In the Islamic tradition, there is this idea that one is to be considered a ‘youth’ – a young person – until one reaches the age of forty.
Forty may therefore be seen as the ‘noontime’ of one’s life, so to speak. Before then, we are ‘young’: we are coming into being, into brightness. And after then, generally, (if we are permitted to live that long, that is) we come into ‘wisdom’. Our hair becomes grey; our faces marked with lines of experience: story-lines.
I am, at present, twenty years old. In temporal terms, I have an entire ‘nother lifetime to live, before I arrive at my ‘age of wisdom’. Until then, I must really think about how to spend this time, and the other resources, I have.
Recently I have been thinking much about the art of ‘making do’. The ‘Blitz Spirit’. Opening the cupboards; seeing what is there. And then, after a process of reasoning and of engaging one’s creative capacities: making the best of it. Make it beautiful, somehow.
This is a game my cousins and I used to play, when we were younger: the ‘Masterchef’ Game. Collecting a handful of ingredients that are already there, in the kitchen. Preferably, ingredients that are likely to otherwise go unused, to waste. Make it a little competition, to see who can produce the most tasty plate of food, and the one that is presented in the best, most aesthetic, way – under timed conditions.
An important Islamic principle to consider, in life, is the following: that, as humans, we are wanting creatures. But Allah promises to ‘increase in favour’ those of us who are grateful. Who love what they have; whatever is there. And I think this is the essence of ‘Barakah’. If you are from a Muslim country, have you ever come across a particular person, or a family of people, who live in such a way that may seem to be responded to with pity from those of us who live here in the West, but who actually, upon looking a little closer, seem to lead such Barakah-infused lives?
I know of a particular family who are like this, in Bangladesh. Here in London, very few people, I think, would aspire to live that kind of lifestyle. Tending to cows [sigh. I actually quite miss even the pungent stench of the cows!]; fishing in the village’s pond. Making soup over an open clay oven; going to work, during the day, ‘in town’; playing boardgames at night; dancing in delight under monsoon rains. What, to us, does it seem like they may be lacking?
In truth, they have Allah. And they have family, and fruits, and books, and rain. This is how they are living their temporary, directly-determining-of-how-they-will-spend-their-forthcoming-eternities, Dunya-based lives. They may not have all of those ‘shininesses’ that may immediately catch our eyes, here in this part of the world – and nor would they appear to care much for those things, anyway. But they sure do have that Barakah; that soul.
When my grandfather first arrived in this country, he lived in the same area that we still (Alhamdulillah) live in, today. I went to [secondary] school right near where he used to work. I currently work right near where he used to live, and near the mosque he used to attend. Recently, I believe the Imām of that masjid passed away. My uncle shared the following bit of writing, with me, which he had included as a caption under a post about the mosque, some five years ago:
“Prayed salat at my father’s masjid (mosque) after so long. Much has changed but the unconditional attachment of a small group of men to the masjid has not. Theirs is a silent and sincere yearning for the beauty of worship and the comfort of Allah’s home. Masjid, Salat, Qur’an, Du’ah. […] At one time I thought this meant so much else was missing, but only later did I realise this simplicity is what paves their short, unobstructed route to Allah. Their world extends little beyond the walls that call to worship. What space is there in that small world for anything other than what pleases Allah?”
I think: to be a Muslim means to care. Deeply, tirelessly, truly. About trying. About speaking to, and calling upon, one’s Creator, for help, and for guidance. Giving charity, and helping others. Fasting. Qur’an. Family. Thanking Allah for rain. And for soup. And for our eyes, and our siblings, and our friends. Being Muslim means being given responsibilities: motherhood or fatherhood, a family member with a learning disability, a brother or a sister, marriage, a masjid, a student, a school. And honouring them with our lives.
Life, sin duda, is a test. Allah tells us in the Qur’an, in Surah Kahf:
“Verily, We have made that which is on Earth as an adornment (decoration, beautification) for it, in order that We may test them (mankind) as to which of them are best in deeds (works, actions)” [Qur’an, (18:7)]
In each of our metaphorical ‘cupboards’, we find there are different ingredients. Circumstances, blessings, difficulties. Daily struggles, daily blessings. And it is our job to use these lifetimes of ours to make something of them. Something beautiful, hopefully. But, necessarily, what we make of them will look and be different from what those around us make of them. We begin from different places and things; make different resulting choices; end up with different products, in the end.
