SHAYTAN PLACES TRAPS for us at every turn. Most of these traps start out as thought patterns that can and often do lead to disastrous actions. This is the game of the shayṭân. If he can get us thinking a certain way, then he can lead us to acting a certain way. And then we are stuck in a cycle, set in our pattern.
One dangerous pattern of thinking is that we are who we come from. Sometimes that means we are better than others because we come from righteous people or that we are less than others because we come from criminals. However, if we look to the examples of the prophets, we can unlearn these thought patterns. We learn through the Quran and the stories of the prophets that Islam has no room for self-defeating attitudes, and that Islam also leaves no room for entitlement.
Lesson from Ibrahim
“What can you expect from someone who comes from trailer trash?” or “I come from a family of criminals so forgive me if I don’t measure up.” These are some of the things I frequently hear from converts.
Often, those of us who come to Islam by way of searching instead of family, bring some of the baggage from old beliefs with us. We don’t intend to do it, but there is just some residue of our former faith stuck in our subconscious. One thing that many converts bring with them is a sense of guilt that Christianity impressed upon the psyche. It comes from the idea of original sin and that we are all guilty before we even get a chance.
However, it is important for converted Muslims to face down this thinking and leave it behind when we come into Islam. It is important to know that in sharp contrast to Christianity, which holds as a tenant of faith that everyone is responsible and accountable for the sin of Adam and Eve, the message of Islam is one of individual responsibility.
Islam teaches us that we are responsible only for our own actions. We are held only to account for our own righteousness or iniquity. Islam teaches equal opportunity and that we can be better than our forefathers even if they were the worst of mankind.
The life of prophet Ibrâhîm teaches us just that message. Ibrâhîm was considered the khalîl (very dear and close friend) of Allah and a foremost prophet.
Who can be better in religion than one who submits his whole self to Allah, does good, and follows the way of Abraham, the true in Faith? For Allah did take Abraham for a friend. [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:125]
But Ibrahim did not come from the best of people. According to Ibn Kathîr’s Stories of the Prophets:
At that time some people worshipped idols of stone and wood; others worshipped the planets, stars, sun and moon; still others worshipped their kings and rulers. Ibrahim was born into that atmosphere, into a typical family of that ancient time. The head of the family was not even an ordinary idolater, but was one who totally rejected Allah and who used to make the idols with his own hands.
But this lineage and upbringing did not affect Ibrâhîm’s greatness in the eyes of Allah. From a young age, Ibrâhîm saw the futility of worshipping idols and the creation. Despite being the only person who rejected idols, he searched for the truth from Allah and because of this, Ibrâhîm was guided to tawḥîd (strict monotheism) and granted wisdom from Allah. Despite who he came from, Ibrâhîm became the father of the prophets.
Lesson from Nûḥ
“My family comes from the lineage of the Prophet ﷺ so what is a little sip of whiskey going to hurt?” Or “My great grandfather was a big scholar from back home, I’m sure that he can intercede for me when I miss a prayer or two.” These are some remarks we’ve all heard from some among those raised in Muslim families.
Often, those of us who come to Islam by way of family instead of personal searching, bring some of the baggage from our inherited culture with us. We don’t intend to do it, but there is just some residue of our cultural contradictions stuck in our subconscious. One thing that many raised Muslims bring with them to their faith is a sense of security that noble lineage impresses upon the psyche. It comes from the idea of wasîla (intercession) and that we will be safe from our own sins because of the righteous people we come from.
However, it is important for raised Muslims to face down this thinking and leave it behind when we come to better understand our faith. It is important to know that in sharp contrast to the cultural idea of wasîla, which holds that proximity is enough, the message of Islam is one of personal responsibility in which wasîla is only through following the Messenger ﷺ and by the will of Allah. Islam teaches equal opportunity and that we can be worse than our forefathers even if they were the best of mankind.
We are not guaranteed Allah’s pleasure even if our ancestors were from among the most righteous. Nûḥ’s story teaches us this lesson.
Nûḥ spent 950 years calling his people to the worship of the one true God. But despite his efforts and steadfastness to his calling, few followed him. He was amazingly patient in the face of this trial and despite everything he was thankful. Allah called Nûḥ His thankful slave.
On the day of Judgement, the people will come to Noah and say ‘Oh Noah, you are the first of the Messengers sent to earth, and God called you a thankful slave. (Bukhâri)
But even being an honored and distinguished Messenger of Allah ﷺ and being labeled ‘thankful’ by Allah was not enough to save Nûḥ’s son.
Nûḥ called out to his son, who had separated himself (from the rest): ‘O my son! Embark with us, and be not with the Unbelievers!’ The son replied: ‘I will betake myself to some mountain: it will save me from the water.” Nûḥ said: ‘This day nothing can save, from the Command of Allah, any but those on whom He hath mercy!” and the waves came between them, and the son was among those overwhelmed in the Flood. [Sûrat Hûd, 11:43]
Ibn Kathîr explains:
[Nûḥ’s] son, was a disbeliever and was killed in the flood […] Nûḥ asked Allah, You promised me to save my family. My drowned son was among my family. Allah answered telling him that his drowned son was not counted among his surviving family members, as He said to him,
And thy family – except those of them against whom the Word has already gone forth. [Sûrat Al-Mu’minûn, 23:27]
Thus, his son was among those against whom the word of Allah came to pass; for he was drowned due to his disbelief.
Nûḥ’s son is a prime example of those who feel that they are free from punishment, but cannot be saved by their righteous relatives.
Each of us has the opportunity, as long as we are alive, to make something of ourselves in the eyes of Allah. This opportunity is all we have and who we come from, good or bad, has no bearing on this chance. Who we come from might make it easier or harder –depending on what example our fathers and mothers gave us. But hard or easy, we still have the opportunity to choose the best examples and an opportunity to do what Allah loves.
No matter what the shaytân, or our family, or even the society around us tells us who we are or who we should be, we have a chance to be great in the eyes of Allah if we follow the examples of those he has sent with wisdom and truth.
 Ibn Kathīr Ismāʻīl Ibn ‘Umar. Stories of the Prophets: Peace Be upon Them. Riyadh: Darussalam, 1999.