I want to begin by sharing my experience of my newborn baby twins. As you can imagine, their arrival turned out house upside down. Initially they would spend a lot of time sleeping and feeding as you can imagine all babies do, and we enjoyed cuddling them and watching them as they began to grow their individual personalities. But at the same time the work that went into look after them seemed endless… the children would come from school and begin juggling who is holding one while trying to get changed, who is trying to keep one happy while doing homework, my husband would come home from work and be handed a baby, during dinner, someone would have to keep them entertained… so we had a chaotic household with lots of noise.
Recently my sister in law came to stay with her first baby. A very cute and chubby little chap. What I noticed immediately was, that every evening she should disappear with him into her room and emerge after a little while. He would be asleep for the rest of the evening while she enjoyed her dinner and then she would have a peaceful night, while our munchkins were still grizzly and demanding attention till about midnight and then waking throughout the night while we all played musical beds. I knew that my sister in law only had one, so he would be less work, but I could also see that compared to her, my babies were all over the place. One would sleep, the other would wake… So I asked her what her secret was and discovered that she wasn’t drugging him to sleep, but using a structured routine. So the baby was being fed, bathed, and put to bed with a schedule.
We tried it out and suddenly evenings were transformed. On the first night, we heard silence for the time since they were born. A calm descended. The older children could do their homework in peace, we could eat dinner and hear what someone was saying, we weren’t constantly distracted mid sentence and diverting to pick up a toy a baby had dropped, my husband could sit down after work without a baby crying in his lap. And on top of all this, the babies were happier. They moved into their cots and finally we all moved back into our beds.
It was a moment of revelation for me. We didn’t all have to sacrifice every waking moment to the babies. And then the light bulb flashed in my head, because the answer had been there for me all along, as Islam is religion of routine and of balance. And once the routine was there, our home had regained its balance.
The routine comes from our prayers, which set up a rhythm to every day. A Muslim’s day has a default setting – no matter how stressful or difficult our day, we take a break five times to reconnect and re-boot ourselves through prayer.
In Islam, the concept of balance runs through almost every aspect of our being here. God created the universe with a balance and harmony. If I say balance to you, what do you think of?
The first thing that comes to your mind will not be sky.
Yet in the Quran, God specifically says ‘And the heaven: He has raised it high, and He has set up the balance.’ [55:7]
Whenever He mentions anything, He expects us to sit up and take notice. So why did He put sky and balance together? Well actually, the earth is suspended in the sky. It is carefully balanced in the air.
We are told ‘He has created the heavens and earth in just proportion’ [6:73] and indeed we now know that the atmosphere has a weight. If it was any heavier than it is, we could be crushed.
We also know that He created the weight of every single atom so that the Earth has the right overall weight to have the right gravitational pull, to be the right distance from the sun for everything to exist with exactly the right conditions of light and heat and all the cycles of seasons and water and growth. If some of the atoms weren’t precisely in proportion, and we were a tiny bit too close to the Sun, it would be a disaster for us.
Not only that, the atmosphere is made up of a very delicate balance of gases. There is just the right amount of oxygen so there is enough for us to breathe, but not enough to start fires every time there is a spark. There is another balance between the amount of carbon dioxide released by humans and the amount taken in by the plants. If there were too much CO2, humans would die, and if there were too little, plants would die, and life would stop.
The Earth itself is then further balanced. The Quran says, ‘and we have set on the earth mountains standing firm, lest it should shake with them’ [21:31] and we now know that – just as a car on the motorway can be quite wobbly and weight is added to reduce this – as the Earth rotates so fast, it would be shaky unless mountain chains didn’t create stability.
Let’s look at relationships. All around us are examples of dysfunctional families. Not just celebrities and people with high powered jobs, but we are all so busy now that we can become overwhelmed with work or technology, and struggle to find ‘me-time’. If we manage to organise our time and arrange our day so that we break down the things we need to do and achieve, it would be less likely that we get to the end of it and realise that we haven’t revised what we had intended to, or had revised so much we didn’t get outside and get any fresh air!
