Do We Grow Closer to God through Pain?


Difficulty or Ease Series:  Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericbegin/2239571408/By AbdelRahman Mussa

This small series of articles aims to explore the following questions:

  • Does Islam promote ease or difficulty?
  • Does Islam state that the path to Allah is that of difficulty?

Previously we discussed:

  • With Hardship There is Ease
  • Wondrous Are The Believers’ Affairs
  • Seek Help Through Patience
  • He Always Chose The Easiest of Two Matters
  • Allah Wants Ease For You
  • Allah Wants To Alleviate The Burden
  • We Shall Test You With Something of Fear
  • Hell is Surrounded By Worldly Desire
  • When Is The Help Of Allah Due?
  • Allah Tests What Is In Your Breasts
  • So That They Might Return To Allah
  • The Misunderstood Hadith
  • Difficulty or Ease or Something Else?
  • A Word on Sacrifice

A Practical Example of Pro-Difficulty Thinking

I’m giving this example to allow you to begin analyzing what you see and hear so that you can distinguish.

One of my disciplines is hypnotherapy. One of the most prevalent things I see is people hypnotizing each other with words and sentences without them being aware that this is what they’re doing. The problem isn’t that they’re hypnotizing one another; The problem is what they’re hypnotizing one another to do, think, and believe!

So with that said, I want to show you how I analyze one of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi’s statements that I don’t agree with. But first, I’ll share what I think of Rumi’s work. He’s very poetic. Many of his sayings are extremely ambiguous. Out of context, many of his sayings can be misunderstood. Sometimes you’re not actually sure who he’s talking to, never mind what he means. So I analyze his words, not by what he meant because only Allah and him would know that and I can’t ask him because he’s been dead for more than 7 centuries. Just because I disagree with this particular saying doesn’t mean that he’s a bad person at all, or that he doesn’t have other sayings that are good. Maybe he meant by it something completely different and just wasn’t able to convey that meaning.

He says what I’m about to share with you. As you read it, imagine it was someone else who was saying it, a normal person you just met and didn’t know much about:

“Don’t turn your head.

Keep looking at the bandaged wound.

That’s where the light enters you.

And don’t believe for a moment that you’re healing yourself.”

What would you think if someone whom you had just met told you that? How would you feel?

Hearing that saying and assuming that the word light is used to refer to guidance or something good leads me to ask the following questions. Some of these questions might sound silly, but bear with me; they all come from what is implied within the above statement:

  • Why are you assuming that the light enters through a wound? Does the light only enter through the wound?
  • Can’t the light enter through my eyes, mouth, pores, nostrils, or any other opening for that matter?
  • Will the light only enter the wound if I’m looking at the wound?
  • What if the wound gets infected?
  • What is the relevance of telling me that I don’t heal myself after telling me not to look away from the wound?
  • If I don’t have any wounds, will the light not enter me?
  • If I don’t have a wound, should I create a wound so that the light can enter me?
  • How is the light entering if there’s a bandage covering the wound?
  • Is the bandage transparent?
  • If I have a wound, shall I make more wounds so that more light can enter?
  • If I have a wound, shall I stop it from healing to ensure that the light doesn’t stop entering me?
  • Is it wrong to seek-out healing?

Again, I’m not critiquing Rumi. I’m critiquing these words. In essence, my disagreement with this saying of Rumi’s is that it implies that growth can only happen through pain and difficulty. This isn’t true.

It also assumes that pain should be celebrated, which is not right. Pain should be met with patience, not jubilation. This is what the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) taught us:

“…When something pleasing happens to him, he is grateful, and that is good for him;and when something displeasing happens to him, he is patient, and that is good for him.”  (Muslim; 7138)

If we celebrate difficulty, then we are not abiding to the teachings of he Prophet ﷺ.

Practical Examples of Pro-Ease Thinking

These examples are also sayings of Rumi. As I said before, I agree with some of his work and you’ll notice a stark contrast between this saying and the one previously mentioned. I’ll leave you with the following two sayings that are truly upbeat:

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?”

“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”


AbdelRahman Mussa, a graduate of sharia and a therapist, is the founder of ipersonalenrichment.com, a site specializing in practical tazkiyah (purification of the heart). To receive his free newsletter about tazkiyah, please visit the ipersonalenrichment.com website.

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4 Comments

  1. T. Yasin says:

    This is why poetry is beautiful. Every person’s reading of the lines will be different.

