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Disclaimer: What is outlined below is a generalization of scientific findings related to nutrition that I attempt to synthesize with traditional wisdom and practice. It is not a replacement for medical advice, nor is it intended to be a treatment plan for a medical condition. Any attempts to implement concepts below should be done under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
It is hard to blame anyone for being completely confused with the rapid pace at which new nutritional recommendations are being made. It seems like everywhere you look there are new fad diets circulating in the news, social media and celebrity Twitter feeds.
For Muslims in particular, this trend may elicit even more head shaking. After years of having to defend against skepticism and backhanded comments from incredulous individuals in dismay about our backward fasting practices, everyone is talking about fasting like the concept never entered the mind of a human being ever on the face of the earth.
Frustration aside, there is a lot we stand to gain from the advances in understanding nutrition and fasting through a Western lens. Even the most traditional non-Western urban societies are much closer in resemblance to Western culture than their predecessors 1500 years ago.
And that means as much as we recognize, for example, the negative impact of a Standard American Diet (SAD, the most fitting acronym in the history of the English language) we need the same framework that produced that lifestyle to understand how to address it.
Modern science may even shed light on the past to address these problems in ways previously unimagined.
I have taken this all to heart, leveraging my background in medicine and a predilection to self-experimentation to develop a plan that incorporates the best of both worlds and times.
This year for Ramadan, I have a very specific goal: to be in a state of nutritional ketosis for the duration of the month.
Now, before you tune out what may sound like a fad diet approach to the holy month, let me add that I believe that this is completely in line with our deen (religion/way of life), the Sunnah of our Prophet , and an integral part of the journey to self-actualization; living the best version of ourselves.
We can benefit from an exciting field of research without getting sucked into the hype and misinformation that inevitably arises from the commodification of a “new” discovery.
Instead of struggling to focus, beating back hunger pangs and crushingly heavy eyelids, I propose we can approach this month in a way that improves our focus on worship and self-discovery, the depth of our connection with our Lord, and our resilience to engage this world and meet its challenges.
A good place to start this conversation is the current state of affairs when it comes to the average Muslim and Ramadan.
It is a safe bet that we will hear at least once during this month about the negative impact our contemporary Ramadan culture has on us.
I have heard prominent figures lecturing on this topic, and already during one khutbah (sermon) this month, quote statistics that the average Muslim gains 5-10 pounds during Ramadan. But in a recent review of the medical literature, I have not found many high-quality studies that support this claim.
In fact, a recent systematic review  from earlier this year that included 70 different studies and almost 3000 participants showed a statistically significant drop in weight and body fat percentage in Muslims fasting around the world.
This is despite the fact that 11 of the 25 most obese countries in the world are Muslim-majority countries . If anything, this is reassuring that despite our worsening problems with overweight, obesity, and associated health conditions, we still have the capacity to realize positive change in relatively short periods of time.
It is also evidence that our Creator has endowed us with a “physiologic fitra”; that is, an inclination for our bodily functions and processes to trend towards health under the right circumstances.
Our worldview is one of an integrated human being, without the distinctions between mind and body that is inherent in contemporary mainstream Western thought.
Our view holds there is a primordial nature to our being, and that would necessarily entail a physiologic aspect. More on this later.
It is quite natural to approach this month from the health angle. However, this approach is flawed because our imperative is to worship God , not to be beach ready.
Any objective other than fulfilling a commandment dilutes our sincerity in the act, and, at our peril, risks the rejection of an act of worship for being directed to other than God .
Rather, by utilizing our current understanding of metabolism, and approximating the physiologic states expected from the descriptions found in our tradition, we bring ourselves into closer alignment with the Sunnah for the sole purpose of perfecting God consciousness and worship.
With this in mind, let us reacquaint ourselves with examples from the tradition, but first a tiny bit of human metabolism.
Understanding How Your Body Functions
Most of us subsist predominantly on the burning of carbohydrates for fuel. We do this by eating or drinking a form of carbohydrates every day.
It is safe to say the vast majority of people in wealthy nations do this every single day, multiple times a day, for all of their lives (when was the last time you truly had nothing to eat for more than a day. If you can think of a time, usually it’s a major life event).
When our brain and muscles take their share of what is needed for their purposes, the rest of the sugar in our blood has to be stored in some way. That is either in the liver or as fat.
Our liver functions much like a savings account and our body fat much like a safety deposit box to store fuel in a different form of currency.
As long as we continue to use carbohydrates as a dominant source of energy, we have little incentive to use this stored energy. What’s more, the hormone used to signal excess-sugar storage (insulin) has to be sent out at higher levels to keep up with the increasing resistance of the body to dealing with all the excess supply.
This is the basic, highly simplified, start of metabolic syndrome (think: diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, and obesity).
Even if it has not gotten to that point, if you can’t have a snack without crashing, you get hungry almost as soon as you stop being full, and your mood and level of focus throughout the day is highly dependent on having eaten, you may be struggling because you are completely dependent on this metabolic pathway to function.
The metabolism of a person who does not regularly have large sources of carbohydrates is quite different.
When carbohydrates are scarce, either because calories overall are limited, such as during times of food scarcity (intentional, as in time-restricted eating AKA intermittent fasting, or circumstantial, like famine), or because carbohydrates specifically are limited (think keto diet, very low carb diet, Atkins diet, etc), the body needs to use other sources of fuel.
When in need of energy, and dietary fats are available, fats are broken down into their basic parts, called ketones, which can be used throughout the body for energy.
When there are measurable levels of ketones in the blood, this is a state of nutritional ketosis.
When this happens regularly, the body, through a complex mechanism of gene signaling and activation will build the cellular apparatus to make use of ketones.
This process becomes increasingly efficient over time, and the body goes on to be adapted to ketosis, or “keto-adapted”. This source of energy does not require insulin to be available for your brain or muscles. As such, mental clarity and alertness is increased, the crash after sugar spikes is avoided, and a whole host of other beneficial cellular pathways in the body are activated.
In addition to weight loss, people frequently report better energy levels, focus, and relief from hunger.
When the consumption of food is time-restricted, such as fasting from sunrise to sunset, a whole host of physiologic processes come into play. These seem to play a major role in protection from obesity, cardiovascular disease, and endocrine dysfunction .
The immune system, for example, is directed towards the cells of our body that are malfunctioning to be broken down for energy.
Inflammation throughout the body decreases. This seems to be particularly important in the gut, which needs time to recover from the highly inflammatory activity of digestion. These two approaches to nutrition taken together may be a key to unlock some of the body’s most powerful tools for healing and health promotion .
So how do we reconcile this take on nutrition with the common recommendations to track all calories as the same, to eat small frequent meals, and to never skip a meal (especially breakfast because it’s the most important meal of the day)?
Essentially, most of what you have heard and what continues to be perpetuated about nutrition is, at best, misguided and outdated by about 20 years.
At worst, it has been heavily influenced by the food industry .
Eating multiple small meals a day does not help you lose weight, and skipping meals is not the worst thing that will ever happen to you (especially if it’s processed sugar for breakfast).
Eating fat is not what causes you to gain fat, and not all calories are the same. Restricting calories alone can help in weight loss for a short while, but study after study has shown that it almost always comes back because of the adaptive slowing of our metabolism .
Compare this with the example of the Prophet and his companions from the Seerah (biography of the Prophet ) and Shama’il (virtues and noble character of the Prophet ).
During that time the majority of people were not faced with the problem of excess. Indeed, hunger was the norm, as described in a hadith in which the Prophet would spend many consecutive nights and his family did not have supper, and most of the time their bread was barley bread. [Jami’ at-Tirmidhi].
The hunger would be so extreme at times, he and his companions would sometimes resort to tying stones to their stomachs to quell the pangs [Sahih Muslim].
On days there was no food in his blessed abode, the Prophet would declare himself to be fasting [Sunan Ibn Majah].
The Prophet stated “A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach. It is sufficient for a human being to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight. But if he must (fill it), then one-third of food, one third for drink and one third for air.” [At-Tirmidhi]
That is, the expectation is for a few morsels. The division of filling the stomach in thirds is to limit the most that should be consumed.
He was also reported in hadiths to be muscular and have toned physique. “His chest and stomach were in line, but his chest was broad and wide. The space between his shoulders was wide. The bones of his joints were strong and large (denoting strength).” [Shama’il Muhammadiyah, The Noble Features of the Prophet].
If we were to guess which forms of metabolism were predominant in that community, which is more likely? If we add on top of that a regular practice of fasting, all while continuing the vigors of an active pre-modern lifestyle, there is little doubt in my mind that our predecessors spent a significant amount of time in a ketogenic state.
One last bit of evidence to consider is the hadith on the breath of those who are fasting in which the Prophet was reported to say:
“By Allah in Whose Hand is the life of Muhammad, the breath of the observer of fast is sweeter to Allah than the fragrance of musk.” [Sunan an-Nasa’i].
There is no doubt that dry mouth contributes to bad breath, which is common during fasting, and this hadith is usually taken to mean that despite our perception of bad breath, God is pleased by the act of worship that produces it; thus it is sweeter than musk.
