Recently, I had an email from a university student who came across my work after having sought guidance through prayer. His email mentioned many things in detail and context. The bit I’m writing about today is in regard to intention, motivation, and desire for Qur’ān memorisation.

The young student had highlighted his worry over whether he was memorising for the right reasons or not. Intention and motivation play a key role in his issues. At times motivated and other times questioning everything. He read my article: “Why are you memorising the Qur’an? Get it right!” and got worried. Scared that his intention was wrong and confused between his parents and impressing others. The majority of you might be going through a similar dilemma. Some of you might be questioning yourselves and just trying to do things in the best way. You might be battling with your thoughts every day. When your intentions and motivation become blurred it affects your commitment to the task, as well as your focus and recall.

Beyond intention, motivation, and desire there’s something I haven’t mentioned previously. It’s something that is crucial in maintaining and increasing your memorisation efforts.

Intentions are the seed of our practices

I want you to think about how we make our intentions for our religious duties like the five daily prayers or fasting in Ramadān, or actions and practices. We make these intentions in our hearts that behave like affirmations. While it is not necessary, many scholars have mentioned it is a mere recommendation that intention is done with the tongue as well. When we make an intention for something out loud or make an affirmation out loud it brings about another layer to that intent. Your consciousness is given a sense and your senses become a witness to the words you have spoken. You give it awareness and metaphysical awareness. In the same way, we declare our faith out loud as well as declaring it firmly in our hearts. So when we make intentions out loud, they should match with what is on the inside too.

We know that intentions are the foundations of our practice. It is on that intention and its weight of sincerity that we get rewarded accordingly. How strong our intent is in quality and number. We can get rewards in the hundreds just based on the intention. There are certain actions that we can have multiple intentions for, and one of those actions or practices is Hifdh al-Qur’ān. You can have multiple intentions, for example, memorising, reciting, acquiring knowledge (‘ilm), knowing Allāh (ma’rifah), getting closer to Allāh, being in company of Allāh, gaining the pleasure of Allāh, having the Qur’ān as your witness, seclusion, gaining guidance, gaining light and more. Multiple intentions for each time you sit to memorise or recite.

One of the things I always recommend students of the Qur’ān to do is to keep a list of intentions in the Mus’haf. Maybe create a bookmark and write a set of intentions on them. It could be 20 or maybe more. You should read them out loud before you begin the process of reading and memorising. Repeat the intentions if you need to, 3 times, 9 times, 11 times, etc. Repeat them. Feel them. The more this happens, the more ingrained they become, and eventually, you will become sincere in them. If not, at least, one of them. That’s the hope. This is a simple actionable method you can use today to begin to live the right intentions.

Many of us have to deal with overthinking on a daily basis. It’s a real struggle and I hear about this issue a lot. The way to address this is to address the roots and cut the thoughts from their beginnings. The act of thinking, contemplating, and deliberating itself is not harmful. It is something to be encouraged and is what the Qur’ān asks of us. Become people who are deep thinkers. Through that deep thinking, we should improve ourselves and grow positively. Then through that positivity grow the world around you.

So whilst we become consumed by our worries, we forget the things we need to be grateful for. Think about how you are able to recite the Qur’ān in the first place. Think about how you are able to pick up the Mus’haf and engage with it. The fact that you are engaging with Qur’ān in the first place is what you need to concentrate on. This is what you need to be grateful for.

Alongside intention, this is a subject that isn’t really spoken much about in hifdh circles. The living act of gratitude (shukr). It is almost as important as intention because if the foundations of your actions are right, then your reactions should also be right in accordance with that intent. If you are sincere to your truth, you are true to your intent. So, for instance, when we begin memorisation or are going through the process we tend to complain we describe things as a chore. Like “I want to memorise in a way where I will never forget”, “I want to memorise in a way where I don’t have to revise”, or “I find revision to be too much — it’s a huge chore and struggle”. These things are not necessarily bad but have stopped to think about the importance of maintaining our practices over corrupting our practices. The more we complain, the more we are depriving ourselves. The more we are creating a distance between the task at hand and between the Divine. Imagine that you are hired to do a task by someone that loves you, cares for you, hears you, sees you, and took 23 years to send you His letters of love. The task was to recite, purify, learn and teach His words. All of a sudden, you are working on this but He finds you complaining, what would He think (according to our standards)? We would think He would be upset or angry. No, Allāh is not like us. He being upset, His being angry is not like ours. We definitely don’t want Him to be upset or angry with us. O Allāh, be happy with us and make us be happy with You! (say Ameen).

