25 lessons by 25
I'm officially a quarter of a century now—can you believe it? I'm halfway through my mid-20s! This year's list of lessons include a lot more spiritual reflections because they've been central to my personal growth. The most important ones to me have an asterisk*. Without further ado:
#1 Define happiness on your own terms*
Don't look at other people's source of joy as a model for your happiness. BROADEN your definition of happiness—you don't have to live the same way others do. I used to question my contentment because compared to my peers who are far ahead in their careers, I'm following a path way different than theirs. I've learnt that I'm contented simply because I'm doing all the things that are right for me.
#2 You're more than enough*
We're living in an increasingly superficial and materialistic world that teaches us to feel worthless when we don't fit a certain mould. Societies are shaped by many flawed minds that cannot comprehend the true value of a human being. Life's failures, too, have a way of making us feel like we're not enough but you must know in God's eyes, you're always enough. As a Muslim, I know that I don't need to conform to society's ever-changing mould to know where I stand.
The centre of your heart is a special place reserved for God; if it doesn't serve its purpose, it'll malfunction. Even the love you give your spouse should not take up more than the love you've for the Almighty. To paraphrase Yasmin Mogahed: 'You can still love all the right [halal] things in the wrong way.'
#4 The best gift from someone is prayer*
Never underestimate the power of a sincere doa made for you. I genuinely believe that a huge portion of my rezeki (provisions) was granted to me because those I love and who love me, mentioned my name before Allah SWT, the Lord of the worlds. How can any gift in this world ever compare to that?
#5 Silence is not passivity
Silence is a sign of wisdom; there's a time to speak up and a time to remain quiet but most people say too much, far too often. Every word that leaves your mouth should be of value.
#6 Keep learning new things
Challenge yourself by learning something new. I started studying fus'ha (Classical Arabic) this year and although I'm still very much a beginner at it, I leave every class feeling so fulfilled. Whenever I can, I also join writing workshops and Islamic talks by some really awesome sheikhs.
#7 Make your home your safe haven*
Like many millennials, I've gone through that phase of believing the grass is greener on the other side—I was so eager to leave my home and even country at one point. It all changed when I heard Imam A say that one of the blessings of a Muslim, is their home, and if we can't find comfort in our home, we can't find it elsewhere. He mentioned how sad it is that many people now spend majority of their time outside their homes because it's not the primary place they turn to for joy and fulfilment.
If there's something that we dislike about our home—unless it is abuse—the solution is to fix it not to leave it. So I started doing more activities at home, like cooking, reading and drawing, instead of going out to socialise. I even have a succulent plant called Emma that's under my care now! :D It took a bit of time but not before long, I preferred staying at home to going out. I'm also part of TN50 and it makes me happy that I can serve my country.
#8 Take time to marvel at God's creations
It's not natural for us warm-blooded beings to be surrounded by concrete walls all the time. If you live in a city, get out of there to reenergise and heal yourself. I don't know about you but when I spend a whole day close to nature, my whole body feels lighter.
#9 Spread happiness unto others, even strangers
This needs no explanation; don't be stingy with happiness. Share it!
#10 Expect to be disappointed by people
I learnt the hard way that sometimes people aren't sensitive to your feelings not because your feelings don't matter, but because they genuinely don't know any better. Their capacity for empathy is very limited so it's our duty to be merciful and let it slide.
#11 Gratitude never gets old
It cures sadness, greed and envy, and helps put things into perspective. If there's a habit that you should practise every single moment of your life, it would be the art of gratitude.
#12 A popular opinion does not make it a right one*
As a young practising Muslim in this day and age, I've observed how so many people just go with what their favourite celebrities or friends think without much critical thinking or guidance. It's always convenient to follow what a lot of people think but what's wrong is wrong, even if the whole human race vouch for it.
