This is an edited excerpt from an interview with Shaykh Faraz Rabbani (SFR) by Dr Shadee ElMasry (SM) of Safina Society. This section turns on trials and how to respond with faith. You can watch the entire interview here.
SFR: I’m a little bit older than you, Dr Shadee, but when I came back to Canada in 2007 I realized something amazing. The people in my circle of friends who struggled most in their relationship with Allah and in their religion and also emotionally, etc., are those who appeared to have quote-unquote successful marriages. Why?
Because marriage is, you know, you have a successful career, a successful marriage. You have a bigger house, bigger waistline, bigger car, but an ever diminishing relationship with Allah and the Deen.
Many of them, not all men, had disaster after disaster in their career, in their marriage financially, in their health. “Oh, my God, that’s such a tragedy.” However, that transformed their relationship with Allah. It’s that mystery that you talked about.
Destine the Good for Me
When we perform the prayer of seeking guidance (istikhara) – which is one of the things you should make part of our regular routine. Anytime you have to make a decision or a difficult choice. At the end of it, what do we say? “Destine the good for me wherever it may be and then make me content with it.” Why? Because what I think is good for me may not be good, and what I think is bad for me may well be good. And as you live you realize that.
I was legally blind almost four years: from 2014 to 2018. I had retinal bleeding and retinal detachment, etc. Until late 2018 I hadn’t read a book physically for four years. I had to use digital devices and stuff. But it’s a tremendous blessing because you realize your weakness and your neediness to Allah. You realize many things.
You appreciate the things that you take for granted. Now that I can actually read I’m always reminded there was a time I couldn’t. So you put things in perspective. That’s one of the aspects as well.
Entitlement and Evil
SM: You bring up the type of pampered person who has no trials. It reminds me that most of the people who question the Creator, they question Allah because of some bad thing that happens. These people – their quality – they have to have another quality. They’re extremely selfish because you’ve witnessed so many other people suffering and you went on in life normally, but when one percent of that suffering comes on to you all of a sudden evil is an issue.
I think that’s such an important point. This idea, this concept of entitlement in relation to Allah. The entitled who believe that they’re entitled to a life of no pain whatsoever and no loss. It’s tied to this issue and this problem. Whereas if a person had some selflessness and would consider others, you realize whatever happens to us in the western hemisphere is not going to be close to what happens to a random person from the eastern hemisphere.
A death every five years. Someone else loses eight out of nine family members in one day. Every few years this happens in Gaza. There’s no comparison. You knew about that but it didn’t bother you at all.
Respond With Faith
SFR: I was living in Amman, Jordan, and over 70 percent of all Jordanians are of Palestinian origin. You meet a lot of Palestinians who‘ve lost their whole village. It has been wiped out. This has happened. That has happened. But how do they respond to it? How do they respond to it? They respond with faith.
They respond in an amazing way. Part of that idea of entitlement is also that this is why Allah, out of His mercy, emphasizes the need for bonds of family, of neighborhood, of community, of society. Because on your own it’s very easy to be spoiled and pampered and entitled.
But when you have this network of relationships you see. Those around you – you’re close to them, you’re living with them – they have difficulties. They suffer. You see how others respond. You see both good responses and poorer responses.
The Sum of Small Acts
So, you have to learn how to sacrifice because you wanted to have dinner but you waited because your friend was running late. These little thoughtful actions help you to be thoughtful with respect. Not only to other people, but also in your relationship with your Creator.
You have this small problem but if you step back – “Okay I’ve lost sight in one eye” – it used to be funny and it’s part of the mystery. Sometimes I would take a step, especially the left eye, I take a step left and I would miss the ground with my step. I Would just fall over. My daughter has good manners and she would walk away because it’s too funny. I’d miss the first step. I thought it was hilarious.
But then you step back and say: “Okay, I have this challenge. But I’m alive. Allah has created me. I’m a human being. I could have been that stone. I have faith, I have guidance, I have the good of this life. And there’s a promise of the good of the next, so what am I missing?”