One of the most sobering talks I have with my students entering their first professional year of pharmacy school is about substance abuse. It is now a staple in our program to bring in a rehabilitated pharmacist on the last day of orientation to talk about his experience with substance abuse – what led him to that point, how long he went through it, and what help aided his recovery. It is important to stress this issue with the students because they are pursuing a field where drugs are easily accessible. But all of us, my students included, are well aware of the physical, psychological, monetary, and familial detriment that drugs cause. Most of us know the Partnership for Drug Free America’s famous tagline, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” Yet some of us still fall into that vicious, often fatal, cycle. But the talk was not about drugs per se, and nor is this article. The moral of that pharmacist’s story -which I re-emphasize with my students – is “no one wakes up one day and decides to do drugs.” There are leading factors, stressors and situations that pick and pick at someone’s resilience until one day he or she falls. It is recognition of those leading factors, those signs, that is of utmost importance. Whether the end result is drugs, adultery, breaking siyam (fast) in Ramadan or missing salah (prayer), we must realize that nothing “just happens.”
The number one (if not the only) leading factor to deviation from good, whether in the religious sense or not, is Shaytan (Satan). Shaytan comes at a person from every angle and sugar coats the evil so he or she may fall, sometimes unknowingly. One of my favorite examples of such wicked and subtle ways in which Shaytan will get to a person is from my own past experience. I used to tell myself (in my early years in college), “Well, there is nothing else to do on a Friday night, plus I am not drinking!” Sound familiar? Do we use this line to tell ourselves it is ok to hang out at the bar or the dance club? Or do our friends use the famous line, “Dude, since you don’t drink, do you mind being the designated driver?” How about telling yourself, “Well, we need a quite place to study” while sitting alone with someone from the opposite gender him in a room with the door closed. How long are you going to talk about calculus, chemistry, or psychology before you drift off talking about this, that, and the other? Have you not heard the story of Barsisa, the worshipper who Shaytan destroyed methodically and brought from the high of worshipping Allah to the low of prostrating to Shaytan himself?
Shaytan is relentless brothers and sisters, and we must open our eyes, minds, and hearts to the strategies and the whispers of the Shayateen (devils) of both ins (humans) and jinn that cause us to fall into sin. Shaytan has vowed to lead us astray as Allah says,
“For he had said, “I will surely take from among Your servants a specific portion. And I will mislead them, and I will arouse in them [sinful] desires, and I will command them so they will slit the ears of cattle, and I will command them so they will change the creation of Allah.” (Qur’an, 4:118-119)
And do not think that Shaytan will leave a person alone after he or she sins. He will keep one in that cycle and make it seem unbreakable. The familiar line “I have done so much I will never be forgiven” is fed to us every time we think about breaking free form sin. This is one of the most vicious ways in which Shaytan keeps us in his grasp; he makes us doubt the mercy and forgiveness of Allah. Shaytan will also make our repentance seem exceptionally monumental by using the poisonous line,“There is just way too much to know and it is so hard to keep up with it all.” Another tactic that Shaytan uses to discourage us and lead us astray is the false assumption that the only ones who enter paradise are the scholars. Brothers and sisters, being a good Muslim is easy to achieve. Abbas related that a man asked the Prophet ﷺ, “Tell me what should I do to be admitted to Paradise?” The Prophet answered, “Worship Allah associating nothing with Him, observe Salat, pay Zakah (Alms) and strengthen the ties of kinship.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
Let us look at a prime example of a young person who stayed on the right path, fueled by his belief in Allah. Yusuf (peace be upon him) is known for his beauty and as a young and virile man he was a servant in the house of the Aziz (royalty) of Egypt. He lived in the same house as the wife of the Aziz, a woman who was taken by the beauty of Yusuf and became overpowered by her desires for him:
“And she, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him. She closed the doors and said, “Come, you.” (Qur’an, 12:23)
Imagine this brothers and sisters. This young man, full of vigor and hormones, was not only being approached but rather aggressively sought after by a woman who would let him have his way with her. Yusuf could have justified this in so many ways and the people would have probably excused him saying “He is young” or “He is a servant” and would not know any better. He could have, but he did not and he said:
“He said, ‘[I seek] the refuge of Allah. Indeed, he is my master, who has made good my residence. Indeed, wrongdoers will not succeed.'” (Qur’an, 12:23)
Instead of all the excuses to do wrong, he had all the excuses to do what is right. He sought refuge in Allah and asked for His support in this ordeal and then he used the logic, decency, and faithfulness to his master to prevail for, surely, wrong-doers will never succeed.
So let us treat this issue at the root and let us follow what Allah tells us:
“And if there comes to you from Satan an evil suggestion, then seek refuge in Allah . Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing” (Qur’an, 41:36).
Also in the last few chapters of the Qur’an is a beautiful surah we can recite:
“Say, ‘I seek refuge in the Lord of mankind, The Sovereign of mankind, The God of mankind, From the evil of the retreating whisperer – Who whispers [evil] into the breasts of mankind – From among the jinn and mankind”‘ (Qur’an, 114).