by Eman Haggag
Ease. What a harmonious onomatopoeia – such a short, simple, relaxation-inducing… well …easy word! I have often had a recurring daydream as a child, that when things would go wrong, when life just wasn’t on my side, I would be able to curl up in a cave of goose-feathers and watch Spongebob Squarepants, all the while eating popcorn and sitting amidst a pile of Calvin and Hobbes comic books. But I now clearly know that that kind of ease is not tangible. I learned quickly that when life is hard, you just have to deal with it, right? At least, that’s what I thought, until I opened up the Quran one day and came upon this intriguing ayah: “God intends for you ease, and does not intend for you hardship” (2:185). And suddenly, just as I read that verse from Allah’s book, I became utterly confused.
Yusr (ease) seems perhaps too difficult a concept to think about. If you think about it, even thinking is hard to begin with! Thinking usually means reading a lot – books, Quran, and ahadith. Thinking means listening to the wise ones before us, watching the good and the bad from those who have experienced our plights beforehand. Thinking means restructuring our absorbed blips and bloops of knowledge into categorical data. And finally, thinking means exercising your mind to the highest epitome of performance, to systematically reflect upon those sacred (and non-sacred) texts themselves and critique the perceptions of others to arrive at our own conclusions. That is what thinking is, as Allah described: “Will they not, then, reflect on the Quran…” (4:82).
You can see from this philosophical rollercoaster that the thought of thought is crazy in itself. So how then can we think about ease? It seems that there is a contradiction; that it is so much easier not to try so hard to understand the concept of yusr, to relax our mind and literally settle in a pile of goose-feathers. So I ask you what I have asked myself, what those before me, with me, and after me question all the time – if the Creator himself wants us to live easily, why then is life so painfully, universally difficult for all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims, female and male, east and west, old and young, animal and human?
But wait, let’s stop for a minute. That can’t be all there is. Ease can’t be that hard. Call up the courage of an honest analysis. Could it be that life is so catastrophically tooth-pulling for the inhabitants of this Earth because we are doing something wrong? Did we ever obey Allah all the time, or better yet, do we even think about what He asked us to do and why? Do you?
I’m not here to preach to you how we must obey Allah and execute that obedience by performing mechanical acts that harbor no thoughts. I’m here to ask you to think with me, to try to find an answer.
Faith-communities before us confused faithfulness to the will of God with hardship. I always remember meeting two types of people that had this notion mixed up. You had the first kind of people that passionately, vehemently, zealously believed that the harder an action was, the more reward you got in the eyes of Allah, even if both actions got the same amount of good deeds! Their idea of ease was reserved in the Hereafter, and as for this life, they lived in it like Opposite-Land. And then, you had the second type of people. These people eliminated all “inconvenient” worship and severed all compulsory good deeds, reducing the pillars and consequences of belief to an airy feeling in the heart: “Love.” Basically all talk, no action. They pushed faith to the personal, banished the public soul, and lowered life to the purely sensory and egotistical level. Forget action then, if you just love Allah, right? Follow only your feelings. They really understand ease, but only for this life.…yippee! With that logic than, do these two “implementations” of ease really fill these two types of people with love and accomplishment? Did their lives grow easier? No, not really. I believe that these two compartmentalized ethics of yusr have exhaled the world of all remnants of compassion. Truly, we have idolized materialism and the cult of the “self” as the natural religion of ease for man, thus justifying all manner of viciousness and harm of the vulnerable. Do you see what I mean? Think about this: how many times a day have you thought of a sentence using the word “I?” What about the word “we?”
I looked up the definition of ease in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and to be frank, I didn’t like what I got – the state of being comfortable, freedom from pain or discomfort. It seems like those guys have the same viewpoint on ease as the people I have described above. However, in the primordial understanding of man, ease always meant one thing – subduing selfishness because it destroys the self and others. Ease is accepting the responsibility of the spiritual AND worldly aspects of Islam that have been created, not evolved, by a single eternal God. If we go by that definition, things become so simple! Think about the prophets of Allah. The way they understood yusr was by executing their worshipful responsibilities in order for us to be blessed and disciplined for the benefit of the weak and the human community. It makes sense then that we learn in Surat al-Inshirah (94) that when the revelation of Islam seemingly brought the Prophet (ﷺ) from a state of ease in life to one of hardship, the reverse is actually true.
Hardship, in reality, is when you think you know and you don’t. It’s when your heart is constricted by recognition of evil and injustice plaguing the society around you. It’s when you finally realize the problems and not have the capacity or comprehension to train that heart to grow and love. It’s when you finally find the key, the true and wholesome Islam, to help that heart, but push it to sacrifice the mere things and immediate comfort. It’s when you forget yourself for the sake of others, and for the sake of seeking the Face of Allah. And finally, finally, when you get past all of that, your heart and soul are free, along with the countless human souls. Your true brothers and sisters. That is yusr.
This is why Allah twice stresses that only “with hardship comes ease.” We have to endure two types of difficulty to get two types of ease. First, we have to strive to deliver the message of truth, that God is One, so that we can depict this as an end to the inequality that gives unfair advantage to a few. Second, we ourselves must undergo privations in our strive to perform the ritual worship He has made obligatory upon the believers, so that we may prepare our hearts and souls to withstand the great pressure if they uphold Allah’s message and establish it in the world.
Ease is not easy. Hardship is not hard. It seems then that opposites attract. Yusr, the ethics of ease in Islam, is one of our religions’ greatest objectives. Allah has placed so much goodness and guidance for all, provided us Muslims own up to the apparent hardship. We can’t resort to our feelings or actions only. If we want to get somewhere in this world, we have to use both. Alhamdulillah (all praise be to Allah), we are at a stage in our lives where we can do so much. Let’s go beyond ourselves and our personal problems to help those around us. Let’s strive in our obedience to Allah and take the Prophets as an example. The time is up – forget goose-feathers. I pray that insha ‘Allah all of you will push yourselves beyond the apparent limits of thought and really, just think dynamically and act. It won’t be easy to consider new ways to give back to your community and methods to enrich yourself, but it sure will pay off in this life and the next. Embrace then, this time to strive…for herein lies all the world’s ease.