Do we know what’s good for us?

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In one of his articles, Dr. Bilal Philips (a famous Islamic scholar)  narrates a story that involves tragedy, drama, and joy. The story is about an Egyptian teacher whose photograph appeared in a local newspaper. The picture showed his smiling and happy face with his hands stretched out and both thumbs sticking up; his father was kissing him on one cheek and his sister on the other cheek.

The newspaper narrated his story about working as a teacher in Bahrain. After a brief visit back home in Egypt, he was returning to join work and thus taking a flight from Cairo to Bahrain. However, at the airport he wasn’t allowed to get on the flight because he had one “stamp” missing on his Passport. This made the teacher distraught, thinking that his career was over because this flight was the last one back to Bahrain which would have enabled him to report back on time, missing which also meant that he would lose his job. He thus became quite frantic, but his endless crying, screaming, and explanations to the airport staff could not get him on the plane. His family comforted him to accept Allahs decree.

Disappointed, he returned home only to learn a few hours later that the flight he was meant to take (Gulf Air flight GF072) crashed killing everyone on board.

While feeling sad for the passengers onboard, he along with his family thanked Allah for His decree. The day he thought was the most tragic day of his career and life, ended up to be the happiest one averting a tragedy for him and his family.

We are reminded of such signs in Surah al-Kahf, a surah that Muslims are instructed by the prophet to read every Friday. In it is the story of Prophet Musa (Moses) and Khidr. Khidr bore a hole in the boat of the people who took him and Musa across the river. This made Musa question (and object) to such an action as the owners of the boat were quiet poor and obviously weren’t happy to what was done to their boat. However, as it became apparent later, an oppressor King came down to the river and forcefully took away all the boats except the one with a hole in it. So the owners of the boat praised Allah due to the fact that there was a hole in their boat.

We learn from this story that in times of distress or when we desire something badly, we shouldn’t always assume what’s good for us and what’s not because Allah may have decreed a different outcome. As Allah says in the Quran (part of the verse):

“….and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.” (Quran Al-Baqarah:216)

When struck by an affliction therefore, we have to be patient and in control of oneself. That is possible when we elevate ourselves to a high enough spiritual level where our Iman or Faith in Allah can help us ride the wave.

We can also stay in control by not losing our sense of reasoning that can help us provide better perspective of the situation. ibn al-qayyim said, “patience can be defined as a manner of spiritual superiority by virtue of which we refrain ourselves from doing evil. it is also a faculty of the intellect that enables us to live properly in this world.” Qatada said, “Allah has created angels having reason but with no desires, animals have desires and no reason, and man has both reason and desires. Therefore, if one’s reason is stronger than his desires, he is like an angel. On the other hand, if his desires are stronger, he is like an animal.” (ibn Al-Qayyim – “The Way to Patience and Gratitude.”)

The take away lesson for us is that we can improve the quality of our lives by making an effort to train ourselves to be patient, i.e. to elevate our levels of faith and to understand the dynamics that reasoning plays in staying patient.

As the prophet mentioned in a hadith,

“……..whoever strives to be patient, Allah will make him patient” (Al-Bukhari).”

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