    When I read those lines – “don’t turn your head… keep looking at the bandage” I don’t see Rumi implying “growth can only happen through pain and difficulty”. Emphasis on the “only” – I don’t see him singling pain out as the only path to light.

    I think a common refrain for a lot of folks is to say “Why?” “Why me?” “Why God?” when they experience pain – be it cancer or some other type of suffering or distress in life. Many turn away from the pain thinking that God has abandoned them in their state of pain (not everyone, but this is a common response to pain… think about when a mother loses a child to cancer – a difficult, difficult instance of suffering that can being “Iman-shaking”).

    We can’t deny pain and suffering, and I think what Rumi is highlighting is a reactive response to suffering (not proactive encouragement of pain – which I think you are referring to).

    Pain and suffering can bring you closer to Allah – note he doesn’t say it’s the only way. There are numerous paths to Allah (Al hamdulilah for all of them) – one is definitely through pain and suffering.

    Glorification of this pain and seeking out pain is a proactive measure, whereas I think Rumi is referring to the more reactive (how do you deal with pain when it comes your way?).

    Also, the second half of the poem “And don’t believe for a moment that you’re healing yourself” is reminding us that healing comes from Allah.

    Could we think of pain, not just in the literal sense but also in the metaphysical sense? What about the pain of wanting to marry someone who refuses, or the pain of flunking a test, or the pain of arguing with a spouse — these are also wounds.

    There are also character wounds, characteristics in us that we would like to change – selfishness, being quick to anger… Conquering (or having “light” fill these wounds) is something we should seek out.

    Each “painful” experience where a “wound” appears, be it interpersonal (arguing with a sibling) or intrapersonal (man, I just couldn’t stop eating all those donuts!), are moments we should seek out in order to ask for Allah’s guidance and “light” to make us better.

    I get what you’re saying though — there does sometimes seem to be an overemphasis on pain and suffering as the more supreme paths to Allah – I think if only because often strong instances of pain and suffering usually have the most profound impact on the human soul – be it physical or metaphysical. How many stories have we heard of people converting to the faith after being at their “lowest”?

    Thanks for the reminder that ease is also a means of growing closer to Allah. Being grateful and thankful in times of ease I think is one of those matters of the faith we all need to be reminded of.

  2. Rubaba says:

    @T.Yasin, it is almost as if you wrote my thought exactly. My understanding of Rumi’s lines was exactly as you also did. I think the author is looking at the literal meaning of the words but with poetry and works of literature, you should look much deeper and then the real understanding comes to you. Jazaakumul Laahu khair

  3. Rubaba says:

    Rumi is using symbolism. You know a lot of people are frustrated when they are going through some tests so much that they would like to believe it is not there. But looking at the fact that Allah tests those who believe in Him and those who love him, then we realize that tests are sometimes a confirmation that we believe in Allah and that Allah loves us and He wants to see how we will respond to His trials. So Rumi says, ‘Don’t turn your head, keep looking at the bandaged wound’ Don’t ignore the trouble but concentrate on it. Give it your thought, try to understand it.And he says, that is where the light enters you. That is where your rewards from Allah, closeness and attachment to Him comes from. If you are able to withstand the wound with patience and gratitude, then you win… tthat is the light, nur, Allah. And don’t you believe for a moment that you are the one who is healing yourself because it is Allah who is seeing you through your moment of test. That is acknowledging that it isn’t by your power that you are able to go through the test safely but it is because it is Allah who is making you able to do that. You know it is some kind of healing when hope of Allah’s rewards pour from your mind to keep you going…

  4. Kirana says:

    :) most poetry is descriptive, not instructive.

    sometimes, someone is so stubborn that in Allah’s mercy He has to wound them before they would pay attention and learn (… me….). it hurts to be taken down a few pegs, it hurts when you haven’t resolved your issues like insecurity and doubt. it doesn’t mean everyone has to learn this way, or that the person will always only ever learn by pain. (at least i sure hope not). or that the purpose of all pain is to teach.

    i understand what is described in the first verse. when it does have to happen, though, you do have to screw up the courage to see past the pain, that instead of reacting with running or hiding or walling yourself away or despair, you accept it, reflect on it, and understand it. part of growing up is developing the ability to cope with pain and still retain the ability to restrain oneself and act in a way that is good and rational. the other two refrains are not incompatible with the first verse, in my mind.

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