“Indeed, good deeds do away with misdeeds.” [Qur’an: Chapter 11, Verse 114]
Isn’t that amazing? Not only do you get rewarded for any good action that you do, but your bad deeds decrease. Imagine if that was the rule in exams: for every correct answer you got, one mistake would be erased. We would be scoring 100% on every exam! However, too often we forget this mercy Allah has bestowed upon us when we deal with each other. When someone makes a change in their lifestyle to become closer to Allah by becoming more productive, one of the most difficult obstacles for them, surprisingly, can arise from family and friends.
Has it ever happened that when you take steps to invest your time in a way that pleases Allah , one of the obstacles you face can be the people closest to you?
As you realize the value of time and the importance of spending it in a way that pleases Allah , you realize that hobbies you used to enjoy no longer appeal to you or environments that you once loved become uncomfortable — and it may happen that those same environments are the ones you shared with your friends, or even your own family. Whenever you make a conscious effort to avoid these situations because you no longer want to be in that sort of atmosphere, you may end up with possible responses such as:
“But you never had a problem with free mixing before!”
“You used to listen to music every single day.”
“Since when did you become so strict, don’t you remember what you used to be like?”
“This is just a phase, I bet it won’t last…”
All of this can be difficult because the people you care about the most are pulling you down by reminding you of what you used to be like and using that to discredit the sincerity of your actions now. Sometimes it happens that when you express your discomfort with certain environments, it is implied that you are judging those around you, which is not the case.
So, what are some practical ways to potentially overcome this obstacle without compromising your principles or repelling everyone around you?
1. Communicate your preferences politely
Sometimes, a simple polite explanation is all that is needed to help people around you understand why you no longer feel comfortable with certain things. However, an explanation does not necessarily mean having a collection of Islamic evidence at hand to present to everyone, nor engaging in debates where the aim is to prove others wrong in showing what is halal (permissible) and what is haram (forbidden). Neither does it mean being apologetic or embarrassed about the fact that you want to spend your time in a way that pleases Allah .
Refrain from outright criticism
In life, we have met at least one type of practising Muslim, sometimes known as the “haram police.” I must admit that I was once this way. I found that when I chose to try to spend my time in a way that pleases Allah , I would criticize and judge others who didn’t follow suit. The phrases you generally hear from these kinds of people are something along the lines of:
“Astaghfirullah, that’s haram; what’s wrong with you!”
“Sister, this is haram, the clothes you’re wearing aren’t proper hijab.”
“Brother, the music you are listening to is forbidden and let me tell you about the punishment of it on the Day of Judgement.”
Or sometimes the most frustrating one can be the unsolicited advice from the random stranger who comes to you and without an introduction says:
“Salam brother/sister, what you’re doing is not actually permitted in Islam…”
Give advice gently, kindly
What I want to highlight here is the etiquette by which we advise others. As Muslims, we should help one other to become better; however, we should do it in an eloquent manner, not by engaging in an aggressive debate nor by condemning someone. We should also do so in private, not in front of others, to avoid embarrassing the other person.
You cannot force someone to change, and more often than not, putting pressure on them can push them away. To constantly give an image of Allah as a disciplinarian rather than The Most Compassionate, The Most Merciful, does not invite people to join you in coming closer to Allah .Always try to communicate with eloquence and kindness. Remember that everything is halal except what Allah has explicitly forbidden, not the other way around.
If the situation arises where you need to explain to someone changes that you’ve made, explain in a polite manner that in becoming closer to Allah , what you may previously have accepted and enjoyed, you no longer feel right about doing, and that it would mean a lot to you if people could accept and understand that. That’s all. However, keep in mind that not everyone will be understanding; some people will take offence. Therefore, you also need to be patient and realize that some people will come around in their own time.
2. Come up with alternatives
Being closer to Allah does not mean an end to your social life. It doesn’t mean rejecting every invite out because it’s not Islamic. You can propose alternative suggestions for gatherings that don’t make you feel like you have to compromise your beliefs. For example, you could suggest a quiz night where people are split into teams and are asked questions on different topics with a prize for the winning team. Or you could organize a bi-weekly Islamic circle where each participant is required to do a presentation and score each other.
I have been to different Islamic circles and I know that they can sometimes be a great place to catch up on sleep, as they’re not engaging and can sometimes be a monotonous lecture. However, an Islamic circle that I currently attend overcame that by awarding teams points based on the creativity of presentations and, as a result, the halaqah included short plays, quizzes and group activities that really made it a fun place to be.
However, not every outing has to be in the form of an Islamic circle. Instead, you can substitute the location, for example, to some place that is more comfortable. So places that serve alcohol or play loud music can be replaced with going on a picnic to the park, or holding a dinner at someone’s house. Time spent enjoying each other’s company is precious and can make others realize that you becoming closer to Allah does not mean you have become anti-social.
3. Surround yourself with righteous company
Prophet Muhammad said:
“A man is upon the religion of his best friend, so let one of you look at whom he befriends.” [Sunan Abi Dawud]
This doesn’t necessarily mean making a new set of friends and distancing yourself from anyone who does not share your beliefs. Rather, it is easier to do things when you have support and encouragement from people around you. If you are one of a few who have started making changes to become closer to Allah , it can be difficult to sustain those changes if you are on your own, so a conscious effort needs to be made to be around those who encourage you to do good and help you maintain and increase your good deeds.
Do your part
You can join local halaqahs, but what if none exist local to you? Start your own! What if you’re not ready for that? How about starting a group chat on Whatsapp for Islamic reminders, where people can send pictures, duas and verses from the Qur’an to help each other in the day? You could find out if there are any events or opportunities to volunteer at your local masjid to expand your social circle.
Constantly make dua to Allah to keep you firm on the right path and send righteous friends your way.
4. Pick yourself back up
Sometimes you’ll slip, sometimes you may temporarily fall into old habits, and people (or Shaytan, of course) may use this to discredit how sincere your intention to change was. People will use this to encourage you to go back to your old ways because it’s easy to do so. But do you remember the verse I started with? Good deeds remove bad deeds. Allah didn’t set conditions for us to do good deeds.
If you miss Fajr prayer, it doesn’t mean you have to miss the rest of your prayers. If you slip up, don’t let someone tell you that you were “pretending” to be religious and now that you’ve made a mistake you shouldn’t bother trying. Always remember the verse I opened up with and if you do something wrong, follow it with a good deed no matter how small, and let only Allah be the judge of your intentions. Allah will never get tired of giving you a new slate to start off with, nor will He diminish the value of your good deeds because of what you used to be like. The doors of tawbah (repentance) are always open, and:
5. Never underestimate the value of your actions
You can’t force people around you to change, and sometimes it can be painful to see those who you love and care for not taking the deen as seriously as you do. But Allah says:
So, don’t be disheartened and do your best to set an example. You never know how your actions could inspire those around you; maybe it won’t happen immediately, it may even happen after a few years. However, if somebody changes for the better after having been inspired by you, think of the amazing blessings and reward you will receive for inspiring even one person to be better and get closer to Allah . This can only be achieved with kind words and patience:
“…And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you.” [Qur’an: Chapter 3, Verse 159]
What other challenges did you face when you made changes to your lifestyle to make it more pleasing to Allah ? How did you overcome them? If you have other tips to offer, share them with everyone!