
and regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and conducting regular health
checkups
Like with our spiritual development (to maintain a sound heart), to ensure our physical
wellness, one ounce of prevention is worth more than one pound of cure. And one of
the most effective preventive measures is to maintain a normal/healthy weight, and to
avoid at all cost overweight, let alone obesity. Food should remain more as a necessity,
and should never become a hobby or pastime. One simple but incredibly effective diet
to follow is the prophetic diet which simply consists of eating only when you are hungry
and when you eat not to fill up.
It is crucial for physical wellness to watch for your intake of fat, carbohydrates, and
calories; to make your diet as natural as possible (fruits and vegetables); and to avoid
food with chemicals and artificial additives. As indicated in the intellectual a
minimum/reasonable health and diet education/awareness is needed.
Physical wellness is critical for sound thinking but also for psychological wellness,
which is in turn crucial for someone whose mission calls on him/her to lead people
and/or to extensively interact with them (). Indeed, unlike someone who is largely
isolated, as a civic leader and community organizer, you’ll have to deal with all kinds of
people in all kinds of circumstances. To effectively and properly engage those people
and handle those situations, you need not only to have a sound character/manners, but
also a coherent, balanced, and mature personality. Lack of such vital elements may
push the person into isolation, and if he/she interacts with people he/she may well cause
more harm/damage than good.
Whatever was said about the importance and the consequences of being healthy applies
also to being neat and maintaining good hygienic habits, and being organized.
Finally, outreach and civic engagement are critical for our personal and family
development in general and for our psychological wellness in particular. Indeed, self-
development and civic engagement constitute a self-feeding cycle. The healthier the
personality or the family is the more ready it will be to open up, reach out to people,
cultivate relationships, and engage their environment. The opposite is also true. And
while it may seem to spare individuals and families the headache of interacting with
people, isolation is not only wrong/unthinkable for someone with a mission and a
message, it is also detrimental/harmful for the psychological wellness of individuals and
for the harmony of the family. Moreover, it is critical for the proper development of our
children to prevent them from becoming comfortable in isolation, and to encourage them
and put them in different contexts/situations that force them to intermingle with diverse
people, not just like-minded.
FINANCIAL HEALTH/DEVELOPMENT/WELLNESS:
Even though from Islamic perspective, happiness and success are not related to wealth,
there are few things that have greater impact on people’s lives and community growth
than finances. Indeed, there is hardly anything that holds people back and limit their
ability to fulfill their mission, their potential, and their dreams/ambitious more than bad
management (mismanagement) of finances. Yet, we are still managing our personal and
community finances in a primitive way. And we are nowhere close to understand and
leverage the American financial system, both the business and the non-profit sides of it.
We are yet to effectively leverage our own resources, which remain largely untapped.
At the individual level, many members of our community have their finances out of
control, mostly because of overspending and living beyond their means, a tendency that
is not easy to resist in an environment characterized by intrusive and effective marketing
and easy credit. By the way, as a science, marketing is essentially about creating want,
or making/convincing you to buy things that you don’t need.
Many people take the bait and fall in the vicious cycle of spending more money than
they make. Their runaway spending makes them work harder and harder just to make
ends meet, not realizing that people are rich by how much they save not by how much
they make. Overtaken by this vicious cycle and lacking minimum financial stability,
these people have neither the mood nor the time to contribute anything to the
community, and oftentimes become an unnecessary burden on the community.
Some people are doing much better controlling their finances, and therefore they have a
reasonable financial stability. However, either because of limited ambitions and/or lack
of financial awareness, they are not actively preparing for the future and for potential
downturns. No wonder why very few are engaged in some sort of financial
development by saving and investing, and upgrading and diversifying their job skills. In
other words, very few are trying to achieve financial independence and secure their
financial future.
I am afraid that both our people and our institutions are managing their finances in a
primitive way and that their utmost/ultimate ambition is to get by and make ends meet.
On one hand, the vast majority of our community members don’t think in terms of
financial independence and development. Many of them are financially trapped and
struggling. On the other hand, those who succeed in business usually become
swamped/consumed in business and their success does not benefit the community in a
significant way. Many of them are disconnected or were pushed away (excluded) from
the community, and it is not uncommon for the business success to come at the expense
of health, family, and/or religious obligations.
Indeed, not many people succeed in business while conducting a balanced life and
generously contributing to the community. The few who do constitute the financial
backbone of the community, but they are largely outstretched.
Local projects, national organizations, and relief efforts overseas are sustained by the
generous and consistent contributions of a small segment of the community who are not
necessarily the wealthiest, but who are already overstretched supporting existing
operations. And for one reason or another, the vast majority of our community
members are not realizing their financial potential, and are unable and/or unwilling to
contribute significantly to the cause of Islam and to the development of the community.
Plus, the available resources are neither allocated nor leveraged efficiently. Indeed,
compared to other similar communities, our community is lagging behind when it
comes to leveraging the various financial tools and the tremendous opportunities for
financial planning and development not only for corporations but also for non-profit
organizations.
It goes without saying that the more money you have the more you can do to advance
the cause. But in our context, the effect of finances on your life and your contribution to
the cause is less related to how much you have than to how well you manage your
finances. The essential question is whether you finances are under control or out of
control.
Anyone who is serious about his/her mission should plan and spar no efforts to achieve
financial independence or at least stability as early in their lives as possible. This means
to start early investing and building equity and credit. This is the only way to free
yourself from the slavery and agony of living from a paycheck to another under the
constant threat of layoff (losing your job).
It is never too late or too early to start this process both for yourself and for your
children. In fact, in this competitive world and economy, you should give your children
a head-start by starting the financial planning for them and the investment in their future
as soon as they are born. For young people, the process of saving and good financial
management should start with their first paycheck or allowance. You should
instill/inculcate in your children the spirit of saving and wise/efficient management of
money.
Good financial planning that leads to financial independence or at least stability requires
that early in their professional and family lives, individuals and spouses should work
hard, start saving and investing, and manage their lives in a way to achieve financial
independence and stability as early as possible. This in turn requires that individuals
and families budget according to their means and live strictly according to their budget,
which should be geared towards saving and investment. Indeed, those who are serious
about achieving financial independence or at least stability should have the discipline to
live a life of frugality and thriftiness. In particular, they should be smart buyers, which
means they buy only what they really need, and they buy it at the right time and the
right price. Plus, they buy quality and durable stuff, and don’t fall in the trap of buying
cheap but quasi-disposable stuff.
Ad-hoc shopping is unwise and wasteful, and shopping should never become a hobby or
a pastime that squanders people’s great assets: time and money. Otherwise, you will
end up piling up and get stuck with a lot of stuff that might be cheap or discounted but
usually neither needed nor durable.
People who don’t want to struggle financially and fall in debt must hold on to their hard-
earned cash/money (). They should resist the temptation of buying/spending and the
tricks of marketing.
It is worth noting that wasteful spending (israaf) is not related to how much you spend.
Rather, it is related to where and when you spend your money. People should be
generous in investing in the future and serving the cause.
Our community lacks many talents and institutions. But there is hardly anything that is
limiting the growth of our community and jeopardizing/compromising its future more
than the lack of financial awareness, talents/expertise, and institutions/instruments
(investment, endowment, co-op). Indeed, the community is in dire need for financial
awareness programs, for financial expertise, and for financial development
instruments/institutions that will enable community members and organizations to
manage and leverage their resources much more efficiently.
Allah prescribed perfection/excellence/proficiency (ihsan) in everything and loves that
whenever you do something to perfect it. In particular, you need to perfect your
work/job and become proficient in what you do. This is critical for job stability and
ease of job transfer and promotion, which is in turn critical for financial stability,
especially in this volatile job market.
Through training and continued education, you should strive to stay abreast, increase
your proficiency, and broaden your skills. In brief, you need to keep yourself in demand
both by your current and other employers.
Many people learned the hard way how costly complacency in the job could be,
especially during economic downturn, whey they lost the job that they took for granted,
and found themselves not really marketable in the job market.
In conclusion, our community members and institutions are in dire need for tremendous
consistent work of financial awareness, planning, and development. And our growth
and our future largely hinge on our progress and success on this crucial front. However,
both at the personal/family level and at the community level, there could be no
significant and sustained progress on the financial front without prior and simultaneous
progress on other related fronts. For instance, sound finances could not be expected in a
family lacking harmony or a community lacking vision. Also, in order to produce the
desired results, financial development should be pursued simultaneously with the
development of human resources and the inspiration and empowerment of the masses.
Personal Development – Part (3/3)

