By Marya Bangee
She looked me in the eyes, as the dark shapes of policemen gathered behind the rippled glass of the door. “I hear voices in my head. I ask other people, and they all say that that’s not normal, that they don’t have voices in their heads.” She paused, looked down at herself, gestured hopelessly at her tattered wife-beater and shorts. “I didn’t use to be a loser. I came from an educated family; I remember when I was happy…when I thought life was pretty good. But – I lost everything. Why am I being tested like this? I am so lonely. No one understands. No one cares. I look around and I see everyone happy. Why am I so miserable?” As the police handcuffed her and took her away, to a psychiatric hospital where she would be forcefully medicated, her words rang in my mind.
I had been enjoying a close friend’s wedding celebration at the Islamic center and had dared to hope – for a few, precious moments – that life had returned to normal after a series of harrowing experiences in the past few months. As I sat after prayer, having just asked Allah for guidance and strength, I saw her walk into the masjid, thread her way through the worshipers, and take a seat at the corner of the prayer hall. I quickly got up and walked over, anticipating the scandalized reactions from attendees: “She’s in shorts! At the masjid!” I had known her for six months, been there when she had taken shahada, let her stay at my house, driven her to a drug-testing facility so that she could help fight for custody of her son, worked with local Muslim charities and social workers to get her a stable place to live…but to no avail. That night, after I took her outside, she said she was suicidal, that she wanted to hurt others, that the voices in her head were driving her – literally – insane. Due to the sensitivity caused by the Fort Hood event, the masjid administration felt it was necessary to call the police.
After the cop cars pulled out of the parking lot, I felt dazed. Her questions still echoed in my head. It felt like a blow to my heart. I suppose it is the quintessential question that oftentimes pushes people away from faith – why do bad things happen to good people? To people who, in different circumstances, might have been just like us?
When life throws a sucker punch, what better thing to do but pick up the divine book of guidance? In the Qur’an, Allah tells us the story of Prophet Yusuf, using an entire chapter to detail his life from happy child, to scared captive, to slave, to prisoner, to the vizier who saves his people from starvation. If an individual was to meet Yusuf as he lay imprisoned for years in Egypt, and ask the Prophet to retell his story, what would we hear?
We would hear a tale of heartbreak, betrayal, grief, deceit; where a young man is betrayed by his brothers and left to die, sold into slavery, raised far from his loving parents, tricked by his master’s wife, and jailed for false reasons. Looking at his story from this snapshot in time, without knowing the rest of the story, one would be inclined to see the injustice happening to one of the best of creation. What did he do to deserve this? But as his story unfolds, and the Prophet Yusuf is made a vizier of Egypt, he guides his country to successfully survive famine. It becomes clear how every event in his life was divinely ordained by Allah for the good of himself and the good of his people.
Our life on this Earth is but the first act in the grand story of life; the most important events are yet to come. As Judgment Day approaches, we remember that those who may have been miserable in this life, will be the truly successful in the next, eternal life. As the Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
“… One amongst the denizens of Hell who had led a life of ease and plenty amongst the people of the world would be dipped into the Fire only once on the Day of Resurrection and then it would be asked of him: ‘Oh son of Adam, did you find any comfort, did you get any material blessing [on Earth]?’ He would say: ‘By Allah, no, my Lord.’ And then a person from amongst the people of the world [will] be brought who had led the most miserable life in the world [he will be from amongst those destined for Paradise] and he would be dipped once in Paradise; it would be asked of him, ‘Oh son of Adam, did you face any hardship? Has any distress fallen to your lot [on Earth]?’ And he would say, ‘By Allah, no my Lord, never did I face any hardship or experience any distress.’” (Muslim)
It is difficult – perhaps even foolhardy – to judge events in this life when we do not understand the qadr (divine will) of Allah. Perhaps our trials will end in success in this life; perhaps they will guarantee us success in the life to come. Our role is to face our tests with sabr (patience), remembering to have tawakul (trust) in Allah and worshipping Him with sincerity. As Allah says in the Qur’an, “We grant the Home in the Hereafter to those who do not seek superiority on earth or spread corruption: the happy ending is awarded to those who are mindful of God.” (28:83)