However, ketosis also has an effect on the breath. One of the ketones made is acetone, which is released in the breath and has a very distinct fruity smell. I find that be a much more compelling explanation for what is being referred to in the hadith.
So, What’s The Point?
Now, it may appear that I am advocating for a keto diet. It’s not quite that. What I am advocating for is a cyclic ketogenic state that can arise by a combination of caloric restriction, time-restricted eating (the least of what we do in Ramadan), significantly reducing carbohydrates and getting most of our nutrition from healthy fat.
Ramadan is a time where most of these things can happen, especially the first two, and the duration is limited.
The body very likely needs a balance between these different states of metabolism, and there isn’t a one size fits all. It also can’t be done haphazardly.
Reducing our intake to the extent described in our tradition rapidly for someone starting from a SAD diet (which is generally unhealthy) is unwise as it would ignore some harsh realities. Those include the fact most of us are not physically prepared or adapted to do this because of our modern lifestyles, and our food itself is far different in nutritional density than previously.
Our soil is depleted and we have less variation in our diet. We have also lost a lot of the diversity of our gut flora that likely plays an essential role for physiology (something called the “disappearing microbiome hypothesis”).
This is essentially another disclaimer that, despite the potential benefits, this is not a casual affair; a game plan, including consultations with a nutritionist familiar with this diet, is of the utmost.
Done correctly, I believe, this has the potential to transform Ramadan for many of us who are motivated to excel in all dimensions of life.
Ramadan is an opportunity to engage in a process of self-discovery and deep introspection with predictable regularity, fueled by the powerful realization an entire ummah is engaged in the same process.
Our first responsibility in the fulfillment of the trust our Creator places upon us is the mind, body, and soul on loan to us. It is with and through them that we engage the Divine will.
Speaking from personal experience, the focus in worship and sense of connectivity I have found in a state of ketosis is nothing short of a gift from our Creator . That we have exchanged the traditional lifestyle for a modern one means having to use the tools of the scientific method to understand how the average Muslim can use their physiologic fitra to help them on their spiritual journey.
Our integrated vision of the human being, not a separated mind and body, means one cannot benefit from an act spiritually without benefiting physiologically and cognitively. The inverse, I pray and trust is also true.
Anything true and of correct guidance in this is from Allah , any faults are my own. If you suspect I am wrong, please let me know as I continue to learn from my mistakes. If you are certain I am wrong and take a strong objection to this, I would ask, only partly in jest, to show me your six pack.
Fernando HA, Zibellini J, Harris RA, Seimon RV, Sainsbury A. Effect of Ramadan Fasting on Weight and Body Composition in Healthy Non-Athlete Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2019..
Do you experience self-doubt? Do you feel like an imposter at work? at home? In the big goals that you want to achieve in life?
You’re not alone.
I used to think confidence was a genetic trait imprinted on those destined to greatness. It was only after studying the lives of the accomplished- like prophets, business owners, athletes, change makers- that I came to a transformative realization: confidence must be built purposefully!
Musa is the most mentioned prophet in the Qur’an. He is known to have stood fearlessly in the face of the Pharaoh in an attempt to free the people from tyranny: the epitome of bravery.
His courage and confidence were not built by happenstance, but rather a consequence of a very purposeful dua (supplication to Allah ).
Remember, Musa started off pampered and privileged in the Pharaoh’s palace but an unfortunate accident led him to flee and become destitute. Years later, still with a guilty conscience, Musa is called upon by Allah [SWT]. He must go back to the Pharaoh and intercede on behalf of the oppressed Israelites. At this point, Musa makes his emotional dua:
My Lord, expand for me my breast [with assurance].
And ease for me my task
And untie the knot from my tongue
That they may understand my speech
And appoint for me a minister from my family -Aaron, my brother.
Increase through him my strength
That we may exalt You much
And remember You much.
Indeed, You are of us ever Seeing.”
The Quranic description is vivid. What resonates in this account is the internal struggle between feelings of inadequacy, confidence, humility and self-awareness.
We experience similar feelings.
Know that Your Feelings are Not Uncommon
How often have we felt that despite our qualifications, the task ahead of us intimidates us?
Everything within us and around us says that this is the right next move, yet we hesitate. It may be the presentation to our colleagues, a career change, writing an article, enrolling in a course, or advocating for someone wronged. This sensation of fear, overwhelm, and self-doubt, often leads to unhealthy paralysis.
Fortunately, we can repurpose these feelings to our benefit.
Allah [SWT] shows us how to do that in describing Musa’s dua.
First, Musa begins with recognizing the status of Allah [SWT] as The Lord, and that all success comes from Him[SWT]. He asks Allah [SWT] to expand his mind/chest and ease the affair; he then acknowledges his impediment and asks for its removal; in the last part, he pleads for a supporter from his immediate family.
I’ll elucidate the intricacies and implications of each step.
1. Remember Allah & that You were Chosen to Do Your Own Best
Imagine being spoken to by The Mightiest Lord. What an incredible boost of confidence; the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth has chosen you to fulfil a role.
Everything starts with Allah [SWT].
Allah [SWT] is our Creator, Provider, Sustainer, and life’s Controller. When facing a new opportunity, a scary venture, it often gives us butterflies in our stomach. We feel an anxious sentiment of excitement. This is definitely out of our comfort zone.
How can we proceed in a way pleasing to Allah [SWT]?
Ask yourself “what direction does your moral compass point you?” Do those you respect and those who respect you consider this opportunity good for your growth?
Do you think 5, 10, 20 years from now you would look back on this decision positively?
Pharaoh, the same ferocious tyrant who massacred baby boys and enslaved populations. Imagine how Musa must have felt being asked to face the leader of the wicked. Undoubtedly daunting. In humility, Musa pleads
Sometimes we feel our responsibilities are overbearing.
I can’t stop eating and drinking for 18 hours.
I can’t wake up at 5 am to pray. I can’t speak up to criticize the new work policy.
I can’t be successful at work and have a loving relationship with my family.
“I can’t do that.”
Can you think of the last time an advisor or mentor asked you to do something and this was your immediate reaction?
These statements are classic examples of what psychologist Carol Dweck calls “fixed mindset.” It’s opposite, “the growth mindset” has been associated with greater success and accomplishment.
Expanding your chest is the Islamic growth mindset.
If you perceive your resources to be scarce, you will feel constricted and this will restrain your ability to see success. Allah [SWT] is The One who grants us our resources, and the abilities to utilize those resources.
He took his greatest concerns and impediments to success directly to Allah [SWT].
How often do we choose to ignore our obstacles instead of acknowledging their presence?
A toxic manager, an early deadline, inadequate experience, a limited budget…etc. Obstacles not only impede our progress, they often present very real harm. This harm is magnified when compounded with an unhealthy level of anxiety and fear.
The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad , taught us “If Allah wants to do good to somebody, He afflicts them with trials.” [Bukhari]
In this lens, we see that obstacles by themselves are not evil. But rather, our obstacles, can be a means for us to draw closer to Allah and that which Allah deems good for us.
We learn from Musa to not ignore the obstacles in our way, but rather — as Author Ryan Holiday described — “The obstacle is the way.”
Every new endeavour comes with territorial unfamiliarity that stems from our own inexperience.
First, acknowledge this inexperience. “I have never done anything of this scope. I have never launched a product in this industry. I have never interviewed for this type of position.”
Once we characterize the nature of our inexperience can we humbly pray for the courage to overcome it?
If we ignore our fears and downplay our obstacles, we hinder our growth- our ability to be greater tomorrow than who we are today.
4. Build a Support Network- Starting with Your Family
As a chubby high school freshman, I joined the wrestling team thinking that with enough training I could win at this individualized sport.
For the next three years, failure became my friend. My senior year was different; both in my success and in my approach. I swallowed my ego and solicited the help of my older, much more athletic brother in improving my stamina and technique.
His help led to my triumph. The sport became a family affair. In that season, Allah [SWT] showed me a lesson I continue to learn: those around you can either ground you or drown you.
Every success requires rock solid intentions and an unwavering vision of the destination. A friend may join you for the ride, but the family was placed by Allah to always be by your side.
Family comes first. I have often reflected on the beautiful dua in the Quran :
If your spouse, family, and loved ones are not in support of your aspirations, kiss your dreams goodbye. Although there is value in garnering help from friends, I say first find support in your family by giving them support. Build their dreams, desires, and goals. Value their counsel. Appreciate their encouragement. And thank them when they critique you for straying. Let their presence be the twinkle in your eye.
With these steps in mind, apply the lessons of this dua to your own struggles; use the dua to not only acknowledge your fears and feelings but also embrace them to empower you.
As with other Quranic duas, this one carries weight not only because they are the words of Allah but also because they were used by the greatest people of the past when facing fierce tribulations. During our own tough times, internal feelings of inadequacy, fear, and self-doubt can bring out the worst in us. Honesty with ourselves, humility in making dua, and a family-centred support network help transform these feelings into the confidence and courage needed to succeed.
Over the last few years, a new breed of motivational/self-help experts appeared on YouTube and wrote books on what many are now calling “Hustle Culture.” The ideas expressed by those operating within this community emphasize that to be successful you should always be working hard, getting the “impossible” done, and cutting sleep to start the hustle at 4:00 am.
