Adversity The Light Behind the Clouds
By Jaleese Dar
It is utter and complete darkness. You begin to feel the mumbled sounds of your surroundings. At times you feel agitated. Yet, all you can muster up is to kick, and to kick again. But then you feel the light, but you just can’t see it. It is as if you are being protected from an unsightly world, not yet ready for your eyes to feast on. Yet, you want this light more than ever. You feel even more distressed and continue to struggle with all your might, hoping to break free and reach out to this light. It is not until the time is right, when your mother lets you break free, that you are given the opportunity to grasp this light beyond the clouds. This was your adversity.
Time passes, each stair a giant to climb. It was not so long ago that simply walking was like a mission to Mars. Nevertheless, you have almost forgotten that struggle. If you hadn’t struggled earlier in your life in rallying your strength after each and every fall, you would have an even tougher time simply walking, let alone climbing the stairs. As you reach closer to the light, no longer are you simply thriving. Now, you’re waking up with responsibilities, going to school, doing homework, getting chores done at home—the list just never ends. It’s all work, no play. You have seen glimpses of the light, yet your vision is still clouded. You feel helpless once again.
This was your adversity.
Now, the days pass with the walls of imprisonment slowly enclosing your vision. The high school, college, university, or working day, has compounded with your oft-neglected social life. The lures of worldly pleasures—wealth, power, and social evils—continue to attack you at all fronts. You want your dream job and work tirelessly for it. Fatigue and lack of time always seem to leave you in the hole. As you dig yourself deeper into the soil, the sky seems so much farther. You can no longer climb yourself out of these giant walls of confinement with your own natural abilities. Your only hope to reach this light is with book, The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islām, we are told that one can attain a progression in spiritual states. One evolves from the natural to moral, and ultimately to a spiritual state; one advances through these stages of spirituality by remaining optimistic and resolute in the face of adversity. In the first, or natural state of man, known as Nafs Ammārah, we are not guided by reason or logic, but rather, living in an impulsive state; we are easily agitated and distressed, and inclined towards evil. Wild and free like in a jungle. We may live comfortably with no real change in our lives. We are like a ship sailing the quiet sea, until the storm of adversity hits; only then do we realize that it is time for a change. This is Allāh’s mercy in the form of adversity that brings us to the realization that we need to bring ourselves back to Him.
Adversity is one mechanism for which we can attain greater spirituality and reap benefits as we transition from our natural state towards the moral state of man. According to Holy Qur’ān, and as further expounded by the Promised Messiah(as), the second state of self-reform is one that stems from Nafs Lawwāmah, where we now criticize our own actions (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islām). In this state, we have woken up and have begun incorporating and continuously refining our morals; we are taking meaningful action in the face of our adversity. One famous illustration that exemplifies overcoming adversity and challenging our inner beast is the story of David and Goliath. Goliath was a giant Philistine warrior—known as the strongest and most ruthless warrior in the entire kingdom. A young, fragile boy, decided to confront Goliath with his slingshot; the people thought it laughable. Yet, David stood fearless, and shot the slingshot at the head of Goliath—his weak spot. A small boy had defeated the strongest warrior in the kingdom. The story of David and Goliath has become embedded in our language as the “improbable victory”. Often times we sympathize with this story as humans, especially as Ahmadī Muslims, because we have all lived in a constant battle to reform ourselves. We have thrived in this world by overcoming obstacles in our life and using our personal experience with adversity as reinvigorated fuel for our spiritual journey. We all want to conquer our giants. We want to distance ourselves from our natural-self and progress towards a superior level of spirituality. However, even now we are still not free of our animal side. The Promised Messiahas has explained that we are like a weak child who does not wish to stumble and fall but does so out of weakness, and is then remorseful (Philosophy of the Teachings of Islām). This is the stage where we desire to be the best human beings we can be and are disgusted with our miss-steps and disobedience, but cannot achieve complete success.
Overcoming hardship is only one part of the solution. One’s response to hardship is also a crucial component of one’s faith. Steadfastness can be exemplified in the example of Hazrat Shah Sahibra, a companion of the Promised help. But who dare help you climb your walls when everyone is too busy climbing their own? This is your adversity.
