Change Begins With Our Own Thoughts

Change Begins With Our Own Thoughts

The quality of our lives depends on our thoughts, by changing our thoughts we change the world around us.

By Nabi Raza Abidi

Modern discourse often trivializes the link between our thoughts and the kinds of lives we live. The most obvious example is that of religious belief and how belief as a private enterprise bears little on worldly or even otherworldly salvation. Why should someone go to hell just for a “belief” is the question that is often asked, subtly but dangerously implying that religious belief is a personal taste like the taste we have for ice-cream.

Our lives depend on the kinds of thoughts we foster. If our thoughts are kind, humble, calm and loving then they will manifest themselves in our lives. The world is chaos and full of turbulence, if our thoughts are drawn into this chaos then our minds will not find tranquility.

Our thoughts are determined by the kind of priorities we have in life. Our goals are what anchor us and they are what determine our sense of fulfillment in life. As Imam Ali (as) taught us, when we prioritize worldly concerns we are guaranteed mental chaos and disappointment because of the inherent unpredictability and ephemeral nature of the world.

When our thoughts are anchored on the image of God, our thoughts are settled on that which is permanent, invariable and eternal. Thoughts become organized and consistent and little if anything in the world can throw a wrench in our thought process once our dedication to the Lord solidifies.

One of the greatest examples is the sacrifice of Imam al-Husayn (as). By any standard, Imam al-Husayn (as) faced the greatest tragedy a person could face in this world: the wholesale slaughtering of his family and friends. Yet the pain the world inflicted on the Imam did not put his thoughts into chaos; a life-time of anchoring his thought process in the divine cosmos guaranteed the serenity of his behavior in the world.

With our thoughts, we not only influence ourselves (health, degree of happiness) and those around us, but we also affect the cosmos. Our positive thoughts impact the world just as much as our negative thoughts do. Think of it, if you know a 1000 people in your life-time, that 1000 people will know another 1000 which means that you are one person away from a million people and two persons away from a billion people.

If there is to be good in the world, it must start with our own thoughts. If there is evil in the world, it must stop with our own evil thoughts. We must not blame the world for the way it is but we must blame ourselves. If Imam al-Husayn (as) changed the course of Islam’s history, he did so with his thoughts and by keeping his heart pure, and that is where we must begin if we want to change the world.

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California

What You Value The Most Is What Makes You Suffer The Most

What You Value The Most Is What Makes You Suffer The Most

Suffering is a mental reaction towards what you value in life. What you value the most is what makes you suffer the most. There are certain kinds of suffering that you can end by changing your set of values. This is why people who value their relationship with God and their state on the Day of Judgment tend to suffer less in this world because what pains most ordinary people pains them minimally. Changing your set of values is not an easy task, it requires restructuring a self that has been built over the years.

A good place to start would be changing your daily micro-habits. You spend half of your life doing them (folding your clothes, changing your sheets, organizing yourself, etc.) and they shape a large part of your character. Spend enough time persistently trying to change your micro-habits and you will end up changing your values in life.

This is why praying on time is so important in Islam as it directly affects your mind. How does this work? When you pray on time, it forces you away from your daily routines and makes your prioritize your relationship with God.

At first, you will feel great tension between what your self wants and what is pleasing to God. Over time, your brain gets rewired in accordance with your external actions (this is called neuroplasticity) and a new habit is formed. Once the habit becomes strong enough, you will see that not praying on time will begin to pain you and slowly but surely, you will also see that the other things that usually pained you in life begin to pain you a little bit less.

Success in seeing the results of praying on time is also incumbent on making an effort to reduce your sins when your not praying. Your life’s habits are like a web and they are networked together. What you do in one aspect of your life will affect another. Just like fighting with your spouse may affect your performance at work, your sins will also inevitably affect the quality of your prayer.

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California

How To “Time-Travel” And Change Your Marriage’s Past

How To “Time-Travel” And Change Your Marriage’s Past

Words are not objective, they are expressions of inner emotional states and so is how you view your marriage history.

By Nabi Raza Abidi

Much of your spouse’s outlook on your relationship’s history is informed by his/her current emotional state. How he/she views your personal/marriage history is a subjective enterprise and prone to change based on how he/she views the state of your relationship now. If there was a recent fight about something, chances are that you may be blamed for years of misery and for being the biggest mistake of his/her life. If things are going well, you will be praised for being the best he/she could have ever found.

The point I’m trying to make here is that when your spouse says something negative to you, or blames you for making his/her life miserable, don’t let it hurt you too much; chances are that his/her words are an expression of a temporary state of mind and a temporary interpretation of the marriage’s history. By putting in daily effort to change your spouse’s mental state, you will also be able to go back in time and change your marriage’s history to a more positive one. If “time-travel” is possible, this is one way to do it so to speak.

Too many people despair at words that are said by their spouses. Our words are expressions of our temporary states; they are expressions of our inner scars, pain and joy. At other times, hurtful words are the result of clumsiness, absence of serious thought and so on. They are not expressions of a deep seated will.

