right to do wrong.
i have the right
to abuse you
remind me of
I know that for some people, my sharing the story of how I almost left Islam and of how I reached such a dark place that I nearly took my own life is a cause for mockery and condescension toward me. They say this in order to dismiss the work I’m doing and to cast doubt on the spiritual lessons I’m sharing. They say that it is my trauma that guides my work more than Islamic sincerity and right guidance. And I don’t blame them.
Why? Because I know on a deeply personal level how it feels to be drowning so much in the waves of emotional pain and spiritual darkness that you feel compelled to wear the garments of religiosity in front of the people—even at the price of your own healing, self-honesty, and soul-care.
In this state, when we hear someone share their vulnerability for the purpose of deriving a spiritual lesson—particularly if the lesson compels us to examine our own souls and repent—our unhealed wounds force us to reject it. Then we genuinely imagine this rejection is a sign of religious strength and “remaining firm upon the haqq.”
What is happening in this moment is that we are processing our religious garment as the faith itself. This is where we imagine that the public spiritual role we are fulfilling is a genuine representation of the sincerity and dedication to Islamic truth within our hearts. However, the truth leak comes when we are called to the guidance of Allah—particularly from someone we view as religiously inferior—and it threatens the comfortable religious garment we are wearing. Thus, we react with mockery, condescension, and seeking to expose the person’s faults or shameful aspects of their personal lives.
In this, our hope is that no one will see our broken soul if they are laughing at someone’s broken life.
Trials of the Soul
We have all been in a space that threatens our spiritual self-image and incites unhealthy pride, and we will continue to. It is one of many spiritual trials that Allah sends while we are on this earth. These trials are both warnings and mercies to us. The warning is in how they expose to us the very depths of our hearts as we are called to fear Allah. The mercy is in how this gives us the opportunity to reconnect with the spiritual life we were seeking before we got off course. And how we respond to this trial reveals to us whether or not our current claims of sincerity and belief in Allah are true.
May Allah help us respond with humility, repentance, and self-correction each time we are face this spiritual trial.
It is because I know on a deeply personal level how easy it is to fail this spiritual trial that I strive daily to do all I can to protect my nafs from the evil within itself. SubhaanAllah, by Allah, I know how easy it is to fall victim to pride and self-deception. When we fall victim to this kibr and ghuroor, we imagine that what we claim on our tongues about our public spiritual role is an accurate representation of Islamic sincerity in our hearts.
And this terrifies me. And I ask Allah daily to protect me from failing this test, as I fear meeting Him with claims of emaan on my tongue but none in my heart.
This fear is one of the very reasons that I share so much about my own personal struggles and spiritual trauma. While this personal sharing doesn’t guarantee my protection from pride and self-deception, it certainly helps.
But here’s another benefit I find in sharing my own faulty healing journey, even as some aspects are humiliating and embarrassing at times: There really are so many spiritual lessons and personal benefits we can draw from them.
I remember how when I was in the throes of my own emotional trauma and spiritual wounding, I searched so hard for stories of other Muslims who had faced what I was facing. But I found none. I felt so lonely and distraught that I swore that if Allah brought me through this difficult trial, I would be at least one voice of vulnerability and self-honesty for other hurting believers to turn to when they had nowhere else to go.
So after Allah bestowed His mercy upon me and allowed me to hold on to my emaan and nourish my emotional and spiritual health, I began to share my own story of navigating trauma, in hopes of being a source of compassion and empathy to my struggling sisters and brothers in faith.
I pray Allah accepts it from me.
But more important than my personal journey itself is this truth that even mental health professionals and sincere spiritual teachers have uncovered: Vulnerability and self-honesty are much more effective in rectifying both spiritual and societal problems than wearing the public garment of being a savior or sorts. This is where we imagine ourselves to be “speaking out firmly against injustice” and rectifying community problems, while almost never realizing that we ourselves can be a source of dhulm (wrongdoing and oppression) on earth.
Understanding the Dhulm You Prefer
What system of dhulm (wrongdoing and oppression) are you supporting in your life?
This might sound like an odd question because usually when we think of dhulm, we think of standing up against it to confront someone else. But how often do we confront our own souls? And here, I’m not simply speaking about the dhulm we do by falling into sin and wrongdoing and then repenting immediately thereafter. I’m speaking about the sin and wrongdoing we do to ourselves—and others—by being open supporters of dhulm when it benefits us in some way, or at the very least when it doesn’t disrupt our comfortable lives.
