Written for Muzlimbuzz.sg | November 1st 2012 | Link
It has been exactly two months since hundreds of international athletes marched in the Olympics 2012 Closing Ceremony at London, marking a point in their career. For some, the point is a high one, bearing medals of gold, silver or bronze as a testimony to their years of hard work and perseverance – of blood, sweat and tears. For others, amidst the fireworks that exploded in the sky, is an explosion of vigor in their heart – renewed strength and determination to train harder for the next Olympics in 2016.
Two months ago, I had watched parts of the closing ceremony with much interest (reminiscing the childhood days with Spice Girls, anyone?), but today, my attention was on Imam Afroz Ali, Founder and President of Al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences & Human Development in Sydney, Australia. His attention, meanwhile, was on a beloved sister asking a question,
By right, the more you seek knowledge to improve yourself, you’d become a better human being with greater imaan etc. But when transformation does not happen or is slow to happen, you start doubting yourself, asking things like if you’re doing it right, or if your intentions were wrong, or is something even wrong with you… Could you comment on this?
Imam Afroz’s answer was a long and detailed one, addressing many issues that he had touched on earlier. However, there was one phrase he said that struck me, Islam is the Olympics of living!
Islam – The Olympics of Living
Olympians train for at least 10 years before they even have a chance to have a go at the Olympics and get a gold. In the controversial Chinese system, children as young as six begin their training in sports school, training for at least ten years before they are allowed to compete.. and that is just competing, how about in gunning for the gold?
Imam Afroz remarked that in reality, the journey to Paradise is like that – that it’s not over until its over. When the Prophet Muhammad (S) said that one can die a believer or a disbeliever, perhaps he meant that it is the last breath that counts, for until then, we have to continue to better ourselves because to get to the first set of doors takes at least 20 to 40 years of investment and hard work on our part.
According to Imam Afroz, the core of our deen will come to us over a period of time. He emphasized that after learning about something, it is unlikely that we will have to worry about it in four hours’ time, or even four years… sometimes understanding something can take at least forty years for us to truly live what we have learnt. To make it clearer to us, the Imam shared something close to his heart.
According to him, after the countless years spent seeking and sharing knowledge, it was only in the last few years that he was able to experience things that are so real to him, as if a paradigm shift had happened in his life. For years he has learnt about tawheed, but it is only recently that can see tawheed in his eyes; he used to think that he knows what tawheed is, but it is only now that he can truly see it. For some people, Allah SWT grants them this gift in a short time, for others, more.
And then I imagined how it must be like for the believer, who has been striving all of his life to please the Creator, to finally have Allah SWT saying to him, “Return unto your Lord, content in His good pleasure! Enter thou amongst my devotees! Enter thou My garden!”
As the concluding remarks were made for the short breakfast halaqoh (cutely named “Brekkie with Imam Afroz Ali”), the reel in my mind was flashing images of athletes crying as they cross the finishing line, or as they land cleanly from a series of somersaults onto the padded floor. I began to imagine what it must feel like, to have been striving for years and to finally arrive at that moment where you are able to reap in fruits of all the hard work. And then I imagined how it must be like for the believer, who has been striving all of his life to please the Creator, to finally have Allah SWT saying to him, “Return unto your Lord, content in His good pleasure! Enter thou amongst my devotees! Enter thou My garden!” (Surah Al-Fajr)
Subhanallah.. All the mornings spent awake as the world sleeps, all the hunger pangs as the world eats, all the money spent on charity as the world shops, all the times telling yourself to be strong when the world walks the other way… what are all those compared to having the One Who Created you welcoming you into His garden?
The focus is not so much on how much we have changed, but more on how else can we fix ourselves. The real-world Olympians have every four years to try again, but we long-life Olympians have only one chance to make all the difference we can before the finishing line catches up on us. But our Lord is generous, His mercy is infinite… everyone’s finishing line is suited exactly to what is best for their capabilities, and anyone or everyone can enter His paradise with His will; His rewards are not limited to three top athletes for three medals but to all His believers who give their all and struggle to please Him in the way He will be pleased.
Islam is the Olympics of Living, and being reunited with Him is our gold medal. Our training might be a couple of years, or it might take our whole life, but we should be assured that as long as we try our best, pick ourselves up when we fall, and try even harder, in sya Allah we will be rewarded accordingly by The Merciful.
Last and not least, Imam Afroz gave a piece of advice as us seekers in the room experienced explosions of vigor in our heart to keep on striving,
The best motivator to life, is death.
May Allah SWT constantly embrace us with His mercy and push us to the finishing line to reunite with Him one day. Ameen :)