This is a reprint of an email mini-course first published on the Becoming the Alpha Muslim website. The mini-course contains five lessons to help you think like a Muslim. When you finish reading this article, you’ll know:
- How to orient yourself to Allah in less than a second so you can turn random, everyday actions into acts of worship.
- The ultimate realization to completely transform your relationship with Allah.
- A 2-step method any Muslim can start today to become a “Friend of Allah.”
- The #1 word you need to reach your full potential in all areas of life.
- How to use the ONE supplication most recited by Rasulullah ﷺ to bulletproof your faith from Doubts.
1. Lesson One: Taking the Lord’s Name
You know those tiny changes we make that massively improve the quality of our lives? Changes like not consuming caffeine after 4 pm, drinking 3-4 liters of water a day, or strength training 3 times a week? After seeing the benefits, we’re amazed that something so small can 100x our performance, health, happiness… and that we ever managed without them. That’s why they call them life hacks on the interwebs. And I’m about to teach you one right now. Call it an “Islam Hack” if you want. One second is all it takes. Are you ready?
Go ahead, say Bismillah. Seriously, that’s it. I know what you’re thinking: “What? That’s it? He made it sound like such a big deal on the website!” But before you comment in protest, let me explain. The hack isn’t in just saying it. The hack is in internalizing its meaning whenever you do say it. Before you can do that though, you have to understand what it means. So, that’s what we’re gonna do today. Understand the meaning of Bismillah.
There are four parts to it and we’ll tackle them in order:
- The incomplete sentence
- The preposition ‘Bi’
- The word ‘ism’
- The word ‘Allah’
1. Bismillah is an incomplete sentence.
If you look up translations of bismillah you find ‘in the name of Allah,’ ‘with the name of Allah’ or something similar. Leave aside the fact that it doesn’t give you the complete meaning for a second (that’s what this email is for.) It’s not a complete sentence. It’s like saying, “in the house.” In the name of Allah… what?
There’s a good reason for this. The incompleteness and generality of the meaning is a form of versatility. So, how do we complete the meaning? Well, I can’t make this email too long so I won’t go into all the different opinions, but the answer is you insert a verb after bismillah. What verb? Any verb that corresponds with the action you are doing.
- Bismillah… I eat
- Bismillah… I write
- Bismillah… I sleep
…And so on.
This is abundant in the well-known supplications that we are taught from childhood. We invoke Allah’s name before performing many mundane acts, and acts of worship.
Why insert the verb after ‘bismillah’ and not before? I.e. why “Bismillah, I eat.” and not “I eat, bismillah.”? Because delaying the verb restricts the meaning.
- “Bismillah, I eat.” Meaning, ONLY in the name of Allah do I eat.
- “I eat, Bismillah.” Meaning, I eat in the name of Allah… and I could possibly eat in the name of others.
What is the significance of this? For this, we have to understand…
2. The Preposition “Bi”.
There are around 20 different meanings in the lexicon for this preposition. In this context, two are the most appropriate.
- Seeking aid
- Seeking closeness/companionship
So, by using the preposition “bi-” we are:
- Seeking the help of the object of the preposition
- Seeking nearness to it and its companionship
If you’ve been paying attention so far, a light bulb should be going off in your mind right now. It’s a dua! By invoking Allah’s name before any action we do, we are asking for his help and seeking the blessing of being near Him. Shall we try to improve the translation now?
“I invoke Allah’s name, seeking His help, and blessing (through nearness to Him,) for the action I am about to perform.”
3. The word “Ism”
Why do we invoke “the name of Allah” and not just “Allah”? This one’s a doozie. Invoking ‘ism Allah’ expands the meaning beyond just ‘Allah,’ even though ‘Allah’ is an encompassing name that denotes the entirety of His Being. So we aren’t just invoking the name ‘Allah,’ we are invoking ALL of His Names, in the infinitude.
Y’know, I was thinking about it while writing this lesson and had an epiphany. We are invoking all of the names of Allah AND the specific name(s) that is most appropriate to the action we are doing. Shall we improve the translation more?
“I invoke all of Allah’s names, and those specific names that are most appropriate, seeking His help, and blessing (through nearness to Him,) for the action I am about to perform.”
This is the hack. Whenever you say ‘bismillah’ you need to be conscious of its complete meaning. It will take effort at first but as you keep doing it, it will get easier. Trust me, the quality of every single act you do will massively improve.
Still with me? This next part is the most important part of today’s lesson, so I need you to concentrate and pay attention.