My point is to invite you to start to think differently about how you are approaching things. If our intentions are the seeds of our practices, gratitude is the nourishment of it. Gratitude keeps us afloat and in growth. Unfortunately, we live in a society that is built and ingrained around a culture of negativity. Looking at social media and the news, we see negativity. Look at our own circles of knowledge, our own spiritual circles, and our social circles and we will see complaining, backbiting, talking about others constantly. There’s always something to say or share about others. So and so is doing this and getting on my nerves, and so we get viral videos where people just rant about something. These videos are full of rage and complaining. We have a share in this. We watch them and share them. It is in these times that we have a responsibility. O memoriser of the Qur’ān! O reciter of the Qur’ān! O seeker of the Qur’ān! O seeker of guidance! You are important. O Muslim! You are important because you should be a beacon of positive peace, light, and gratitude. Choose a culture of gratitude.

It is important because there are a set of promises that Allāh gives us and amongst them is in Surah Ibrāhīm, āyah 7:

وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ وَلَئِن كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِي لَشَدِيدٌ

And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed: ‘If you are thankful, I shall certainly increase (My blessings on) you, and if you are ungrateful, then [remember, things could be worse] My torment is surely severe.’ (Ibrāhīm, 14:7)

When we look at the context of this verse and its placement in the Surah. You realise that it was asked of Musā (may peace be upon him) to say this in a time where his people were at an all-time low. They weren’t being asked to be patient but to be grateful in a time of crisis. What we learn is to stop thinking about the problem and think about why we should be grateful. Allāh is saying there are times when you are low and you would need a boost. He can give us what no one else can give us. So when we are grateful He increases us in things we need. Meaning it is not Allāh that needs it but it is for our benefit (āyah 8, the next āyah makes this clear). If this is the power of gratitude in times of crisis, what is the benefit of gratitude when we are not in crisis. Gratitude is a type of worship and it has huge benefits. It is a fruit and something that we need to cultivate and build upon.

Allāh has promised it amongst other promises, for example, He said:

فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ وَاشْكُرُواْ لِي وَلاَ تَكْفُرُونِ

So remember Me, I shall remember you. And always be thankful to Me and never be ungrateful to Me. (al-Baqarah, 2:152)

Also, in Surah al-Ghāfir, āyah 60:

وَقَالَ رَبُّكُمُ ادْعُونِي أَسْتَجِبْ لَكُمْ …

And your Lord has said: ‘Always pray to Me; I shall certainly grant your prayer…’ (Ghāfir, 40:60).

One of the things I always recommend students of the Qur’ān to do is to keep a list of intentions in the Mus’haf. Maybe create a bookmark and write a set of intentions on them. It could be 20 or maybe more. You should read them out loud before you begin the process of reading and memorising. Repeat the intentions if you need to, 3 times, 9 times, 11 times, etc. Repeat them. Feel them. The more this happens, the more ingrained they become, and eventually, you will become sincere in them. If not, at least, one of them. That’s the hope. This is a simple actionable method you can use today to begin to live the right intentions.

Photo by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash

Gratitude and thankfulness are an antidote when you are losing motivation for hifdh

Gratitude is something that we don’t realise the importance of when it comes to our good practices. In particular, maintaining these practices and keeping them. The more we practice gratitude, the more Allāh gives.

Shaykh Dr ‘Āsim Yūsuf (also known as Tālib al-Habib) mentions that we should create a memory bank where we store a record of all the things you have had good memories of. Maybe write them all down. Keep writing and maintaining this bank. You can also write down all the verses that you enjoyed memorising and went well for you. Write down all the things that have been good. Similar to the set of intentions, you can even add a pocket to your Mus’haf and when you are feeling down, read and recall them. This is a means of gratitude. Make sure you make gratitude for those and see what impact that has on you.

This is something so important that scholars of the past and present asked scholars of their time for advice on how to deal with the same issues. For example, Imām Abu ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Sulami (d. 412AH) wrote a concise book explaining on how to deal with at least 69 faults or blameworthy traits of the self (nafs). This was in response to scholars of the time asking that he helps them address their issues. One of the issues he highlighted was motivation, losing resolve and slacking off unconsciously in the religious duties that we used to do with commitment and motivation.

