1. Be passionate
I mean it: be passionate! In whatever you do. Imagine you are handing over the best gift you have in your hands to someone who needs it. Wouldn’t you want to wrap it up beautifully and show them every aspect of its perfection in the most beautiful manner so that when they receive it, they’d want to cherish it all their lives?
As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, each one of us is uniquely created to serve Allah’s religion in our own ways. Look at His creation: from the sun that provides light and warmth, to the stars that beautify the sky and give direction, to the tiniest of microbes that decompose waste; every single thing He created serves a unique and different purpose. So do we. If our presence in this world didn’t have any significant reason, we wouldn’t have been created. There is this fire within each one of us when it comes to working for the sake of Allah , and some of us have yet to discover it. Discover that passion within you, and don’t let anything extinguish it!
Our spirituality is driven by understanding and living our purpose. Living our purpose is what drives our closeness to Allah in the form of some solid contribution. And it could be anything. For a mother who is so busy taking care of her children, her contribution may be her kids. For a writer, it may be his authorship. For an artist, it may be his creative expression which inspires the Muslim youth. For a public speaker, it could be his motivational talks. For a good event manager, it could be arranging events, programs and seminars. Living your purpose can manifest itself in different ways but it must come out.
Practical tips to get started
In addition to discovering your potential, find out what the need of the hour is for those around you by identifying the problems the community around you is facing (economically, Islamically, ethically, educationally, etc.) and what you can do about it based on your skills and resources.
If you need people with certain expertise that you don’t have, then form a team of passionate people with potential and watch your community grow, inshaAllah!
If there are organizations and projects already running around you, then wait no more and join them in whichever way you can and start raking in the reward.
2. Take it seriously
But it’s just volunteer work! No, it’s not. Allah pays you.
“For them who have done good is the best [reward] and extra..” [Qur’an: Chapter 10, Verse 26]
You are doing the best of jobs. Do it in the best of ways, always aiming to gain the best of rewards: to see His face!
And Allah says:
“[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed..” [Qur’an: Chapter 67, Verse 2]
Aim to excel in everything that you do. Ihsaan (excellence) is a state of faith wherein the slave of Allah worships Allah as if He can see Allah and if he can’t see Him, then He knows that Allah sees him [RiyadhusSalihin]. You may be accountable to your leader while working, but you’re also accountable to Allah for your responsibility. Picture Allah asking you to present how you did your work such that He can reward you. You wouldn’t want any compromise in His reward and so you wouldn’t want to slack off in your deeds.
Take responsibility and commitment seriously (even in the smallest of tasks) and fulfill it to your maximum capability. This also means taking up only that which is within your capability and not overburdening oneself. Even before the Prophet Muhammad was chosen as a Messenger of Allah , he was a hardworking person. It was these qualities of his that earned him the respect and admiration of Khadijah , who later proposed to him because of all the merits and virtues she saw in him.
Practical steps to reach higher levels of ihsaan:
- Use reminders: Have something (bookmarks, post-it notes, desktop background, etc.) to remind you of the importance of ihsaan everyday.
- Maintain punctuality: Use tools and apps to make sure you make it on time to meetings or meet your work deadlines.
- Write down your tasks: Keep aside about 15 minutes daily or one hour weekly to review all your previous tasks. Go back to them and be the judge of your own work. Ask from people who would know better in order to learn to make it better if you need to. In the long run, this will take you far! If you don’t write it down, you cannot review it at the end.
- Do not take up more work than you can handle.
- Seek refuge from laziness every morning and evening just like the Prophet did:
‘O Allah, I seek refuge in You from sadness, grief, helplessness, laziness, being stingy, overwhelming debt, and the overpowering of men.’ [Tirmidhi]
- Ask Allah to help you perform your deeds with excellence:
‘My Lord, help me to remember You, give thanks to You and to perform Your worship in the best manner.’ [Sunan an-Nasai]
- Remember: Allah loves that if any of you does a task, he does it with perfection.
3. Take care of yourself
Sometimes people get so active in projects or organisations that they don’t have time to eat, sleep well, or even pray or worship properly. Our beautiful religion doesn’t encourage extremism such that we play a major role in one part of our lives and a diminished role in the rest. Maintaining balance is the essence of being a productive Muslim.
Focus on simultaneous self-growth in all areas: mental, spiritual, health, knowledge and character.
- Eat only what you need. Practice the sunnah of eating [ibn Majah]. And for some of you, don’t forget to eat!
- Exercise regularly: Make it your priority despite your busy schedule. A 20-minute cardio workout after fajr goes a long way in making you feel happy and healthy and light, not only all day but also for the rest of your life! Finding a hobby like badminton, basketball or simply walking helps too! Build an effective personal exercise program for yourself!
- Sleep early and work in the wee hours of the morning. Allah mentions that He has created the night for rest [Surah an-Naba’] and the Prophet made dua’ to Allah to bless his ummah in the morning hours. Make the best of this! Pulling an all-nighter may help you get done with your work temporarily, but in the long run is stressful for the mind and body. You may give up and feel constant tiredness if your body doesn’t rest well in its appropriate time. Take it from someone with first-hand experience.