TIME MANAGEMENT:
Time is the most precious commodity, even more precious than money. Indeed, you can
always make more money but you can’t make more time. Time is life, and there is never
enough of it. Any amount of time that elapses takes away from life and never comes
back.
Even those who are not on a mission and are living for themselves are struggling with the
increasingly demanding life to make ends meet, not only financially but also time wise.
Add a momentous mission and a number of extra responsibilities, and you will realize
that things will not fall in place without a very strict and efficient management of your
time.
Time and money constitute the vital resources with which individuals, families, and
communities get things done/accomplished. They come next in importance only to
human resources.
The best ideas, plans, and aspirations/ambitions will remain just dreams without the
money and the time (and of course the people) to turn them into reality. Unfortunately,
like with other aspects of life, many of our people manage their time in a very primitive
and inefficient way. As a result, they found themselves constantly putting out fires, and
doing nothing and wasting a lot of time in between.
Islam gives time a religious dimension by making it like money and life itself a sacred
trust. Indeed, among the key factors that decide people’s fate in the Hereafter is how they
spent their time in general and their most productive years, together with how they
acquired and spent their money. Unfortunately, not many members of our community
manage their time efficiently, even though most people appear to be always very busy
and on the run. However, in most cases this state says more about the bad time
management than about their tight schedule. Indeed, there is no shortage of indications
that a lot of time routinely slip away from our people, which puts them in constant
struggle just to handle their daily routine and deal with emergencies. Moreover, our
people usually don’t deal with issues proactively and decisively. Rather, they tend to
duck issues until they blow in their face and become crises and emergencies.
This is not meant to be a technical/professional document on time-management. But as
with previous themes, some guidelines will be mentioned that will hopefully help people
manage their time more efficiently:

Guidelines for a More Efficient Time Management:


1- Extending your daily productive time:
Everyone who wakes up early (and of course sleeps early) knows that people are much
more productive and get much more done in the early parts of the day. The prophet said
that the early part of the day is a blessed time. Trading that precious time for the much
less productive time of late evening substantially reduces your effectiveness/efficiency.
So, the first habit to train yourself on is to sleep early (preferably after Ishaa) and wake
up early (preferably before dawn). The pre-dawn time is best for night prayers and for
the powerful pre-dawn (sahar) supplication. Both are great ways for spiritual
empowerment, and for seeking Allah's Blessings, Guidance, and Help, which in turn will
tremendously expand your capacity and energy and increase your efficiency, and may
spare you a lot of trouble that was coming your way.
Allah promised to be on the side of pious people, to ease their matters, to make a way for
them out of every difficulty, and to provide for them from sources they don't expect*.
In many verses, Quran establishes the link between increased taqwa and increased
blessing. Following are some of those verses.
And for those who fear Allah, He (ever) prepares a way out, And He provides for him
from (sources) he never could imagine. And if any one puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is
((Allah)) for him. For Allah will surely accomplish his purpose [65:2-3]
11:52 "And O my people! Ask forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him (in repentance):
He will send you the skies pouring abundant rain, and add strength to your strength:
'Ask forgiveness from your Lord; for He is Oft-Forgiving; "'He will send rain to you in
abundance; "'Give you increase in wealth and sons; and bestow on you gardens and
bestow on you rivers (of flowing water). [71:10-12]
7:96 If the people of the towns had but believed and feared Allah, We should indeed have
opened out to them (All kinds of) blessings from heaven and earth
Marter Luther, the founder of Protestantism, said that when in a particular day he has too
many things to do he needs an extra hour on his knees (in prayer).
Your productive time may also be increased by reducing your sleep time to the minimum
necessary. It is not true that you need eight hours of sleep. You may train your body on
a significantly less than that, and find how much sleep time you truly need. And because
this is a daily event, no matter how small the resulting increase in your productive time, it
will make a big difference over a long period of time.

