There was a bus blocking the right turn lane and its emergency lights were flashing. “I need a quick detour!,” thought the woman driving. She turned into a parking lot to cross through to the adjacent street. As she made the turn, she felt her car heave forward heavily and realized she had not seen the curb. Embarrassed, she continued to the street and felt her car was driving differently. She swung into a side road to check on it.
A flat tire! Subhan’Allah (glory be to God). She immediately thought of the dua`a’ (supplication) that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) had taught to the ummah (Muslim community) for times of difficulty: “If a servant of Allah is afflicted with a misfortune and says: ‘Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un, Allahumma ajirni fi musibati wa akhlif li khairan minha‘ (Verily we belong to Allah and truly to Him shall we return. O Allah! Protect me in this calamity that has befallen me and replace it with something better), Allah will accept his prayer, grant him reward for his affliction, and replace it with something better.”1 And so she made this dua`a’, knowing full well she had been the one to cause the misfortune to happen in the first place, but hoping that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) would bless her in some way because of it.
She then sat there, after having called for help, dazed and wondering why this had happened. Why was that bus stopped where it had been stopped? Why was it meant for her to be on this specific road at this specific time, when she usually would never have been in that place, at that time? Why didn’t she wait and go around the bus, instead of turning through a parking lot? She began to contemplate the verse, “And whatever strikes you of disaster—it is for what your hands have earned; but He pardons much” (Qur’an, 42:30). And finally, perhaps—perhaps—this happened because something better should happen. There had to have been a reason for this situation. But what was the reason? Where was the wisdom?
After some time, her husband came, changed the flat with a spare, and directed her to go to a specific tire company to take advantage of a warranty. This tire company was much further out, in a city which she had never traversed due to its distance and decentralized location. Upon reaching the company and waiting for her tire to be fixed, she realized she needed to pray dhuhr (the afternoon prayer) and wondered if there was a masjid nearby. Mapping it, she found one only a few miles away, so as soon as her car was ready, she was headed for the mosque.
There was only one other car parked in the parking lot. Having never been to this masjid before, she searched for an entrance and walked in. There, she found an older man sitting at a table. She greeted him and as he looked up, she asked if he could point out the direction of the prayer area.
He looked at her, almost in a daze. “Aren’t you… Aren’t you that woman who spoke at the conference recently?” She confirmed as he continued, “What brings you here?” He realized she had come to pray and pointed out the direction of the prayer hall. After she had finished her salah (prayer), she headed back towards the entrance to leave. He beckoned her, “Would you mind waiting just a moment?”
He then explained that while she was speaking at the conference, he was listening to her and thinking about the future generation. He was thinking about young adults and the way they need someone to connect with them. He began to think our cultural and age gap as parents sometimes makes it difficult to convey the message of Islam in a way which is culturally relevant to their lives. If only I could somehow come in contact with this woman. Perhaps she could speak to the up-and-coming generation. But Allah—how? How will I come to connect with her? “And now,” he finished, “Here you are. Subhan’Allah.”
At that moment, the woman realized that perhaps the flat tire she had experienced—perhaps the bus with its emergency lights, the miscalculated curb, the need to go to a specific tire company so far away from her own locality—had all taken place so that she could be there, in that place, in that moment of time, where she would be connected to a person who was seeking to call youth back to Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala.
The woman stared at the man, incredulous at the situation. Subhan’Allah, she thought. Maybe this simple man, a man without a hugely outward “Islamic” appearance, a man who sat humbly in the masjid, was someone near to Allah (swt), dear to Allah (swt)—so much so that Allah (swt) would create a situation where the person this man was seeking to speak with came to his door.
It reminded the woman of the story of Imam Ahmad and the Baker. Imam Ahmad radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) once was traveling and needed to stay somewhere overnight. When he went to the masjid, the guard (not recognizing Imam Ahmad) denied him entrance. Imam Ahmad (ra) tried numerous times, but the guard did not accept his requests. Frustrated, Imam Ahmad (ra) resolved to spend the night in the masjid yard. The guard became furious and dragged him away, despite the old age and frailty of Imam Ahmad (ra).
A baker, whose shop was nearby, watched this scene and took pity on Imam Ahmad (ra), also not knowing who he was. The Baker thought of the man who needed a place to stay as a simple traveler without lodging. He invited the Imam to stay with him for the night. While there, Imam Ahmad noticed that the baker continually made istighfar (asking for Allah’s forgiveness) while working, and in the morning, the Imam eagerly asked his host about the latter’s continual seeking of forgiveness. The Baker said it had become second nature to him, and Imam Ahmad (ra) then asked whether the man had experienced any reward from this practice.
The Baker answered, “By Allah! No dua`a’ I made except that it was answered but one.” “And what is that dua`a’?” asked Imam Ahmed. “To be able to see the famed Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal!”
Imam Ahmad (ra) interjected, “I am Ahmad ibn Hanbal!” He then went on to add, “By Allah! I was dragged to your place so that you can have your dua`a’ (prayer) come true.”2
Perhaps this man, just like the Baker, was not some conference speaker, not some widely famed Imam, not some enormous Islamic activist, but someone who was sincere in their relationship with Allah (swt), and so Allah (swt) blessed them with acceptance and the answering of their passing wishes and dua`a’.
Days later, she continued to contemplate her encounter. Subhan’Allah, she kept thinking, everything for a reason. Sometimes, “bad” things happen to “good” people. But sometimes, those “bad” things are truly only outward moments of difficulty in comparison to the good Allah (swt) has in store and is preparing for that person to experience, when the time and moment are right.
As Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahu Allah (may Allah have mercy on him) said, “When Allah tests you, it is never to destroy you. Whenever He removes something from your possession, it is only to empty your hands for an even better gift.”
What is stopping us from working to become of those who are beloved to Allah (swt)?