4. The word “Allah”
Who is this Allah, whose Names we invoke from the moment we wake up until the moment we sleep?
Allah is a proper noun, that has no gender or plural, and that denotes the supreme being that possesses all qualitites of perfection, majesty, beauty, power, magnificence etc. It is the name of the Creator and Sustainer of everything that exists. A name that existed pre-eternally before He created any language. Through all cultures and times, mankind has believed in such a being. Whatever word they use to refer to Him, they always speak of him in terms of perfection, awe and reverence. So, what does this name mean?
One possibility is that Allah is derived from the verb a-la-ha, which has the same meaning as the word a-ba-da, “to worship.” An “ilah” or “ma’bud” is anything that is taken as an object of worship. Worship encompasses much more than directed ritual acts. It includes reverence, humility, love, glorification, obedience, hope, fear, reliance and other actions of the soul.
When we worship something, implicit is a belief that this object is something worthy of being worshiped. That is, this object has qualities or characteristics that make it worthy of being worshiped. For example, the ability to cause benefit or bring harm. I could, for example, say that the computer I’m writing this article on is my ilah, my ma’bud. Maybe even direct some acts of worship to it. Does that mean that the laptop is worthy of worship? Is it truly an “ilah”? Can it benefit me or harm me? Did it create me? Does it provide for me? Does it have power and control over the universe? Of course not.
When we use the definite article, Al in Arabic we get Al-ilah; Allah is a contraction of the word Al-ilah. Al-ilah is THE true deity, the ONE and ONLY being that possesses those qualities by which worship is deserved.
A second possibility is that it is derived from the verb a-li-ha, which means to become confused or perplexed by something. When one ponders the magnificence and perfection of Allah one becomes confounded and stupefied by this being.
A third possibility is that is derived from the verb a-li-ha, whose root letters are different to the former, which means to protect, grant refuge, aid, rescue, deliver from evil, render safe and secure etc. Allah is that being whom one turns to for refuge, safety and protection.
A fourth possibility is that the name Allah is not derived from any other word at all that even His name befits His One-ness.
All of these meanings point back to Allah’s Perfection and Supremacy
So, we’ve understood what bismillah means. We’ve understood that it’s a supplication and we’re asking for Allah’s help and blessing every time we say it. We’ve understood who exactly Allah is; who this Being is that we call on continually. Now what? What’s the point?
The point is that when you come to the realization that such a being exists… YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Do what? You’ll find out in lesson two.
2. Lesson Two: The Reality of Worship
In lesson one I gave you the Islamic hack that is understanding ‘Bismillah.’ I hope you feel the difference now, whenever you say it. We went through a detailed explanation and ended with exploring the meaning of the name ‘Allah.’ Which brings us to lesson two.
After reading the various meanings of Allah’s name, how did you feel? Did you feel a sense of awe? Humility? Submission? Did it make you want to be a better Muslim? That’s exactly what is required of us. When we come to the realization – a true, soul-felt realization – that Allah is who He is, we have no choice but to worship him. Do you remember when Musa (peace be upon him) met Allah in the sacred valley of Tuwa? Allah said to him…
“I am Allah. There is no god but Me…”
Musa (peace be upon him) hears this and he’s from Bani Israel so he realizes who’s speaking to him. That Supreme Being we just discussed in the first lesson? HE’S speaking to him. Musa’s (peace be upon him) emaan goes into overdrive in an instant. But then, immediately after introducing Himself Allah says…
“…so worship Me and establish salat to remember Me.”
It’s a cause & effect relationship – believing in such a such a being necessitates that we worship Him. Now, we aren’t Musa (peace be upon him), to experience such a miracle, but Allah does reinforce this relationship for us daily. It happens when we recite Surat al-Fatiha. We acknowledge some of Allah’s most awe-inspiring Names.
- The He alone deserves all praise; whether we praise Him or not, whether our praise is adequate or not
- That He is the Lord of Creation; the Creator, Owner, Master, Sustainer and Provider of all that exists
- That He is the All-Merciful Bestower of Mercy
- That He is the Owner and Master of the Day of Judgement
And THEN we say…
“You alone we worship. You alone we ask for help.”
Do you see what’s going on? Allah, in His infinite wisdom, obligates us to go through this process at least 17 times a day! Ok, so let’s break down this verse in detail because this is the point of today’s lesson. Are you ready?
“Iyyaka na’budu wa iyyaka nasta’een.”