2- Eliminating any waste of time:


Because time can neither be stopped nor recovered, because there is never enough of it,
and because you are accountable for how you spend your time, you should make use of
every moment of your life. The clock is always ticking and you are always racing against
the clock to do all that you need and want to do. Indeed, time is too precious to allow any
amount of it to be wasted or 'leaked'.
Unfortunately, because of lack of high aspirations, a compelling mission, and good
planning and management, many people end up wasting a lot of time on daily basis.
Such time is killed/wasted on commuting, watching TV, wandering on the internet, and
useless chatting (online, over the phone, or face to face).
In order for us to increase our efficiency, the use of tech products (including TV) must be
kept to a useful minimum. Beyond this point, they will eat away precious time, preclude
meaningful human interactions, and ultimately spoil relationships and cause a lasting
negative impact, particularly on children. A lot of time get also wasted on shopping and
food-related tasks.
That waste of time must simply be eliminated and that precious time must be leveraged
and added to your productive time. This may happen through tight planning and
scheduling to reduce the 'dead time' to the absolute minimum, and fill the remaining 'dead
time' with useful stuff such as reading or listening to something useful, remembering and
praising Allah, and reflection/contemplation. Again, because this happens regularly, any
time saved and leveraged may make a big difference.
3- Handling tasks and problems more efficiently:
A substantial time get wasted because of the way we handle our tasks and our problems.
Indeed, tackling issues timely (or proactively) and systematically may save a lot of time.
To increase your efficiency you need to build systems (processes/procedures) to handle
the routine tasks. Such tasks should simply be put on 'autopilot'. Otherwise, they may
well become a source of tension/stress and argumentation, which in turn will waste time
and reduce efficiency. Life should as much as possible be on 'autopilot', and in many
ways, the family should be managed as an institution. The more organized you are, the
more smooth your life will be and the more time and money you will save. This shall
make you much more prepared to deal with the problems and challenges that life will
always throw at you, and which may or may not be expected. You don't want these
problems and challenges to catch you while you are out of balance consumed and
grabbling with routine tasks. And whether you are out of balance or in control of your
routine life, the last thing you want to do is to meet such challenges with denial,
procrastination, or patching (patchwork). Unfortunately, that's what most people do:
problems and challenges catch them off guard and they don't deal with them properly.
Problems and challenges must be tackled/confronted timely and decisively. Expected
ones must be tackled proactively and unexpected ones must be tackled immediately (head
on). In both cases, the root causes needs to be identified to resolve the issue at hand and
don't allow issues to pile up, which will ultimately overwhelm you. If the issue is a
reoccurring one, try to automate it. Also, always try to turn problems and challenges into
opportunities, because oftentimes opportunities come disguised in the form of a problem.
Tackling issues/challenges proactively, timely, and decisively, and performing our tasks
systematically should save you a lot of time, money, energy, and trouble and enable you
to be much more organized, focused, and efficient. Indeed, it is always less costly to do
the right thing at the right time and in the right way, no matter how inconvenient that may
seem to be.

4- Setting the Priorities Right (prioritizing):


The way you spend your time (and money) reflects your priorities whether you
intend/acknowledge it or not. Pleasant life requires that you align your schedule (and
budget) with your priorities, which presumes that you have clear priorities set to begin
with.
Many people are struggling/suffering either because they don't have clear
priorities/mission and sense of direction, or because their life and schedule is not
aligned/consistent with their priorities.
In a mission-driven life, the mission takes the utmost priority, and everything else should
be evaluated accordingly: whether it serves/supports the mission or it is a hindrance or
distraction. The latter should be either eliminated or kept at the absolute minimum
indispensable/required. Even sleeping, eating, shopping, and all food-related tasks
should be performed as necessities not hobbies (or pastimes), and the time allocated to
them should be reduced to the minimum required.
For many people, these routine activities take the bulk of their non-working time. And in
these days when work became more or less a slavery, there is very little time left for such
people to manage, especially if their work does not give them any significant flexibility.
Like every body, people who are on a mission must work hard, especially earlier in their
lives, but for a different purpose. They want to achieve freedom either through financial
independence or at least increased flexibility. And they want to increase their
contribution to the cause both financially and time wise. They never allow themselves to
be slaves of the job (work alcoholics) or the money (money worshippers), and they never
allow themselves to be trapped in the vicious cycle of money making and spending:
making more money to spend more. They live the mission and for them everything is
either an integral part of their mission or a tool/means to serve the mission. Otherwise, it
is just a distraction.
A clear and solid scale of priorities will allow you to be quick and decisive when making
decisions which shall save you a lot of time, money, and trouble. It will also allow you to
easily choose not only between the good and the bad, but also between the good and the
better, and between the bad and the worse. Indeed, in this life, whether you realize it or
not, everything is a choice and you are always making choices. But some choices are
made so frequently they become habits. Almost all choices/decisions in life involve a
tradeoff, not a good and a bad choice. Therefore, something of lower priority has to be
sacrificed for something of higher priority. Therefore, having a clear a solid scale of
priorities based on a clear life-mission will substantially increase/boost your effectiveness
and efficiency. The opposite is also true: confused and/or conflicting priorities leads to
hesitation, which substantially reduce your efficiency and effectiveness.

5- Increased Quality and Proficiency:


A lot of time get wasted because in managing their time, people think quantity not
quality, and because they perform tasks without adequate knowledge and skills. Our time
management could substantially improve if we become more systematic in our life, focus
on and improve the quality of time we spend on our tasks/duties, and enhance our
proficiency in performing those tasks/duties.
For example, within the family a lot of time and resources are usually wasted and
problems are created because of the lack of system(s) and organization and because
people are not properly educated and trained on dealing with spouses and children and
performing their tasks/duties/responsibilities. The same thing applies to work or
business. Becoming more systemic and acquiring some new skills and tools may need
some investment of time and money, but will ultimately save you a lot of time and
trouble, increase your efficiency, and enhance/improve the quality of your life. Simple
examples include learning how to type fast, improving your communication skills and
equipments/tools, mastering some useful softwares, learning about spousal relationships
and parenting, …
In our community work, the situation is much more obvious. So much time, efforts, and
money get wasted, so much potential remains untapped, and so many opportunities are
missed because of our poor/deficient organization model, and because of lack of some
critical skills, training, and tools. Indeed, many communities and organizations are led
and managed by people who are not trained on management of non-profit organization,
meeting facilitation, board functioning, counseling, team-building, project management,
and finances,... These skills may or may not exist in the community, but in either case,
there is no serious efforts to leverage and develop them. As a result, meetings are held
very frequently and drag for too long, decisions take forever and come out diluted and
vague and rarely implemented, and tasks and projects are usually not performed
systematically and efficiently.
So, at home, at work, and in our community business/activism, there is a lot of room to
enhance the quality of time we spend on tasks, save a lot of time, and get much more
done/accomplished by becoming more systematic and more sophisticated/proficient.
It is an illusion and short-sighted to keep trying to increase our production by working
harder and throw more time on tasks that we execute inefficiently. Rather, we need to
increase, through knowledge and skills, our production capacity.

