An illustration of the kind of negative, stressful, depressive feelings and thoughts that some of us can fall into deeply. An attempt in using our faith and resolve in trying to overcome them, and replacing them with hope, positivity, inner strength and peace.
IT WAS A clear and beautiful day outside. The sounds of happy playful children outside and cars passing by were all too normal, but this was a stark contrast to the feeling of gushing pain and continuous suffering I was feeling. The television was playing in the background as I sat thinking and dwelling on things, as I often did, whilst actually not watching the television at all. There was usually too little time for this kind of pondering, and not having that time to think was probably a blessing.
It was another depressing moment that I was experiencing. I could never have imagined that this would be me. All the hope, vibrancy, beauty and energy I had in my youth had amounted to nothing, or so I felt. An intense sadness and a blanket of negativity had entrapped the positivity and happiness I craved and had once enjoyed.
Deep down of course I knew that this was far from the truth because I had been blessed by so much. These blessings had become tests and didn’t provide the contentment I desired. I was convinced that my life must be missing something.
I had distanced myself from devoting time to perfecting my prayers or doing anything marginally meaningful and fulfilling. I just wished for the emptiness to go away. Days came and went and I was still helplessly engulfed in this predicament.
Expectations, I told myself were the problem. I had expected one thing and others had expected of me something completely different, because maybe that was what the culture had dictated, or that was their own dispositions or characters playing out over the years.
A Slave to Expectations?
Culture is something that so many in this world are unknowingly a slave to. Was it a cultural problem or a problem with the human race? I reminisced. Who taught me that to be an achiever and to feel worthy I had to defy my femininity and family in order to define myself individually? Who had taught me that I was an object of sacrifice and I was the one who should come last on my own list of priorities?
No one had taught me this, of course, but I found myself putting myself last as a habit. If there wasn’t enough food to eat I would give it to everyone else first and eat what was leftover, in order not to waste it, or so I told myself. If there were too many clothes to wash I would put my clothes last; after all, it was far more important to wash everybody else’s clothes first.
I realized that this thought process must be ingrained in my character from when I had been young, but I was so accustomed to it that although I had begun to dissect and question my thoughts, I still couldn’t clear my psyche of it. Pleasing others and ensuring their happiness was what I did best, but this had left me hollow and emotionally exhausted. It would take an entire lifetime to get to the stage where my knowledge and understanding of this world and human behavior would finally translate into a change or transformation in my life.
One tender soft moment with those I loved was enough to give me enough emotional fuel and sanity to muddle through my days. What gave me the strength to continue was the belief that ultimately justice would be served one day, and that this life was merely a temporary series of tests. The Quran clearly states:
Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested? [Sûrat Al-ʿAnkabût, 29:2]
We will test you with a certain amount of fear and hunger and loss of wealth and life and fruits of your toil. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah 2:155]
Retracing my Steps
We are all in a series of tests, whether we consider ourselves liberated or trapped, whether we consider ourselves to be career women or housewives, or whether we wish to be politically correct and say that both are equally achievable simultaneously. Everyone has had their own set of challenges imposed on them. The testing, daily striving, struggling and challenges would always be there for all those who have entered this life until they cease to be in his life, whether they accept this or not.
This felt like a sticking point and a mental block that I couldn’t digest or overcome. Although we know that this life will continue to test us every day and force us to make so many choices, none of us have any proper control in the circumstances we will find ourselves in when we wake up, or even whether we will wake up or not. Yet we do make our own choices everyday and try to feed our sense of control.
I had spent so long trying to work out what it was that would’ve made me happy if I could go back in time and choose all over again. No matter what I would have chosen the outcome wouldn’t have necessarily been any better. Whichever way I looked at it, people looking in at my life probably thought that I had the most enviable life. I toiled over what were the actual problems that I wanted to change and how those changes would eliminate the emptiness and sadness that I felt.
Thankful but Still Empty
Thinking and analyzing too much can often create bigger problems than the ones we are trying to solve. I reached the conclusion that despite not wanting to change anything because I was grateful for what I had, the satisfaction and happiness was still missing in my life.
Some days I suffered such great stress that I felt I was on the verge of depression. I wondered whether continuing in this way would lead to illness that might eventually need medication, and this petrified me. I tried to hide from the fact that if I didn’t take it seriously, then that could happen to me. Taking strong medications to combat my feelings was not an approach I felt comfortable with, not at least until I had had exhausted all other options. I asked myself what the alternatives were. As a result, I turned to my faith in Allah as a stronghold, and that was what gave me the strength to continue.
Those who believe and work righteousness—their Lord will guide them because of/through their faith… [Sûrah Yûnus, 10:9]
Patience, Supplication and Perseverance
Oh you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer, for God is with those who patiently persevere. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah 2:153].
This led to building a closer relationship with my Creator, and knowing what to do in life and how to do it was simple when learnt from the original and pure sources.
Every day I would tell myself repeatedly “P – S – P” (patience, supplication and perseverance), and these were the strengths that helped wipe out the emptiness. That abbreviation was quick and easy to say and for those that have the strong will to actually put these three skills into practice, these life skills can give astonishing and miraculous results.
Du‘a’ (Supplication) and Lifting the Fog
Invoking, beseeching and shedding tears whilst asking Allah—the controller of the universe—is easy and incredibly effective, yet so many of us neglect this avenue of assistance. Allah controls every mind, heart and body and can change our situation in a split second, if He wills it.
I therefore devoted time to supplication and my prayers became a source of comfort and strength. I pondered over the meaning of every verse as I recited Sûrat Al-Fâtiḥah, and learning the beautiful tafsîr (interpretation) of that sûrah gave a new lease of life to my prayers.