There are 4 parts to this:
- “You” i.e. the object of the statement being brought forward
- Worshiping Allah
- The plural form of the statement
- Asking for His help
1. Beginning with the object “You”
If you’ll remember, we covered the significance of the first part in the previous lesson. Delaying the verb restricts the meaning. The meaning is:
“You alone, and no one else, do we worship. You alone, and no one else, do we ask for help.”
2. Worshipping Allah
Let’s move on to the next, ‘worship.’ The verb a-ba-da (to worship) implies complete servitude, submission, and surrender. It also implies that this submission is done with the utmost love and humility. The abd submits himself absolutely to the will of his master. Ibada, or worship, is an act directed to someone or something in complete subservience, submission, love, and humility. In this verse, we are saying that we will direct all such acts of worship to Allah alone and no one else.
3. The plural form of the statement
The plural form here, ‘na,’ is significant because many acts of worship in Islam are communal. Imagine standing in the rows during prayers. All of us reciting the same 7 verses. All of us supplicating to God and asking for His help. Some of us will be less mindful than others.
The fact that we’re ALL asking Him… and asking on behalf of everyone else… all it takes is ONE sincere prayer being accepted and we’re ALL good!
4. Seeking His help
The final part is ‘isti’ana,’ seeking Allah’s help. Isti’ana is an act of worship and should only be directly towards Allah. So, isn’t it repetitive to mention it after saying that we’ll worship Allah alone? There are several things to unpack here:
- First, the repetition identifies external, and internal acts of worship, sometimes known as worship of the heart/soul.
- Second, is that external worship is accompanied by an internal spiritual condition which should also be directed to Allah alone.
- Third, and this is most important part of today’s lesson so pay attention, is that we are asking Allah’s help to worship him better.
How do we get that help? By worshiping him as he asked and fulfilling the conditions of worship we described above. It is only through Allah’s help that we are able to worship Him, and it is only through worshiping Him alone that we are entitled to His help.
So now that we understand this, we have to ask ourselves: How do we worship Him? What do we have to do to gain His help? That’s lesson three.
3. Lesson Three: The Path to Sainthood
If you’re still reading, congratulations So far, we learned WHO Allah is and we also learned WHAT is required of us when we understand this – i.e. worship Him exclusively. Now we’re going to learn HOW to worship Him. And worship Him in a way that He loves you.
I cite Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said:
“The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, ‘Verily, Allah, the Most High, has said: ‘Whosoever shows enmity to a wali (friend) of Mine, then I have declared war against him. And My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more beloved to Me than the religious duties I have obligated upon him. And My servant continues to draw near to me with supererogatory deeds until I love him. When I Love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, and his sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him; and were he to seek refuge with Me, I would surely grant him refuge.’’”
There’s a lot to unpack in this hadith but we will only focus on the sentences in bold today.
1. Your priorities as a Muslim
This hadith states the priorities of a Muslim in worshiping Allah:
- First, perfect the obligatory acts of worship. (This includes renouncing sin.)
- Second, gradually increase your observance of voluntary acts of worship. (This includes renouncing the blameworthy.)
There are priorities in acts of worship. This applies to both the obligatory and voluntary deeds. Some obligatory deeds are more virtuous than others. Some voluntary deeds are more virtuous than others. For example, the testimony of faith is the foremost obligation in Islam. Therefore, every single Muslim is close to Allah just by his being Muslim. How close we are will vary according to our religiosity, obviously.
Another example is that renouncing sin would take precedence over performing voluntary deeds. Another example is that religious knowledge – learning about the obligations and prohibitions in Islam, how to perform necessary acts of worship etc. – is one of the foremost obligations in-and-of itself.
2. 80/20 your Islam
I like to think of it as the 80/20 rule applied to worship. The analogy fits quite well if you think about it. Just don’t take it literally. The obligatory deeds are fewer in number than the voluntary deeds. If we assume that obligatory deeds make up 20% of all acts of worship and voluntary deeds make up the rest, fulfilling all the obligatory deeds could get us 80% of the way to gaining Allah’s love.
The hadith I quoted gives you the blueprint for becoming a Waliullah (one of Allah’s beloved friends.) There’s no secret formula. No secret club you have to join. Just submission to Allah’s commandments. And a lot of hard work. I wish I had known about this hadith when I became an observant Muslim. I wouldn’t have made as many mistakes as I did. I’m going to give you a couple of examples so that you can understand the practical application of the hadith.
Example 1: beard vs. parents.
About 6 months into my finding religion, I finally decided to grow out my beard and wear my trouser hems above my ankles. At the time, I believed that these were obligatory acts. My parents weren’t happy with this new development and wanted me to stop doing either. They didn’t mind the beard so much and would have been ok with me keeping a full beard. Just not a fist-length beard. And I let mine grow out to two fist-lengths. Haha. The trouser length, they didn’t get at all.
