Originally published at Safa Center
This is where the test actually comes from. It’s not the disillusionment with the community, the teachers, or yourself that creates the spiritual crisis, but how these factors come together and interact with your deepest beliefs about God. Consider how these points relate to one another:
- Deep down you may be questioning God for allowing such corrupt people to represent His faith. You may feel at a subconscious level disappointed in God for allowing them to be the leaders of the Muslim community.
- As a once devoted student, you may now feel nothing when you hear about Islamic lectures, classes, and events featuring other speakers and religious leaders. After all, they could be corrupt as well. Why risk the pain of getting emotionally ‘burned’ again?
This final installment will deal with the idea of disillusionment with God and the paradigm shifts that need to take place for the fog and numbness to be lifted. Ponder these two definitions for disillusionment:
- A feeling of disappointment, akin to depression, arising from the realization that something is not what it was expected or believed to be, possibly accompanied by philosophical angst from having one’s beliefs challenged.
- The act of freeing from an illusion; the state of being freed therefrom.
Disillusionment with God means we have false expectations from Him. We are expecting things from Him which He did not promise us. At the core, these expectations are illusions, lies that we have invested our faith in. The wonderful news is, once we have recognized the illusions for what they are, our faith can be liberated from them, and be more sound than ever before. Some of the greatest scholars in history have at some point experienced a great spiritual crisis, where they wondered if they had any faith left at all. They emerged from their difficult journeys stronger in faith than their former selves. A crisis of this nature can be a gift in disguise if we have the courage to admit and let go of the illusions, holding on ever tightly to The Truth.
The Qur’an reveals that moments of trial and hardship are when our thoughts about Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala (exalted is He) are most tested:
“When they came upon you from above you and from below you, and when eyes grew wild and hearts reached to the throats, and you were imagining vain thoughts concerning Allah.” (33:10)
The blessing in this moment of intense difficulty is having the opportunity to purify our hearts from vain thoughts about Allah we didn’t know we had. When thoughts about Allah are vain, there is nowhere to flee, nowhere to take solace, nowhere to place hope. There is no sadness greater than having wrong thoughts about Allah, and there is no happiness greater than knowing Allah as He deserves to be known, that is, as much as a human being can. Healing starts when we can come into a growing realization and appreciation of Allah’s greatness and perfection, and acceptance of our fallibility and imperfection. Healing starts with facing the lies.
In this case, perhaps the first lie is: All influential / prominent teachers of religion must be ethical human beings who live the message they teach.
The truth is, God does not owe us this. In fact, in the Qur’an, Allah (swt) describes the exact opposite: that false teachers have existed:
“Do you order righteousness of the people and forget yourselves while you recite the Scripture? Then will you not reason?” (2:44)
And the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) told us they will exist in the future:
“Towards the end of time, there will come people who will seek the world in the name of religion. And they will put on lambskin for the sake of appearances, with tongues sweeter than sugar and hearts like those of wolves…” (Tirmidhi)
Yet the presence of evil does not mean the absence of good. The Prophet ﷺ also told us good teachers will exist:
“The upright and just of future generations will carry this knowledge. They will repel from it the distortions of the over-zealous, the forgeries of the fabricators, and the misinterpretations of the ignorant.” (al-Bayhaqi)
When we let go of a lie, and hold on to truth, disillusionment turns into growth and closeness with God. All religious teachers are good. That is a false expectation. Yet, some teachers are. Ask Allah to guide you to a good teacher, from the ones the Prophet ﷺ said will exist. Allow your heart to trust Allah (swt) again, putting your faith in His promises, His guidance, not in your illusions and false expectations.
A second lie might be: I can’t trust God because I trusted Him before, and still faced so much pain.
This illusion is a bit more complicated. It’s based on the premise that if we worship God and trust Him, He owes us a painless life. When we trust God, repent to Him and worship Him, it does help protect and heal us from the pain of our own sins. But it doesn’t ward off all pain. To seek that is to expect Paradise on earth, another illusion. Everyone will face painful tests in this life—Muslim or of another faith, devout or not devout. It is a sign for all creation that this life is not the final home. Still, those who have a more developed relationship with God will learn to navigate that pain in a way where they also recognize and enjoy the relief/ease that is promised with it and grow into a more devout Muslim. We need to let go of the myth of a painless worldly life and develop a Qur’anic understanding of hardship.