This culture has arisen from the pressures of living in a global knowledge economy where to succeed and stand out, you need to do more, achieve more, and get more things done than anybody else, or you just won’t make it in life—or so you are told.
Recently, there has been a backlash against this culture, led by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who famously referred to it as “Hustle Porn” and described how this type of culture and mentality is destroying people’s lives and leading them to increased stress, depression, and anxiety.
The question is: If you want to be successful, what’s the alternative?
In this article, I wanted to showcase a model of productivity, which clearly contrasts the Hustle culture so prevalent in the self-help industry today. This model of productivity, first introduced in my book “The Productive Muslim: Where Faith Meets Productivity,” is based on the Islamic concept of “Barakah.” It incorporates the idea that “increase” or “benefit” comes from Allah (SWT) and is achieved through the alignment of body, mind, and soul to how He wants us to live on earth. It’s about how to achieve more with less, through the blessings of Allah instead of more with more through sheer grit and an exhausting drive towards material gain.
If you’re new to the concept of Barakah, watch this talk I gave at World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon (USA) in July 2017 on the topic of Barakah to learn more.
WDS 2017 - Keynote Address: "Barakah: The Missing Soul of Productivity" - YouTube
I explain below eleven ways that a culture rooted in Barakah is much more rewarding and sustainable than the soul-destroying hustle culture, and I suggest thought experiments for individuals and teams to practice implementing Barakah culture in a way that leads them to real success in this life and the next.
“Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him?” [Qur’an 25:43]
Barakah culture is centred around knowing and connecting with Allah (SWT); not only through formal acts of worship, but through every word, deed, and the daily choices one makes. It springs from the Islamic philosophy of ‘ebada (worship) that centres on the capacity that human beings have for making conscious decisions and submitting their will to that of their Creator. This entails being mindful of God by acknowledging Him and His commands and revolving one’s personal and professional life around what one’s Creator loves.
By way of contrast, Hustle culture is all about serving the self, one’s ego, or what the Islamic tradition calls the “nafs,” a subtle substance that comes into existence when the soul enters the body. The nafs grows as a child does, and over the years, if it’s not nurtured spiritually or disciplined, it remains childish. This is why all of us know at least one adult who continues to be self-centred and sulky when they are old enough to know better. In the business sector, this behaviour is often manifested in the obsessive drive for personal success, —even if it’s at the expense of serving Allah or meeting the emotional needs of their loved ones.
If you watch the “wake up at 4” YouTube videos on Hustle culture, you’ll notice that the “star of the show” is holding a camera pointing towards themselves (their nafs?) hitting the alarm at four o’clock, making coffee, exercising, showering, working on their side business, and getting to work—all before they think anyone else even wakes up.
Perhaps the hustlers are not aware that millions of Muslims also wake earlier than most (even earlier than the self-proclaimed hustlers). The difference is the Muslim community does it for an entirely different purpose: to remember Allah, to pray, and to serve Him. And yes, some of them, also fit in other things in their “miracle morning” like exercising, showering, and working on their side business, but once they are done with their prayers.
Here’s the critical question: which do you think is more sustainable in the long run? Waking up early every day so that you can serve yourself? Or waking up early every morning to serve Allah (SWT) because you recognize, He’s my Eternal Sustainer and the fact that this is what you have been created for?
When life only revolves around you feeding your ego, you’ll find yourself spinning in circles – some days being super productive, others not so much – all depending on your mood and how your nafs feels that day. Contrasted with this self-centred way, when your life revolves around Allah, it has a ripple effect not only on how you think but how you behave around others and how you live your life, leading to increased barakah in this life and the next.
Thought Experiments for Individuals:
Take a look at your day’s schedule and ask yourself how much of what you do is about you? How much of what you do is about serving Allah or others? How would that change if Allah (SWT) was your ultimate concern from the moment you wake up until you go back to sleep? How would you arrange your life differently? How would you plan your life around your prayers rather than your own comfort or the demands of your lifestyle?
Thought Experiments for Teams:
How can we work like a God-centered team? Are we focused on pleasing Him? If yes, How does impact the way we work? Would a new team member/visitor/customer notice our God-centered approach?
2. Purpose- & Impact-Driven vs. Personal Success-Driven
“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth [khalifah] a successive authority….” [Qur’an 2: 30]
This is a position of trust and responsibility and calls for individuals and teams to think about how their lives need to carry meaning and impact beyond their bank accounts or profit lines. It demands that we live lives, both individually and collectively, that honour our calling as God’s khalifah on earth rather than working to serve ourselves and our own desires because we know we will be held to account for the choices we made.
In contrast, Hustle culture is all about personal success, measured in terms of —money, power, and fame. Sometimes it’s sugar-coated as “financial freedom,” or “leaving a legacy.” Though, in the end, if you dig deeper, it’s about the person and serving their own ego, or nafs, as we mentioned in the previous point.
One way to test if a person is a purpose/impact driven vs. personal success-driven is to ask them to remove their name or any mention of themselves from whatever project they work on, or try to take the money, power, and fame off the table, and then see how far they go with the project. In other words, would they still give their 110% if they wouldn’t get fame, wealth, or power in return?
Thought experiment for Individuals
What do you consider marks of success? How much of what you believe to be “success” is linked to your personal attainment vs. the purpose/impact beyond you?
What can you do to shift your mentality away from a personal definition of success and towards an achievement that’s driven by a broader sense of purpose and measured by impact in your community?
Thought experiment for Teams
If you weren’t paid to be on the team, which activities would you do anyway? Do you have a vested interest in what the team is trying to accomplish, beyond your own material success?
“Whoever desires the harvest of the Hereafter – We increase for him in his harvest. And whoever desires the harvest of this world – We give him thereof, but there is not for him in the Hereafter any share.” [Qur’an 42: 20]
Barakah culture is about taking a (very) long-term view of life and recognizing that there’s life after death, and a day will come when our words and deeds will be held to account. The result is either an eternal abode in Heaven or Hellfire. Operating with this belief makes you consciously focus your life on the three investments that Prophet Muhammad taught us would continue to exist after our death: our children and their prayers for us after we die, an ongoing charity that’s genuinely sustainable and beneficial to people, and developing and spreading a useful body of knowledge that’s timeless.
Hustle culture takes a myopic, short-term view of life. It’s about the next quarterly report, the following annual review, and the next carrot in the never-ending game of corporate snakes and ladders. It’s fed by YOLO (You Only Live Once) mentality and acts that maximize pleasure for pleasure’s sake, and it pushes you to ‘get it all’ as quickly as possible—ideally yesterday.
An author adopting Barakah culture will write his/her book to last a thousand years, so it counts as a knowledge that benefits society long after they have gone. An author adopting Hustle culture, on the other hand, will focus only on hitting the best-seller lists within the first weeks of launch and rush through his book project because he or she is trying to catch a new “trend” before it’s too late.
How much time, energy, and focus are you putting in the three investments that will outlive you and your children? Are you actively developing a beneficial body of knowledge? Do you plan to build or support or set up an going charity)?
What small project could you start now and consistently focus on for the rest of your life?
Thought Experiment for Teams
What does it mean that we believe in the hereafter as a team? In heaven and hell? In a day of Judgment? How can we build a company/product that lasts for a thousand years and that benefits humanity?
4. Focus on Acceptance from Allah vs. Focus on Results
“And say, “Do [as you will], for Allah will see your deeds, and [so, will] His Messenger and the believers. And you will be returned to the Knower of the unseen and the witnessed, and He will inform you of what you used to do.” [Qur’an 9: 105]
عَنْ عُمَرَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ إِنَّمَا الأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ، وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى، فَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى دُنْيَا يُصِيبُهَا أَوْ إِلَى امْرَأَةٍ يَنْكِحُهَا فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى مَا هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِ
Narrated ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab: Allah’s Messenger said,
“The reward of deeds depends upon the intention and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for Allah and His Apostle, then his emigration was for Allah and His Apostle. And whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for.” [Sahih al Bukhari]
Barakah culture is focused on delivering work that is pleasing to Allah. It focuses on the two conditions required for our actions to be accepted:
Sincere, good intentions; and,
Sincere effort & action.
Hustle culture, on the other hand, is focused on material results, where the ends justify the means.
Some readers might ask, “Surely focusing on material results is better than intentions and actions? What’s the point of having good intentions and working hard, if there are no results to show for it?”
The philosophical difference stems from recognizing “Who’s in control.” Individuals operating within Hustle culture, believe that we are in control of our own lives and the material results we achieve. Barakah focused individuals, on the other hand, recognize that Allah’s ultimately in charge and that our hard work is never wasted in this world or the next as long as our intentions are pure and we sincerely put our best efforts forward, regardless of the material results we achieve.
A metaphor to help you understand the difference is the Gardener Vs. A Carpenter: The Gardener plants his seeds, waters his land, and works hard on his garden, yet if the garden doesn’t bear fruit as expected, he accepts it as Allah’s decree, renews his intentions, and works harder (and smarter) for next season. He’s not upset at the outcome of his garden because his intentions were pure and he did everything possible to help his garden grow. He also knows that the rest was not up to him.
