“…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah knows, while you know not.”
—Qur’an (Al-Baqarah, 2:216)
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 6:
I still miss them, and I still love them, I allow my heart to admit to myself. But I still need to emotionally quarantine myself from them, if I am to have any chance at a healthy emotional and spiritual life.
This resolution seems so simple, so obvious to me right now. But it has taken many years of emotional turmoil to accept what my soul has been telling me for quite some time. Simple truths are sometimes the most difficult truths, especially when the heart is reaching for a different path.
And so it has been for me.
Allah teaches us to forgive and overlook, I wrote in my journal some years ago, inspired by a deeply moving conversation I had with one of my loved ones. But He also says the earth is spacious. So there are some people you forgive but move away from to preserve yourself.
A Testimony of Spiritual Purification
I now understand trauma as a spiritual purification and a personal testimony. It is a purification process that fulfills the divine promise to not leave any child of Adam merely upon the path of the tongue. In this world, the path of the tongue allows us to say, “I believe” and be left alone upon this claim.
Naturally, some of the “purifying trials” that befall us are quite obviously a direct result of the deen (spiritual path) of our tongue. This happens when we face personal, social, or political harm or persecution due to saying, “I believe in Allah.” However, some purifying trials befall us due to the deen of our fitrah, the natural spiritual inclination to submit to our Creator that is gifted to every human soul at birth.
Purifying trials due to our fitrah are often preemptive and are thus disconnected from any conscious spiritual way of life. Often they are disconnected from any sin or poor choice in life. For this reason, suffering trauma is not limited to only adults. Innocent children suffer trauma as well.
Suffering in Childhood and Innocence
As I reflect on some of my difficult trials in life and continue to seek healing, I know some of these painful trials began in childhood. Growing up as a child of Muslim converts to Islam and then going each day to an unwelcoming public school environment was not easy for me emotionally. Facing daily harm from both fellow classmates and trusted adults is something I’ll never forget. I know for many others, their trials of childhood were even more emotionally damaging than mine.
In my book Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You, I share the true story of Melanie Davidson who is a child born of rape. After being given away as a baby, she was returned to her mother’s care a few years later only to be abused by her mother who was continuously triggered by the mere sight of her. In one scene Melanie describes how she learned that her stepfather (her mother’s husband and the father of her siblings) was not her father:
“That’s not your daddy!”
I was only three years old and recently restored to my mother’s care when my stepsister screamed these words at me. I don’t know what prompted the outburst. Maybe we’d had a disagreement and I’d said I was going to tell Daddy, or something about Daddy, and that was enough to send my sister into a fit of rage. She was ten, or maybe eleven, at the time, and naturally, she knew more than I did about the circumstances surrounding my birth. But until that moment, I’d had no idea that the man she called Daddy had no blood relation to me.
At three years old, you don’t understand family dynamics, so in my young mind, the man who was taking care of us was my daddy, just like my mother was my mommy. Of course today, I know that he was my stepfather, the man my mother married after giving birth to me.
“You don’t have a daddy!” my sister continued to scream. “We don’t know who your daddy is! That’s my daddy!”
I still remember how I’d run to my mother to report what my sister had said. I was hurt and upset, not only by my sister’s words but also by her having broken a lamp over my head. I was crying and bleeding when I stood before my mother and told her what my sister had said. Ironically, at that moment, I viewed my sister’s insulting words as the greater crime. But I’d assumed even these were just amongst the many daily insults that my sister inflicted upon me since I arrived in the home. It didn’t occur to me that there was any truth to them.
“He’s not your daddy!” my mother responded in obvious annoyance. It was as if her disgust with me surpassed even my sister’s. I stood in utter confusion, holding my bleeding head as my young mind tried to understand what I’d done to make my mother so upset. “Your father raped me!” she said.
These words were shouted as if she were really saying, “You already ruined my life, now leave me alone! I don’t want to even look at you!” I had no idea what the word rape meant, but there was a place deep inside of me that imbibed these unspoken words more viscerally than if my mother had spoken them aloud.
When I think on painful trials of childhood like Melanie suffered, I think of them as preemptive trials of the soul that incite a wounding that ultimately becomes potential purification for us as we continue to process the pain of the wounding throughout adulthood.
Preemptive Purification Paths
Generally speaking, a preemptive “purifying trial” is one that befalls us in early childhood or before we have found any definite spiritual path for ourselves. It can also be a difficult trial that befalls us that is disconnected from any bad choice or sin on our part.
In a preemptive purification path, we might suffer harm, neglect, abandonment, or abuse at the hands of someone we love and trust, or whom we depend on for our most basic and vulnerable needs. We then carry the wounds of this suffering into adulthood, into relationships and environments completely disconnected from the original wounding, and even into our most intimate relationship with ourselves. Often this battle against the emotional wounds incited by preemptive trials of the soul continues until old age and when we are approaching death.
In this way, for so many of us, a preemptive trial of the soul is a lifetime trial of the soul.
However, though it’s difficult to understand or appreciate while we’re in the throes of trauma, suffering the wounds of our “carried pain” is merely a process of unearthing the spiritual state of our hearts. This unearthing—or unwrapping of our hearts—is meant as a divine, life-altering invitation to spiritual self-honesty and to choosing our spiritual path in this world, as well as our eternal home in the Hereafter.
But so many of us get so lost in our pain that we become spiritually lost just trying to make sense of it.
Unwrap Your Pain
Though I’m a writer, I don’t always find it easy to express to others what’s on my heart. Sometimes I don’t even know how to express to myself what I’m feeling, or how to even put the heaviness of my heart into words. I think on this internal battle as I reflect on how so often I’ve tried (and failed) to convey to others how I see the weightiness of the spiritual trial we are all carrying in this world. So often we let our pain direct our spirituality, instead of allowing our spirituality to direct our pain.