Today, our hearts are hurting so much because dhulm has become so widespread that we witness the most horrific crimes against humanity as a matter of course, and it’s hard to fathom how anyone could do this to others, and repeatedly. I too am feeling that level of shock and helplessness. What is going on with this world? It is unimaginable.
But we aren’t as helpless—or innocent—as we think.
Dhulm cannot get to this level unless it is first supported on smaller levels.
None of us is completely without fault or blame in this.
How We Love Injustice
In my book, Faith. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah, I share this reflection:
We, this modern generation, are a people who love injustice so long as we are the ones inflicting it. Our cries against wrongdoing are loud and clear when it is our lives touched by harm. But when we see some worldly benefit for ourselves, we rush to inflict harm on others then declare that it is our right.
So amongst us are those who stand up to fight racism then declare their own people are superior in the eyes of God.
And amongst us are men who speak openly about their rights in the home then prevent their wives from having even minds of their own.
And amongst us are women who speak openly about their rights in marriage, yet keep their children from their own fathers in the case of divorce.
And amongst us are those who fight for the right of everyone to marry whom they chose, then verbally abuse virgin women who prefer older men, or any man or woman who chooses polygyny.
And amongst us are parents who speak endlessly about their God-given rights to obedience and respect, yet they make their children’s lives hell if they so much as hold an Islamic view or personal opinion that differs from them.
And the list goes on and on…
And then we sit and genuinely wonder why corruption and injustice are widespread in the world, while we need only to look honestly at how we behave in our homes and with our tongues and social media accounts—when encountering something *we* dislike.
The true measure of fighting injustice is not when you are suffering harm and you speak up against it, but when you are gaining worldly benefit when someone else is suffering harm, yet you sacrifice your own personal opinions, desires, and worldly comforts in the pursuit of what is right before God.
Dhulm Feels Good
Dhulm (wrongdoing and oppression) always feels good when we’re the ones benefiting from it—and imagining it to be a “good cause.”
So today, it feels good to say that a woman who has had unlawful sex with a married man should be forbidden from marrying him, ever. It feels good because this new rule is for a “good cause.”
It was also for a “good cause” that some Eastern cultures arrange marriages for their girls without their consent. In many cases, this was to preserve the strength and stability of the families and cultures, and to protect the family lineage and wealth from being “wrecked” by outsiders.
And to be sure, those cultures still steeped in FGM (female genital mutilation) claim the “good cause” of preventing sexually promiscuous women from ruining themselves and the honor of families and homes.
It is chilling that these two good causes—protecting “wrecking” from outsiders and preventing sexually promiscuous women from ruining a family’s honor—are the precise reasons that we so willingly accept this new rule of “a mistress can never be a wife” being put forth by an American imam (and why we so willingly label sinful women “dishonorable” even after they repent).
Similar good causes are the very reasons that many American Muslims so willingly reject the ayaat in Qur’an that permit polygyny.
And similar good causes are the very reasons that many Muslims of immigrant backgrounds so willingly reject the prophetic Sunnah permitting intercultural marriage.
And the list goes on.
To be sure, nearly all of these customs and rejection of divine guidance began with someone’s misguided, perhaps sincere, efforts to preserve the honor and dignity of families, homes, and cultures.
But Allah tells us what has been translated to mean, “Whosoever desires honor, power and glory then to Allah belong all honor, power and glory. To Him ascend (all) the goodly words, and the righteous deeds exalt it, but those who plot evils, theirs will be severe torment. And the plotting of such will perish” (Al-Faatir, 35:10).
And let’s be very mindful that plotting evil does not necessarily mean that we consciously intend to plot evil. We can be plotting evil and genuinely imagine we’re just putting forth new rules for a “good cause,” or we’re just responding “firmly” to the destruction of families happening in our communities. Thus, our “sincerity” makes our hearts unable to heed the warning when someone tells us to fear Allah. However, in reality, the greatest losers in the Hereafter are those who imagine they are doing good deeds but when they are called back to the guidance of Allah, they reject it. This can happen in the form of the serious sin while we are still Muslims, or it can reach the level of disbelief.