#13 Respect those with more knowledge than you*
Know that in the quest to gain knowledge, especially ilmu agama, one must practise humility before their teachers and more importantly, before God. It's so easy to feel proud and be argumentative when you disagree or dislike an opinion but that is a sign of arrogance and immaturity. Think really hard: how much do you know to give a valid opinion? A lot of people are sinking in their ignorance while thinking they're floating.
#14 Read plenty of books
The right books can crack your mind wide open and help you see the world in a different light. I often turn to my books to give me a clarity of mind and to help me understand why the world is in its current state. But like anything you fill your head with, choose the books you read wisely.
#15 You meet better people as you continue to improve yourself
You don't meet good people by putting on a false image of yourself. People appreciate authenticity more than anything else. The kind of people worth having will enter and stay in your life when you are genuine and honest.
#16 Small minds can't understand big dreams
A lot of people either don't want your dreams to come true or they just don't know how to make them happen. When you're still young and hopeful, constantly hearing discouraging words might not be the best thing for your growth. If someone isn't helping you achieve your dreams, find someone else who will. If not, it's better to keep your plans private and just make it happen!
#17 Don't be afraid to take time off
I don't believe in working like a dog until both your physical and mental health are compromised. If something is clearly bringing you down, don't be afraid to take a step back to reevaluate your priorities. Ask yourself: am I doing the best for my health?
#18 Make your dreams bigger than your fears
As someone who struggles with anxiety, I used to not attempt anything that I think I would be horrible at (which is a LOT of things). I turned down many opportunities just because I was scared of screwing up. Thing is, you learn more from failure than success. When you can focus on the finish line, you'll learn to not give your pre-game jitters more attention than it deserves. You don't become better by only doing what you're good at, you become better through constant improvement and acquiring new skills. To do this, you've to minimise your fears.
#19 Remain a mystery
The best parts about you should be reserved to those who sincerely want the best for you.
#20 Don't feed the nafs*
Everything these days have been designed to feed the nafs and give us the illusion of empowerment and happiness. Pop culture is centred around a YOLO attitude—do whatever that makes you feel good without considering the consequences.
You're not free until you're no longer enslaved by your ego. But also remember this: if by practising Islam, you become arrogant, argumentative and judgmental, you're not in a better place, you've fooled yourself into thinking your nafs is in control.
#21 Don't make arguing a habit
Some arguments are necessary but almost 99% of them aren't. Leave it.
#22 Eliminate boredom from your life
I'm not talking about the boredom you feel when you wait in line at the doctor's. If you're bored and sick of your life in general, know that it's NOT normal. There's a void in your life and you must fill it with what's beneficial.
#23 Death is inevitable
Nothing sobers you up more than being reminded of death. My ustaz once told me that people think they can live happier lives by not thinking of death when in reality, you live longer when you remember death. When you're fully aware of your mortality and understand that you're fully accountable for your actions, inshaAllah your life's path becomes much clearer.
#24 There is wisdom behind broken-heartedness*
It is only with a broken heart that we can come to realise we are mere mortals, completely dependent on our Creator. We are no better than anybody else except in piety. Perhaps a heart that aches for Allah to heal it is better than a heart that doesn't remember Him. Shaykh Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah: "You need to be broken so you are not proud and not full of yourself."
#25 DON'T IDOLISE ANYONE*
This is a huge no-no. I like admiring awesome people but I don't idolise them. Emulate the good traits of a person but do NOT try to become them. You are you; become the best version of yourself. The only person you should emulate is Rasulullah ﷺ as he is free from imperfections, followed by his wives, sahabah and the awliya after him. I really despise celebrity culture. Far too many people idolise social media figures and when that person does something they dislike, they get so disappointed. It's as if they were betrayed.
I see this happen far too often with hijabi fashion bloggers on Instagram. Young girls and women become so obsessed with them because somehow, they've managed to 'do it all', but as soon as they do something disagreeable, like revealing their aurat or expressing an unpopular opinion, you'll see lots of people bashing them. Why? They're not religious figures; they don't have to be who you want them to be. People need to learn to become the person that they want instead of forcing their expectations onto others and getting angry when they turn out different.