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Seeking perfection in an imperfect world

Moulana Khalid Dhorat

Everyone grows up thinking that the world is a perfect place. How wrong we all are! In our innocence, we think that everybody is fair to each other, and if anyone is wronged, justice will be served. In this fairy-tale world of ours, people are happy for each other, and if someone else has more than you, you will be happy that the Distributor of Goodness, the Almighty, was fair to me and I’m happy at His decision. There is no deliberate wars and arguing, just misunderstandings and genuine mistakes. There’s always a happy ending. However, when matters are not settled, we fight to believe that things will come right, sooner or later. But, this sometimes never happens.

Most of us have goodness in our hearts, and we think that goodness is in everything. But, we are overlooking a fundamental truth about this life. In our childish idealism, we fail to understand that this world is inherently imperfect, and our goodness too, is imperfect. We, as humans, are inherently imperfect. We must by default, always mess things up, knowingly or unknowingly. And in those mess-ups, we will inevitably hurt others, intentionally or unintentionally. The world is seen differently by seven billion people, and the goodness of one may be harm for the next. In our eagerness, how many times haven’t we hurt our partners or failed our children and society? We do one good act for the Almighty, but then do ten evil ones thereafter.

If mankind has been made to mess things up and never reach perfection, does this mean that we must stop struggling against injustice, stop aiming for inner purity, or just give up on the Truth? Of course, not. It simply means that we must not hold this world, its people and its systems, to an unrealistic standard. We must learn to let go of the pain of betrayal and the sorrow of parting. But this is not always easy. How do we live in a world where people betray us and let us down, including our own family and friends? Hardest of all, how do we learn to forgive when we have been wronged? How can we be the better party, even if we have the capacity to take revenge? How do we become strong, without being hard; and remain soft, without being weak? How do we become compassionate, with being gullible, or cheerful, without being remorseful? When do we hold on, and when do we let go? When does caring become too much? Is there such a thing as loving more than we should, without being loved in return?

All of us understand the game of football and cricket. If we pass the ball to a player, it comes back; but life is not like this. If you pass the ball, it sometimes never return. It’s now time to leave the stadium of sports, and sit in the stadium of life. We must find some answers to these mysteries of life. We need to reflect as the why pain is such an important part of life, of growing and maturing. Life is conceived in pain, and life is taken in pain. What is the significance of pain?

To find these answers, we have to first study the lives of the almost-perfect (ma’sum), the Apostles of God, or the near-perfect (mahfuz), the Companions of these Apostles. We need to examine whether we are the first or the last to feel pain or be wronged. We need to look at those who came before us – those much more superior and exalted than us – and study their struggles, and their triumphs. When we do so, we realize that growth never comes without pain, and success is always a product of struggle. Struggle almost always includes withstanding and overcoming the harms inflicted by others. Success comes by not only striving towards goodness, but overcoming and withstanding the pressures within too.

Recalling the shining examples of the glorious Apostles of God will remind us that our pain is not isolated. In fact, our pain is nothing compared to their pain. Remember that Prophet Noah (may peace be upon him) was abused by his people for 950 years. The Qur’an tells us that his nation openly insulted him thus: “Here is one possessed!” The more the pain, the more the gain! If 100 people insult us five times a day with “you are mad,” we will most probably throw ourselves down the next cliff. But this remarkable Prophet tolerated this for 346 750 days! Imagine his mental strength and tolerance!

Let us call to mind how our Noble Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) was utterly humiliated in Ta’if by being pelted with stones by small children and street vendors, until his shoes were filled with his blessed blood? Even the angels understood this diabolic aspect of human nature, and knew that such a despicable act cannot go unpunished. When the Almighty told the angels that He would create mankind, their first question was about this harmful potential of humans: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?’” (Qur’an, 2:30) If the people of Ta’if did not repent thereafter, me and you would’ve probably killed their descendants today, but the Noble Prophet (may peace be upon him) forgave them and attributed their insolence to his own weakness.

