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Burying Souls To Build Legacies: Healing in Solitude (Day 4)

“If Allah loves a person, He calls out to [the angel] Gabriel, saying, ‘Allah loves so-and-so, O Gabriel, so love him.’ So Gabriel loves him and then announces in the Heavens: ‘Allah has loved so and-so, therefore love him.’ So all the dwellers of the Heavens would love him, and then he is granted the pleasure of the people on the earth.”

—Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (Sahih Bukhari)

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The “Healing in Solitude” reflections offer a glimpse into the heart of Umm Zakiyyah, as she continues her emotional healing journey during the social distancing lockdown amidst the coronavirus epidemic. Each journal reflection represents a “new day” in her healing journey and/or a new day in the mandatory isolation of social distancing. The following is Day 4:

Two steps forward, one step back. I think that’s how people would describe this, the place where my feet are currently resting on the road of my emotional healing. But alhamdulillah in every circumstance. For truly, no matter what test has befallen me—or is written to befall me still—alhamdulillah: All praise and thanks belong to my Merciful Creator alone.

Dear soul, I say to my aching heart. If your Merciful Creator had not decreed that you suffer the harm, slander, and wrongdoing that you did, then you would quite likely be standing where they are instead of where you are standing right now.

And subhaanAllah, this reminder gives my restless heart the much needed clarification and gratefulness it so badly needs right now. Because even in the midst of my not-yet-healed emotional wounds, my heart is more terrified at the prospect of supporting abuse than suffering it.

In this moment I recall something that I penned in my journal years ago and shared at the end of my book Prejudice Bones In My Body, and I recollect how the tears slipped from my eyes as my heart expressed these words:

O Allah! I thank You for the moments You allowed me to be the one who suffered harm, for perhaps You saved me from being the one who caused harm.

O Allah! I thank You for allowing me to be amongst the oppressed, for perhaps You protected me from being amongst the oppressors.

And O Allah! I thank You for decreeing that I was the one who cried, the pain suffocating me until I begged You to grant me relief. And I thank You for allowing the people to abandon me when I needed them most.

For by Your Grace and Glory, You’ve replaced every sorrow of this world with the tranquil certainty of the Hereafter, and You showed me that there is no abandonment more blessed than that which makes me run to refuge in You.

And O Allah, Al-Ghafoor, forgive me for any harm I’ve caused Your believing servants, even when I imagined I was doing good. And O Allah, Al-Afuw, pardon me for any wrong I’ve done to any of Your creation, even when I imagined I was right. And O Allah, for any servant who cried to You because of what my tongue has spoken, my pen has written, and my hands have sent forth, remove from their heart any anger or animosity toward me, and remove from my heart any anger or animosity toward them. And forgive us both, have mercy on us, and put in our hearts love for Your sake.

And O Allah, keep my heart firm upon Your religion until I meet You, and do not leave me to myself, even for the blink of an eye!

Who Is Your Prophet?

As I sit in the solitude of social distancing, I recall some of the bittersweet parts of my emotional and spiritual journey. I recall my earliest studies of Islam and how deeply moved (and terrified) I was when I first learned of the three questions that every soul will be asked in the grave: Who is your Lord? What is your religion? Who is your prophet?

Today I think on this last one, as it brings to the surface of my heart a painful memory of that spiritually tranquil time.

I was in my early twenties, in my second year of marriage, and embarking on studying the Qur’an and prophetic teachings now that I had finished my undergraduate studies and was a stay-at-home mom. I recall the internal peace I felt at reading the Words of my Merciful Creator and the inspiration I felt at learning from the authentic hadith of His beloved Prophet and Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him).

I recall how I’d spend my time morning to night in spiritual study and worship, and thereafter striving my level best to live in the way that I sincerely believed Allah required of me in this world.

I also recall a spiritual leader whom I loved and respected suddenly calling me one day and demanding that I stop what I was doing. He insisted that I must practice Islam in the way that our community’s chief Imam said we should practice Islam.

