Recharging Your Soul in Islam

Dear whoever needs to recharge their spiritual battery
As-salamu alaykum,
Greetings of peace to you dearest readers.
I knew things weren’t right when that feeling of emptiness infused daily life, along with a restlessness I couldn’t explain. ‘Life’ itself felt like the wrong fit. Daily ibadah became mechanical, moving limbs disconnected to the heart, thoughts scattered like spilt peppercorns. Were these feelings the result of neglecting my spiritual needs, of putting everything else first before nourishing my soul? Random past memories pop up when we least expect them.
When I was feeling like this, a scene from my teenage years surfaced in my thoughts. There was a sticker I held onto for the longest time, stuck on the bottom right-hand corner of my notice board. From there, it was transferred to inside the cover of a diary where it lived for years until it frayed and faded. The words never faded, though. They remained a permanent light in my mind, guiding those formative years.
The sticker read:
Everyone starts his day and is a vendor of his soul, either freeing it or bringing about its ruin.
These words of our beloved Rasul Allah (sws) grew with me through all the peaks and troughs of becoming an adult. Was I freeing my soul through feeding it, or ignoring it and bringing its downfall? What choices had I made that day that aligned my soul with good traits, that increased its focus on the Hereafter?
I’d ask myself these questions in the privacy of my diaries. This hadith became the weighing scale for my time. Decades later, I’ve seen new sides to these deeply instructive words.
I still need to realign myself when my spiritual battery is running low. I’m certain we all struggle in our own ways with keeping spiritually healthy, and so I decided to dedicate this issue to going back to the basics: how are we investing in our souls? Motherhood is spiritual work. We’re cultivating our children’s hearts, minds and souls through their innocence to adulthood. As they mature, we’re on call to deal with ‘soul emergencies’ as I call them; those challenges they face, and we respond to. For this noble role, we are in need of continual spiritual development. We’re leading them, we’re protecting them, we’re answering their philosophical questions (and young children have plenty of them too). It’s taxing, tiring but also the greatest privilege.
What Might Investing in Ourselves Look Like?
It will look different for each of us, but the goal is the same: closeness to our Rabb, seeking His pleasure, relying on Him, pleasing Him, asking of Him, being aware of Him. The routes to replenishing are many. I’ll start on the broad common ground from my experience, as one mother to another who’s lived the constant demands and responsibilities.
The Soulscape
Create a soul-nourishing environment. It’s not only our children who are like sponges, soaking up what they hear and see – we’re the same. The only difference is we have the ability to choose our environment and our young children don’t as they depend on us. When we feel spiritually depleted, it’s time to find company that help our hearts, minds and souls; company that elevates our thoughts to align ourselves with what pleases our Rabb. Whether it’s a study-group, a local regular class, an online talk, or meeting good friends who prioritise what Allah and His Messenger (sws) love, make plans to go forward. Our Rabb set the criterion of what’s good for us right here:
And keep your soul content with those who call on their Sustainer morning and evening, seeking His countenance; and let not your eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this life; nor obey any whose heart We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us, one who follows his own desires, whose case has gone beyond all bounds.
The great theologian and jurist Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah in his book al-Fawa’id compared the mind to a revolving mill. What we put into it, is what we’ll find:
Certainly, Allah, the Almighty has created the mind just like a mill, which does not stop and has to have something to grind. If grain is put into it, it would grind it, and if soil is put into it or pebbles, it would also grind them. Therefore, thoughts and ideas that occur in the mind are like the grain that is put in the mill, and the mill can never remain without working.
Therefore, there are some people whose mill grinds grain to produce flour in order to benefit themselves and other people, but the bulk of them grind sand, pebbles, straw, etc. When it is time for kneading and baking, the reality becomes apparent to him.
Hasten to Salah, hasten to Success The adhan had the answer all along. Mothers and salah deserves a whole article in itself! On a daily basis, it is far from our ideal as our children’s needs are constant depending on their stages. Occasionally though, we should ring-fence a special, longer appointment time with our Lord on our prayer mat. If there is help around, arrange a childfree time whenever you can to be undisturbed.
We can aim, little by little, to extend our normal salah time to create a state of mind whereby standing in the presence of the Creator, Our Sustainer, is prioritised above all else. Dress for the occasion; standing in front of the King of kings, the Owner of this universe, is the grandest presentation we can make. Gather spiritual tools around you; your mushaf, a dua’ book, tasbih or whatever helps you.
