October 15, 2017
I hope you receive this letter with the best of health, Iman, and Integrity.
Can you bring yourself to have the attitude that, “we will figure out how to get through this,” whenever you are hit with struggle? You have already heard me claim many times that you are guaranteed to be hit with struggle and that you are guaranteed to be hit with struggles that you can handle. So, embrace the sentiment that you will get through whatever hits you. You can scare yourself with examples of horrible experiences that have happened to others, but I am speaking to you about you: you have to be militant with yourself in the belief that you can get through anything that life throws at you because you have already gotten through so much.
A common question from students is “Why me?” when speaking of the various struggles of life that hit them. The first answer I give them is, “Welcome to life. I’m still in one piece, and so shall you be.” I have survived four and a half decades of various struggles, including many of which I imposed upon myself; so shall you. The twenty-year-old version of me was not any stronger than you. I have faced many moments in life when I thought I could not take more, and not only did I see the sun rise again, but I was able to handle even larger struggles. Life goes on. Life is now easier for me if only because I remember passing through enough struggles to know that I will get through any future struggles, no matter how painful they are, no matter how many ways I pray to God to trade those struggles for something else. The struggles will get larger, and I will get through them, Insha Allah. Life goes on.
Last time, we commented that the default of life is Rahma, that the Divine pours so much mercy upon us and in us, that it is impossible to measure His generosity. Struggle is not the default of life, however, but the exception. Struggle is a guaranteed experience, but it is still the exception to the experience of life. Loss is an exception to life, but it is a guaranteed direction that life will take for most people. Whether you lose your childhood, you lose memories, you lose loved ones, or you lose love itself, the world will take things away from you. And you will persist because we all do.
More than that, the answer to this question is akin to the answer to the question, “Why do I need religion?” The simplest answer to this question is: to help you get through life better than you otherwise could.
Suppose we argue that all of religion is a human construction, that there is no God, and there is no afterlife. Meaning, suppose we argue that the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, invented Islam. Religion in general, and Islam in particular, still provides you with a time-tested system of navigating life.
If there is no afterlife, then, in the end, I will become fertilizer, regardless of how I lived my life whether I lived a life of generosity or wickedness. If there is no God, then when I am alone, I am *alone,* without the accompaniment of the Divine watching over me, without the Divine guiding me, without the Divine interacting with me. If religion is a human construction, then there are no miracles, there is no meaning, and there is no purpose.
Meaning, everything becomes limited to biology, chemistry, physics and cause and effect. Meaning, if all of this is fake, then you are nothing but a bag of chemicals that will be returned to the earth. You are just an insignificant a blip in the billions of years long process of the universe, and you would be forgotten even before you were born.
Even then, religion gives you a thousand-years-old well-tread system to guide you through life, especially through the most intense periods of life. Consider it when you are faced with the loss of a family member. If there is no God and no afterlife, then that family member is gone. Fertilizer. Gone. If there is God and an afterlife, then you have the hope of reunion with them. If there is no God and no afterlife but you follow Islam, then you have hope -- even if it is a hope in a falsehood -- to help ease you through life.
Then, if all of this is a false construction, what do the does belief in the Day of Judgment give you? It gives you a consciousness that there is a bigger picture, that there is an accountability that anyone who has oppressed you will not escape, nor will you. The belief in the Day of Judgment, the stronger it is, the more it stabilizes your hope and fear.
If all of this is a false construction, then what do the daily prayers give you? They give you a respite from the day: a vacation from the day, five times a day. In that process, if you immerse yourself in those prayers, they give you calm and stability, especially in the storms of life.
Even the idea of “Islam” itself gives therapy. The world operates a particular way, hitting you with things that are beyond your control. And when you ask “Why?” the answer is, “It is God’s will, and we surrender to Him.” Some cultures have turned this approach into an unhealthy fatalism that permits them to become passive, no matter what hits them in life. But, the healthy aspect of it is the acceptance of things beyond our control, compelling us to Surrender and Submit to the One who made the system the way it is made.
I commented last time that the version of religion you have been given has been most dysfunctional. Why? Because it gives you so many slogans about the greatness of Islam and fools you into thinking that that is itself “Islam,” Thus, this approach does not guide you through the vicissitudes, the ups, and downs, of life. You saw it on social media a few weeks ago: thousands of people who claimed to be devout students of a charismatic teacher of the Qur’an could not contain themselves in spewing the most un-Islamic hate, curses, and threats. You have to wonder what they were learning if it was that easy for someone unknown to make them lose their minds with such speed. Likewise, so many of you complain that you have family members who go to the mosque regularly, recite the Qur’an frequently, claim to follow the model of the Prophet, may peace be upon him, yet they are tyrants to everyone at home; I used to be that person in my family. I know many ideas pretending to be Islam that do not work because I practiced many of them, and dared to call them “Islam.” We live, we learn, we forgive, we seek forgiveness, and we hope to be forgiven.
So, in a nutshell, why make life more difficult than it needs to be? Why reject something that can help you? Help me to help you embody religion, and with all its struggles and hopes life will be much easier. More than that, it will be much more meaningful and purposeful. But, you have to take the first steps.
More than that, I’m telling you that it is all true, which means that there is so much more.
And Allah knows best.