It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite. — Søren Kierkegaard
HAVE YOU EVER walked against a tide, felt the briny water resist your every man-made volition? Have you ever climbed a hill? What about a winding stair? Have you ever burned your skin? Has ice cream ever frozen the nerves of your palate? In your whole life, have you ever passed through opposites?
Man is, in his imperfect way, at odds with the world around him. Gravitation weighs him down and resists his desire to transcend the surface of the earth. Ocean’s beat his limbs back against the shore. Ice and fire threaten his tender tissue with necrosis and he flees. The hardness of stony mountains halts the human continuum and grafts human generations to parallel yet different geographies. In this way, Spanish generations, for example, have been grafted parallel to French generations.
With all this tremendous resistance, some would argue that it is impossible to resist such tremendous physical odds. How could one resist the earth’s powerful attraction and ascend into the heavens? How is it possible to bite granite and pass through unwavering hearts of mountains? How could it be that such a willowy frame as man’s forges through pounding oceanic surfs? How did the Eskimo brave the tundra and Arabs traverse the desert? All accounts of man thus far are contrary to reason, polar in nature. It is one big story of opposites passing through opposites.
The truth is that people desired hard enough to pass through opposite substances. When people desired practical metals like iron and precious metals like gold, they passed through mountains. When we were weary of moons made of cheese and desired to see space, we fought gravity and traveled to the moon and back. When we wanted fish, we built boats, divorced the shores and went out to sea. When the days grew short and ponds froze, we gathered lamb’s fleece and avian down around our pale necks.
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In each human account of discovery, ingenuity, and success, we see a recurring pattern of man having to pass through opposition in order to capture his quarry. Being an imperfect, visceral creation, we are bound to this pattern of existence as long as we occupy this earth of ours.
But we must ask ourselves, specifically as believing men and women, the following twofold question: What kind of opposite are we seeking to pass and for what item are we attempting this miraculous passage? Is it through the mountain’s heart that we are passing and is our intent to mine its hidden metals or perhaps its good salts? Is it through the ocean that we are passing and is it our intent to capture its submarine pearls? What medium are we passing through and with what intent?
Particularly, for the believing woman and man, the challenge is being able to pass through the right opposites and for the right reasons. Pushing through waves and finding fish and pearls are beautiful resistances, but we must ask whether this should be the extent of our worldly passaging.
Being Muslims, our dominating desire should be to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet, and to endeavor toward the mercy of Allah. And even though it is difficult, we should be able to overcome those obstacles that seem to provide no way of passage through, no means of resistance. Traveling to the moon and resisting gravity is no great feat at all when we think of traversing the illusive trappings of this dimension that we call the universe and transcending to Heaven, if Allah wills! Now that is a feat worth pushing for, struggling for.
And yet the terrestrial tide is strong. It sometimes seems to me like so many odds are stacked up against the good Muslim. To achieve a Muslim desire, it feels like one must not only pass through the challenges of the earth, but also pass through challenges presented by other human beings.
Now here is the unique Muslim challenge. Hour after hour and day after day, the Muslim is challenged by seemingly attractive things (i.e., things that present themselves as wholesome in nature).
The landscape presented to the Muslim is riddled with opposites, and we must recognize this fact. Having friends of the opposite gender is viewed as a healthy relationship when really it is often a devastating, heartbreaking dynamic.
Not that I am a big proponent of platitudes, but the global society we live in also articulates the idea that war is peace and peace is war (ironically, many a Nobel Peace Prize has been ceremoniously awarded to warmongers). In our modern society, values are just plain mixed up and morality is tampered with by big business and big personalities (i.e., celebrities).
We must learn that it is often the case that our goodly, Muslim desires (e.g. following the Sunnah, attempting to gain Allah’s mercy, and ultimately the Garden) often lie in recognizing the dunya for what it is: A panorama of opposites.
We must be able to see things for what they really are and understand that by choosing the seemingly more turbulent path we are, in fact, regularly choosing the smoother, calmer path.
So society may make a certain avenue seem to be bad and impenetrable when, in fact, it is good and penetrable. For the good Muslim, it is understood that while we are all about belief in the Unseen, what the world presents to us we must view with wary skepticism, and recognize that sometimes the road to Heaven is passed through the opposite way that society instructs us to take.