|Photo by Andrew Magill|
If you ask me (in my calm and composed state) whether or not I will curse a fellow driver who cuts me off on the highway, I would say with confidence, "No, of course not. Besides, I'm fasting."
But imagine if that event is happening and I am in that moment; the moment when a person cuts me off on the highway. My emotions run high and I'm thinking to myself, "That person could've hit me. I could've been hurt, or worse."
In that moment, what is my reaction?
Now, I am not that confident anymore. I am not confident if I can maintain my composure in that moment and not say or do something that I will regret later.
If you ask me (in my calm and composed state) whether or not I will shake the hand of a female celebrity, I would say with confidence, "No, of course not."
But imagine if I am in an event with a female celebrity and she approached me, extending her hand. There are people everywhere. All eyes on us.
In that moment, what is my reaction?
I hope that I can say, "Sorry, I can't shake hands with you, out of respect for my religion and for you."
But I can only hope. I don't know for sure, because right now I am not in the heat of the moment.
If you ask me (in my calm and composed state) whether or not I will stuff myself silly during the breaking of fast, I would say with confidence, "No, of course not."
But ask me again after I fasted 17 hours in the summer's heat with a growling stomach, and after I have to wait 20 minutes to get my food.
My reaction might be different.
"Give me that biryani! Or else!"
[Insert Scenario #4 here]
You can probably apply this idea to many other different scenarios.
My point is: when you are outside of that moment, it's easy to say good things about yourself. But in the heat of the moment, that is when you reveal your true self.
That is when you put you will see if your words match your actions, or not.
Capacity for Wrongdoings
Okay, I am going to transition (rather abruptly) into something a bit more serious than the scenarios described above. I think you will be a bit uncomfortable as you read along. But know that I actually want you to feel uncomfortable.
If you are a Psychology student, chances are you've learned about the Stanford Prison Experiment.
To give you a summary, the Stanford Prison Experiment was done in a mock prison. They have recruited normal and healthy young men. These men had no criminal records and no mental/physical health issues. In other words, they were average teenagers. These teenagers were randomly assigned the roles of either Prisoners or Guards, and they had to play the respective roles in the mock prison.
The experiment was meant to run for 14 days, but they had to end the experiment after just 6 days because the mock prison experience became too real. The Guards (who were normal teenagers) became ruthless and treated the Prisoners (who were also normal teenagers) like garbage, up to a point when some of the Prisoners had an emotional breakdown. Due to the seriousness of the situation, they had to cut the experiment short.
Now, the experiment itself had a lot of controversies with it. But nonetheless, the results were noteworthy.
The experiment showed two things: the power of the situation and the capacity of a human being to do wrong things, even unthinkable things.
If I asked the teenagers who were Guards before the experiment started, "Would you emotionally torture another human being?", I have no doubt that they would say, "Of course not!"
But in the heat of the moment, all hell broke lose. The interview done on the Guards after the experiment showed that they themselves were surprised of what they did in the experiment.
This is probably hard to digest. I mean, would you say that you will torture a person to the point of emotional breakdown? I hardly think so. But knowing that you and I have that capacity is our best defense against it, and from there we can learn to guard ourselves. I'm not saying that we will do the act, what I'm saying is that we are able to do the act. We have that capacity.
Thinking that we are immune to it might make us feel better, but it can also make us heedless. Consequently, we don't think about the need to defend ourselves.
"Me? Committing zina? Are you crazy?! Of course I won't do that. Not ever! She's just a friend."
"And [by] the Nafs and He [Allah] who proportioned it, and inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness. He [the person] has succeeded who purifies it, and he has failed who instills it [with corruption]." (Surah ash-Shams: 7-10)
Building Our Shield
The question that we need to ask ourselves now is: when I am in the heat of the moment, will I be strong enough to do the right thing?
Many have perceived Ramadan as a school, and indeed it is. Ramadan is a school for our lower self (the Nafs). In this month, we learn to instill a sense of constant awareness about the Nafs and keep it in check.
In other words, we learn self-control. But how do we achieve this self-control?
The word "Taqwa" came from the root word which means "Shield". The function of a shield is to protect ourselves. From what? Among other things, we want to protect ourselves against our own selves - the Nafs. The stronger our shield, the stronger we are at protecting ourselves against our Nafs.
What does this shield i.e. Taqwa made out of?
Answer: Consciousness of Allah.
The more you are aware of Allah, the stronger you are at protecting yourself. The one who fills his/her heart with the remembrance of Allah will remember Allah in all situations - even in the heat of the moment.
Like Prophet Yusuf when he was seduced by a beautiful lady who offered herself to him (to commit zina). In the heat of the moment, he refused and left her, untouched. (Prophet Yusuf and the beautiful lady)
The one who is the most conscious of Allah has the most Taqwa, and that is the best person in the Sight of Allah. Getting the most Taqwa is not easy. Building our shield takes work.
Alhamdulillah, we are in Ramadan - the school of Taqwa.
"O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may attain Taqwa." (Surah al-Baqarah: 183)
Study well and may we all graduate with Taqwa. Ameen.