Got My Acceptance Letter, Did You?


by Mohannad Hakim

delEvery Muslim claims to receive certain messages from God, guiding him to a certain deed, suggesting to him to do or not to do an action, or giving him moral support and strength in moments of weakness. This message does not have to be a dream or some kind of a mystical interaction, and those who wait for such messages are either watching too many movies or assuming that they will be the next prophet. (Are we expecting another prophet? I don’t think so; I thought we were living in a time where the next guy with supernatural powers would be the Dajjal, right?)

Whether we say it or not, we tend to interpret any unusual happenings as either a punishment or a reward from Allah. “I had a bad day because I did so and so…” “Maybe I shouldn’t come here again, look what happened to my car.” Many times we misinterpret those messages; maybe there is no message at all, and what happened to you is mere coincidence. Sometimes we assume that a day is good or bad based on worldly superficial standards.

A lady called me the other day telling me about the experience of her friend, who was doing some community service work in a rough neighborhood in Detroit. On her way back home, feeling good about helping those people, she was surprised by this crazy woman who got offended somehow and started chasing her, wanting to hit her car. Panicking, the sister drove out of that neighborhood and had to cross a red light in order to get rid of her. Of course the first question the lady asked me was: “Was that a sign that I shouldn’t go there anymore? Did I do something wrong and is God punishing me for it?”

Before I answer her question, please allow me to share with you the message that I received one morning, and what I believe to be the interpretation or the “decoding” of it. That morning was the third day of `Eid al-Fitr.  After a long day of Eid activities, we decided to watch a movie at home, which was our way out of the routine of Ramadan and preparation for another tedious Monday morning. The movie took too long, and we ended up going to bed at 3:00 AM, accompanied with a big feeling of guilt that we are about to miss Fajr prayer (the morning prayer before sunrise).

Knowing myself and my relationship with Allah before Ramadan, I would definitely miss the prayer. I have this open appetite for sleeping all the time (you can ask my wife about this), and I tend to believe Satan when he says (as recorded in an authentic hadith): “You have a long night ahead of you, so just enjoy your sleep.” (This hadith is mentioned in the context of those who sleep and miss the Qiyam al-Layl prayer (optional prayer in the night), so you can imagine Satan using the same trick over and over for people missing Fajr).

But this time, it was totally different. I woke up at exactly 6:15 AM. Startled and worried, like someone who is about to miss a job interview, I made my wudu’ (ablutions) and rushed to the Masjid (which is literally 2 minutes away from my home). My masjid has a long history of making the call to prayer before its appointed time, and for someone like myself who always comes late, this is really annoying. To my great surprise, I was there standing in the lines and catching takbeerat al-ihram with the Imam – the same takbeerat that the sahaba used to mourn and grieve over for days if they happened to come late to salat and miss hearing the beloved voice of Prophet Mohammad ﷺ saying, “Straighten your lines […] Allahu Akbar (God is Greater).”

With a mind full of thoughts and a heart full of thanks, I realized an important fact: I shouldn’t be there. I didn’t deserve to be in that prayer with those blessed people who slept early and prepared themselves mentally and physically for salat al-Fajr. If it had been before Ramadan, I would definitely have been hitting the snooze button more than ten times, deluded by “the masjid is only two minutes away,” only to wake up and make up my prayer after sunrise.

What was the difference? It was Him. It was His mercy that He bestows on His servants in order to pave their way towards Him, despite their sins. The message, as I read it, was: maybe Ramadan this year was different. Maybe it was the long-awaited one, the “acceptance letter” to the graduate program of “لعلكم تتقون” (“…so that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious).” Maybe it is an offer to join the “True God Worshippers” club and leave the “Ramadan worshippers” gang.

Some might say it is your “biological clock”, or the hormones, or the habit of waking up. If it was a habit, then it was coming from Him. If it was hormones, let it be; in the end, it is Him and His miraculous ways. It is that gentle tap coming from Him to the hearts that HE chooses to wake up at that special moment and in that private meeting. They might forget to set the alarm, or they might be very tired, but when He sends the signal, they wake up, and they rush to respond to His call. I don’t claim that I am one of these special Fajr prayer people, that my deeds were accepted this Ramadan, that I was freed from hell-fire and that I became a Mottaqi (a pious person) – but the message that I received that morning was a much needed glimpse of light. The only definite answer that we will get is when we—insha’ Allah (God willing)—take our books in our right hands, and at that moment, we will be told:

69:24

“Eat and drink at ease for that which you have sent on before you in days past!” (Qur’an, 69:24)

Some scholars mentioned that those “days past” refer to the days of fasting, as Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) will tell the believers to enjoy eating and drinking in paradise, in reward of their good deeds in general, and their fasting in particular.

Please, look for those gentle messages in your life. Maybe you are not even checking your inbox. Maybe you treat messages from your Creator as you treat spam coming from those who want you to buy their products. We always expect the wake-up call to be a harsh one—the death of a beloved one or a disaster in the family—but that’s not true at all. That harsh message was not your first one, but rather it was the first one YOU paid attention to. Allah (swt) has decreed for Himself Mercy (6:12), Allah wishes to turn to you (4:27), and He wants to lighten your difficulties because man was created weak (4:28).

