Translated by Hala Akram and Aisha Akram.
During this lockdown period, you are confined to your homes. Madrasahs are not yet open. You wish to continue your studies at home, engage in regular activities and make the most of your time. You set aside time to read different subjects and books but you lack consistency. Various pleasures entice you; you are overwhelmed by interests and postpone today’s work for tomorrow. The same thing happens during exam season when you cannot stick to a revision timetable. You wonder how easily each subject is given its proper right at school. In Hadith class, you study Hadith. In Usul al- Fiqh class, you study Usul al- Fiqh. In Logic and Philosophy class, you study Logic and Philosophy and in Poetry and Literature class, you study Poetry and Literature and so on.
In Ramadan, you fasted with great zeal and after this month, you wish to continue to fast on Mondays and Thursdays or the three sunnah days of the month. You even begin fasting, yet very soon, laziness defeats you. Despite the days of Ramadan being long and the heat intense, your determination remains strong and although the days of voluntary fasts are short and the weather is cold, you still stop and give up.
In order to take care of your health, you prepare a balanced meal plan and an exercise regime but soon, you slip up and fail. Why is it so? The answer to that is that you do not distinguish between desire and will. Action is built upon will, not desire. You might yearn for something or look at success with admiration and the desire to achieve it intensifies within you. You do not seriously consider what is the correct way to fulfil this desire? What are the steps you need to take? What are the difficulties in this path? This approach is called desire. Desire in itself, does not help you gain anything, nor does it bring success.
On the contrary, will is a serious step towards action. Where there is intention to do something, there is also intention to turn away from other things. Keep in mind the causes and routes you must adopt whilst steering away from any obstacles and difficulties. Start the process with determination and whenever there is a set back or a shortcoming, continue to move towards your destination with more fervour than before. This is called will.
When this difference between desire and will is not kept in mind, people consider will as synonymous with desire. They wish something and call it will. To avoid this misunderstanding, you can say that Sufism made ‘will’ into ‘true will’. There is no need to change a word but rather to understand its meaning.
Note that every success in this world is based on action, and action arises from will. Will is serious planning and determination. When you intend to embark on a healthier lifestyle, understand that this intention is not an absolute certitude. Rather, it is a combination of adopting the necessary means and refraining from all obstacles. That is, you will consume such and such foods and you will avoid such and such foods. Neither the smell of food nor temptation will deter you from your will.
It is Sunnah to fast on Mondays and Thursdays. When you are fasting, others will not be; seeing them eat may make you feel weak. You might even wish to drink tea or eat something. Before you start fasting, keep all of these details in mind. If you still stand by your word, then you have come out of desire and entered into will. You are now ready to start the process.
When you have made a study timetable, understand that what you are about to undertake is not fun, but rather a serious process. It involves exhausting both the mind and the body. The topics of study will be diverse, you must force yourself to remain attentive and focused. During this time, you must refrain from all kinds of entertainment and temptation.
In short, will is a compound which involves determination to do something and consequently deterring from other things. Just as when you offer prayers, you are engaged in standing, bowing, prostrating, reciting, glorifying with focus and humility. During this time, you cannot eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor talk to anyone.
Adherence to the rules of the classroom is possible only because obstacles are forcibly removed. Similarly, fasting in Ramadan is easy because the whole environment assists you. Studying different topics in class or fasting in Ramadan does not mean that your willpower is strong. The test of willpower takes place outside of Ramadan and outside the classroom. The path of action is impossible without this willpower. When you have set your eyes on achieving something, pay no heed to the temporary pleasures and comforts of this world. How can temporary wealth attract you?
If your will is true will, then one day it will become passion. You will fall into the habit of reading and writing to the extent that you will not be able to relax without it. Nothing else will leave you feeling that content and fulfilled. You will think that if you are not engaged in knowledge, then what is the use of life? The hawk is not fazed by the lure of tulips and roses or the singing nightingale.