Stoicism: Letting God ‘Hug’ You

MS

PS: This piece is inspired by an interesting conversation I had with a friend I never met — OAQ. The subject is viewed from the Islamic angle on Stoicism.

A year of dismay and distress has successfully brought me to lose control over myself and let it get the best of me. That’s true that the weakest moments reveal what we truly believe and made of. And that’s exactly when my strength and protection were gone and self-doubts and irrational anxiety ate me up. As a Muslim, I have always tried to bounce back spiritually — yes Islamically — as prescribed in Islamic meditation. However, I personally found it insufficient as the angst ended up finding its way back again. Okay okay okay, don’t get me wrong. Islamic meditation does help me to a large extent. It’s just me who still feels as if something’s missing.

I came to realize that faith alone is not enough to survive and fully fathom the essence behind what’s happened in my life. Something’s missing as I said earlier is needed, which is the reason (intellect and logic). OBVIOUSLY, THIS IS NOT something brand new and rocket science, but the fact that I have been a religion-oriented person has made me somewhat fail to see life from different perspectives. Taking this into account offers me a sense of balance and allows me to look deeper into the case now. Reason, intellect, and logic, the components that are inseparable from philosophy, according to Imam Al Ghazali, are the ground of revelation. Without it, there can’t be a revelation. [1] Philosophy matters as it has the wisdom we [Muslim] can benefit from and “the wisdom is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it, he has a right to it.” [2]

Stoic philosophy is what I want to talk about. It feels like either Stoicism sounds like Islam or Islam has some Stoic-sounding things. Find out more about this in this informative piece. I’m not going to elaborate its origin or key ideas, but rather focusing more on some Stoic exercise and practical examples [3] it offers and how I implement them in my own faith-based understanding.

When a storm hit and destroyed everything, you wouldn’t build the house in exact same way, would you? Likewise, when your life plan crumbled and you wanted to refine it, the fresher and delicate strategies would be used this time. Right? This is why it is vital to use the last storm as the measure in order to build a stronger and better house. From here, it can also be seen that bad times actually do us a favor [4]; to see the world as a testing ground for our own growth, which is what Stoicism promotes.

The following are the Stoic exercises that are relevant to my personal needs and, again, viewed from the Islamic point of view.

  1. Pessimistic and optimistic visualization. Stoicism promotes negative visualization that teaches and enables us to get mentally prepared for something undesirable and uncomfortable to happen. By doing this, one can manage expectations and protect his soul from adversity. In Islam, there’s one verse in the Quran that says “Call upon Him with hope and fear” (7:56) —a combination of both pessimism and optimism while praying, which suggests that with hope it will be granted, while with fear it won’t be granted.
  2. Solitude. In an ancient world, among religious people, solitude was a means for spiritual refinement. In a modern world, on the other hand, solitude is considered a torture technique [5]. This modern idea resonates a lot with me as that’s precisely what people around me think of whenever I don’t go socialize and choose to stay indoors that I’m silently torturing myself. As someone who is quite experienced in this, solitude and seclusion offer so much to the table. It helps to boost productivity and calmness in which we are able to ponder on the reasons behind our unsuccessfulness. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Those in seclusion have raced ahead.” [6] How tranquil it is to sit or lay silently alone in my room; content with simply being in front of Allah, not hearing my own words or my own monologues; and no digital distractions — being offline is a new luxury these days.
  3. Memento Mori. Latin for “Remember that you must die.” This life is ticking away second by second and that we should not waste it on unnecessary things. Thinking about death shouldn't evoke fear, but gratitude and appreciation for the life that has been given to us and the people who have been there for us during our darkest time. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Remember the destroyer of pleasures” and when asked what that was, he replied “death”.
  4. Empty your mind of yourself. Reminding ourselves of our smallness in this vast universe is humbling and thus makes it much easier to let go of many trivialities of our human nature. Consider ourselves insignificant because the world goes on — the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars, the natures, the galaxies, flora and fauna, and everything continues to go on despite the difficulties we face. THAT IS THE NATURE OF THE WORLD. Powerlessness is incredible and in Islam, it is in fact a forgotten sunnah. One story of Aisha (RA), the beloved wife of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, when she was slandered so horribly and found out about it, her hair fell out, she stopped eating and went through a severe depression for a period of time. As soon as the revelation came, she said, “I knew Allah would absolve me of this slander, but I deem myself insignificant.” [7] Today, many people out there take themselves far too seriously and thus create egos and an excessive sense of self.
  5. Amor Fati (Loving Faith). When life doesn't turn out the way we wanted, we get gutted. This Stoic aspect offers the cure to it that it’s fine to have goals and ambitions, it’s cool to plan your life, but remain detached from the outcome. In Islamic tradition, attachment to the world is the root of many evils. Imam as Sadiq said, “The one who attaches his heart to the world has attached his heart to three things; endless worry, false expectation, and an unattainable hope.” [8]

Here’s what I am trying to put in perspective: “This too shall pass.”

I know I’m still working on this and hence this is a reminder for myself. The suffering and hardship are temporary. Once I was told that this trial is more like we’re taking meds when we fall ill, which taste bad and bitter, but we’re letting ourselves swallow them anyway because it is for our own benefits. Also, this can be viewed as if we pull out a thorn on a kid’s finger, and we go “shhh, it’s gonna hurt for a sec.” The kid is crying and crying. When it’s over, we hug him/her, and then everything is alright. Similarly, this calamity is like taking bitter meds and getting the sliver pulled out for a short period of time. So, nothing to worry about. Just sit and relax. We came from God and we are going back to God. Yes, there’s surely a moment where we are in a complete state of panic but relax. WE ARE IN A GOOD HAND! So, just let God ‘hug’ you!

References

[1] Zaytuna College. (2015, October 23). Hamza Yusuf: Philosophy Matters. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2Mb7Aqck0A&list=PLcktU62Jn_XK9mVHdVZ9x5HL8gc0Z9QDl&index=79

[2] Sunan At Tirmidhi

[3] Einzelgänger. (2019, March 8). 7 Stoic Exercise for inner Peace. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOBTNw2nsa8&list=PLcktU62Jn_XK9mVHdVZ9x5HL8gc0Z9QDl&index=78

[4] Elmasry, S. (2020, October 13). How bad time actually do us a favor. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from Safina Society: https://www.safinasociety.org/post/how-bad-times-actually-do-us-a-favor

[5] Renovatio: The Journal of Zaytuna College. (2018, November 12). “Shut Off These Electronic Hallucinations” — Chris Hedges, Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1AWkgLQXiE&list=LL&index=20

[6] Parrott, J. (2017, November 21). How to be a Mindful Muslim: An Exercise in Islamic Meditation. Retrieved February 19, 2021, from Yaqeen Institute: https://yaqeeninstitute.org/justin-parrott/how-to-be-a-mindful-muslim-an-exercise-in-islamic-meditation

[7] The Humble Believer. (2019, June 10). Empty Your Mind of Yourself — Hamza Yusuf. Retrieved February 19, 2021, from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6evN_QxbeA&list=LL&index=10

[8] Najdi, F. (2020, August 6). Simplifying Your Life: A Cross Between Stoicism And Islam. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from Urban Muslimz: https://urbanmuslimz.com/news/theology/simplifying-your-life-a-cross-between-stoicism-and-islam/

life is short, so am i. dedicated as 3amal jariyaa.

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