He insisted that it was my personal obligation as an African-American woman to blindly follow this chief Imam because he was the “Messenger” whom Allah sent specifically to “our people.” He reminded me that Allah said that He will send a Messenger to every people and every nation, speaking their language and guiding them in the spiritual knowledge and wisdom they needed. He then said that the Messenger whom Allah sent to the African-American people specifically was our chief Imam.

Hearing this took me aback. I’d always known that my small African-American Muslim community had deep respect for the head Imam, as I did. But not for a moment did I imagine that anyone saw him as more than a community leader whose primary role was to support the Muslims in following the Qur’an and prophetic guidance.

In response, I told the spiritual leader that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was the last and final Messenger sent to all of mankind. Then I reminded this spiritual leader of the ayah in the Qur’an where Allah says what has been translated to mean, “Say, [O Muhammad], ‘O mankind, indeed I am the Messenger of Allah to you all…” (Al-‘Araaf, 7:158).

The spiritual leader grew angry and said, “Prophet Muhammad is dead! Our Imam is alive! We don’t have to look to a dead man to know how to live our lives!” He then said that our chief Imam was taught directly by Allah, was Jesus incarnate, and was carrying the soul of Prophet Muhammad with him. He said that this chief Imam was not only the personal “Messenger” to the African-American people but was also “the light of humanity” to all of the world. Thus, it was our chief Imam, and not an Arab man from centuries ago, who was sent as a Messenger to all the worlds.

I told him that I didn’t believe that because that’s not what the Qur’an says. He then told me it was my duty to understand the Qur’an as the chief Imam taught it, not according to what it actually said.

Building Legacies By Harming Souls

After I made it clear to the spiritual leader that I would follow the guidance of the Qur’an and the prophetic teachings over the spiritual beliefs of the chief Imam, he promised to ruin my reputation as far as he was able. He promised to contact everyone who knew me, who respected me, or who thought well of me and tell them what a horrible person I “really” was.

Then he took very deliberate steps to fulfill that promise—even reaching out to my closest friends and loved ones and painting me as an arrogant, deranged girl who was losing her mind. He embellished the details of our disagreements and sensationalized the truth so that he could convince them that I was brazenly disrespecting him as a spiritual leader while openly denigrating the legacy of our chief Imam.

When I asked him why he was doing this, he said he was not going to allow anyone to disrupt the honorable legacy of “our African-American leader.” In other words, he saw it necessary to make my story a cautionary tale, a warning to others to never follow my path.

He said he saw it as his mission to make sure that no one turned away from the blessing we had in “the light of humanity” (i.e. the chief Imam) whom Allah sent as a guide to our people and the world. Therefore, my public humiliation, slander, and character assassination were justified as a means to build and protect the chief Imam’s “honorable legacy.”

Only Our Image Matters, Not Our Souls?

Over the years, I’ve shared bits and pieces of my story in my writings. However, the reaction has not always been favorable. Few people wanted to hear it, some cast doubt on whether or not I was telling the truth, and many saw me as the spiritual leader saw me: harming the legacy of “our people” by speaking my truth.

In these people’s minds, since African-Americans had suffered so much already, we couldn’t afford to reveal any painful truths regarding anything that had happened in our communities. “We get enough bad press,” one sister said, taking issue with a blog I’d posted in which I shared part of my story.

It was the same point of view that so many of “my people” expressed in the Netflix documentary, Who Killed Malcolm X? In the case of Malcolm X, may Allah have mercy on him, far too many people saw his murder, as well as the wrongful imprisonment of two innocent men, as justified in the name of protecting some elusive legacy.

After watching it, I wrote this entry in my journal:

When you are being harmed or threatened by “one of your own”—especially if it’s someone your people love and praise—there is no place of safety for you, and there is nowhere you can run for help. Should any real harm come to you, they’ll find a way to say it’s your own doing, or that you brought it on yourself. This, because you “disrespected” someone whose right to honor and reverence (allegedly) matter more than your very existence, and even more than your right to your own soul.

