Short Story

Inner Inferno

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A blank page stared at me from the monitor. Thoughts pounded as they raced to put words together. Twenty-six little building blocks were set to construct, but the alphabet refused to fall in place for a blasted paper. I smacked the keyboard and buried my face in my sweaty hands.

I wanted to smoke.

I directed myself away from the thought, lifting my head as I took a deep breath. I had promised to quit. After attending a few Islamic conferences, listening to various CDs, and spending time at the Masjid, I finalized my intention to reform. For the tranquility of Islam to enter my life, I needed to keep every cigarette in the trash and away from me. The first three weeks after giving up this habit were easy. But now, a heavy grey fog suffocated me. I needed to get away from the stress, the ever-increasing tick tock of the clock, and the mocking blank screen. I wanted to forget my troubles and smoke. Just one should be harmless, right?

No, I should know better. I opened my email and scrolled through the inbox. Hoping to distract myself, I opened something a brother sent not too long ago. It mentioned the story of a scholar testing his students. He instructed them to take a bird and kill it without anyone witnessing their act. All but one student left. When the student was asked why he remained, he said:

“Even if I kill this bird by hiding from you and my brothers, where do I hide from Allah?”

I sped through the story, but it didn’t help much. I closed my tired eyes and rested on my arms. After some time, sleep came.


“I.D., please,” the store clerk requested.

I took out my license and allowed the man to check my age. With a nod, he gave me the bag containing a box of cigarettes and a lighter. It was a cold night, so I thought of lighting one up outside the nearby deli. People in the neighborhood should be sleeping. No brothers would be outside to see me smoking.

A cigarette glowed alive at one end as I placed it in my mouth. A sense of euphoria came as familiar, welcoming fumes filled my lungs. I’m human and every human makes mistakes, it was alright. After convincing myself to overlook this night, I tried to exhale.

The smoke wouldn’t come out.

My eyes widened. Something was wrong. I clutched my throat and collapsed on my knees, as a burning pain erupted inside of me. I wanted to cry but my mouth wouldn’t open. I turned around to face the deli, but the clerk was oblivious to my condition. The concrete began to boil, melting my knees like wax. Flames clawed and crackled as they ate away my viscera. No one was there to help. I was alone. Soon, I saw my surroundings engulfed in fire, turning my world into a punishing inferno.


I woke up with a gasp. Sweat ran down from my brows. It was a dream, but my chest felt pain. I looked at the time. 12:17 AM. I wiped the moisture away as I thought about smoking.

Even if I’m alone, I’m still being watched. If no one is there, Allah never goes away. And if a moment of happiness could cost an eternity of pain, then I am willing to sacrifice for a moment of struggle. If my Lord has mercy upon me, then the moment of struggle can lead to an eternity of happiness. Smoking isn’t worth eating fire. With Allah in my mind and my desire pinned, I began to write.


“And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein.” (Surah Qaf 50:16)

A Bangladeshi descent from the sakura trees of Japan, the golden prairies of Iowa, and the windy days of Chicago, Muhtasham Sifaat currently lives in New York City as a student of William E. Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York. He found his passion for writing at the Bronx High School of Science and took this practice as a discipline for fruitful reflection and self-expression. Alhamdulillah, Sifaat was able to develop his writing through numerous competitions such as the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament (MIST) and with irreplaceable support from his friends and family. He intends to write for MYM to better himself as a Muslim and as a writer, inshaAllah. Besides writing, Sifaat likes to draw, take afternoon walks, and practice martial arts/wrestling. He is a disciple of Hoshinkido Hapkido, a Korean martial art, which he practices alongside Taekwondo during his free time.


  1. I can relate to this in a way. I have nightmares every now and then about returning to old habits. I’d see myself listening to music or doing something evil and I’d scream “What are you doing?!” to myself.
    It’s terrifying, but it’s a constant reminder.

    This story captured the emotion nicely!

  2. Muhtasham Sifaat Reply

    This story is entirely fictitious. Alhamdulillah, I never smoked in my life. But I know how it’s like to be tempted by an old sinful habit. Remembering that there is no place to hide from Allah keeps me from going back to them, and I wanted to highlight this message here.

    It’s a reminder to myself as it is to everyone. I pray that Allah grants us steadfastness in our times of temptation and have mercy upon us all. Ameen.

