I remember a particularly low point in my life where things were not going well on all fronts – relationship wise, career wise and even health wise. It was as if one problem snowballed and blended into the other, the weight of it getting heavier and heavier. At some points, I felt like the burden was too much to handle, and I was running out of resources and capacity to tackle the latest calamity that life flung my way. In many ways, I was feeling rather unloved, or rather, puzzling over the apparent contradiction of our Creator being ever merciful and compassionate versus why life was treating me so cruelly.
Needless to say the relationship I had with Allah was shaky. I remember when it started – it was a couple of Ramadans ago. I had enjoyed what I thought was a beautiful Ramadan – I had time to reflect, spend hours reading the Quran, scour books and online resources for facts on Islam. Life was good, and one day I gave a self satisfied sigh that my iman had peaked to a personal new high.
The very next day, my world turned upside down. I was caught in a tide of unexpected and uncontrollable changes, which forever changed my life. Events occurred which ripped me to the core, hurtling myself towards an emotional freefall. It was all unprecedented – no one could solve them, and those who knew what was going on were powerless to help, because what had happened was not, by law, circumstance or logic, supposed to have happened in the first place. Like some insane domino, each problem linked on to a different problem, until all aspects of life as I knew it, fell apart. The technical details are unimportant, save to say, humanly there was no feasible solution apart from a miracle.
Of course, I prayed for the circumstances to change – for things to be reinstated the way they used to be, and for life to go back to some semblance of the reality that I had grown accustomed to and been happy with. As the weeks dragged on into months, and I saw no discernible answer from up above. My hope turned into despair, and despair into resentment. I engaged in many useless mental diatribes, boiling down to – I did everything that I was supposed to do, why are You punishing me?
Thus began another freefall, this time an altogether more dangerous one. I fell from the grace of Islam. Not the typical external acts of rebellion such as alcohol and physical relationships. What happened to me was a lot more treacherous to my soul – my iman became corrupted. All through my life, in times of calamity, I had always clung on to Islam and relied on Allah to help me through, this time however, I lost my grip and began to question. I began to doubt, not the existence of Allah, but why Allah would torment His servant so.
Life marched on, and I fell into a mindless routine. I went to work, tumbled from one exotic vacation to another and blew my salary on pointless shopping escapades, accumulating overpriced and unnecessary items. I started socializing on a crazy level. All of these gave me temporary highs, without the side effects of substance abuse. It was a way of compensating the emptiness in my life, for the only thing I saw ahead of me was a brick wall. Friends were suggesting for me to go back to basics, and while on the face of it, I still clung to whatever remnants of external Muslim values I had left, I was baffled by what they meant. I thought I was fine, but did not realize that I had departed from the straight path in the most dangerous way.
Things eventually bottomed out in an enormous way. After more than a year of freefalling, I crashed landed. How could it be any other way?
It was then that I realized, that with all my attempts of finding solace and comfort in Duniya, all the solutions I came across were temporary. They were as pathetic as using chewing gum to repair a broken chair. I had nothing else left, no words of comfort from friends, no support from family, which I found helpful. Hence, it brought me back one full circle, back to the Qur’an, back to scouring books and internet resources on Islam. Back to basics.
This led to a couple of shocking revelations. Maybe to many, this is basic knowledge, but I was never taught these aspects of Islam all my life – my knowledge was limited to the halal and haram, the do’s and the don’t’s.
Allah will continuously test your faith, through calamity, loss of life or loss of wealth. For, how can you declare yourself to be a believer, and not put your money where your mouth is? If you fall apart at the first sign of calamity, doesn’t that make a statement about the strength of your faith? Instead of rising up to the challenge, I crumbled. I felt angry and betrayed, as if the universe had conspired against me yet again, without once pausing to reflect why all these events were happening. So from a test, it became a punishment – not by any change of circumstance, but rather by my faithless reaction. I had failed this test, big time, by losing hope instead of having faith.
Allah will not give you a burden larger than what you can bear. I had heard this many times before, but it never made sense. What I had to endure figuratively broke my back and left me crawling. While some part of me still fought on, emotionally, I just could not bear it. I had gone past breaking point. Later, in pondering this, something else became clear to me. Allah had given me a burden. Over the weeks and months, I had gone on a self destructive mission by making the burden heavier than it ought to have been. Instead of looking to Islam or even basic moral values for the solution, I indulged in my own quick fixes, which turned out to complicate the issues further and land me in even deeper despair and misery. Allah had given me an initial burden, but the extra weight I added to it, which drained the last of my emotional resilience, was self inflicted, and I had none but myself to blame.
“With hardship come ease, verily with hardship comes ease”. I had always interpreted these verses to mean that after every hardship comes ease. That is, until someone pointed out that the word is “with”. So, coupled with the circumstances I was facing, a period of ease was the flipside of the coin, waiting to happen. For, after all, the words of Qur’an are the absolute truth. What a relief! Help was closer at hand than I thought. All I had to do was to ride the storm with patience, let the currents flow their course, and better times will come.