“And have you seen that [seed] which you sow? Is it you who makes it grow, or are We the grower?” [Qur’an 56:63-64]
A Carpenter has a fixed image of what his product needs to look like to be deemed a success. He’ll set out to achieve that perfect chair or table or cupboard. If the product fails to match his imagination, he’ll get annoyed with his tools, at himself, and might even get depressed because he thinks he’s not good enough. He finds the thought of not being in control overbearing.
In other words, Barakah culture is about focusing on what you can control—your intentions and your actions—and leaving what’s not within your control to Allah (SWT). Hustle culture is living the daily stress of trying to control the uncontrollable, under the false impression that expectations always meet reality. This issue becomes more pronounced with Parenting. Parents who adopt a “gardener mindset” with their children—do..
It seems that a week doesn’t go by without yet another high-profile suicide that shocks the world. These are people who by all appearances were successful and achieved all that they wanted, yet they chose to take the plunge towards death prematurely.
At the outset, I’m going to say that I’m not a mental health practitioner or an expert in suicide or depression. So if you’re suffering from suicidal thoughts or going through depression, please seek professional help today!
The reason for this article is that, whenever cases of suicide pop up in social media, I notice people dismissing them in two ways:
Thinking it’ll never impact them or their loved one.
Believing that it’s merely a matter of faith and that if you have faith then you would not have depression of suicidal thoughts.
These assumptions grossly underestimate the challenge of maintaining mental well-being in our modern society.
We live in a knowledge economy where 80 per cent of our activity is mental. Whether we’re processing emails, managing projects or even trying to coordinate soccer practice for our kids with our spouse, we’re relying more heavily on our brains (and, by extension, on technology) to help us keep our lives together and be productive citizens of the world.
What happens when those mental abilities get stretched beyond their capacity, through stress or through traumatic events? Or what happens when we are afflicted with a mental disease because of our genes or our environment?
Replace the word ‘mental’ with the word ‘physical’ in the above paragraph, and you’ll know what to do: rest, and go see a doctor. However, we hesitate to make that decision when we were trying to figure out how to take care of our mental health.
I understand. Mental health is often a taboo topic. Anyone who sees a psychiatrist or mental health practitioner will be viewed with suspicion or pity by family members and colleague. Many would rather say that they are going to get a colonoscopy than admit that they are going through mental therapy.
1. Make it part of your healthy living blueprint: just like you take care of your body with food, sleep, and exercise, ask yourself how you are going to take care of your brain and your mental health.
2. Regularly see a mental health practitioner even when you don’t have problems. Having a relationship with a mental health practitioner during the good times will make it easier for you to reach out to them during the bad.
3. Tap into the mindsets, values and rituals that faith offers to help you keep your mental health in check. Things like trusting Allah , believing in His Mercy, having compassion, praying, fasting, and going on pilgrimages are all powerful tools in your mental health hygiene toolbox.
Let’s start taking our mental health seriously, not just for ourselves, but for our family and children as well. And let’s aim to reach out, to make sure that our loved ones know we are there for them when they are depressed so that none of them ever reaches the point when they even think about taking their life.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to reset, renew and rejuvenate your life, and discover an understanding of your true purpose then check out our upcoming retreat. By incorporating Islam and modern day science, our retreat is a life-changing experience to discover how you can become the best version of yourself. Click here for more information.
I was alone in the room, standing calmly, trying my best to focus on this very exclusive meeting I was in, then suddenly… the door opened, followed by footsteps and loud talking….it all went downhill from there. I lost my focus. I lost the precious moment I was in as my mind started wondering “what will they think of me now?”
I was in the middle of a peaceful meeting with my Creator for Dhuhr (noon) prayer, but instead, I became worried about what will people think of me. Something so natural as prayer can become a big struggle for some people on a daily basis due to work circumstances.
Since I can remember, as a child, I would pray; there was never a question of missing the prayer. Ever. This wasn’t because I had a perfect relationship with Allah from childhood, it was because it was the way of our house. Everyone prayed.
It’s easy to pray in an environment where everyone does so. However, trying to pray in an environment where no one else is -like work sometimes- can seem like a challenge.
I always knew why I had to pray but it wasn’t until I had firmly arrived into adulthood that I understood why I NEEDED to pray.
Why I found prayer to be very important?
1. It teaches commitment and accountability since it’s the first deed to be asked about on the Day of Judgement.
The importance of establishing the 5 daily prayers in Islam is demonstrated strongly and clearly in the Qur’an and many of the Prophet’s sayings. For example, the Prophet said:
“The first matter that the slave will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is the prayer. If it is sound, then the rest of his deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, then the rest of his deeds will be bad.” [Hasan]
So, prayer (salah) as taught to us by the Prophet will be the first of our deeds we get accounted for. This helps us develop a sense of seriousness, commitment and urge to avoid slacking behind in faith and connection with the Creator.
2. Prayer is linked to success.
Around 10 times a day the phrase “come to prayer, come to success” is uttered during the athan (call to prayer).
This success is referring to both worlds, so I realised I cannot separate salah from my daily life worried about ‘if I don’t mingle during lunch I won’t get that contract/ promotion etc.’ For me it was enough that Allah has promised me that salah is a means to success so I had to re-evaluate my priorities and give salah the worth it deserved.
3. It helps people learn more about your beliefs.
Often, we feel that if we pray or ask for a room to pray at work our managers/ colleagues will think we are ‘extreme’ but that’s just a thought. You see, a thought is only as great as you entertain it. In my experience, when I asked for a prayer room at work, it opened up more dialogue between us. My colleagues were intrigued but at the same time very supportive, alhumdulillah.
4. Exclusive, therapeutic private talk with the Creator
Salah is a space where no one or nothing gets to come between you and your Lord. It’s the only exclusive conversation you get to have, where along with all your troubles you get to put down your head and your heart to The One who created them; and He’s the best to mend what life breaks.
Physiological benefits of Prayer
If I turn your attention to the physiological aspects of salah, you’ll notice the positions of salah are somewhat like Yoga.
Yoga is celebrated and believed to be beneficial holistically. And if you think of the 5 daily prayers, just the position of sujood (prostration) alone, which is like the Balasana (child pose) in Yoga, allows the heart to be above the head hence increasing blood flow to the brain, this position also strengthens the abdominal muscles.
Research conducted by Raof Ahmad Bhat, titled “Unity of Health through Yoga and Islamic Prayer Salah” covers the similarities between Yoga and salah and how one rak’ah (unit of prayer) can activate the chakras which yogis believe to be the energy fields in our body. If the positions of prayer are performed correctly you can have a full body workout.
But prayer takes benefits to a much deeper level and it has a much deeper meaning.
The scientific benefits are only proven recently, but for believers, our reason for prayer is simple and straightforward:
“And I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed [to you]. Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.” [Qur’an: Chapter 20, Verses 13-14]
Prayer and productivity at work
I came across an article about Pop&Rest rooms/ pods which are available for people to book from 30 mins to 2 hours for those wanting to take a power nap during their lunch break away from the stressful office to a calm and peaceful environment.
Similarly, the positions of salah combined with the recitation in it are means for you to unplug from the busy world to a place of serenity. This helps regain your peace, gives you focus and more energy.
The important thing to remember is quality over quantity. If you are short on time and want to be able to maximise the benefits of salah at work, here are 3 key points to remember:
1. Keep it short and sweet: focus on the fardh (obligatory prayer) and recite the shorter surahs in your qiyaam (standing position of prayer). Allah wants ease for you so go easy on yourself.
2. Try to read the translation and/ or commentary: on the surahs you choose to recite which will help you gain a deeper understanding and help you concentrate. When you try to connect with the words you recite, it brings a new meaning to your salah.
3. Be present: this is vital to maximising the benefits, by understanding who you are meeting with and cutting off from the outside world for just a few minutes, it rejuvenates your body and soul.
But How to Ask for Prayer Room at Work
If you’re someone who works in a non-Muslim environment and is struggling to secure a prayer room, here’s my experience as somebody who has worked in Central and Local Government as well as the private sector and managed to get a prayer room in each employment, and my prayer rooms ranged from meeting rooms to cramped storage rooms and a fire exit stairwell.
If you don’t ask you don’t get
I noticed that there is always provision for people at work to take smoking breaks; asking for time to pray does not take longer than the smoking break your colleagues get. Those few minutes to fulfil your obligation of salah reset your mind, and give clarity and rejuvenation which helps at work.
When I asked for a room to pray at work, I was initially given a storage room to pray in, but it was still a space that served the purpose. I remember later on the fire exit stairwell was suggested as an area to pray and I thought ‘it’s not very private’ or ‘what if someone walks in whilst I’m praying?’ Then I reminded myself that this Dunya (worldly life) is not perfect and I had not come to work to find a perfect prayer place.
If the space you are given is not up to your standards, remember that Allah wants only ease for you. When we look at the story of Ibrahim he was never concerned with comfort, he just kept moving forward. I found a peace that I couldn’t find at home when I prayed in the fire exit stairwell because I found a connection there.
Perhaps because of my determination to not compromise on my obligations, Allah rewarded me with peace whilst praying at work. I was grateful when the brothers started using that space to pray also. A small effort on my part opened ways for others to pray.
