The paradox: you become strong when you admit you are weak

We are still in isolation, still trying our best to keep safe. Whatever happens, we know that it is what Allah Almighty destined for us. All we can do is be careful: not be panicked or over the top, not act with fear. We just do whatever we can, and the rest is in Allah Almighty’s hands.

I have a few verses to share with you, from three surahs. The first is from Surah Al-‘Alaq, the first surah to be revealed, then also from Surah Al-Hashr and Surah Al-Najm, which was another of the earliest revelations.

Seclusion is an escape from fitnah (temptations and corruption of the world)

Starting with Surah Al-‘Alaq. ‘Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) started going to the Cave of Hira when he was in his forties. She has mentioned that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to go into seclusion; he liked to separate himself from the idol worshippers and the toxic environment surrounding him in Makkah at that time. He used to seclude himself and worship Allah Almighty for many nights. He would come back only when he ran out of food, pack some more and go back to the cave. His core  purpose in this isolation was seeking the truth. And Allah Almighty did provide him with the truth when he sent the Angel Jibril and embraced the Prophet (peace be upon him) – we know the rest of the story.

A’isha, the wife of the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him), reported:

The first (form) with which was started the revelation to the Messenger of Allah was the true vision in sleep. And he did not see any vision but it came like the bright gleam of dawn. Thenceforth solitude became dear to him and he used to seclude himself in the cave of Hira’, where he would engage in tahannuth (and that is a worship for a number of nights) before returning to his family and getting provisions again for this purpose. He would then return to Khadija and take provisions for a like period, till the Truth came upon him while he was in the cave of Hira’. There came to him the angel and said: Recite…(Muslim).

Seclusion is a means to seek the truth and of self discovery

In this story we see that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), with this self-seclusion, was reflecting on his people and his city, and the way they were worshipping, which he disliked. He was longing to find the way of Ibrahim (may Allah be pleased with him), with sincerity, truthfulness and determination. The biggest proof of his determination is in his trips to the Cave of Hira itself, which is a very steep and difficult way that many fit, young people cannot manage, even today. He was determined to find the truth, and then Allah Almighty provided it. So this is what we should be aiming for in our hearts: we should be looking to find the truth and change our reality. And we can’t change reality unless we change ourselves.

Personal change and growth

Aim high, yes, but be realistic. Many of us want to change many things at once, but the greatest challenge is how to change yourself. But this is also where you can have control. You don’t have control over your reality, but you do have control (supposedly) over yourself. We’ve been given this time of seclusion by Allah Almighty, so let’s take the opportunity to reflect on our reality and our priorities.

So in that cave, which by the way is very small – only about two people can fit in it at once, and you can barely stand and lift your head – in that cave he received Surah Al-‘Alaq. The first five verses were the first revelation. And later Allah Almighty revealed the rest of the Surah. In the sixth ayah Allah Almighty says:

Man oversteps all limits. (96:6)

And He explains the reason in the next two ayat:

because he considers himself self-sufficient. (96:7)

Because he thinks he can make anything. We have nuclear power, we have plans to go to Mars. Do you see the arrogance? Allah Almighty says:

Surely, to your Lord is the return. (96:8)

So do whatever you want, think whatever you want, the reality will hit you. We think we are so powerful and in control, and then Allah Almighty hits us with this coronavirus.

We are powerless

Today I had a chat with a pharmaceutical specialist who works in a hospital, who said everything is very strange. The pandemic is still developing, and we are waiting for the worst to happen. We are preparing the hospitals for the worst to hit, and it hasn’t yet. Subhanallah look, this tiny virus, which is even smaller than a red blood cell. Where is humanity’s power? Scientists, rulers, governors, where is it? Shoot your nuclear weapons at it. Fight it, send your troops. Can you do this? No. So we are weak. We’ve been defeated by a virus. And if we don’t learn any lessons from that, how foolish are we? With all the technology we have, we can’t fight and defeat this virus. And the death toll is on the rise, may Allah Almighty stop it.

