“And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you excel others. For men there is reward for what they have earned, [and likewise] for women there is reward for what they earned. And ask Allah of His Bounty. Surely, Allah is Ever All-Knower of everything.”
—Qur’an (Al-Nisaa, The Women) 4:32
I resented my husband. It wasn’t a feeling I was particularly proud of. But it was there, fermenting in my heart nonetheless. I had no idea how I got to that dark place, but I couldn’t see my way out. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I even saw it as a dark place. It was just life, my life.
I tried hard to fight the dark waters of agony and depression. But no matter how many Islamic classes I attended, how much Arabic I learned, and how much Qur’an I studied, recited, and memorized, the dark waters would throttle me and pull me in. At times I feared I would drown in my confusion and pain. But I continued to fight and fight. I fought for my marriage. I fought for my sanity. I fought for my emaan.
Until I couldn’t fight anymore.
Eventually, I feared I could no longer be Muslim. I wanted to be Muslim, but I felt that I just didn’t have the mental, emotional, or spiritual capacity anymore. I wondered if this was what it felt like to have the dark veil of disbelief closing over your heart.
“Some people were created as fodder for the Hellfire,” my friend had said to me one day, “and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
I wondered if I was one of them.
Why Do Men Get So Much and Women So Little?
As I felt my heart hardening and the emaan leaving my heart, I was overcome with feelings of worthlessness as a woman. I felt that my only value on earth was in servitude to others, especially men. I felt that I had no value even in front of my Lord, except that I could make someone else’s life better, happier, or complete.
During this time, I became resentful not only of my husband but also of men in general. And the scholars and imams I turned to for answers didn’t help any. In fact, they made matters worse. It seemed like all their teachings centered around placing women’s entire value in pleasing their husbands and obeying their leaders.
In other words, I felt like they were telling me that it was only through disappearing myself from existence that I had any meaningful existence to Allah.
It would take years of suffering before I was able to finally see myself as a full human being whose value was not dependent on what I could offer men or anyone else. Upon this realization, I penned the following entry in my journal which I share in my book Pain. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah: You don’t need to be someone’s wife, mother, or daughter to experience your high status as a woman in Islam. You need to be only the best of yourself—a believer—and Allah raises your ranks by your own merit and deeds.
You Will Be Tested
Today I know that the terrifying dark period that I went through was just one of the many trials of life. However, at the time, I assumed I was just a bad Muslim whose qadr was overtaking her in treading a customized path to Hellfire.
Yes, like nearly every Muslim, I’d heard a great deal about the most momentous battle being our jihaadul-nafs (the internal battle of the self against the self), but I’d never dreamed it could reach that dark, debilitating level. However, Allah has made it very clear that no one will be able to get by on merely claiming to have emaan. In the Qur’an, Allah asks what has been translated to mean, “Do people think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe’ and that they will not be tested?” (Al-‘Ankaboot, 29:2).
He also lets us know that the severe trials in life are not limited to losing our worldly possessions and withstanding harassment and abuse from disbelievers. He tells us that the severe trials of life include being tested within our very selves: “You shall certainly be tried and tested in your wealth and properties and within your personal selves…” (Ali ‘Imraan, 3:186).
And our only hope in passing these tests is in focusing on protecting our emaan and purifying our hearts.
Balance Is Achieved Through the Heart
The heart is the great equalizer. This is what I’ve come to realize about the confusing struggles and apparent “imbalances” in this life, imbalances that once distressed me to the point of nearly losing my faith. Whether we are looking at the apparent imbalance of power between the privileged and underprivileged, the rich and poor, white people and black people, and even husband and wife, none of this is the point in life. The point is in how our hearts comprehend and respond to these ostensible “imbalances” during our brief journey to the grave. If we view worldly trials and imbalances of power as representations of humans’ ultimate worth, we lose sight of the whole purpose in life: purification of the heart and connecting to our Creator.
When we allow our hearts to imbibe the “imbalances” of life as ultimate representations of the essence of who we are (whether in inferiority or superiority in comparison to others), then we begin to believe life is unfair. This misguided thinking ultimately leads us to believe God Himself is unfair and that organized religions like Islam are unjust. Once our hearts embrace this toxic mindset, we begin to embrace spiritually destructive concepts like atheism and shirk (worship of creation).
The Prideful and Resentful Are Inferior
The privileged person whose heart is filled with pride or entitlement due to what they imagine to be their “superior” status (whether due to skin color, gender, bloodline, marriage, nationality, or great wealth) becomes the truly inferior person in front of Allah. Likewise, the underprivileged person whose heart is filled with resentment or entitlement due to what they imagine to be their “inferior” status (whether due to skin color, gender, bloodline, marriage, nationality, or lacking wealth) too becomes the truly inferior person in front of Allah.
Unless they repent and work to change their hearts and spiritual practice before they die.
In other words, it doesn’t matter where you’re standing during your time on this earthly dirt. It matters only how your heart comprehends (and responds to) your temporary stations and experiences on this earthly dirt.
Because ultimately, we will all be lowered into this earthly dirt and answer for how we spent our time upon it.