When a calamity befalls you, say Alhamdulillah. What? No way! At least that was my initial reaction. But, when thinking about it, what else can you do, if something happens in your life and you are powerless to stop it? You can hate it all you want, or, you can go back to the root of your faith, and remind yourself that everything that happens, good or bad, is pre-ordained by Allah. If you are angry at your circumstances, then implicitly you are angry with Allah for allowing such events to occur. And very simply, if you are angry at Allah, you are, consciously or not, refusing to submit to His will. If the root word of Islam is “submission”, where does such misplaced anger put you in the eyes of Allah? This is not an issue to be trivialized, for the simple act of acceptance and thankfulness can affect the core of your belief.
Whereas, “Alhamdulillah” in times of calamity is the ultimate sign of submission. It is the acknowledgement that what Allah has ordained for you, even if not that pleasant in the short term, is what is best for you, even if you do not know it. It is like thanking the doctor for a bitter pill. It is like thanking your parents for disciplining you. Just that, it is on an exponential magnitude that cannot be compared with anything on earth. It is the humbleness to acknowledge that you, with your successful career and string of degrees, are not the best person to plan your life. Allah is. If there are a few obstacles along the way, these will simply strengthen you. Allah does not give you insurmountable challenges to break you, He gives you obstacles so that you can rise above them and emerge on the other side a stronger person. When you are put through a trial, it is not because you are hated. It is because you are loved, for it is in times of adversity that one instinctively seeks the Creator and reconnects with Him.
So, I re-acquainted myself with my prayer cloth, performed my first salat in many long months, and said Alhamdulillah at the end of it. It was a declaration that came from my heart, and I found myself weeping, not at my circumstances, but rather at the sheer feeling of relief and comfort I felt as a result. A tidal wave of realization hit me, whacking my senses from every angle. It was as if, in the past few months, I had been viewing the world through a black veil of gloom and despair, and the veil had been lifted from my eyes, displaying the beauty of everything around me in literally dazzling colours and radiance that I had never noticed before.
I walked around my apartment in a daze, and my mind went into overdrive of how blessed I was, and how much I should be thankful for. My life, my health, my sanity, a roof over my head, decent clothes, friends and family who loved me. My ability to think, feel, breathe. The monstrous weight that had been bearing down on me disappeared, as if some unseen hand had felt that it was time to relieve me of my burden. The constant ache that I had been carrying in my heart dissolved, like dust being gently washed away by the rain. I had not gone into some sort of religious trance or stupor, it was the direct opposite, it was as if I had been wearing the wrong glasses and finally my vision was clear again.
I now understand that when one distances oneself from Allah, a veil is created over the heart, growing darker with each passing day, until the veil becomes a seal which none but Allah can remove. Was that what it was, a veil? If so, Alhamdulillah for being given the ability to say Alhamdulillah! For Allah to lift the veil and allow me to see the light of His guidance.
So, yes, I had come one full circle. Just that this time, I did not feel smug (for wasn’t it was own pride in my religious achievements that precipitated the previous events?)
In the days and weeks that passed by, things gradually fell into place. Without the darkness of despair to cloud my vision, I finally understood that all that had happened to me, all that had been snatched away from me, and all the loss I had suffered was for my own good. My prayers for my previous life to be reinstated was the wrong prayer to make all along – the right one would have been to ask for wisdom and comprehension behind all these confusing changes of events, and of course, the iman to face and accept them. On hindsight, if Allah had answered my prayers in the terms that I had dictated (this being another point – what right did I have to dictate Allah in precise terms what I wanted?), my life would have been a living nightmare up to today. I cannot explain the private details, but this, I know without a doubt.
Whatever it was that I was attached to previously was toxic for my wellbeing and my iman, for I gave it more priority and loved it more than I loved Allah. That love grew into an obsession and became the centre of my existence. My constant refusal to remedy matters with my own hands when I had various opportunities to (including a few gentle warnings), resulted in Allah eventually snatching it away from me. The pain was akin to poisonous thorns being ripped out of my flesh. However, the bleeding drained all the venom from my system, and was necessary for me to heal and have a clean start.
My final realization was that throughout all my sadness, Allah had never abandoned me, not for a single second. It was I who abandoned Him. Yet despite my defiance, rebellion and ingratitude, He was still there when I finally realized that I had no choice but to turn back to Him for help.
And how different life is without the veil – the veil of pride, doubt, ignorance and sadness suffocating and choking the essence of the soul. How differently one sees the world and all that happens if one humbly relies on Allah.
I drank in all this newfound knowledge and vision with an incredible thirst, and until one day something clicked. A subtle change in the air which literally made me stop in my tracks. I realized that I was about to be tested again – and within a week, another set of life changing anomalous events occurred. Again, unprecedented and baffling, and on paper, even worse than before. Just that this time, as sincerely as I could, I uttered Alhamdulillah and relied on Allah take care of me until once again, the hardship was followed by ease. And this time, it was not a tumultuous ride of anguish, but rather a calm journey of submission and trust, filled by, dare I say it – happiness. That’s the secret – do not resist fate, but rather do your best to solve the situation and let Allah navigate you until the turmoil has passed. And it will pass.
I know that more periods of hardship and ease will follow, for such is life. The test does not stop until we exhale our last breath. May we all trust Allah to guide us all though our ups and downs, and may Allah never veil our hearts from His Noor, Ameen.
Nurul Huda ABA