by Sabeen Mansoori
Our lives are spent in various boxes. We live in boxes that are insulated from the outside; we feel neither the heat of the blazing sun till it penetrates our being nor do we experience the cold blasts of winter till our bones shiver. We venture out from these boxes in other boxes that simulate the conditions of our homes. If the day is pleasant, we take a whiff of the outside breeze, maybe spend a few hours in the open, and then return, relieved, to our air-conditioned habitats.
There are also some intangible boxes that we live in. Our memories surround us at all times. They are the silent conversations that constantly play in our minds. We recall moments of joy or are afflicted with debilitating grief. Since every moment lived eventually slips into memory, the writing on the glass walls of this box are constantly changing. In the middle of the mundane routines of this life, one might recall a moment of joy from years ago–maybe the company of a dear friend, a joke, a day on the beach, and our little glass box will fill with light and everything viewed from it will glow. Or maybe the memory of some grudge, some old or recent fight, will intrude upon your thoughts, and the walls of memories will become clouded with grief. The ugly words spoken years ago will bring a frown to your face and the whole world will seem dark.
There is an elite group of people you permit into your invisible box. They are the ones whom you trust. They are so close to you that they write their memories on the glass walls next to your own, and it is as if you have vicariously lived through their experiences. Through deep conversations and years of companionship, they have shaped your opinions and your world view just as you have shaped theirs. The hearts of such friends beat in sync with each other’s thoughts. This is especially true of friends that are united in faith. The Prophet ﷺ describing them said: “The Believer is a mirror to a Believer. The Believer is a brother to a Believer. Guarding him against loss and protecting him in his absence.” (Related by Abû Dâwûd (no.4918) and al-Bukhârî in al-Adadul-Mufrad (no.239), from Abû Hurayrah )
That is until someone comes and writes ugly graffiti about your friend on your wall of memories.
It could be a wayward thought whispered by Shaytan, it could be a genuine grievance left unattended in the heart, but someone has sprayed ugly graffiti about your friend on the wall. You are not sure where it came from. You are not even sure who wrote it. Did you write it in a fit of rage or did a stranger come with some piece of spiteful, juicy gossip and you listened? Did you allow an outsider into your closed thoughts, or was it someone who already had access to your memories? Rumors and suspicions consume your thoughts as you try to recall the good memories, but the one vicious scribble seems to grow with time and casts its ugly shadow on all other memories.
Now when your friend approaches, she is not permitted into your box of memories. At first, she is unaware that she has been excluded, that when you look at her through the glass, you see only the words of suspicion, of blame, of grievances scrawled across her face. Her words, no matter how sincere, do not get across. They are muffled by your own emotions of anger and regret. “How could she?” you wonder. As the relationship deteriorates, your friend pleads with you to let her back into your life, but now the ugly, piece of suspicious gossip has become implanted into your brain and nothing, it seems, can remove it. Your friend either gets agitated and loud in her protests, or gives up and falls silent, and then only do you turn towards her and what you see displeases you. Allah (swt) warns us against this in Surat Al-Hujurat:
“O you who believe! Avoid much suspicions, indeed some suspicions are sins. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting). And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is the One Who accepts repentance, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an, 49:12)
But of course, would people whose hearts beat with the love of Allah (swt) and His Messenger ﷺ treat each other in this despicable manner? Rather, they would turn to the Qur’an and the Sunnah and resolve their differences in an amicable fashion. We forget that this world is a test and this lapse of memory makes the previous scenario even more difficult for us to fathom. How, we wonder, could this be happening? The reality is that differences are a part of our lives.
A few years after Allah (swt) commanded Hazrat Adam (as) and his wife to leave Jannah (paradise), the arguments and suspicions between his sons had already begun.
“And recite to them the story of Adam’s two sons, in truth, when they both offered a sacrifice [to Allah], and it was accepted from one of them but was not accepted from the other. Said [the latter], “I will surely kill you.” Said [the former], “Indeed, Allah only accepts from the righteous [who fear Him].” (Qur’an, 5:27)
And the differences will continue to afflict us to the Day of Judgement and beyond; almost to the gates of Paradise. Insha’Allah (if Allah wills) we will make it that far.
“The believers will be saved from the Fire then they will be kept on a bridge between Paradise and Hell. They will settle their accounts with one another for any wrongs that existed between them in this world, until they are purified and cleansed, and will be permitted to enter Paradise. By the One in Whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, each of them will know his dwelling in Paradise better than he knew his dwelling in this world”. (Sahih al-Bukhaari, Kitaab ar-Riqaaq, Baab al-Qisas Yawm al-Qiyamah, Fath al-Baari, 11/395)
The Prophet ﷺ said: “I asked my Lord for three things, but He gave me two of them, and prevented me from one. I asked my Lord that my nation not be destroyed by a drought, so He gave it to me. And I asked Him that my nation not perish by drowning, so he gave it to me. And I asked Him that fighting not occur between them, but He did not give it to me.” (Reported by Muslim #2890 and others)
The disagreements will not disappear, but all is not lost. As in all other tests of this world, sometimes we pass and sometimes we fail, but as believers we never give up. The vicious words that pollute our memories are not written in indelible ink. They can be wiped off, and the moral strength required to do so can be attained by the continuous recitation of the Qur’an. The grudges and grief must be replaced by the words “pardon and overlook”. Allah (swt) commands the believers to turn the page and not hold grudges when harsh words interfere in our relationships, whether with those in our families or those of other faiths.
Every dispute might not necessarily be resolved, but we should continuously work to remove the suspicions from our hearts so that peace returns to our invisible box of memories and we can return to worshiping Allah (swt) with a clean heart.
“The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” (Qur’an, 9:71)