Your Focus Levels Are Being Stolen

We live in a time where there are more than 11 billion distractions. A time where we are hearing slogans such as, “work less, do more” or “work less, live more”. We live in a time where we are targeted with a movement and a system that is designed to steal our time. A system that is designed to hack our attention. It’s a world of hacks and short cuts. It’s a world of serving the self, rather than serving others.

Last week, I had a brother in his late 30s contact me about how he’s struggling to put effort into his memorisation (hifz) whenever he sits down. He gets distracted with thoughts. He gets the urge to go and check his phone. He tries to shorten down the process of his memorisation so the quickest time frame. Typically, he will sit down to memorise and once he has hit 10 pages, he’s had enough. He says he will do more tomorrow, he will do this and that. But tomorrow never arrives. In fact, tomorrow has not arrived for a number of years.

You may relate to this too.

This contact led to a deep conversation and that conversation was about how social media and many other facets of modern life are destroying our ability to concentrate. Why there is a major impact of social media and screen time. Just yesterday, I asked a student to show me his screen time usage and it was above 6 hours on social media. This is a student attending a madrasah who shows high levels of focus problems. He then asked me to show mine and so I did. Mine was 1 hour overall usage on my phone. So I said, we’re only at 6pm in the day so let’s add another hour and let’s add another 6 to yours. It turns out I spent nearly 3 hours in total on my device and the least of it 2 hours over the last week. I would guess the students to be in the range of 12 hours. That’s a lot of screen time! I asked the students to commit to reciting Qur’ān for a minimum of 15 minutes daily but it was too much! Social media is stealing our time and focus.

I read a message from a concerned Hifz teacher who says:

After spending 3 years teaching Hifz, and having lengthy conversations to Teachers who have dedicated their entire lives to the Quran, it is with great concern that I write this piece for Parents/Guardians of Hifz students to take note of.

Firstly, it is the miracle of the Noble Quran, that even the ‘weakest’ students, who dedicate themselves and remain aloof from sin, are enable to become Good Huffaaz of the Quran e Kareem. No child is too weak to undertake this task, unless sin and a lack of commitment prevents one from progressing with their Hifz. I would like to highlight the following concerns which I deeply worry of as a Hifz Teacher, they are extremely notable impediments to the journey of becoming a Haafiz:

  1. The cellphone and social media
    The Quran is Noor, and through the cellphone, Internet, the promiscuity promoted on social media and it’s many other vices, this brings darkness to the heart. The Noor of the Quran and the darkness of this sin can never mix. This is such an open invitation to sin, that it baffles me as to how a Hifz learner can be on social media, whilst at the same time expect to progress in Hifz. An elderly person, forget a child doesn’t have the necessary Imaan to protect themselves sufficiently from misusing the eyes etc. on social media. The Quran says: “Do not go near Zina,” and these are most definitely tools of Zina. Don’t expect significant progress from the child if the child has this distraction. Remember, this lies in your hands as a Parent/Guardian.
  2. Gaming
    In my experience, and the experiences of others, it is easily noticeable that children who spend more than 20min daily (even so little is harmful) playing games, or watching TV, significantly fall behind in their Hifz. Unfortunately many hifz learners spend hours playing games or watching TV, how can they ever expect to progress in Hifz with these influences of Shaytaan on them??? On the contrary, we find those learners who are not involved in these activities, progressing significantly Alhamdulillah. Again, this is in your hand as a Parent/ Guardian.
  3. Lack of commitment
    Experience has shown, that even the weakest learners, progress with effort and dedication. There are many instances, when Huffaaz were written off and people told them,”You’ll never become a Haafiz,” however, through dedication, commitment and staying away from sin, Allah Ta’ala opened up the way for them and made their journey easy. Those who lack commitment, do not learn on the appointed times, do not learn with concentration, on the other hand, may be achieving the best results in school, but they just cannot seem to learn the Quran. This is due to not staying away from sin, and a lack of sincere dedication towards committing the Quran to memory. Remember, Allah is Most-Merciful, and will not turn away any person who makes a sincere effort to become a Haafiz, unless that person himself/herself closes the door by indulging in sinful acts and displaying a lack of interest towards the Quran.
  4. Akhlaaq and Respect for Parents
    One of the fundamentals on this Journey is to respect the Quran, one’s parents, the Ustaad and have a noble character in general. Disrespecting the Quran, one’s Parents and the Ustaad will automatically make the journey of Hifz very difficult. One of the greatest deficiencies a Hifz student can have is to question the decision and ways of the Parents and the Ustaad. Just as a parent deals differently with each of their children (depending on the situation), a Hifz teacher deals differently with each child, depending on the circumstances. This is not FAVOURITISM. The Ustaad has immense love for every child, and all his decisions are motivated by love. Remember, the duty of the child is to come and learn. If the child in engaged in judging the Ustaad, then know very well, that the child has not come to class to learn, but to be a judge. This is extremely detrimental for his/her future.

