I finally reached the elevator of my apartment building. It was my first week studying abroad in Cairo. After a long walk from the Arabic center in the hot sun, I was thirsty. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and after five hours of Arabic class my head was spinning. I just wanted to get home.
The elevator came. I entered. Elevators in Egyptian apartment buildings often look makeshift; the small window in the elevator door gave me a fleeting glimpse of each floor, with concrete walls in between. It finally arrived – almost. The elevator was stuck midway between concrete wall and the actual floor. No problem, I thought, I’ll just push the door open, take a big step and I’ll make it insha’Allah (God willing).
But the door did not budge open. And no matter how much I yanked it, it would not open. It was completely shut. I pushed, jerked and rattled the door until I was faced with the horrifying realization that I was stuck. I began to panic; I was trapped in a dilapidated elevator in a building with absolutely no type of fire code and no type of emergency plan, in a country that does not have 911. I started pounding on the elevator door.
Making du`a’, I called my roommate. She ran out and tried to pull the door open. Stuck. Suddenly the same air I was breathing moments ago began to fade, and I felt complete terror. My roommate told me to press the button to another floor.
Allahu Musta`an (Allah is the Helper), how could I press the button to another floor? With a malfunctioning elevator, I could easily end up facing a concrete wall and find myself completely cut off from human help! I cannot explain how terrified I was. Perhaps somewhere deep down I felt insha’Allah everything would be okay, and looking back, this incident wasn’t really a big deal (with time, it became normal to get stuck, facing concrete, in the dark, just waiting for the elevator to work again).
But the reality of being in a foreign country, in an elevator where the emergency phone had no dial tone and the emergency button did not light up, despite desperately pounding it, sunk in fast. I could barely hear my roommate as she called out for me not to worry, and I realized how close I really was to death.
It’s as if you’re in the grave. You can see everything; you can feel everything; you can’t do anything to help yourself physically. No matter how hard you bang, you can’t get out; no matter how much you scream, no one else can help you. You’re just stuck, faced with the shock of your nearing end. A square that’s big enough to fit your body, caving in on you as you realize you have not done enough good, you did not repent enough, you were distracted in the last salah of your life, you have a mountain of sins to quit committing, self-reform to work on, and a world full of people you have not yet told you appreciate and need to ask for forgiveness from.
Pure terror is the best description I can think of for the reality of pounding on the only way to exit. You realize that no matter how much you try to escape, and how much others try to help, in the end it’s just you, your belief and actions, (or lack thereof) and Al Haaqqah (the Reality).
My sisters and brothers, I can’t imagine what it’s like when the time for salah is in but you put it off or miss it altogether, or when you scream at your mom who gave her life for you. Or despairing in Allah when deep down you know He is Ar Rahman (the Beneficient)…
In that moment when death hits, you don’t have time to repent. Your soul is taken and you experience deep, painful, immeasurable regret that missing salah wasn’t a one-time slip up, but a lifestyle that only one individual was responsible for, and then facing the reality that that one individual was you. But it’s too late, you’re stuck, you scream and all but the people and jinn hear you, and the Rabb al-`Alameen (the Lord of all the worlds), the Rahman ar-Raheem (the Beneficient, the Merciful), Al ‘Afu (the Eraser of sins), Al Ghaffar (the Forgiver) and Al Ghafoor (the All Forgiving), Al Haleem (the Clement), gave you ten, twenty, thirty-five, fifty, seventy, one hundred years to just turn to Him and sincerely say, “Oh my Lord, I believe in you, forgive me, forgive me.” But you didn’t.
Not all of us go through life-changing spiritual experiences. Not all of us fall into our graves while still alive to “die, before we die.” Even if we did, not all of us can make an immediate and steadfast turn towards Allah. But all of us can turn a little bit more to Allah and keep turning insha’Allah until we’re actively living a God-conscious life. Allah has made it so easy for us! He tells us in a hadith qudsi:
“Dear child of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind.
Dear child of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. Dear child of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great at it.” (Ahmad)
And once we take that step and repent, let’s try a few extra small good deeds to make our hearts stronger! Sometimes we think that sinning comes so easily and too many obstacles prevent good in our actions. But do you know how easy Allah has made it for us to obliterate our sins and stack up the good deeds?
The Prophet ﷺ asked his companions (may Allah be pleased with them),
“Is anyone of you unable to earn a thousand good deeds?” One of those present asked: “How can one earn thousand good deeds in a day?” He ﷺ replied, “By saying: Subhan’Allah (glorified is Allah and free from imperfection) a hundred times, then one thousand good deeds will be recorded for him or one thousand sins will be blotted out from his record.” (Muslim)
I just timed it and it literally took me less than one minute to say Subhan’Allah one hundred times and insha’Allah get all those brownie points! Why don’t you say it and rake up all that reward now, before you even read the next line?!
Let us keep our tongues wet in the remembrance (dhikr) of Allah in our limited days, where good deeds are to our akhirah as water is to our bodies, and make the intention to make dhikr with every step we take. Let us remember how easy repentance really is, how much Allah (swt) LOVES for His slave – for me and you – to return to Him (swt) and how He keeps giving us extra time to spend the upcoming second to cry, “My Lord, forgive me!” We’re still alive, so let’s start living life with love, hope, mercy, fear and consciousness of Allah.
“Therefore flee unto Allah…” (Qur’an, 51:50)