It’s the Little Things—That Save You from Burning Out

When you think of the things Allah loves from us, what comes to mind?

Is it Hajj, traveling across continents and oceans to visit the Sacred Sanctuary? That’s a huge act. Is it Salah, spending time alone with the Master in the deep quiet of the night? That, too, has its reward. Is it spending from our wealth, emptying our pockets freely for the sake of Allah? That deed is loved to Allah.

But we are told by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ what deeds Allah loves best. He said,

“The most beloved of deeds to Allah are the most consistent of them, even if they are few.” (Al-Bukhari no. 6464 and Muslim no. 2818).

And Muslims don’t live our lives with this in mind, because we, the “religious” people, are often too focused on other things. This is because some of us have an unhealthy approach to religion.

At some point in our lives, many young Muslims get a burst of religious energy. They attended a conference, heard an amazing talk, or just came into the company of good friends. Their iman feels sky-high, they’ve got that Iman Rush, they want to serve the deen of Allah. So they dive into the work, volunteering at MSA, taking every Al-Maghrib class that comes into town, spending their weekends at halaqaat at the masjid. All of these things are great things to do, and rewarded by Allah, Insha’Allah.

But the problem is that all too often, these Muslims do not find a healthy balance in their lives. They go all in, and shoot for Sahabi-status after leaving a life of partying the week before. What inevitably happens is Burnout. Major Burnout, where people soon find they have no motivation to act at all. The original religious fervor is gone, and they often didn’t find a consistent spiritual and motivational source to maintain it. This Tarbiyah is necessary for anyone involved in Islamic work—a consistent regimen of studying sacred knowledge, developing one’s manners and good Islamic character, and progressing in one’s worship. Too many Muslim activists don’t have a teacher or mentor they can turn to for advice and who guides them along with Tarbiyah.

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Burnout

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah was one of the greatest and most influential thinkers in our history. He was a prolific writer and activist, writing hundreds of books and defending orthodoxy from foreign influences. One of his students, the famous scholar Ibn al-Qayyim, reminisced about him,

“I once attended Fajr prayer with Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah. He then sat and remembered Allah until it was nearly midday. He then turned round to me and said, ‘This is my early morning meal, if I do not take this breakfast, my strength will drop.'”

He compared remembering Allah to food—spiritual food that nourished the soul and gave it the energy to continue on in life. All people care to satisfy is the hunger of their stomachs, but too few spend time to satisfy the hunger of the soul.

I remember hearing about Burnout as I was growing up from people who saw it happen before, and was warned about it as I started taking the deen seriously. I’ve personally seen it happen to people, and I don’t doubt there will be people in the future who will go through it (may Allah protect us!). Every generation of Muslims growing up seems to repeat the same mistakes and conflicts of those that have gone before.

I’ve written before about how Islam gives everyone and everything their due rights. Some religious young Muslims in danger of Burnout are out of balance in fulfilling these rights. While they may fulfill the rights of Allah (for now), they may not give the full rights their families have over them. They might neglect their job or their education. Allocating time and energy to all of the people and responsibilities we have is essential to preventing Burnout.

Some people will take on too much responsibility and will end up failing at everything, and not give anything its due right. Know Allah created you a human being, with limited time and resources. Don’t volunteer to pick up the Shaykh for the event, moderate the talk, and record a video with him for another organization, the same night your parents want to go out for a family dinner and you have an assignment due at midnight. Learn to say no. Don’t be an officer/executive of every group you’re a part of if it’ll mean that no organization will receive your full attention, and they will all suffer.

And above all, we need to keep in mind the most beloved deeds to Allah are the consistent ones, even if the deed itself is small. Allah loves it better if you read and memorize one ayah every day, than if you read the Qur’an cover-to-cover in Ramadan and let it gather dust on that high shelf the rest of the year. It is more beloved to Allah if a person fasts every Monday (and/or Thursday) than if they fasted for a month straight and then never fasted again. Islam develops in us the practice of remembering Allah in everything we do, and letting that have a positive impact on our lives and character. If the remembrance of Allah isn’t consistent, then it won’t change us into better people over time. And so the deeds done consistently are better and more beloved to Allah.

These deeds can be as small as listening to Qur’an on our drives to school, every day. Or offering two raka’ah of Salah when we have a quiet moment between classes, every day. Or collecting our change in a jar, every day, and giving it in sadaqah when the jar is filled up. Or visiting the local hospital once a month and “spreading smiles.” (Shoutout to MSA’s Project Ummah Walk—let’s do it again soon, even if on a smaller scale!)

If a smile is sadaqah, why don’t we make it a habit to smile and thank the bus drivers we meet every day? Our small deed can be as simple as sitting for a few minutes after each salah, remembering Allah with dhikr, and reflecting on our own condition and actions. Don’t finish reading this article without having thought up of at least one small deed that you can do consistently in your own life. That small deed is beloved to Allah, and I want a share of the reward for advising you about it. ;)

May Allah give us the ability to be consistent and remember him, and may He save us from burning out, in this life and the next. Ameen.

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