Ramadan Reflection Day 29: The Ups and Downs of Istiqamah

Photo by greg westfall
Bismillah.

For quite a long time, I've been under the impression that Istiqamah means that I am staying the same. For example, if I read one page of the Quran everyday, Istiqamah in that sense would mean that I read one page of the Quran everyday for the rest of my life without missing a single day. If I miss a day, that means that I am no longer Istiqamah.

Considering that the root of the word Istiqamah is "qaama" which means "to stand up straight", I can see where my understanding comes from. In retrospect, I think I was under the impression that Istiqamah means to stand up without falling down.

That is only partly true.

What I didn't realize is the nuance behind the meaning of the word Istiqamah. When I go deeper into it, I realized that I only understand half of the equation. I missed one word in that equation, which will make the meaning complete. Just one word, and that word changed my perception of the whole concept of Istiqamah.

Istiqamah, in totality, doesn't mean to stand up straight. It actually means to TRY standing up straight. That one word (i.e. "try") might be a small addition, but it was like a revelation for me.

By understanding that I am trying to stand up straight, that signifies that I am going to fall down at some point. Istiqamah doesn't mean that I don't fall at all. It means that if and when I do fall, I will stand back up.

This is an essential understanding before we dive into the concept of self-improvement i.e. to change oneself for the better. A lot of times, people want to change, try to change, and want to remain consistent in that process of change. When they fall down somewhere along the road, they give up and think that they can't change just because they have fallen down. They think that they have failed in Istiqamah.

For example, I received an email recently from a brother who is trying to cultivate the habit of reading in himself. After trying for some time, he couldn't keep up with the change. He felt tired and wanted to give up. He felt like a failure, because he fell down a few times. I think he felt unable to Istiqamah.

But the reality is that, the manifestation of Istiqamah doesn't end when you fall down, it actually begins when you stand up again, and again, and again.

Recently I learned that change is a trial and error process. If we strip down the concept of change to its very core, then we can understand it as being composed of two fundamental things: trying and failing. The best example that I can think of is a baby trying to stand up for the first time (works perfectly with the whole concept of Istiqamah). A baby doesn't stand up perfectly the first time around. The baby actually falls down more than he/she actually stands up. But the Istiqamah in the baby is that he/she keeps on trying and trying, learning more and more from previous experiences.

If I was to give Istiqamah a life analogy, I would say that Istiqamah is like standing up straight on a rocky boat, because life is like a rocky boat. There are times when you are able to stand up straight, there are times when you are wobbling to keep your balance, and there are times when you lose your balance and fall down. But if standing up straight is important to you, you will try again. Perhaps with a new strategy.

To me, that is Istiqamah.

Self-improvement is a lifelong endeavour. In the process of changing yourself for the better, you make a plan for it and you implement it. Even though you tried your best to avoid failure, chances are, that plan might fail.

But that doesn't mean that you can't change. That just means that you need to modify that plan, and try again.

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