5- Teamwork and Delegation:


It is not uncommon in families and communities to find few people overwhelmed with
tasks while the rest are watching and sometimes complaining because they are bored
and/or underutilized. Oftentimes, they fall in cynicism, and become not just a burden but
a pain in the neck for those who are already exhausted/overwhelmed.
As a result, a lot of time is wasted and lot of potential remain untapped. This is
especially true for those who, ironically, tend to have more time at hand (especially non-
working women) and less responsibilities (young people). Such time may end up wasted
on trivial or even destructive tasks.
This dilemma is the result of the unwillingness and/or inability to inspire, involve, and
empower people through consultation, delegation, and teamwork. In the end, both those
who are overloaded and those who are under-utilized are complaining and exchanging
blame.
We could and should substantially increase our productivity by learning the skills of
involving people and building teams. Even the family must function as a team, and all its
members' time, thoughts, talents, and capacity should be leveraged.
Likewise, one of the main tasks of community leaders is effective human resources
management: to identify, develop, leverage, and organize/streamline people's talents and
resources.
At home or in the community, leaders may find it easier, faster, and less risky to do the
job themselves rather than delegating tasks and training/mentoring other people. Leaders
may also avoid consultation because they are worried it may slow down or even derail
the process of decision-making and execution. All of these concerns are very valid if the
organization/operation is not driven by a clear mission and is not governed by a clear and
sound system/structure. However, if these two conditions are met, consultation and
delegation/training pay off big dividends in the form of a widespread sense of
responsibility/ownership and substantial expansion and enhancement of the human
capital and the leadership pool. And if those conditions are not met, then we’d better
tackle the root causes rather than correcting a mistake by a bigger one.
Extensive consultation and delegation are also beneficial in other ways: the former enrich
the decision-making process with more perspectives and ideas. The latter helps putting
the right person on the right task by helping in matching the various tasks needed with
people's different preferences/skills.

6- Integration/Focus/Balance:
Life is multifaceted and its facets are intertwined, and so are our different roles and
responsibilities. Success and increased efficiency requires balance and synchronization.
We need to balance our different roles/duties and we need to make sure that our
plans/schedules are synchronized. Being out of sync and/or out of balance may well have
a ripple effect and can be very costly both financially and time wise.
Such situation may even become chronic/permanent if it is not reversed quickly.
Balance and synchronization may be achieved and maintained through a combination of
focus and integration: focusing exclusive on a task whenever necessary and integrating
tasks whenever possible. Indeed, some tasks require utmost focus/concentration. Others
can be integrated to hit more than one bird with one stone. This applies to many
activities that you can do with the family, and the tasks that you can do while
commuting. Always think about maximizing and/or diversifying the benefit from any
time you spend and any activity you conduct either through extra concentration or by
channeling it in more than one direction.
Increased efficiency requires more than integrated activities. It requires integrated life
that focuses the thinking, the energy, and the resources. This applies to the individual,
the family, and the community. At all levels, a clear/well-defined and unified mission is
the only thing/factor that may integrate and focus your life.
Integrated life is necessarily a mission-driven life and starts with a coherent personality
whose eyes are fixated on a clear mission/purpose. Such person will strive to ensure that
everything in his/her life serve the mission or at least is consistent with it. And integrated
family life is a life that is driven by a clear and shared mission that ensures and constantly
reinforces/solidifies the cohesion of the family. This makes the family a one solid entity
that is moving in one direction, and whose efforts and resources are not scattered.
The unified mission does to the family members' efforts/energy and resources what ????
does to the solar/light beam. The resulting synergy makes the family a very strong
building block of the community/society, a very effective instrument of Allah's Will, and
a powerful engine of the divine mission.
On the other hand, a non-cohesive family may well see its efforts and resources scattered
in all (and possibly conflicting) directions. Both the efficiency/productivity and the
contribution of such family will more than likely be very low, and it may become a
burden on the community/society.
At the community level, the causes and consequences of integrated and scattered life are
the same. Indeed, a clear and shared mission and a sound organization/system will go a
long way in ensuring an integrated and therefore a synergetic community life where
differences are effectively managed, diversity is leveraged, and talents and resources are
effectively tapped, efforts are streamlined, and derailment, friction, and waste of time are
effectively minimized.
Finally, from individual perspective, integration involves connecting, overlapping, and
whenever possible integration of the different spheres of involvement: family, work, and
community activism and civic engagement.
Complete separation of those spheres will more than likely result in a compartmentalized
personality and life, which usually reduces efficiency. Indeed, the more aware family
members are of one another challenges in other spheres, the more cooperative, cohesive,
considerate, and therefore efficient they are.
FAMILY DEVELOPMENT:
So far, the focus was on the tenets of personal development that are crucial to the needed
change. But everything that was mentioned so far about personal development applies
not only to the individual but also to the family whose members should inspire and
empower one another to realize their full potential and impact, both as individuals and as
a cohesive entity. On the other hand, all aspects of the personality that we need to
develop we must also build/ cultivate them in our children.
Indeed, personal and family development are very intertwined, and both are critical for
the well-being of the community and the society. This is because the individual and the
family constitute the two complementary stages of the human reproduction cycle: the
family gives birth to and nurtures the individual, who in turn forms and nurtures a
family.
One more aspect of personal development remains. It entails the social life of individuals
and of the community. Because social vibrancy depends on family harmony, social life
will be discussed under the section on family development.
The family is the building block of the community and of the society at large, and it is the
incubator and the first school of future generations. The health, the strength, the
cohesion, and the future of any community or society largely hinges on the state of its
building blocks: citizens, families, and communities. That’s why any meaningful and
lasting societal change goes through personal, family, and community development.
Family is where renaissance and decline of any community or society are recycled and
take a life of their own. This is because family groom individuals who in turn build
families. It is a cycle that could be very synergetic but could be very destructive as well.
Family is where the journey of personal development begins and where the personality is
framed and largely shaped. And one of the biggest illusion that we had as a community
is to try to have the mosque, the school, and the community activities assume the
essential role and responsibility of the individual and the family for self-development and
the development of children. We must reverse this trend by taking this responsibility
back to the individual and the family and have our leaders and institutions focus on
inspiring and empowering people to effectively discharge their responsibility.
The community and the society could and should enhance and supplement the role of the
family. But no amount of community or society programs and institutions could
indefinitely patch or make up for the failure of the family to fulfill its role and
obligations.

