Are We Becoming Bored of God?
THIS IS AN OBSERVATION that may be limited to my tiny window of experience; and it is something I’ve been aware of since the early 1990s. Which is that we Muslims are ready and eager to read stuff about the nitty gritty points of fiqh and shari’ah law, yet as soon as discussing the actual Lawgiver is involved, we tend not to be so keen or interested. Some choose to get so caught up in organising Islamic events, or engaging in activism, or doing da‘wah for God, that they simply don’t make any time to be alone with God.
This isn’t just an issue with the generality of Muslims; scholars can be just as guilty of it too. There are some who are so keen to prove the existence of God, yet care little for God Himself. Others will speak endlessly about divine governance, but care little for getting to know the “Governor” in any real or meaningful sense. Could it be that we’re turning those aspects of Islam into mini objects of devotion, instead of devotion to God Himself; exalted and majestic is He?
There’s another reason why we could be disinterested in God, even if we are still actively doing religious stuff: Boredom! As odd as it may seem to some, becoming bored with God can and does happen. Apart from having defective intentions to begin with, in that Allah was never truly our sought-after goal (thus it’s possible to be committed to certain aspects of Islam, yet not actually be committed to God), there is boredom in our religious lives to contend with too. Boredom with God could manifest itself in a diminishing of one’s faith and religious practice. Or it could come in the guise of religious practice; but a practice where one is just going through the motions without any life, love or joy. Boredom could even show itself in an apathy to actually worship or obey God, even when there’s a keen interest – a passion, even – to endlessly talk about religious matters. Al-Hasan al-Basri, a formidable sage of early Islam, once remarked; when he chanced upon a group of people who were arguing about religious matters: مَا هَؤُلاءِ إِلَّا قَوْمٌ مَلُّوا الْعِبَادَةَ ، وَوَجَدُوا الْكَلامَ أَهْوَنَ عَلَيْهِمْ ، وَقَلَّ وَرَعُهُمْ ، فَتَكَلَّمُوا – ‘Such are ones who’ve grown bored of worship; speaking has become easy for them, their piety has diminished, hence they talk.’1
So how do we stop the rot from setting in or, if it’s already done so, how do we reverse the rot? How can we cure spiritual boredom? The answer, as uninspiring as it may first seem, is to deepen our knowledge of God.
But how can knowledge be the healer of spiritual boredom when so many of us afflicted with this malady have attended plenty of Islamic courses, classes, seminars or talks over the years, or have watched enough clickbait Islamic videos on YouTube to last a lifetime? Well a lot depends on what one means by “knowledge.” Allow me to explain:
Sufyan b. ‘Uyaynah, one of early Islam’s great scholars and saints, said: ‘The learned are of three types: One who knows God and knows His commands; one who knows God, but not His commands; and one who knows God’s commands, but not God. The most perfect of them is the first, and that is the one who fears God and knows His rulings.’2
In this sense, every one of the Prophet’s sahabah or “companions”, may God be pleased with them all, were ‘alim bi’Llah wa bi ahkamihi – “knowers of God and His commands”. Whether it was the likes of the senior companions who had been nurtured and tutored by the Prophet ﷺ for years or decades; or those lesser in rank who only spent a short time in the prophetic presence, each was a knower of God and knew the rulings God had obliged them to know for their daily lives – commensurate with their varying levels of faith, piety, ability and responsibility.
By knowledge of God, I don’t mean some dry, formulaic learning about God. But learning which inspires the soul to be suffused with God’s majesty, awe, reverence, love, hope and fear. Knowledge which inspires hearts to yearn for God, know Him intimately, trust in Him wholeheartedly, remember and invoke Him abundantly, and seek the means of approach to Him sincerely.3
As for knowing God’s commands, it is to know what He has made lawful and unlawful in our daily lives, to know what deeds He loves and what ones He loathes, and the correct demeanour and comportment with which to worship Him.
To this end, sitting in the gatherings of those shaykhs or shaykhas who can nurture such knowledge and yearning of God in us is a tried and tested method. Reading books which depict the lives of God’s prophets, saints and sages is another potent way of stiring divine love in the heart. And contemplating the Qur’an with an eye to instil an abiding reverence and heartfelt acquaintance of God and His commands in us is yet another. Al-Hasan al-Basri again: ‘Knowledge is of two types: Knowledge which settles in the heart; and this is beneficial knowledge, and knowledge just upon the tongue; which is God’s proof against the Sons of Adam.’4
Islam teaches us that life does not run properly without joy. But true joy derives not from God and job, family, friends, Netflix, gaming, or the drug-like addiction of social media. True joy is only from, and ultimately in, God. Only when we can see God in everything, and the divine compassion, kindness and concern behind all things, are hearts gladdened and made joyful. And as hearts perceive God’s beauty in everyday life, and are thus made joyful, the world is gladdened and made joyful through them.
