So often it’s asked, What advice would you give your younger self? No doubt an important question, because it should indicate an evolution of self; but here’s a more interesting one for the navel-gazers intending to improve their nafs – If you were to wake up 20 years after your death, and see the legacy which you left behind, what would you change tomorrow?
At least this question provides you with the room to be kinder to yourself, and to support yourself through an intention to change behaviour tomorrow. It’s not a futile exercise, but rather one rooted in actual possible change.
In the purest sense of definition, I’ve never considered the concept of legacy beyond the architecture of Islam – requiring that we maintain a sadaqa jaaryah – which is the giving of a gift during your lifetime, that continues to gift after your passing. Examples include the building/contribution to the building of a water well or a school, conservation of nature, protection of wildlife, etc, but all within your means no matter how big or small (but naturally, the more your means, the greater should be the gift).
Putting this question to myself lately, my answer reflects what I’ve always done best to live – my ambition continues to exist solely in my relationships. This is the arena into which I pour myself; the maintenance and keeping of others, those I love, those I simply like, and sometimes even those I don’t much care for. From this then, counting the building of relationships as legacy, the answer is simple – I would not place myself in situations where I know I might cause harm to another, and I would, when I find myself there, immediately remove myself. Basically, much stronger boundaries-setting for myself, so that I not harm anyone [whether or not they intend active harm (, or their intention is to ‘help’ me but the result is harm) isn’t my concern, because I try to remind myself not to center Maha inside of the boundaries or narratives of others. I have too much shit to sort with my own nafs and ego already].
I’m not always able to do this, and I most certainly don’t anticipate that I will never come up against it ever again in the history of my life, because I don’t live on an island with only dolphins as companions. However, it’s becoming easier, because the setting of boundaries is a muscle which, when exercised more, strengthens naturally and the default goes from no boundaries to (hopefully) healthier and healthier ones still.
Why? Because when I don’t set this boundary and I find myself in places where people do harm, I hit hard. Not just a little, not just kind of, but I will always go for the jugular if needled hard enough, and it’s one of the things I hate most about myself. I see people’s nerve endings very clearly, and I scalpel.
I am fucking deadly, and though I have dozens of regrets looking back over my 46 years, it is these moments – when I am standing with a scalpel in hand and cutting, that I later hold myself to most account.
Because what’s the point? What’s the point in harming someone even if they (intentionally or not) harmed me? If I am to be true to myself, and respect the demands made on me by Allah, I have to act accordingly – first, I have to soften my walking through this already hellscape of a world where we are all struggling. Second, I must leave it to Him. Otherwise, I lessen from myself, while (worse) hardening myself. And a hardened nafs cannot walk gently, neither in dunya, nor aakhira.
Sidebar: This is on a personal, and not on a political level. Meaning, this does not hold if someone does harm to a homeless person, or a trans individual, or to the Indigenous community of any land. Which is why also, as demanded by Islam, Muslims must actively stand against injustice (because again, for everyone in the back, freedom of will means the allowance to choose support either for systemic racism and apartheid, or the active fight against it, ya Muslimeen).
Coming full circle once again – because my ambition is rooted in relationships building, so too must any legacy be reflected therein – and if my legacy is to be kinder when I die than I was the day before, I think I’ll have done alright.
(As ever, feel free to slide into my DMs with your hopes for your tomorrow.)