The State of the Muslim Family:


Unfortunately, as an institution, family has been neglected and has been the subject of
tremendous pressure that is tearing it apart and substantially reducing/diminishing and
distorting its critical role as the building block of the society and the child’s first school
and nurturing ground with the greatest effect on future generations. There are a lot of
misconceptions and deficiencies surrounding the formation, the role, and the functioning
of the family.
In general, there is hardly any reliable statistics about our community. Data on family
life are expected to be much less forthcoming, simply because our community is socially
conservative and has a strong sense of pride and privacy. However, the state of the
Muslim community is a reflection and therefore indicator of the state of the family. Plus,
Imams and community leaders who are exposed to family issues, indicate that the
situation is alarming, even though they deal only with cases at a very late stage, when
people are forced out of denial and fail to suppress and patch issues.
It is also clear that Muslim families are not engaged in any meaningful personal
development of their children, simply because the concept of personal development has
largely faded, and parents themselves are not engaged in any meaningful self-
development. Parents in our community focus almost exclusively on the physical needs
of their children and possibly on their schooling, or more precisely on their grades. They
are also keen to see their children memorize some Quran and, get some Islamic
information, and possibly learn some Arabic. Most parents are not actively involved in
nurturing their children, except to police them or to ensure that the children leave them
alone. Parents who get involved they are usually not equipped to do a good job, and their
involvement may produce more harm than good, and may push children to develop a split
personality to cope with the lousy parenting at home and because they live in two
different worlds.
Two main factors added to the challenges that the first generation immigrant families
face. First, in most cases, one or both spouses were born and raised overseas, and in
some cases, one of them may have come to the U.S. after or just before marriage. This
created an issue of adaptation to the new environment and an issue of spousal
compatibility if there was a substantial gap in the time they lived in America before they
got married. Second, when they migrated to America, people lost their natural social
support that comes from their network of natural relationships with people in their
environment (cousins, neighbors, colleagues). And several reasons prevented migrating
families from building an alternative network, especially that for a long time, many
families were planning to go back home.
Whether they were conceived here or abroad, most families were formed almost
haphazardly. The families and the society in general don’t prepare the spouses for the
family life, and people get married without adequate pre-marital counseling, which
usually denies the family both the compatibility necessary to build solid foundations that
prevent many problems, and the tools to properly deal with inevitable issues. The same
serious mistake is usually repeated with bearing and raising children. And in both cases,
lacking ambitions and skills, people end up trying to just get by and keep things going.
Affection and harmony are in short supply, and people’s dreams are reduced to deal with
the necessities of life, raise OK children, and keep a good facade. In many cases when
the worst could be prevented, the end result is an operating house that offers the basic
needs of its residents, but nowhere close to a home that offers a warm family atmosphere
to the members or a nurturing ground that helps them realize their God-given potential.
Even some of the basic needs may only be superficially met but not really fulfilled.
In such circumstances, it is unlikely for families to efficiently manage their time and their
finances, to have open channels of communication, or to proactively and decisively tackle
issues. Instead, issues are not dealt with until they turn into crises that can no longer be
denied/ducked or suppressed, and life boils down to putting out fires. Living with
suppressed feelings, wishes, and opinions, members of the family search for alternative
avenues and means to compensate for what home and family were supposed to
offer/provide. And in this time and age, alternatives are everywhere and are more than
handy.
With few exceptions, the focus of families is not on success, development,
empowerment, or planning for the future. Rather the focus is on sailing through and
avoiding the worst. And the main difference between different families is related to their
ability and their means to contain problems. And because American Muslim families’
income is above average, many find it convenient to throw money at problems, which
combine with the fact that family issues are considered taboos and people are very keen
to keep their privacy to make any appearances unreliable indicators of the state of the
Muslim families.
Finally, the strong sense of pride and privacy and the considerable gap between the
appearances or the expectations and the reality, have pushed families into social isolation,
which may help conceal problems and prevent or at least defer the worst scenario, but
oftentimes adds to the pressure on the family, and it is definitely not a solution.
The isolation of families (from one another and from the community) adds to the
isolation of the community from society to create an alarming trend towards
disintegration that must be stopped and reversed. And in both cases, the reasons for
isolation are similar and consist of lack of incentive to open up and unresolved issues and
unhealthy/embarrassing situation that push families and communities into isolation. For
the community, it is the lack of clear and inspiring cause/mission to drive us out and the
ambivalence on the identity that is holding us back. Families who are not mission-driven
don’t have a strong incentive to reach out and their lack of harmony/coherence combines
with their strong sense of pride and privacy to prevent them from establishing genuine
relationships and from having a meaningful social life. What we have is mostly
superficial relationships and sporadic and shallow community gatherings that should not
mistaken for a real social life.
Indeed, the Muslim social life is remarkably poor. And more than likely, it is worse
among the masjid community and the community activists. People may have all kinds of
excuses/justifications that make them more or less comfortable with this abnormal
situation, which is having a heavy toll on our community. There is really no valid
justification for individuals or families to live in isolation. And there could be no
resurgence/revival of our community without meaningful relationships and vibrant social
life
A vibrant social life is a must for the health of the family and the development of the
children. Even though it appears to be a safe/comfortable option, families should rule out
isolation. Rather, they should interact with people in their environment and the focus
should not be on whether to build relationships or not, but on how to categorize and
maintain those relationships.
In conclusion, there are very strong links between personal development, family
harmony, community development, and the wellbeing of the society. They constitute
links of a chain or cycle that could be very synergetic or very destructive. Individuals
whose personality is not mature and coherent will not build a harmonious and
empowered family. And families that are struggling are in no position to make any
significant contribution neither to the community nor to the society at large, except
possibly a negative contribution. On the other hand, unhealthy community and society
have a negative impact on the individual and on the family. And the link between the
wellbeing of the society and that of its communities is very obvious.
Because the cyclic nature of our situation, it is hard to sort out causes and effects. And
because of its complexity, it is also hard to blame one single factor, especially that many
factors are intertwined. However, there could be no doubt that our community is paying
dearly for its neglect of women and for not investing in the institution of the family.
Other than some shallow matrimonial services during the conventions, not much is being
done for the family. At the local level, in the absence of qualified counselors, Imams and
community leaders filled in without proper training, and their efforts have often been a
mixed blessing.
Recently, there have been some important initiatives to educate and empower our
community to deal with family issues. They are mostly individual initiatives by some
pioneers with academic or practical experience, and consist of publication, training, and
some professional counseling. But we are still nowhere close to break the vicious cycle
(of individual, family, community) and we have no solid plans to effect a paradigm shift
whereby our people and our families are inspired and empowered to succeed and realize
their potential, to shoulder the bulk of the efforts of personal development and civic
engagement, and to fulfill the mission and affect change.
Like other areas, a lot of work and a substantial change are needed to get the Muslim
family where it should be and effectively perform its crucial role. This work and change
need to be integrated with the work and change in other areas. Indeed, because the
individual and the family form a cycle, and together they constitute the building blocks of
the community, any amendment/mending of that cycle will pay off handsomely and will
have tremendous impact on the wellbeing of our community and our society. All
phases/stages of the individual-family cycle should be tackled simultaneously to ensure
that the family is formed right, is functioning properly, and is preparing individuals to
realize their potential, fulfill their mission, and form a healthy and empowered family to
close the cycle. The ultimate purpose is to make the family the main institution of the
community and the society at large, and have community organizations focus on
supporting/empowering and creating forums for individuals and families to do the job.
This is the reverse of the prevailing paradigm where organizations are trying and
expected to do the job, and individuals and families are asked and expected to support
organizations.
We cannot afford to continue putting so much efforts to design and construct buildings
and organizations, while neglecting the ‘design’ and the construction of the family and
the individual.
It would not be possible to have an empowered and effective community without
empowered individuals and families. And there could be no vibrant social life without
healthy/harmonious families.

