By Hamdi Safwan
Battling Temptation: Part I | Part II
You know Ahmad, right? He’s that bro you always saw running around the masjid, coordinating events, making way for sisters, and cleaning up after everyone left. He was a prominent activist in the community, and was loved by everyone he met. The youth, especially, bonded with him, and they often sought his help with their problems—from parental control to dating or even sex and drug addictions.
At work, people knew Ahmad as the only “practicing” Muslim. He prayed openly and tried not to shake hands with women—most of them knew to keep their distance. He was quite the handsome fella though; when he’d arrive to work some of the younger ladies would nudge each other and whisper and giggle almost childishly. A few of them even wore revealing clothes and acted flirtatiously with him just to tease him. But his faith kept him resistant; he’d often explain to them the etiquettes of interaction between men and women in Islam, trying all-the-while to lower his gaze and then mind his own business.
That worked for a while, but before he knew it, Satan had gotten the best of him; he slowly began stealing glances at them secretly every now and then. He’d catch himself and remember Allah’s words: “He sees the betrayal of the eyes, and what the hearts conceal.” He’d force himself to focus on his work again. Bit by bit, though, he started convincing himself that it’s only a glance, and at least he’s not actually doing anything wrong with them. He got comfortable with his glances, which became longer stares and full-blown visual examinations after some time.
Soon enough, he looked so frequently that even when he’d leave from work, their contours and gestures would replay in his mind. He started having lustful thoughts many times throughout the day. These feelings became stronger and stronger, until his heart became inflamed with desire, and severe longing to be with one of them. But he had enough faith and taqwa (God-consciousness) left in his heart to know that such an act would be out of the question; he would just feel too ashamed of himself before Allah to fall into such a situation.
To satisfy himself without harming anyone else or his reputation, he began spending his nights looking at porn, which eventually led him to masturbation. He’d feel so utterly disgusted and ashamed of himself afterwards, but his desires had become too intense. Soon he became addicted to the very same things he counseled the youth about! The feeling of hypocrisy ate at his heart, and he decided to isolate himself from the brothers who needed him.
After some time, he decreased much of his activism, which led him to spend more hours at work—until one day, he stayed overtime, found one of his female co-workers lingering and making advances; he froze, temptation ignited, and all hell broke loose…
You might not be “Ahmad”—or maybe you are. It might go down differently with each person, but the reality is that the temptations brothers and sisters are bombarded with at work, in the street, at the gym, on billboards, or on TV can make even the strongest and most Islamically active of them fall. If their work or activism isn’t coupled with intense spiritual fortification, they have trouble taming their desires and end up following the footsteps of Satan—who gladly traverses with them the spectrum of minor sins to the major sin of adultery, once, twice or habitually. If their heart is not hardened with sin yet, they most likely experience feelings of extreme guilt, disgust, and depression.
Some leave the jama`ah (community) out of feelings of hypocrisy, failing to see that this is Satan’s tactic to bury them in their sin even more. If they are married, their sex life with their spouses takes a hit and their wives notice that they no longer need them as much to satisfy their desires. The wives might think something is wrong with their appeal, and they might change their dress and approaches to entice their husbands, but without avail. They become pained and sad because they can’t please their husbands, not realizing that their husband’s desires are being fulfilled elsewhere.
How Do I Stop?!
Whether your struggle is at the initial stages of guarding your gaze and thoughts, or at the level of looking at porn, masturbation, or actual adultery (may Allah protect us all), these are some suggestions and tips to help in battling the temptation:
- Check Your Heart. While you might think the problem lies in the attractiveness of the opposite gender, sins don’t materialize unless the heart itself is vulnerable. As Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) says: “And do not be soft in speech lest the one with a diseased heart will long (for you).” The Prophet ﷺ also states in an illustrative hadith: “Trials are presented to the heart (repeatedly) as a mat is woven straw by straw. So, whichever heart absorbs it, a black spot is blotched on it, and whichever heart deflects it, a white dot is spotted on it. (This continues) until hearts become one of two states: a whitened heart that is not harmed by any trial so long as the heavens and the earth remain, or a blackened, deviant heart that knows no good and rejects no evil except what it absorbs of its desires” (Reported by Muslim).
- Strengthen the Resolve. If you’re not highly committed to making a change, you’ll quit if your first few attempts to stop the sin end in failure. Take some time to make a sincere intention to put an end to your bad habits for Allah’s sake. Every time you think of letting go again, remember your commitment, your desire to please Allah, and the benefits that await you in this life and the hereafter if you stay patient.
- Know the Consequences. If you can’t grasp the sins’ effects, you probably won’t have the drive to change. Know that these sins drain the imaan (faith) in your heart and distance you from Allah; they spoil your mood with feelings of guilt and depression, and decrease your inner happiness; if you’re married, they ruin your sex life with your spouse and could lead you eventually to divorce; also, your hereafter won’t be too pleasant if you insist on these sins (especially adultery) and don’t repent.
