Often our lives get caught up in a flurry of activities so that we don’t take the time to pause and ponder which way life is going.
There are many paths that motivate people to do this. I have chosen Islam as it encourages me to stop for a moment—five times a day—to reconnect with God, whom we call Allah, and to remind myself that my spiritual life is important. Creating those pockets of silence and prayer throughout the day reminds us of our life’s purpose and how our paths will take us there.
Even in this pandemic, my life as a public relations consultant has been constantly busy. Sometimes I am so absorbed in meetings and commitments that I need an app to remind me of the salat, performing ritual prayers five times a day.
I wake up at 3 a.m. daily to gather the pure energy of dawn and to read the Quran, Islamic religious text revealed by the founder-prophet Mohammad (peace be upon Him). I feel showered by Allah’s blessings in the dawn prayer, Fajr (4:50 a.m. Philippine time), and the sunrise prayer (6:06 a.m.) afterwards.
But prayers between tasks have been a challenge now. In Islam, we follow the dress code of wearing fresh, modest clothes and underwear for every salat. Before the pandemic, I could easily find a dressing room in a mall, change garments, roll out my prayer mat and recite the prayers from the heart. In this quarantine lifestyle, I have to excuse myself from my meetings and head back to my condo, take a shower and dress up for Dhuhr, mid-day prayer (11:47 a.m.), then rush to a luncheon meeting then come home again to prepare for Asr, the afternoon prayer (3:03 pm.) As the day ends, I perform the Maghrib (5:29 pm) and end the day with Isha, the night prayer (6:40 pm) facing the Mecca, the Islamic holy city in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
As a result of the observance of these rituals, I remain calm and unfazed no matter how irritating the situation may be. I don’t allow people or circumstances to provoke me. As I remain light and cheerful, the situation around me changes, and my interaction with others improves.
How do I keep a balanced lifestyle?
I set the time to devote myself to maintaining this body, a valuable vehicle that deserves care. I work out in the gym five days a week, but not for vanity’s sake nor for socializing. Health is Allah’s gift. This body needs to be serviced properly, knowing that it has many important tasks. A fit body keeps me alert in my prayers and Quran studies.
My attitude towards work is that my earnings are meant to be shared for the greater good. Zakat, charity is another pillar of Islam. I help in some form of community service to glorify Allah. Thus, my work, my earnings, my fitness routine and charities are done with the awareness of feeling close to the One.
I spend my spare time engaging in spiritual study and have discussions with Islamic scholars and prayer leaders. These interactions deepen my understanding of the Quran and how it can be applied in my daily life.
The realizations that I receive through quiet moments allow me to get in touch with my inner wisdom.
On social media, I am able to share spiritual wisdom so that others may likewise grow.
It has been nearly five years since I had a spiritual awakening in 2016. I am amazed that I am able to maintain the Islamic pillars—salat, zakat and shahadah (recitation of the acknowledgement of faith. My observance of Ramadan, the holy of month of spiritual renewal and fasting (April 23-May 23), during ECQ, was my best ever. The lockdown enabled me to immerse myself in the company of Allah, without any distraction of work or worldly attractions.
Before 2016, I was a happy-go-lucky fellow, doing what I pleased without thinking of the consequences.
I was born to a pedigreed family of devout Muslims
I was born to a pedigreed family of devout Muslims. My paternal grandfather, Datu Gunting, was a sultan of Lumbayanague in Lanao del Sur, while my maternal grandfather, Datu Grande, ruled one of the municipalities of the province.
In my childhood, my parents separated after an unsuccessful arranged marriage. My father remarried and worked as official in the Bureau of Customs. When he was transferred to General Santos City, he brought me along and enrolled me in a Catholic school. Despite my father bringing me to the mosque for prayers on Fridays, I was not attracted to Islam nor did Christianity have any relevance to me. I felt that the mundane world was more interesting.
Since my father was a devout Muslim, he wanted me to understand the Islamic faith. He then sent me to Mindanao State University in Marawi, Lanao del Sur, the center of Islam in the Philippines. Yet my wayward ways did not change.
Looking back on my youth, I realized that I was just coasting along all those years. I studied at Ateneo de Davao, then took up another course at Notre Dame University in Cotabato. I got a job as executive assistant in the Office of the Governor for the (former) first Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 1987.
Most people from the province dreamed of going to Manila to seek opportunities. I took several jobs over the years—a teacher at Montessori School in Pasay City, a political youth leader in the office of then senator Mamintal Tamano, a researcher for then senator Rodolfo Biazon. As an occasional media liaison for these senators, I met editors in press rounds. Soon, I was doing public relations jobs on the side.
I got bored with the daily grind in the Senate office so that I ended up being habitually late or absent until I got sacked for my irresponsibility. I became a talent manager and a publicist by day and a disco/bar habitué at night.
A turning point came when I started working for ARMM governor (now congressman) Mujiv Hataman, the last leader of this region. He said the ARMM offered slots to select Muslims to go to hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, to strengthen their faith.
For one month, I immersed myself in the atmosphere of purity and piety at the Mecca. I realized that I had disconnected myself from God
For one month, I immersed myself in the atmosphere of purity and piety at the Mecca. I realized that I had disconnected myself from God. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) imparted that people must rise above worldliness and the devotion to other human beings. The Prophet had a simple but powerful message: There can be no one greater than the God, Allah.
Since my spiritual reawakening, I have been addressed as Hadji (my Manileño friends call me Hadj for short), a title given someone who had successfully completed the rigors of the pilgrimage to Mecca.
From then on, spirituality has given me more purpose. I accumulate the power of peace through the shahadah and salat. Zakat or charity has given my life more meaning and trained me to use money to help others, instead of satisfying my desires. Fasting in the month of Ramadan and other special days has taught me to abstain from negative and wasteful thoughts and actions.
While travel remains restricted in this pandemic, my pilgrimage need not be a physical trip to the Holy City. I can take my mind to God’s heart.
Allhamdullilah (praise be to God.)!