The world tells us that selfish indulgence in lusts or one’s desires is where the fun’s at. But our lives as Muslims should primarily be about quietly enjoying the beauty of God, and communing with him through prayer; gratitude; remembrance; and charity, in its widest sense, to His creation. The key to all this is ma‘rifah: knowledge of God, internalised and experienced.
As one deepens their knowledge of God, and seeks to internalise it, the soul is illumined; character is given to reflect prophetic beauty; and the heart is brought to bear upon life’s Ultimate End and love’s Ultimate Encounter.
Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.
1. Cited in Abu Nu’aym, Hilyat al-Awliya (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1996), 2:156-57.
2. ibid., 7:280.
3. See: Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Bayan Fadl ‘Ilm al-Salaf (Kuwait: Dar al-Arqam, 1983), 46.
4. Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf, no.34361; al-Darimi, Sunan, no.394.
This is a very deep observation and it is true.
I think this situation of ’superficiality’ has to do with the general welfare which people are experiencing in the countries of the ’developed West’ and East. (No so for people who cannot participate in those blessings.)
When people have ’everything’ materially – from the dunya – they are tempted to forget the Source of it all and the True Sustainer of it.
This illusion that ’we have it all’, even if we still have to go to work- we know or strongly suppose that we’ll get paid at the end of the month, so no worries…
This way of thinking – or mentality – has probably spread to our muslim community, too.
If it is boredom, then this comes out of ignorance. There is then not perceived any NEED for God – Allah, and this is a big problem of course.
Allah knows best and most!
Related: The Human Spirit
Longing for God
Thank you for your insightful comment; bless you.
It is certainly true that the dunya, with all its material comforts and trinkets, has a marked tendency to lull us into a state of complacency, then forgetfulness of our higher purpose of living. We ask Allah for safety.
Boredom with God may well come out of ignorance. At other times, it arises from defective intentions, and often from following a very puritanical Islam devoid of spiritual depth and nourishment.
JazakAllah khairaan for sharing your quite deep and reflective insight.
Can you please outline any further steps or maybe even better, write an article on how we can practically draw closer Allah SWT. To know him, to love him and obey him.
I know you’ve mentioned a few brief points but a detailed article with maybe some resources which you personally recommend would be very helpful iA.
Thank you for your question, A Imtiyaz. There are a number of articles I’ve written on this topic, on the blog. Please do take time to browse through the “sufism and spirituality” section in “Categories” (the right hand coloumn). I think you’ll find a number of them useful for your quest.
Perhaps you could start with: “The obligatory spiritual journey: what does it entail?”: https://thehumblei.com/2013/12/05/spiritual-struggle-time-to-roll-up-our-sleeves/
And also: Have we weaned ourselves from the dunya? https://thehumblei.com/2012/09/29/have-we-weaned-ourselves-from-the-dunya/
And also: Ma’rifah: Getting to know God. https://thehumblei.com/2014/07/09/marifah-getting-to-know-god/
There are other post which will, God willing, be useful. The ideal thing, however, is to find an orthodox shaykh of Islamic spirituality (tasawwuf, suluk) and discuss such matters with them. Of course, personal reading on the topic is a good preparation. And du’a is essential.
We ask Allah for His grace and kindness.
Your observations bear so much wisdom and insight as usual.
The central emphasis of your writings is the necessity to know God so we can love him and be motivated and fearless in doing what he wants from us.
One thing that is bothering me now in my post-Salafi stage is that I feel I no longer know who God is. I know he exists, out there, beyond (except I don’t know if I am supposed to say that anymore). I know he hears and sees me. I say ‘I know’ but I am often heedless to its reality. I know he loves and that he loves for me for to do certain things, and that he gets angry and that certain acts makes him angry.
But then there are attributes like his descent and laughter. The former is mentioned in context of the night prayer and the latter in context of a slave in despair though his Lord will change his situation. I find that all beautiful. In my Salafi days I never imagined God as a Zeus figure (we seek refuge in God from such calamities). It seems the term tajseem is referring to something more arcane with jism as a philosophical kalam terminology rather than what the translation “anthropomorphism” would imply as imaging a Zeus figure.
I couldn’t see what was wrong with Wasitiyya. It quoted from scripture. The God of Wasitiyya was “personal” and “colourful” for want of better expressions. The God of Sansusiyya is “cold” and “sterile” for want of better expressions.
I have recently finished reading Amjad Hussain’s Muslim Creed book published by ITS. I like the fact it was written in original English and was located in my context but it still has left me unsatisfied in knowing who God is. I have the Ghazali 99 Names translation by ITS too but translations of medieval Arabic are stodgy reads.
I am collateral damage of aqeedah wars.
This is not a happy place to be. Please advise.
Thank you for your kind comment, Talha.
Your question, pain and confusion is not only highly relevant today, but an ever growing number of individuals also feel rudderless and anguish.
However, because I’ve been asked similar questions to yours many times over the past two decade, I thought it might be useful to turn my reply to you into a more generic post … if that’s ok with you? That way, the possible benefit can be more widespread, bi’idhnillah.
