Struggle, Pain, and Happiness/Patience
By Omar Nasim
I am sitting on my comfortable orange reclining chair, in front of my computer screen, which is situated in my room. The desk that holds the computer is covered with books, and all the luxuries one can ask for. As a coffee mug continues to occupy a section of my desk for the past few days, it stares at me as I begin to write this article about struggling and the pain of such struggle. The irony is evident. But sometimes irony is the best way to realize the importance of something.
We live in the age of popular culture, the age where being 'cool' (ex. Amer Iqbal) or being a 'geek' (ex. Bill Gates) are both in. Even though the two sorts of people are totally contradictory, they both hold the status of being 'in'. The culture of immediate gratification, and immediate desire. Almost anything material we want can be gained through the touch of a button. When we wish for entertainment we can go to any screen, be it of a television or a computer, and be satisfied. When we desire information, we can click our 'mouse' and receive the information in a few seconds. If the information takes more than a few seconds, then we immediately get angry at the speed of the computer, and we go buy a new one. Books are becoming obsolete, because they follow a certain sequence. We do not like anything that will take time, and sequences and the methodical 'turning of a page' takes too much time. So we turn to images and nice pictures for our information. We are consumers. When we want something we get it, by going to the nearest shopping mall. The shops in the mall never seem to run out of the product that we so desire and yearn for.
I have dragged on the introduction just to test your patience. Patience is just my point. Above I have shown how we live in the culture of the immediate. The immediate is the opposite to patience. There is no place for patience in the times we live in. Everything is an 'Here' and 'Now' event. The present is everything. The future is only tomorrow's present, nothing else. Thus, patience as a virtue has been totally eliminated by our culture.
Information is gained immediately, and that is why its called information. If information could be gained any faster, it would be called 'data'. If it was gained through patience, with effort, and struggle, then it would be called knowledge. This is the knowledge of our Prophet (saw), the companions and our scholars. They had to struggle for knowledge. The highest level of such struggle for knowledge is when you practice that knowledge, this level is called wisdom. This is the hardest stage, for it is the level that requires the most patience, simply because it is the level with the most tests and difficulties. But the results of this level are tremendous and the most beautiful. It is this level that makes a man and a woman. It is this level that makes a true believer, and it is this stage where ideal possibilities are made real and actual. Thus did the Prophet Ibrahim (as) ask Allah; "Our Lord! send among them a Messenger of their own, who shall rehearse Thy signs to them and instruct them in Scripture and Wisdom, and sanctify them: For Thou are the Exalted in might and The Wise" (2:129). Imam Shafi'i says, that the scripture mentioned in this verse is referred to the Qur'an and the Wisdom is reference to the Prophet Mohammad's (saw) actions, sayings, struggles, methods, i.e., his Sunnah.
Further, computers can never gain knowledge and wisdom, but can only posses and/or process information and data. So there should be no real worry, just because the world chess champion, Kasparov, has lost against IBM's "Deeper Blue", a super-computer that is able to compute two hundred million chess moves a second. Or should we be worried? I am stubborn at times, and this is one of those times. I will answer by saying that there is still no need to be worried. For, the computer is not able to struggle and be caused any suffering and pain. What makes the human being great is that it is capable of taking on burdens that promise suffering and difficulties. Any rational agent, or creature, even a computer that one day is able to 'think', would avoid suffering at all costs. But the Muslim is special, he or she is much beyond such lowly notions of existence. The Muslim has a secret, he knows that with suffering and pain for the sake of Allah comes success and the True happiness, with a capital 'T'. Thus did the Prophet say that those who suffer the most are the Prophets, and next to them are those who are a degree lower than they, and so on. Although, it should be noted, that I do not mean we should run out and suffer for the sake of suffering. No! What I mean is that we should expect it when we work for the sake of Allah. These sorts of things are only to test us. And there are two keys that guarantee our success in these tests, they are our trust in Allah, and our patience. Whatever Allah does for us or puts in our way, is always for the best. This is beautifully expressed in the story of Moses in the Surah tul-Kahf (The Cave) of the Qur'an. In this story we find Moses being tried by Allah through a Wise man. The Wise man does things that seem immediately irrational. That is, if one were to look at the things the man did, like kill a young boy, put a hole in a boat that they were in, and so on, when taken in the immediate look foolish. That is why Moses kept asking for reasons for the Wise man's actions, but only found the reply, "did I not tell you that you cannot have any patience with me?" (18:72). But when these events are taken in an eternal and holistic fashion, one will see that Allah was justified in such cases, and that the only way to see this would be to be patient and have trust in Allah. So we should not be stuck in the immediate. Rather we should look beyond, where we will find that things that happen to us may seem bad at the moment, but they are ultimately always for the best. That is why the Prophet (saw) was always in total amazement of the believer, because when pricked by a thorn, he would always say "Praise be to Allah", and when put in a happy state of affairs, he still would cry "Praise be to Allah".
We have in the Islamic history, many examples of those who have suffered for the sake of Allah. We have the Prophet Mohammad (saw), we have the many Companions who were tortured, but never flinched. We have the many scholars and leaders, including Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Ibn Taymiyyah, 'Izudeen Abdul-Salam, Abdul Hamid al-Ghazali, Hassan Al-Banna, Abu 'Ala Maududi, Syed Qutb, Isma'il al-Faruqi, and Zainab al-Ghazali, to name just a few, may Allah have mercy upon them all. Who suffered for Truth either physically, psychologically, intellectually, spiritually, collectively and so on. This is nothing to shy away from, but it must be faced with patience and courage, for it is the only true mold for our service and servitude to Allah. It is what makes us believers and amongst the righteous. This finite pain will be our sacrifice to Allah, for a happiness and joy that is eternal and infinite.
In addition, upon further thought, we find that immediacy in gratification of low desires has no meaning and no purpose. The meaning is lost when the immediate is expressed for its own sake. When the 'Here' and 'Now' are the only things on people's minds, they do not care for meaning, because meaning can only be found over time, and the passage of time requires some patience. That is why now we find people trying to find meaning, but find none, and end up giving meaning to the meaningless. Also purpose is lost in actions and thoughts. Purpose is found only in consideration of the future. But when future is only an immediate present waiting to happen 'now', then there is no purpose, but only randomness and chaotic action and thought. This amounts to nothing but an illusion. And that is exactly what the immediate is, an illusion, as the Qur'an states it, "... for the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception." And it continues in the next verse, "You shall be certainly be tried and tested, in your possessions and in your personal selves; and you shall hear much that will grieve you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if you persevere patiently and guard against evil, then that will be a determining factor in all affairs." (3:185-186).
Hence we must sacrifice the immediate gratification of our desires, and find our abode in patience. Once we take on the garb of patience, then we must become prepared for trial. Trial's, when passed, only increase your faith, your knowledge, your humanity, your love, your infinite desires, your closeness to Reality, and it is what brings us closer to perfection. Again the irony is in my writing, but the irony is tragic, and from the tragic one always builds and learns. Thus the beauty.