by Ayesha Iqbal

Some of my best moments of introspection have been on trains. The kind that make me sigh and fall back in my seat, watching my reflection over fields. I was on a virgin train I take regularly and the guy on the PA system gave the usual introductory welcome in 3 languages: English, Spanish and Urdu. Don.

I remembered a moment from a few days before… I had been listening to SoulFoodFM whilst scrubbing grease off pans, hoping to cleanse the grease from my soul. It was vigorous work. Watching the earth drink freely of His mercy outside the train window, my focus shifted to my own crop (my heart) and I remembered that grease with some alarm. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

A sin begins as a blemish and grows. The grease builds. Every sin that is committed and not repented for, grows. It doesn’t stay the same. We hear the analogy of blackness on the heart, and how every sin adds more black. But that isn’t the full story. The marks grow like bacteria. They do not merely taint the heart — they infest it.

There are still a few days [left of Ramadan], I decided. I can roll up my sleeves like I had for the pans (i.e. push back the ego), don gloves (like sabr) and scrub scrub scrub (as in taubah taubah taubah). Repentance resembles the scrubbing of pans in many ways — it isn’t pretty. You have to work for it. It is painful and you get tired of fighting against yourself. But if you persevere through that initial grease, you will get a sparkling clean surface.

Another example is given in the return to exercise after a period of lapse (as for many believers after Ramadan!). The body initially struggles — why? Because it had such a long break. You need to work through that initial phase of pain to regain your progress. The initial stage is always painful but the body adjusts very quickly after that. Although your muscles may cry out, you know that if you stop now it will only happen again next time you try. You understand that you need to work through this phase. If you give up and keep returning to it, the pain will strike you anew.

It is the same with taubah. If we keep stopping after the initial phase, we end up going through this initial painful phase over and over again. Like a muscle that is only worked once in a while, over and over again. It is always painful the first time you approach your heart to clean it. It screams at you and you wince. But persevere and it gets easier + stronger.

If a pan is left for a few days without cleaning, it becomes much harder once you return to it. The grease hardens and thickens. Why do we think the same won’t happen with our hearts, when the world teaches us that no mess cleans itself?

Every sin without taubah… Is grease on a pan. You have to scrub, scrub, scrub. Until your knuckles bleed, but it must become clean.

Taubah hurts. Sabr hurts.

But you shine.

I often remember the story of a scholar encountered by some students on his travels. When they ran into him they began praising him out of excitement and love. He disappeared and they couldn’t find him for a while.

Later, after searching for him, they found him in the last place they thought to look. He was cleaning a public bathroom on the side of the road where they had stopped. Not just cleaning, but really dripping from the effort. They were alarmed because of their immense love and respect for him. They asked him what he was doing.

His answer was something like, “when you praised me I felt something in my heart (i.e. the ego) so I came here to remind myself [what I am]”.

His response to his ego was to humble himself through labour. I remember this story often. Ramadan was a time for a deep clean. And to do that, I did a lot of external cleaning. With my full effort. Not holding back.

It is impossible to repent without admitting one has made an error. Therefore the first obstacle is the ego. “Always accuse yourself” (Shaykh Akram)

“O Allah, cleanse me of my sins as a white garment is cleansed of dirt. O Allah, purify me from my sins by snow, rain and hail” (Hadith)

Eve of Eid thoughts:

It isn’t over. It’s just beginning. I… am just beginning.

“Perhaps my Lord will guide me to a way better than this” (Surah Kahf)

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