Brothers and Sisters,
I remind myself and remind you of the words of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (S) when his companion, Sufyan Ibn Abdillah (R), asked him, “Ya Rasoul Allah! Tell me about a statement in Islam (that will suffice for me), so that I will not ask anyone else aside from you.” He (S) replied, “Say ‘amantu billah’ (I believe in Allah), then ‘istaqem (stay firm on Allah’s religion).” [Muslim]
In Surat Fussilat the great promise of Allah (SWT) for those who do ‘istiqama as Prophet Muhammad (S) advised his companion is declared, “Verily, those who say, 'Our Lord is Allah (Alone)' and then ‘Istaqamu (remained on the right course), on them, the angels will descend (at the time of their death) (saying), 'Fear you not, nor grieve! But receive the glad tidings of Paradise which you have been promised. We have been your allies in the life of this world and are so in the Hereafter. Therein, you shall have (all) that your souls desire, and therein you shall have (all) for which you ask. An accommodation from (a Lord who is) Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." [Fussilat: 30-32]
What is ‘istiqama? If we claim to be Muslims, it cannot be just talk, it must be demonstrated in our actions. To stand up and to be straight, as linguists define ‘istiqama to be, means being firm in our Islamic beliefs and values and choosing Islam each and every time we are pushed to question who we are and what matters most to us. It entails fearing transgressing against Allah and adhering to His commands despite the hate of those who choose hate over compassion, the fear bred by those who have no other means of gaining fame and power, and the tasteless, cheap chatter of those who have nothing more to offer.
Where is ‘istiqama rooted? The home of ‘istiqama is the heart and the heart is the root of Emaan (faith). If deep down in our hearts our belief is firm, all other parts of our body will follow suite. As our beloved Messenger of Allah (S) was reported to have said, “There is a lump of flesh in the body. When it is sound, the whole body is sound; but when it goes wrong, the whole body goes wrong (as a result). It is the heart.” [Bukhari] Therefore, my brothers and sisters, when our actions are corrupt it is a result of the heart being corrupt and that is the root of the challenges we face.
What does ‘istiqama look like? If ‘istiqama resides in the heart, then the tongue and limbs act in accordance to the commands of Allah (SWT). The Muslim who has ‘istiqama does not engage in pointless chatter on the phone, social media, text messaging, or other forms of communication which eat away at the valuable, limited time we have in this temporary life. An individual with ‘istiqama is not a gossiper nor is interested in hearing it. Other Muslims’ personal lives are not a subject of interest for them unless they are looking for ways to offer help that will be received not unwanted help. Their tongues are in constant remembrance of Allah (SWT) in times of happiness and sadness. The first word uttered from their mouth in times of distress is a cry for Allah’s help and mercy and not a word referred to by any letter in the alphabet. Sufyan Ibn Abdullah ath-Thaqafi (R) asked, “‘Ya Rasoul Allah! What do you fear most for me?' the Messenger of Allah (S) took hold of the edge of his tongue and said: 'This'” [Tirmidhee]
It was also related by Sahl Ibn Saad (R), “‘The Messenger of Allah (S) said: ‘He (or she) who guarantees for me (Istiqama by) that which is between his two cheeks (his tongue) and that which is between his legs (his sexual organ), I will guarantee him Paradise (by the will of Allah).’” [Bukhari] Then, the Muslim who possesses ‘istiqama protects their eyes and ears from that which will cause their tongues and limbs to transgress against the limits of Allah (SWT). This includes avoiding listening to, reading, and watching content which is displeasing to Allah (SWT) whether it be in the form of music, radio, television shows, online videos, video games etc. As Muslims we are responsible for the content we intentionally expose our limbs to and the consequences of that exposure.
What is the reward of ‘istiqama? As mentioned previously, ‘Istiqama requires suppressing desires and temptations just as the majority of Muslims practice every year during the month of Ramadan and are firm and patient in adhering to the commands of Allah (SWT). The Muslim with ‘istiqama does this all year long and is granted Jannah for his or her toil. Allah (SWT) states, “As for him who feared standing before his Rabb and restrained himself from impure desires and lusts. Verily, al-Jannah (Paradise) will be his abode.” [An-Naziat: 40-41]
How do we acquire ‘istiqama?