Once my mind’s switch had flipped to the positive, I could clearly reflect and analyse each daily situation I was faced with logically. I could assess and determine what the causes for those problems were. I could accordingly employ suitable solutions or ways of handling them. Being rational was becoming a part of my character.
Every difficulty became an opportunity for me to get closer to Allah and to seek reward from Him. So then the fog began lifting. The emptiness inside was slowly diminishing as I filled my life with tasks that would increase my knowledge, understanding and practical implementation of Islam.
Freedom from the Burden of False Notions
I realised that it was presumptuous, even sinful, for me to be unhappy with the decisions of my Creator. That very belief comes from an assumption that we know better than the Creator what we deserve and should have got in life.
I replaced ingratitude with thankfulness and exchanged resentment with beautiful patience. Patience is the most beautiful strength that we can gift to ourselves.
My need for control in every detail of life had oppressed and pressurized my own soul. Once I realized that, I decided to dispose of that need. I may have had other plans but I began feeling that the way my life was being steered was in fact for the best in the long run.
That acceptance gave me comfort and made my îmân stronger. Trusting Allah and being happy for what is decreed for us can be the crux of complete submission that we may lack. Truly the answers lie with the input given by the Creator who created us.
Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find peace. [Sûrat Al-Raʿd 13:28]
Only Allah can heal and alleviate our suffering and provide inner peace. Everything is easy for Him and He promises us ease after hardship:
Verily, with every difficulty there is relief. [Sûrat Al-Inshirâḥ 94:5]
Trust in Allah’s Loving Mercy and Wise Knowledge
In hardship we should turn to Him and be hopeful that He will relieve us. By His mercy he can grant us ease and restore our happiness.
So true are the words of our Lord who created the universe and all that is contained within it. We belong to Him and He is able to control our hearts and minds, and He knows us better than ourselves.
Our purpose for which we were designed and sent down to earth has been revealed to us and we should focus on completing that.
Worshipping Allah Brings Back Balance and Healing
During worship the soul dwells in tranquility and fulfills the purpose it was designed for:
I have not created the jinn and men except for this, that they worship me alone. [Sûrat Al-Dhâriyât, 51:56]
One of the key words in the above verse is “alone”—meaning that you make Him the most important factor in your life and you judge yourself and everything surrounding you according to the criterion that He has revealed and taught.
Whenever we deviate and fail to fulfill that purpose, we begin to find our hearts lost, confused and wallowing in pain or sin.
For example a pen is designed to write and that is its purpose; no matter how pretty looking or expensive it is, if it stops working there is no practical use for it anymore. What we humans would do with such a pen is to put it aside or get rid of it, entirely. But Allah’s patience with us and His mercy for us is so vast and expansive that He has given us till the end of our lives to try to fulfill that purpose and so prove our worth and gain entry into Paradise.
“Worshipping Allah” encompasses obeying his commands, following the way that He taught us through the example of His Prophet, seeking His help, believing in Him, relying on Him, trusting Him and His decisions and decree.
This worship actually benefits, nurtures, strengthens our souls, bodies and hearts and is the most essential food for our survival. Without this worship our systems come crashing down and we fall into traps, temptations, calamities and eventually our own failure.
Whenever we feel failure, hardships or emptiness looming over heads, we should ask ourselves whether we are fulfilling our true purpose in life, and what sins or distractions have we knowingly or unknowingly fallen into. Through eliminating the things that displease Allah, striving to please Him and aiming to reach paradise, we will be back on track: on the straight path, inshâ‘Allah.
Putting This Life into Perspective
It is truly through Allah’s mercy that any of us will enter Paradise. Allah doesn’t give up on us despite any of our shortcomings. He is so kind, generous and giving that He gives us till the end of our lives to try to learn and practice and perfect our job of worshipping Him alone.
Although He actually wants us to succeed and offers us all kinds of help, it is we who may ignore that help while we oppress ourselves and dig in our heels through our love and attachment to this worldly life.
Seeing the Bigger Picture
When we approach life in a wider context it helps us not to get too attached to its temptations and desires. Allah has given us this life as a test —as He clearly informs us in the Quran (Sûrat Al-ʿAnkabût, 29:2, above). It is the only test or exam I know of where the examiner has given us the answers for it in advance.
Looking at the bigger picture of this life helps to put our problems and adversities in context.1 Our faith helps us to have a happier outlook and perspective.2 Strong established beliefs and spiritual striving are being acknowledged as a form of protection against depression.3 Many confess that the connection to a greater power or truth can give a sense of meaning and purpose.4 Amongst researchers the link between faith and preventing depression, as well as combating it, is becoming agreed upon.5
Although it is non-Muslim communities and sources where this research originated, still the overall principle may be even more magnified if we were to research this phenomenon in Muslim communities. In fact it would be fair to predict that our faith and practice of Islam are probably directly, and proportionally, linked to our ability to deal with difficult situations.
Allah, The Most Compassionate, wants us to succeed in this life and to achieve true success, positivity and inner peace. If we use our faith as a strong handhold and follow his commands, we will be taken care of and our troubles can be melted down or eradicated thereby.
Whoever disbelieves in Ṭâghût and believes in Allah, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:256]
- Meyers, D. The funds, friends, and faith of happy people. American Psychologist 55-57 (2000).
- Burns, GW & Street, H. Standing without Shoes: Creating Happiness, Relieving Depression, Enhancing Life (Prentice Hall, Sydney, 2003).
- Burns, GW & Street, H. Standing without Shoes: Creating Happiness, Relieving Depression, Enhancing Life (Prentice Hall, Sydney, 2003).