The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the category “happiness & mental health”

Grief & Loss: How to Cope With Life’s Pitiless Storms

daisy (reduced)The following is less about the reason or meaning behind suffering and loss (which I’ve written about here), and more to do with coping with personal tragedy or grief. It was written for a close family, to help console them on the loss of a dear loved one. I have added a note on the nature of trials, as understood by Islam, and the appropriate faith-based responses it asks of us.

Many are the emotions that assail the heart, but grief, without doubt, is the hardest of all. The pain felt at the loss of a loved one awakens grief, yet seldom is much gained by yielding too far to grief’s cruelty. Yes, tears must flow. Pain must be endured. Souls must sorrow and be scarred. That you grieve not, none have the right to insist. Weep, then, but wail not; and let not sorrow’s suffering tarry too long. For your loved one would not have you sorrow more than is fitting.

What would he say to you, he whose loss you lament? That he welcomes the love you thus show to him; but that he doesn’t want your grief to be prolonged. He’d ask that you gently put your sorrows to slumber and remember him in the splendour of his days. And that although time will assuage the pangs of grief, he’d want that we move on from such grief by choice.

Remember and recollect: recall the most cherished things about the one who is loved but is lost; of how he enriched our lives and the lives of others too. For this honours our departed loved ones, and consoles us and keeps them with us in our hearts.

If death taketh away, life doth giveth. If so young a life is taken and an older one still remains; but when did death ever promise that it’d take us in order of age?! Now is a time to reflect, not just that all things are mortal, but also that their mortality follows no fixed law.

If tragedy darkens our days, how can we deny that the sun still shines. If destiny deals an unexpected blow, how can we give up on life. If we have buried one of our loved ones, other of our cherished ones still live on. So now is the time to cherish our living loved ones even more: celebrating our love of them and spending time with them. For we cannot love only when we’ve lost.

And while we honour those who have passed on with loving remembrance, we know that such remembrance is not without its bitterness. Yet still, let’s put our sorrows to slow slumber and remember him in the glory of his days.1

And We test you with evil and with good as a trial, states the Qur’an [21:35]. According to Islam, life is not seen as being a random act of chance with no purpose and meaning. Instead, life is a theatre of signs and tests for the life to come. Trials, tests, ordeals and adversity are the inevitable price that we each must pay for the privilege of being born into the human drama. Providence allots to each of us opportunities, circumstances, talents and abilities so as to engage life’s tests and ordeals. Revelation also tells us that what counts, isn’t so much the form or nature of the actual tests, but how we respond to them. Sometimes we are tried with the obvious: hardships, misfortunes, calamities. At other times, with the less obvious: wealth, wellbeing, or material abundance. Both, nonetheless, are seen by the believer as tests.

As for the obvious, Allah says in the Qur’an: We shall indeed test you with something of fear and hunger, loss of property and of lives and crops; but give glad tidings to those who are patient. [2:155] If the one being tried in this way is a person whose faith is generally upright, in terms of observing the religious injunctions and avoiding the prohibitions, then such trials are a sign of Allah honouring them and seeking to raise them in rank. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘When Allah loves a person, He tries them.’2 He ﷺ also told us: ‘No Muslim is afflicted with hardship, pain, anxiety, grief or injury; even to the extent of being pricked by a thorn, without Allah causing it to be an atonement for his sins.’3 This is the case provided they show patience, continue to observe the religious duties, and their conviction in Allah’s essential goodness does not waver.

Those who are not upright, especially those who make little or no attempt at being so, then such trials are the upshot of sins and rebellion against God: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah, whatever ill afflicts you is from yourselves. [4:79] Such ordeals, then, are either a mark of divine wrath and punishment, or a caution from Allah to repent and amend our ways.