In my newfound religious zeal, I dug my heels in and refused to compromise. On top of disobeying my parents, I got into arguments with them about it. Most of you will (or should) know that this is a big no-no. It wasn’t until many years later, when I had actually studied some law (fiqh) with a qualified teacher, that I understood that:
- These things weren’t obligatory. Thus, my obligation to obey my parents took priority.
- Even if I took the position that they were obligatory, my obligation to obey my parents and respect their feelings would have required that I compromise to keep the peace.
Example 2: too many Islamic Studies classes.
I enjoy studying Islam in my spare time. When I first started taking an interest, I use to take any and every class that was available. It took up most of my time. This would have been OK if I didn’t have any other responsibilities, but I work and have a family. Their rights over my time and attention take precedence over most of the classes I was taking.
It took me some time to realize this wasn’t sustainable and that I needed to prioritize. Learning there’s an established hierarchy when studying Islam helped too. Now, I focus on memorizing Quran and studying Arabic and Law (Fiqh.) It’s made my life a lot easier.
Example 3: make-up prayers and fasts.
This applies more to those of you who, like me, returned to Islam after a long period of non-observance. I owe many (many) years of obligatory prayers and fasts. Making them all up takes precedence over all voluntary deeds. Technically, I’m supposed to spend every free moment doing make-up prayers. And fasting every day until none remain. This is very difficult to do if you have as many years to make up as I do. The key is to make yourself a schedule and stick to it.
These examples should show different aspects of the above hadith in practice. I hope I selected the right ones.
So, to recap today’s lesson:
- Understand your priorities when it comes to worshiping Allah
- Everyone can become a Waliullah (Beloved Friend of Allah) with hard work and dedication
All you have to do is get after it. But we’ve been talking exclusively about spiritual matters so far. What about our conduct in daily life? How does that work? That’s what we’ll cover in lesson four.
4. Lesson Four: Theory vs. Practice
In our last lesson, we spoke about priorities in worshiping Allah. We also spoke about how this prioritization, when done right, will cause Allah to love us. The Alpha Muslim Mindset is much more than a mental model for spirituality and worship. In fact, if that spirituality doesn’t have an effect in our daily life and dealings with others, it shows a deficiency in our understanding. So far, we’ve talked soul food. In this lesson we talk IRL (In Real Life) stuff.
I cite Abu Ya’la Shaddad bin Aws (may Allah be pleased with him), who cites the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, who said:
“Verily Allah has prescribed ihsan (proficiency, perfection) in all things. So if you kill then kill well; and if you slaughter, then slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.”
1. Spirituality is Practical
While the word ihsan has spiritual connotations – being the highest level of worshiping Allah – it’s literal meaning is more practical. That’s what the hadith highlights. Look at examples Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used. They are both related to worldly matters…and probably the last examples that would come to mind when talking about proficiency. The hyperbole is a rhetorical device to emphasize the main point.
Ihsan is required during combat? Yes, even during combat?
Ihsan is required when slaughtering animals? Yes, even when slaughtering.
The qualifier “…in all things” emphasizes that this order is categorically general. We are required to do our absolute best in every single action and aspect of our lives.
2. Don’t be a n00b
It is impermissible for a Muslim to be a scrub, a n00b, crap and/or wack at anything. When I first became more religious and for many years after I had a very poor attitude about my career and finances. I used to think it was tawakkul (spiritual reliance on Allah.) It was negligence. I wasn’t living up to the command of Ihsan.
I used to come in to work late, leave early, procrastinate on the job, take needlessly long breaks for prayer (since I was ‘religious,’) and generally be of little value to my boss and firm. However, my work was always of high quality because I’m good at what I do. This is no excuse.
What’s more, I had this misplaced sense of entitlement – that I should be getting promotions and raises just by me showing up. Funnily enough I had a good relationship with my boss and he always had my back. For a while, I made progress at work by leveraging my relationship with him. It wasn’t until he left and I had to prove my worth to my new boss that I realized my poor position. By then, I had all these bad work habits ingrained. That, combined with feeling demoralized, made my work suffer even more.
3. Self-improvement Starts Here
Last year, I was introduced to a self-improvement guru called Ramit Sethi through a friend. He showed me an entire World that I didn’t know existed. It took me reading the work of a non-Muslim to understand and internalize the concept of Ihsan.
rophet Muhammad ﷺ allegedly said:
“The wise statement is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it, then he is more worthy of it.”
