Please welcome our guest author Sadaf Farooqi, freelance Contributor for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine, Helium.com and Howtodothings.Com. She's also a visiting Faculty Member at Al-Huda International, Institute of Islamic Education, and a blogger on Windows Live Spaces
“Don't go out in the scorching heat!”
This sounds like the advice of a well-wisher to someone they sincerely care about. However, these were the words spoken to the true believers, by the Munafiqeen of Madīnah, when the former were preparing to go out for jihad in the way of Allāh [Qur'an- 9:81].
It is a common phenomenon for those who strive in the way of Allāh in any manner to face criticism, disdainful remarks, outright antagonism, or severe persecution from skeptics who may be from near and dear kin, or strangers on the street. From the looks on their faces, silent sullenness, verbal discouragement, to in-your-face, targeted personal attacks, a believer must be prepared to face negative circumstances and situations as a “normal” part of his day-to-day jihad of treading the path that leads towards Allāh's Pleasure.
However, let's be realistic. We are all sons and daughters of Adam [peace be upon him]. We are human beings with emotions and feelings who can be hurt by what others say. We need support and reassurance for what we do, even if we know we're right. Unfortunately, negative thoughts and attitudes are far more contagious than positive enthusiasm. Therefore, the believer must strive consciously to keep his or her thoughts and actions positive in order to stay motivated to do good deeds that benefit mankind.
There are several ways to achieve the goal of staying positive, but the first and most crucial – identify negative people. This awareness is necessary so that one may be alert to their negative vibes in order to blunt their effect on one's mind and soul. The following are some of the traits negative people possess:
1. They're quick to criticize
If someone makes a mistake, these people can be depended upon to mercilessly chastise them before anyone else does, and in great length and depth.
2. They criticize everyone
No one is safe from their critique, not their near and dear ones, nor the people they see on television; the politicians, teachers, preachers, family-friends, siblings, or children – no one! Their pointing finger spares no one.
3. They don't admit their shortcomings
These people never admit that they could be wrong, or that they made a mistake; even if everyone else points out their mistake, they either defend themselves to the end, or storm out.
4. They complain, complain, and complain
Meetings or conversations with such people are full of complaints against everyone.
5. They blame others for everything that goes wrong
If something goes wrong in their life, it's always someone else's fault.
6. They're stingy and small-hearted
This is a trait that is uncannily found in all complainers, scrooges, and grouches. They usually have a very “tight hand”- i.e. they find it difficult to give old things away, even if the latter are of no use to them, or have been stashed away since ages. They will find excuses like, “I spent a hundred dollars on that! How could I just give it to some poor person?” or “Oh, you expect me to just throw out these things that I hold so dear to my heart?”
7. They're stuck in a rut
Since negative people have a pessimistic, non-progressive view of life in general, their state does not improve over the years. If they have some bad habits, they will do little to get rid of them. If they engage in useless activities to pass away boring hours in their day, they will still be involved in them years later. You will never find them improving their look, working out to lose weight, learning a new skill, or re-doing their house with new colors. Holding on to each and every old piece of furniture or gadgetry; every blouse, shirt or pair of pants; every old utensil in the kitchen – their house and persona will look the same, even if you see them a decade later!
8. They harbor lifelong grudges
Negative people bear long-term grudges against others based on trivial, bygone incidents. They neither forgive, nor do they forget. Backbiting being a constant part of their lives, they unceasingly repeat the wrongs others did to them in the past, ensuring they never wash away the bad memories. In this way, they keep themselves shackled to destructive emotions and thoughts.
9. They're prone to prejudice
Negative people are swayed easily by rumors or hearsay. They might harbor ethnic or racial prejudices for no apparent reason. You might see them refuse to talk or warm to a person they hardly know; they refuse to befriend them, due to some trivial thing they heard about them, or because the latter belong to some other ethnic/social class or group.
10. They're usually in a bad mood
Negative people are grouchy – you hardly see them smiling or being cheerful. They brood over bad incidents for long periods of time.
11. They have a self-depreciating attitude
Negative people, sadly, undermine their own talents and abilities as well. If they can do something well, such as cooking, sewing, knitting, painting, teaching or writing, they won't bother to pursue their interest with zeal. Rather, they'll just shrug it off with a “What good will that (hobby) do?” devil-may-care attitude and go on with the same old monotonous routine of their life, day after day.
If you are honest with yourself, you might have recognized some of yourself above as well. It's a fact — we are all prone to think negative thoughts; we go through cyclical bouts of positive-negative attitudes; the trouble with negative people, though, is that they are negative most of the time, and this affects those they converse with, or hang around, on a regular basis. The purpose of listing the above identifiers is not to judge others, but for us, as Muslims, to be able to empower ourselves to identify and counter this negativity in others, with positive reactions and responses.
The fact is that even if we do not meet a negative person for some time, the chaotic and depressing events of the world, plus the negative thoughts our avowed enemy, Iblis, places in our minds, will bog us down and lower our spirits time and again. When that happens, we should immediately become alert and fight off any kind of negative thinking with the following steps:
1. Remember and take solace from the traumatic incidents that took place in the lives of Allāh's Prophets
Pick any Prophet of Allāh. Go ahead, pick one. Then analyze the incidents in his life and come up with one that would have severely traumatized you, had it happened to you. Imagine being swallowed by a gargantuan animal in the sea; being persecuted for an accidental death caused unintentionally by you, necessitating you to flee your town in hiding; being afflicted with a disease that infested your body with vermin and killed off all your family members; being stoned out of a village by young children; being sent to prison to serve a sentence of several years for a crime you did not commit; having your most beautiful son taken away from your life for years; rocking the lifeless body of your infant son in your arms as tears flow down your cheeks.