Once we understand the internal mechanism that drives human language, words will begin to hurt less and we will be able to look at the quality of our relationships with a more objective and bird’s eye-view. This puts us in a position to make wiser decisions about how to repair our marital relations and not react in ways that will make matters worse.

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California

Tips On How To Avoid Improper Relations With Opposite Members Of The Gender At Work

Tips On How To Avoid Improper Relations With Opposite Members Of The Gender At Work

As members of the opposite gender interact more, incidences of adultery and unfaithfulness have skyrocketed. Here are some thoughts on how to avoid the problem.

By Nabi Raza Abidi

Satan does not throw us into a deadly sin like adultery in one shot, he guides us to it step by step. At first, he starts it with something that is apparently permissible, say an innocent conversation between two members of the opposite gender at the office. Slowly but surely, he will lead them into a lesser sin, and then eventually a greater sin. This process can take weeks, and sometimes it can take years. This is how adultery can come to fruition. It begins with a professional conversation, but years down the road it can lead to a deadly sin like cheating on your spouse, either emotionally or physically (yes, there is such a thing as emotional unfaithfulness as well). I will write about emotional unfaithfulness next week insha’Allah.

Don’t take small mishaps, risks or gray zones lightly, with the right push (which is surely to come from Satan, and/or some kind of crisis in your life) it will lead to the destruction of your soul and your marriage. Try to be as conservative as possible even if you think it irrational. I have met plenty of people who have made light of it thinking this kind of conservatism is irrational, but have come to realize its wisdom when things in their lives or the lives of their close ones break down. DO NOT take the risk, it is not worth the break up of your family.

So what can you do in a work environment that necessitates interaction?

1) Whenever you are emailing a colleague of the opposite sex, try CCing another member. If this is not possible, BCC them.

2) Instead of personal texts, try group chats where others can see your texts.

3) Whatever happens, make sure never to go into personal conversations, do not reply to such texts. This means that you should not discuss anything OTHER than work if communication is necessary.

4) Allow your spouse free access to your phone and email. I know this may be harsh and invasive to some, but it will keep your behavior in check. Having your spouse surveil your communications will keep you in check. This is important just in case some of the above points are not possible.

5) Tell your spouse about all the members of the opposite gender you have communications with. Let them know where these communications are happening, and inform them if they try to talk about personal things. This will ensure that trust remains between you and nothing is left to their imagination. Remember, Satan can play with your spouse’s mind making them think that you are being unfaithful when you are not. So do not give the devil the opportunity to use this as ammunition against you.

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California

Why Do We Fear? By Nabi Raza Abidi

Why Do We Fear? By Nabi Raza Abidi

I’ve been recently thinking a lot about the psychology of fear and fearlessness. What is it that makes a person fearless? Fearing God is a good answer, but I feel that it is not explained well (by people) from a psychological perspective.

Conquering fear does not seem to come from the lack of fear, but from building up courage in the face of it. In my observation, many of the people who live lives full of anxiety and fear are usually individuals who are lost in the world. They have no grand purpose in their lives, and if they do, they have not set the proper mini or step-by-step goals in life to reach them. It is like being smack in the middle of a city. If you know what you are supposed to do, and you have the directions, then your time in the city will be a breeze. But if you have no purpose in that city, and no directions, then it is likely that anxiety will set in.

When you set a noble purpose in your life and define it properly and realistically – not all aims are realistic, so you must set your aims high enough to bring about a transformation in you but low enough so that they may be realistic – along with the small steps required to reach them, then what you do is cultivate courage in your soul because now it is oriented properly (so make a note of this: anxiety is often the result of disorientation in life). Through the cultivation of courage, your entire being – both physical and spiritual – sees a transformation. Events and accidents in your life that would usually paralyze you with fear and stop you on your tracks become opportunities and challenges that help you realize your inner weaknesses and deficiencies and ultimately open the door for you to overcome them and become stronger.

Becoming a saint (walī) is an example of a noble purpose in life. For regular human beings, saints are not born, but forged in the tribulations of the world. Becoming saintly is an ability that is cultivated by reorienting life’s purpose to acquiring divine grace through the culmination of small but measured steps in obeying God. It is in this way that courage is built up and eventual fearlessness (of anything other than God) is achieved.

Begin with sorting out your life by organizing it. Clean out your room, house, car and organize everything by category and stick to it. Keep a balanced and healthy diet and try to exercise consistently (however little it is). By organizing and cleaning up your life, you will then be ready to sort out your time and life schedule properly in order to reach your purpose in life. Without organization and scheduling, you will achieve very little. Once organization, cleanliness and scheduling is set in your life as an automated habit and routine, you will find improvement in your relationships because much of your neuroticism will be tamed or perhaps even vanish. Yes, emotional instability in many people is the result of the lack of routine and organization.

Whatever you do, do not take the all or nothing approach. You will make mistakes, you will revert to your old habits and you will occasionally feel burned out. The key here is persistence. Think of this journey as a moving train; sometimes you will get knocked out but you should try to get back on it again. Do not measure your success by having been on the train all the time but measure it by how many times you have been able to get back on it despite falling off many times.