- A healthy body and mind helps you remain focused in all aspects of life with a lighter heart and reduces stress to unimaginable levels. And the point is, when you’re working for the sake of Allah, you shouldn’t be stressed!
- Read and reflect on the most beautiful speech, the Qur’an. Try memorizing one two verses and reciting them in prayer as well, if possible. It’s a good exercise for the brain (and heart).
- Be clear of your goal. Only then you can have a clear mind as to how to exhibit it. Write things down to sort it out, be it reflections, journaling or just day-to-day tasks. Having a clear and less chaotic mind is a blessing to be efficient in work life.
- Say ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t. Realize we are empty vessels in this vast ocean of knowledge and focus on filling that vessel as much as you can as humbly as you can.
- Stay up-to-date with world news (especially with relation to Muslims). You can’t help the ummah if you don’t know what’s happening to it. Think critically about the happenings of the world.
My favorite teacher, Yawar Baig, taught me this beautiful example of the importance of attending to ourselves first:
“The ship can only move in the sea, but if the sea comes to the ship, it will sink. Ensure you repair all leaks via Salah. Personal piety is your battery charger. If you are not ready to spend time alone with Allah , then you are not ready to work for His religion.”
Allah has given us so many ways to purify our souls and mentions:
“He has succeeded who purifies it (the soul)” [Qu’ran: Chapter 91, Verse 9]
Tip: Make your life revolve around Salah by praying on time. Continuously cleanse the heart with the Qu’ran (by reading or listening to it constantly). If we are not ready to work on ourselves, we are not ready to work for the community.
Struggling with Fajr? Here’s an amazing app that’ll help you to never miss fajr, in sha Allah.
4. Maintain a healthy balance
It isn’t impossible to maintain a balance between work/school life, family life and social life as long as one remains focused, since time is essential. Who is a better example than the Prophet !
- Follow the ProductiveMuslim ‘MIT’ (Most Important Tasks’) tip to manage your priorities weekly, monthly and daily.
- Break down your day into four parts and pay attention to each: spirituality, academic/career/business/household, contribution to the community and personal development.
- The key is in writing it all down, maintaining a task list and checking off each task as it’s done and seeing that calendar completely scribbled with accomplished tasks at the end of the month, to your satisfaction.
- Do your work one task at a time with full focus and dedication. The Prophet never multitasked.
5. Display volunteer work ethics
Exhibit good akhlaq (character)
“Nothing is placed on the Scale that is heavier than good character. Indeed the person with good character will have attained the rank of the person of fasting and prayer.” [Tirmidhi]
Tip: Aim to set an example. Pushing yourself to set an example automatically pushes you to be a better person too.
Ethics of communication
How we communicate with our team members says a lot about how much we respect them and the project we’re in. Use a humble and respectful tone and choice of words while communicating. Make it a habit to have good assumptions of your colleagues. Umar said:
“Do not think badly of a word uttered by your brother, when you can find a good interpretation for it.”
When I was young, I was taught that the Prophet said that if anyone amongst us errs, then to make seventy excuses for them in order to think good about them. Only after making this a practice, I learnt that this isn’t an authentic narration. Nevertheless, the practice of giving seventy excuses to people when you find something wrong in them, really helps in maintaining a cool temper and preserving relationships. It also exhibit good akhlaq (character) which is one of the traits of a believer.
Conduct shura (consultation)
Make it a practice to conduct shura when working in a team.
“And those who have responded to their lord and established prayer and whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves, and from what We have provided them, they spend.” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 38]
Shura is to take sincere opinions into consideration seriously. In other words, you are open to other ideas and haven’t yet made up your mind. It also involves exchanging thoughts with the knowledge that maybe what you had in mind isn’t the best and what others offer may be better or a combination of the two can be worked out.
If there are disagreements, then voice your opinions/principles and stand up for them based on your knowledge. Voice them wisely without offending anyone. That is quite hard to do, but remember that if your opinion/suggestion is taken, then you are held responsible for it. Bear this in mind and think carefully before offering it.
Maintain restraint when dealing with the opposite gender
Sigh. Where can I start. I’d just say keep in mind one important thing: protect your heart. Our human self is prone to err. And Allah has said that He has created man weak (in desires):
“..and mankind was created weak.” [Quran: Chapter 4, Verse 28]
No matter how religious or how safe one may think he or she is, they are prone to fall into error if they don’t pay heed to the laws set by Allah when it comes to dealing with the opposite gender.
- Keep purifying the heart with the remembrance of Allah such that it will warn you and guide you when you need it.
- Working for the sake of Allah , The Most Honorable, is such a dignified, honorable deed; you don’t want to demoralize it with unacceptable behavior. Allah says not to even go near zina (adultery) [Qur’an: Chapter 17, Verse 32]. The tafsir of this verse explains that it means not just staying away from the act of adultery but to stay away from any form or means that would lead to it in any way. Working for the sake of Allah means you are representing Islam and the Prophet says:“Every religion has its distinct characteristic, and the distinct characteristic of Islam is modesty.” [Ibn Majah]
- When the conversation ends professionally, end there. Shaytan is always there to lure us in ways we might not even know. Because the shaytan cannot trap you with neglecting obligatory deeds like prayers because you take care of them, he gets you to think you are still working for the sake of Allah even when you unnecessarily hang around with the opposite gender, while in reality it is towards the displeasure of Allah . Be honest with yourself: stop and move away when you feel your heart saying you should leave.