Guidelines for a Successful Family Life:


Family is a partnership/relationship between a man and a woman who come together to
build a family: a cohesive and harmonious entity that constitute a solid building block of
the society, effectively engage its environment, and substantially contribute to the well-
being of the society.
The Quranic charter of the family revolves around rest, quiet, tranquility, love, and
mercy.
16:80 It is Allah Who made your habitations homes of rest and quiet for you;
30:21 And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among
yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy
between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.
Moreover, because of its paramount importance, the family is one of the few
issues/themes that the Quran, which usually gives guidelines, covered its different aspects
with in a detailed way.
Allah (swt) is the source of all our needs. Through worship and supplication we seek His
good pleasure and get from Him guidance, forgiveness, help, protection, and spiritual
energy. On the other hand, through the family, we get unconditional love, and our
emotional energy and support. The two are critically needed to cope with the demands of
our life and our mission.
Home (the family) should be the refuge (or safe heaven) for all its members, and should
never become a source of stress/anxiety/tension.
Moreover, for those who are on a mission, the family is their base. No wonder that the
prophet/messenger started his mission by securing the base and getting his family
members on board. And so did the companions.

Like any relationship, in order to succeed and last, spousal relationship must be built on
mutual affection, understanding, respect, and on compatibility (matching personalities).
But because it is more intertwined and more important than any other relationship, all
those elements/aspects, especially the affection part, must be reasonably strong for the
relationship to flourish and endure the challenges and the ups and downs of life. That’s
why the selection/matching process and the pre-marital phase are critical for the success
of the family.

The Pre-Marital Phase: Do’s and Don’ts (reasons for success and failure):
Because many people don’t develop a coherent personality/identity (who they are) and a
clear mission (what they want), they usually don’t know what kind of person they need as
a spouse. As a result, their selection is usually hap-hazard, and their chances of finding a
good match and of a successful marriage are substantially compromised. The result of
such gambling oftentimes be a divorce, unhappy marriage, or at best a routine/dull
uninspiring family life, which will be damaging or at least limiting to both spouses and
more so the children.
Individuals must resolve the fundamental questions of who they are and what they want
in life before they can successfully select a partner/spouse to form a
cohesive/harmonious, happy, and empowered family. Whether they resolve those
fundamental issues after marriage or they don’t resolve them at all, they substantially
compromise their chances of building a successful family, and put a low ceiling for such
family, if it ever manages to escape divorce.
Not only they must resolve those issues before marriage, but also they must be clear
about them with their prospect/potential spouses. In other words, they must be
themselves and should not try to impress each other. Rather, they should make
themselves known (reveal themselves) and get to know their prospective spouses, so that
they make an educated decision and increase the chances of the success of the
partnership. This is the purpose of the pre-marital phase, which is actually a pre-decision
phase.
The potential spouses and their families must keep in mind that no commitment is made
and that things can go either way. Therefore, Islamic etiquettes must be strictly observed,
and the process should not take long before it is concluded one way or another. Another
critical requirement for the success of marriage and family life is the familiarity of each
spouse about opposite sex in general. It is no secret that man and woman came from
different planets*: they think differently and have different styles and approaches of
handling situations and dealing with issues. Ideally, man and woman complement one
another. But if they miss the magic combination/cycle of love and respect, they either
end up in a constant power struggle, or rather than a real home/family, they end up
establishing a shelter that offers its members the basic necessities of life. Life become
routine/dull and even though they are living together, each member of the family would
be living his/her own life.
In summary, the following reasons cause many marriages to end up in divorce, power
struggle, or routine/uninspiring life:
Prospect spouses don’t develop a coherent/mature identity and a clear mission before
they get married. As a result, they haphazardly select their partners, which substantially
compromise the chances of a match.
The pre-marital phase is mismanaged and is not conducted in a way to help the concerned
parties make the right decision. Two problems are particularly widespread: first, people
engage in this phase as if commitment is already made. As a result they may find it
difficult to separate/disengage, and they may not strictly observe Islamic etiquettes.
Second, oftentimes, people are not honest/open about themselves, which defeats the
whole purpose of this phase: to get to know one another and to make an educated
decision. And when people get married without really knowing one another, their
marriage becomes more or less a coin toss.
Many people get married without proper education about opposite sex, and about family
life – spousal relationship and parenting. Unfortunately, many people are yet to realize
that dealing with the opposite sex and raising children are an art or even a science that
should not be learned on the job. It is ironic that people plan carefully when they build a
house or a business, but they haphazardly build their families and raise/build their
children.
To have a lasting meaning and purpose, family life, like individual life, must be mission-
drive. A joint mission may go a long way in ensuring the cohesion and the resilience of
the family, and may make up for – or even repair – deficiencies in other aspects of the
personalities and the relationship. Indeed, a clear mission gives individual and family life
a meaning and purpose, and ensures the coherence of the personality and cohesion of the
family. And a mission-driven and cohesive family will more than likely nurture/raise
coherent and mission-driven children. That’s why it is critical for personal and family
development and for the community and society wellbeing that individuals
embrace/commit to a life mission and conduct a mission-driven life, and the earlier the
better.
On the other hand, if the purpose is to get citizens to succeed in life, realize their full
potential and live out their dreams, then one of the main functions of the society, the
community, the school, and the family itself is to help/prepare people to succeed in
building/establishing and nurturing a family.
Adequate institutions and programs should be devised to support the family from
‘conception’ through all the different stages and milestones of life.
Marriage and selection of a spouse constitute one of the most important moves and
decisions that one makes in life. And the family is the most important institution of the
society. But the family should not only be properly formed but also it should be well-
managed afterwards.

