The Trodden Path

Dealing With Difficult Decisions – Sidi Yousaf Seyal

It is quite common to find ourselves in situations where we feel we have little or no control over them. We respond in various ways…
Before I proceed, I would like to acknowledge our humanness and understand that God created us weak. We forget, we are emotional, and we sin. God, the Merciful has gifted us with weakness in order to strengthen ourselves for Him, – through remembrance, rationality, and good deeds. This article is not an attempt to change the nature of man himself but to assist him in directing his nature to the One who understands his nature better than himself; God, the Exalted.
I also believe in prophets who have reached a certain level of perfection and saints who are protected by God from sin. Hence, they are human in their physical nature but angelic in their metaphysical state.

Lastly, I speak in the first person (we/our) to relate to those in a similar situation while realizing that I am the weakest of my audience. May God assist us in all of our endeavours, grant us openings that we cannot perceive of, and forgive our shortcomings.
To Proceed
It is quite common to find ourselves in situations where we feel we have little or no control over them. We respond in various ways. We become emotional, try to come up with solutions, seek counsel from friends, buy ourselves an ice cream (or in my case a new H&M cardigan–retail therapy!), etc… In the worst case, we isolate ourselves, become depressed, complain, and give up; and it is only then that we remember to turn to God, the One who put us in this situation to begin with.

When we finally do turn to Him, we often do not know what to ask Him for. Why? Perhaps it is because at this late stage we begin to look at creation through the lens of the Divine Decree, submitting to God alone, rather than looking at it as the cause and effect itself. In other words, we acknowledge our weakness as being slaves of God and turn to Him for His guidance–we submit to our Creator.
Let us first define the terms ‘Decree and Ordainment — al-Qada wal-Qadar’: according to the Ash’aris and the majority of Sunni Orthodoxy,

1) Qada is the pre-eternal will of God that is linked to all things in accordance with what will be brought into existence in the future, such as God’s pre-eternal will to create a person on the face of the earth, and

2) Qadar is the creating (or bringing into being) of all things according to their specific measure that is determined by His Qada.
Belief in God’s decree and ordainment – its good and its evil – is one of the six pillars of faith that every believer must attest to. The Archangel Gabriel, upon whom be peace, approached the Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, one day and asked him: “What is faith?”, and the Prophet replied: “Faith is to believe in God, the Angels, the Books, the Messengers, the Day of Rising, and the Divine Decree of  its good and its evil.”
God, the Exalted’s decree is not a compulsion of what He ordains but it is His knowledge of the future; God’s ordainment is based on His pre-eternal knowledge of His servant’s choice, good or evil. God has given us choice (kasb) and we should honor this by implementing His commandments and always seeking elevation.
Hence, we do not accuse God of imposing upon us to do other than what we choose to do, good or evil. We are simply a living reality of what was written in the Tablet based on the pre-eternal knowledge of God.
Part of believing in the Divine Decree is also staying content with it. Staying content with the Divine Decree is difficult because, as humans, we tend to focus on ends, rather than taking meaningful steps in life.

Making an Investment

For example at school, our concern is not on learning but to find a job; at work, our concern it to secure our old age by investing in a 401K plan; and in marriage, our concern is not nurturing a healthy family but fulfilling a desire (ain’t no problem with marrying a beautiful spouse but that’s not the only point of marriage akhi!).
Thinking of ends is important; hence, we work towards perfecting our ends but we do so by way of focusing on perfecting our present. This is the spiritual state of the saints who direct their inner-eye to the Lord in every moment (shuhud). Unfortunately, this is not the state of many of us and therefore we must return to God by praying to Him (du’a).
This is not to say that saints do not pray to God but they have acquired a state of contentedness where they focus on the Divine Decree itself. They realize that every manifestation of the Divine Decree on their hands is a trust from God that needs to be returned back to Him with excellence (ihsaan).
We, on the other hand, are not at such a level and need to constantly ask God, the Merciful to grant us commitment, consistency, and contentment by seeking His counsel.

Praying for Assistance

The Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, prescribed us a prayer called the “Prayer of Assistance” (istikharah) which is a two-unit prayer followed by a du’a, seeking God’s decision through His pre-eternal Knowledge, Power, and Grace, and then concluding it by seeking contentment in the Divine Decree.
The Prayer of Assistance should be followed by another portion of Istisharah which involves seeking the counsel of others, such as friends, elders, and people of knowledge who, God Willing, will direct us to what is best.
God, the Exalted, says:
“And ask the people of remembrance if you do not know. (Quran 21:7)
God has created us as means (not ends) for one another because the human being is naturally a weak creature who finds comfort in others through sympathy, care, and love. The sincere advice of good folk directs us to God in times of difficult decision making.
Seeking the advice of individuals does not conflict with our reliance in God since He has put us in a terrestrial world of means to facilitate us in our celestial expedition to Him. In fact, we would be in a state of contradiction if we did not take the proper means. It would result in neglecting our humanness; our heart should be engaged with God while our limbs should be engaged with creation.
God, the Exalted says:
“Indeed, the believers are siblings to one another, so make peace among your siblings, and be conscious of God, so that you may be granted felicity.” (Quran 49:10)
Every one of us deals with difficult decisions. Dealing with a problem is not the issue itself. The issue is how the problem is handled and directed. If it is not directed to God, the Creator of every situation and means, then who are we directing it to? And if we aren’t turning to Him first, the Sustainer of every moment, then when should we expect Him to turn to us?

It is in this respect that Imam al-Junaid said:

“If a matter saddens you, then the first person you turn to for assistance is your Lord.”
Once again, this is not to neglect taking the means that God has provided for us. It is rather to reflect on how much easier life would be if we made the root of every difficulty God-central. It has been said that every difficulty should be treated like a guest; a guest should be shown appreciation, which requires patience.
Therefore, the etiquette in dealing with a difficult situation requires turning to God by taking the proper means He has provided us with, namely:

1) Contentedness in the Divine Decree,

2) Turning to God through Supplication (Dua), and

3) Returning to creation in Decision Making.
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