Author’s note: The brother who told me this story allowed me to adapt it as if it happened to me for the purposes of this article.
A Lesson on the Way to the Mosque
I was late. I always managed to be a bit late, always missing thefirst takbir(the saying of AllahuAkbar to start the prayer), but alhamdulillah (all praise is due to God) at least managing to catch the salah (prayer). I pressed on the gas in hopes I would make the first raka`ah (unit of prayer).
As I came closer to the masjid (mosque) I took my eyes off the road in shock. An older lady in a wheelchair was trying to make her way up a driveway into a complex. She was struggling to make it up the incline with groceries strapped on either side of the wheelchair; she would make it up two feet and fall back one. The worst part was that there were some people just driving around her, as if nothing was wrong. Subhan’Allah (glorified is God), I have driven up that driveway numerous times without any problems. Something about a V6 engine and 91 octane gas made it slightly easier than her feeble arms.
I quickly switched lanes, made a u-turn, and headed straight back. I hit my one-touch, auto-down window button and began looking at her as my window made its way down. By now she had made it up the driveway.
“Hi, there, would you mind if I pushed you home?”
“Oh no – not at all.”
Over the course of the next ten minutes I learned about this lady and her story. She was living alone in her apartment. She took care of her own cleaning and cooking, and tried to stay active and self-reliant. She had broken her foot recently (hence the wheelchair), but was still managing to fend for herself; rarely did she seek a helping hand.
Our conversation was only reminiscent of gratitude for the little she had. She was constantly thankful for living in a nice area and always having food on the table, but her living condition left something to be desired in the prosperous surroundings of Orange County. She didn’t have a car (let alone a nice one), or designer clothing, or a beautiful house – but somehow she seemed more content and much happier than many people that I saw around me.
As we approached her apartment she thanked me. We stopped just short of being able to identify her apartment; she still had to get over a small ledge to get into the door. This was an easy task for most, but not for her. I asked numerous times, “Are you sure I can’t take you farther?” I assumed she would be scared that I would rob her. To the contrary, she explained that getting past this ledge was her favorite part of the day and she refused to get anyone’s help. Whenever she returned home, she lifted herself from the chair to sit on the ledge, moved the groceries one bag at a time onto the ledge, maneuvered the chair onto the ledge, re-hung all the groceries back on the chair, sat back on the chair and then wheeled herself into her apartment. Subhan’Allah, I was taken aback after hearing this. I assumed she didn’t have any help and that her neighbors neglected her. However, I was quickly reassured that this wasn’t the case as three little neighborhood children ran up to talk to her. It seemed as if her neighbors knew about her plight – so why this daily difficulty? She confidently replied that she wanted to maintain some independence and did not want to fall into relying on people for everything as she grew older.
Allahu Akbar! (God is Greater!) I continued to talk to her a little longer and she started to inquire about my life.
“So tell me about your life in Orange County, how has it been?”
“Honestly it has been nothing short of blessing. I’ve never had to worry about money or education or anything of the sort. I’ve always been provided for.”
“Really?! Tell, me what it’s like. How is it to live a blessed life?”
It now dawned on me how poor this lady was. She lived by herself, on welfare. She didn’t have anyone to help her because her family was either dead or out of touch. The way she had described herself to me earlier sounded like a life of blessing, but from her reaction it was now apparent to me she was barely making ends meet and that she had lived a life of much struggle and tribulation.
A True Manifestation of Shukr
I learned a very important lesson from her that day. Shukr (gratitude) only manifested through the tongue (i.e. saying alhamdulillah after salah) is the most superficial of realizations. Her shukr was so great that it blinded me of her poverty and past: she was so grateful for what Allah `azza wa jal (honored be His Glory) provided her then and now that I could not see that she was going through—and went through—difficult times.
For us, of course, it’s different. Instead we live lives of careless banter and headless action: we use profanity to express our outrage over petty incidents; we belittle each other senselessly; we get frustrated when asked for help; we get angry if someone needs extra minutes of our precious time; we deny help due to negligence and laziness; we deny monetary aid because of suspicion; we complain to our friends about how much we don’t have instead of thanking for what we do have; instead of walking the streets as positive social elements of change who are grateful for the blessings that surround us, we vegetate at home on our iPhones and Blackberries tweeting about what we had for breakfast while reading the hundreds of instantly updated Facebook status messages on what he hates and who she likes and whether celebrity x is going out with celebrity y.
The greatest manifestation of shukr is the use of a blessing for good and benefit. Allah `azza wa jal gave us a healthy body, so praying with care correctly can be an embodiment of gratitude as can organizing or participating in a beach clean up. We have been granted a privilege here in America by Allah `azza wa jal and we will be asked about our blessings on the Day of Judgment (102:8). How did we use our health: to defame property, beat up our siblings and chase after girls? Or was it to feed the poor, give da`wah (call people to Islam) and help with mosque setup? How did we use our intellect: to carry out endless and worthless arguments or to study hard and stand for justice? There is even blessing and provision in a lack of tribulation. Many of us do not have to care for ailing family members or work two jobs, so what are we doing with the extra time? What are we doing with our iPhones, Blackberries and Droids – are we using them to become more efficient with our time or waste more time?
As this year starts, we should be reciprocating our blessings with positive impacts in society. We only have two questions to answer: 1) What have we worked for the last year with all the blessings that we have been given? 2) What are we going to work for in the coming year?