Sunday, June 08, 2014

Niat, Motivation and Distractions

Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim

Assalamualaikum WRT WBT

I've been wanting to write for a couple of days now, but at home there's always something to do. Without a proper place for you to open your laptop except on your bed, it really makes you feel that it's too much of a hassle. And there's usually other things distracting you - laundry, dishes, clearing up the fridge, moping the floor, cleaning the stove, more laundry, folding clothes. Oh wau. Im not even married yet and I have tons to do! Especially when mak isnt around. Hehe.

For the past 4 years doing my PhD, the journey has been ups but mostly a lot of downs. As Im nearing the end of my journey, I feel much more enthusiastic. Can't wait to finish! But honestly, I have tons more to do *long sigh* You cannot imagine the workload Im supposed to be doing compared to what I have actually completed. Tons more I tell you! I havent reached the point of panicking just yet, but Im nearly getting there.

If you have been along with me throughout my journey, you will know that my downs were awful. And dealing with them were worst. But alhamdulillah, Im here today, still smiling.

Im writing this post because all around me, many friends and colleagues are just starting their journey. I've met a lot of people who I found out are starting their PhDs, thinking about it, or just wanting to do it. Alhamdulillah, may Allah guide them and ease their passage.

I felt compelled to write this, not to scare you. But with the purpose of preparing you what is to come when you actually do your PhD. I've been thru a lot, and I hope that my sharing will help others (especially those around me who are thinking or actually are doing their PhDs).

The number one thing you should have is The Right Niat
I used to have the wrong niat. Personally, I wanted to do my PhD because I wanted to become a lecturer. I wanted to become a lecturer coz I wanted to have lots of money and be able to travel the world like my father. I was naive enough to think that Allah would allow me this if I worked hard.

I also wanted to show people that Im capable. People used to question my education bcoz I didnt get good results to further straight to degree. I had to go thru diploma first, so I wanted to prove people wrong. It was like a personal goal I wanted to achieve to show people.

But as you can see, both niats were wrong right from the beginning. A year into my PhD, I started questioning myself. It is beautiful how Allah created Niat. The reason for doing something either a deed or an action will all change when you change your niat. If you started with the wrong niat, later when you realise your mistake, you will have the chance to alter it. The Messenger told us: "Innama A'malu bin Niat" Everything starts with Niat.

If your niat (intention) is good, then insyaAllah Allah will guide you and help you. If it is wrong, then Allah will make you realise it, reflect on it and change it. What a waste to do something without the right intention. Thats pahala just doing down the drain. Just imagine how you will be rewarded if you do something with the best of intentions.

My niat for furthering my studies were obviously wrong. It was all duniawi. It was selfish, thinking about myself, without thinking about my akhirat. It was also about "vengeance" in a form of wanting to win an invisible competition for status quo. There is a fine line between taking something as a motivation and being vengeful. And I had crossed the line. It was selfish, and Im ashamed to admit it.

But alhamdulillah, after a long time of self reflection, I changed my niat and found a bigger purpose. Why is this important? Well because PhD is hard. Really hard. And after 2 years into it, you will loose a lot of hope and a lot of motivation. You will be questioning yourself "why on earth am I doing this?" "why am I suffering myself through all this torment when I can just go about working?"

Oh yes, you will be going thru that, I assure you. So when you see clearly your reason to go thru this hard road, then insyaAllah it will give you the best form of motivation ever.

Allah SWT said:

"Read in the name of your Lord who created" (Al Alaq: 1)

This ayat was an introduction to Quran for humans. Read. The first revelation that Allah sent down to Rasulullah s.a.w. was the command to Read. Allah said Read, and Rasulullah did this command for 23 years.

READ. The start of any civilisation begins with reading. It begins with knowledge. In response to that command, the Muslims became the most educated civilisation in history -- Math Education, the developed University system as it exists today, and so many more. What really got to me was when I found out that the PhD system we have now was actually taken from the ijazah system in Islam.

