People often separate their work and personal life in an attempt to maintain a “work-life balance.” Lately, I have come to believe that separating our lives in this way is deceptive. Rather than focus on the connecting thread across everything we do, we instead choose to break up our time into discrete blocks.
Our work life becomes solely a means for livelihood, while our personal life becomes “our” time. Within this framework we further compartmentalize: time for social life vs exercise vs relaxation —whatever the activity, the focus is ourselves.
With this framework, what happens to our spiritual and religious selves? If our spiritual life is relegated only to our time at the masjid or on the prayer mat, aren’t we the losers here?
The popular notion of work-life balance suggests we achieve equilibrium when we equally prioritize competing professional demands with personal ones. I think about another form of balance: when each dimension of our lives is so well-integrated with every other, there’s no need for any weighing of scales between them.
Allah ﷻ says in Surah Adh-Dhāriyāt:
“I have not created the invisible beings and humankind except to worship me” [51;56]
If our sole purpose is to worship Allah, what if we re-frame every activity as an act of worship?
Understanding Purpose through Amaanah
When we recognize that our only purpose is to serve Allah, we can assess the different aspects of our daily life by how well they bring us closer to Him. Rather than separate our economic, communal, and personal lives, we can instead bring them together to work toward the same goal.
But what does this look like in practice? What does it mean to worship Allahat all times, in every aspect of our lives? I look to al-Amaanah to help answer this question.
Al-Amaanah is often translated as ‘trust’, sometimes ‘honesty’, or even ‘free will’. It is our religious responsibility to fulfill our obligation to the Creator and His creation. It is a Trust, because we are bound by it; and it is the essence of free will, because we choose if and how we honor it.
Allah ﷻ says in Surah Al-‘Aĥzāb:
“Truly, we did offer (trust) to the heavens, the earth, and the mountains—but they declined to bear it and were afraid of it.” [33:72]
Trust and Trusts: Fulfilling our Duties
The entire universe bows to Allah—from the setting sun to the industrious honey bee. And while we share the same purpose as the rest of Creation, we have been uniquely blessed with Trust and free will.
We will be judged for how well we fulfilled our obligation. But God does not simply task us and leave us to fend for ourselves; He gives us a path to Him and the tools we need for the journey. He shows us what it means to live al-Amaanah, and gifts us each with our own amaanahs (lowercase “a” trusts) with which to fulfill our larger obligation.
I think of amaanah in the general sense as anything God has gifted us with: our senses, our families, our wealth, or intellect. Every amaanah is both a blessing and responsibility, but it is on us to honor our gifts for the sake of Allah. Whether it is land or knowledge, our bodies or our intellect, it is on us to receive these gifts. We use what Allah has given us, to honor our duty towards Him.
Work as Worship
Through the lens of Amaanah we can start to view each of our daily activities as active worship, driven by the same intention with which we approach prayer, fasting, or charity.
If we think of our gifts as a trust Allah ﷻ has given us, we can think of our work, or how we use these gifts, as fulfillment of our obligation to Allah. When we engage with work in the context of Divine creation, it is so much more beautiful than simply earning a living. It is a precious privilege we engage to strive in the way of Allah , to please Him by doing good in this world.
For those of us privileged enough to choose what we do and for whom, we can begin with a frank assessment of our own skills and talents, and identify where our abilities intersect with what the world needs. Not all work will be glamorous, but we can frame even seemingly mundane tasks within the larger context of our Amaanah.
One of my favorite stories of the Prophet ‘Isais when he met a man who had “devoted himself to worship”. The man boasted of spending every moment in prayer, fasting, and remembrance of Allah . ‘Isa asks the man how, then, did he get his daily bread. The man replied that it was from his brother, who worked, provided him with food. ‘Isa then told him, “That brother of yours is more religious than you are!” [Ihyaa’ Ulum Ad-Deen, al-Ghazali]
Loving for the Sake of Allah
When we place our work within our Trust and duty to Allah, we can better appreciate our connection to the world around us. When we work we also feed our families and serve our community. We actively learn, grow, and strive for good.
We can apply this same framework to the activities in our “personal life”. We can recognize our relationships as an amaanah -a trust we’re given and a Trust we’re responsible for. Our time with community becomes another dimension of worship. Not only do we emulate Allah’slove by loving others, but we also get the chance to improve ourselves and others through positive words and action.
Self-care too can be recast in this way; not as an indulgence or mere pleasure, but as an investment we make towards our heart and body —both of which are cherished by Allah.
I’m not advocating mental gymnastics to justify prohibited or harmful practices. Rather, a mindset shift such that we always begin with the intention: how can I best fulfill my duty to Allah? If we are physically and mentally exhausted we can not perform our work with care, and we’re less likely to engage those around us with patience. Our body, mind, and soul, are also gifts Allah has entrusted to us with —ones we must honor before we return to Him.
I question a framework for balance where we separate our lives into separate and distinct spheres. Perhaps true balance, perfect harmony, is only achieved when we intentionally bring all aspects of our life together in service of a single shared purpose.
When we walk in nature to witness the many miracles of Allah. When we work on projects that serve, employ, and invest back into our communities. When we break bread to share what we’ve learned and learn what we don’t yet know. Through all this, we take another step on our path toward Him.
If our only purpose is worship, let’s make every act one of worship. Let’s praise Allahby honestly assessing where our attention and ability can be of the greatest benefit at any given moment. Let’s use prayer as an opportunity to check in with God on whether we got it right, and adjust our energy and focus if we didn’t.
Let us be one of the pious ones.
I pray that Allah ﷻ guides each of us toward the people, knowledge, and tools to make a life like this possible. I pray that of all the things I could be doing, He guides me towards a path and work where my time can be best spent in the goal of reaching Him. Ameen.
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Source: Muslim Matters