On many occasions in our lives, we have been faced with pressure – not only from others, but from ourselves as well – to do something or to not do something. Many times, we've had to make decisions that we initially thought were easy to make, but actually, the words of others and/or the words of our conscience made us falter. On many instances, we have (sometimes cheaply) compromised our principles and beliefs just to fit in, and later on, we have regretted making that compromise, because we succumbed to the will of others instead of our own. Willpower, or the lack of it, as Imam Ali says so beautifully, is what makes us either great or small human beings. It is a strong will that defines a righteous servant of Allah.
Willpower has never been as important for Shias as it is in this day and age, especially for those living in the West. Every day, a Shia child is forced to make the (seemingly easy) decision on whether he should "be one of the guys" and start using four-letter words, or "be a loser" and keep his tongue clean. Every day, a young Shia adult sees his classmates drink a shot of whiskey, and asks them what it tastes like: "Awesome!" Every day, a Shia professional goes to a job interview where the CEO is a member of the opposite sex, so he has to shake her hand or not shake her hand – and lose the job. Every day, a Shia has to make a tough decision: shall he compromise his beliefs for personal gain? It is very easy to say "I won't succumb", but it is very hard not to. Although we are well aware of these issues facing us, we haven't taken much action. Parents swear in front of their children, and some of us even see not shaking hands with the opposite sex as "impractical" and "extremist". Sometimes we don't even put up a fight against something un-Islam. We accept and embrace.
Why do some of us suffer from a lack of willpower?
There are a number of reasons. Our priorities are mixed up. Our understanding of the wisdom behind a certain Islamic law is either lacking or flawed. We're sometimes afraid of being attacked verbally, physically, or mentally if we decide to, say, not shake someone's hand. Other times, because we don't understand the reasoning behind a law, we disagree with it, or we find following it to be a burden, so we are reluctant to observe it. Sometimes, because we don't understand a law, we try to observe it, but we are ashamed to, and so our duty to defend it becomes more of a burden than an opportunity to show our loyalty to the Truth. It becomes harder to submit. It makes sense, doesn't it? We ask ourselves, "Why should I defend something I don't believe in?"
How does one develop willpower?
In order to answer this question, look at the story of Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him), when he was a slave of Aziz, the chief minister of Egypt. Prophet Yusuf was so good-looking that the wife of Aziz, Zulaikha, who had fallen in love with him, sought to commit adultery with him. Picture this: Prophet Yusuf – a virtuous, noble slave, and the most handsome man in Egypt – alone in a room with Zulaikha, one of the most powerful and influential women in Egypt. We cannot refuse to shake the hand of a member of the opposite sex, yet note how much pressure Prophet Yusuf is in to say yes to Zulaikha. And yet, what does he say? "I seek refuge in Allah." In other words, he refused. How did this Prophet of Allah manage to refuse? The answer is: Prophet Yusuf had submitted to Allah. He had accepted that his Lord knew better, and he had faith that his Lord would look after him in any tight spot.
Ask yourself: Are you a Muslim? What does it mean to be a Muslim? To be a Muslim means to acknowledge that you were created by Allah, that Allah is All-Wise and All-Knowing. Therefore, when Allah commands you, His creation, to do something, it is not because He derives pleasure out of seeing you suffer. He commands you to do it for your own good. If you acknowledge this, you will realize that even if you don't understand why you must follow a certain law after doing as much research as you can on its reasoning, you will still submit to Allah and observe His commandments nevertheless. The key is faith and trust. Have faith in Allah, and trust Him. If you trust Him, and have faith that if you fall, Allah will take care of you, you will find it easier to say no when someone tries to pressure you into doing something that you're not comfortable doing. You will say no when your friends offer you a cigarette. You will say no when a member of the opposite sex offers you her hand.