Can you just imagine that? It made me think. Ya Allah, PhD is so hard but in Islam that is the standard of Ijazah (degree). I was astonished. Then later in the tafsir of the surah, we later see that Allah is commanding us to do research. Go find out things you know nothing of. Allah will teach you. Go study, go seek knowledge and understanding of Allah's creations. The system that we have today with the classes, lectures and a ton of spoon feeding comes from the Greek system. But in Islam, learning is a form of research, discovering and finding.

To do research, to seek knowledge and find the wonders of the world and humanity was the first command Allah asks us to do. So find your purpose, find your strength in Allah's ayats. Find your true niat and may Allah guide you the way.

The second most important this you need is Motivation.

I used to think that I had high motivation. I was confident, secure with myself and believed that I could do this. But boy was I wrong.

When I say PhD is hard, I mean it. If you think PhD is simply reading journal papers, abstracting details of this and that, combining it together, testing it out and writing about the whole process -- then Im afraid you're in for a rude awakening. It is all that, but adding a few more things. The hardest thing that you are going to face is making decisions. Yes, you will need to read a lot. And by reading, you will notice how much you really dont know. The more you read, the more you find yourself not understanding. So you read some more. And understand even less!

I came to the point where I found myself not understanding one single thing, not being able to relate one thing to the other and thinking about how stupid I am. Yes, you will go thru this too. You will be overwhelmed by the stuff you found and you will have an even tougher time deciding which one to choose. This is where I faced the most difficulty.

It sounds petty, but you wont believe how many dozens of buckets of tears I cried myself. But I later realised, that is why seeking knowledge is a form of Jihad. It is hard. No one said it was going to be easy. And you also will realise from research that everyone goes thru it -- the learning curve. Although not everyone is comfortable going thru it, but insyaAllah Allah will help you when your niat is right.

This made me think about the saying "When a tree has fruit, its branches come down". The more you gain knowledge, the more humble you become. Because you realise that its not even 1/10 of the ilmu of Allah Taala. Which is why the most humble of people are the Ulama' (the knowledgeable).

You will need a great deal of motivation. A strong foundation of belief. Belief that Allah's plans are the best of plans (there is a reason why you were led to this path in life) and belief in yourself (that you can do this).

My tip: If you don't know if you are strong enough, make sure you have friends who will support you. Preferably who have gone thru or are going thru the same thing, because they totally get what you are feeling. Mine is Uswah. Thank you love. You've been there when I was at my worst. You brought me up and pushed me back on my own two feet. And I love you for that. You are my friend till Jannah!

The third thing you must have is Distraction
Yes, this is important. Very much important. It can be anything you want. Some have their family, some have their husbands and children. Some have side businesses, some have hobbies, others have volunteer work.

There will come a time during your long study where you just want to get away, think about other things, leave your work at the office/library/etc. During this time, you need something as a distraction. And the best distraction is something that will bring benefit to you and the community.

I have a couple of distractions in my life right now. So Im juggling three things -- my studies, my volunteer work and my business. I have put aside my business for a while because I cant deal with too much on my plate. So now Im concentrating on studies and my dakwah work.

When I want to run away from the bunch of papers on my desk and the long list of books I have to read, I involve myself with my dakwah work. Going around spreading Islam.

When I feel stressed out, I design. Yup. It calms me down. Or I cook, or I do DIY craft. Yes, you need this. If not, you might go crazy.


Those are my three most important tips when embarking on this long and winding road. Even so, those are just a few. I have a ton more, but Im gonna leave you with just those for the time being. And again, this is not to scare anyone from pursuing their studies. Im just preparing you for what is in store.

When I look at the innocent enthusiastic young people excited on doing their PhD, I have mixed feelings -- one part I want to wish them the very best of luck along with prayers and words of encouragements. The other part I just wanna say "Oh yay! You're in for a treat!" *sarcasm* and "It's not as good and easy as you think its gonna be". Yup, definitely mixed feelings.

Best of luck everyone! :) And please pray for me.

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