A BLESSING IN TRIBULATION
“God is with the broken-hearted. When your heart breaks, it’s a good thing — The breaking of the heart is what opens it up to the light of Allah. The dunya is designed to break your heart, to crush it.”
Syeikh Hamza Yusuf
In the novel The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner narrates a tragedy that befell the Compson family. The sweet, loving Caddy had lost her virginity. It was a horrific incident that shattered the Compsons into pieces. Her brothers — Benjy, is mentally retarded, so he made no sense of the event. He was spared from feeling any emotional pain. Quentin was haunted by the past, feeling that a black mark was forever imprinted on his family dignity. He eventually took refuge in suicide. Jason turned cynical and rageful, refusing to have any love for his family members or people, as he only cared about money and what the future might bring for him.
Only their servant, Dilsey soldiered on as she cleaned up what remained of the Compsons. For them, that was all there is. Their lives were ruined by just one incident. But Dilsey saw things differently. She saw what was beyond the past, present, and future. Her heart was firm in Eternity. She believed that God will not leave her unrewarded for her deeds, that tribulations in this life will pass and be forgotten.
The nature of this world is that it is temporary. Our nature as human beings on the other hand, is that we are forgetful. Too often we forget that fundamental truth. But with Allah SWT’s mercy, He sends us reminders so that we aren’t carried away.
This world, of course, is imperfect. It’s flawed. Life can be really hard. To paraphrase Ibn Abbas (ra), this world is founded on tribulation. We feel ease, leisure, and happiness. But they are accompanied by toil, ardor, sadness, and difficulties.
But that’s the belief that makes us different as Muslims. Unlike the characters in the story, we not only believe that everything serves a purpose, that nothing is without meaning. We believe that with hardships come ease (Qur’an : 94 :5-6) — Not only after having gone through a hardship do we feel ease. But the hardship itself is a blessing.
We may not immediately understand it now, but we place our faith in Allah because He oversees everything. While we see only one side of an event, He sees it from all sides. Everything will be revealed in the next life. And so we trust Him. Because that’s iman.
“By sending the wind, He brings us to our knees: the perfect position to pray.”
One of the blessings of tribulation, as elaborated by Syeikh Hamza Yusuf, is that the discomfort we feel from tribulations makes us long for our real home — Paradise, where everything is perfectly good. After all, the word “dunya”, at its root, means “the lowest place”. That’s it. When you’re feeling down, always remember, you’re in the lowest place. This world isn’t Paradise. It’s not meant to be and will never be.
This world is designed to break your heart, so that you yearn for the real thing. So that you remember there’s a life much better and lasting than this one. So that your dependence is only in Allah and Allah alone. People can dissappoint you, moments fade away, things break. But Allah never lets you down. Syeikh Hamza Yusuf even went further by saying, “If you’re looking to be happy, you’re in the wrong place”.
Earlier this week I was blessed to attend a small talk by Ustaz Syukery Azizan. Just a year ago I was nervously speaking as the emcee in my college musolla when he came around. Anyway, after the talk, I initially asked him about Islamic books that he would recommend the most often. I guess, as always, that eventually led to more questions and answers.
He told me a few profound things that really hit me in the gut. He said, sometimes you know a lot of things from reading, from talks, and even from your experiences. But there just come times when you get so depressed. You feel like you’re attacked from all sides, and you just forget everything — And the only thing you remember is Allah.
That’s a huge blessing.
Sometimes the most basic thing turns out to be the best thing to do. Getting your wudhu’ (ablution), reading the Qur’an, establishing solat, and talking to Allah. Frankly, how often do we actually savor these moments when times are easy? In that moment, we realize just how weak we are, and how reliant we are upon him.
(By the way, Ustaz Syukery recommends Do Not Be Sad (La Tahzan) by Aid al-Qarni and Enjoy Your Life by Dr. Muhammad ‘Abdur-Rahman al-‘Areefy.)
“Because this life isn’t perfect; for if it was, what would the next be called?”
— What is this world, then?
A bridge. A path, not the destination.
This world is like an ocean, a medium for boats and ships to sail on.
But, as Yasmin Mogahed so eloquently expressed, “The ocean was never intended to enter the boat; it was intended only as a means that must remain outside of it. The dunya, too, was never intended to enter our heart. It is only a means that must not enter or control us.”
For some people, this life is everything, the ultimate end. It’s their ultimate reason for striving, for exhausting themselves day after day, and losing sleep night after night. For them there’s no other life but this one.
But for those who believe, this life is nothing, like a dream. This life is so cancelled out when it’s compared with infinity — Even the largest number amounts to zero. They work hard and struggle like everyone else, but their lives are in perspective. They have priorities, they give things their proper weightage.
— What is our relationship with this world?
We are but travelers.
In the words of Prophet Muhammad (SAW),
“What relationship do I have with this world? I am in this world like a rider who halts in the shade of a tree for a short time, and after taking some rest, resumes his journey leaving the tree behind.”
(Hadith narrated by Imam Ahmad and Imam Tirmidhi)
Ponder for a moment what goes inside the mind of a traveler.
You have a destination in mind, you take and bring with you only what is enough and necessary for your journey. You’d probably have some fun, but you remember that you’re going to leave this place soon. You make plans, but not as if you’re going to live here forever.
As I close off, let me share with you a metaphor by Imam Ghazali (ra).
Imagine a ship of passengers. The captain of the ship says, “Aye! We’re stopping at this island for a while. Go ahead and wander, but not too far!”
The first group of those passengers are bedazzled by the island’s beauty. They enjoy the sight of its trees, the warmth of the sands underneath their feet. But they’re careful not to spend too much time there or to wander far. As they return to the ship, they have the most comfortable seats.
The second group wanders a little further, and unfortunately, they get the cheap seats.
The third group are amazed out of their heads, bringing along with them seashells and stones into the ship. Because of their excessive baggage, they have to sit at the most uncomfortable places in the ship.
The captain now yells out, “All aboard! We’re setting sail!” But it seems that the passengers are a little fewer than they were before.
The fourth group of passengers are hopelessly lost. They’ve roamed too far that they couldn’t hear the captain’s calls.
The captain couldn’t afford to wait any longer and whether he wants to or not, he has to sail without them. There’s no telling what might happen to those passengers.
The island, is this world. The passengers are us.
Only, which group do we belong to?