Maria Limehouse sat outside before maghrib salah (evening ritual prayer) and remembered. With tea and chocolate in hand, she looked around at the beautiful green leaves of summer, inhaled their smell deeply, and relaxed. She used to sit outside at this time of day regularly
When I was learning about Islam I was saddened by the prospect of having to give up sitting outside at sunset. I must have thought salah (ritual prayer) was a lengthy affair. I certainly hadn’t considered that an eagerness and yearning to make salah would both fit into the best of my good practice and supercede my preoccupations and longings to be in the midst of my bad habit.
I had never meant to to become an addict. I thought I could pick and choose the times I would do what I did. Preoccupation crept up on me slowly and it wasn’t until I had completely given up practising self-pollution that I truly saw that I had partly missed experiences and had neglected relationships because of a constant state of planning, counting down, and looking forward to when I would next find a good spot to inhale.
When I started looking into Islam I soon adopted a head covering and became shy about my public behaviour in case anyone mistook me for a Muslim and misjudged Muslims because of me. Alhamdulillah (all praises to Allah), this was the beginning of change. Almost two years later, I had weaned myself down to four daily pollutions when I realised two things that granted me the impetus to really change: I was enslaved to my habit yet really I should only serve Allah; there were five times prescribed for salah each day so I could, perhaps, plan for, count down to, and look forward to making salah and this would be enough to get me through quitting. I hoped so and finally took the risk alhamdulillah, thanks to the gentle prompt of a serious but non-judgemental invitation to watch a performance of salah and the following day participate with the group – my inviter knew I had just finished learning how to make salah but hadn’t used my knowledge.
Alhamdulillah, I took up the habit of practising salah from that prayer on. I did make the mistake of tasting my old habit a couple of times: it made me sick – alhamdulillah. The month of Ramadan soon arrived giving me the opportunity to embrace a detox from my general pollution that is the forgetfulness to remember Allah constantly. The habit of salah, along with other regular acts of worship, helped me to be successful over my forgetfulness, alhamdulillah
I am acutely aware that hope was not enough for me to change and gain strength in maintaining my change. I hoped to give up self-pollution for a long time before I did it, and even years later as a practising Muslim I have to keep checking my habits to see if I am inadvertently allowing small treats or temporary necessities to creep into becoming overly frequent or detrimental habits, or if I am neglecting opportunities for good habits.
When exam/work deadline times are over do I remember to re-adjust my snacky eating habits and schedule ibadah (worship) back into my day? When the cold months are over can I make an effort to drink less tea? After guests have departed can I continue as good habits some of the helpful things I did for their visit? Who within my company can help me?
It seems there is a foulness about exchanging a bad habit for the good habit of making salah – to swap one addiction for another – and it is foul to have polluted myself and disrespected my body in the way I did. I learned the hard way that I am designed to be an addict. But alhamdulillah, I grateful to have learned and to have been guided to the very best habits of all, those for which we have all be designed: acts of worshipping Allah (subhana wa ta’ala – glorified and exalted be He).
With my bad habit, I was not in control of how much I practised my habitual act – I was always wanting more which led to slowly increasing my practice. Now that worship is my habit, am I always wanting more and looking for another opportunity to praise Him thereby inadvertently increasing my habit? I hope not. I know He is in control and I hope that I am encouraging the habit of worshipping on purpose. But, as I said, I know hope is not enough. Alhamdulillah, Ramadan is almost here again to help me put detox at the forefront of my intentions within a community of Muslims I can support and be supported by. I have learned that I need other people to succeed in my good habits and I do not want to neglect my relationships and connections in the Ummah (community of Islam).
It makes me happy to know that you are in this work with me of planning, counting down, looking forward to and then practising good deeds (inshaAllah). Let’s put down the tea and chocolate a minute, imagine the fragrance of Jannah (Paradise) as we breathe, make du’a for each other, and then look out for ourselves and each other as we navigate our deen (religious path) together .
Narrated AbuHurayrah: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: A man follows the religion of his friend; so each one should consider whom he makes his friend.
(Abudawoud Book 41, Hadith 4815)
Maria Limehouse knows personally that bad experiences often trigger bad habits and this compassionate empathy is one of the driving forces behind her healing stories and poetry on her blog
For tips on quitting smoking click here