As for the less obvious tests, we read in the Qur’an: If they had but followed the path of rectitude, We would have given them abundant water, so as to try them. [72:16-17] Again, if a person is upright, then the ease, blessings or opulence Allah gifts to them is also a trial, to see if they are thankful; and to see if they enjoy such blessings in a lawful way, utilise them in the worship of Allah, as well as in the service of others. When blessed with Allah’s bounties and blessings, the believer acknowledges: ‘This is the favour of my Lord, that He may try me whether I will be thankful or ungrateful. He who gives thanks, he only gives thanks for [the good of] his own soul, and he who is ungrateful [is so only to his own soul’s hurt], for my Lord is Rich, Generous.’ [27:40] Now those who show gratitude, or shukr, Allah says: ‘If you are thankful, I will increase you. But if you are ungrateful, My torment is indeed severe.’ [14:7]

As for those who aren’t upright, nor attempt to walk the path of rectitude; those who neglect religious observance and who languish in the domains of disobedience, when they are surrounded by ease or blessings, it is nothing but istidraj – Allah seizing them little by little; His punishment coming upon them gradually without them realising it. The Qur’an says: We shall seize them by degrees from whence they know not. And I shall grant them respite; for [assuredly] My devising is firm. [69:44-5] Echoing these words, the Prophet ﷺ warned: ‘If you see Allah granting a servant something of the world that he desires, despite him being deep in sins, then [know] it is istidraj.’4 Indeed what trial could be worse than when blessings are, in reality, nothing but curses?

Allahumma nas’aluka an taj‘alana mimman idha
u‘tiya shakara, wa idha’btuliya sabara,
wa idha adhnaba
istaghfara.
Amin.

1. Adapted and reworked from A.C. Grayling, The Good Book (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011), 93-5.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.5645.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.5641.

4. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Awsat, no.9426. Its chain is hasan, as per al-‘Iraqi, al-Mughni ani’l-Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah Tabariyyah, 1995), no.3772.

Finding Happiness & Inner Peace

668-63908_a_tranquil_place_2This short video reminds us of what is essential when we seek the good life: a life of inner contentment, happiness and peace of mind. The reminder bases itself upon the words of the Qur’an: Whoever does good, be they male or female, and has faith, We shall cause them to live a goodly life. [16:97]

Given the angst and anxieties that plague us moderns, and the huge discontent which engulfs the lives of so many people today, Finding Happiness & Inner Peace is a simple, timely reminder about what really counts in life.

The link to the video is here: http://youtu.be/W5b3FnnCKjA

The Meaning Behind Life’s Trials, Tragedies & Suffering

teen depression, tunnelLife is never without its ups and downs, its triumphs and tears, its joys and sorrows. In the Qur’an we read the following: We will surely test you with fear and hunger, and loss of property and lives and trade. But give glad-tidings to the patient who, when struck by some misfortune, say: “We belong to God, and to Him shall we return.” On those shall be blessings from their Lord and mercy; and such are the rightly-guided. [2:155-57]

Patience (sabr) is seen as an antidote to the earthly struggles or sufferings we all must endure. The unbeliever must endure, as must the believer. Suffering is intrinsic to the human story – though the ‘problem of suffering’ as a crucial chapter in the philosophy of religion is of fairly recent origin. By patience I mean: restraining one’s soul in times of difficulty or discomfort, and enduring adversity without complaint.

Those who choose to lose sight of God, when they are struck by a misfortune, tend to suffer on two levels. First, there is the calamity itself and its corresponding pain and anguish. Second, there is the accompanying belief that it should never have happened and that its happening proves something very bitter and dark about the world (and if they bring God into it, then about the nature of God).

The believer, by contrast, lives under the awareness that whatever we have or enjoy is ultimately a gift on loan to us from God, upon an acceptance of the destiny willed by God.“We belong to God, and to Him shall we return.” Yet knowledge that God is the sole owner of all that we have (including our ownselves) is not to deny human emotions; that are themselves God-given. Once, as his dying infant son gasped his final breath, the Prophet, peace be upon him, took him in his arms, whilst tears flowed from his eyes. One of those present was puzzled over such weeping, given how the Prophet himself had forbidden wailing and vociferous lamentation. When he did finally find his voice, the Prophet said: ‘This is compassion. The eyes shed tears, the heart grieves, yet we say nothing to displease our Lord. O Ibrahim, we grieve over being parted from you.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.1303; Muslim, no.2315]

Patience amid trials, adversity and suffering – without the heart becoming resentful, bitter or hard – exists only if there is a sense of proportion. Which is to say, suffering is bearable only if it is understood; even when such understanding is unformulated or hazy. The fact that I am grieving, does not mean the world is out of kilter. The fact that I have been done injury to, does not mean that God is unjust. The fact that my life is now darkened by tradegy, does not mean that no sun shines upon creation. No! It is when anguish and grief are taken out of their proper sphere that we have the “problem of suffering”.

