Life is a series of tests. Often times, they leap out at you when you least expect them, ambushing you, shattering your sense of complacency, your unfounded sense of security.
Yes, this life is a series of tests.
Sometimes, we pass. We do the right thing, the better thing, even though it is harder, less pleasant, more inconvenient than going with the flow and blending in. That takes courage.
Other times, we fail. We acquiesce for the sake of a quiet life. For who doesn’t want a quiet life after all?
Imagine you decide to change your eating habits. You decide to start eating healthily, staying away from creamy, fried foods and sweet desserts. It’s hard, but you know it’s the right thing to do for your health and wellbeing. You know that it will be worth it in the end, that your body will thank you for it. And you can take the high road, urge others to follow your example.
And when you are surrounded by others who are also eating healthily, it is that much easier. You remind each other, encourage each other, explore ways to make healthy eating fun.
But suppose, one day, you go out to eat with friends who are not what you are upon. They are tucking into steaks, lasagne, ravioli and risotto. You order the salad, feeling virtuous.
Then the dessert tray arrives. And everyone orders with gusto: cheesecake, passion cake, crumble, chocolate mousse. You hear that voice in your head screaming, “Just this once! It won’t kill you!” And all your friends turn into echoes of that little voice: “Come on, live a little! You’ve been so good! A little dessert won’t hurt!”
And so you order too, guilt gnawing at your insides. But the dessert is sweet. It tastes good. And you’ve missed tiramisu so much. By the time you have finished, the guilt has been smothered by the pleasure of it.
And so it begins.
This is the first step.
Soon, every time you are with your gourmet friends, you order dessert regularly, without any guilty feelings. Then you join them for fried scampi, biryani and cream of mushroom soup, depending on the cuisine. No guilt.
And your healthy diet is a thing of the past, a forgotten relic of a former life.You don’t even enjoy being with your health-conscious friends any more – they are too boring, too self-righteous, too judgmental. They take healthy eating too seriously.
Until you look in the mirror one day and see for yourself how far you have fallen from the mark.
Of course, cream cakes and Italian food are not sins. But the metaphor holds for the other temptations in our lives.
As Muslims, we are aiming to live a sacred life, a life centred on worship of and – crucially – obedience to the Creator of the heavens and the earth. This is no small feat, particularly in a world where unIslamic values come in the most glamorous and seductive packaging.
Be it praying on time, eschewing interest (riba’), wearing the correct hijab, avoiding free mixing, or turning away from lewd sounds and images, our society is littered with tests to our resolve.
In such a climate, it is easy to slip up, to give in to the allure of prevailing values.
The thing about giving in to pressure, be it from peers, family or the wider society, is that it is a slippery slope. You slip up once and you feel it keenly. Your heart aches and remorse floods your being. You are fearful of repeating that mistake, afraid of slipping again. So you are vigilant with yourself, guarding yourself against corrupting influences. You are right to be on your guard for Shaitaan and his cohorts are like sharks that have smelled blood, they are circling, circling, poised to strike and finish the believer off.
And, if you let down your guard again, if you give in to that insistent voice that soothes your feelings of guilt and absolves you of blame, you slip a bit more.
‘Everyone else is doing it – it can’t be that bad…’
And each time you slip, it becomes harder to pull yourself back up towards the peak you were striving for. The peak begins to look too far, too far away from where you are.
‘We have to be realistic – we’re not the sahabah…’
You lose sight of what you were aiming for. And you start to feel comfortable lower down the mountainside.
And where once each slip was accompanied by tears, fear, tawbah, now the slips feel inevitable, become more comfortable. Your standards are lowered and you feel too tired to push yourself.
Until something happens to make you remember why you are here. What you are striving for. Why the sacrifice is worth it. That this deen began strange and that it will end strange as it began, that glad tidings are for the strangers.
Then you remember that that strangeness is something prophesied, something to be expected, welcomed, even when it hurts like anything.
Even when it hurts like anything.
Just something I learned recently that I thought I would share with you. If you’ve never experienced this feeling, then praise Allah. if you have, then I don’t need to explain it.
N B. Robert ruminates on the effects of a small slip-up.