By Zahra Belal
Sometimes life takes such a turn that the very earth beneath our feet is shaken. We scramble around blindly to make sense of what is happening to us. In doing so, we pass from stages of shock, denial, incontrollable grief to acceptance or numbness.
Despite all our courage, we are at times helpless in taking charge of our feelings; involuntarily, we seem to sink deeper and deeper in to a dark abyss of self-pity, pessimism and worthlessness.
In times like these, we feel akin to a tree in winter that has shed all its leaves, leaving it branches stark and barren in the cold wind. We are able to relate to this image of an entity that has nothing to give any more; frozen in stagnation and purposelessness—in, so to speak, death.
Our suffering distorts all our senses, seeping little joys in life, colouring everything in dark. We find it hard to fathom how everything around us can be so normal when there is a storm inside us.
In those moments of despair, there are certain things that we need to remind ourselves again and yet again—ad infinitum.
Foremost is the fact that we are always in a flux, moving from one state to another. This is perhaps why it is said that we cannot step in to the same river twice, for on our second attempt both the river and we have changed. The phenomenon may not be perceivable to us, it is not necessarily observable or tangible but an irrefutable nature of the world it is—nothing lasts, everything is inexorably and incessantly moving towards one culmination after another.
Our own body is a testament to this with constant reproduction of cells, countless dead cells replaced or repaired by new ones; every moment you are being changed, matured and aged with years that you live.
Look around you. The dynamics of the cosmos beckons us to believe in change; the tireless movement of the planetary objects that shapes our day and night and one season after another.
This is why Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (glorified is He) says again and again, “And [in] the alternation of night and day and [in] what Allah sends down from the sky of provision and gives life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness, and [in His] directing of the winds are signs for a people who reason,” (Qur’an 45:5).
That you will face hardships in this life is a foregone conclusion. Allah (swt) says: “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to the patient,” (Qur’an 2: 155). During our trials and tribulation, we are being closely monitored, which is true for all times, but how we react can either please or displease Allah.
Our vibrant Islamic history is full of such examples. The Qur’an recounts the lives of so many prophets and glorifies their steadfastness (sabr). Our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) faced one trial after another; orphaned before he was born, lost his mother and grandfather in his childhood, lost his loving wife and uncle in a span of a year, endured persecution from his own tribe and others, travelled to Taif with hopes but was rejected with cruelty, forced to immigrate from his place of birth, ridiculed by the Jews of Madina and made to fight one ghazwa (battle) after another in such challenging circumstances. Then one day he stood holding his dead son in his arms with tears falling profusely from his eyes. Despite all this, he remained firm in his iman (faith) and true to his cause.
And Allah rewarded every Prophet with ease after hardships; we only have to show our commitment for Allah to cool a fire, part an ocean, grant a throne, send a flock of ababeel, descend thousands of angels and conquer a city. Allah (swt) says, “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient,” (Qur’an 2:153).
The same ayah (verse) is followed by allusion to Safa and Marwah, which Allah says is among his signs, “sha’ar Allah.” In your misery, think about Hajar`alayha as-salam (peace be upon her), a beautiful woman who was stranded by her husband on Allah’s command, in a barren, unhabituated valley with her wee son. As time took its toll, her son began crying for water but where can water be found in such a lifeless place? Does that daunt her? Does she make a mad dash in her anxiety? Or does she listlessly sit down, giving up and bemoaning her fate?
No, no, not this woman. She gets up and runs from one hill to another, trying to discern for any clues of a passing caravan from a vantage point. This is sa`i—struggle to achieve an end while harbouring complete trust in Allah (swt); believing that He indeed will pull her through. Sure enough, a spring burst forth from a rock and forever transformed that desolate place into a bustling city. And Allah found her act so endearing that He prescribed it as part of Umrah and Hajj which is why to this day, droves of people—both men and women—emulate this amazing woman by doing sa`i between the two hills to earn Allah’s pleasure.
In quite moments of reflection, relate your disappointments and losses in this life to that of the Day of Judgement, a day when there is no turning back from what we have earned for an eternity. If our fleeting sorrows of this life bow us over to this extent, contemplate on how unimaginably tremendous would be a loss on that day, when every atom of good and bad will be weighed. Indeed, if trials do not remind us of our beginning (inna lilahi—to God we belong) and end (wa inna ilaihi raji`oon—and to Him we shall we return) then we truly have bargained a great loss.
Therefore, feel a kinship with a tree in winter but do not pity it. That tree is far from a symbol of hopelessness, it is indeed a symbol of patience (sabr) as it braves the cold, quietly biding its time till the first glimmer of spring, when sun rays will rejuvenate it with lush, green leaves, when vibrant flowers will break out all over and when its boughs will droop with the weight of the fruits it will bear.
And that is what we need to do; last out the rough patch. Tell yourselves, breathe and believe. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.