TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2013 • 12:00AM
When I was young, my parents would show home movies every once in a while. It meant the digging out of 8 ml films, a screen and a projector. We would then sit and watch my young mother and father smile and wave at the camera. There wasn’t any sound, so we could speak freely and laugh about my mother’s hairstyle, or my crooked smile.
On that screen was a projection.
And we as Muslims have to learn to recognize projections, remove them, and grow into believers.
The new ‘global culture’ is so deeply entrenched in selfishness, desirability, and comfort that it is difficult for us to identify the projections we make. But we are making them. And unlike the screen projections of my childhood, these projections distort reality and stand as barriers to our growth.
We project onto our family members how we think they feel, we project onto our communities what we see and hold them accountable when they fail to meet our expectations, and most dangerously we project onto our spiritual path and upbringing insisting that it takes us where we think we should go.
Some Muslim women put on hijab and expect that the result will be ‘enlightenment’ or at least ease. And when her husband objects, or her friends mock – she wonders why “Allah has ‘done this to her’ since she did what was right.” She may take it off and blame Islam, Muslims and God for her previous misery. This is a projection. Instead of dealing with the inner spiritual problem she has – one of low self esteem, lack of commitment to God’s law, the need for approval of people – she projects her problems and gets angry.
In another scenario, a Muslim women chooses to wake up for tahajud, but she finds difficulty, she is tired and crabby, and looks with a jealous eye on the ‘other’s’ lifestyle. “If only I wasn’t married/was married and didn’t have young children/had young children I would be able to wake up.” or she might say, “If I had a job/if I didn’t have a job I could get up for tahajud.” She doesn’t look deeply within herself to analyze and eradicate that which is making it difficult, but rather follows her projection which says, ‘If I wake up for tahajud I should feel spiritual’. So she gives it up and smiles knowingly when asked saying, “It just wasn’t working for me.”
Other Muslim women begin on a spiritual path, projecting their fast food mentality to the teacher and/or method. When they don’t find immediate enlightenment, when it dawns on them that this is going to take work – a lot of it – they leave. They wanted a pill not a life plan. Others expect to be given a litany of worship, and they jump head first into the lap of a teacher expecting the ‘prescription’. If the teacher says the unexpected – instead of ‘do dhikr’ she says, ‘give money to your mother.’ or get a job, or go back to school – the student balks. This is not the way it is ‘supposed to be’. In this projection the student has an image in her head of what the path looks like, and wants to be able to brag to friends about long litanies, not about extra laundry or more hours at work. Here, instead of going deeply within to iron out the wrinkles of her personality, she doubts the teacher and sometimes the path. She often returns to the “Mall of Shaikhs’ – looking for one who will ‘do it right’.
Projections distort our thinking. As they increase we become more self righteous and farther from the path of deep faith. One way to check for a projection is to gauge our emotional reactions. Very often our strongest negative reactions are not because the other person is acting inappropriately, but rather because we have projected onto him our own expectations. That’s why when some guy in Walmart bumps into you and says ‘excuse me’ – we smile and say, ‘that’s ok’. But if a Muslim guy bumps into us at the local Mosque, we get irritated and spend many days lamenting the state of Muslims, belittling them and complaining about their ‘adab.’.
And while complaining fills the nefs with satisfaction (because it shifts blame to other than you), it does not put the hijab back on, it does not wake us up at night to pray, and it does not make us people of adab.
We must be willing to pull back our projections and take an honest look at our deep inner weaknesses.
Carl Jung says, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” In understanding ourselves we can remove the projections we build up to protect ourselves from effective deep work.
Abu Bakr (r) said that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Hold tight to ‘la ilaha illa Allah’ and the asking of God’s forgiveness and repeat them often. For Iblis has said, ‘I caused the people’s ruin with sin, and they caused my ruin with ‘la ilaha illa Allah’ and the asking of God’s forgiveness. When I saw that, I caused their ruin by making them follow their desires while thinking that they are guided.” In ending our projections, we move away from the whisperings of Shaitan.
Once we are able to look ourselves in the mirror and see the person in the reflection for who she truly is, once we stop projecting our own problems and expectations on our families, community and path, at that point we can become the ummah we were meant to be. People of light. People who live as the sahaba lived. People who truly believe and whose good deeds are like rain to the parched earth.
Stop the excuses. Start the work.
It’s 1435 – let it be the year of taking responsibility for ourselves.