- Boost the Imaan Dosage. With this struggle, you can’t just pray five times a day. Keep up with your sunnah prayers (before and after the obligatory ones), Duha (morning) prayers, night prayers, and Witr prayer—prolonging your rukū` and sujūd in each of them. Infuse your days, hours, minutes, and seconds with reflective dhikr and recitation of the Qur’an, and consciously feel the meanings with your heart before your tongue utters the words. Don’t give up if you can’t feel anything! Keep trying and trying until you do. Be more consistent with your fasting so it can curb your urges and make you feel closer to Allah. All these worships will build you an impenetrable fortress to protect you from Satan’s traps, and the black cannonballs catapulted constantly at your heart.
- Block the Means. Find the problem and sever it from its roots. If it’s your co-workers and you can’t cap the temptation, limit your interaction, change your hours or division if possible, or switch jobs if your situation is getting out of hand. If it’s the net, restrict your access and keep your computer in view of others. If it’s on the street, occupy your eyes and ears with Allah’s words, or keep your face buried in a book or newspaper (not if you’re driving of course!) until you reach your destination. If you catch a glimpse and feel the urge, immediately seek refuge in Allah from Satan, and ask for forgiveness; and if you’re not married, get married! Easier said than done, I know; but if you’re married, have relations with your wife as soon as possible (as the Prophet ﷺ advised).
- Practice Personal Penalty. Set a certain penalty for yourself (i.e. giving charity, praying all night, fasting consecutively), then enforce the penalty every time you slip. Increase the penalty in increments or duration the more you keep doing the sin. Soon enough, your desire to not be broke and to rest or eat will outweigh the need to fulfill your other desire. Plus, these good deeds are a means of expiating your sins and gaining the mercy of Allah, so if it doesn’t get you to stop, at least you’ll help counterbalance your sins with good deeds. If your chosen penalty doesn’t work with you, change it to something more effective, or enforce more than one penalty simultaneously.
- Keep Yourself Occupied. After Satan, boredom is your worst enemy in this struggle. Make sure you stay busy and make yourself useful; read books, write articles, go jogging, lift weights, visit people, work on new projects, do community service, teach children; no matter how bad your sin is, don’t let Satan deceive you into feeling hypocritical and cutting you off from everyone. Praise Allah for concealing your secret sin as you struggle with it privately, and keep contributing as before, and even more.
- Stay with the Righteous. Don’t let your feeling of shame and embarrassment get you to avoid the people who can help you change! Allah says: “And keep yourself patiently with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His countenance; and let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is lost.” (Qur’an, 18:28) Live this verse, day and night. Find the people who remind you of Allah, and stick to them like bees to honey (as Imam Suhaib would say). Pray in congregation, attend study circles consistently, and socialize frequently with them. Find the ones you look up to for their character, and ask them (indirectly if need be) for advice on how to increase modesty and curb bad habits.
- Never Quit Repenting. Never, ever, ever give up on Allah’s mercy and forgiveness! Satan messes with your mind and gets you to think your sin is so great that Allah will not forgive it. But Allah forgives all sins, and He extends His Hand out during the day and the night so all the sinners can repent. He says: “Allah wants to accept your repentance, but those who follow [their] passions want you to digress [into] a great deviation.” After explaining how the servants of the Most Merciful don’t commit adultery, and how adulterers are punished severely, Allah states: “Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good (ones). And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” How cool is that? Your repentance will transform all your bad deeds into good deeds!! So, even if you find yourself falling into sin over and over, repent repeatedly and sincerely every time, and you’ll find that Allah will grant you an outlet sooner than you think.
- Make Mad Supplication. Last but not least, talk to Allah; show him how much you really want to change! Do it humbly and follow the etiquettes of du`a’: make ablution, face the qiblah, raise your palms up, praise him with His most beautiful Names, pray upon the Prophet ﷺ. Then, ask Him to help you overcome your habits or addiction, and replace your lusts and desires with His love and the desire to please Him. Pray softly, humbly and with awe and fear (if you cry, that’s even better)—and trust that Allah will answer your prayers. Do this often; after the call to prayer, after you pray, and in the last third of the night.
Also, when Abu Bakr (my Allah be pleased with him) asked the Prophet ﷺ for dhikr to recite in the morning and evening, he ﷺ told him to say this (learn this supplication, and say it often):
Allahumma `ālim al-ghaybi wa’l-shahādati fātir al-samāwāti wa’l-ardi rabba kulli shay’in wa malīkah; ash-hadu an lā ilāha illa ant, a`ūdhu bika min sharri nafsī, wa min sharri’l-shaytāni wa shirkih (sharakih), wa ‘an aqtarifa `ala nafsī sū’an aw ajurrahu ilā Muslim.
“O Allah, Knower of the unseen and the evident, Maker of the heavens and the earth, Lord of everything and its Possessor, I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but You. I seek refuge in You from the evil of my soul and from the evil of Satan and his helpers (or traps); and from bringing evil upon my soul and from harming any Muslim.” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi)
Insha’Allah (God willing) the readers can also share their thoughts and suggestions.
May Allah purify the heart of every struggling soul and keep us all firm on the straight path. Amin!