The example of the Prophet* was to divide his time in three. He would ensure he spent time with his family, he would spend time with his companions – who were not just friends but also leaders in the community, so he could delegate to them and instruct them on important matters – and he would have time for himself, so that he could reflect and worship and rest. We can learn from this example in our own lives, where we can try and spend quality time with our families, have focused and productive time for our work, and leave enough me- time for us to relax and think and develop ourselves.
Rest is crucial because without it, we can’t function properly. Recent studies have shown how important sleep is for us: mentally, physically and emotionally. People not getting enough rest wake up stressed. So, it is not surprising when we find God drawing our attention to the alternation of night and how it balances the day. We might think of night as an absence of light, but God tells us that he specifically created ‘night and darkness’. While it has become fashionable not to sleep and to cram in as much as we can at the expense of sleep, He reminds us that while day is made for work, night is clearly made for rest.
Then we have the balance between the sexes. While feminism is often trying to prove a woman’s worth by trying to prove that she can do anything a man can do, in Islam women are valued for themselves, and their qualities and what they bring into the world. We have studies now that tell us that men and women have a different physical make up, biological make up, emotional make up. We think differently and feel differently to men. 1400 years ago the Quran already told us that men and women are not alike. And told both sexes to respect one other. Women don’t need to prove their worth by outdoing men at their game – they are not competing with men, they don’t have anything to prove. They are valued precisely because men can’t do what they can do.
We are told to spend with balance. Those who when they spend are not extravagant and not miserly but hold just balance between those extremes.
In business, Islam advocates ethical trading. There is a huge sin in trying to sell something by misrepresenting it. Whether it is a car salesman who has fiddled with the speedometer; an exaggerated eBay description; a hotel brochure that forgets to mention that it’s overlooking a building site; horse meat pretending to be a beef burger. At the time of the Prophet Shuaib*, (nephew of the Prophet Abraham* who lived near the Dead Sea), people tampered with weights and were short-changing customers by falsely weighing their goods to make them appear heavier than they were. They were repeatedly told to stop this form of cheating, and when they refused to obey they were eventually wiped out. So we cannot take lying about goods lightly.
In banking we have the concept of not charging interest. If you take a loan out, interest must not be charged on the repayments. If banks followed Islamic principles, which extend to cover banking practices, they could not have acted as they have – we would not have had the credit crunch in 2008, and our governments would not have been forced to bail them out and cause massive debt to the country, which your generation will be paying back for years and years to come.
There is a delicate environmental balance and we know what happens when we mess with it, as we can see from the floods, droughts, storms and extreme weather that has been caused by global warming. If that is upset, then things begin to go seriously wrong.
We have the example of the Prophet* again, who said we should be careful of what we eat and that our stomachs should contain one third food, one third water and one third air. So we do not overeat.
Finally, one of the most striking images that recurs in the Quran is that of the Day of Judgement, when we will see our entire life’s deeds on a set of scales, and see which side is heavier. This is a scary thought for a Muslim because we have to ensure that not only have we done as many good deeds as we can manage, but that our intention is good – if we did it for the sake of impressing others, it won’t appear in our good scales, and similarly if we fill our good scale with wonderful deeds but are constantly making derogatory comments about others, we will be giving our good deeds to the people we spoke about, so we have to be really mindful of every aspect of our lives if we want to be successful.
So Islam is essentially a religion of balance and harmony, of the spiritual as well as the intellectual, and we want to bring that into our lives so that we have the calm and tranquility and time to appreciate the wonders of the world around us, as well as have the time to enjoy the company of our friends and our family.
We can’t afford to go with the flow, we need to evaluate our time and decide what our priorities are. We also know that we can upset the delicate balance of anything – whether it is the environment, the food, banking, our time, or our sleep – when we do not give it its due.
Islam is the middle way – belief on its own is not enough to attain heaven. It has to be balanced by good deeds.
[could recite/read translation of Surah Rahman]
*peace be upon him
Written by Ayesha Khan in 2014