In reality, forgiveness is the highest form of good, and revenge is the highest form of evil. Forgiveness needs traits of nobleness, and revenge needs traits of evil, and Prophets are free from any traits of evil. The Angel of the Mountain offered Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) to crush the people of Ta’if for their misdeeds, but Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) was not looking at them. He was looking at their ignorance and misguidance. He needed to give them a second chance. It was not about him, it was about Islam. He overlooked his pain, for the gain of those people. And it paid handsome dividends.

The potential of humanity to commit horrific crimes against each other is a sad reality of life. You have to feel pain at the hand of another, whether you like it or not. You may never see justice in this world, whether you like it or not. And yet many of us are so blessed in this regard. In South Africa, land of Braaivleis and Biryani, most of us have not had to face the type of calamities that others have endured throughout time. I hope that day never comes, but most of us never watched our families being bombed or tortured, like in Palestine and Bosnia. None of us seen our children buried alive or our pregnant mother’s belly gutted like sheep. None of our mothers fleeing a warzone with four children had to leave two of their children at the wayside to die of starvation because of lack of food, and no father has yet committed suicide in South Africa because of his inability to feed his family. Yet, there are few of us who could say that they have never been hurt, in one way or another. Most of us will know what it means to cry from a wounded heart.

Is it possible to avoid pain? Perhaps not, but we can limit its effects to some degree. By adjusting our expectation, our response, and our focus, we can avoid much depression and devastation. We have to learn that putting our entire trust, reliance, and hope in another person is plain foolish. We have to remember that humans are fallible and therefore, our ultimate trust, reliance, and hope should only be upon the Almighty. He is the only handhold that never breaks, and He will save us from much unneeded disappointment. It is He Who put us through this experience, and it’s He who is holding our hands throughout this ordeal. Are we letting go of this support, or are we clinging on to it?

This is not to say that we should not love or that we should love less, that we should lose our zest for life and faith in humanity. No, but it’s how we love and react to situations that’s important. Situations are never in our control, but our reaction to it, are. Nothing should be our ultimate object of love, except the Almighty. He alone can return love, and none else. Nothing should come before the Almighty in our hearts. We should never come to a point where we love something other than Him, in such a way that it becomes impossible to continue life without it. This type of ‘love’ is not love, but actually worship and it causes nothing but pain. Don’t we worship money, fame, our partners, actors, our desires? How many times did they already let you down?

But what happens when you’ve done all the above, and you still feel wronged? How can we mend our scars and continue being good to people, even when they are not good to us? In the story of Sayyadina Abu Bakr (may God be pleased with him), is a beautiful example of exactly that. After his daughter was slandered in the worst way, he found out that the man who began the rumor was Mistah, a cousin whom he was supporting financially. Naturally Abu Bakr withheld the charity, but soon thereafter, the Almighty revealed: “Let not those among you who are endued with grace and amplitude of means, resolve by oath against helping their kinsmen, those in want and those who migrated in the path of God. Let them forgive and overlook. Do you not wish that God should forgive you?” (Qur’an, 24:22) Upon hearing this verse, Abu Bakr resolved that he did want the Almighty’s forgiveness, and so he not only continued to give the Mistah money, but he gave him more.

Man forgives if the culprit acknowledges his wrongs, but God forgives in a way that He never seen our sins. And so the ability to readily forgive should be driven by an awareness of our own flaws and imperfection. Most of all, our humility should be driven by the fact that we wrong the Almighty every single day of our lives. Who are we compared to Him? Who are we to withhold forgiveness if we hope to be forgiven by the Almighty? Isn’t this duplicity of our own principles?

To enter the perfection of the Afterlife and eternal Paradise, you have to forgive. After all, isn’t one of the greatest attributes of God, Ar-Rahman and Ar-Raheem (The Most Compassionate and Merciful)? So the next time someone harms you, send him a plate of mithaai (sweetmeats) as he has contributed towards your spiritual growth, and don’t forget to send for me a plate too!!

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