Competition has existed since before humans began to inhabit the earth. We know how Iblees (Satan) felt towards Adam (peace be upon him) and his wish to mislead as many of the children of Adam as possible. The rivalry between Iblees and the human race is an ongoing one.
In our case, it is a fight against an enemy we cannot even see. We are in this war against Iblees whether we realize it or not. We have to decide which team we are going to be on and work actively to help the team win. What are some steps for winning?
Know your opponent
We cannot see Iblees but Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) has informed us of his existence, his plots, and his ways. We need to be aware of his strategies and outsmart them.
إِنَّ ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنَ لَكُمۡ عَدُوٌّ۬ فَٱتَّخِذُوهُ عَدُوًّاۚ إِنَّمَا يَدۡعُواْ حِزۡبَهُ ۥ لِيَكُونُواْ مِنۡ أَصۡحَـٰبِ ٱلسَّعِيرِ (٦)
“Indeed, Satan is an enemy to you; so take him as an enemy. He only invites his party to be among the companions of the Blaze.” [Qur’an; 35:6]
Being aware in advance allows us to see it when it happens and combat it appropriately rather than being clueless and easily defeated. He is especially focused on misleading believers through what might be considered as small matters but have heavy ramifications or by making evil deeds appear as good deeds.
أَفَمَن زُيِّنَ لَهُ سُوءُ عَمَلِهِ فَرَآهُ حَسَنًا ۖ فَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُضِلُّ مَن يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ ۖ فَلَا تَذْهَبْ نَفْسُكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَسَرَاتٍ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلِيمٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ ﴿٨﴾
“Then is one to whom the evil of his deed has been made attractive so he considers it good [like one rightly guided]?” [Qur’an; 35:8]
“The Satan has despaired of being worshipped by those who engage in prayer in the Arabian Peninsula but (has not lost hope) in creating dissension among them.” [Muslim]
While being aware of the tactics of Satan, we must be more mindful of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). A pious person once explained that if you are aware of a dog and you focus all your energy on the dog, it will not save you. However if you talk to the owner of the dog, then perhaps he can help you. Similarly we should focus on Allah instead of Satan as Allah is more powerful.
Ibn Ata’illah is reported to have said, “Once you realize that Satan is always on the lookout for you, then make sure that you always keep your mind on The One who has power over you. Keep your mind and heart connected to Allah all the time.”
For example, in the case of salah (prayer), Satan may not directly tell you not to pray, but he may influence you to postpone it because there is time, until you miss the prayer completely. He will whisper while you are asleep so it becomes difficult for you to wake up and you keep snoozing for five minutes at a time until the time of the pre-dawn prayer has passed.
One must be regular with self-assessment to know where one stands what must be done in the days ahead. The players on your team are the parts of your body. When a part of your body engages in sin, how angry do you become about that part and what do you do to ensure it does not happen again? One can curtail sin by having self-awareness and punishing one’s self in small ways when sins occur–such as by not treating one’s self to something enjoyable, and also by attempting to erase the sin by engaging in more good deeds such as reciting the Qur’an.
“Fear Allah wherever you are, do good deeds after doing bad ones, the former will wipe out the latter, and behave decently towards people”. [Tirmidhi]
Stay in shape
While it is tempting to do as much as possible when we are motivated to outdo Satan, it is more sustainable to pace ourselves so we do not use up all our motivation and energy too quickly and become burnt out very soon. Continuous training and practice is important for keeping our spiritual game in shape, but we must not tire ourselves to the extent that we cannot face true challenges and obstacles because we are already worn out from trying to stay ahead.
A typical example of such burnout is during Ramadan, where there is a tendency to start off the month eagerly and do as much good as possible every day, but then reach a slump by the middle of the month and then not have energy to persevere until the end. We must remind ourselves to maintain a sustainable pace that we can observe throughout the month as well as for the rest of our lives.