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How to be a Mindful Muslim (And Why it Matters)

by Musa Bukhari

The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) gave a timeless piece of advice to a young companion, Ibn ‘Abbas (radiallahu anhu). Ibn Abbas reported: I was riding behind the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, when he said to me,

“Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of Allah and He will protect you. Be mindful of Allah and you will find Him before you. If you ask, ask from Allah. If you seek help, seek help from Allah. Know that if the nations gathered together to benefit you, they could not benefit you unless Allah has decreed it for you. And if the nations gathered together to harm you, they could not harm you unless Allah has decreed it for you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi)

Ihfadhillah vs. Ittaqillah

The English translation says, “Be mindful of Allah,” but it is necessary to delve into the Arabic of the text, where the Prophet (SAW) says, “Ihfadhillah…” The root letters of this word are “haa, faa, dha.” Hifdh means preservation. Muhafadha means guarding, protecting, sustaining, upholding.

“IhfadhiAllah” directly translates to “Protect Allah” but this does not make literal sense as Allah is the Creator and we are the Created. Therefore, the phrase “ihfadhillah” can carry some or all of these meanings:

• Protect the mention of Allah • Protect the remembrance of Allah in your heart • Protect Allah’s commands and prohibitions, i.e. abide by them and preserve them • Protect your heart from the corruption of sin and disbelief

In other narrations, the Prophet (SAW) tells us to have taqwa: “Ittaqillah haithu maa kuntu…,” which translates to “Fear Allah wherever you are…” The word “taqwa” comes from the roots “waqa/yaqi” which means to guard, to preserve, to protect. Therefore, taqwa is to guard your actions, to protect yourself against Allah’s displeasure and punishment.

The words taqwa and hifdh/muhafadha share similar meanings, but in this context, hifdh/muhafadha are more comprehensive as they include a meaning of being mindful of Allah and actively preserving and sustaining Allah’s remembrance and mention.

The Prophet (SAW) laid out in this hadith two important reasons to be mindful of Allah: “Allah will protect you”, and “You will find Him before you.”

“Allah will protect you.”

Ibn Rajab said there are two ways “Allah will protect you” – in a general way by protecting your health, wealth, etc. and in a special way by protecting your iman and diverting you away from sin, etc.

Abu Tibb Al-Tabari was asked by his students why his body was still strong at a very old age and he replied, “These are our limbs, we protected them from sins in our youth, so Allah protected them for us in our old age.”

By means of our mindfulness of Allah and preservation of His boundaries, Allah will also protect our families as He mentions in the story of Musa and al-Khidr in Surah Al-Kahf that the reason why He protected the wealth of the two orphans is that “their father was righteous” (18:82)

“You will find Him before you.”

This is a way of saying that when we are in need, we will find Allah coming to our aid. We will see His signs manifesting around us. We will see a way out of our problems instead of being consumed by them, or at the very least, we will be filled with hope and optimism by Allah. When placed in a test, we shouldn’t look at the test, but look at the One Who placed us in this test. We should be mindful of the Giver of the test. When we do this, Allah fills our hearts with peace and tranquility. He shifts our focus away from the pain to the lessons, away from the void to the fill that only He can provide.

In times of ease, we should be mindful of Allah’s blessings and preserve the rights and boundaries surrounding our blessings, whether it be our relationships or our wealth. Then Allah will magnify the benefit of those blessings in our lives so that everywhere we look, we only see richness and when we look in our heart, we only feel satisfaction and gratitude.

Benefits of Mindfulness

According to one website, mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. According to another, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. We have looked at the profound spiritual benefits of being mindful of Allah. Let’s consider some other benefits as well, as touted by researchers and experts in the field.

Mindfulness Reduces Anxiety

In a 2013 Massachusetts General Hospital Study, 93 people were assigned to an 8-week group intervention. One was mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and the other was stress management education (SME). The group that was assigned to MBSR showed significantly greater reduction in anxiety.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) May Prevent and Treat Depression

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines elements from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). According to the American Psychological Association, “MBCT is an eight-week, group-based program that incorporates mindfulness exercises including yoga, body awareness and daily homework, such as eating or doing household chores, with full attention to what one is doing, moment by moment.” This shifting of focus from the inside of a chaotic mind to the present moment can help people re-center themselves instead of overthinking and spiraling down in depression. One study found that MBCT helped to prevent depression recurrence as effectively as antidepressant medication did!

Mindfulness Meditation Improves Cognition

Mindfulness training and practice provides amazing results for those engaged in it long-term, but it has many benefits in the short-term too.

