Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
How do I explain the concept of taqdir (destiny) to a child whose self-esteem is greatly affected by failure?
This is for a student (11 years old), who is attempting to memorize the Quran. He works extremely hard and makes numerous duas, but he memorizes much slower than his twin brother and cousin of the same age. This is severely affecting his self-esteem. Please advice.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
An eleven-year-old child is able to understand the concept of destiny (taqdir). The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) taught Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah have mercy on them) about taqdir at a very young age.
Teaching Our Young Early
Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with them) said, “I was behind the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) one day. He said, ‘O young man, I will teach you some points of knowledge. Guard (the limits of) Allah and He will guard you. Guard (the limits of) Allah and you will find Him (i.e., His divine assistance/help) before you. If you ask, then ask Allah; if you seek assistance, then seek assistance from Allah; know that if the entire creation were to come together to benefit you somehow, they will never do so except to the extent of what Allah has written (decreed) for you; and if the entire creation were to come together to harm you somehow, they will never harm you except to the extent that Allah has written (decreed) for you. The pens (of destiny) have been lifted and the pages have dried.’” [Tirmidhi]
The word for “young man” in Arabic is “Ghulam”. “Ghulam” refers to a young person who is just starting to have hair growth on their lip, in other words, someone just approaching the onset of maturity. [Raghib al-Asfahani, Mufradat fi Gharib al-Quran]
The Bitter Sweet Nature of Destiny
Now, teaching a child that everything and every circumstance that exists is because Allah Most High made it exist, is in one ways a relief from the worries and griefs that we cast towards others for our difficulties. However, it also means that we are not ultimately in control of the results of our efforts; that we may strive toward something and yet it does not come to fruition. This seems to be the part that you child is having a hard time swallowing.
The consolation for this type is knowledge that what Allah Most High decrees for us is exponentially better for us than what we may think or want for ourselves. Thus, we must, in the end, consign the ultimate judgment of outcomes and the outcomes themselves, to Allah Most High. This is what is meant by reliance (tawwakul). [Ghazali, Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din]
Allah Knows Better: Lessons from Hudaybiyya
One of the greatest examples of the above is the story from the Prophetic biography of the Treaty of Hudaybiyya. In the 6th year after the migration, after many long hard years of being exiled from their home land, Mecca, the Muslims finally had a chance to come back and perform the lesser pilgrimage (‘umra) at the sacred house of Allah, the K’aba.
Dressed in their pilgrims garb, 1,400 Muslims traveled on the heels of the beloved Messenger (may Allah bless him and give him peace) with their sacrificial goats trodding along their sides. Filled with joy, the Muslims expected to soon enter the borders of the blessed city, but to their dismay, a delegation of the Quraysh were standing at the border, at a city named Hudaybiyya, with no intention of letting them pass.
Suhail bin ‘Amr (who later became Muslim), the spokesman of Quraysh, was standing defensively in their path, and barred them from passing. However, Suhail gave news of a treaty which the Quraysh was willing to enact with the Muslims. After much discussion and compromise – mainly on the side of the Muslims – a treaty was signed: its stipulations were almost completely in favor of the Quraysh. The hardest of the stipulations for the Muslims to swallow was that they could not enter Mecca that year, and their hopes of seeing their home were crushed.
However, Allah Most High refers to what outwardly seemed to be a huge loss and blow to the hearts of the Muslims – a manifest victory!
Allah Most High says, “Indeed, We have granted you a clear triumph (O Prophet).” [Quran, 48:1]
Imam al-Zuhri (Allah have mercy on him), in commentary of this verse, said, “Hudaybiyya was indeed the greatest of the victories (for the Muslims). That is because the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) came to Mecca with 1,400 (of His companions). Then, once the treaty of Hudaybiyya was enacted the people (i.e., the Muslims and non-Muslims) were able to walk free amongst each other (without fear of prosecution). If anyone wished to enter Islam, he was able to do so. The following two years did not pass except that the Muslims returned to Mecca as 10,000 strong.” [Qurtubi, Jami’ Ahkam al-Quran]
This story, and many others, are shining examples to were we intend something and work towards it, yet Allah Most High intends something different for us. However, despite the feeling of disappointment, we must remember that perhaps Allah Most High is directing us, in a very subtle and sometimes not so obvious way, towards that which is best for us. Allah Most High says, “Perhaps you dislike something which is good for you and like something which is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not know.” [Quran, 2:216]
Knowing these realities, we should constantly ask Allah Most High to guide us to that which is best for us everyday. For this reason the scholars and the righteous were frequent in making the prayer of seeking guidance, in which they consign their affair to Allah and prefer that He choose for them their course in every aspect of their life.
Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.