For that lady who thought God was “punishing” her because of the trouble she faced in Downtown Detroit, I tried to answer her from the Qur’an, where Allah (swt) says:

89:15

89:16

89:17

“As for man, when his Lord tries him and [thus] is generous to him and favors him, he says, ‘My Lord has honored me.’ But when He tries him and restricts his provision, he says: ‘My Lord has humiliated me.’ Nay! But you do not honor the orphan and you do not encourage one another to feed the poor.” (Quran, 89:15-18)

Everything that happens to us is a test from Allah (swt), and the people who are tried the most are the prophets, then the like, then the like, meaning that after the prophets, those with the most faith are put through great trial, then believers with a degree less of faith, then less, etc. The more faithful one is, the more he or she will be tried. Interpreting hardship as a punishment might make us assume that the life of Prophet Ibrahim `alayhi assalaam (peace be upon him), for example, was the easiest and smoothest life ever. We all know it is not the case, and we all know how much Allah loves his beloved prophet […] And Allah did take Ibrahim as a an intimate friend.”(Qur’an, 4:125) What you should look at, after doing a good deed, is not the level of hardship you encounter, but how much this deed brought your heart closer to Allah (swt). Do you feel more humbled? Are you motivated to do more community service? Do you feel the urge to pray more Qiyam al-Layl even if Ramadan is over (rather than watching a movie, as in my case)? If you have noticed these little signs in your heart and your actions—by the way, feeling alone is not enough, they have to be reflected by noticeable actions, no matter how small the actions—then hopefully you are on the right track.

We ask Allah (swt) to accept our deeds, give us sincerity, and guide us to find and stay on the straight path.

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8 Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    Subhanallah with each hardship also Allah sends many ease, strength and cleanses us.We need to keep on asking Allah for the Tawakkal to be stead fast. InshAllah.

  2. Zaufishan says:

    This has to be one of the most humbling pieces on the site; mashaallah – simple, humbling, a little nudge to wake one up from sleep.
    Good omens exist in Islam, and all calamities are not punishments but rather invitations. If one test misses us, another will strike, if that one gets past, another, and this happens until we go back home.
    An excellent question then: at which holy contact did we respond to like the muttaqin?

    Ah, to be a travelling believer.
    Jazakallah khairan br.

  3. María M says:

    Assalamualaikom,
    I don´t agree with the beggining completely, there is always a message behind everything that happens to us. And in my humble oppinion, you should notice that punishment and reward are both extremes of the human condition, it is showing us the duality of our humanity, and in this case (the lady´s friend), I see her flattering about how good she was, opposite to do I deserve that someone punish me this way, both are extremes of the same candle, both reflects our human condition, and it is something we have to solve inside of ourselves, if I do god, I´m not talking about it, it is something between God and me, and if I can not shut myself, “Astagfiroullah” and if I think I´m receiving wrong, “Astagfiroullah”, because we are not conscious of all our thoughts, words and acts, even when we are working to be as awake as possible, we are human. And asking for Pardon, Forgiveness doesn´t mean we are bad people or that we should punish ourselves, it means we are awake to the Right Path, where we know, He is the One above all, He sees all, and we are here to get closer to Him, bit by bit, living, and when I say living is living, not just surviving in fear of I am wrong or right, when we do the right thing, we know it from deep inside, we can try to lie ourselves, but we cannot do it.
    Everything has a purpose, the energy is not wasted, …every human being is too precious, and, of course, each of our paths in life, it doesn´t matter who we are,
    because we all have the opportunity while we are alive to wake up to Him, I do believe He love us all, and has the Infinite Patiente and Love to wait until everyone of us wake up to Him.
    Thank you for helping me to grow.
    Salamat
    María

  4. Abu Shoaib says:

    Salam-o-alaikum,

    Interesting write, however I would like to quote certain things. I have heard some scholars differentiate between punishment and test. Every incident, not just hardship but some good happening too, can be either a test or punishment. The rule is simple (according to the ulemas) if you remember Allah SWT during that event then its a test, and if you forget Allah SWT and start cursing (if bad thing) or enjoying uncontrollably (without saying thanks if its good thing), then it is a punishment of Allah SWT.

    Coming to the authors incident of making to the Fajar prayer is what I would consider as a I sign, although he watched movie but in his heart he was aware of the fajar prayer and had this feeling he might miss it. Allah SWT has said (according to scholars quoting hadeeth) if you take one step towards Allah, Allah SWT takes 10 steps towards you. If you walk towards Him, He comes running to you.

    I have heard scholars say ask for two things only that are worth more than anything we can imagine, Hidayah and Maghfirah…

    May Allah forgive and guide us all..

  5. Abu Majeed says:

    Salamu alaikum bro,

    Good message and nice Quranic points. :-) One issue to be clear on though, Eid al-Fitr is only one day. The three days is a cultural custom which is fine, but from a Fiqh perspective you may fast the second of shawwal. Actually some scholars said that in order to get the reward for the 6 days of Shawwal you must start from the second.

  6. Salaam brothers and sisters,
    Usually I try to get a core moral of such a piece, especially when it is talking about an individual incident!
    Here, the lesson or the tip I came up with is the following:
    To live with ALLAH, that is what Islam is all about. To always have HIM in my mind, even if I am falling short in obeying everything HE commanded me to do.
    We all claim that ALLAH is number one in our life! But when it comes to applying this claim to our intentions and/or deeds, there we begin to fall short in proving it in reality!

    Thank you brother Mohannad for such a decent and honest reminder.

    May ALLAH love us to love HIM enough to prove it in our life.

    Abdulrahman Alhashemi.

  7. Ali says:

    Simply amazing mA. May Allah Swt reward you Mohannad.

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