He mentions that whilst this is a blameworthy trait, this can become worse. There is a cycle. You slowly become unconcerned with your shortcomings and slack off. Even greater yet is when you are not even aware of your shortcomings and you are slacking off. Even greater is when you think you are thriving in spite of your shortcomings and slacking off.

This cycle is something that we experience. We start something and then we leave it. At first, it bugs us and we try to resume. After a while, we don’t even care anymore to the extent that we begin to leave other things. We lose motivation and our original intentions become diluted and weakened. This is why many of the righteous have spoken about the ultimate disaster that can befall anyone is that they no longer care. We ask Allāh for preservation and safety from such a thing.

When Imām Abu ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Sulami explores this he mentions why this happens. This occurs from having little thanks during the occasions when you are successful in maintaining [religious] duties. When your gratitude grows little, you are removed from the station of plenty to the station of deficiency — and your deficiency becomes veiled to you. You then deem the soul’s vileness to be perfection (e.g. see Fātir: 35:8, al-Kahf: 18:104, al-Mu’minūn: 23:53 and al-An‘ām: 6:108).

The first word of the Qur’ān is Alhamdulillāh (all ultimate praise and thanks are for Allāh). That is the beginning and that is a message for all of us. Guidance begins with gratitude. Actions are driven by intention and intention is driven by purpose. The danger arises when actions are performed out of mere habit. Routines are easy to neglect. One can easily become unconcerned about falling short. Loss of purpose arises from a lack of gratitude when granted facilitation to fulfill rights. Ascribing good to one’s self is of great spiritual harm. With a lack of gratitude, the urge to do good diminishes. When one does good and ascribes it to Allāh, one is safe from spiritual downfall. Safety comes by constantly turning to Allāh, and express one’s neediness to Allāh.

Gratitude will help you continue your memorisation of the Qur’ān

Whenever Allāh has granted us something and we want to maintain it, what should we do? — We should be grateful since Allāh says to be (for our benefit) and He will increase us. This is the central point of what I am sharing with you today.

Shaykh ul Islām Ibn ‘Aṭā’ Allāh al-Iskandarī (May Allāh have mercy upon him) says that “If you wish for despair, look at what you have given to Allāh? [nothing] And if you wish for hope, look at what Allāh has given you [and you will find it].”

Imām Abu ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Sulami mentions the treatments of this state as being:

  1. This is removed by continually seeking refuge in Allāh
  2. Adhering to making remembrance of Allāh
  3. Reading His Book [the Qur’ān]
  4. Seeking out its meanings
  5. Venerating the sanctity of Muslims
  6. Asking the Friends of Allāh (the righteous) to pray for you (with concerned admission) that you return to the first state (state of plenty) — perhaps Allāh will bestow upon you a blessing by opening to you a path to serve and obey Him.

There’s a story that I mentioned to one of my students, that in Egypt there was a scholar who was strongly against smoking. On an occasion, he encountered a group of men who were smoking and he changed their lives from one statement. One statement that changed a life habit. He said in the past when people were down they would reach their pockets for a misbāha/tasbeeh (prayer beads) and would turn to their heart and engage in Dhikr (remembrance of Allāh). Because Allāh said that “Verily in the remembrance of Allāh hearts gain true peace and tranquility.” Whereas today, we reach out to drugs in various different forms.

Likewise, when you are memorising and find yourself struggling, make dhikr with meditation (murāqabah) and gratitude (shukr). This will increase your memorisation, in shā’ Allāh. We never lose hope. Whilst you are (and should be) concerned with intention, don’t forget gratitude. When you have started it and are in the process of hifdh, being grateful is a key ingredient that will help you progress in memorisation and increase. It’s really important and this is something we have unfortunately lost the practice of. It’s something that the non-Muslim communities today speak about with a commercial stain. They are the ones who released gratitude journals that the Muslim community is now copying and labelling as Muslim Journal, Hifdh journal etc. These existed in our tradition since a long time ago. Reflecting over what makes you grateful, what made you happy, what went well today, and what went bad in your day. This was the practice of the sahābah and those who came after them and so forth. So when you don’t have the motivation, when you are losing all of this, then you need to make sure that you have some sort of memory bank. You have some sort of referral system of positivity. Create a culture of positivity again.

I ask Allāh that He enables us to be the indicators towards good and begin a movement towards positivity. A movement necessitates the spreading of something. The Beloved of Allāh, the Prophet (may peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was positive from every angle. He was not seen without a smile anytime. Despite going through horror after horror, the likes no one encountered, he always smiled.

Don’t give up my friend.

Make gratitude your friend.

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