- Segregation is highly efficient when it comes to a mixed group working together; have a female head for female volunteers and a male head to communicate with male volunteers, if possible.
- Set timings for receiving/sending calls and messages from non-Mahram men/women.
- Don’t ruin all your good deeds after a well done project by partying and forgetting the ethics between opposite genders. Celebrate and appreciate the hard work and effort, but within limits of the shari’ah. There’s no better way than choosing to celebrate by praying and asking Allah’s acceptance.
- There is plenty of wisdom behind Allah’s command of lowering our gaze. Try it and find how much peace it gives to the heart.
- Read and learn the stories of the past where our role models beautifully exhibit modesty in dealing with the opposite gender. For example, the story of Musa and the two girls who walked behind him and Aisha in her dealings with the scholars while teaching them etc. The Prophet said:”Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya (This term “Haya” covers a large number of concepts which are to be taken together; amongst them are self respect, modesty, bashfulness, and scruple, etc.) is a part of faith.” [Bukhari]
- Lastly, remember that any Islamic project can only be successful if it is run according to Islamic guidelines and nothing else.
Respect other organizations and projects
We need to have respect for all kinds of good work. We need to actively show support for organizations that have different purposes and objectives from ours. Islamic projects and organisations these days are divided sometimes due to one of these two reasons: differences in opinions and/or competition and business.
When it comes to disrespect due to differences of opinion, at the end of the day even the companions of the Prophet had differences of opinion among themselves, including in the interpretation of the Qur’an. There would be a verse which in the opinion of Ibn Abbas would mean one thing and in the opinion of another companion like Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud would mean something slightly different. But they loved and respected each other. Respecting differences of opinion is a trait every volunteer should have to avoid becoming self-righteous and arrogant.
As for vying with each other like competitors, remember that working for the sake of Allah is a team effort and not individual competition. Help out wherever you can as long as you’re being efficient in your own work/project as well.
6. Battle negativity
Don’t let anything pull you down, be it in terms of motivation, low self-esteem, or poor results. Always remind yourself of what an honor you are carrying on your shoulders by working for the sake of Allah !
Get creative with your intentions
If what you’re doing seems insignificant, then magnify it with your intentions.
For example, if you’re just distributing flyers everyday tirelessly, then wake up today thinking of that one person who will attend the event because you handed over a flyer to them, then he/she benefits from the event, goes home changed, gets married and raises a good generation which teaches and benefits another generation and beyond! Tell Allah now that you want all that reward to be recorded for yourself and just imagine the amount of reward piling up for you just by a single, sincere, expansive intention!
This way, you will never get bored of what you’re doing and you’ll only want to keep doing more. Even the smallest of deeds will be exciting.
7. Be a good leader
The companions of the Prophet never coveted leadership but when they were given that, they did their best. If you’re in a leadership position in any volunteering organization:
- Respect your and your team’s time.
- Be motivating and remind your team of their purpose always.
- Respect people who say ‘no’ for a valid reason.
- Be a role model for your team. Your teamwork is a reflection of your enthusiasm.
- Recognize potential in people and give them opportunity to grow.
- Don’t shun away people who don’t think alike. Leadership is also about being able to work in harmony with those you don’t like too!
- Prioritize your team’s growth and development.
- Keep planning ahead and keep the team moving and updated. Take shura to make the team feel involved.
- Correct one another when needed, with wisdom; and forgive mistakes. Always allow room for improvement – that’s the purpose of constructive criticism.
- The energy of the leader is what is reflected by the team. No matter what stress you may or may not be going through behind the screens, it is important to display enthusiasm, high spirits, and passion in what you do and the team will follow.
- Keep your focus on the ultimate goal.
8. Walk the talk
We’ve heard the ‘practice what you preach’ statement a lot of times. Have we made sure we only say that which we practice? It’s not what you say, it’s what you do that matters. Aisha said about the Prophet that he was the walking Qur’an!
Everything we do; be it a creating a website, program, event, course material for Islamic seminars or even a simple Facebook status or tweet for Islam, will be a witness either for or against us on the Day of judgement. Be mindful. May Allah help us be sincere.
9. Don’t worry about results
Even the Prophet , the best of mankind, was told that he couldn’t harm or benefit anyone except if Allah willed. Then imagine us. Whatever we do is of benefit only if He wills.
Now, give yourself a pat on the back! No really, I mean it. Appreciate yourself and your coworkers, of course only to a healthy limit. Some of us simply fail to recognize the potential within us and settle for less simply because we look up to everyone else but ourselves. So appreciate yourself for whatever effort you did sincerely be it small or big, because a little appreciation goes a long way in motivating you to do and dream further! Stay tuned for more on that in the next article, In sha Allah.
Are you an active volunteer working for the sake of Allah ? Share your thoughts on how your experience has been so far and how others can reap maximum benefit out of being volunteers.