  3. I personally enjoyed the honesty and candor of this piece. Normally, someone’s “heart shatters and eye’s well up in tears” after reading one of these stories, but it’s true that sometimes these stories just don’t have its intended effect on us.

    It was also cool how there was a direct connection of imagery between our desires and the hell fire in this piece. Literally, it was smoking -> lungs on fire -> burning inferno. Awesome job, Māshā’Allāh.

  4. MashAllah very inspiring even if you are a non smoker! No matter what, Allah is always watching us and sometimes it is all too easy to forget that. Thank you Mutasham for the excellent reminder clothed in vivid imagery and real life description.

  5. Ruqaiyya Maryam Reply

    Excellent reminder, mashaallah! It truly is an eye opener, not only for smokers but for everyone and every aspect in life when we feel we’re dropping back into old habits that we’re trying to get away from. Love the imagery, keep writing! :) 

  6. SumaiyahKhan Reply

    I loved it! Masha Allah, u have real telent. It makes me think of all the times i wanted to go back and do something i used to do that i wasnt so proud of….it really affected me.:)

  7. SubhanAllah, this is an amazing piece, it brought tears to my eyes. If a person doesn’t smoke, (s)he can replace the cigarette with any sin they commit. One of our pious predecessors once said, that when we think of committing a sin, we close all the windows, the shutters, everything , so that no one can see us, but this is an insult to the Creator, for we hide our sin from the creation, while knowing that the All Seeing (Al-Baseer), the All Hearing(Al-Samee) can always see and hear us. 

    SubhanAllah, I’ll share this piece with one of my most precious friends who smokes. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala bless you with all good in both this world and the Hereafter ameen.

  8. I know that this article was on fighting old habits, but there’s also the addiction piece that has to be looked into. Addictions are not just about quitting like this, but there’s a lot more that goes on. As a recovering addict, I just want to put it out there that addictions and becoming sober is NOT ABOUT SELF-CONTROL and beating yourself over relapsing. Addictions are a whole ‘nother ball game compared to the stereotypes and image that non-addicts have made. It’s not easy to quit. And I’m saying this from experience.

  9. Salaams brother Muhtasham, and jazakallah khair for the story. Beyond talent, it takes a degree of courage to put your work out there for people to see and comment on, so jazakallah khair for your efforts. I’d like to offer a piece of advice, and I really do hope you take it to heart not as criticism but only as sincere feedback to help you grow in your writing. 

    I’ve smoked since I was 18, and I can say as a smoker that I had a hard time connecting with the story. Alhamdulillah, this probably means that you’ve never been addicted, and that’s a wonderful thing. But it also means that when you try to write about drug addiction, your story may ring false with those who have experienced it. As Tru said, there are certain images that non-addicts have which simply aren’t true. I felt it in the little things – the first three weeks quit being easy, being able to just drift to sleep when fiending, the clerk asking for ID, the narrator “deciding” where to light up, inhaling the first hit, etc. These things seem small, but they make all the difference in the world – like the difference between a mannequin’s face and that of a real person. Just as a story I might write about a martial arts competition would not move you (I read your bio – very cool :) ), this story may not move many smokers.

    Believe me, there’s nothing good about having the first-hand experience of chemical addiction, so again – alhamdulillah for you. Truly, you are a better servant and a better human being for it.

    But know that your stories are much more powerful when they come from a sincere, true place within you. If you want to speak on fighting old habits, channel a true experience of struggle for you, whatever that may be. Never worry that your experiences or your struggles may not be “real enough” for the audience – if they come from your heart, in truth, they will be powerful and moving. I’d love to read a story from you channeling your true life’s experiences – the passions of sparring an opponent, drawing a masterpiece, writing a poem, or whatever else your unique self has to offer. Be proud of that unique life Allah has blessed you with, and share it with the world, and inshallah through your sincerity, Allah will move many more hearts.

    Please do consider this. Jazakallah khair again for the story, and sorry for the giant comment :)

    • Muhtasham Sifaat Reply

      SubhanAllah, I’m replying to you months later, but I want to thank you for your comment!

      I also realized that this piece is not entirely like the real deal, which may affect the story’s ability to connect with the readers who actually had the experience. Your comment is absolutely correct and I accept it with the intention of improving my writing InshaAllah.

      JazakAllahu Khayr akhi. Please don’t worry about the length of your comment- I enjoyed reading it Alhamdulillah. :)

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