Part I | Part II
Watching ourselves or people we love in hardship, or losing their faith, is such a test in and of itself. If we are connected, even if ‘only’ by the string of humanity between our hearts, then their suffering must pain our own hearts.
I remember in college, I had a role model. He was a few years older. He was the ideal. Not too strict, not too lenient upon himself, but upon others he just had so much love. If you wanted to find him during breaks, you would just have to listen for a beautiful recitation of Qur’an and follow the sound waves to find where he was sitting. He did not do this out of a strong zeal that made him rush around doing things that were above his ability, rather his heart truly found its home in the words of God and in working towards His way.
One year after graduation, everything changed. There are many deep reasons why they changed, but I will just say that something took hold of his heart and shook him. He woke up one morning looking at who he had been before, and how his life had been, and then looked at the current state of his life, and there seemed to him to be such a contradiction–such a stark difference. He found no other way but to drop the spiritual cloaks he had been wrapped in and step backwards into an abyss.
It is shaking to hear the story, but it was even more shocking to witness it. To feel it. To feel broken just as his heart was broken before all of his friends. There is no other way to explain it. It is like when a baby cries because he is feeling pain, and a baby nearby begins to sob as well–just as hard, but having no idea why she is crying. She just saw the tears of someone like her, the pain in the eyes of her kin, and decided that if it was that bad, that if he was crying, she had no choice but to cry.
And sometimes, it is easier to soothe the baby that knows why he is crying, because perhaps he just needs to be fed. Maybe some medicine for his tummy. But his cousin who cried, simply because she heard him crying, well it’s very hard to comfort her. It takes calming and soothing. It takes time and patience, until she is convinced that whatever harm was present, whatever shaking force was present – the one she neither saw nor felt – is actually gone.
Like was said in the last article on istiqama, it all goes back to patience and prayer. Be it when dealing with our own hardships, or the effect of the hardships of others on our own soul. Not just to have patience, not just to pray—but to seek assistance in patience and prayer. To run to sujud (prostration) when we begin to cave in, be it from our own experience or from an experience through someone else’s eyes and heart. It is about praying with our hearts in our hands. Handing over our hearts to the One who created the hearts–the One who controls the hearts, the One who heals the hearts.
A few months ago, I was sitting outside the masjid (mosque). It had been a while since I had been out of the house, as I had been really sick for a while, unable to get out of bed except for trips to the doctor. Finally, on a day when I felt strong enough to go out, I had my brother take me to the masjid. I wanted to be there at maghrib, to hear the Imam (leader of prayer) at that specific masjid recite the Qur’an, as people stood and bowed and placed their heads on the floor before Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), things that for the most part I had not been able to do for quite some time.
I took a moment to sit on the benches outside, just to take it all in. The recitation, the beauty of the masjid, and the birds that sing and dance as they perform their own prayer right before and after sunset. The reciter began to read an aya (verse) that I have memorized and have recited time and time and time again—yet never really heard. At least not in that manner.
واستعينوا بالصبر والصلاة وإنها لكبيرة إلا على الخاشعين
الذين يظنون أنهم ملاقو ربهم وأنهم إليه راجعون
“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah ]. Who are certain that they will meet their Lord and that they will return to Him.” (Qur’an, 2:45-46)
My initial reaction to this was literally, “Allahu Akbar! (God is Great!)” I want to try and take you all through the thoughts that I had at that time, but, I must warn, the thoughts in my mind are not always easy to navigate.
Throughout my sickness and even before then, I had constantly been reciting the verses that come later in surat Al Baqarah, the ones that began with a calling to those who believe. “Oh you who believe, seek assistance in patience and prayer. Indeed Allah is with the patient [sabireen].” (Qur’an, 2:153) A further description of who the “patient” are comes after a description of types of hardship that can and will befall us: “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient [sabireen],” (Qur’an, 2:155)
Who are the sabirun in these verses? “Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.”” (Qur’an, 2:156)
So at that moment, I was mentally toggling between two groups of verses. They are so interrelated, and yet so different. One thing to note here is that I am a big believer that there are no such things as coincidences. Literally none. And even more so, there is a hikmah (wisdom) in everything. So, in the Qur’an, the first group of verses precede the second. When reading the Qur’an, you must pass through the first group of verses in order to get to the second.
There has got to be a great wisdom in that.
So I began to think about the nature of these verses themselves. I am not diving into tafsir (interpretation of the Qur’an) here, I am diving into a world of beauties that occurred within me when reading the verses.
The first group of verses mention that we should seek assistance in patience and prayer. It then makes a major statement: this is definitely difficult on all except for the khashi`een. We do not then hear of rewards or of the fruits of patience. We do not even hear of the sabireen. We first hear of the khashi`een.