Below are just a few verses that remind us of the nature of this life. 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.” (2:155)
“We have certainly created man into hardship.” (90:4)
“No misfortune can happen on earth or in your souls but is recorded in a decree before We bring it into existence: That is truly easy for Allah. In order that you not despair over what has eluded you and not exult [in pride] over what He has given you. And Allah does not like the self-deluded and boastful.” (57:20)
“Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. Allah will grant after hardship, ease.”(65:7)
There are many more verses. They show us difficulty in life, even spiritual tests, are decreed by Allah and the very fact that we are facing a test is proof that we are able to bear it with faith and patience. We are reminded not to be so attached to good or bad fortune, but to seek only Allah (swt) throughout our tests. When He speaks about tests in the Qur’an, we learn that tests come to purify and perfect our faith through patience, obedience, gratitude, good deeds, and striving for Him:
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tested?” (29:2)
“…Allah might test what is in your breasts and purify what is in your hearts. And Allah is Knowing of that within the breasts.” (3:154)
“…Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.” (5:48)
“Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned.” (21:35)
“…And We have made some of you [people] as trial for others – will you have patience? And ever is your Lord, Seeing.” (25:20)
“And We will surely test you until We make evident those who strive among you [for the cause of Allah ] and the patient, and We will test your affairs.” (47:31)
All the pain we personally experience or see in the world is known to Allah (swt). It only makes sense to us when we maintain an eternal perspective of existence. He rewards the patient without measure in Paradise, in a way that only al-Shakur, the Most Appreciative, can. Justice will be served on God’s perfect time-table, not within the confines of this temporary worldly life, on our terms. To expect such reveals how much hidden entitlement might be embedded into our disillusionment. Imagine judging the entire story-line of a novel after having read only the first chapter. When we confront and let go of the illusions we live with, we free our souls from needing anything wrong or unattainable.
A related myth is ‘faith brings painful tests so to evade painful tests, I need to simply evade growing in faith.’
Your tests are decreed; faith will only help you navigate them better, lessening the pain not increasing it. The tests themselves are a purification and a mercy and while we do not seek pain, we also cannot escape *all* pain. Escaping all pain has its own drawbacks. It’s better to feel pain, and have a heart that’s still alive and functional, than to feel nothing at all, dead and empty inside. A healthy heart can also feel deep happiness and joy while a dead one might only be able to experience a superficial sense of pleasure, gone as soon as the stimulus is gone. We can reduce suffering through faith and professional help, but to eliminate pain altogether removes a crucial element of our humanity that allows us to feel all the other amazing emotions Allah has blessed us with. It’s a rip off, a bad deal; a transaction that leaves you with nothing.
A third lie is: We should be able to understand and predict everything God does and why He does it.
The truth is we can never fully comprehend God’s wisdom, greatness, beauty, knowledge, power, justice, mercy, etc. etc. If we could, He wouldn’t be God because understanding something is a form of limiting it, controlling it, and God cannot be limited or controlled by anyone. We can only grasp a tiny fraction of an understanding of what His Divine Attributes are and how they are manifested to us as human beings—and this tiny fraction exhilarates and elates us beyond measure. He does not owe us an explanation of anything and yet what He has given us through revelation and blessings is enough to suffice us if we switch the lens on our hearts. When we are about seeking truth so *we* may follow it, we experience intense appreciation which leads to humility. Life through the lens of appreciation instead of expectation is beautiful. Humility in front of God is freedom.
A fourth lie might be: God is non-responsive to us, far away, or has abandoned us.
This is an inverted assumption. A person might feel far from Allah (swt), but that doesn’t mean Allah is far from them. The truth is He is always closer to us than our own jugular veins. He is with us in every thought. We may not feel spiritually close always, but we know He is so close to us because He is God. Whether we feel it or not, our test is to obey. Do we do what we feel only or what we know to be true even when we don’t feel it? It is a test of integrity, of being *true* to God.
I could keep guessing at related lies, but instead let’s turn these lessons into a skill you use for yourself. I invite you to write down the lies, illusions, and false expectations you might have about God and instead seek the truths that are otherwise hidden by them. Research if you need to. Allow the rope of truths to bring you back. When we can grow to a place where we stop trying to fill a perpetually empty heart with wants, desires and expectations, and instead seek true fulfillment with God’s remembrance and glorification, in thought, word, and deed, the immediate spiritual crisis will have departed. When we can recognize false wants and throw them out of our hearts instead of trying to feed them, we move towards greater strength. Subhan Allah (Glory be to God), it’s easier said than done, but by Allah’s mercy and aid, it can be done.
Please remember: There is no sadness greater than having wrong thoughts about Allah, and there is no happiness greater than the heart’s capacity of knowing Allah as He deserves to be known.
Oh, Allah You are al-Haqq, the Truth. Allow us to face our lies, throw away the illusions, and hold onto You. You are the Only One who can fill our hearts with renewed faith, the happiness of knowing You, and seeking You above all. Let us not think of You except with what You are most pleased with. We can never know You as You deserve to be known. Let us know You and remember You as much as is humanly possible, as much as our hearts can bear. Help us to be with You and for You always. Ameen.