We are not powerful, as Allah Almighty mentioned twice in the Quran:

He created you from weakness. (30:54)

And in another ayah:

Man has been created weak. (4:28)

Do we acknowledge this? When we see ourselves as self-sufficient, when the reality is that we are not. We didn’t create the oxygen we need. We didn’t create the soil that produces the food we eat. Who created the soil? Allah Almighty. It’s amazing how it works – you put in different seeds, and you get different plants and different fruits. All from the same soil. Subhanallah, Allah Almighty is the Creator. The message here is to be humble, not to be inflated by your own perception of your power. We are not immune to weakness or to sickness. We are not. If we think this, we are arrogant.

Yet we think we are powerful, in control and self sufficient

Let’s not act with arrogance, because arrogance kills our closeness to Allah Almighty. It was the first sin that was ever committed, the sin of arrogance, kibr. Iblis committed this sin. He rejected Allah Almighty out of his sense of superiority towards Adam. And Allah Almighty says in the eighth ayah:

To your Lord is the return.

Don’t forget. To Him is our return.

Now we turn to Surah Najm and the verse:

Which of your Lord’s favours can you deny? (53:55)

We see a similar verse in Surah al-Rahman repeated 31 times:

Which of the favours of your Lord do you deny? (53:55)

We have so many of Allah Almighty’s favours among us. But many people do deny them. It’s time to remember. It’s time to reflect. Don’t deny the favours of your Lord. Allah Almighty then says in the next verses,

‘This is a warning, as has been sent to the previous nations before you. (53:56)

The time for akhirah is close.’ We never know.

Attacked from an unexpected place

In Surah al-Hashr, Allah Almighty says:

They thought that their fortresses would defend them. But Allah came at them from where they never expected. (59:2)

This is referring to what happened with Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and a Jewish tribe (Bani Al-Nadeem) in Madinah. They had broken the treaty which they had made with the Prophet (peace be upon him) and they wanted to kill him. He had to fight back against them. They were inside their fortress and they thought no one could reach them there. But leaving aside this story and taking the ayah in itself, it’s exactly the same with us. We’ve been attacked from a place which no one expected. A virus.

Even though we have paid a lot of money to arm ourselves with tanks and fighter jets and rockets and satellites and we think we are technologically advanced, Allah Almighty sent us an unexpected challenge. No one was prepared. This shows us our reality. Don’t be overconfident about your wealth or your intelligence, or your strength or your connections. Do not be so assured of your military strength. The military can’t do anything now; they are affected as well.

Don’t underestimate Allah Almighty. Thus far, out of the blue, the tiny virus that can’t be seen by the naked eye has defeated the power of all of humanity together.

How do we rectify our situation

Going back to Surah Al-Najm, Allah Almighty says:

None besides Allah Almighty can avert it. (53:58)

Some might say, if we find the vaccine, we can resolve it without Allah Almighty. But until Allah Almighty wants us to find the vaccine, we won’t. We still don’t have all the medicines we need to eradicate cancer. There has been good progress, but we don’t have a cure for all types. The illness has been there for hundreds of years. It didn’t pop up yesterday. Allah Almighty is telling us, no one can figure this out, without His support.

The message to us in all this is that we must stop being arrogant- on an individual level, as well as on a national and global level.

Time to re-prioritise our lives

When does a human feel  powerful and indestructible? Mainly when he has power, or money, or status. Take for instance Fir’awn. He proclaimed himself to be god. He felt undefeatable, he had the river Nile, the army and the slaves. And the money. Allah Almighty destroyed him for his arrogance and ruthlessness. We have to learn from this. I’m not saying this virus is a punishment. But I am saying it is a wake-up call for us all to reflect on our reality.

We have been like hamsters on wheels. Now we have to rethink our priorities. Think about our plans going forward.

What is the most important thing to us these days? It’s not our status or prestige. It’s survival. Protecting our self and our loved ones. If this is the true priority, why have we neglected it for so long? We were working to seek luxury and dunya. We need to prioritise, because none of us knows how long we have. We have all lost some dear family members or friends in the past few weeks, and likely in the coming weeks too. (May Allah Almighty shower them with his mercy.) No one is immune.