I pray you will be successful in your new article idea.
Would you have any provisional answers until then for what to read so I know and say about God what is correct and not false?
Is it sufficient for me to say: I believe in God, his revelation, his prophets, his angels, the last day and predestination?
Obviously, people will ask what I mean by each belief.
I can say with regards to belief in God: I believe God is alone in his uniqueness. Nothing escapes his knowledge. He is aware of everything and has power over all things. Only he alone is worthy of our utmost submission with love, hope and fear.
The situation is made a little more complicated because of another person. How do I explain to this other person who God is when I feel I don’t know properly myself?
Do you have your own recommendations for works in original English?
May Allah bless you. In terms of a general, overall faith (iman), then what you wrote about your core beliefs about God, Allah, is perfect masha’Llah.
My provisional answer to you would be to get a copy of al-‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah and make that your basis for orthodox beliefs. The gradually build up from there, where and when needed or sought-after.
As for being able to explain detailed beliefs to others, or to espouse our defend detailed or complex theological arguments, that is not an obligation on every Muslim; as you probably know.
Reading the Qur’an with meaning – not to make detailed tarsier or pass-off fatwas to others – but for basic understanding, reflection and mediation is the best way to root knowledge of God and His relationship with us in the heart.
This, in brief, is what I feel should be provisionally sought.
We earnestly ask Allah for guidance and grace.
Ustadh, I love this post and many of your other posts. May Allah reward you with His Presence in both abodes and give you tawfiq in future writings to bring benefit to the Beloved Prophet’s Ummah and to yourself. Amīn.
Barakallahu fikum. Amin to your beautiful du‘a. May Allah grant you its likes too.
You love this post, but I really love your name: solaceinservitude – it brings a serenity to my heart even as I say it; mashallah.
May Allah keep our faith in Him and His revelation fresh and fruitful, and cause our hearts to be filled with serenity and loving obedience of Him.
So beautifully put. JajakAllah 🙂
Barakallahu fikum. Perhaps the beauty is, not so much in the manner it was written, but in the way it was willingly received.
Sidi, sublime article, I read your articles but this is idea of “Allah is the goal” is where travels need to begin and end. Ps that painting is stunning, where did you get it?
Allah take you by the hand always. AH
Bless you, br. Abdullah. You are absolutely right when you suggest that we all need to be travellers, with Allah as our journey’s end; so to speak. Seeking other than Allah simply isn’t an option for a believer. May Allah help us and save us from ourselves.
As for the picture, I found it on the net. It’s a take on van Gogh’s Starry Night.
Can we connect the saying of the prophet (peace be upon him), when he mentioned that Faith is never static because increases and decreases with your article?
The modernity aims to disconnect humanity from the Sacred but as believers we must keep on nourishing our relationship with the Divine.
His Attributes and His Beauty will always be there for the seekers to see and to feel His Glory and Power until He Wills.
May The Merciful Lord have Mercy on those who are striving in these difficult times. Ameen!!
Jazakallahu khayran for your articles.
Thank you for your comment Sr. Maxima, and for your continued support in sharing my articles. May Allah bless you and increase you in goodness – in both worlds.
I believe we can (and should) connect it to the idea that iman increases with obedience to Allah and decreases with disobedience to Him. If, as believers, we do not make serious attempts to purify our intentions to seek only Allah and His good pleasure; or do not pay enough regard to repent for the sins most of us do on a daily basis; or are slack in shunning the haram, then all of these things are going to weaken our iman, diminish our love and reverence of God, and play havoc with our journey to Him.
Boredom is usually the result of a sinful heart that has been deprived of the sweetness of faith and of a desire; an actual interest, in Allah Himself.
We ask Allah for forgiveness and safety from ourselves.
May Allah cause us to be of those who can witness Allah’s attributes of beauty in this world, and be given the ultimate delight to gaze upon Him in the life to come. Amin!
A beautiful post. My own knowledge of Islam puts me at the very bottom rung – nay more accurately still on the ground – but as I observe the world around me I have also wondered if we are too absorbed by the created to remember the Creator. Sometimes I wonder if that is at the root of the problems we have as an ummah. If we only considered whether our deeds pleased Allah before we concentrated on interpretations of a certain ruling, we would not fall into half the errors we do.
Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah.
I think you’re right in thinking that we are too distracted by, and absorbed with, the creation to remember the Creator. The Qur’an speaks frequently about it and calls this root spiritual disease ghaflah – ‘heedlessness’ or ‘forgetfulness’. All too often, we get wrapped up in the ‘signs’, rather than the One these signs point to; or by the causes (asbab), rather than al-musabbib al-asbab – ‘The Causer of causes.’ True iman requires that we recognise that there is an Absolute behind all relative phenomena, an Omnipotence behind all relative power, and a Wisdom behind all natural laws; and that we then give to this Absolute the worship that He alone deserves.