The Post-Marital Phase:


Even though this part deals with the post-marriage phase in general, the focus will be
more on the beginning of the family life. This phase lays the foundation and sets the tone
for the rest of family life. Indeed, the beginning of marriage is as critical for the success
of the family life as the pre-marital phase. Indeed, many people conduct themselves as if
marriage is an end in and of itself. They don’t realize that it is just a transition to a new
type of life and the beginning/startup of the journey (the delicate process) of designing
and building the family institution, which starts by merging/fusing two personalities and
lives into one entity.
While prior to marriage, the spouses used to meet sporadically and in conditioned
circumstances, they are now going to live together and face life challenges, ups and
downs, and surprises. And while they used to talk about themselves theoretically and in a
relaxed atmosphere, each one of them is now going to discover the true other in real
situations.
Like the takeoff of an airplane or the startup phase of a company/business, this phase
comes next only to the pre-marital phase in making or breaking the marriage and family
life.
Like or even more than any other institution, the family requires a system and a master
plan. The development of such system and plan should ideally start even before
marriage, but should definitely be completed as early after marriage as possible.
Ironically, in establishing every institution or business, people spend a lot of time, efforts,
and money to develop business plans, mission, vision, and systems. But when it comes
to the institution of family, which is far more important, they proceed haphazardly.
They system and plan may well be subject to adjustments and refinement. But it is
something to refine and adjust or even change an existing system and plan, and it is
totally a different thing to live with neither a system nor a plan.
Developing a system and a plan, is greatly facilitated by a joint mission, and requires
intensive and effective communication that should be prevented by all means from
degenerating into argumentation. Indeed, trust and communication for the relationship in
general and for spousal relationship in particular are like the immune system for the
body. As long as people trust one another and communicate, their relationship will
remain resilient, and chances are that they will be able to overcome or at least quickly
recover from any setback. In the worst case scenario, they will agree to disagree.
Open/honest and decent/respectful communication, especially in the beginning of
marriage, will go a long way in establishing a strong foundation for the family.
Issues should be neither dodged/ducked nor patched. Rather, they should be confronted
and resolved.
A good believer is not someone who does not make mistakes but is someone who resists
and repents quickly. A healthy body is not totally immune to sickness/illness, but it has a
good immune system that fights back and recovers quickly. Likewise, a healthy family is
not expected to be problems-free. Rather, it is expected to be usually able to contain
problems and quickly recovers from them. Towards this end, spouses, especially in the
beginning of marriage, should seize the good or at least normal times to build and
maintain good credit with one another. Such cushion will be very useful to absorb or at
least contain the effects of inevitable disagreements and disputes and prevent them from
causing an ‘overdraft’.
Because mistrust and disrespect are fatal to communication and to relationship, and
because they are usually not fixable, all precautions should be taken to keep the trust and
respect between the spouses, and between all family members in general.
Another equally fatal disease to communication and to relationship is ego/pride. Indeed,
there should be no pride/ego between spouses, simply because it prevents them from
acknowledging mistakes and apologizing, from appreciating one another strengths, and
from forgiving and forgetting. Ego/pride makes people insecure and defensive, and
results in endless and futile argumentation. It is for a reason that the prophet said that an
atom-weight of pride will prevent the person from entering paradise.
Spouses should restrain their own ego and shouldn’t behave in a way that will provoke
each other’s ego.
No efforts should be spared to keep/maintain mutual trust and respect, unconditional
love/affection, and healthy communication, and to prevent argumentation, power
struggle, disrespect, and mistrust.
Other factors that may indirectly damage/harm the spousal relationship include isolation
of the family and void. Indeed, a family could hardly thrive or even ‘survive’ in
isolation. It must have a reasonable network of friends and meaningful relationships
from the people/families in its environment (neighbors, colleagues, cousins, community).
Some of those relationships should be intimate/close enough to engender
spontaneity/openness and solidarity. That’s your social support system that you must
build and nurture.
Each spouse should try to integrate the other in his/her own circle, starting with his/her
own family, so that their circles fuse/merge or at least overlap substantially. This shall
help tremendously in integrating the life of each spouse and the life of the family as a
whole, and spar each spouse the struggle of living in two different/separate worlds. Even
the areas that do not overlap should not become blind spots. Such openness and
spontaneity at home and with the closed circle could not be sustained without a
proportional home/family privacy. Otherwise, spouses will start to calculate their words,
which will kill any spontaneity and openness. But in all circumstances, spouses must be
themselves with no masks (or takalluf), and must strive to avoid doing or saying anything
that may embarrass them either before Allah or before people.
Relationship in general, and family relationship in particular, works like a tree. You need
to plant it, cultivate it, and nurture it before you can enjoy its fruits. Spouses should think
in terms of giving not taking. Ask not what your spouse or your family did for you, but
ask what did you give to your spouse and to your family. Generally, in life you reap what
you saw. Family life is no exception. If you saw love/affection, compassion, respect,
appreciation, and support, that’s what you get. The opposite is also true.
Importance of social life and good time management:
A sound family life and a vibrant social life go hand in hand, and feed into one another.
And a family, especially one who is on a mission and has a message, should constantly
solidify and expand its network of relationship and its sphere of influence. Indeed,
reaching out to people and getting to know one another is the divine purpose behind the
diverse creation.
49:13 O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made
you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each
other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most
righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
Isolation is not fitting for a family with a mission and a message. But it is also
detrimental for family life, because it instills boredom and fosters disputes and
argumentation. A similar outcome may result from void.

Indeed, spouses should see to it that their time is well-managed and their schedule is full.
They should never allow themselves to be trapped in a fire-fighting mode: constantly put
out fires and dealing, with emergencies, and doing nothing in between. Having nothing
to do simply means that you are deferring something important until it becomes a
crisis/emergency. If that free but precious time is not spent on doing or planning
something useful, it will certainly be squandered on trivial or even destructive things. In
family life, picking a fight/argument might be the way to ‘kill’ that free time. Because,
there is never enough time to do everything that we should and could do, there should be
no time wasted in our life.

