For those in the throes of exams, inspiration can be hard to find, but the Islamic tradition provides various methods to get through it
It’s that time of year again – students across the country have gone into hiding while the peril of end-of-year exams looms. The exam period can be extremely daunting and stressful, even for the most conscientious of students.
As a one-time undergraduate student, a current Masters student in Theology, and a Muslim Chaplain at a university, I have both experienced the stress of exams and deadlines, and helped others through it. Islamic theology teaches that solutions for all of life’s problems can be found in Prophetic and Qur’anic teachings – the Qur’an says ‘Indeed, in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest’(13:28). I thought I might share some advice from Islamic theology that I’ve received and given on how to cope in difficult times, particularly during exam season.
Beginning with God
The Prophet Muhammad used to start all actions by saying ‘bismillah’ (‘in the name of God’). Saying this before revising, exams and other actions fills those actions with blessings (barakah). The word barakah implies an increase or multiplication, so by starting with bismillah, we actually expand our time allowing it to be filled with more goodness. Saying bismillah also reminds us that everything we do can be an act of worship, a means of becoming closer to God by remembering Him, even in the smallest acts like opening a door or going to sleep.
Patience and Prayer
The Qur’an also states, ‘O you who believe! Seek help through patience and prayer (salah); surely Allah is with the patient’ (2:153). In times of hardship (and ease), one of the most important reminders from this is that the ritual prayer (salah) is not a burden but rather a blessing, a source of strength and a connection with God. Scholars have added that our lives can be divided into ‘patience’ and ‘prayer’, i.e. the times we are not engaged in prayer are times of patience when we are waiting to renew our connection with God through prayer.
The Prophet related that God said ‘Indeed I am as My servant thinks of Me”. This encourages us to think positively of God, implying that if we expect God to forgive us, He will do so. Similarly, if we expect Him to help us through exams, He will do so. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)* was the example of optimism. The Prophetic statement ‘Indeed, actions are by their intentions’ implies not only that we are rewarded for our intentions, but that our intentions determine the outcome of our actions as well.
Living in the ‘now’
The Prophet encouraged us to live in the present, rather than worrying too much about the past or the future. ‘Now’ is really the only time we have to act, the only moment which we can really do anything about.
To help us in not dwelling on the past, the Prophet taught: “If any adversity comes to you, do not say: ‘If I had only acted in such-and-such a way, it would have been such-and-such’ but instead, say: “Allah has decreed it, and what He willed, He has done” for verily, ‘if’ opens the way for the work of Satan.” He also encouraged saying ‘There is no might and no power except in Allah’ to reduce anxiety about the past and the future and to ward off depression and hopelessness. Recognising that ultimately God is in control helps put one’s mind and heart at ease in difficult times.
Trusting in God
Just as Moses was commanded to strike the Red Sea with his staff, we should work hard and revise for exams, knowing that ultimately the final outcome is down to God. Moses knew that it was not physically possible to part the sea with his staff except by the power of God. We trust in God knowing that His mercy encompasses everything – He will do what is best for us, even though it might not seem like that at the time.
Supplicating to God
God says in the Qur’an: ‘And when My servant asks you concerning Me, indeed I am near. I answer the supplication of the supplicant when he calls Me’ (2:186). Du’a (supplication) is easy to forget when caught up in the midst of revision but asking God for support, in one’s own words or in phrases recommended by the Prophet, is considered an act of worship in itself. Unlike humans who get tired of nagging, God loves when we ask of Him and the act of asking brings one closer to God.
Invoking blessings on the Prophet Muhammad
For those unfamiliar with the Muslim tradition this practise may seem unusual, but asking for blessings to spent sent upon the Prophet Muhammad is something encouraged by Muslim scholars in times of difficulty and ease. There are numerous Prophetic statements mentioning the rewards and virtues of reciting such salawat (supplications on Prophet Muhammad) such as raising one’s status with God, receiving blessings from God and receiving supplications from God’s creation. It is thought that these salawat are repeated by all of God’s creation from the sea to the trees, and reciting them brings a person in line with their pure, natural state and increases closeness to God.
I hope these words can provide some comfort to those going through difficulties. And I pray for the best results for all those facing exams over the coming weeks. Happy studying!
Image from: http://stagefrightfreedom.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/exams1.gif
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.