Allah says, “Say, ‘Shall We tell you of those who lose most in respect of their deeds? Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life, while they thought they were acquiring good by their deeds? They are those who deny the Signs of their Lord and the fact of their meeting with Him. So their works are in vain, and on the Day of Judgment, We shall not give them any weight’ ” (Al-Kahf, 18:103-105).
Allah also says, “And when it is said to them, ‘Make not mischief on the earth,’ they say, ‘We are only peacemakers.’ Verily they are the ones who make mischief, but they perceive not” (Al-Baqarah, 2:11).
Thus, we can imagine ourselves to be trailblazing a good cause but actually be the source of serious harm (to ourselves and others) on earth. May Allah protect us.
When Muslims are involved in these misguided “good causes”—especially when they are spiritual teachers, imams, or scholars— they almost always have daleel or “proofs” for why they are permitted to either reject the teachings of Allah on the subject or to put forth new teachings in rectfiying the issue.
I refer to this is “fiqhi acrobatics” (i.e. when authentic evidences are used for misguided purposes, even if sincere). I refer to the misguided ideology itself as “glorified victimhood” (i.e. when the ostensible purpose is to respond to or remove a dhulm, but the method involves inflicting dhulm itself).
What makes these fiqhi acrobatics and glorified victimhood ideologies so prevalent amongst even the sincerest spiritual teachers and imams is them confusing the Islamic right of a Muslim judge, scholar, or advisor to give a fatwa or solution in addressing a very specific personal problem or case, with their own “religious right” to introduce a new rule or to forbid something that is halaal, with the “good cause” intention of addressing a general problem that potentially affects the lives of all believers.
The Solution is Soul-Focus vs. Problem-Focus
What is so profound and beautiful about Islam is that inherent within its spiritual system is a formula that rectifies both internal problems (i.e. within the heart and soul) and external problems (i.e. within the community and world)—at the same time. In other words, the same spiritual guidance that gives us a direct prescription for purifying our souls and ultimately entering Paradise also gives us a direct prescription for purifying societal ills and ultimately establishing a community rooted in preserving the honor and integrity of homes and families. This, while at the same time nourishing each person’s emotional and spiritual health.
This is achieved through the establishment of spiritual foundations, principles, and guidelines, as well as the requirement to adhere to the rules of halaal and haraam, as well as to our personal and religious obligations.
What is so profound in this system is that Allah already recognizes the very problems that we are trying to fix with our new rules and “good causes.” In this, He has given us not only guidelines requiring us to respect certain moral boundaries and to never violate others’ rights, He has also given us the guidelines for rectifying wrongs and atoning for sins when—not if—we fail in our personal and spiritual duties.
At the root of this system is Tawheed—the sincere belief in Allah and our recognition that we will meet Him on the Day of Judgment to answer for our time on earth—and our nearly limitless access to His mercy and forgiveness, as well as seeking our own blessings and enjoyments on earth.
Our challenge is that we as humans continuously confuse our worldly blessings and personal enjoyments with our spiritual purpose and religious rights on earth. In this, we become so intoxicated by the joys of wealth, status, and blessed marriages and families that we actually begin believe that these joys are our rights. But in the system of Tawheed—which focuses on the soul’s journey to the Hereafter—these external joys are trials (i.e. tests of faith), just as our internal suffering and spiritual crises are internal tests of faith.
When we lose sight of the Hereafter and fixate on what we feel we deserve in this world, our focus becomes problem-centered instead of soul-centered. This shift in focus, though often unconscious, then leads us to address problems by rejecting certain guidelines from Allah (i.e. intercultural marriage, polygyny in modern times, etc.) and introducing our own new rules in their place (i.e. forced marriage, mistresses should be forbidden from marrying their lovers even after repentance, etc.). We then defend our new rules by pointing to societal ills like broken families, cheating men, promiscuous women, and so on—not realizing that we are merely fighting one dhulm by replacing it with another.
However, in our sincerity and dedication to the “good cause,” we don’t always see what’s happening. In fact, it often takes generations upon generation to pass before the horrific effects of our misguided sincerity becomes apparent (i.e. FGM today).
What is deeply profound and healing about Islam is that, by the mercy of Allah, inherent in the spiritual guidelines of the Qur’an and prophetic guidance is the formula for protecting us from our own selves—personally and spiritually, and in the short-term and long-term—even when we do not even perceive the harm Allah is protecting us from.