As we progressed through stages of learning how to walk, talk, climb, and run, there are other stages in our life as well – milestones that we need to reach. In the Holy Qur’ān, and as further illuminated by the Promised Messiah—Hadhrat Mirza Ghulām Ahmad(as), who went to a pray at a nearby mosque. At the same time there was a bitter enemy of Ahmadiyyat—Chaudhry Rahim Bakhsh—getting ready for ablution or wudhu with a pitcher in his hand. Upon seeing Hazrat Shah Sahib(ra), who was stationed at a government hospital as a doctor, Rahim Bakhsh started engaging him in religious discussion. Annoyed with the argument that Hazrat Shah Sahib(ra) presented, Rahim Bakhsh hit him with the pitcher. The pitcher shattered into pieces and blood started dripping from the forehead of Doctor Sahib to such an extent that his clothes were drenched in blood. He covered the injury with his hand and immediately went for treatment at a hospital. Chaudhry Rahim Bakhsh was concerned about repercussions with the law. He feared for his life and decided to stay hidden in a mosque. On the other hand, Hazrat Shah Sahib(ra) treated his wound with medication and changed his clothes, and came back to observe prayer at the same mosque. Upon entering the mosque, Hazrat Shah Sahib(ra) saw Chaudhry Rahim Bakhsh Sahib. With a smile, he asked, ‘Chaudhry Rahim Bakhsh, have you cooled down or not?’ Chaudhry Rahim Bakhsh was greatly affected and begged for his forgiveness, and said, ‘Shah Sahib, please write a letter for my bai‘at.’ Accordingly, Chaudhry Rahim Bakhsh Sahib became an Ahmadī, and other members of his family also joined the fold of Ahmadiyyat soon after. (Hazrat Doctor ‘Abdus Sattar Shah Sahib; compiled by Ahmad Tahir Mirza, p. 63, Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya, Pakistan). It is this kind of high moral standard of steadfastness, compassion, and forgiveness that is an example for everyone in the face of the their giants.
Despite the examples mentioned previously, there can be no justice to the subject of overcoming adversity if there is no mention of the greatest man to ever step foot on this planet, the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa). Despite being the closest man to God, he faced some of the greatest forms of adversity. It was adversity that would crush any ordinary human being. For over a decade, he suffered persecution; armies were sent after him, one after another. His friends and families were slaughtered and their bodies were mutilated. It was not that he survived this adversity that brings one to tears, rather, it was how he responded—always with love, compassion, forgiveness, and humility. One may wonder how did the Holy Prophet(sa) overcome his greatest challenges? He had reached the highest, and last state of man, known as Nafs Mutma’innah, where his soul was at rest. The Holy Prophet(sa) was a man who was free from weakness and had attained spiritual powers beyond imagination. In this spiritual state, he had won war against satan. Heaven was now on Earth. The Goliaths he faced were recruited into his army. Adversity was his strength. All his giants were now his stepping-stones to his Creator. In spite of all the hardships the Holy Prophet(sa) of Islām had encountered in his life, a companion of his relates, ‘I never came across a person who smiled as much as Prophet Muhammad(sa) (Tirmidhi).
We are at a stage where we have come face to face with Goliath. In fact, we’ve been facing Goliaths since we were born. Furthermore, our own unique personal experiences and emotions have given us different giants to overcome. So the question is, how do we transcend from our natural impulsive state, towards a more refined moral state and finally to that of greatest and last spiritual state of self-reform? How do we conquer our giants and reach closer to the light? Rest assured, not only has Allāh has promised that we will not face any giant that we will not be able to overcome, but we are also promised comfort one victory after another—slaying giant after giant. Allāh says in the Holy Qur’ān, “Surely, there is ease after hardship” [94:6]. Furthermore, the Holy Qur’ān tells us, “O ye who believe! Seek help with patience and prayer; surely, Allāh is with the steadfast.” [2:154]. Allāh conveys to us two ways to conquer our giants—that is with patience and prayer. The Promised Messiah(as) described patience and prayer like a farmer sowing a seed in the ground. After a seed has been put into the ground, an ignorant person will not know at the time that it will bear fruit; rather, he will want it to bear fruit immediately. But an intelligent farmer will be patient and nurture it until the time comes for it to assume fruit. The Promised Messiahas says,
that the same is the case with prayer: when it is nurtured patiently, it brings immeasurable fruits. Those who are in a hurry get tired and give up easily. Those who are steadfast and show perseverance are able to overcome any challenges that come their way (Essence of Islam: Volume II).
So, you’ll look back one day at the helpless giants you have faced and conquered and wonder, was this what held me back so long? Were these the walls so strong that they kept me away from God? Those who are truly patient do not complain, nor are they pessimistic people, or wrinkle their faces at even the slightest of discomfort. However, it’s not just about appearing patient. Remember, Allāh says in the Holy Qur’ān: “…whether you disclose what is in your minds or keep it hidden, Allāh will call you to account for it…” [2:285]. One must be patient inside and out. As we continue to conquer our giants, patiently, with utmost optimism, and with the power of prayers, we will reach closer to the light of God, not so clouded anymore.