Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book ‘On Dying and Grief’ stated that these are the stages of Grief.
Grief is inevitable. So are the feelings of emptiness, sorrow, withdrawal, hopelessness and helplessness. During these difficult trials we Muslims have the comfort of Allah’s words:
إِنَّ مَعَ ٱلۡعُسۡرِ يُسۡرٗا ٦ (94:6)
‘Certainly, only after difficulty is the great ease.’
Grief is subjective. Not everyone can endure difficult times with absolute Imaan. Certain questions might pop up in our minds when things get out of control, such as:
‘Why are the believers in such an awful condition?’
’How come this is happening to me despite my good intentions?
These doubts are common. When this happens the Shaytan is quick to take action and strike the hammer of his waswasaa while the iron of doubt is still hot. As a result of all this internal commotion, we feel our connection with Allah Taa’la has started to weaken, which in turn increases our anxiety and low moods. And this Spiral just continues until we feel drained.
Our friends and family try to reassure us by telling us ‘Not to worry. Don’t overthink. Just have Iman, all will be fine’.
We try harder to look for religious and spiritual solutions instead of confronting our emotions. John Welwood called this behaviour ‘Spiritual Bypassing’ which he defined as using religious/spiritual ideas, practices as a shield to bypass our unresolved emotional issues. It keeps us away from our feelings, facing our problems and ourselves. We tend to rely on these rituals for boosting our self-esteem and to keep us afloat.
However, as Confucius rightly said, “No matter where you go, there you are.” We can’t possibly run away from ourselves. Our attempts are in vain, efforts futile, leaving us more exhausted than before.
We need to distinguish between our spiritual and psychological issues.
We know that our Prophetﷺ was sad on various occasions in his life. In fact, all of the Prophets (Peace be upon them all) have faced trials, adversities and loss. It’s a part of our life, hence we must work on them. These emotions are just a result of living in this fleeting world. We carry this increasing burden of difficulties in our hearts and eventually they manifest into psychological distress. Spiritually bypassing this distress by avoiding the emotional reality is not the solution… There is a need for accepting and working on our emotional well-being.
This is like expecting to enjoy the mountain top view without struggling through the trekking hike. This is Jihad-an-Nafs. Look at these Hadith of our Prophetﷺ:
‘Ibn Mas’ud RA reported: I visited the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he was suffering fever. I said, “You seem to be suffering greatly, O Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied, “Yes, I suffer as much as two persons.” I said, “Is that because you have a double reward?” He replied that that was so and then said, “No Muslim is afflicted by a harm, be it the pricking of a thorn or something more (painful than that), but Allah thereby causes his sins to fall away just as a tree sheds its leaves”.
(Bukhari and Muslim)’
Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (a) said: “The Prophet(s)of God dispatched a contingent of the army(to the battlefront). Upon their (successful) return, he(s) said: ‘Blessed are those who have performed the minor jihad and have yet to perform the major jihad.’ When asked, ‘What is the major jihad?’ the Prophet (s) replied: ‘The jihad of the self (struggle against self)’”. [Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 19, p. 182, hadith no. 31]
Jihad-an-Nafsis the greater struggle against ourselves, our desires, and our negative and evil thoughts which require looking within our Nafs and actively engaging to bring them into obedience of Allah (SWT).
Allah says in the Quran,
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوۡمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُواْ مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمۡ (13:11)
‘Indeed, Allah will not change the conditions of people until they change what is in themselves’
Even for Allah to help us, we must help ourselves first. We have to take the first step and Allah promises He (SWT) will come to us running.
We must quit ignoring our miseries. Instead of hiding behind our emotional and psychological problems, we should turn them into a sword and fight against our anxieties so that Allah’s Deen can soar throughout our entire being and surrounding us! Maintaining this balance between Deen and Duniya is how we’ll succeed.
Manaal Amir Ahmad