Life Is a Marathon
Our life in this world is like a customized marathon that has only one requirement for the win: cross the finish line without giving up, no matter how exhausted or distracted you feel in the process—and no matter whom you imagine to be ahead of you. And all of these worldly experiences, struggles, enjoyments and pains are like dancing clowns and hecklers on the sidelines whose only job is to distract you from seeing and crossing that finish line.
Those whose heart is focused on the goal—the finish line—do not allow themselves to be unnecessarily distracted by the commotion and shouting on the sidelines, no matter how disturbing or flattering the shouts and jeers.
However, a hurting, wounded heart weighed down by feelings of worthlessness isn’t able to even stand or walk properly during its life’s marathon. The person’s wounded heart makes them too weak and exhausted to even see the finish line in front of them.
For this reason, it is incumbent upon all of us who are “walking wounded” to heal our hurting hearts by continuously turning to Allah for help and by removing ourselves from relationships and environments that are causing or deepening the wounding of our hearts and souls.
Allah Owes You Nothing
It took me months and years of emotional and spiritual healing before my heart could comprehend the profundity and beauty of this basic truth: Allah owes you nothing. Whether it is wealth, health, a certain type of marriage, children, or even faith itself; Allah doesn’t owe it to you. Thus, feelings of resentment, frustration, and anger regarding your ostensibly “inferior” life station and painful life experiences don’t make any sense.
Allah is the Creator of all, so He can do what He pleases, how He pleases, and when He pleases; and He isn’t answerable for a single thing He decrees. He can raise the status of some people and lower the status of others—in this world or in the Hereafter—and there is not a single injustice involved, no matter how “imbalanced” these decisions appear to us.
In fact, the apparent imbalance itself is merely an illusion. Why? Because in His divine wisdom and justice, Allah has made our hearts the great equalizer.
In other words, it is the ultimate joy or suffering of the human heart that determines the true essence of what we experience in life. Furthermore, it is the ultimate spiritual purity of the human heart that determines any person’s true superiority in this world. Those with the purest hearts enjoy both the highest status and the greatest enjoyment in this world—and in the Hereafter—even if their ostensible worldly stations appear “inferior” or off-putting to other people. Similarly, those with the most resentful and prideful hearts suffer both the lowest status and the most agonizing suffering in this world and in the Hereafter.
This is not to say that those with the purest hearts don’t suffer physical and emotional pain like others do. In fact, those with the purest hearts suffer the severest trials in comparison to other people. It’s just that whatever true believers face in this world is merely a means to purify their hearts and increase their love and gratefulness toward their Creator.
Unfortunately, so many of us get so distracted by the details of our life’s test or by the rights enjoyed by other people that we forget that these details are completely irrelevant in comparison to the higher goal: purifying the heart.
Self-Care Helps Purify the Heart
When I was feeling spiritually and emotionally worthless, hearing that Allah owes me nothing would likely have worsened my pain and confusion. But today, because I no longer feel like other people’s needs come before my own, and because I no longer feel worthless in front of myself or my Lord, I can safely say that even though Allah owes me nothing, I am still a full worthwhile human being in front of Him. I can further say that my worthiness is neither increased nor decreased based upon what others have, even if it’s something I don’t have myself—and even if the person has rights over me.
This realization is like the emotional freedom enjoyed by a sincerely generous person who loves to give gifts and charity yet never feels the need to measure what others are giving or receiving. Such freedom comes from a heart that is unburdened with emotional or spiritual wounding that distracts it from its purpose in the human body: to be a source of life. Just like the physical heart exists to be a source of physical life for the human’s body, the spiritual heart exists to be a source of spiritual life to the human’s faith.
This is not to say that my own heart is spiritually pure or fully healed. It’s just to say that my heart has healed enough from where it used to be such that I no longer feel excessively burdened by feelings of worthlessness in front of Allah or other people. For this reason, I can better appreciate that having emaan itself is a blessing, not a right that my Lord owes me. And my emaan no longer feels like a weighty burden that I begrudgingly owe Allah.
Focus on Yourself
Today I don’t care so much about what worldly “privileges” are enjoyed by men and not women, rich people and not poor people, white people and not black people, or even my husband or other men and not myself. So long as no one is being wronged, oppressed, or denied their human rights based on someone’s arrogant behavior and perception of worldly privilege, I see these privileges as merely weighty tests in life—many of which I have no desire to carry myself. For with greater gifts comes greater responsibility, and with greater responsibility comes much more to answer for on the Day of Judgment.
Just like I have my own customized “marathon of life,” so it is with every other person in this world, even those who enjoy privileges over me. That the rich and privileged as a group are significantly less likely than the poor and oppressed to pass the spiritual tests of life should make “superior” life stations very unattractive to us—if we are sincerely focused on purifying our hearts.
During this marathon of life, our differences in paths and responsibilities—or even imbalances in privileges and worldly enjoyments—are not reflective of any “injustice” of Islam or of Allah favoring any group over another. They are merely reflective of Allah’s infinite wisdom in knowing exactly what tests we need to focus on what’s most important: our hearts.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, His Other Wife and the self-help book for Muslim survivors of abuse: Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You. Her latest novel His Other Wife is now a short film.
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