When others share their views or sentiments about tragic moments in my own life, it often overwhelms me more than the experience itself. Those first moments on hearing the bad news, or rationalising the loss left me feeling sombre, but not always overwhelmed with emotion. On many occasions I’ve been able to hold back the tears and shrug off the pain, only to lose my composure through the simple gesture or words of someone else expressing their sadness at the news.
I was in Saudi on contract when my father passed away. I recall clearly sitting in the staff bus on our way back from Bahrain where we made the monthly trip to have our visas renewed. It was late in the evening when I received the text message from South Africa. My father had passed away. He was ill for some time after surviving a stroke two years earlier, and he finally succumbed to the illness. I stared almost disbelievingly at the message, but managed to maintain my composure.
After absorbing the impact of the news, I reached over to a close colleague and showed him the message. He reached out and placed his hand on my shoulder. Only then did the gravity of what had happened hit me. Before that moment, it was just bad news. When he rested his hand on my shoulder, it somehow brought to reality the loss.
Despite never having a really meaningful or fulfilling relationship with my father, he was a critical influence in my life, and continues to be so. My relationship with him reminded me of something I had heard from a man that was facilitating a leadership course that I had attended early in my career. He said that his father had been the greatest influence in his life. His father always sat in his arm chair day after day and did nothing but page through the daily newspaper. That spurred him on to commit to never be that way, and so his father’s lethargy drove him to achieve great goals and aspirations in his life.
I’ve often overlooked some of the lessons I’ve learnt from unpleasant experiences and relationships in my life. By far, the most character defining moments for me have always been in times of hardship and great personal strife. Those moments and lessons would have been wasted if I chose to block it out with the anti-depressant medication or other escapist actions that many recommended at the time. I chose not to numb myself to the pain of what was happening. Instead, I immersed myself like a martyr wanting to feel every emotion and every sensation of pain and release, of heartache and joy. And I remained deliberately sober throughout because those were the only opportunities that truly provided me with insight into what truly lies behind the anger and futility in the actions of others. In seeking to understand my own weaknesses and emotions during those trying times, I emerged with an understanding and appreciation for human angst that I would otherwise never have acquired.
For this reason, I’ve grown to appreciate the struggles of others, and more importantly, I’ve realised that it can always get worse. No matter how bad my situation was, what appeared to be the most intensely despairing experience at the time is just another life lesson now, with each new experience raising my ability to feel joy and pain at a level of intensity that no drug-induced flight of fancy could ever produce.
“and children as [love’s] witnesses,” [74:13] Muhammad Asad
I was reading The Qur’an yesterday, and as I was taking notes, on the issue of how The Qur’an explains who God guides to Faith, but it was this seemingly innocuous ayah, one that follows one of the most important ayahs in The Qur’an, that truly caught my attention.
As you know, yesterday, alhamdulilah, my family welcomed a new member, and this ayah jumped out at me. This portion of this Surah is talking about how God has bestowed upon us countless gifts, limitless potential, and yet there are those who discount those and “greedily desires that I [God] give yet more!” [74:15]
What struck me was that children are not described as gifts, as they are in other parts of The Qur’an (most notably how The Qur’an describes daughters as something to be very happy about) but that in this instance, the children are given a very different role: as witnesses to our appreciation of what God has bestowed upon us.
I am not a parent, but, I have been trying to make sense of this formulation. Muhammad Asad injects the word “love” as a implied construct to the witnessing, which I more-or-less agree with, yet there remains a deeper element, one that I think is linked towards our judgment by God.
I have come to this conclusion because of the context of the Surah in question, Surah Al-Muddaththir, which covers the concept of afterlife and how we get there. I think this because, while we joke about marriage as a process in which we “complete half of our deen,” I feel like children (and our spouse) are the major reason for that formulation. These are the people who will be in your direct care, who will experience your character, your emotions, your actions, more than any other group of people.
Your spouse may be able to divorce you, but your children, no matter what happens, will always reflect your actions in this world because of how you introduce them to it. Whether you abandon them, give them up for adoption, nurture them, whatever it is you do, they are the ultimate reflection of you, and thus this innocuous phrase, placing children as “witnesses” makes sense to me, when I look at it this way.
I may have been drawn to this ayah because of being in a maternity ward, but I look at it now as one of the major proofs of how The Qur’an puts an immense premium on our actions and dealings with others, and I am saddened (especially every time there is a tumblr “flare up”) because I have been so impressed by the dedication and faithfulness to Islam by the Tumblr Muslim Ummah, that to watch us forget our akhlaq, our manners, with each other, over things we could debate (properly) if only we remembered what The Book we debate over commands us to do.
This ayah also underlined how we must readjust ourselves, our mindset, and our hearts when approaching having children of our own. I have heard those who bemoan their children, as if they are infringements upon their freedom; those children did not ask to be brought into this world, you did. The world that these innocents will be brought into, their entire approach will be directed by you, and I hope that as Muslims, we can take this message to heart, and to illustrate to the world, through our actions and our children (insha Allah) that Islam is not just a belief, but a true way of life.
It is our children that will reflect us the most, and while we may be great people, and nice to our friends, it is how we treat and deal with the ultimate trust, our children, that reflects our character more than anything. What we do, on a daily basis is what defines us, maybe not to our friends and co-workers, but to God and those who matter most: our children. It is our children that display the bifurcation between the person who is conscious of their Islam personally and those who are conscious of Islam completely.
Finally, this ayah underlines something that many times Muslim youth struggle with: adhering to their parents. Many times we are just being bratty, but other times, I am sure there are cases where the parents are not upholding their duties, which must be horrible. Thus, it is this ayah that underlines to us that in order to expect obedience from our children, we must fulfill their trust in us as their parents. If the simple fact that these children are from you cannot motivate you, I hope that God’s command does.
I pray for the children who do not have their parents, and for those of us who do that we appreciate that fact; I pray for those of us who have misunderstandings with our parents to overcome them and realize what is more important in life; I pray for those who are or who will become parents to have the patience and fortitude to care and nurture their children; I pray for the Muslim youth, to realize their potential, to rise to action, to forsake rhetoric for deeds, and to show this world that Islam is not just in our hearts, not just on our tongues, but in the good that we will tirelessly work towards; insha Allah, I pray that we can fulfill the commands of Almighty God with sincerity, ya Rabb.
That truly awkward moment when you look at your dashboard and realise that all the reblogs of profound messages regarding the ephemeral nature of life is all just nice ideas and hardly a soul that reblogs them even realises the true meaning behind them because they’re so busy hating and debating and arguing and fighting that even the news of death only shakes them for long enough to reblog it without actually changing their attitude or perspective because we’re still so deluded about our awesomeness that we fail to realise that that very same life that we mourn the loss of is the very same life that we’re wasting away concerning ourselves about those things that do not concern us in our effort to establish our significance in the lives of those that matter only as long as we choose to follow them after which they’re a distant memory if anything at all while we find a new audience to appease with our clever use of phrases and sharp rebuttals in our on-going efforts to ignore the huge elephant standing in the room with a tiny label attached to its tail with just one simple word. Ego.
Only an old man appreciates the value of youth
Only a person afflicted with calamity can truly appreciate being free of troubles
Only the sick appreciate health
Only the dead appreciate life
Islamic wisdom (via cynicallyjaded)