The immediate thought that comes to mind when reading this verse is, “What is someone who is humbled before God (khashi`)?”
Perhaps some people can be given the gift of being humbled before God instantly. A flower that blossoms in their heart that is easily reached and not striven for. Perhaps it is through a major blessing that is given to a person and opens their eyes. But for many of us, that is not how being humbled is reached. Being humbled is reached by being broken. Being torn apart in ways that we did not know we could be. Being shattered in parts we did not know could be shattered. And then finally, coming to the realization that God is Greater than everything. I am weak, He is the Source of all Strength. I am poor, He is the Source of all Rizq. He is, and I am not. I am only even in existence because of one word: kun (be)—and so I was.
Getting to that point is rather painful and stressful, and just plain hard. But when we get to that point, we realize with our hearts that we will meet our Lord and will return to Him, even before our lips utter the words in hardship—because here we had to go through the stormy seas of tests and trials to reach that conclusion.
Only then are we ready to read the next group of verses. The one that does not talk about the process, the person having to be humbled. The verses speak about those who are already sabireen. It is as if this sabr is something that runs through their veins. A cup within their heart that has already been filled because of all they have seen before. And it does not talk about how hard this is going to be, because at that point sabr is not hard because the sabir knows that Allah (swt) is with them. (Does that mean that Allah was not with them through the previous test? No, not at all. But the sabir knows it with their heart and not just their mind now).
And then after all that, after the descriptions of the trials that will come and the words that will be spoken from the lips, coming from a spring in the heart, we find this beautiful verse:
أولئك عليهم صلوات من ربهم ورحمة وأولئك هم المهتدون
“Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided.”
Notice the word I have emphasized—I imagine that if someone were to open the heart of a person who had the words of Allah (swt) inscribed in his heart, not just memorized, that this word would shine forth with a great light. These people, the sabirun, have upon them salawat (blessings) and rahma (mercy). It is not that blessings and mercy are given to them. They are poured upon them.
It is the difference between giving someone a glass of water, and sending them outside to stand in the rain. If blessings and mercy were given to the sabir, the sabir may or may not choose to accept it. They may choose to hold it in their hand. And then they may choose to drink from it. But here the sabir has no choice; they are pushed out into a pouring rain of mercy and blessings, not given the chance to think or refuse, and drops of mercy and blessings pour down upon this sabir, soaking their clothes, soaking their skin. It is inescapably beautiful.
We think that it is going to be easy—to just hold on and that sabr will come naturally, or that it is the immediate reaction that we are going to have. But it is not going to be easy. We must seek assistance from Him to give us the gift of being khashi`, to give us the gift of knowing we are going to return to Him. And only then will we be able to seek assistance in patience and prayer with ease, because it has become a part of us. And once we are able to do that, by the assistance of Allah (swt), we are rewarded by a downpour of so much more than we ever expected.
But even after submitting to Allah (swt), we have to be sure to have patience, not just with what is going on in our and the lives of others around us, but with that which is occurring within us. This is a lesson that has been written about in many ways before, but can also be seen in the sunnah of Allah (swt), for example how the fetus is created in the mother’s womb.
Allah (swt) describes to us the steps that one goes through in creation: Each one of us begins as a nutfah (a drop of fluid), then proceeds to become a `alaqah (a clinging clot), and finally a mudghah (a lump that looks as if it has been chewed). And all of these stages occur even before the spirit has been blown into the creation. Al-Qaari says that there are many wisdoms we can take from even this description. He says that Allah (swt), beyond any doubt, has the ability to create anything in one moment, but this was not the path that He chose. Instead, as a mercy upon the mother and a sign for those who ponder, He caused us to be created step-by-step, and made us aware of this.
And beyond a doubt, at the time that we were being formed and created, we had no idea what was going on. We had no control over what was happening, nor did our mother who was carrying within her the gift of a child. Yet she watched, and was patient for nine months. She went through struggles and difficulties, the most intense being the last push before the child she awaited with so much excitement was pushed out of her womb. Sure, there were difficult times, times when she thought she could not take the changes going on inside her. Perhaps there were times when she felt that she would not make it through, but in the end, it was all worth it.
And in creation is a sign for those who reflect. Whether the struggles in your life are external, like watching a friend or family member struggle, or internal, where you feel like your internal core, your internal structure is crumbling beyond any possible expectation, know this: it is not over. It is not futile. Gold is only purified by being placed in intense heat. Diamonds are only formed when coal is placed under extreme pressure. All that is asked of you is this: Seek assistance in patience and prayer, and remember: Allah (swt) is with those who are patient.