I remember when I used to sit round in a circle with my friends at secondary school over many lunchtimes mapping out our lives. We idealised a to-do list of big life events and the order we expected them to happen in.
Get a top education, a great paying job, set off my career, get married in my mid 20’s, travel, have children then start wearing a hijab (when I’m not at work and it’ll be easy to put one on in front of your Muslim family than awkwardly justify it to non-Muslims at work), get a house…
I never thought that it wouldn’t necessarily be like that. Or that some of it were unfeasible. Better yet, I never thought that it would be OK, or better than OK if that’s not what happens.
As time goes on, and reality plays out, you realise life isn’t as predictable as a chick flick. It’s raw. It’s real. Where the heat of a trial can feel gut-wrenching.
There came a turning point for me when Allah opened my heart to start engaging with Islam more. This kicked off a journey of strengthening my iman, my faith, by seeking knowledge. So now, when I look back at low points, I see them as love from my lord, that brought me closer to him which strengthened me and helped me to grow as a Muslim #HindsightIs20:20.
We all experience setbacks, whether we expected success or it came out of nowhere. You see the moments when those set-backs bring some of us down, keep some of us down, we see the ones who try to use anything but faith to get through or the ones grabbing on for dear life tightly grasping onto their faith trying. Some of us find a breakthrough, others are still waiting for one struggling with patience.
As young adults, we have so many expectations with every door of possibility open. As you make choices and get older, it feels like you’re closing a bunch of doors and sometimes finding new doors. Some doors can take your breath away, others leave you breathless and tired of life. It can feel like you’re in a game of snakes and ladders, is there a big or small snake waiting to bring me down and ever hopeful it’s going to be the largest ladder taking you to the top.
When things don’t work out the way we think they’re supposed to, we react in different ways. We can be aggressive and poke the bruise on our bum from the fall and keep poking at it, offended it’s there. We can be passive and try to ignore it altogether, maybe keep falling again and again. Or, we can be assertive and find how we need to heel.
There have been times where the wait for something to happen has been longer than I expected, sometimes I cast a negative judgement on its consequences; my career isn’t hitting off and I’m falling behind, I’m not getting married which will make it harder to have children. I thought I’d planned things well enough but those opportunities are slipping away and I felt dejected, and sometimes still do.
As a Muslim, I remind myself, that Allah can make anything possible and that MY plan isn’t the bigger picture. MY plan isn’t necessarily the wisest plan nor the best plan to get me to my creator.
As I’ve turned to Allah more and more I’ve realised that the doors of opportunity are even bigger (think doors of Jannah big). They open up to an even greater prize. Allah has always been there, before time, but as we notice him more, we may realise that wait a minute, we can ask our lord for anything, ANYTHING. He can give it to me, give me something better, clean my sins, or give it to me in the next life.
Whatever my situation, I’m never at a loss with a ladder everywhere I turn. Silver linings 360°.Whether or not I see it, is down to perspective.
My setbacks have prompted me to turn to Allah. By asking for his help, learning how to make dua, bringing more Quran into my life, learning about Islam etc. By just trying and trying to bring more touch-points of worship into my life, I was healing the deen gap in my life that was filled with dunya and ME, ME, ME!
Sometimes, when my goal is focused on the future of this dunya, I’ll increase in worship in asking for it. Worship can mean sadaqa, visiting the poor and other types of good deeds, not necessarily limited to prayers asking explicitly for it. Ironically, those acts of worship for something that I wanted in this dunya were helping my future of my akhira.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting something (halal) in this dunya. We just need to remember what the bigger picture is. Re-align our expectations of what we need from this life.
If we try to engage with Allah in the times when things don’t work out as we hoped, we are strengthening our connection to him.
Some trials go on for a very long time and our cheeks can hurt putting on a brave face, or our mouths may be tired of complaining. We might even give up hope of change, and resign ourselves to believing it’s just not in my cards, yet still feel stuck on how to move forward from it. Don’t give up hope on the creator of hope, the creator of mercy, the all-hearing, the one who responds.
Allah mentions tests all over the Quran; 81 places when I search on Quran.com. Not just that you will be tested, but how you will be tested, with your wealth, children, that which we love and gives you examples of those who were tested, those who passed and those who failed…
وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ – 2:155
And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient,
وَلِيُمَحِّصَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَيَمْحَقَ الْكَافِرِينَ – 3:141
And that Allah may test (or purify) the believers (from sins) and destroy the disbelievers.
Now take a look at this hadith:
Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The most privileged people in the world among the people of the Hellfire will come on the Day of Resurrection to be dipped in the Hellfire, then it will be said: O son of Adam, did you see any good? Did you get any blessing? He will say: No, by Allah, my Lord! Then the most miserable people in the world among the people of Paradise will come on the Day of Resurrection to be dipped in the Paradise, then it will be said: O son of Adam, did you see any hardship? Did you have any distress? He will say: No, by Allah, my Lord! I did not once see hardship or distress.”
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2807
In comparison to Jannah, a person who would have experienced the MOST HARDSHIP in their life would say that they DIDN’T FACE A SINGLE HARDSHIP. Your destination is great my friends. Find good in its journey there.
Do we only want to turn to him when things aren’t tickety-boo? You must, absolutely must turn to him when things aren’t going well, it’s important to do so, but we can turn to him more too, when things are well with gratitude and giving back or when things are bumbling along ok-ish with our daily remembrances. It may help to cushion your emotions during hard times. Bring balance to your life and lower your “turn to Allah based on your level of hardship vs ease score”.
There are so many moments in your day when you bring yourself to Allah. From daily prayers for changing, eating or prayers for guidance. These prayers not only protect you, but they also keep you present with your lord so that your mindset is constantly coming back to your creator, constantly in the worship of him throughout the day…it’s not just about your 5-a-day.
As muslims, we know that our purpose is to worship Allah and the ultimate goal of seeing him in Jannah through his mercy. We are allowed pleasures and aspirations in this life. Whatever your ideal life plan is, don’t let it short sight you, deflate you or hold you back in arrogance over Allah’s plan, and your ultimate goal. May we all meet there.
Saima is a lover of cats, cruelty-free products, loose jasmine green tea and pretty 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles. She has a Masters in Mathematics and works at a creative agency where she practices her nerd craft on spreadsheets as a data analyst. She writes about life where she talks about her spiritual journey, her reflections through the numerous podcasts she listened to on her long commute to work.