This is the story of my life.

And here’s what I learned: You’ll always be a threat to those who see you merely as a pawn in their own game, and who see it as a vicious affront for you to choose the safety of your soul over the “honor” of worshipping them.

I was completely unprepared for this visceral lesson to be presented so plainly and painfully while watching the “Who Killed Malcolm X?” Netflix documentary. It deeply triggered me and uncovered so many old wounds that I thought had healed. 

This story is the commentary on so many buried black souls.

Blaming stuff like this on “the white man” is about as sensible as blaming the devil for your own sins. Yes, maybe he benefited from it and even encouraged you to do it. But in the end, you still did it. And on the Day of Judgment, that’s all that will matter for YOUR soul.

O Allah! du'aa quote

When Do We Choose Our Souls?

Hearing sentiments like “We get enough bad press” is so heartbreaking to me that I often don’t have the words to express the pain I feel upon hearing it. But the frequency with which I hear it tells me that so many of us are willing to have hundreds of thousands of their own people being abused and harmed in private, and so long as they keep their mouths shut about it, it’s all good.

This “private suffering for the greater good” is allegedly for the noble purpose of making sure that racists (who already think badly about us, no matter what we do) won’t have yet another “bad thing” to add to their proof against our humanity.

But in my view, our private struggles and imperfections are merely proof of our humanity. We are, after all, only human beings. And like all human beings, amongst us are those who are striving to please their Creator and live a soul-nourishing life, and amongst us are those who are striving to please their nafs (lower self) and are being influenced by Shaytaan (the devil), whether knowingly or unknowingly. But most of us—like most humans on earth—are wavering somewhere in between.

Meanwhile, so many souls are suffering, because somehow, in every group of people—regardless of skin color, ethnicity, or religion—misguided humans find a way to equate protecting an elusive public image with silencing or burying painful truths. Then we stunt or block others’ healing, thereby guaranteeing their suffering and that of their children. Consequently, transgenerational trauma and abuse continues while we uphold this culture of harming souls in the name of protecting some “honorable legacy.”

It was in realizing this heartbreaking trend that I wrote this reflection in my journal, as I share in my book Pain. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah:

Many Muslims do not seek healing from childhood wounds because they think that to do so is blaming their parents. In this, they are like ones struck by accidental gunfire, but they refuse treatment because the person didn’t intend to harm them. So the wound festers until even those around them suffer, as the person remains in pain and agony while refusing any means of treatment.

When asked about their pain or illness, they respond by speaking of the good traits of the one who inflicted it, imagining that this makes them pious and “respectful.” But they eventually die from health complications incited by an infected, untreated wound. They thereby leave behind no legacy except learned helplessness and the “honor” of harming the self in the name of piety.

The Arm of Moses

One thing that both my healing journey and spiritual studies have taught me is this: Protecting a legacy never requires hiding painful truths or harming innocent souls. True legacies stand strong even in the face of painful truths—and true legacies nourish the human soul; they don’t harm it.

In reflecting on true human legacies in history, even in the face of painful truths, I think of the frown of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the hands of ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattaab (may Allah be pleased with him), and the arm of Moses (Prophet Moosaa, peace be upon him).

I remind myself how in the chapter titled ‘Abasa (surah 80) in the Qur’an, Allah did not hide the mistake of the Prophet in how “he frowned and turned away” when a blind man came to him interrupting some important da’wah (spiritual teaching) he was doing. Allah didn’t even hide (in Al-Ahzaab, 33:37) the embarrassing truth about how the Prophet felt ashamed to tell the people about being commanded to marry the former wife of his adopted son, fearing what the people would think.

Yet despite these “imperfect” and naturally painful parts of his humanity, the powerful, indisputable legacy of our Beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) lives on.

I also remind myself of how in the Islamic history books, it is not hidden that the hands of the famous Companion of the Prophet, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattaab (may Allah be pleased with him) once carried a sword intended to kill the Prophet himself, and also during the Days of Ignorance, those same hands buried his young daughter alive.