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California

The Only Way You Can Truly Fix Your Marriage

The Only Way You Can Truly Fix Your Marriage

To fix your marriage, you must first begin with fixing yourself. By becoming a noble, compassionate and composed human being, you will be able to influence your spouse into becoming a better person.

By Nabi Raza Abidi

The biggest mistake people make in a marriage is that they try to change their spouses. They see problems in their marriage and think that by attempting to directly change them, things will get better.

Often enough, things will only get worse because by trying to change your spouse, you enter a clash of egos and that ends up creating more hostility. If you are lucky, your spouse will only change short-term and will eventually go back to what they were once things get difficult again between the two of you. This is even after giving them harsh ultimatums (e.g. next you do this, I will divorce you).

So what is to be done? Remember that it always takes two hands to clap. The first and most important step is to introspect and seriously consider your own faults. If you have difficulties in doing so, you can listen to what others have to say about you and be appreciative instead of being offended or dismissive.

Your faults can manifest in an infinite variety of ways which can go unnoticed by you. These can be coldness, being unappreciative, ungrateful, or negligent or even resentful of certain duties. It can be prioritizing work, friends, hobbies or even blood relatives over your spouse, dismissing your spouse’s needs and wishes because it takes you out of your comfort zone or because you’re “too tired.” Other reasons can be the tone you speak in, messiness, not taking proper care of your appearance, health and physical fitness, your attitude with your children, your spending habits, etc. It just doesn’t end.

Sometimes it can also be the way you react to a problem. Your spouse may commit a major inexcusable mistake, and may have repeated this mistake several times over the years even after dramatic fights and promises not to repeat it; or they may have made an innocent mistake, yet your reaction (dramatic, condescending, insulting, setting ultimatums etc.) in either case only makes the problem worse.

Studies have shown that when parents react dramatically to the misdeeds of their children, certain parts of their brains end up shrinking or being damaged. Having a calm, mature and wise approach to misdeeds does the opposite in children and fosters a healthy development of the brain. Adults are no different. Wisdom-based and composed reactions not only ground the chaos of your relationship back into order and meaning, but they also foster a healthy psychological environment in which your spouse’s mind and behavior can grow and flourish.

If your spouse has behavioral or even moral problems in life, these problems are symptoms of an inner disease. It is only by addressing this disease that you can cure its symptoms; trying to mask the symptoms will only leave the disease untouched. The disease will simply grow overtime and get worse to the point where things will become unmanageable. Overly emotional and dramatic reactions will only make the diseases and symptoms worse. Spiritual diseases can be cured in many different ways. The most effective form of healing I have seen has been healing through association and positive influence. This is how children and teenagers grow up to be healthy adults, and this is how unhealthy adults are transformed into decent human beings.

To elicit true change in your spouse, you must begin with eliciting change within yourself. You must embark on a serious and objective investigation of your faults and introspect your inner demons and diseases. Part of this comes from self-examination, and the other comes from listening to the criticism of others. A helpful tool here would be to read religious works on spiritual diseases and try to locate yourself in them. Without knowledge of what is actually bad, you won’t be able to notice it in yourself.

The second step would be to take religious practice (including rituals) more seriously from fasting to doing prayers and by taking your time in practicing them and doing them on time. These practices are forms of discipline that help tame your body and your desires and helps your intellect gain mastery over your emotions and whims.

The third step would be to find people who are more advanced than you on the spiritual path whom you can extract wisdom and positive influence from. By transforming yourself, you anchor your being in this world of chaos. You become a person to be respected and looked up to. Your spouse will inevitably be influenced by you to some degree thanks to your calmer demeanor, as well as your positive, non-dramatic and encouraging attitude. Most sane people want to find inner peace, you need to become that source of inner peace and not aggravate a disease that is already out of control.

I’ve counseled countless couples for over two decades now and I’ve never seen a situation where one spouse was 100% at fault. Either the spouse has done something to elicit a negative response, or they are simply incapable of reacting to their spouses’ misdeeds in a wise and mature way. The fact that you married a person is testimony to the fact that you have accepted to deal with a person’s faults. This is the fact of life, whether you marry them, or you give birth to them, or befriend them. Any type of social relation carries with it the responsibility of dealing with its problems. By walking away and saying you don’t want to “deal with it” because you “did not sign up for it” will not solve your problems, it will only make it worse and will eventually lead to absolute loneliness.

Try putting your arrogance/ego aside and nurture your compassion for others. See yourself (first and foremost) as a person who is sick that needs healing. Once you have embarked on this path, try to see others this way as well. Try healing them by giving them “healthy germs” and above all, be patient. This process will never be complete and results may not be immediately visible. It may take many months or even years until you see substantial results. But the wait, effort, and patience is definitely worth it. You will come out a better and happier person in the end, and so will those whom you love.

Waʿlaikum as-Salam,
Yours Faithfully
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California