Over the past few years as I struggled to teach my daughter good habits, I came to the realization that the only way she could really learn was through a very slow, step-by-step process. It sometimes drives me to the precipice of madness when I have to repeat myself twenty times in order for her to do something. But this back and forth tango between my sanity and repetitive madness taught me something that you might think is quite strange:
The Shaytan is very patient.
(This isn’t the madness speaking – this is just reality.) Nearly every day I come to a point where I just want to give up and go lie on the couch and eat straight out of a tub of ice cream instead of repeating to my child please wash your hands before eating (or any other variant of this) enough times to turn my hair grey.
But the Shaytan? Oh, he’s patient. His very purpose in this existence is to repeat, repeat, repeat his sinful suggestions to us.
We all know the story mentioned many times in the Quran where Iblees rejects Allah’s command and does not prostrate to Adam. Iblees’ arrogance gets the better of him and he refuses to obey Allah (swt) because Adam was made out of mere clay while Iblees was made out of fire.
In turn, Allah (swt) cursed him until the Day of Judgment, but allowed him to remain in existence. The Shaytan promises to mislead humankind, saying, “By your might, I will surely mislead them all; Except, among them, Your chosen servants” (38:82-83).
The Shaytan’s tactics are numerous and they are incredibly nuanced. To underestimate his cunningness is to make a serious error. But I believe that Allah (swt) shows us his tactics in order for us to understand how he operates.
Here are three of his methods and how to use them to our own advantage.
ONE: Persistence is Key
Of the many things Shaytan is, persistent is number one. He never gives up on leading you astray, literally until you’re dead. It is only when our souls are removed from our bodies that we are able finally to be free of him.
I recently heard a lecture by Nouman Ali Khan where he explained that the word “waswasa” (usually translated as ‘whispered’) actually indicates a repeated whispering. So when the Quran says that Shaytan “waswasa le Adam” – whispered to Adam – it means that he called Adam to eat from the tree many, many times.
When we recite Surat Al-Nas, the final chapter of the Quran, we seek refuge in Allah from “the evil of the retreating whisperer” (114:4). By his very nature, he is in a state of continuously asking us to disobey God and leave the path of truth.
He does not take breaks, so neither should we.
The Prophet Muhamad was asked, “What deeds are loved most by Allah?” He responded, “The most regular constant deeds even though they may be few.”
What is mentioned in this hadith is the act of persistent deeds – deeds that are maintained and perfected and performed over and over, though they may seem “insignificant” in our eyes. It can be a kind word to a family member every day, a five dollar bill in the mosque’s sadaqah box every jummah prayer, one extra rak’ah of prayer before you fall asleep, or one particular dua that you make each day.
Whatever the actions may be, be persistent in performing them, even when it’s difficult or you’re busy. Make the time. Shaytan makes the time to persistently try to lead you astray. So you have to be persistent in doing the good things that will thwart his plans.
TWO: Surroundings Matter
Shaytan arrogantly addresses Allah (swt) while saying, “I will surely sit in wait for them on Your straight path. Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You]” (7:16-17).
It’s creepy to think about this, but Shaytan surrounds us from all sides in the sense that there is no space for us to go where we are “safe” from him.
Usually we’re able to compartmentalize our lives in a way that makes them easier – so once you clock out of your job at 5pm, you’re no longer required to worry about anything work-related. Once you drop your child off at school, your focus can turn to something else, etc. But this isn’t the case for our dealings with Shaytan.
Just when we think we’ve gotten away from the temptation to do something or say something wrong, he’s back at our sides telling us to do something else! He whispers to us no matter where we are – home, school, work, vacations, the grocery store – everywhere. It’s a constant barrage of whispers.
Sneaky? Yes. Infuriating? I know.
But we can take lesson from this – if he’s surrounding us from all sides and at every opportunity, then we need to surround ourselves with good, positive influences to counteract his actions. Even something as simple as ditching the music or mindless talk radio in the car and opting for Quran or Islamic lectures (or even good audio books) can shape the way we function throughout the day.
Surround yourself with good people who encourage you towards faithful, positive choices and help you see when you’re making a mistake. Put things that remind you of Allah (swt) in your home, on your phone or computer, in your cubicle, and in every other physical space you encounter.
Surround yourself with reminders of Allah (swt) – on the right, on the left, behind you, and in front of you!
THREE: Everything is done in Steps
The Shaytan calls us to commit sins or acts of disbelief in small steps.
He’s not going to come to a person who steadfastly prays five times a day and whisper, “stop praying completely.” That would be a ludicrous suggestion that would warrant a “yeah right, buddy!” reaction. Instead, Shaytan will call us to delay our prayer in pursuit of something else (sometimes the something else might even be another good deed, but not as monumental as prayer!). Then when he’s accomplished that, he’ll whisper for us to miss one prayer, “it’s just one prayer, you’ll make it up later.” Then you’ll stop making up the prayers altogether if you’re not vigilant.
It’s a process that can take a lifetime (but remember, he’s patient and persistent).
Allah (swt) warns us about taking these kinds of steps in harmful directions saying, “And do not approach zina (unlawful sexual intercourse). Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way” (17:32). Here He is asking us to not even approach something unlawful, let alone do the unlawful act.
Everything starts with one step.
So many of us try to miraculously change overnight. We make resolutions to eat healthy and go to the gym five times a week – and we do, for about 2 weeks until we lose motivation and go back to lazing on the couch while eating straight out of the ice cream tub (this is the second time I use the ice cream example, for obvious reasons).
It’s not that we have no self-control or that we are inherently not capable of maintaining good habits. The fatal error is thinking we can change everything in our lives in one moment, just because we decide to. No, we have to divide tasks and goals into small, positive steps.
Shaytan is “realistic” in his whispering to us – he’s not going to have a great chance if he tries to change us all at once. So just as evil begins with one step, good can also begin with one step.
Instead of deciding to change yourself for the better by a massive upheaval of your life (which often is not sustainable), take small but consistent steps towards a good goal.
And Allah (swt) places us at an extraordinary advantage when we take steps towards Him:
Allah’s Messenger said that Allah (swt) said: He who comes with a good deed, its reward will be ten like that or even more. And he who comes with vice, his reward will be only one like that, or I can forgive him. He who draws close to Me a hand’s span, I will draw close to him an arm’s length. And whoever draws near Me an arm’s length, I will draw near him a fathom’s length. And whoever comes to Me walking, I will go to him running. And whoever faces Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, I will meet him with forgiveness nearly as great as that, provided he does not worship something with me” (Muslim).
When we decide to take steps towards bettering ourselves, we have Allah (swt) helping us along the way. subhanAllah.
When it comes to our parenting journeys, these very same principles apply. Helping our kids become great, responsible, faithful human beings requires a step-by-step approach where we guide them through small, achievable steps towards a bigger goal. It requires surrounding them with good people and experiences that will strengthen their character. And it means being persistent in our care and teaching – even when it very nearly drives us to the brink of our sanity.
All done with steadfastness and patience.
We seek refuge in Allah (swt) from the accursed Shaytan, and as Him to guide and protect us and our babies.