The following is transcript of short reminder by Syaikh Hamza Yusuf on how we should respond to various conditions in our life. The video is at the end of the transcript. Hope you find benefit in it as I do.
Ramadhan Ruminations Lesson 6: How to Respond to the Condition You’re In
We have looked at the concept of taqwa, which I think is the most foundational and important concept in our tradition. It is a beautiful word and comprehensive word. With that word also come another really important concept and sometimes they are paired together in the qur’an, and that is shabr; shabr (patience) and syukr (gratitude) which I hope to talk about later. These are the two qualities that human beings absolutely necessary to embodies in their lives. Life is essentially tragedy and comedy. These are two great words in literature because these define the very nature of life in earth. Tragic element and comedic. Comedic does not mean funny, but rather happy situation. Comedy in classical theater is something that has happy ending. So, there is either tragedy or there is joy and happiness. When you are in joy and happiness, it is very important to be very grateful. In fact, the word of gratitude in old English is rooted in the idea of joy. The act of joyfulness is to express gratitude.
Patience is however is what we need more than anything because life is tribulation. And life, if we look at our life overtime, you will see that there is an immense amount of tribulation in human life. It is very important such that the highest stage of human quality is gratitude; and the stage immediately after that that is necessary for us to maintain in our life is patience.
Allah SWT actually uses the word shabr in the Qur’an in various forms, over 70 times. This is how central the idea of patience is. For instance, “ishbiru wa shabiru or be patience and enjoin to patience”, as in QS Ali-Imran: 200. One of the great bounties of patience is that there are certain Karamat or blessings that come from patience. I hope to look at that later.
Today I would like to look at the stage that we find ourselves in. One of the great scholars of Egypt, Ibnu ‘Ata’allah al-Sakandary, which is more known for his tasawuf but also a master of Maliki scholar. He went through spiritual crisis at certain times and he went to his teacher Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi, someone who really knew God in a very profound way. And he let his syaikh know that he was having these difficulties. He said that his syaikh told him that you will always find yourselves in one of four circumstances. And you need to understand these circumstances and its proper responses. Life is essentially about response. In fact, the very definition of life biologically is that it responses to stimuli. If something does not respond to stimuli, it is not considered living. Life is responses, this is how we determine somebody alive.
There are four conditions that you will find yourselves in and there are four responses.
The first condition is blessings. To be alive is a great blessing; to have consciousness; to be healthy is a great blessing. If you begin enumerating your blessings, you will not come to the end of it. Allah SWT said, “And if you should count the favors of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful” (QS An-Nahl:18). So the response to blessings is gratitude, syukr. And that’s why it’s so central and Allah tells us and warns us really, that “qolilun min ibadiyassyaukur, very few are my servants are continuously grateful” (QS Saba:13) because this is the highest station of the people closest to God, even in tribulations. Ibnu Abbas RA said in every tribulations, there are three blessings that you should be grateful for. One is it could have been worse. If you lost one child you could have lost all of your children. If you lost one arms you could have lost both. If you blind, you could have been deaf. So there is always that blessings that it could have been worse. Second, it is in your dunya, your worldly matters, not in your religion matters, your deen. If you lose a million dollars and all you have was a 800,000 and now 200,000 in debt, you still have your health. There are people that have a million dollar that are sick that would give that million if they can purchase your health. So there are always something to be grateful for and to recognize that this worldly is that something that we can lose but if we do not lose our deen that it is a blessings. Finally, that it is in this world but not in the next. That in itself is an immense blessing. The real calamities are the calamities that determine peoples’ afterlife. So, patience and gratitude is very important.
The second stage is that you are in tribulation. And the response to tribulation is patience. So gratitude with blessings and patience in tribulation.
The third stage he said is that you are in obedience in Allah SWT. And the response to that is to witness the taufiq of Allah, i.e. the success that Allah has granted to be in obedience to Allah SWT. This means seeing that had it not been for God then I would have not been able to do this. This will prevent arrogant from coming to the hearts, to think that this is me doing it. C.S. Lewis has good insight in his wonderful work The Screwtape Letters, which is about series of letters from one senior devil (Screwtape) teaching his (younger) nephew devils how to seduce people. The nephew said he has a situation. He says, “I’m in big trouble, the man started to become pious. He is now going to the church.” Then the older devil comes, and said, nothing to worry about. Just tell how much better he is compared to other people. Just tell how a pious person he is, i.e. instill pride. Once you instill pride in the heart of believer, he is finished because arrogance is one thing that Allah SWT will abase/disgrace. That’s something to keep in mind, that if you’re blessed with being able to be able to read a lot of Qur’an in Ramadhan, to pray, and to do all these things. See that as blessings from Allah, so that also demands gratitude by witnessing the gift of Allah in that. Allah SWT said, “Do not consider your Islam a favor to me. Rather, Allah has conferred favor upon you that He has guided you to the faith, if you should be truthful” (QS Al-hujurat: 17). Do not remind me that it is a blessings that you become Muslim. So God reminds us that it is His blessing that He gives us Islam. So that’s very important for us to keep in mind.
Finally, is disobedience. The response to disobediences is taubah. Turning back to Allah SWT. These are the four stages that Abu al-Abbas mentioned to his student. Ibnu ‘Ata’allah said that he felt like a mountain of weight was lifted from him in receiving that guidance. It is a really extraordinary great blessings to know the four conditions that we are going to find ourselves in and how to respond to them. Insyaallah next session, we will look at shabr, the four types of shabr and also the eight karamats that come from shabr.