It’s a very deep message from Allah Almighty that we need to think about our priorities. Don’t let your career or your ambition take precedence over your link with Allah Almighty. It should be the other way around. Don’t let the dunya dictate how you communicate with Him. I’m not saying stay at home and don’t work, just do ibada and salah all day. No. We do need to work hard and improve ourselves and make progress in our careers. But priority one is how we connect to Allah Almighty, how we plan for the akhira. The dunya is a test, it’s a journey. Next stop is the akhirah. Now we are on the connection flight, waiting for the next flight to arrive. Then we will leave. While we are waiting, we shouldn’t forget that our flight is soon.

Surrender, submission and sujood

Allah Almighty says:

Do you then wonder at this discourse? And you laugh and you don’t weep? And you are lost in your vain play. (53:59-61)

Some people are laughing and joking and are not serious about this situation, and we are wasting our time. And Allah Almighty finishes the surah saying:

Fall down in prostration to Allah, and worship. (53:62)

This is the answer. We have been arrogant and broken the limits, and we need to return to a position of humility, surrender and submission.

Allah Almighty is commanding us to prostrate. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said:

The closest a servant can be to his lord is in the position of sujood. (Muslim)

The moment we deny our weakness, we are attacked from places which we never expected. In order to protect yourself, you have to behave with humility. You have to have complete obedience to Allah Almighty and surrender yourself. Prostration is submission to Allah Almighty. This is the closest we can be to our Lord. Our forehead and the nose tough the floor, the dust. This is where your pride is. When you put your head on the floor it’s a sign of humility, though of course we should never do this except to Allah Almighty. We do this to show our weakness, to show that we need Allah Almighty.

Deep lesson in humility

These verses are hitting home and showing us that arrogance is one of the main features of those who deny Allah Almighty. We should never ever forget this. When we have forgot this, and begin to think we are safe and strong, Allah Almighty wakes us up. This is a wake-up call for all humanity, to readdress the situation and come back from committing injustices and all these wrongdoings. It’s time for reflection. All these calamities are a mercy Allah Almighty is sending to bring people back to Him. For those whom Allah Almighty addressed:

Take lesson, you who have insight. (59:2)

He is calling upon those who really think, those who have a brain and insight, they have to think and reflect. What are we going to say to Allah Almighty when we meet Him? Am I prepared? Most likely not, so Allah Almighty has sent this for us to prepare ourselves to meet him for the Day, when:

There is none of you but Allah Almighty will speak to him. There is no translator between him and Allah Almighty. (Bukhari and Muslim)

And whoever is written to leave us, inshallah if they were believers, they will be shaheed, as the hadith has stated. This is very clear from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported:

I asked the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) about plague and he said, “It is a punishment which Allah sends upon whomsoever He wills, but Allah has made it as a mercy to the believers.

Anyone who remains in a town which is plagued with it maintaining patience, expecting the reward from Allah, and knowing that nothing will befall him other than what Allah has foreordained for him, he would receive a reward of Shaheed. (Bukhari)

When we admit our weakness, Allah makes us strong

Imam al-Qushayri, commented that we keep forgetting that we are in need of Allah Almighty. We do have deep need of Allah Almighty, and the moment we can see that, then we are not included in the category of the tyrants and the transgressors.

The prescription for humility is to feel weak. We have to acknowledge this. We are weak, but with Allah Almighty’s support we are strong.

The very first revelation is an example of this. The Angel Jibril came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and told him to recite, he replied that he was illiterate. Again, Jibril said ‘Recite’, and he said again that he couldn’t. For a third time, Jibril said, ‘Recite’, and then he revealed the ayah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) showed his weakness – that he couldn’t read, that he hadn’t been educated – and then Jibril said:

Recite, by the name of your Lord. (96:1)

By His name he became the master of the literate people. This is the key. Show your weakness, and Allah Almighty will give you power.

 

Online Youth Circle of 2nd April 2020. Transcribed by Hana Khan.

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001.His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College).He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.

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