Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the fourth year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
Today is the fourth of July, America's Independence Day. Many of my community members have been trying to figure out how amidst the World Cup, Fireworks, BBQs, Suhoors at IHop, Iftar with friends, and taraweeh, they are going to use the free time that comes with the holiday. A constant thought that surfaced in many discussions last night: "It's so nice to pray without the anxiety of knowing that I have to go to work tomorrow."
The real world and the responsibilities it brings can get pretty heavy at times. We get pulled day to day by a monotony of distractions that give us a semblance of relief but usually are the cause of most of our tension. Chasing after the material world and everything it seems to offer can get heavy at times. A breather is both deserved and necessary for all of us. Those moments of taking a step back and making time for ourselves are crucial.
As much as I love my job, it has me on my feet a lot. The last couple of years has gotten better only because I've been deliberate in making time for myself and changing how I do things. Getting to that point necessitated me realizing how my individual growth was being stunted by an absence of self-care. A step deeper helped me understand that if I wasn't growing, the people around me who count on me to keep moving forward wouldn't be getting what they deserve from me.
We host iftars every night at our Islamic Center at New York University and have been doing so for about 15 years now. Five years ago when we were renting space in the basement of St. Joseph's Church on 6th Avenue a few blocks away from Washington Square Park, I was regularly working all day and all night and taking no breaks or advantage of any opportunity for outlets. In those years I found myself getting sick quite often, my mood was highly irritable, and in that Ramadan in particular I lost more than 20 pounds. Towards the end of the month, I was losing more than a pound a day. It didn't really make any sense why that was happening.
Even though I don't probably do what most people do for a living, I was making the same mistakes that many people make in regards to how they prioritize their careers over themselves. I was so driven at "succeeding" at my work that I was willing to give up anything I needed to for it. Aside from my physical health being impacted by lack of sleep, I stopped exercising regularly, ate very poorly when I actually ate at all, and complicated the situation even moreso by not building any deep relationships or friendships. I didn't see my family as much as I could have or should have and let myself be driven towards anxiety and stress that I could easily have stepped away from had I took a step back and saw what the issues were actually rooted in. I wasn't married and didn't have a child at that time, but in retrospect had I had either, I probably would have been very neglectful of them. The worst part was I could justify it all because I was doing "good" work. Again, it made no sense.
"True richness is not having many possessions. Rather, true richness is having a richness of the soul." ~ The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
What really makes like fulfilling? What gives us real contentment and not fleeting moments of satisfaction? As much as we want to keep moving forward, we sometimes need to take a step backwards to truly understand where it is that we are going and how to relates to where it is we'd like to be. By no means am I saying to give up on hopes and dreams or to stop being inspired towards any sense of aspiration. But really think about what it is you are giving up in order to "succeed." I could introduce you to 20 different people from my community right now who would tell you that they wouldn't give up the prayer that they prayed in the late hours of last night, free of stress and anxiety and aware only of the One they stood in front of, for any amount of wealth or material possession. Even if every night can't be like that, definitely more than what we are letting be at this point could be like that. It's for us to decide what we prioritize.