Food for body and food for soul
Lunchtime – my favourite part of the day! It would seem nonsensical if your employer denied you the right to eat. if your stomach signals that it’s hungry then it’s time to eat. In the same way, salah is food for our soul. The signals for your hungry soul are the feelings of unrest pent up inside you that you are unable to make sense of.
Just as you feed your body to be energised to go about your work, your soul also needs to be nourished.
Employers look for loyalty, integrity and discipline in their employees. By showing them that you attend to your prayers punctually without intervention will show them that you are trustworthy and loyal. Salah was ordained for you to increase you; in spirituality, sustenance and in a commodity we are all in need of: time. It puts barakah (blessing and prosperity) in your time.
When planning my day, I plan it around salah and not the other way around. If you’re fortunate enough to have a mosque within a few minutes walk from your workplace, you can manage to incorporate prayer into one’s lunch break. However, if you need room to pray in your workplace and/ or the prayer time comes in between working hours that can be a little tricky depending on your employer.
I found that being open and honest about your needs is paramount in getting what you need. If you are not able to get the ‘smoking break’ time, then cutting out no more than five minutes (or however long it takes you) from your lunch break is an adequate compromise.
But what happens if my employer says ‘no’?
If you are made to feel uncomfortable by your employer for requesting a room for prayer, it might have more impact if you are able to get together with other Muslims in the workplace to request one. Although I have not personally experienced this, my husband and his colleagues had to navigate through several obstacles to obtain a room to pray and their stance on the matter helped with this.
The request is not unreasonable, but asking with a diplomatic manner and confidence can make the difference. Rather than impose yourself, find a way to compromise, and pick your battles wisely. Someone I know was told that praying in the corner of the staff room made one colleague uncomfortable, so instead, they gave her a classroom on the fourth floor. It may have been longer to get to, but she was grateful to have a room given to her to pray.
How often do we carry imaginary baggage with us that feels heavy on us? Salah put simply is the most beneficial transaction you will make in the day. It benefits your physically and spiritually allowing you to offload your baggage and renew yourself. So next time you are thinking ‘I’ll just finish this email’ change that thought to ‘come to success’ then run for it.
When was the last time you focused so intensely on something that you lost track of time and didn’t feel the hours passing by? When was the last time you focused on a single task without being distracted for more than 25 minutes?
Having the ability to focus on something deeply is becoming a lost skill in our interconnected world. According to some studies, the average adult checks their phone 150 times a day. If you divide that by the number of waking hours in a day, that’s roughly 10 times per hour! No wonder our focus is so fragmented.
Any successful person will tell you that the key to success is the ability to focus on long-term goals, short-term goals and important daily tasks without being distracted. And I’m not just referring to focus at work. We need to focus deeply to be successful in our spirituality, in our physical well-being, and even in our family and community relationships.
The more disconnected and fragmented our focus is, the less we’ll be able to live the best version of ourselves across all our roles.
One of the best books written on this topic is Cal Newport’s “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”, which has fascinating studies and practical strategies to help improve one’s focus. In one chapter, Cal recounts an anecdote about a high-performing professional who, as an orthodox Jew, studied the Talmud intensely early in the morning, which helped improve his focus and performance at work. I couldn’t resist drawing parallels between this practice and the Islamic tradition of reciting, memorizing and contemplating the meanings of the Qur’an, especially in the early hours after the dawn prayer.
Being able to sit still for 30–45 minutes after the dawn prayer and focusing on reciting or memorizing the Qur’an, away from distractions and everyday business, can be a powerful antidote to our hyper-connected world. It helps us develop the deep focus we desperately need to succeed. This is because concentrating intensely on divine texts and resisting the temptation to check one’s phone or getting up to do something else improves the focus wiring of your brain, which can have a long-term impact on your ability to get critical long-term projects done.
How do you develop this habit each morning so you can foster an intensely focused mind?
You’re not reciting or memorizing the Qur’an merely to exercise your focus muscles; you’re performing this as an act of devotion to Allah . This will help you stick to it for the long run.
Set a specific time
It should ideally be early morning right after dawn prayer. Aim for a minimum of 30–45 minutes of deep focus reciting or memorizing the Qur’an.
Don’t have distractions around you
Keep your phones away. Not in your pocket, or where you can reach them.
Tame your thoughts:
If your mind wanders while reciting, just bring your attention back to the Qur’an, and if you have a burning thought that won’t go away, have a pen or notebook next to you to record that thought so you can come back to it after you’re done.
Involve your imagination and senses when reciting
When reciting or memorizing the Qur’an, try to involve all your faculties, whether it is visual, by reading the text; auditory, by listening to yourself recite; or tactile, by holding the Qur’an in your hands in its physical format (instead of using your smartphone Qur’an app). Or use your imagination to visualize the meanings, images, and stories of the Qur’an as you recite them. This will get your brain fired up in many different ways.
If you care about living a meaningful, productive life and not a fragmented or distracted one, then you’ll need to develop your focus muscles. And there’s no way more powerful or blessed to exercise those muscles than by dedicating time early in the hours to the most important message to read that day, the words of your Lord.
Her voice rose in pitch as words rushed from her mouth. Her hand gestures became frantic and she barely paused to take a breath. I knew I needed to allow her to let off steam before stepping in with my signature style of asking her a question; a question I was almost certain I knew the answer to.
During the first 10 minutes of our conversation, Ms K had offloaded how overwhelmed and stressed she’d been feeling since our last session together. Between managing her clients as an education consultant, running her home, and caring for her elderly mother, she felt like all the balls she’d been juggling had hit the ground with a resounding thud. When she slowed down and heaved a huge sigh from her chest, I knew it was time for my question.
“Have you written anything down?”
At that, she chuckled and grasped her head, and I knew my assumption was right, long before she uttered a hushed, “No,” and the list of reasons why she hadn’t, the main one being lack of time.
Time — the thing many feel they don’t have enough of, and the very thing that Allah swears by in the Qur’an:
“By time. Indeed, mankind is in loss, except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.” [Quran: Chapter 103, Verses 1-3]
Ms K. was of the belief that taking time to write things down would strip her of time rather than grant her more, leading to her juggling a multitude of work-home thoughts in her head, each wrestling for her attention.
Yet, the truth is: offloading through a pen would do the very opposite of what she’d been experiencing. The simple act of dedicating some time to writing things down would grant her more mental capacity to manage tasks awaiting her, resulting in having more time to do them.
Writing: An integral part of our history
Writing isn’t something alien to Muslims or Islam. In fact, putting pen to paper features heavily in Islamic history, and it’s a major reason why we have bound copies of the words of Allah today, as well as traditions of Prophet Muhammad .
Through the act of writing things down, they preserved experiences and knowledge and captured time for us to benefit from today. From stories of old and what is to come long after we’ve expired our time on Earth, the companions of the Prophet penned knowledge before modern research discovered the myriad of benefits of putting pen to paper, which include: improving memory, gaining clarity, retaining information, maintaining physical well-being, and increasing creativity.
In fact, Allah in His infinite knowledge and wisdom taught us more than 1400 years ago that it’s through the pen that we gain knowledge.
This verse is humbling as it teaches us two key points:
We inherently possess no knowledge and know nothing until He grants us knowledge. This is reinforced by the fact that Prophet Adam knew nothing of creation until Allah taught him their names.
We are set apart from other creatures in that we are possessors of knowledge, and He has taught us to propagate and preserve what we know through the art of writing through the use of a pen. Through writing, we learn, expand, and grow — one generation to another.
The scientific benefits of writing
The significance of writing is great and every single one of us can reap its benefits whether we consider ourselves to be writers or not. A study conducted at the Indiana University revealed that the physical act of writing with a pen or pencil increases activity in certain sections of the brain, and research conducted at the University of Texas discovered that journaling increases the strength of T-lymphocytes, which are the immune cells that help your body fight off infection.
So, if there was ever a great time to whip out your favourite notebook and pen, it would be when you’re feeling unwell. It’s important to note that these benefits come from the action of writing by hand as opposed to typing on a keyboard or touchscreen device, which has become all too common in our digital age.
Just like Ms K. needed to put pen to paper to gain clarity and a better work-home balance, you have complete capability to benefit from writing, even if you’re not a writer and if you believe you’re short on time. Here are some ways you can.
1. Switch from screen to paper
If you’re in the habit of writing everything digitally (especially on your phone), make a pledge to switch to writing things on paper. After being so accustomed to tapping on a screen, mostly without much conscious thought, in order to develop a new muscle of writing on paper, take a moment to pause the next time you’re about to write digitally. This pause gives you room to choose differently for yourself. It’s the point you can consciously put pen to paper. The more you practice pausing before writing on your phone, the easier it’ll be to break out of the habit and into a new one.
2. Carry a pen and a small notebook everywhere you go
Having the means to write things down is a key component of being able to write when the time calls for it. There’s nothing worse than a wave of words hitting you, crying to be written down and you’re forced to scrawl on your arms with your nails! Okay, that might be a bit of an extreme example, but it’s always a great idea to have a writing resource on-hand, so you can jot down thoughts, observations, and even things to remember while you’re out and about. And if you don’t have a small notebook and pen, now’s a great time to invest in one.