Whenever you lose your job, or a dear one to the Angel of Death, fall ill with a painful disease, or can't find fairness in the Qadr of Allāh when He refuses to give you that which you beseech Him for, close your eyes and imagine – literally, imagine – yourself going through what any one of the Prophets went through, and then stop yourself from thinking negative thoughts such as, “O Allāh! Why ME? WHY?” and instead think, “Allāh has some good written in it for me – He knows, and I do not know; and I accept His Decision.” inshā'Allāh, the calm you will feel in your heart will be tremendous. Your avowed enemy will be shaken off, throwing dust on his head.
2. Identify a negative thought by comparing it to reality
“I've been afflicted with financial trouble for the last 3 years. I don't think I'll ever see prosperity again. My spouse will leave me and I'll be left all alone.”This is a classic negative thought! Whenever you think a thought such as this in the midst of a calamity, take the objective, impartial approach towards it as outlined below, preferably with the help of a pen and paper:
- List down a painful event or affliction that you can remember, which happened to either you or someone you know in the past.
- Then try to recall how long it took for that calamity to be over. You'll realize that it eventually passed, and things became alright again.
- Try to recall also, the attitude of everyone involved during that calamity. Identify the things said by the 'negative people' (traits of whom are listed above) and whether their pessimistic warnings turned out to be true or not. You'll realize that Allāh eventually brought everyone out of the mess, and the 'storms in teacups' brewed by the scrooges never materialized!
- Apply this scenario to your current calamity, and force yourself to have blind trust in Allāh. Think that, if He removed the calamity for everyone then, He will help you thus in this one as well.Whenever I perform this mental exercise, I am left feeling hopeful in Allāh's imminent Help and positive about future ease, alḥamdulillāh!
3. Counter each negative thought with a positive one
CBT or “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” is a formal psychiatric treatment used for remedying mental diseases today. It is a very simple tool, one that even our Deen has endorsed in order to allow a person to control their thoughts and not vice versa. For example, in CBT, if a person thinks, “That person is surely trying to make me look bad at work,” they are supposed to counteract this thought with something like, “But why would he do that? He's a good guy and we've always gotten along.”
Prophet Muḥammad [peace be upon him] exhorted believers to seek excuses for their brothers 70 times. That means, when a negative thought comes in our mind regarding someone else, we should counter it with a positive one up to 70 times.
For myself, with just 10 counteractive volleys, the negative thought has gone away!For example, a thought like, “Mom always showers more love on my brother's son than she does on my daughter. Look at how many things she gets him. She's always preferred my brother over me in everything!” may be countered with a positive thought such as, “If I wasn't such a hyper-mom-control-freak around her regarding my baby, she'd feel comfortable enough to shower her with love. I really need to let go and allow her to spoil my daughter sometimes.”
4. Always look for the silver lining:
Allāh says in the Qur'an, “Surely, with difficulty, there is ease.” [Qur'an- 94:5]
Whenever you are worried about something, or passing through a trial, always believe that Allāh intends some good to come out of it. Give yourself flashbacks from your past, and try to think of the good outcomes of negative happenings in your past life.
For example, if you did miserably in an exam you studied hard for, maybe it helped you realize that some other subject was more suitable for you. I had a friend who performed horribly on her A-Level exams, which she took in all business subjects and math. As a result, she could not apply for admission in undergraduate studies at any “technical” or business degree program, except for one majoring in Fine Art, her natural interest and hobby of many years.
Eventually, she graduated with honors on the Dean's list and went on to pursue a fulfilling career as a permanent faculty member at her Alma Mater. The failure in her A-Levels paved the way for her parents finally letting her do what she really loved doing – art! Had she done well in her Business and Math A-Levels, she could have gone on to pursue a degree and career in a field she did not even enjoy!
5. Learn to ignore negative people
Allāh has taught the Prophet Muḥammad [peace be upon him] the best strategy in dealing with negative-minded people — his opponents and antagonists. Remember that he had to constantly face the jabbering, rumor-mongering and hostile criticism of the Munafiqeen of Madīnah – who pretended to be Muslim but caused great dissensions and “fasaad” due to their habit of lying, deceiving, breaking promises and covenants, and pretending to be what they were not.
Allāh says about them in the Qur'an, “Keep to forgiveness (O Muḥammad), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant.” [Qur'an- 7:199]
“And incline not to the disbelievers and the hypocrites. Disregard their annoying talk, and put your trust in Allāh. Allāh is sufficient as Trustee.” [Qur'an- 33:48]
Also, in another place in the Qur'an, the same strategy is suggested, “O Yusuf, turn away from this (false accusation of rape).” [Qur'an- 12:29]
This is the simplest and best approach. Cutting off contact with negative people is not the solution, because they might be a close colleague in your department at work, or worse, a directly-related family member (such as – gulp – a parent or spouse!). How can you possibly minimize, or cut off contact with such people? It is not even allowed in our beautiful Deen to cut off relations like this.
Our Deen teaches us to become strong individuals, who rise above such petty negativity in people, who ignore, forgive and overlook this fault in them, and love them anyway (if they are believers). Just teach yourself to laugh off and ignore their comments, to appease them with a joke or some positive statements when they start off with their criticism, to change the subject or leave the room if all else fails, and, most importantly, to arrange for their Quranic education and tarbiyah, so that the negativity in them is slowly eliminated.
We all face this negativity in our lives. We have to learn to consciously counter our own negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, if I think, “Will Muslimmatters.org consider this first post of mine good enough to publish? What if they don't?” I should counter this thought with something like this, “Allāh has noted my sincere effort and will bless and reward it anyway, inshā'Allāh!”
Hope floats! :)