These are just some of the many points I wish to share out of my concern as a Hifz teacher in our current times

Remember, it is motivated by concern and worry for every child to do well.
We ask Allah Ta’ala to forgive us our shortcomings and make us true role-models for the future generation.

Unknown source

This is something that we can all resonate with.

Today, I want to mention a few things concerning our focus. It is becoming an increasing concern. The typical attention span is getting smaller and smaller. In the past, as an Ummah, we produced remarkable scholars, academics, and skilled practitioners who all spent hours studying without complaining about focus issues. It’s not a foreign thing amongst our scholars and elders even today. They can go on and on without boredom or concentration issues. The lack of control in the use of modern tools is creating a culture where there’s no longer any hard work being done. There’s no longer any effort. There’s no longer any focus. The habit of scrolling and controlling what we consume has led to a habit of consumption, not absorption. A habit loop of cheap dopamine and addiction. A habit loop of feeding the self with its desires and wants. We have become impatient and can’t stand ads. We have a constant urge to skip things. We have a constant urge to speed things up. We have a constant urge to get to the point. We have a constant urge to find summaries. We have a constant urge to check and delete notifications. We have a constant urge to check on others. We spend hours of time watching episodes, films, and vlogs. All of this in return has led to making everyone confined to themselves and their screens. Such that we see nothing beyond ourselves. We become visionless. It’s all about the self, the selfie, and self filtering.

We are now viewers who only want bulletins and headlines. We complain about focus yet we spend hours online without issue. This entire way of living is against the Qur’ān and Sunnah. We have to come out of ourselves. All this is going to lead to is a lack of vision and leadership. These are the fitan of our time. This is all deliberate and as Muslims we have to rise above it. We need to stay committed to knowledge, to a brighter future, to change our habits and making them in line with the earlier generations and our tradition. That’s one thing: work hard!

What does social media and screen time do to you?

Amongst the impact is that it reduces the quality of your sleep. It changes your mood and mental health. It disrupts and shortens your attention span. Study findings suggest that exposure to excessive screen time in children can be associated with attention problems.

I have read countless comments and questions where people are complaining about their focus levels being affected by social media, like:

“All those five second videos on TikTok and social media in general have killed my ability to focus. I can no longer read books or do anything that requires me to focus for long periods of time and its killing me.” [Reddit]

Excessive social media use has been linked to increased risks of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. A study involving more than 6,500 12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S. found that those who spent more than three hours a day using social media might be at heightened risk for mental health problems.

A 2018 British study found that social media use is tied to decreased, disrupted, and delayed sleep, which is associated with depression, memory loss, and poor academic performance.

There are many studies, many experiences and many others who like to call it all a myth. But the reason I’m speaking about this today is to remind you to use these things carefully. If you’re memorising Qur’ān, especially, pay careful attention to this.

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