A 2010 study showed that 24 people received four sessions of mindfulness meditation training. The control had 25 people, and this group listened to an audio book. Results showed that both the mindfulness meditation training group and the control group showed improvement in mood, but only fatigue and anxiety was reduced only in the group that received mindfulness meditation training. Additionally, brief mindfulness training significantly improved working memory and executive functioning. Researchers concluded that just four days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention, which is huge.

Mindfulness Meditation Helps the Brain Reduce Distractions

We are bombarded with information overload and we have developed short attention spans as a result of consuming so much fast-paced information on a daily basis. What is suffering is not only our productivity but our attention, our ability to stay in the present. In a Harvard study, researchers reported participants went through an eight-week mindfulness training program. At the conclusion of the eight-week program, those who completed the mindfulness meditation training “made faster and significantly more pronounced attention-based adjustments” on a neurological level than those in the control group.

Mindfulness Helps Decrease Emotional Reactivity

When we are faced with a stressor, a trigger (a stimulus that evokes a response due to past trauma), or just a difficult person, we can react in ways that hijack our relationship with the person. We can react in ways that are exaggerated and unkind. We can then cause additional stress to ourselves by behaving in ways that jeopardize our wellbeing. Mindfulness helps us to pause and question why something has triggered us. It allows us to examine the emotion instead of reacting immediately. After examining the emotion that has been evoked in us, we can respond appropriately. This practice over time builds our appropriate emotional responsiveness muscle, which helps to make us more emotionally balanced people.

Mindfulness in Islam as a Self-Development Tool (Muraqabah)

In the field of psychology, mindfulness is defined as “a tool we can use to examine conceptual frameworks,” which is basically using the ability to stay present to examine our thought patterns and beliefs to challenge which ones are not beneficial. We can then work to examine the beliefs and behaviours that do serve our wellbeing and incorporate them into our daily practice.

The practice of muraqabah is deeply embedded in the Islamic tradition. Muraqabah comes from ‘raqaba’ – a state of watching, observing, and regarding attentively. It is the act of watching oneself, knowing that Allah knows one’s inner and outer reality, fully and completely. Muraqabah can also be understood as self-awareness that leads to self-accountability. Ibn al Qayyim (rahimahullah) says on muraqabah:

“Muraqabah is to be devoted to the names of Al-Raqib (The Watcher), Al-Hafeedh (The Guardian), Al-‘Alim (The All-Knowing), As-Sami’ (The All-Hearing) and Al-Baseer (The All-Seeing). Thus, whoever understands these Names and is devoted to fulfilling them will acquire muraqabah.”

Muraqabah is to keep in mind the awareness that Allah sees us, hears us, knows us inside and out. He is the One Who protects our inner and outer states. He is the One Who is Watchful of us and Watchful over us. He looks out not just for our good or bad actions; rather, He looks out for our benefit. He facilitates things in creation for our benefit and protects us from harm.

Muraqabah is to hold this knowledge about Allah in mind and to act accordingly. The Prophet (SAW) told the Sahabah that ihsan (the highest station of worship) is to “worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you don’t then to know that He sees you.” Muraqabah is the gateway to ihsan, to excellence.

According to Sheikh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, muraqabah is comprised of four things:

  1. Knowledge of Allah (SWT)
  2. Knowledge of the enemy of Allah, which is Iblis (Satan).
  3. Knowledge of the soul’s capacity and inclination to suggest evil (nafs).
  4. Knowledge of deeds to be done for the sake of Allah.

In Islam, the meaning of muraqabah goes deeper than just an awareness of the present moment. It is a comprehensive knowledge and practice of staying connected to Allah. It benefits our emotional and spiritual wellbeing by giving us the reassurance that Allah knows what is going on inside of us as well as outside of us. It helps us regulate our emotions for the sake of Allah. It helps us make smart decisions for our dunya and Akhirah. Muraqabah is a tool that we can use to ultimately get closer to Allah.

May Allah allow us to understand and practice muraqabah the way He intended. May Allah grant us the ability to regulate our emotions and behaviours for His sake. May He allow us to teach this practice to those around us in the most beautiful ways. May Allah allow us to enter Jannah through the remembrance of His Names; Al-Hafeedh, Ar-Raqeeb, Al-‘Alim, amongst others. May Allah make us people who are mindful of Him, mindful of our inner selves, and mindful of the workings of shaytan in our lives, and may Allah protect us from all evil, the evil that we know and the evil that we don’t know. Ameen.

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