How? Allah relieves us from the burden of perception through the obligation of submission.
SubhaanAllah, if we only knew the immeasurable mercy in this. The very fact that we are not weighed down by the burden of having to perceive every potential harm in our choices is a mercy in itself. But Allah shows us over and over again, when we trust in Him, when we believe in His wisdom, even when it is beyond our perception and understanding (i.e. when we truly and sincerely believe in the ghayb), He will shower His mercy, forgiveness, and blessings upon us—in this world and in the Hereafter.
Moreover, even as He requires us to trust in His wisdom, He gives us full freedom to live out our personal lives as we wish. In this, we are not burdened with any specific rules of what we must or must not do, except in our obligation to respect the boundaries He has drawn, whether in fulfilling our own halaal choices, or in respecting the right of others to choose their own.
For the believer who is soul-focused instead of a problem-focused, he or she sees right away that there is limitless mercy and wisdom in this personal freedom, even beyond what we can perceive. However, for the one who is problem-focused instead of soul-focused, they can only see how others are getting blessings and enjoyments they don’t “deserve,” while they themselves are being denied blessings and enjoyments they do “deserve.”
It is this unhealthy problem-focus that inspires so many sincere people, including spiritual teachers and imams, to introduce new laws to prevent this apparent “injustice” from happening.
Herein begins another cycle of dhulm on earth, which was inspired by a “good cause.”
Soul-Care and Emotional Healing Are Needed
As I’ve mentioned on many an occasion, I know on a deeply personal level how it feels to be trapped in a world of unhealed pain and trauma. In this space, our wounds are in danger of becoming pockets of spiritual darkness (which inspire us to create systems of dhulm rooted in guaranteeing blessings that humans can see and measure) instead of beautiful scars pointing us to spiritual light, which inspire within our lives and hearts beautiful patience and tawakkul, as we trust that our blessings are coming, even when we cannot see or measure them—and even when it feels like others are getting blessings they don’t deserve (i.e. “Why does a mistress get the blessing of a husband and blessed marriage after sin?”)
However, the journey of internal healing such that we walk in spiritual guidance instead of calling to spiritual darkness (even in sincerity) is not an easy one, and it is not one that can be achieved one day and left alone for the rest of our lives. It is the journey of the soul itself. It is the very essence of jihaadun-nafs, that heart-wrenching battle of the soul against itself.
Allah tells us in the Qur’an, “And in no wise covet those things in which Allah has bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on others. To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn. But ask Allah of His bounty. For Allah has full knowledge of all things” (An-Nisaa, 4:32).
In this, Allah is giving us the timeless wisdom of focusing on our own self-improvement, emotional healing, and soul-care. He is also letting us know that there is no need to create manmade systems designed to block the blessings and halaal choices of His servants while ensuring the blessings and halaal choices from others amongst His servants.
Allah Himself knows what each person, whether male or female, has earned in their lives, whether public or secret. Moreover, as we know from the Qur’an, prophetic teachings, and personal experience what often what appears as a blessing in someone’s life is merely a painful trial as a result of their sins, and what appears as a painful trial in another person’s life is really a tremendous blessing as a purification because of Allah’s Love for them.
Because, as Allah teaches us, everyone will get what they deserve.
And trust and believe, that beyond what Our Lord—who is Al-Hakeem, Al-Baseer (The All-Wise, The All Seeing)—has specifically prescribed in His Book and through the prophetic teachings, He does not need our help in meting out punishments to sinful people and withholding blessings from “undeserving” people.
Furthermore, if there is something that we sincerely desire for our own lives, it won’t be achieved by complaining about the blessings of others, or by seeking to control the lives of others. It will granted by turning to the very One who granted it to them in the first place—by us humbly asking Him of His bounty regarding what you desire for yourself.
If we understand this spiritual guidance and lesson from the depths of our souls, we would never seek to create or support systems that seek to do God’s job on His behalf. If we do, we might imagine we’re championing some good cause or stopping dhulm. But in reality, all we would be doing is wronging others in the name of justice, thereby sullying our own souls with dhulm.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. In 2019, she launched UZ Soul Gear, a passion project fueled by her love of both art and inspirational reflections. UZSoulGear.com offers apparel, wall décor, and more, aimed at supporting and inspiring the soul-centered lifestyle.
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