Spiritual Poverty And Robotic Rituals
By Monique Hassan
Think about the times you were reciting Quran and felt it in your heart, really felt it. I love those moments when we open Quran and read a verse that seems to speak to us as if Allah (the Most Honored and Exalted) was responding. However, just as we have spiritual highs, we have spiritual lows.
A heart lacking the divine connection while in worship begins to perform like a robot. We have to pray, this is obligatory, but sometimes the one in worship is functioning like a cold robot going through the motions but they lack focus and sincerity. They are performing on auto-pilot.
Profound Submission Before the Spiritual Low
One of my most profound moments in life was before I took shahadah. I was in a bad state psychologically, at my breaking point. But this was where I needed to be because I had to be broken before I could be built back up. I fell into prostration sobbing, I didn’t know what prostration was at the time but my body went into this position of submission and vulnerability while I poured my heart out to Allah and begged for guidance.
It was one of the most sincere prostrations I can imagine, I was absolutely desperate for Allah ’s guidance just as a dehydrated person is thirsty for water. That duaa was answered beyond what I could have ever imagined. This might sound odd, but that broken down moment was rich with the sweetness of faith. I was in utter and complete submission, metaphorically crying out “take the wheel Lord; I’ll do anything you command, just keep me close I need you”. I am not saying we need to be broken emotionally to have spiritual wealth, but in our moments of hardship we can alter our perception and say alhamdulillah this is a time for me to get closer to Allah .
Fast forward years later, like many other Muslims around me, I realized some of my acts of worship have become so normal they turned robotic. My prayers started to lose their sweetness and sometimes became a to-do that I checked. I became so focused on obligations, haram/halal and legislation that my focus on the divine love and a heart full of Allah ’s light took a passenger seat. Allah is love in the ultimate form beyond even a Mother’s love, mercy is love, the Prophet (peace be upon him) radiated love, but so many of us, me included, drift from the love and find ourselves in a spiritual low.
Whispers of Shaytan
In these moments of jihad against our own selves, it is natural to wonder ‘is evil influencing this?’. The darkness enjoys our struggle and if it cannot take us away from our acts of worship, it will try to stain them. Evil is strategic, it is not stupid, if Shaytan cannot stop you from praying then he will peck away at your focus and sincerity in prayer until it turns into a robotic ritual without heart. We must always seek refuge in Allah .
How Did We Get Here?
You don’t wake up one day and find yourself in a state of spiritual poverty out of nowhere, it built up over time. Imagine if you dropped one rock into a bucket every day, at first the bucket is still light but eventually it will become heavy and overwhelming.
We see some Muslims that are riding high, performing so many voluntary acts and pushing themselves. This isn’t necessarily bad, but when it becomes too much it will be overwhelming and not sustainable. Burning ourselves out by having these extreme highs will push into lower lows. It is better to have a steady and moderate level of religiousness, avoiding extremes on the left and the right to keep ourselves balanced. We can see a lot of wisdom here when we remember we were warned to be moderate.
“Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way…”
How to Improve our Spiritual Wealth
I can sit here and delve into the issue all day, but if I don’t promote ways to uplift your iman and help you then I am just complaining.
I have to begin this by mentioning Shaykh Omar Suleiman and a recent podcast he released called “How to Avoid Spiritual Numbness”. He spoke about diversifying your acts of worship; this made a lot of sense to me. Reading Quran is essential, but it should not be the only thing in your spiritual toolbox. From a psychological standpoint this is great advice, when we don’t always follow the same routine we will be less on auto-pilot and more engaged. Think about how you focus the first time you are driving in a new neighborhood versus how you focus driving in your own neighborhood. Take time for dhikr, spend time with an orphan, help clean the masjid or visit the homeless etc.
There are many forms of worship.
Ask Yourself Why
Look at your daily choices, are you letting the dunya distract you? Are you watching inappropriate TV for hours while overeating and rushing prayer to get back to Netflix? Were you pushing yourself so hard on legislation that your heart was neglected? When is the last time you read Quran?
Only you can truly answer this and you need to if you want to improve. In the spirit of honesty and vulnerability, I know one of my issues was focusing too much on legislation. I went from loving heels, winged eyeliner and red lipstick to wearing an abaya and khimar with no makeup in less than one year. I avoided western meat despite most scholars saying it is okay to have a Chicken McNugget. I got involved with some super-Salafi circles. I have respect for them, but the focus was on “don’t do this, don’t do that”. Rules were paramount. I could keep going but I digress.
I abstained from so many things and pushed myself to the point I felt boxed in. We need accountability and structure, but in balance with heart and aqeedah. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you have the longest beard or do the most voluntary acts of worship; if your heart and intention is not pure it means nothing.
Choose Your Company Wisely
It is important to keep people around you who are a good influence. No matter how strong you think you are, if you put yourself into fitnah on a constant basis it will impact you. Just as parents don’t want their children hanging out with the bad crowd at school, we should not want to surround ourselves with bad influences. The following hadith of the Prophet reminds us of this.
“Man follows his friend’s religion, you should be careful who you take for friends”.
Look to the Source
Most importantly, we must run to Allah . If our Qurans are dusty then you know part of the problem already. Allah reminds us in the Quran, “So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me”[Quran 2:152]
My advice would be to read for quality, not quantity. It is better for us to read one page that you ponder over than 20 pages you speed read. We should make duaa on a frequent basis but I am not talking about saying some lines you memorized 10 years ago that you don’t even contemplate on. Sincere dua, which means actually think about what you are saying and mean it. It means more for someone to make sincere dua in English than someone who says sunnah duas in Arabic with zero heart, just so they can check the box that they did it.
We are human; it is natural to have spiritual highs and lows. These lows can be an opportunity to renew your faith and grow deeper into your spiritual connection. I know it is easier said than done, I am in the same boat as you, but we are all in this together. One Ummah. Don’t wait for Ramadan to work on achieving spiritual wealth and turning your acts of worship into heartfelt endeavors. work towards your best spiritual self to prep your soul for Ramadan.
May Allah fill our hearts with his light and guide our paths, Ameen.
Monique a professional writer specializing in Islamic Psychology and Behavioral Health. She is also an online consultant with Noor Human Consulting for Spiritual and Behavioral Health needs. Certified in Crisis Prevention and Intervention, she receives annual training on verbal de-escalation skills. She has a Bachelors of Science in Psychology with a minor in Biology along with years of experience in a behavioral health hospital.