What matters, at the end of these limited stretches of day, is… what we have done, with these lives of ours. And the intentions underlying our actions.
The majority of people may be living life in a particular way. They may perceive that the purpose, the point, of life, is this or that. What do you perceive the purpose of this life of yours, to be? And does the mentality you are currently, primarily operating under, align well with this life-view? Are certain things particularly difficult, for you, while others might feel like deep, quietly-flowing blessings?
Recently I shared, on this blog of mine, an article authored by my most favourite scholar ever: ‘Suffering as Surrender’, by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. While reading it, I felt like I was shrouded with this unique sense of peace, Alhamdulillah. Sabr and Shukr: these are integral elements in the anatomy of the Muslim. The Muslim struggles; is tested, through his or her health, wealth, through other people, etc.
The Muslim is blessed. Lungs, limbs, water, chai, pillows, plants, and more. Still, though: the very point is to not get too comfortable here. What is it that we take, when we go?
Right now, it may feel like there is this great amount of social pressure on us. Here, in our twenties. To ‘be’ this, and this, and this, and that. To have this, and also that; to focus so much on collecting wealth, and to become super ‘educated’ and ‘cultured’ in a particular set of ways, physically brilliant, and more. Fair: as Muslims, we are not meant to extricate ourselves entirely from what is termed, in Al-Quran, as ‘The Life of Dunya’. However, at the same time, that is certainly not ‘all there is’. Nor is all that stuff the very point of life.
I guess, there is this more private-facing life we must tend to. Taking care of our relationships with our Creator; taking care of ourselves; taking care of our families. Yes, there are our more ‘public-facing’ considerations, too. There might be some pressure; some fear. But remember: many of these things are momentary. Tips of the iceberg, that some may see fleeting glimpses of. Your reality, and what comes after it, are what are truly True. What can either fulfil, or leave hungry, spiritually starving. What endures.
For some people, billionaires and tech moguls and such serve, in their minds, as their ultimate human role models. For others, individuals like Muhammad (SAW), Ibrahim (AS), Yusuf (AS), more so, are. Muhammad (SAW) lived in a very modest way. I cannot seem to find the exact Hadith right now, but, when asked why he lived in such a manner – sleeping, for instance, on mere palm leaves on the floor, sometimes – while Byzantine rulers, for example, enjoyed their palaces and worldly riches, Muhammad (SAW)’s response had been something along the lines of: their riches and such are theirs now, here in this world. Ours may not be here now, but wait for us, in the life after this one.
This is not to say that Muslims are barred, in Islam, from acquiring expensive possessions and such. A nice house, if you are able; a nice car. The point is: as Muslims, we are Muslim no matter what. If owning a Lamborghini and two hundred Gucci belts leads to your sinking so deeply into the temporary comforts of Dunya that you come to forget the life of your eternity: what have you really won?
Yusuf (AS), for example. Once thrown into a well, sold as a slave, in Egypt. Later, appointed as Egypt’s Minister of Finance. Consistent throughout, though: his recognition and remembrance of Truth.
These prophets had been human. They had families; specific difficulties – health issues, interpersonal conflicts and problems, and more. Examples for us to remember, and be comforted through the remembrance of. Examples for us to, in our own ways and in line with who we are and what our own present circumstances may be, follow. They had not, for example, been utterly ‘fearless’ individuals. The point is: at times, they had been deeply afraid, uncertain, upset by the maliciousness of certain people in their lives. They had felt the dark immensities of grief, heartbreak, worry in terms of how they would provide for their families, or about what ‘people’ had been saying about them.
Fear, grief. Deep, and human. You are not alone. Triumph, peace, friendship, and Īmān.
We’ll get there, Bi’ithnillah Ta’aala [with the permission of Allah, the Almighty].
The point is that our blessings lead us to thank our Lord, while our suffering makes us surrender to Him, more. We are always dependent on Him, and a truth we must never forget – until we die and meet the truth, unobstructed, for ourselves:
To our Lord we belong, [and He has Power and Control over all matters,] and to Him we shall return.
“Know that the life of Dunya is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children.”
— Qur’an, (57:20)
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.