QUESTION: Please let me know how I can follow Islam in its true spirit under the existing circumstances when the general attitude of the people is discouraging, and at times I find myself incapable of facing the odds?
ANSWER: First of all let me assure you that you are not alone in facing such difficulties: almost all those who decide to follow Allah's way sincerely are confronted with similar problems. It is an inviolable principle of the Almighty to test the sincerity of His servants and distinguish the truthfuls from the liars: `God will certainly distinguish those who are believers and those who are hypocrites' (29:2). The unending life of heaven would be inhabited only by those who pass through this test with flying colours.
Although your question deserves an elaborate response, and a better knowledge of your own peculiar problems would be indispensable for precise guidance, some basic tips can be useful at least to start with.
The first important step to ensure while taking up the challenge is to make certain that your commitment to mould yourself according to the requirements of Islam should be firm. A casual desire, mind you, should not be mistaken for a strong commitment. Whereas a firm resolve to do a thing always brings out one's utmost attempt; a casual desire is usually devoid of a willingness to take any pains.
The second important measure to adopt for the purpose is to eagerly look for pious company. Sincere believers and followers of Islam, although scarce, are by no means extinct. The Prophet (sws) included amongst those seven categories of people, who would find a comfortable shade under the Almighty's Throne on a day when all creatures would swelter under an unbearably scorching sun, those `who meet and depart Allah's pleasure.' We often do not realize the deep influence a bad company has on our thinking and behaviour. On the contrary, a company of individuals deeply committed to their faith always provides encouraging models to emulate at the time of our own difficulties.
A third and perhaps the most important measure an honest follower of religion must adopt is to invoke with frequent regularity the help of the Almighty for this all important purpose. Indeed we are too weak to face the difficult challenge of life. But for the Almighty's Mercy, we will never be able to follow the path to `Al-jannah'. It is for this reason He has prescribed Surah Faatiha in every rakat of the salat, which includes this extremely pertinent prayer: `Guide us to the straight path'. Guidance not only includes opening up of new avenues of truth but accompanies, perhaps more significantly, consolidation of the existing level of religiosity, as well, as effectively invoked in another Quranic verse: `Do not lead us astray, O Lord, having guided us already. Bestow on us your blessings for you are the Benevolent." (3:8)
If the above three measures--firm commitment, pious company, and frequent prayers for the purpose---are effectively supplemented with regular recitation and understanding of the Holy Quran, it is hoped that no amount of external disturbances would distract you from the straight path to `Al-jannah', insha' Allah.