One of the things we all must do is take the Qur’an and the hadith, and let them infuse our understanding of our own life. For example, a famous hadith states, “Verily the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s womb for forty days in the form of a nutfah (a drop), then he becomes an ‘alaqah (clot of blood) for a like period, then a mudghah (morsel of flesh) for a like period, then there is sent to him the angel who blows his soul into him and who is commanded with four matters: to write down his rizq (sustenance), his life span, his actions, and whether he will be happy or unhappy (i.e. whether or not he will enter Paradise).” (Hadith #4 in Imam al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith) This hadith speaks to everyone, for it speaks to the depth of the reality of our existence in this world. But we cannot simply quote it – we must grapple with what it means for the particulars of our life.
A brilliant friend of mine shared with me something that she wrote which opened up new levels of reflecting on this reality. It is not meant to be a commentary on this hadith, but it is. It is a deeply existential reflection on the fact that the foundations of our life are not volitional, they are passive. Once we become adults with agency and choice, we struggle with everything that was done to us in the womb and in childhood. This is an exemplary piece of writing that has opened up for me new depths in reflecting on the nature of the Divine Decree, and I hope others who read it will benefit from it as well.
“I was born on July 16, 1990 at 7:16 PM in Ames, Iowa. At that point in time, I was not born into a blank universe. Already, billions of other people were at all kinds of other stages in life: some just born like me, some partway through their PhD like my dad, some on their deathbed like Valentin Pikul, some died in an earthquake in the Phillipines (and they were all at different stages in life), some were starting their talk-show host career, someone was buying a carrot at a Safeway, someone was using birth control, someone was overcoming a caffeine addiction, someone was lecturing their son, and someone was writing a letter to their mother-in-law, someone was in cat’s stretch, someone was wearing a red sweater, someone was debating the labor costs of their sweatshop, someone was protesting sweatshops, someone was cold, someone was itchy. All of these people, places, actions, events were imperfect: they had moments of spiritual un-centeredness, at some points people forgot that they were unconditionally loved. At some points, people remembered. And look at the year: 1990. That’s a lot of years after Jesus (peace be upon him), and a lot more years after the beginning of humanity, and a lot more years after the beginning of earth as a water-based planet. Politics, the movement and use of power, had existed for a really long time by the time it was July 16, 1990. I had just been a fetus for 9 months when it was July 16, 1990 at 7:16 PM. Even biochemically, before I had the hands and brain and memory to decide what molecules were going to enter my bloodstream (and sufficient learning about chemistry, and food, and history of oppression in sourcing of food), my mom had eaten whatever she was eating during those nine months, and those became part of me, without my choice.
So if you think I chose to be uncentered, there is a lot more proof that there was a lot that happened before my brain grew up and caught up that was outside of my choice. Say the Dunkin’ Donuts my mother ate put a lot of sugar in me and I had a sugar addiction before I could talk, that may have predisposed me to choose to eat foods to numb myself when I was a witness to violence when I was 4 years old, also too young to understand conflict resolution to end the cycles of violence. We call them cycles because when one thing is out of place, by definition of place-coordinates, everything is out of place. So I entered a world where everything was out of place, when it was July 16, 1990. So, if I am confused, if I struggle, if I make mistakes, it is more likely that it is not my deep, internal, spiritual fault: it is more likely that I just entered a really confusing world and got confused (past participle) by it. Neither am I to blame for this, nor are the constituents of that confusing world, for they too were born just as I was into this confusing world. No one wasn’t.”
We are all stuck in our past, aware of our present, and hoping in the future. We are conditioned to think in time and space, and our memories are sometimes so profound or traumatic that we cannot exist in the present if we bring them to the surface. It is just too much. But we must open all of the doors of our heart and let God in. God already knows every trauma, suffering, and anxiety – he created us to have “issues.” Sometimes those issues are from something that was done to us, and other times they come from something we do to our selves. But it is okay to have issues, for it is through confronting our issues that we draw ever closer to God. When we say “subhan Allah (سبحان الله),” which the Prophet (peace be upon him) recommended we say often, we are saying “God is exalted above and beyond all of the creation.” All of it. All that has ever happened to you, me, or any human being who ever walked the earth.
God is absolute freedom, which means that liberation is not a socio-historical process, a state of political becoming. It is an ever-present reality that is brought nearer and nearer by the utterance of, belief in, and actions inspired by the reality of subhan Allah. It is the infusion of our present consciousness with the remembrance that God can heal all wounds, fill all needs, and exceed all hopes at any moment and in every moment, forever.
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