Posted by: Dawud Israel | April 19, 2011

Coming to Grips with Self-Effacement

Sometimes my conscience tells me something that I should be doing, as if it were a suggestion, only I realize later it was actually more of a warning. These khawatir are very subtle cues and hard to distinguish from your regular thoughts, but usually they are not doubtful in nature, and when they come twice or more that is a sign that they are of significance, perhaps the whispering of an angel.

One such thought I have had lately is to erase evidences of myself. Self-effacement: to reduce my presence to myself and others so as to become present with God. A feat that is not so easy in the modern day world, and yet, that is why it feels so needed and right.

When I shop I begin to wonder what to buy, and what sort of things define me or say what sort of person I am to people. What should my Facebook look like? But often these are indulgences and I could care less. I’m not a hipster, nor am I trendy or down with the latest trends, nor are there any women or neighbors or colleagues I wish to impress. Its too challenging to define yourself continually with everything, on everything, “I believe this…” or “My stance is this…” as if the world is continually turning back to myself, and then I have to convince myself that, this is, indeed, me. I am incredibly ignorant of what others think of me, because I simply don’t know what to think of myself.

I have posted before about the feasibility of Modern-day Zuhd and I guess this is a smaller scale version of those same considerations. Repentance in Islam is about “turning to God” and therefore, also turning away from oneself.

So from that train of thought I realized I need to get rid of my belongings- get rid of my old textbooks I don’t read, old knick-knacks, decorations, yearbooks, old school notes I kept just in case, lava lamps, and other junk. I need to get rid of those things that make me think or contemplate, myself. I need to have a clampdown on myself and hold a mini-coup d’etat on my possessions. I need to get rid of those things so I can better remember my Lord and crowd up my surroundings, and by extension my very soul. I need to say “I” less and less. Clutter, history, nostalgia and attachments to things of the past. The Japanese have a phrase, “mono no aware” which is the sadness about ephemera, a way of wondering about ‘how lonely this bedroom is when I’m not here’ or how a house weeps when some of its inhabitants die. We’re all going to forget and die, this is natural and as the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam told us, “Die before you die” so I feel this is in keeping with his command. And yet, I am hesitant to do so, if only because I feel I am betraying a part of myself but also my loved ones and family. Wouldn’t that be boring and sad? In the words of Shakespeare: ‘This thought is as a death which cannot choose but weep to have that which it fears to lose.’

I also have a considerable stock of Islamic literature, CDs and documents. The knowledge they contain that I should have memorized a long time ago rather than glossed through like a tourist. Now I have to internalize that knowledge and make it a part of my soul. There is a guilt in there too- my infidelity to knowledge. Should I keep those books or sell them or give them away?

I also feel I need to give up those desires and ambitions, for that dirt-bike or a new convertible. I have to try and be like the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam whose eye on the Isra wa’l Miraaj didn’t dwell on what he say, he didn’t marvel as much as he saw these things so as to report and share them with the believers. He didn’t gawk at a hoori or the mansions of Paradise because his heart salallahu alayhi wasalam was set solely on Allah. Would I be able to do the same? Their is a story of Sulayman alayhi salam in the stable of his horses and in being enamored by their beauty, he ends up missing the prayer. That is my condition. Perhaps I need to get rid of those things with which I may be enamored too long, or shorten my tolerance for those things. In that sense, simple short pleasures are a good thing, one would think- they are brief, but they often are so brief they accumulate and multiply- and on top of that they are un-fulfilling.

“And strain not your eyes in longing for the things We have given for enjoyment to various groups of them (polytheists and disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah), the splendour of the life of this world that We may test them thereby. But the provision (good reward in the Hereafter) of your Lord is better and more lasting.” (Quran, Surah Ta Ha, v. 131)

I will look at nice artistic pictures, cool inventions, news articles, analyses’ and cultural critiques like any any average Muslim. Some days I read upwards of 20 articles and essays and that can sometimes be helpful but often its just amusement. Do these things not represent an excess in some sense? They are simple pleasures that I forget quickly but they are eye-service, I feel I must pay attention to them because of society. But it does me no good. Everybody’s eyes fall on the Porsche Boxster as it vrooms by- that’s natural but I don’t want my eyes to do that. It feels dirty. There is beauty, yes, but it will still be there when I’m not looking- God will care for and appreciate beauty, it need not my appreciation to exist. Even having my eyes linger on something beautiful a second more feels dirty- staring at a beautiful building feels like staring at a supermodel. These things seem harmless: colorful artistic depictions, poetic prose, and imaginative critique but they can also be the units of creation- so they also enter my dreams, and with my over-active imagination they transform my dreams into a gripping Spielberg cinematic experience, no longer fuzzy but now I even dream in High-Definition video quality. Yet another example of how the dunya gets ‘inside’ us.

So now I have a hit-list of changes. I must sell away many of my possessions, I must spend less time viewing artwork and movies, read fewer online pieces, and I must memorize what I learn/ed. This means, I will probably write more or compensate for the change by trying to fill the vacuum so I must also anticipate that. I must also anticipate simply replacing everything with cold, black-hole-ish, life-sucking electronics.

Will I feel any different? Will I feel lighter?

I guess this may seem sad but in a sense, I’m not really losing much of this stuff. Through the sheer virtue of my intention and effort, I am simply moving it to Jannah for my safekeeping- that is to keep me safe in this world until I can meet it all there in the Next, inshallah.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.


  1. My state exactly. Thank you so much.
    p.s. your articles need more publicity……

  2. You can give *me* your old Islamic `ilmy books and CDs etc; you can organise your time online/offline by *hour* – think of every day as Ramadhan – so as to prioritise important info and info for shelving away; and you’re making the right move, masha’Allah. The wealthiest of people have all their deen, usool and hikmah stored in their hearts and minds. From the outward it looks dishevelled, but it’s beautiful on the inside. Like lakes of crystalised ice.

    Oh yeah, gimme your books, bru.

  3. SubhanAllah, this is a truly profound reflection. JazakAllahu khair for sharing.
    I can totally relate to the part about reading 20+ articles. I used to be a huge news junkie until I caught myself thinking about what I had read while in ruku’ and sujood–a time when I should have been completely focussed on Allah ‘azzawajal. This realization helped me to slowly reduce the amount of news I would take in, though I still have a long way to go.

    Just the other day, I was looking around my room and mentally listing which things I could go without. May Allah grant us the tawfeeq to use our time, wealth, and energy wisely and make choices that will please Him, subhanahu wata’ala. Ameen.

  4. Dear Brother,
    Are you attached with a Shaikh?

    • Wa aleikum salam wa rahmatullah wa baraktuhu,

      No, not yet, though I intend to be soon.


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