3. Find different reasons to write
Writing can serve any purpose you want it to, and that’s why non-writers can write, too. You can keep a gratitude journal where you write things you’re grateful for; or a reflection journal where you express the highs and lows of your day or week. You can also benefit from writing insights you gain when studying the Qur’an — maybe a word in the translation jumped out at you, or maybe you want to remember a particular hadith connected to a verse in the Qur’an. Even a simple list of things you want to accomplish in a day transfers words from your often overcrowded mind onto paper, so you operate with a clear head and with greater focus.
4. Personalize your writing tools
If you find it a challenge to write on glaringly blank pages, why not decorate them? Just like people design their laptops, and phone cases to put their own flavour into the design, decorating your notebook will make a difference. Simply check out a stationery shop to explore what fits your taste and style.
5. Accept everything that flows
When putting pen to paper, there’s no right or wrong. Placing pressure on yourself to write ‘perfectly’ is, in fact, one way to hold your pen hostage. Give yourself the permission to accept all the words that flow from you. And if they make you cringe at first, that’s fine. Just like babies stumbled a hundred times before finally walking with ease, you can improve over time. Progression over perfection — always.
Once Ms K. gave herself the permission to pause to pen, she finally allowed words to tumble from her head in a way that led to her having greater clarity in her client consultations and being more present when at home. Writing is a powerful tool that comes with an array of benefits to learning, clarity, creativity, and connection. From having ah-ha moments about your day (week, or month), to recalling things you might have otherwise forgotten, writing can be a part of your daily life that ups your productivity and focus and preserves a tradition well-established in our rich Islamic history. It’s time to start writing.
When you feel overwhelmed and feel like your life needs an overhaul, pause, put pen to paper, and unload. Our upcoming retreat is the perfect opportunity to have that needed pause to rejuvenate and reorient yourself. Imagine taking a break to somewhere serene and scenic, and taking part in a tailor made, life changing experience to discover how you can become the best version of yourself. Our annual retreat is not to be missed. Keep an eye out for upcoming information. Places are limited.
When was the last time you used writing to de-stress and clear your mind? How did it affect you? Share with us the comments.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is one of the most revered & influential persons in history – yet arguably the most misunderstood as well. He would surely fit within the “misfits” description of Steve Jobs, “You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward.”
He was a man whose life was recorded in minute detail, and today billions follow in his footsteps in the way they dress, eat and sleep. Yet, his life lessons are rarely translated to be made relevant to our modern day challenges.
He was a man who lived the best version of himself, yet many people who claim to follow him, rarely reflect this best self-image of him.
In this article, our purpose is to translate the daily routine of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) into a practical guide that will not only let you see the beauty and relevance of his life to your life but will become a blueprint for the habits and routines you need to adapt in your life to live the best version of yourself: spiritually, physically, and socially.
”The Messenger of God is an excellent model for those of you who put your hope in God and the Last Day and remember Him often.” [Qur’an 33: 21]
Why should I follow the routine of a man who lived 1400 years ago?
Our daily habits and routines make a huge difference whether we live the best version of ourselves, or not. And one of the challenges each one of us faces is choosing the habits and routines that work for us and that over a lifetime, help us live a meaningful and impactful life. After all, each one of us wants to achieve success in life, and no one wants to be a failure.
The question is: what are these habits and routines? And which ones will guarantee that we’ll live a productive, meaningful life?
Usually, the quick answer is to look up successful contemporary people and try to copy their habits and routines. Just Google the term “habits of successful people,” and you’ll see millions of search results with articles and books on what do successful people do that most of us fail to do. But there are three issues with this approach:
Pseudo-Truth: We only see the parts of their routine that they allow us to see. And we don’t know the person as a whole. (i.e., What are their habits and routines when they are lazy and are having a bad day?).
One Dimensional: Most of the habits/routines highlighted are work-related routines, and we rarely see spiritual, physical, or social routines highlighted.
The 1%: Most modern-day successful people have had a “leg-up” on the social ladder and are starting off from a solid socio-economic base or live in centers of civilization that allow them opportunities to prosper. Think of all the successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, it’s hard to imagine some of them succeeding at the scale they did if they started from the slums of an impoverished nation.
Contrary to the above, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was:
A successful person across all areas of his life – this is not by my account, but by the statement of many historians and biographers throughout history.
His life was recorded in detail by his family, friends, and even enemies and hence we see him in his most intimate moments as well as public moments.
He was successful despite being born in the deserts of Arabia (away from the Roman/Byzantine centers of culture and civilization)
An orphan whose father died before he was born and mother died at the age of six, living poor for most of his life.
He was successful with his mission despite the odds stacked against him and losing many of his family members and friends due to his message.
He is loved and revered by over a billion people today and his message survived over 1400 years.
So now, are you intrigued to know more about his daily routine? Do you wonder what those small decisions he made every day and how it led him to what he became?
“Yes, but he lived in a desert, life was simple back then, and he didn’t have Facebook!”
One of the ironies of modern life is although we’ve progressed with our technologies, we’ve regressed in our humanity. As Dr.Martin Luther King said, “our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power, we’ve created guided missiles but misguided humanity.”
We think that because we live in the 21st century, in modern buildings with modern amenities and technologies a touch away, we’re somehow a different breed or a separate human species from people who came before us and therefore their lifestyle does not apply to ours, and their habits and routines are beneath us.
However, when we look closely into their lives, we’ll notice that they faced the same challenges we face. The challenge of finding meaning and purpose in life, balancing between their various roles, being successful in their endeavors, maintaining relationships, and leaving a legacy to be remembered. They loved, bled, cried, laughed, and lived their humanity and left us an example for us through their stories and example. And what better story to follow and learn from then the story of a man who according to his wife was a walking breathing Qur’an (the last divine message to mankind).
“Fine, but he was a Prophet! Someone special, I’m not special.”
Let me ask you this: how do you think special people become special? Isn’t it through their daily habits and routines? And for Prophets, their habits and routines were divinely inspired which makes them even more vital to emulate to help us live the best version of ourselves.
Are you ready now to delve deeper into the detailed breakdown of Prophet Muhammad’s routine? Read this article with an open mind and an open heart, and it might just change the way you live your life forever.
Before we begin, there are a few essential points to keep in mind as you read this article:
Using the word “routine” might not be the best description of a typical day in Prophet Muhammad’s life. As you’ll read below, he used to adapt each day to the needs of his family and community and did not follow a strict 9-5 routine. Having said that, you’ll see a clear structure for his days (mostly surrounding prayer times) and never was a moment ‘wasted’ or not utilized at its best.
The foundational piece of understanding the Prophet’s routine is his famous saying, “I was sent to perfect good character.” [Al Adab Al Mufrad] So every decision and choice he made, regarding how he spent his time, who he spent it with, and what he did on a day to day basis, comes back to this foundational piece. See if you can notice this thread as you read this article.
The Prophet’s primary mission and role in life were to save humanity by inviting them to the way of God. That was his full-time occupation. He was also a father, grandfather, husband, father-in-law, brother-in-law, and leader of his community. Again, keep this in mind as you read about his day to day routines and habits.
وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ
“And indeed, you are of a great moral character.” [Qur’an 68: 4]
Below we describe the Prophet’s daily routine based on a typical day during the latter part of his life, in the city of Madinah, when things started to settle down, most of his enemies embraced Islam, and he was in a position of strength and influence.
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The Prophetic Morning Routine
Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that you’re zooming into the humble dwelling of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It’s almost time for Fajr (Dawn) prayer, and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is either awake praying/remembering God or taking a brief nap after a long night in prayers.
Bilal, his friend and African Muethin (caller of prayer), calls the Madinan community to worship with his beautiful voice and the Prophet (peace be upon him) rubs his eyes, picks up his Siwak (a natural toothbrush made from the Salvadora persica tree (known as arāk, أراك, in Arabic)) and upon completing purifying his breath, utters the words “All praise is for Allah who gave us life after having taken it from us and unto Him is the Resurrection.” He sits up listening intently to the call to prayer, repeating the words of the Muethin, then he gets up to prepare himself for prayer.
He prays a couple of rak’aahs (units of prayer) in his home and lies on his right side waiting to be called to lead the prayers. If his wife is awake, he might spend these calm, precious moments speaking to her lovingly, staying present and nurturing his relationship with her. Perhaps during these moments, he might reflect on what he told his companions that “Whoever among you wakes up physically healthy, feeling safe and secure within himself, with food for the day, it is as if he acquired the whole world” [Sunan Ibn Majah].
When Bilal (may Allāh be pleased with him) would see that the people have gathered for prayer, he would come close to the Prophet’s house and say: “Prayer, O Prophet of God.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) would come out of his house, look up to the sky, then say: “In the name of Allah, I place my trust in Allah, and there is no might nor power except with Allah. O Allah, I take refuge with You lest I should stray or be led astray, or slip or be tripped, or oppress or be oppressed, or behave foolishly or be treated foolishly.”
Then he enters the masjid (mosque) with his right foot and supplicates: “In the name of Allah, and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah. O Allah, open the gates of Your mercy for me. I take refuge with Allah, The Supreme and with His Noble Face, and His eternal authority from the accursed devil.”