Bearing and Raising Children:


The first phase of marriage is critical for the success of family life. A lot needs to be
accomplished during that time before having/bearing children. Therefore, from the outset
the spouses must be very vigilant, take the first phase seriously, and proceed with a sense
of urgency in laying the foundations of a successful family life. If the pre-marital phase
was the time to decide whether or not to go for marriage, the first phase of marriage is the
time to decide whether or not to go for children. This is because even though it is less
easy to separate after marriage than before marriage, it is still much easier to separate
before having children. Moreover, no child should be conceived in a family that is still
shaky and struggling. That would selfish, unwise, unfair, and even unethical.
Like the decision to go for marriage, the decision to bear children should be an educated
decision based on well-founded chances/prospects for the success of the marriage. Both
decisions involve commitment. However, after spending sometime together, the second
decision should more informed and should be taken even more careful because it is going
to greatly affect the innocent life of the child and is going to make separation much more
complicated. The harm from bearing and raising children in a broken families may go
beyond the life of the children and the families to affect the whole community and the
society at large.
Deciding to have children means crossing the point of no-return and renewing the life-
commitment that was made before marriage. Life is very different after bearing children,
and spouses must be aware of that and prepared for it. Raising a child is a great
challenge for which spouses must be well-prepared, especially that they must tackle this
great challenge while continuing to nurture their relationship and observe all their
obligations.
In life in general, and in family life in particular, there should be no procrastination.
Family life is a journey with a strict timeline and milestones that separate different
stages/phases. Spouses should always be tackling the challenges of the current phase and
while preparing for the next one. Every new phase throws at you new challenges that
will fill your plate and leave you no chance to do previous work. Whatever needs to be
done and prepared before bearing children should not and could not be done afterwards.
A child is like a house. It needs to be carefully designed and built. Ironically, people are
usually very careful/meticulous in designing, building, decorating their homes. But when
it comes to their children, they let them grow wildly. In the best case scenarios, parents
may take care of their children physical needs, and possibly their study/schooling. But
not many parents have ambitious ‘designs/models’ for their children, and not many
parents are embarked on any significant personal development or mentorship of their
children. No wonder why a lot of potential remain locked and most children don’t come
even close to realize their full potential. Moreover, even though it is well established
fact, many parents are unaware that the child’s personality is mostly shaped in the first
few years.
Different aspects of the child’s life must be carefully planned and different aspects of the
child’s personality must be carefully designed and built. Throughout the different stages
of the child’s life, parents should constantly engrain/root in the child faith, character,
knowledge, skills, and life experience to help him/her realize his/her full potential,
succeed in life, and effectively engage his/her environment. This is while they shower
him/her with their unconditional love. Different approaches are suitable at different
stages of the child’s life.
The upbringing of the child is the prime or even exclusive responsibility of the parents.
The prophet (pbuh) indicated that the parents can shape their child in any way they want.
Therefore, failure could not be blamed on anybody or anything. The school, the
community, and the society may complement the work of the parents but may hardly
make up for the parents’ failure to do their job. Also, toys and gadgets may be helpful if
used properly and wisely, but nothing can substitute parent’s quality time with the child.
Even though this is not meant to be a detailed parenting document, following are some of
the tents of our parenting process:
Instilling in the child a coherent American Muslim identity, get him/her to be proud of
such identity, and spare him/her any identity confusion or crisis. You may tell him/her
about your roots and get them to be proud of that roots, but that should not confuse
his/her American Muslim identity.
Inculcate in him/her the faith and pass on to him/her the mission. You want to get the
child to know and love Allah and to develop and maintain an intimate
relationship/connection with Allah that will make him of godly person living with Allah
and for Allah.
Engrain in the child the Islamic character and the love of people and the joy to serve/help
others (to give).
You should have high aspirations for your child. Get the child to aim high and instill in
him/her the determination and the discipline to attain his/her ambitions and live out
his/her dreams.
Get the child to strive for excellence and perfection in every endeavor.
Explain this life and this world to the child and pass on to him/her your knowledge and
experience so that he/she can build on it, rather than starting from scratch and learning
everything the hard way.
Children are naturally curious. You should not suppress that curiosity. Rather, you must
nurture that curiosity and gear it towards gaining the knowledge and skills that will help
him/her understand and succeed in this life and in the Hereafter.
While it is our job to guide/mentor our children, our approach should be mostly to inspire
and empower, rather than imposing and controlling. And outside the fundamental
matters of faith and morality, we should allow the child the space to find his/her calling
and his/her way, especially when it comes to career, hobby, and the way they conduct
themselves and their lives.
In all circumstances, we should show the child our unconditional love and acceptance
even as we are trying to fix/correct some of his/her deficiencies/flaws/shortcomings.
Raising and mentoring/developing a child is an art that requires a lot of creativity,
wisdom, and patience. But it is worth all the efforts and patience and it pays off
handsomely.
There are many requirements for success in child mentoring and development, but two of
them stand out:
The most effective way to influence your child is by example and by convincing, in an
atmosphere of unconditional love. Everything else will be futile and its affect will be
superficial and short-lived. This does not negate the importance of enforcing limits in
shaping the child personality.
There can be no real mentorship and personal development without open
communication. Indeed, unless the child feels safe and comfortable to share his/her
feelings, thoughts, dreams, problems, and mistakes, a barrier will stand between the
parents and the child true personality. As a result, you will end up working on that
barrier/mask not on the true personality, and you will end up causing the child to develop
a split/dual personality. Indeed, one of the most critical requirements for the
harmony/cohesion of the family and the parenting of the child is a warm family
atmosphere where people feel safe or even encouraged to be themselves and to speak
their conscious/mind and to express themselves freely and spontaneously. Such
atmosphere should be in place even before bearing children. Once the child gets into
self-censorship, trying to be politically correct, suppressing his/her feeling and thoughts,
and concealing his/her problems and mistakes, the process of mentorship and personal
development become futile.
As indicated above, a system and a plan must be developed for the management of the
family life. Likewise, a system/process, must be developed for the mentorship and
personal development of the child. Such process requires extensive consultation, and
coordination, and a lot of consistency.
Our mission requires us to reach out to people, commit them to the mission, inspire,
empower, and mentor them. That process should start home, with those who are much
more dependent on you.
All children need to be meticulously mentored but success with the first child makes the
job of mentoring subsequent children much easier. The opposite is also true.
Unfortunately, many parents don’t prepare themselves to raise the first child and learn
parenting the hard way.
Having your first child is another phase/stage of your family life. As he/she grows up,
the child will go through different phases/stages. There might be other children, each one
is a unique challenge. And there are other phases/stages of the family life that may or
may not be related to children. All these phases and stages must be planned carefully and
executed meticulously. We just cannot afford to continue to live our life in general and
our family life in particular in a very primitive, simplistic, and haphazard way.