Islam: Day 2 – I’ll turn in my homework…God Willing

My students pretending to do their assignments
My students pretending to do their assignments

When I taught English in Egypt, I assigned homework for the students to complete. There were a few students who were habitually late with their work so I would ask them directly if they were going to be on time. They would routinely respond “Insha’Allah,” which means “God willing.”

In this particular context, the response was infuriating. The students said it as if it meant “maybe I will, maybe I won’t, who knows?” It was as if they were absolving themselves of the responsibility to turn their assignments in on time.

Though my students abused the phrase, I have actually grown to like it.

As an American, I’ve been raised to respect the idea of independence and personal responsibility. My fate is determined by my own actions.

This is empowering, and is probably the reason why there is a huge American market for self-help books.

Islam, however, believes that one should submit to God. The highest virtue is submission, not independence.

Islam demands you submit to the will of God, not treasure your own independence.

“Humility means seeing our lives as games, our games as trivial, our triumphs as temporary. It means abandoning here on the prayer mat all that we thought that we were and knew. If we want to understand the meaning of humility, we might search out the strength of a servant, not the whining and resentful servant, but the strong and willing one whose strength comes from helping others and in serving a Master who shines with the light of a million suns.”  – Coleman Barks and Michael Green

This passage is directly opposed to the American emphasis on individualism and self-determination. On my twitter feed, there will typically be 3-4 links to articles about leadership and how to become a great leader. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article teaching readers how to be a strong and willing servant. I’d be curious to see what would happen if Fast Company or the Harvard Business Review posted an article titled, “Three ways to become a more successful servant.” The comments would be fun to read.

The phrase “Insha’Allah,” when used correctly, embraces servitude. It acknowledges that your actions and your desires should be aligned with God’s will and design for your life. It’s a verbal reminder that your desires are subsidiary to God’s plan for you.

It’s actually quite Stoic in a way. The Stoics recognized that there were many things outside of their control, and that they should only desire things within their control.

Muslims, though they still believe in free will, acknowledge that they are not as in control of their lives as they like, and things will only happen if God wills it. Instead of desiring things within their control, they should only desire things consistent with God’s will.

I wonder what would happen if more people started embracing a service mindset rather than independence oriented one. Not service to worldly things like money, prestige, etc., but servitude to higher values, to the values embodied by God in Islam and most religions.

Instead of asking, “what do I want from my career?” we would ask, “what does God want from my career?”

I’ve been watching the show Silicon Valley and one of the running jokes is that everyone in the start-up world wants and claims their company is “changing the world.” What it implies is that everyone wants to make sure their work matters; that it makes a difference, even if their product is trivial.

It’s clear that many people have the desire to do good in the world, to make their life matter, but it manifests itself in very egotistical ways. People want to change the world, but they want to be the star of the show. They want the money and the prestige and the recognition that they are changing the world.

I’m no different. I want this blog to help people, but I also want people to read this blog and tell me how smart and insightful I am.

Helping people is noble, but I need to work on doing it more humbly. I need to acknowledge that this blog will be only be successful if God wills it.

I’ll be thinking and writing about the topic of submission more over the next few weeks….Insha’Allah.