When Bilal (may Allāh be pleased with him) sees him entering the Masjid (Mosque), he would call an iqama (a particular call signifying the start of prayer) and the Companions would stand in neat straight rows behind the Prophet (peace be upon him) who would lead them in a long, serene dawn prayers.
After the prayers, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would spend time remembering God with special early morning supplications, then he’ll turn and face his congregation behind him.
During these early moments, when people are fresh from their sleep and refreshed with prayers, he would converse with them. Sometimes he’d share moving teachings that would make them cry. Sometimes he would ask questions to provoke curiosity and creativity. Sometimes he’d share a dream he had or will ask if any of them saw a dream so he might interpret it for them. And sometimes he might just sit and listen to his companions as they discussed life matters among themselves. He would stay present in their company until the sun rises.
After sunrise, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would go back to his home. He would enter his home with his right foot saying: “In the name of Allah we enter and in the name of Allah we leave, and upon our Lord, we place our trust.” As soon as he enters, he would use the siwak again, and greet his whole family, asking how they are and praying for them. During his visits, he might ask if there’s any food available that day; if there is, he will eat, and if there’s none, he would say “Then, I’m fasting.”
Think about these first few steps? How do they compare with our first actions when we wake up?
He wakes up at dawn (i.e., before sunrise) for the morning prayers. And every successful person will tell you that the secret to productivity and success is to wake up early. In fact, one of Prophet Muhammad’s famous saying is “The early hours are blessed for my nation” [Tirmidhi] meaning there are blessing and goodness in these early hours.
He’s mindful & present during these first few moments of waking up, conscious of his first few actions by cleansing his mouth, expressing gratitude to God, intently listening to the call to prayer. Compare this with our addiction to checking our phones as soon as we wake up and the impact it has on our focus and mindset.
He begins his day with gratitude, recognizing what a gift it is to be alive for another day and reminding himself (and us) that there’s life after death which gives him drive and purpose to live the best version of himself that day.
He’s present in every step (entering the mosque with his right foot, leave with his left, entering his home with his right) and blesses every transitions with a supplication or prayer (there are numerous recorded supplications of the Prophet for practically every transition/action a person might go through in a day, from supplications to entering/ leaving home, to supplications for putting on clothes/taking off clothes, to even supplications before entering/leaving the bathroom). These supplications serve the purpose of keeping someone spiritually conscious and aware throughout his/her daily activities.
His first primary “task” is the morning prayers and staying focused on remembering his purpose of life. What is our first major “task”? Responding to emails? Rushing to get kids to school because we woke up late?
He nurtured his relationships before sunrise, asking about his family/companions, engaging with them in meaningful conversations (and not act too busy to be involved in their lives).
He was easy going – if there’s food, he’d have breakfast. If there’s no food, he will fast. Compare this with the obsession most of us have for our morning cup of coffee or some particular breakfast item that “we can’t start our day without!”
The Prophetic Day
After he visits his family, he would go back to the masjid (mosque) and pray two rak’ahs (units of prayer), then he would sit in the masjid (mosque), and the companions would gather around him.
This was a known time for everyone in Madinah to come and see the Prophet (peace be upon him) if they wanted to spend time with him, ask him anything or needed anything from him.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) would spend this time teaching and share from the knowledge that Allah has given him as well as take care of the political and social affairs of his community.
This was the time that the Prophet (peace be upon him) would also receive delegations from nearby and far lands. Either newly converted tribes to his faith, or friendly tribes that did not embrace his faith but nevertheless came to pay their respects. He would greet his guests, honor them and ask about their news and how he can help them.
At these gatherings, the Prophet (peace be upon him) never had a particular seat or clearly marked symbol, to the point that when strangers would come to the gathering, they would have to ask who among them is the Prophet! (Only later in his life, did the Companions insist on making a special raised area for him and the Prophet agreed).
Sometimes food would be given as a gift at this gathering, and the Prophet and everyone around him would eat together communally. Even if the food is little, there’d be enough for everybody, a sign the companions took to be the barakah (blessing) of having the Prophet amongst them.
During these morning hours between sunrise and just before noon, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would also go to visit some of his relatives and companions. He will visit his daughter Fatimah (may Allāh be pleased with her) and spend time with his grandsons playing with them and be their playful granddad, or he will visit his friends who were sick, or lost a loved one.
Also, during these hours he would walk through the Madinah market, greeting the passersby with his beautiful smile, talking with young children and asking about them, and if a person stops him (whether male or female, young or old), he would stop and listen to them and see how he can help them. Sometimes he would walk alone, other times with his Companions.
Before Noon, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would go to his house, and as soon as he enters, he would first use the siwak, say salam to his family and pray some rak’ahs (units) of an optional (forenoon) prayer called Duha. Then sometimes if there’s food he eats, and if there isn’t he would continue his fast if he started fasting that morning.
Usually, at this time, the women of Madinah would come and visit the Prophet (peace be upon him) and ask questions about faith and rituals which they might be embarrassed to ask in a crowded mosque.
This is the time when he would also be helping his family, serving them, repairing his shoes and clothes, milking the sheep or goat, and supporting himself and his family with daily chores. He would also spend quality time with his family, talking, smiling and laughing with them.
Sometimes while at home, his close Companions would visit him at this hour such as Abu Bakr (may Allāh be pleased with him), Umar (may Allāh be pleased with him) and Uthman (may Allāh be pleased with him).
Then he would take a nap until close to the Dhuhr (Noon) prayer.
When Dhuhr (Noon) time comes, and Bilal (may Allāh be pleased with him) calls for prayer, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would wake up from his nap if he’s still asleep, and would perform wudhu (ablution) then pray in his home four units of prayers before the main Dhuhr (Noon) prayer. He’d wait for the salah (prayer) in his house, then he’d come out to the Masjid (Mosque), and Bilal (may Allāh be pleased with him) would call for the prayer to start.
After the Dhuhr (Noon) prayer, he would sometimes use this opportunity to address his congregation about an important spiritual or social matter. Afterward, he would return home and pray two units of voluntary prayers after the noon prayer then he’d go out with his Companions to fulfill specific duties needed in the city, or he’d stay in the mosque until Asr (Afternoon) prayer.
Once he returns from the masjid (mosque) after Asr (afternoon), he would spend quality time with his entire family in a relaxed, joyful atmosphere; he would ask his family questions, or they’d ask him questions, and the Prophetic house would learn and grow in understanding of the Divine revelation.
This part of the Prophet’s day might seem all over the place, and hard to draw specific routines that we can implement in our lives but consider the following:
He had designated “office hours” in the morning where people knew where to find him, and they could ask their questions. If you’re a leader and executive, being available and present for your team is extremely important.
He napped! The most influential man in history, the man whose task was to save humanity, and the man who has over a billion followers today, took time to nap. Let this sink in for a bit. Don’t tell me you’re too busy or important to nap.
His day was interjected with prayers and more prayers. Barely a few hours pass in his day before you see him praying. As if he’s recharging his batteries and taking a “break” from the world with prayers.
He went out to see his family and community and didn’t expect people to visit him. This was the leader of his community, the most beloved and respected person in town. You probably expect people to come and visit him all the time. Yet he took time out of his day to go in the market, visit the sick, spend time with the poor. A powerful lesson in servant leadership.
Whenever he was home. He spends quality time with his family. One of most powerful testimonies to his character was that we never hear any family member, or friend, or community member complaining to the Prophet saying “You’re always..
Every morning when you wake up, a battle begins. It’s a battle between forces that want you to become the best version of yourself and others that want to drag you down to become the worst version of yourself. These forces (some are internal, others are external) are always at war with each other, trying to win your soul to join them. And every day, through your choices and actions, you’re strengthening and supporting one force or the other.
Thinking of your life as a battle might seem a bit exaggerated and confrontational. However, it’s a powerful metaphor that can help play a critical role in your personal development and improvement.
When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was coming back from one of his expeditions, he made a powerful remark to his companions as they were reaching their hometown: “We are finished with the lesser jihad; now we are starting the greater jihad.” He explained to his followers that fighting against an outer enemy is the lesser jihad and fighting against one’s self is the greater jihad.
When you’re in a battle, there are two possible consequences: either you win or you lose. No one wants to be a loser, so here are seven ways to help you succeed every day:
1. Prepare during the night before you battle
No army in its right mind would blunder into a battlefield without a plan. Similarly, if you want to win the battle of life, you have to plan for it, day by day. Ask yourself, “What would make tomorrow successful?” The more detailed you are in your planning, the more prepared you’ll be to win.
2. Beware the little mistakes
In every battle, there are consequences for making the wrong move. Similarly, in the fight for your soul, there are consequences for the slightest mishap. If you think that checking your phone first thing in the morning is harmless, you’ve lost the battle for your focus over the next 3–4 hours. If you eat that donut for breakfast, you’ve just lost the battle for your energy level once the sugar rush is over. Be careful.
In battle, sometimes you need to fool your enemies to win. Similarly, sometimes you need to fool yourself to make better and smarter decisions. For example, you can say to yourself that you’re only going for a 5-minute walk in the morning but, once you’re out of the door, stretch that walk into a 30-minute walk or jog.