Unwrap the pain, I tell myself. What message is hidden beneath the painful wrapping enveloping your heart?
As I mentioned in an earlier blog reflection, this is a question I ask myself each time I face yet another difficult trial in life, especially whenever it incites emotional suffering or indignant anger. This self-questioning helps me navigate my soul pain in a way that, prayerfully, results in spiritual purification instead of spiritual loss or corruption.
Each time we are faced with making sense of our pain or trauma, we are being given the opportunity to choose between the deen (spiritual path) of our Merciful Creator and the deen of our wounds—the deen of emotionalism.
A heart that chooses the deen of its Creator does not clamor for manmade behavior codes that force a very specific path of escaping emotional pain or avoiding certain trials in life. Rather it humbly (even if painfully) trusts in the guidance of its Creator and knows that what it frantically reaches for in hopes of escaping pain might be spiritually damaging to the soul. It also knows that what it frantically runs away from in seeking to escape pain might be spiritually healthy for the soul. Hence the saying of our Creator that has been translated to mean, “…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah knows, while you know not” (Al-Baqarah, 2:216).
But subhaanAllah, how so few of our hearts comprehend.
What Pathway Is Your Pain Carving for You?
Escaping pain and seeking pleasure are two powerful motivators within the heart, I wrote in my journal some weeks ago. So be alert, dear soul, for when these inclinations are at odds with the needs of your soul. Pay attention to the pathways in your heart toward love and escaping hurt.
We speak a lot about the importance of self-honesty, but it is rare that we actually look deep inside to learn what this actually means—for us specifically.
When it comes to soul-care, one of the most essential aspects of self-honesty is being keenly aware of your weaknesses and inclination toward sin. However, this is only a starting point. Focusing all your attention on only one pathway to spiritual harm is like looking only one way when crossing a busy intersection. There are numerous pathways that can harm our souls.
And the most dangerous pathway to harm does not always stem from temptation toward sin. It also includes the pathways of seeking our hopes and dreams—especially in pursuit of love, family, and wealth. It also includes the pathways to escaping pain—especially when some aspects of our faith and spiritual practice trigger painful memories from our past.
In guarding these pathways in our hearts, here are some questions we can ask ourselves:
When I think of love or escaping pain, what am I hoping for? What am I seeking? And what am I willing to do to get it? What am I willing to do to keep it?
And what am I not willing to do?
How do I protect my soul from harm that comes from seeking love or escaping pain? Am I willing to sacrifice love for the sake of my soul? Am I willing to endure pain?
Am I allowing my emotions to guide my spirituality, or am I allowing my spirituality to guide my emotions?
Don’t Let Your Pain Misguide You
In seeking to share with my sisters and brothers in faith the weighty spiritual lessons I learned on my own healing journey, I used thousands upon thousands of words in blogs like “Does Your Pride Make You Honorable?”, “Wronging Others for the Sake of Justice” and “How ‘Good People’ End Up Destroying Lives and Souls.” But looking back, I suppose they all could have been summarized in this six-word heartfelt exhortation to my soul and theirs: Don’t let your pain misguide you.
I don’t speak this advice from a place of having won this internal battle myself. Every day I’m in exhaustive combat with myself on the battleground of my own soul. Sometimes I feel I’ve done well in this conflict of the nafs (inner self). Other times I fear I’ve compromised or weakened every spiritual fortress I’ve worked so hard to build to protect my soul.
And the struggle continues.
You Choose Your Gift Certificate
Whether our trauma is incited by a preemptive trial of the soul that is suffered in early childhood or by the unexpected pain and suffering of adult life, our trauma is a means of facilitating our most intimate relationship with our souls.
The more painful and traumatic our suffering, the deeper and stronger our connection with our souls—potentially. This deep soul connection then gifts us with the deen (spiritual path) of our hearts, which our life (in word and deed) will bear witness to thereafter. But whether this deen will be that gifted to us by our Merciful Creator or that “gifted” to us by the emotionality of our wounds, is a choice that lies within the conscious choices of our own hearts as we navigate our pain.
The life path we take in response to our emotional trials—as manifested through our speech, actions and convictions—are our personal testimony to our Creator (and ourselves) regarding the deen we would like to carry with us to our graves. This is the deen that will be our spiritual fuel when we face Munkir and Nakir (the angels of interrogation in the grave) and when we ultimately face Allah Himself on the Day of Judgment.
In this way, our life path following any difficult trial, emotional pain, or deep trauma is our spiritual signature upon a sacred contract.
In this sacred contract, it is as if we are filling out an application to purchase for ourselves a “spiritual gift certificate” in this world. Then after our soul is taken, we hand over this gift certificate—a sacred testimony to our every personal truth (good and ugly) inscribed in our Book of Deeds—which we redeem in hopes of being recompensed for our spiritual investment. Upon redeeming this “spiritual gift certificate,” we are handed our customized gift (of Paradise or the Fire) that our busy tongues, restless hearts, and active lives worked so tirelessly for in this world.
And our reason for having eagerly chosen either “gift”—Paradise or the Fire—is due to the state of hearts in this world, which was hidden beneath all the painful trials and trauma we endured on our life path.
But is only in that moment after our soul is taken that we understand with a visceral yaqeen (heartfelt certainty) that our pain and trauma were just the wrapping on this sacred gift (of Paradise or the Fire) that we are being handed in exchange for our sacred “gift certificate” purchase for our souls.
That is the moment we realize, without a shred of doubt, that in responding to our painful trials as we did, we chose the hidden gift ourselves.
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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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