I’d like to explore a theme around the issue of difficulty; in Sura Alam Nashrah. Allah says “Fa inna ma’l-yusri yusra, inna ma’l-yusri yusra”. He repeats it twice and “inna ma’l-yusri yusra” is normally interpreted that after difficulty there comes ease and this is certainly how I first understood and learned the sura. And then one day, many years ago, I was listening to Haji Issa Bryce after a dhikr and he was doing a dars and he spoke about this sura and he said people misunderstand those few ayats, “fa inna ma’l-yusri yusra”. “Verily with difficulty there is ease.” And he referred to the principle of Shaykh Ali al-Jamal who said the meaning of a thing is in it’s opposite, is hidden in it’s opposite, which suggests that how we normally deal with trouble and difficulty in our lives is sort-of inappropriate, because we really should see these things as openings.
It is when things start going well that the faqir gets worried.
I’ve heard a number of shuyukh say when a faqir, when a person on the Path has trouble, then he knows that he’s basically on firm ground. It is when things start going well that the faqir gets worried because then he knows that sooner or later the difficulty is about to hit him. Because it is like that – when you are outwardly constricted you are inwardly expanded and when you are inwardly constricted you are outwardly expanded. You don’t have inward expansion and outward expansion simultaneously. Nor do you have inner and outer constriction.
If you think about the times when you probably had the most profound experiences in your life, it’s normally when you were outwardly quite constricted. Whereas when you are, in a sense, rolling in wealth and pleasure, there is very little time for an inner life. Allah says in Sura Nasr that when the nasr of Allah comes and people will come into the Deen in droves then don’t forget your Lord. Now the implication of this is that we are about to forget our Lord when things go well. And the reason for this is that we think that when things go well we have this incredible propensity to ascribe our success to our own doings. And when things go wrong we blame Allah – we say “Look at what Allah has done! Allah has taken away this and He has destroyed that or He brought this curse on my life.”
In truth there is only bliss – there is no curse.
The mu’min understands that all blessings come from Allah and all curses come from his own self. Because in truth there is only bliss – there is no curse. Whatever happens to you happens in order to enable something higher, something more, to enable growth. Now when we are confirmed, when you are affirmed, this is not a reason to change, this is not a reason to grow. It’s a reason to stay the same. So, in fact, the worst thing that can happen to you is if life always does pleasant things to you because then you will assume that things are going fine and therefore I’m going fine.
When does one change? When does one really grow? When does one really come to grips with oneself? It is when there is outer constriction and you are forced to revisit your own intent. Why am I doing these things? What are my reasons for doing these things? So in a sense the meaning of a thing is again in it’s opposite. The great openings come not because life affirms you and you have a wonderful experience, a comfortable experience. The great openings come because life negates you. It is because you suffer constriction and constraint. It is when that happens that you are thrown back into yourself.
The great openings come .. because you suffer constriction and constraint.
So, one can almost typify two ways of responding to the world. That is, when you are immature and you are not looking at life as it is when things go wrong you blame Allah and when things go right you claim it for yourself. You say, “Look at what a clever fellow I am!” So the man gets a nice car or he gets a nice wife, he gets a nice job and he struts, wanting people to affirm him because of how clever he is because he is so enchanted with his life. On the other hand when the same person experiences difficulty he blames everybody else and he blames his wife, he blames the house, he blames the car and he blames Allah. “O! My life is so miserable and it is all so unjust!”
The mu’min does exactly the opposite. When things go right he says, “Hadha min fadli Rabbi” – This is from the overflowing blessing of my Lord. And when things go wrong he recognizes that Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in their own self, which means, that when things go wrong and he’s having difficulty, he doesn’t blame the world. He looks within. And he says, “What am I making important to me that I shouldn’t be making important that is causing this pain?” Because any pain that you experience in the world is based on the assumption that you need that thing to be happy. All constrictions based on the assumption that for me to be happy there’s something out there that I need to get.
Now, when Allah withholds that, when He takes away the thing from you that you think is the root of your happiness, He throws you back into yourself with a question, “Why am I making this thing so important to me? Why is it that this thing has made me so unhappy?” So, a person who is mature and has difficulty in his life has the tool whereby he can examine himself and examine his motives, examine his own intent. Because these people take Allah’s Words seriously. Allah says, “I only change the condition of a people if they change what is in themselves.” It means the difficulty that I face is nothing but a reflection of what is in me.
The difficulty that I face is nothing but a reflection of what is in me.
It’s perfectly true that if wealth is very important to me then I will be made miserable by way of being compromised and I’ll be happy by having a lot of wealth. And what Allah will do is He’ll give you the wealth and He’ll take it away and He’ll give you and He’ll take away until you get to a point where you say I’m tired of this roundabout of elation and depression based upon how much is in my bank account. I’d much rather handle on this by placing the source of my delight somewhere other than on something that can be taken away. It also suggests that all of these things that are the source of our happiness, are in fact subsets of shirk, of idolatry, because it is making something significant, more significant than it should be. I mean, if you are depressed because of the loss of wealth then understand that you’ve made a god out of the wealth. If you’re depressed because of the loss of health then you’ve made your own health something that is significant. Laa ilaha illa’llah means there is none other to be worshipped, nothing truly significant other than the All Significant which is Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala.
So, being on the Path, journeying, really does suggest that you are far more reflective about difficulty in your life and you don’t judge it that easily. You view these tests that come to you as tests of patience. You view them as a pushback that Allah is giving you so that you can make something better possible, so that you can change and work with your own intent. So, when one faces a disaster, rather than just rushing off and trying to address the problem by trying to fix the thing that’s been damaged, I think the first question to ask oneself when something goes wrong and you are put into a state of turmoil, “Why am I put into this state of turmoil?” “Why have I made this thing so important to me that, in being compromised, it happened to me, it turns me inside out?” Anything that I lose, my reaction to losing that thing, says more about me than about the thing I lost.
So, may Allah grant us patience on this Path. May He make it easy for us. May He give us a spirit of equanimity to be able to face both the disaster and the delight as equal impostors!
May Allah Grant us nearness to Him.
May He Grant us annihilation in Him.
May He Grant us death before we die.
This discourse was given spontaneously after a session of dhikr on 19th September 2004.