Yet Allah guided this man, honored this man, chose him as one of the best Muslims for all time, then assigned him as the caliph of the believers. And despite the painful truth of his past, the indisputable, honorable legacy of ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattaab (may Allah be pleased with him) lives on.

I also remind myself of how in both the Qur’an and the scriptural history of the People of the Book, we know that the strong arm of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) struck a man so fiercely that this blow ended in the man’s wrongful death. Yet that same arm was the one in which Allah placed the rod that would split the Red Sea and bring the Children of Israel to safety.

And till today, not a single Jew, Christian, and Muslim even attempts to hide the painful truth that the arm of Moses once killed a man. Yet still, not a single Jew, Christian, or Muslim denies that this man remains a noble Prophet and Messenger (peace be upon him) and has an honorable station in front of His Lord, in this world and in the Hereafter.

In other words, in the hearts of all of us, the legacy of Moses is not tainted in the least due to the painful truth of his past. Rather, the powerful, indisputable legacy of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) remains despite it.

And even as Allah Himself mentions in the Qur’an the wrongful death suffered due to the arm of Moses, a huge part of the legacy of this noble Prophet is highlighted in another story that involves that same arm: Through that powerful arm of Moses, God chose to split a sea, grant victory to the believers over the tyrannical Pharaoh, and guide the Children of Israel to the path of worshipping their Creator.

Building a Legacy or Beautifying a Lie?

True legacies don’t require us to lie, to hide painful truths, or to harm a single human soul striving to please his or her Creator.

And if we are sincerely worried about harm coming to us due to us being an already vulnerable group of people who are so often unprotected in this world, I ask us to sincerely reflect on the Words of our Merciful Creator, which have been translated to mean:

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, your parents, your kin, and whether it be [against] rich or poor. For Allah can best protect both. So follow not the lusts [of your hearts], lest you may avoid justice. And if you distort [justice] or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do” (An-Nisaa, 4:135).

These are the Words that we so often quote to justify speaking up for justice against others. But how often we forget that these divine Words also urge us to speak us against our own selves. Meanwhile, Allah is fully aware of our vulnerable position when we fulfill this duty, whether we are of the privileged or underprivileged, hence His saying, “…For Allah can best protect both.”

And since all honor and protection ultimately come from Allah alone, not a single word uttered against a true living legacy—especially if it is the truth—has the ability to disrupt this honor and protection in any way. For if Allah loves someone, it is He who will ensure not only their safety and protection, but also that their name becomes beloved amongst His believers on earth. And not even the most well-crafted smear campaign from all corners of the earth can ruin the honorable legacy of someone whom Allah has decided will be honored in this world generation after generation.

Protect Your Soul, Allah Protects Legacies

So dear believing soul, know this and know it well, and then teach it to your heart: Never in human history has our Merciful Creator ever condoned lying, silencing painful truths, and harming innocent souls to protect the honorable legacy of any of His servants.

In fact, our All-Wise Creator put those very painful truths in divine public record—in the Qur’an itself—for everyone to read till the end of time. And not a single one of those painful truths—whether in the frown of the Prophet, the hand of ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattaab, or the arm of Moses—takes away from the legacies of His true, honorable believers in this world.

In fact, their legacy stands taller, stronger, and more honorable than so many others who never frowned at a blind man, who never buried their child alive, and who never killed a man.

So why am I being asked to bury my soul to protect a legacy? my heart asks.

In reality, there are only two groups of people who see it as their duty to silence painful truths and destroy innocent souls for the “noble purpose” of building a legacy: cults and abusers.

So dear soul, if this is your method of protecting the legacy of anyone you love or admire, then sincerely ask yourself: Which one are you?

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Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of more than twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. She recently launched her “Choosing To Love Alone” series via UZuniversity.com to support struggling believers seeking to nourish their emotional and spiritual health.

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