Nafs Hack: Mandatory Vs. Optional
When I was in college, I worked with a team to organize logistics for a very large Muslim college students’ retreat that was taking place in Boston. It was the first of its kind. I spent months organizing with my team, and a few weeks before we were supposed to go on the retreat, the option for me to go to Hajj emerged.
I didn’t want to let the committee down. I didn’t want to let the retreat down. I wanted to go on it with my friends, but Hajj is a really big deal. So, I talked through it with a friend, and she reminded me the retreat is a great yet optional experience, but Hajj is mandatory.
So, I went to Hajj.
A few years later, I would use that same logic, fasting while pregnant. Frustrated that I had no energy to recite extra Qur’an or go to taraweeh prayers at the Masjid, or to even go to iftar parties.
I told myself you don’t have to fast. It’s not mandatory for a pregnant woman. You should just eat and enjoy this month.
And then again, great people around me, someone reminded me that all those things that I couldn’t do were optional, and fasting is mandatory.
So, if the only worship I added that month to my schedule was fasting, then I did what I believe God commands. And the same with prayer, or Zakat, or family ties. We create in our minds these ideals, these situations that have to be perfect to fulfill those duties and then we end up prioritizing what’s optional over what’s mandatory.
Missing mandatory windows of time for prayers in favor of imagined ideals like a quiet space or a perfect outfit or family that we choose not to visit because we can’t host them in the most perfect way and instead we end up cutting times with them.
Sometimes, without thinking, we find the mandatory and the optional in competition, when the truth is they are on the same team.
So, what’s my Nafs Hack?
Put what’s mandatory before what’s optional even if the optional feels more ideal, because that’s what it means for us to believe in God, and put the hierarchy of God’s standards above the hierarchy of our own.