Living Your Faith
in a Secular World

The ‘What is Islam?’ Podcast brings you a whole new world of understanding Islam and religion through social commentary and analysis.

In this podcast episode, we delve into the intricate balance of faith, career, and personal development in a secular world. We spoke with Murtaz Riaz, a medical student from the University of Queensland. We explore how his Muslim identity shapes his life choices, particularly his decision to pursue a career in medicine. Murtaz shares his journey through the challenges of maintaining religious commitments in an academic setting and the role of solitude and community in personal growth.

This episode provides an insightful look into the role of prayer in stress management, drawing upon psychological studies and Murtaz’s own experiences. We discuss the importance of intrinsic motivation in Islam for personal development, the transformative power of regular prayer, and how Islam aligns with human nature to facilitate comprehensive personal and spiritual growth. This conversation offers a unique perspective – a must-listen for anyone interested in the interplay between faith, personal development, and modern challenges.

Click below to listen to the full episode, watch the video podcast on our YouTube channel above, or read through an abridged transcript below. 

Murtaz’s Journey to Medicine

Murtaz experienced an identity crisis during his undergraduate years, torn between teaching and medicine. Seeking clarity, he consulted Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, (may Allah be his Helper), who is the Fifth Caliph of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community The Caliph, who serves as a spiritual guide for community members spoke about many things, however Murtaz notes that at the moment, he did not understand everything completely. In hindsight, he now recalls the accuracy and wisdom behind the advice he received from the Caliph. In particular, the Caliph told Murtaz: 

“Whatever you do, you will have to study for it.”

Despite his low academic marks, the Caliph’s advice to persist in his studies led Murtaz to pursue postgraduate studies in medicine. His twin brother’s role as an Imam also played a part in his decision to pursue a career in medicine; while his brother was serving spiritually, Murtaz also wanted to appease his spirituality by serving humanity through his medical career.

Faith and Career

Murtaz’s decision to study medicine was deeply intertwined with his faith in Islam. Murtaz highlighted his passion for exercise science and psychiatry, viewing his medical career as a means of serving humanity and, by extension, serving God. He expressed a strong desire to make meaningful contributions post-graduation.

“There’s only two main aspects to religion. It is to fulfill, God’s commandments and then to serve mankind and to serve God’s creation.”

Balancing Studies and Faith

Murtaz faced challenges in maintaining his prayer schedule alongside his university commitments. He recounted a specific incident where he had to negotiate with his university to adjust his schedule, so that he had time for prayer, reflecting on the practical challenges of adhering to his faith in a secular academic setting.

“This was actually the case early in the year. We’re assigned into something called a learning community for which there’s a designated hospital and my mandatory group learning session was scheduled at the same time as Friday Prayer.”

Murtaz recounts that for a while, he had missed his Friday prayers due to scheduling conflicts.  After some time, realising the need to orient his schedule according to his prayer schedule, Murtaz requested a letter from his local Imam describing the importance of the Friday Prayers and its significance for Murtaz, as a request to change his learning schedule to accommodate Murtaz to be able to attend the Friday Prayers. As a result, from the entire cohort of 480 students, Murtaz was able to successfully change his schedule and was permitted to attend Friday prayers. 

“and I’ve seen nothing, but good things come of that.”

Murtaz then continues to discuss how balancing your spiritual needs should be just as important as focusing on your secular goals. Giving precedence to your faith, and acting upon its requirement is important, alongside your other worldly tasks. 

“…a religion that demands no action is no religion at all.”

Murtaz further explains the importance of finding a structure in life, as it minimises modern-day issues such as burn-out and stress, and enables a balanced focus on both spiritual and mental well-being. 

Solitude and Community

The conversation delved into the benefits of solitude for self-discovery and personal growth. Murtaz also emphasised the importance of good company, citing Islamic teachings and his own experience in finding a supportive community in Australia. He reflected on how good people positively influence one’s faith and character.

“… solitude is better than bad company. But good company is better than solitude and a lot of the time I find myself in solitude. And you know, there are certain advantages to that right, in a sense, you really find out who you are and what you stand up for.”

The significance of a faith-based community in maintaining and strengthening one’s religious beliefs in a secular environment was also a key discussion point. Murtaz highlighted the sense of unity and shared purpose gained from the community through congregational prayers, especially in a context where many peers may not share the same beliefs.

Role of Prayer in Stress Management

Murtaz shared how prayer is a stress reliever and efficiency booster. He recounted his own experiences where prayer aided him during stressful academic periods.

People often talk about reducing stress or managing it, implying that stress is something to be controlled or altered. However, recent psychological research suggests that stress itself isn’t what’s harmful. Rather, it’s how you perceive and think about stress that matters. If you view stress positively, as your body gearing up to face upcoming challenges, it can actually be beneficial. This perspective sees stress as a natural response that prepares and strengthens you for adversity, rather than something solely negative.

Murtaz explains how prayer can provide you with an opportunity to manage stress, a regular time-out throughout the day from the challenges of day-to-day life. 

“Everything is basically shouting to get our attention. So in in this day and age, being able to take 5-10 minutes, five times a day, at like regular intervals. If anything, I would hope that it gives more regulation to your life.”

Personal Development through Faith

Murtaz discussed the concept of intrinsic motivation in Islam, contrasting it with extrinsic motivation. He explained how personal struggles, or Jihad, are essential for growth, especially in the West, where maintaining one’s faith can be likened to holding a burning coal.

“In psychological research, there are two types of main motivations that we’ve studied which are intrinsic and extrinsic. And between the two, intrinsic motivation is always the one that wins out, meaning you will have a greater rate of success if you are intrinsically motivated to do something even if there are external factors that are kind of coercing or pushing or forcing you to do something else.”

The discussion further underscored how regular prayer and adherence to Islamic practices shape an individual’s personality, fostering a balanced and focused approach to life. Murtaz highlighted the transformative power of prayer in achieving personal tranquillity and resilience.

Impact of Islam on Personal Growth

Murtaz concluded by discussing how Islam aligns with human nature, facilitating comprehensive personal and spiritual development. He mentioned the continuous striving for spiritual growth as a key aspect of Islam and ways of navigating negative thoughts through prayer.

” Ultimately, you’re going to have things that you think about constantly that come from the external environment. The way that a Muslim deals with this is to beseech God for help no matter how small it is.”

Murtaz explains how Islam encompasses in itself an entire way of life, that it is not ritualistic or just confined to methodological actions within a Mosque. Islam provides a pathway towards continued spiritual growth that leads to essential personal growth. 

“In this regard, you must undertake the jihad, the struggle of purifying yourself continuously…”

Tune into the full episode to hear Murtaz Riaz and Foad Munir explore the challenges of living a faithful life in a secular world, discussing the balance of faith, studies, and personal growth. Ideal for anyone interested in the dynamic between Islam and modern living!

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About the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Assocation (“the Management Association”) promotes social, moral and spiritual well-being. The Management Association is committed to the propogation of the true teachings of Islam through peace and harmony. To promote ‘Love For All and Hatred For None’ and to establish open and honest communication, the Management Association manages and oversees the True Islam domain and the Muslims Down Under platform (“True Islam” and “Muslims Down Under”). True Islam is website domain controlled and managed by Muslims Down Under. Muslims Down Under is an online platform aimed at tackling extremist ideologies and removing misconceptions related to Islam and Muslims.

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