Friday, December 30, 2011
Breaking Bad Habits
I've always scrutinized newly arrived pilgrims closely, expecting to spot signs of major spiritual transformation in them now that they'd completed their once-in-a-lifetime duty of hajj. Imagine my disappointment this year when I saw none---while looking at myself in the mirror.
A big part of me wishfully thought I'd return from Mecca a completely changed person, having sworn off all bad habits and resolved to adopt new ones after my past sins had been forgiven, God willing. But my sudden renunciation didn't last, at least not for long once I returned to the grind of the real world.
Like me, most people are unable to change all at one go so must take a longer, more gradual route to self-purification. Indeed, we are all obliged to cleanse ourselves from immoral characteristics and animal instincts and replace them with superior spiritual virtues, even if it is one step at a time.
God clearly tells us: "Successful is the one who is able to change his/her bad habits. And a failure is the one who is unable to change his/her bad habits." (Quran 91:9-10)
"A human being's life is nothing but a set of habits," says lecturer Muhammad Kazmi.
It was to teach us how to perfect ourselves and gain closeness to Him that God sent mankind prophet after prophet, each guiding his people to overcome selfish whims and passions through reason, self-building and refinement.
"I was appointed to the prophethood so that I may accomplish the important task of moral perfection in human souls," Prophet Muhammad (S) said.
Prophet Moses (foster son of Asiya, one of the four perfect women of all times) showed us that no matter how rotten our ways, change is always possible. On his first encounter with Pharaoh, Moses asked him: "Are you interested in reforming yourself?" (79:19)
"As long as the soul remains in this world of change and transition, it is subject to time and renewal; and as long as it is associated with matter and potentiality, the human being can change all dispositions and transform them into their opposites," according to Imam Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Scholars list top five bad habits that must be stamped out: 1) jealousy, 2) arrogance, 3) love of self, 4) stinginess and 5) greed.
Just as these unwanted traits become engrained in our personalities unless we are vigilant, so too do they get entrenched in our societies if they are not resisted. Indeed, there are many oppressive systems, traditions and norms in place all over the world that need our collective effort to root out.
While the world is waking up to these historic injustices, we must not neglect to reform those inner habits that oppress our souls. Indeed, "God changes not the condition of a people until they change what is related to their own conduct and behavior." (13: 11)
No doubt, it's silly to talk about changing the world when we can't bring the slightest changes in ourselves, like kicking an unhealthy addiction to peanut butter cookies (from Aldi). Must add that to my list of resolutions...right after finishing my midnight snack.