By Ammar M. Ali
“Leave your country in search of loftiness and travel! For in travel there are five benefits: Relief of adversity, earning of livelihood, knowledge, etiquettes, and noble companionship.” – Imam As-Shafi
I was born and raised in a small suburb of Houston, Texas called Sugar Land, where I spent the first nineteen years of my life. In September 2009, immediately after high school, my younger brother and I left for Medical School to a relatively remote island in the West Indies called St. Kitts. Now, after almost two years, as my last semester comes to an end and these bittersweet feelings run through my head, I can’t help but reflect on a realization I’ve come to.
Moving out of a home and land that you dwelled in for the first nineteen years of your life, and into a land that is completely unknown, can, and will, change a person. As human beings, we get so comfortable in these little niches that we form, and get so accustomed to the way things are, that we begin to abhor the concept of change. We can’t tolerate the harsh truth that we are going to have to “start all over”; a new home, new friends, and new memories.
However, after initial hesitation — and often, active resistance — we begin to inescapably move on. It’s funny though, and even a little scary, how quickly we get so comfortable with our new lives in our new homes, and with our new friends in our new communities, and we begin to realize that all the things we had once longed for and were afraid to lose, were awfully temporary.
We begin to understand the ephemeral nature of pain, sorrow, happiness, and pleasure, and, on a larger scale, of life itself. I lived in my city with my parents and my siblings in a house of nine. I formed, what I thought to be, everlasting bonds. I knew the land as if it were my own, and felt proud to call myself a Texan. But now, as poignant as it is, I’m happy here in St. Kitts. I began to realize, very early on, that the sadness I felt when I was leaving home was transient. I began to realize that all the material possessions I had amassed and thought I couldn’t live without were impermanent. And I began to realize that all these people I called my friends and my foes, were short-lived.
I couldn’t help but think to myself that perhaps Allah subhanahu wa ta`la (exalted is He) plans out these brief phases in our lives, so that He may paint for us a bigger picture. So He may elucidate to us a truth: that just like all these brief phases, emotions, and acquaintances come and go, so too we came, and so too we will go. So that He may show us that we are on a train on which one ticket stub has been torn off in the womb, another when we came into this world, but the third and final stub awaits until we enter either paradise or the fire of hell, may Allah swt protect us all. Maybe Allah swt wanted to make us realize that we have no real reason to be sad, or that we cannot hope to find pure happiness in things belonging to this world because eventually, inevitably, “everything will perish” (Qur’an, 55:26).
“Oh men who take pleasure in this world, falling in love with a fading shadow is pure stupidity”. – `Ali radi Allahu ‘anhu (may Allah be pleased with him).
It is high time that we stop putting our ultimate and deepest trust, happiness, and love in people, places, and objects, because we will be disappointed. These friends that we once confided in, and thought we couldn’t live without, will be replaced as we move from place to place, and our families will eventually pass. We are eventually going to have to move out of these homes in which we spend our whole lives, cultivate attachments and resentments, and create everlasting memories. It’s time we get a grasp on the truer reality, and realize that the only things that are permanent are those things that are connected to Allah swt.
When you trust in Allah, and place all your affairs in His hands, you will never be let down. When you truly understand the meaning of “Allah is closer to you than your jugular vein” (Qur’an, 50:16), and form a pure and true relationship with Him, you come to know that it’s an everlasting and mutual relationship. When you find your truest happiness and tranquility with Allah, you will realize it’s permanent. For “only in the remembrance of Allah will man find true comfort, tranquility, and peace” (Qur’an, 13:28). It is then, and only then, that we will be able to truly please Allah swt, and enter into our permanent home. For “that is the ultimate, supreme achievement” (Qur’an, 4:13).
“What is this world but a dream that a sleeper sees – he delights in it for a few moments, and then wakes up to face reality”. – Hasan Al-Basri