4. Learn from others
The smart general is the one who realizes that he’s not that smart and there’s always somebody out there who could teach him or her something new. If you’ve been struggling with a bad habit for a long time, look at how others have overcome that habit and learn from them.
5. Don’t despair if you lose
Some battles are won and others are lost. Lick your wounds when you lose a battle and get up and fight for your best self again the next day.
6. And don’t be arrogant if you win
Just because you had a fantastic productive day today doesn’t mean you’ve mastered yourself forever. Be grateful. Be humble. And strive to work harder. It’s never over until it’s over.
7. Have faith
Facing the battle of life can be challenging, especially with so many factors at play. Focus on what you can control and have faith that the rest will be taken care of.
At the end of each day, ask yourself: Did I win the battle of life today? If you did, be thankful and maintain your performance. If you didn’t, be humble and learn how to be better the next day.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve dedicated myself to learning the science of productivity. I read over a 100 books and articles on how to lead and live a productive lifestyle, and tried and tested tens of productivity apps, tools, and systems to make my life more efficient. Looking back, it seems that all productivity resources I came across can be categorized in one of three ways:
Hack Your Way to Productivity: These are tips, systems, and apps that make it “automatic” for you to be productive without giving it much thought. They are meant to hack the way your brain works and ‘trick’ you into doing things you’d normally not do if you didn’t have them.
Manage Your Physical Well-Being: These are the tips that focus on improving your health – eating well, sleeping well, and getting enough exercise. The basic premise here is that if you take care of your body, you’d be in a better shape to be productive and deal with life stresses.
Manage Your Environment: This school of thought focuses on how the space around us help us be productive. They look at noise, distractions, colours, furniture, and other factors that might affect our productivity and try to optimize our environment to boost our productivity.
All three categories have merit and are backed by years of research and scientific experiments. Yet the more I read and explored productivity research and all the latest tips, techniques, and apps that promise us to lead efficient and productive lives, I felt that there’s something missing in this discussion that’s fundamentally human but rarely do productivity experts engage in.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about – I’m talking about the soul. That neglected side of our lives that’s always present but we never seem to care about it as much. My contention in this article is that we’re not giving due attention to our soul when discussing the science of productivity.
The soul is the essence of the human being without which he/she loses their value. Think of a person who today is alive and kicking, has a character and personality, and people who love him/her and respect him/her. The moment that person dies, it’s as if it’s not him/her anymore. We rush to bury the person and only keep lingering memories of them in our photos and minds. We even refer to the dead person as “the deceased” and not even by their first name anymore.
Just like we know that our bodies need nourishment, sleep, and exercise, have we ever thought about the needs of our soul? And what would happen to our productivity if we understood the needs of the soul and started tending to them?
But first, let’s deal with the elephant in the room.
Why don’t we talk about the soul anymore?
I was inspired by the work done by Professor Malik Badri in his book “Contemplation” where he challenges the way modern psychology (and by extension, social sciences) have discounted the spiritual elements of the human being in the name of science. He argues that in the interest of emancipating Western societies from the grip of religion and in order to mould something as complex and variable as a human being into a scientific cast, modern human sciences tried to “dehumanize” the human by explaining human behaviour in one of three ways:
Behaviourism: Human beings are mere machines that, when exposed to specific stimuli, would react with responses which the researchers could control and predict.
Freudian Analysis: Human behaviour is fully determined by one’s unconscious sexual and aggressive impulses
Biological determinism: Any human behaviour is fully governed by our inherited genes, nervous system, and inborn biochemistry.
Because of the above categorization, all human sciences – including productivity – has been drawn from the above sciences. For example, when we speak about “How to arrange our environment to make us more productive“, we are essentially subscribing to Behaviorism. When we talk about the foods and exercises we eat and their effect on the brain and our ability to focus, we’re drawing results from Biological determinism.
I am not saying that these sciences aren’t helpful in explaining some human behaviour, yet my contention is that these sciences are not the ONLY way to explain human behaviour since the human being is a complex creature that cannot be reduced to a chemical or physical data in a lab experiment. Moreover, modern science may have mastered how the body works, and how our brains function, but they don’t give a satisfying answer to how the soul works and what its needs are that if fulfilled – can help us lead meaningful and productive lives.
Understanding the needs of the soul
It is true, that it is hard to define the soul and it is hard to “touch it” or “feel it” or “smell it” or “taste it” or “see it” But just because it’s hard to define what the soul is – do we deny its entire existence and ignore such a hugely important element of our lives that we all intuitively feel exists?
In Islam, we are taught that the Soul is the matter of the Unseen and we would not really understand the soul:
“And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the soul. Say, “The soul is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind has not been given of knowledge except a little.” [Quran: Chapter 17, Verse 85]
However, we are taught to recognize its needs and desires and to feed the needs of the soul regularly. Just like the body and brain needs food, water, and a distraction-free environment to get its best work done.. the soul has needs as well and if we don’t fulfil its needs we risk leading meaningless, purposeless lives.
So what are the needs of the soul and how can these needs boost our productivity?
Essentially, there are four main needs of the soul that we can draw from an Islamic perspective:
1. A clear/well-defined purpose that gives meaning to everything we do:
You’ve probably heard about the importance of finding meaning at work and how it makes us more productive. But even though finding meaning at a micro-level and our day-to-day work is powerful, we need to go a step further and find an all-encompassing meaning and purpose that integrates our entire lives together and not just meaning and purpose at work. What’s the point of only having meaning and purpose at work when our family lives or personal lives don’t have a clear meaning? The link to productivity is that meaning and purpose drive our intrinsic motivation. A study by Yale’s Amy Wrzesniewski and her team concluded that “Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, maybe the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also – counterintuitive though it may seem – their financial success“. Our souls yearn for meaning, an all-encompassing meaning that covers all areas of our lives. In Islam, this all-encompassing purpose is worshipping Allah , not only in terms of rituals but in everything we do, we are supposed to be conscious of Allah from the moment of waking until we sleep. Allah says in the Quran: “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” If we feed our soul with meaning and purpose, it’s amazing what it gives back in terms of motivation, sacrifice, and hard work for the meanings we truly believe in.
2. A belief system that helps us interpret the world:
Secularists and people who don’t believe in faith, will cringe at the notion of a belief system when discussing productivity. However, whether we like it or not, as human beings, we are deeply spiritual beings that have a continuous longing to be connected with an inner experience or our Creator. Religions or a belief system provides the necessary nourishment to the person’s soul and helps the person tap into their spiritual being more regularly. Moreover, a belief system provides the soul with a unique set of lens to help it deal with life events such as death or illness and improves relationships with people around him/her. On the contrary, not having a belief system makes one feel confused, lost, and not able to comprehend how to react when “bad things happen”. Another powerful positive reason for religions, in general, is that they provide a community and a personal identity for the person following the religion thus making the person feel more valued and grounded in values and principles that add to their positive mindset and thus their productivity. As a final Divine message for mankind, Islam provides that coherent and complete belief system that helps a person connect to Allah and understand the world around him/her from the perspective of the Quranic message and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This by itself is a blessing that helps us lead productive lives if we truly internalize its meanings and outcomes.
3. Spiritual/meditative rituals that are done on a daily basis:
Rituals ensure that our soul gets a daily healthy dose of feeding just like our bodies get a healthy meal every few hours. That’s why in Islam, we’re required to pray 5 times a day, as a way to continuously feed our souls as well as remember Allah often throughout the day. It’s been proven that rituals and meditative practices have immense benefit to our productivity – even though at the outset, they seem like a “waste of time”. Studies have shown that meditators for example report having fewer headaches, chronic digestive disorders, chest pains, and other psychophysiological symptoms after engaging in their meditative practices. All of these positive symptoms, help boost our productivity. Moreover, for us as Muslims, these useful activities are religious duties, and even though we enjoy their positive psychological and physiological benefits in this world, their true benefit will be the pleasure of Allah in the Hereafter.
4. Ethics and values that help us make better soul-driven decisions:
With a large purpose, a belief system that helps you fulfil that purpose, rituals that remind you of your purpose consistently, you can live an ethical lifestyle with values and principles you believe in. Moreover, by being reminded of these ethics and values through the stories of the Prophet or great companions or scholars of the past, the soul is always reminded of living a higher, more disciplined life, and avoid the downward spiral of living a hedonistic “dog-eats-dog” life. In my book “The Productive Muslim: Where Faith Meets Productivity“, I argue that “The pursuit of productivity without a clear set of guidelines or ethical values can destroy the human being – either literally through physical illness and fatigue or mentally and emotionally through depression, stress and anxiety. Islam comes values and guidelines that are not imposed by an external force, but self-applied out of a person’s own will and submission to..Allah” Imagine if you don’t have an ethical system to lean on? how would you make decisions that make you feel comfortable that you did the “right things in life”?
I urge us all – as modern global Muslims – to start thinking about this topic more often, to have more discussions about it in our workplaces and schools, and come up with meaningful ways as individuals and organizations to boost our productivity by feeding our souls.
Lastly, next time, before you feed your brain with the latest hack, or feed your body with the next fortified energy bar, ask yourself: What does my soul need? How can I feed it to boost my productivity?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above? Do you think we are doing enough to promote the needs of our soul in today’s society?