The Little Gremlin

I always used to drive really fast; much faster than the speed limit. Driving was never a pleasure in and of itself, but a means to an end. Until of course I came to the realization that my time in the car is a magical time. A time that I use to catch up with friends and family and also a time to get a bit of a spiritual pick me up.  From the recommendation of a dear sister, I began listening to Hesham Al-Awadi’s cd-series, “Children Around the Prophet.” He explains the tender nature of the Prophet (sas) and provides his listeners with lessons that we can also inculcate with our very own children. In one particular session he describes a gathering led by the then Khalifa Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra). Umar (ra) asked a group of companions what they thought of the meaning of some particular verses. All of them replied, “Allah knows best.” Umar (ra) became irate that no one was even willing to try and decipher the meaning. Ibn ‘Abbas (ra), however, still  a very young man, responded by saying that he may have some insight into the meaning of these particular verses. Umar ibn al Khattab (ra) responded by saying, “Explain ya Ibn ‘Abbas and do not belittle yourself.”

This line affected me in such a deep way. Oftentimes we  find ourselves living in a society which endorses promoting high self-esteem. This high self-esteem approach where “everyone is a winner,” makes people paralyzed when it comes to taking risks and builds a fear of failure. We are crushed when someone has the smallest criticism to say to us and we see this on a societal level where grades are inflated and managers find ever more eloquent ways to tells us indirectly that we can do better. On the other end of the spectrum, however, when learning about personal development through an Islamic lens we begin with learning about the diseases of the heart. We try to conquer our nafs by avoiding riya’, arrogance, envy, greed, even too much joking around.

At one point, I found myself thinking, “I’m so diseased.” It became difficult to even think that I was a good Muslim. When someone complimented me, I was quick to find a criticism of myself. I excelled in self-deprecation. This too-critical approach has also been a paralysis for me, so when I heard Umar’s declaration to Ibn Abbas (ra), it was like he was speaking to me. I don’t have to belittle my actions or thoughts. There will always be people with better actions and thoughts but I’ve slowly come to realize that the difference will lie in the follow through.

The difference lies in the person who decides to roll up her sleeves, strives, and does so without belittling her efforts. As much as this is a personal lesson for me, I hope that I can find meaningful ways to have my daughter build an unshakable confidence in herself- one that is not riddled with the accusations of arrogance, but rather, with a dignified understanding of how powerfully she can impact her world if she does not allow her own self doubt to stop her.

After all, it just takes a quick glimpse into our Islamic history to tell us that our female examples had enormous courage and confidence- whether in business, academic scholarship, or even fighting in the battlefield. As we shoulder the heavy responsibility of  honoring their legacy, let us begin by catching the little gremlin in our mind that incessantly declares, “You’re not good enough and you can’t do it.”

Marwa Aly

Marwa is a mama to one and loves to play volleyball barefoot on the cool grass. When not playing volleyball…well, she has a personal love affair with buttered grilled cheese sandwiches too.

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  • Alia

    Assalamu Alaikum!

    I really liked you blog!

    Your posts are really nice, Mashallah!

    Keep up the good work!

    Do visit my blog too!


  • Dalal

    Marwa your post was so timely! I caught myself over-praising Maryam the other day, in an effort to instill in her the confidence you talk about. Initially, what came to my mind was that I should be that way with my dh, too. In the sense that we jump at every opportunity to thank, praise, and encourage the kids but sometimes find it hard to say a generously kind word like that to our spouses. I think when it works both ways, having husbands and wives continuously restore their confidences in themselves and in each other, it is bound to rub off on the whole family.

  • Sharif

    Masha’Allah very nice post. I think there is a balance that needs to be met. We need to be critical of ourselves, but not to the point that it cripples our efforts and prevent us from doing good. We also need to have confidence in our efforts, but not to the point that we are arrogant or seeking admiration from others. Thanks for sharing.

  • suma

    I really liked this post!! I love the message that you will iA be sending to your daughter…it seems that many of us have received the wrong message somewhere while growing up..but Al-Humdulillah you realized it and changed your thinking, which i hope that many will also, do. I know that I did….kind of!!!Al-Humdulillah.

  • Maha

    Marwa, I struggled for much of my adult life between self-criticism and paralysis due to not feeling adequate and, in the process of recovery, trying to avoid the other extreme of arrogance and self-delusion. So I really connected with this story. There is so much to learn here. One thing that really changed my worldview was realizing that if Allah swt puts me in a situation or makes it easy for me to find an opportunity, He will help me through it. I don’t have to believe in myself, just believe in the abilities and the path that He grants me (and trust that He will continue to support me along the way in proportion to how much i strive).