Imam on a Tightrope

Tight-roping is a dangerous activity. Seriously, a single misstep means you tumbling towards the ground to a gruesome death. Now here is the question; is the tightrope walking always thinking about falling? Perhaps, perhaps not. If you’ve read this far, you probably figured out that this piece has nothing to do with tightrope walking. I am not a tightrope walker and nor will I ever be because frankly, I’m too cowardly for it.

But I have, at times, walked a different tightrope, that of faith. Sometimes, it is not enough to know we believe or we are obedient to Allah. We must know why? Why has always been the central question and for some, the why is fear.

Nothing wrong with that of course. But for others, this concept turns into a tightrope walk where one is constantly thinking of falling. For a tightrope walker, such a thought is disastrous. The same applies to the believer.

An example of this type of belief is when an individual obeys Allah and stays away from sins because he/she fears retribution in this world. If I do X, I will not get Y, or I will fail Z. If I go to the club before my exam, I will fail the exam. If I didn’t wake up for fajr today, Hitler will be resurrected. Do our sins have a tangible effect on our daily lives? Of course. Most of us know the story of the great Imam Shafi’i and his complain to his Sheikh on why he had a hard time memorizing.

Imam Ash-Shafi`i said: “I complained to Wakee` about the weakness of my memory, so he ordered me to abandon disobedience and informed me that knowledge is light. He said that the light of Allah is not given to the disobedient.”

from  Al-Jawab Al-Kafi

So in the Imam’s case, his sins had a direct effect on his pursuit of knowledge. In tradition of the Prophet (pbuh), we find another example of our sins having a direct effect on our lives :

The Prophet ﷺ said, “No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that,”  [Bukhari]

So clearly our misfortunes can be seen as a cleansing process for the bad we commit. Knowing this, we increasingly look for the punishments and fear them in this world. We stay away from sins because we are afraid of falling into misfortune because of them. While to a certain extant this can be a healthy attitude, this can quickly turn into a dangerous trap.

What if we do not see the effects of our sins in this world? What if the night before a crucial exam we commit an unholy deed, and then ace the exam the next morning? What if we pray Tahajjud the night before and still fail the exam? These are all real possibilities. In fact, some individuals soon lose their faith because they do not see the results of their sins in this world. They can do whatever they want and worldly success still seems to cling to them. When we are walking on this tightrope of faith, we tend to forget that Allah can tests us both with misfortune and comfort.  And if we are always afraid of falling and are laying in anticipation for our sins to manifest in our daily lives, if we are obeying Allah solely for the purpose of staying away from misfortunes, we are doing it wrong. Rather our misfortunes are a part of life, regardless of our belief in Allah.

It’s how we react to them that determines if we stay on the tightrope or if we fall off.


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