Think about it, though. Who are the elite experts in most, if not all Worldly matters? Non-Muslims. One could make the argument that since they have no share of the Hereafter, they busy themselves with material gain. I say, we Muslims have to work twice as hard as non-Muslims to see success in both aspects of our lives.
That is Ihsan. After applying the concepts I learnt from Ramit Sethi and similar experts, over the past several years I managed to:
- Quit the 9-to-5 and work for myself full time
- Launch three businesses
- Author the definitive book on Masculinity
- Get in the best physical shape of my life
- …And much more
If I think about it, MuslimMan™’s only objective is to help you realize Ihsan in its complete form – spiritual and material. We’re doing this by documenting our own journeys, because we have so far to go, and by sharing it with you all to encourage you to become the best version of yourselves. In our fifth and final lesson, I’m going to share the one supplication that maintains my internal compass and makes my faith bulletproof, by Allah’s grace alone.
5. Lesson Five: You Have a Choice to Make
In our last lesson, we spoke about doing our best to achieve Ihsan (perfection, proficiency) in every aspect of our lives – spiritual and material. I told you how I only understood the application of Ihsan in my daily life after I started reading about self-improvement, performance, and productivity. In studying these subjects I was exposed to many new ideas and practices. Keep in mind, these experts, coaches, and writers were not Muslim. Some of their ideas and practices weren’t necessarily compatible with Islam. It’s the same with much of the media, news, scientific research, popular culture etc. that we are exposed to. We need a way to stay grounded amidst this ideological bombardment.
“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee
In our final lesson, I’m going to teach you the ONE supplication that I make incessantly, to protect my iman from doubt.
I cite Shahr bin Haushab, who said:
“I asked Umm Salamah (may Allah be pleased with her), ‘O Mother of the Believers! Which supplication did the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) make frequently when he was in your house?’ She said, ‘He (ﷺ) supplicated frequently: ‘Ya muqallib al-qulub thabbit qalbi ala dinika (O Controller of the hearts make my heart steadfast in Your religion).’”
In lesson two we learned how we NEED Allah’s help in order to worship Him correctly. We ask Him for this help at least 17 times a day in our obligatory prayers. Well, the above supplication is another manifestation of asking for His help.
The Greatest Blessing Allah Grants.
Being a Muslim, having faith, is a blessing from Allah. It’s the greatest blessing Allah can grant His slaves. We ought to be thankful for our blessings. The above supplication is one way of showing our gratitude. To acknowledge that out of 7 billion people on this planet, Allah CHOSE US for the greatest of His blessings. It also acknowledges that He alone is in control of our ultimate fate in this World and the Next.
If you think about it, its objectives are similar to ‘Bismillah’ (which we learned in lesson 1.) By making the above supplication you are asking for Allah’s blessings and His help (to keep your heart firm with Islam.) I typically make this supplication after every prayer. The way I see it, it’s like preventative medicine. And judging by the amount of information I consume from non-Muslim sources, I’d say my assumption is correct.
For example, I used to spend a lot of time on Islamic forums online. Inevitably, you come across non-Muslims trying to spread doubts about Islam, members of other Muslim sects trying to spread deviant understandings of Islam, and religiously illiterate Muslims speaking about Islam from a position of ignorance. You get exposed to a lot of contentious ideas that are against mainstream Islam. If you don’t have a firm grasp of the fundamentals, your faith may be shaken. OR, if you don’t have that firm grasp, you NEED the above supplication.
Now, I’ve been studying Islam formally for quite some time, but I firmly believe the supplication is what’s kept my heart firm all these years.
Taking the Good, Leaving the Bad.
Another example. I’ve been speaking out against Feminism (specifically, Islamic Feminism) online for several years. In order to do that, I’ve had to familiarize myself with mainstream Feminist theory. I’ve also had to learn of anti-Feminist discourse, and the people at the forefront of this intellectual battle are non-Muslim men. In reading the websites and writings of these people, you need to be able to sift the good material from the bad (i.e. un-Islamic.) This supplication is what protects me.
Don’t Get Complacent.
Now, I’m not saying you need this supplication to become an apologist for orthodox Islam and go around refuting heretics and atheists. What it DOES give you, is a shield. It gives you peace of mind in the knowledge that you can thrive as a Muslim, and your heart is protected from Doubt. As long as you make it often, and don’t get complacent.
Thank you for reading until the end. I’ve given you five of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my study of Islam. They changed my life. You now have everything you need to change yours. Will you?