Alternatively, be minimalist – look for a new spot in your home, a space where there’s more natural light and you can feel the sun. And on entering that salah, think only of your soul and your Rabb, that the ground your forehead touches is where we all will be returning, until our final destination. Explore the voluntary salah, the nawafil, and see which one might be possible for you to do. And gradually that can become a habit; a route for your spiritual sustenance.
The Qur’an Connection
We live in a time of endless online resources to help us recite, understand and memorise the Qur’an. For some, this works, while for others a teacher is necessary as a point of human contact. Give yourself what you gravitate towards; memorisation, tafsir, daily recitation. We are fortunate to have access now to so many compilations of surahs to recite on a regular basis, especially at blessed times such as fajr.
The ayat of tranquillity and protection are personal favourites. How can hearing the beautiful recitation of these ayat do anything but help us? One of the miracles of the Qur’an is how the same ayat are relevant to such a diverse audience, and how over time we take new lessons from them again and again.
And We reveal of the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy to the believers. (17:82)
Calling Out
Dua, this intimate calling out to al-Sami al-Basir, the All-Hearing and the All-Seeing, is literally the life-giver for our souls. It is described as ‘the essence of worship’. It liberates us from the confines of our understanding, to reach out to the One for our every need: emotional, spiritual, practical. This invitation gives us a formula to elevate our dua, and this in itself enriches our spiritual self. The Messenger of Allah (sws) said:
‘The closest that the servant is to Allah is when he is prostrating to Him, so increase your supplications then.’
‘Tafakkur’ is the practice of deeply reflecting and thinking about the signs of the Creator around us. Allah tells us directly to spend time contemplating His signs in creation through vivid descriptions of natural phenomena. The first of these ‘signs’ is our bodies: we are the most amazing of creation! Our very heartbeat, where every second our blood pulsates through our veins, is a miracle. Our skin is a miracle in its different layers; our eyes – the cones and rods, the nerves, the pupil, the processing of colour – all testify to the Glory of our Lord.
Go through the magnificence of His signs and His names in connection to contemplate His signs in nature. It doesn’t need to be an exotic location to gain soul food through His creation. Blades of grass, trees lining the pavement, weeds between cracks in a wall, daisies and corn chamomile sprouting in random green spaces – they are all ayat of His magnificence and reminders to be thankful.
The seasons shift and gift us displays of creation to appreciate. The passionate work of the bees and ants and flies speak volumes to our souls, if only we give them a door to enter. They give us beauty and hope. They teach us lessons. They awaken our senses and connect us back to truths held in the earth.
Seeking Forgiveness
There’s no doubt that we all sin. Accumulating our mistakes – intentional or not – weigh us down. How can we reduce the baggage and travel light? The answer is istighfar: sincerely seeking Allah’s (swt) forgiveness. Again, we need to make some space to polish our hearts.
Our beloved Rasul Allah (swt) was promised Paradise yet sought forgiveness seventy times a day. So what about us? The one who (regularly) seeks forgiveness, Allah (swt) will relieve him of every burden and make from every discomfort an outlet, and He will provide for him from (sources) he never could imagine. And the other side of this coin is forgiving others. Just as we like to be forgiven, why hold on to grudges that pull us down? Letting go of the past and moving on makes space for our spiritual growth.
Some spiritual depletion comes when we feel overcome by a particular problem or situation. There are problems in life we can do something directly about, there are others we have no power over. ‘Tawakkul’ – reliance on Allah (swt), another strengthening concept in our din – can rescue us at these times. In times of stress, we forget the exquisite light tawakkul brings into our lives. It encompasses the realisation that everything happens with His Permission and trusting that solutions will come through His Mercy, which in turn brings tranquillity to our hearts.
We remember that Allah, the One we wholly rely on, is always available to us to turn to. Tawakkul is a revitalising spring for a parched soul. Ibn al-Qayyim wrote, in his discussion on ailments and spiritual cures, that internalising our lack of ownership over Allah’s creation was a way of coping with a variety of losses. He observed,
‘the joys of this world are a dream or a passing shadow. If the world makes you laugh a little, it makes you cry a lot. If it delights a day, it torments a lifetime.'
This was to emphasise how expecting long term ease in this world is futile, and accepting hardships and loss is part of keeping a balance between this life and the next in the Hereafter.
I know you’ll gain so much from this issue where our insightful writers go into more details about this subject. So, I end here where I started: check in with your soul. It is what will remain after all else passes. To care for it isn’t an indulgence, it’s an obligation. Oh Allah, grant to my soul its sense of righteousness and purify it, for You are the Best purifier thereof. You are its Protecting friend and its Guardian.
Your Soulful Editor,