Spring Cleaning for the heart

Some people, including my old 18 year old self have the habit of allowing things to accumulate before they clean up. The concept of spring cleaning follows the ideal that one accumulates items for the year, and then comes the magical time of spring where they sit down and observe and look at all of the items they never needed, outgrew, or can share with someone else. My bawab, Hussein, has been giving me a hard time over the last few months because he and the owner of our building don’t get along too well. One of Hussein’s tasks is to wash the inside of the building, making sure the stairs and entrance are cleaned weekly. Hussein however, might get around to cleaning the building once a month. Nonetheless, I was still paying him as though I was one of the neighbours with a BMW that needed to be washed for me every morning, which I don’t.

This past month I sat down with him and told him that his lack of enthusiasm would no longer work for me. I would need him to pick up the work a bit and make sure things were done timely, especially seeing as I had family coming to Egypt for the first time in their lives and I wanted at the very least the building to be clean for them, since the streets and elsewhere wouldn’t be. All praise to God he’s been on par for the last month, today though I woke up and realised that he was supposed to clean the building yesterday and didn’t, I already started seeing dust congregate in various places, and if you must know, I was born in a home where my mother cleaned daily. For the average Egyptian this isn’t a problem, in fact, they have this if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it type of mentality. So if it isn’t looking like a landfill, it’s not dirty. For me, the first sign of filth or dust means I need to get down on my hands and knees and get cleaning. I don’t like when rooms get to the point where you need to spend a day or two cleaning in an effort to bring things back to how they should be, but Egypt was wearing off on me. In fact, there would be times in my own apartment where I would see dust accumulating in various rooms and I would just look at it and walk away, who cares? If I clean it now it’s only going to be back there tomorrow, then I have to do it again! That’s what I thought this morning, and then I realised there was a lesson to be learned.

The Prophet ﷺ likened the hearts of mankind to a clean substance, something without any stains or dust upon it. However, when one sins, a small black dot is placed upon the heart. A person who is *alert* will immediately take the opportunity to clean that spot, to not allow that stain to sit there  and become something greater. But others, like myself, will not see the big deal in that small, insignificant stain. It can sit there as long as it wants, but when it gets big I’ll take care of it. But then when it becomes big, it becomes overwhelming, then I have to set aside days to cleanse it. Then Friday prayers become a task to me, then fasting every Monday and Thursday becomes something only the righteous do, then Ramadan becomes an opportunity to lose weight and cleanse my bowels instead of cleansing my heart. I’ve let it sit for so long that I don’t know how to take care of it myself, to the point where I need someone else to help me, I need to pay a teacher, I need to go to classes, I need to go to a convention, I need to do something to get this heart back on track because I’m about to lose my faith, I’m about to lose God, I’m about to lose myself. All because spring cleaning became the goal.

Let me interject into my own reflection and say that I do believe everyone should have someone that helps them clean if that ability is given to them. If you are a husband with some extra money, your wife shouldn’t be the only one cleaning, you too should be helping, and if you wish to absolve yourself of that work, then you ought to be paying for someone to help your wife. Likewise, for people on the path to God, sometimes you may not have the ability to have a teacher or guide in your life, but if you do, you should reach out. Help is better than no help. Now back to my reflection.

I’ve found that this was the case with other facets of my life as well. As an American student studying abroad, I came with the understanding of being tested at the end of chapters, when I completed a chapter then I would have a test, that made the most sense. In fact, maybe after several chapters I would have a test. Then came classes with my local Shayukh, where every single class began with questions for each of the students, in addition to reviewing the memorisation of the text for that particular class. It meant that every day of the week needed to be spent in studies, not just the night or two before an exam. Or from a spiritual perspective we as Muslims are taught that a person who states There is no god except for God and Muhammad ﷺ is His messenger, before they die will be entered in Paradise. I used to think this was such an easy pathway to Paradise, and in fact, many Muslims feel the same way. Until I realised years ago that the words I often said when I found myself in a tight situations were usually words that might be one’s first class ticket to Hellfire. Why did I believe that I would all of a sudden call on God, or praise Him when my life was flashing before my eyes? Then it dawned upon me that I need to be of those people that praise God always, in all situations, at every waking moment, and then whether it was before my soul was taken from me, or in any other moment, I would be praising Him.

It all went back to the heart. How was I keeping up with it? Was I continually keeping it clean? Was I continually caring for it? Was I continually praising God? Was I continually keeping myself in check, looking at the sins I had done and then repenting for them? Because if I wasn’t doing that, I would probably end up with a mountain of sins that I had forgotten about because I was waiting for a day to repent that I had no knowledge would ever come.

Like Hussein, I needed to make a routine so that the boss wouldn’t call me to account for my laziness, my forgetfulness, and my lack of attention paid to my own shortcomings. In the case of us, God is the ultimate boss and there is no example like Him, but do we really want to meet Him on a day that is already going to be stressful, a day that for some will be one of honour and for others debasement, is that the day I want to ask myself, “Why didn’t I just pick up the broom?”

As always, this is a reminder for myself, for you, and for all of those who believe.

Glossary

Shayukh: Islamic Scholars.

Bawab: Linguistically comes from the word Door in Arabic. The Bawab is what Egyptians consider a doorman. He does minor tasks around for those that reside in the building and depending on your doorman you might even have someone who will go about and collect your groceries for you.

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