The Downward Spiral of Iman

A lady came into the masjid last night brandishing several documents and countless tears. She pulled whoever she could towards her, got them to listen to her story, and made a plea for donations. As I watched her, an official from the masjid approached and told me to inform the other patrons to be wary of the lady.

“She’s full of drama,” he said.

Fueled by a zest to ‘save’ everyone in the room, I went around with my task without much thought, passing on his words.

“She’s full of drama, he said,” I said.

The other patrons listened wide-eyed, frowned, and went back to doing their things after casting a glance at the now-crying lady. I sat down and pat myself on the back, pleased at a job well done.

In my silence, I started to think.

Who is she? What if she really needed the help? How did the official come to a conclusion that she is putting on an act? Did I just make a judgment on someone without evidence? Oh my God, didn’t I just write about how we should just help a fellow Muslim in need? Why did I spread this piece of information about the lady without validation? I just did the exact opposite of what I shared! I am such a terrible Muslim. How can I face Allah now? Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I am not good enough to face Him. Heck, maybe I am not good enough to be around these good people. I feel so ashamed. Maybe I should just pack up and go home. I am never going to write again! Man, Fad, you’re such a hypocrite!

In my past experiences, this train of thoughts would thus result in my withdrawal from the realm of ‘good iman’. Embarrassed, angry and disappointed in myself, I would deny myself of various ibadah by rushing through prayers, not reading the Qur’an or skipping nawafil prayers. I felt terrible, and I didn’t have the guts to face Allah.

And because I was not doing my ibadah properly, I would fall into sin easily. This would then result in lesser ibadah, followed by more sins. And the cycle continues.

I call this phenomenon “the downward spiral of iman.”

It’s a phenomenon because I know for a fact that many of us go through the same sequence of events. From all the e-mails I have received, I realized that this is something that most ‘changing’ Muslims go through, from Russia to Singapore, from UK to Malaysia.

We take a step forward, and when we make a mistake, big or small, we take three steps back. We tell ourselves that we can never be good enough, that maybe we are just meant to be mediocre Muslims.

Over time, we get more depressed as our iman starts spiraling down, until one day we finally convince ourselves that we need to get up. By the time we realize this, our one step forward had turned into three steps backward. We have to climb again.

Do this for a year, two years, three years, and we find that we are somewhat still at the same spot we are at when we started out. This, again, reinforces our mindset that we are terrible Muslims.

Last night, for the first time ever, I managed to avoid being caught in the downward spiral of iman. How do I know this?

Because I am here writing this today! (Alhamdulillah)

The key is to first recognize that you’re throwing yourself into the spiral. Observe the thoughts that are going through your head and take notice when they are starting to veer towards the dark side.

Then, reign them in. Tell yourself to stop. COMMAND yourself to stop. Say it out loud to yourself if you have to – “Stop!” Loudly make istifghar and seek protection with Allah, until your thoughts no longer moves towards the edge.

The next step is give yourself some space. Coax your thoughts into stepping further away from the edge, counter the negativity with positivity. Recognize that you should not be too hard on yourself. Tell yourself that it’s ok to make mistakes, that mistakes are one-to-one lessons conducted by Allah, and that from this mistake you will learn.

Once the damage control is done, blot out the sin by either performing an ibadah or doing a good deed. And always, always, remind yourself that it is ok to make mistakes, as long as you learn.

Remember that Allah’s mercy always prevails His wrath. Show some mercy first to yourself. Forgive yourself. And tell yourself to do better the next time. You can. And you will.

Then smile and say Alhamdulillah. Because once you have stepped out from the downward spiral of iman, there is only one way to go – up.

May we get to meet each other there, insyaAllah :)

Fadhilah Wahid
My name is Nur Fadhilah Wahid. I am a seeker of knowledge, a Muslimah in progress, and a writer. I believe in the magic that can happen when like-hearted and like-minded individuals come together :)

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