A believer endures precisely because adversity and suffering are not seen as senseless or meaningless. Instead, he sees them as invested with purpose. One hadith goes: ‘No Muslim is afflicted with hardship, pain, anxiety, grief or injury – even to the extent of being pricked by a thorn – without God causing it to be an atonement for his sins.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.5641]

On being asked who among people is tried the toughest, the Prophet, upon whom be peace, responded: ‘The prophets, then the righteous, then those most like them, then those most like them. A person is tried in proportion to his faith. If his faith is firm, his trial is increased; if it is fragile, his trial is lightened. A person continues to be tried in this way till he walks on the earth with no sin whatsoever.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.2398]

Then there is the following hadith that offers great comfort and healing amidst what may seem like the pelting of life’s pitiless storms: ‘When God loves a person, He tries them.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.5645]

All this helps to comfort the believer and assures him that his suffering is not without meaning; although it is unlikely to satisfy the profane mind, or the armchair critics of God.

Here, as is often the case, the believer inhabits a different world from others. For his ambition is to grow in faith and to mature spiritually. He knows this worldly life is a preparation for what comes after. Therefore, he views trials as being, not something negative, but part of his life education where the divine intent is either to nurture his latent potential in order to bring out the best in him; or refine and raise his rank with God; or prune and purify him from sins; or to simply humble him and bring home to him how powerless he is in the face of affliction and how in need he is of God’s grace. Moreover, the believer is less concerned with why he faces trials and ordeals – which he is content to leave to a Wisdom much greater than his – than with the appropriate response he should offer God in such situations.

The believers, then, live their lives knowing full well that in this earthly arena they will certainly face trials and tribulations. But with patience and being steadfast, they know that the outcome will always be favourable to them; that whatever happens will surely bring them good: ‘The case of the believer is wonderful,’ one hadith celebrates, ‘for his affair is always good; which isn’t the case with anyone else except the believer. If good fortune comes his way, he is thankful, and that is good for him. But if adversity strikes him, he is patient, and that too is good for him.’ [Muslim, no.2999] In that, let believers take comfort, let hearts hold out hope and let souls be soothed.

The Modern Pursuit of Happiness or Chasing Your Own Tail?

man-chasing-money“Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” seems to best express the only kind of happiness modern man has made available to himself; and we know where such gross hedonism leads to. Our current culture of greed, of instant-gratification and of turbo-consumerism may deliver us short term ‘highs’, the momentary ‘buzz’, but these soon wear-off, and all too often leave in their wake anxiety, depression and despair.

Knowing what happiness or the good life truly is has occupied philosophical minds since antiquity. It is, as one might expect, a theme also taken-up by the Qur’an. In one of its verses, it promises: Whoever does good, be they male or female, and has faith, We shall cause them to live a goodly life. [16:97]

In contrast to this hayatan tayyibah or “goodly life”, God proclaims in the Qur’an: ‘But whoever turns away from My remembrance will assuredly have a life of narrowness, and on the Day of Resurrection We shall raise him up blind.’ [20:124]

Echoing this Quranic declaration, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘God says: O son of Adam! Free yourself for My worship and I shall fill your heart with sufficiency and remove your poverty. But if you do not, I will fill your hands with preoccupations and your poverty will not cease.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.2466] Poverty, here, as our scholars have duly explained, refers to spiritual poverty: i.e. unhappiness, disaffection and the absence of contentment – even when basking in the midst of material abundance.

No doubt, some minimum level of materialism is required for our happiness and well-being. But beyond the basics, or above what is termed ‘subsistance living’, an increase in wealth or material goods in no way ensures happiness, contentment or fulfilment. In Islam, happiness and fulfilment are profoundly bound with obedience, worship and God’s remembrance and recollection: Indeed, in the remembrance of God do hearts find tranquility. [13:28]

So as believers commit to the worship of God and reconcile themselves to His decree, inner peace begins to diffuse within their souls, till it permeates all their thoughts and actions; bringing happiness, fulfilment and, ultimately, salvation. Those who pursue a life of greed, self-gratification and neglectfulness of God, choosing instead to expose themselves to a plague of inner demons, shall ultimately be cast into perdition with hellish devils!

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