Brothers and sisters, in these times of fitan (trials and affliction) the Muslim Ummah is experiencing, I remind you and remind myself of Allah (SWT)’s words, “if Allah touches you with hurt, there is none who can remove it but He; and if He intends any good for you, there in none who can repel His Favor, which He causes it to reach whomsoever of His slaves He wills. And He is the Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." [Yunus: 107] Therefore, ‘istiqama requires reliance on Allah (SWT) and fearing none but He, dispelling all other fears from our hearts. Allah (SWT) alone knows what is beneficial for His servants and what can be harmful for them and He (SWT) decrees for them pleasures and hardships. We as created beings cannot completely comprehend or understand the wisdom behind the decisions of Allah (SWT) and so practice Tawakkul, handing over our affairs over to Him and trusting His decisions, while being patient during hardships or losses which He has decreed. Remember Prophet Musa (A) standing with his people between the red sea and the troops of Fir’awn, the most powerful dictator at the time as they cried out in despair, “Indeed! We are to be overtaken!” [Ash-Shu’ara: 61] Musa (A) turned to his companions with nothing to dispel their fears aside from his ‘istiqama stating, “No! Indeed with me is my Lord; He will guide me.” [Ash-Shu’ara: 62]
Indeed, trials and difficulties make it even more challenging for the believer to maintain ‘istiqama since fitan strike directly at the heart, its home. The Messenger of Allah (S) said, “Al-Fitan will continue to be offered to the heart, just as the strips that are being added together to form a woven mat. Any heart that accepts them (al-Fitan) will have a black dot engraved in it until it becomes dark with slight whiteness and just as the cup that is turned upside down (and thus does not hold anything in it), they do not recognize that which is righteous, or recognize that which is evil.” [Muslim] How accurate were his words (S) in relating to us the hearts of Muslims during the time of fitnah when they become unable to recognize that which is righteous nor recognize that which is evil.
Therefore, acquiring ‘istiqama entails:
$1. Sabr (patience). A person’s patience is tested in hard times not good times and choosing to be steadfast can only happen when the choice we are experiencing is a difficult one and that is why the reward is so great: Al-Jannah.
$2. Remembering Allah and seeking refuge in Him. As Prophet Mousa (A) did when he and his followers were surrounded between the sea and Fir’awn and his soldiers. This includes asking Allah (SWT) to grant us ‘istiqama stating, “Our Lord! Let not our hearts deviate (from truth) after you have guided us.” [Al-Imran: 3]
$3. Holding firmly to the Quran and the Sunnah of our beloved Messenger (S). Reading, reciting, memorizing, and understanding the verses of the Quran strengthens our hearts. It is our means of hearing our Lord. Abandoning the Quran causes us to feel despair, loneliness and a lack of contentment with the decrees of our Creator (SWT). The Quran relieves our hearts from these ills. Similarly, adhering to the Sunnah is how word becomes action. I advise my young brothers to adhere to the Sunnah by avoiding the new trend to let beards and mustaches grow out and instead trim their mustaches and receive the reward for it.
$4. Remembering the transient nature of this worldly life. Who reading this article does not know of someone who has died in the past year? What about the past month? Remembering that our time here is limited should motivate us to make choices we will be satisfied with in the next.
$5. Accompanying the righteous and seeking their knowledge and advice. From whom do we seek advice and religious knowledge? Is it Google, a youtube video or a celebrity speaker? If one is really interested in gaining knowledge and accompanying the righteous, attending prayers and programs and volunteering regularly at their local Masjid is the best place to do this. Sitting behind a computer screen or hopping from convention to convention is not a means of acquiring piety or ‘istiqama. The problem is not in the speakers or programs, my brothers and sisters, it is our hearts that are not willing to receive.
$6. Performing good deeds regularly. The deeds most beloved to Allah (SWT) are the most regular acts of worship.
$7. Enjoining good and forbidding evil. This concept should infiltrate every aspect of our lives including upholding the rights of those who are oppressed in this country we are blessed to live in. There are many verses in the Quran that highlight the rights of the disadvantaged. They do so without neglecting the rights of the powerful, but with full clarity that there are groups of people whose rights are more likely to be trampled on by society. This can be best exemplified by the multiple mentions of protecting orphans and upholding the rights of women in the Quran. When Prophet Muhammad (S) began preaching his message in Makkah 1400 years ago, a common complaint of the rich and powerful was that he stressed the rights of the poor and neglected. Therefore, a focus on BlackLivesMatter or the plight of the Syrian or Palestinian people is not to neglect or ignore the struggles of others, but it is to recognize the oppression each group has and continues to experience has not been experienced in the same way by all.
$8. Adhering to the correct Manhaj of Ahl-ul-Sunnah and remembering the future is for Islam. There was a point in time when the victory of Islam rested upon the shoulders of two runaways hiding in a cave with no food or water surrounded by its darkness and the enemy searching for them. Allah (SWT) gave victory to His Prophet (S) and his loyal companion in a short span of time. The leaders of Quraysh could not have imagined that thousands of people would later stand hearing the calls of Prophet Muhammad (S) in his Farewell Pilgrimage and that some of them would be among his followers. Our victory can only come if we address the ills of our hearts and fill it with ‘istiqama. This requires an understanding and adherence to our manhaj. The Messenger of Allah (S) was reported to have said, “I have left you upon clear proofs, its night is like its day, no one deviates from it except one who is destroyed, and whoever lives (long) from amongst you will see great controversy. So stick to what you know from my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly guided caliphs." [Ibn Majah] Our religion is based on tenants which are clear including neither harm nor the imposition of harm. Those who rely on extremist views or violence do not understand the basic tenants of our faith.
May Allah (SWT) grant us and our children and their children ‘istiqamah in our hearts and not allow our hearts to deviate after being guided! Allahuma Ameen!