Your beliefs come together through a combination of your experiences, knowledge, and the process of thought and reflection. Such beliefs also strengthen (or weaken) through the interplay of the same three factors. You can probably easily see how the interplay of these three factors have shaped your spiritual beliefs. The exact same applies to other areas of your life as well.
We know for example, that some of the beliefs that you develop through your childhood experiences carry forward in your life. Research done over the years has proven conclusively that children who are physically and mentally abused, become desensitized to human feelings, and unless other factors intervene in that upbringing, many such children become criminals. Repetition and intensity of life's experiences thus plays a major role in building associations in the human mind and forming of various types of beliefs.
To have the right beliefs, experience must be coupled with knowledge. A "Superstition" is an example where certain experiences help in the formation of beliefs without the foundations of knowledge. People wrongly associate certain actions (e.g. black cat crossing a path) to certain results (bringing misery). Acquiring knowledge thus can help dissolve those superstitious beliefs. The more we learn about a subject and the more we increase our knowledge, the stronger our beliefs get related to that area and the more it can influence us to take on the right agenda for excellence. For example, if you start to regularly read and learn about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you will surely become more aware of healthy eating habits, thus dramatically influencing your physical well being. However, it is also important to tap on the right knowledge in firming up our beliefs. In his book, Al-Fawaid, Ibn Qayyim said that any piece of knowledge that does not make faith (belief) stronger is abnormal. Distorted knowledge can help develop misaligned beliefs that can hurt more than it can help.
The process of thought and reflection (thinking, pondering, and critical questioning) is the third factor that guides our beliefs to get even more powerful. Investing some time to critically question ourselves, engaging in critical thinking, deep contemplation, examining the facts, putting together our knowledge and experiences, logical reasoning and other such behavior can help in uncovering more wisdom that can feed into the strengthening of our beliefs. The key again is to take the time to engage in such reflection and thought.
The Quran for example includes numerous verses to guide people to use critical thinking and questioning to help firm their spiritual beliefs. Sura Rahman for example is full of such questioning and critical reasoning verses after each of which Quran states: "Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both (jinns and men) deny?" [Sura Rahman].
The bottom line is that we need to develop the right beliefs for the various dimensions of our lives. This also means that we break through any limiting beliefs that may be limiting us from achieving our true potential. Consider the example of a cricket. When a cricket is placed in a closed jar, the cricket jumps and hits his head against the lid. After repeated attempts, if the jar's lid is opened, the cricket jumps no higher than the jar lid because that's how his experiences have conditioned him. This can happen to us. Through our experiences if we have been accustomed to do only so much for ourselves and for everyone around us, we may have developed limiting beliefs that keep us from achieving our true potential. Seeking more knowledge and reflecting on it can help reverse this dynamics and propel us on the avenues of excellence.
Roger Bannister, the person who first broke the record in the 1950s by running a distance of one mile in under 4-minutes, stated, "Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt...". Yet, he first believed he could break that record and then practiced until he actually broke that record. Once he broke that record, many more athletes broke the same 4-minute barrier within a few months proving that wrong beliefs held in one's mind can sometimes restrict our potential. As Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the top of Mount Everest said, "it is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."
Therefore, as we say goodbye to Ramadan until next year, we need to hang tight to the traits of personal excellence that each one of us demonstrated so passionately during that month and bring them into other areas of our lives by appropriately calibrating our beliefs. Because as we Muslims play the game of LIFE by the rules of Islam, we need to do it properly. Remember - Islam is a COMPLETE way of life and not one limited to the few rituals of praying and fasting. Ramadan helped us brush the dust off of our personal potentials. Given the right set of beliefs, it showed you and me how to excel in certain areas of our lives. There is no reason now to prorcrastinate in espousing those traits of excellence permanently and it's time that you use that potential in all areas of your life.
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