Embracing our share of Merc

Hard Work and Mercy – Dr Shadee Elmasry

Yes, Allah has mercy, but you have to get moving too. It’s a question that pops up in the back of our minds all the time: When do we give up and when do we keep fighting? writes Dr Shadee Elmasry.

For believers, there’s a potential to really confuse some key concepts related to this. “Giving up” can be dressed up in tawakkul (توكُّل), reliance on Allah. It can be a ploy from Iblis to get people to stop striving. It can be done intentionally to justify our laziness or desires. Or it can just be an honest mistake rooted in ignorance.

When Tawakkul Is Misused

When tawakkul is misused it’s called tawaakul (تواكُل) (with an alif and no shadda). It’s false reliance. Here are a few stories to illustrate that until there is physically no rock left unturned, we are expected to muster every ounce of our will power.

A man came to the Prophet ﷺ complaining of being abused by another, shrugging his shoulders saying “Hasbi Allah wa ni‘m al-wakil, Allah is my protector.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “No. Go and get your rights, and after you have done everything possible, then say hasbi Allah wa ni‘m al-wakil.”

Very similar to this is the nomad who asked, “Should I tie my camel or rely on Allah?” The Prophet ﷺ said tie it and rely.

Using Public Opinion Against Your Abuser

In another incident, a Companion came in looking sullen. “My neighbor keeps abusing me,” he complained. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Take your furniture and place it all in front of the road. When people pass by asking what you’re doing, say, ‘My neighbor is abusing me.’” The man did so and the neighbor saw all the people making dua against him and hating him for his abuse, so he ran outside and said, “Enough, I will stop if you just go inside.” (Tirmidhi) – Was this a solo protest march? When weak, use public opinion against your abuser.

There’s another dimension. Who is the most dangerous enemy? “Your worst enemy is the one between your two sides.” (Bayhaqi) The same attitude we take against the enemy, we have to take against our own desires, temptations, ego, arrogance, selfishness.

The Deen Is Not a Pair of Jeans

Just because we feel that some parts of the deen are hard (really hard) that isn’t a reason to downgrade the ruling, or worse, eliminate it altogether. It’s not a pair of jeans that when they don’t fit perfectly snug, we throw it back on the rack. It’s more like a wedding dress: you go lose the weight to make yourself fit in it.

A mistake we often make is to cite the verse, “My mercy expands over all things.” It’s a sound piece of evidence used for the wrong reason (كلمة حق أُريدَ به باطل). Allah’s mercy is not for our unsatisfied desires. It’s for pious hard workers. Read the rest of the verse: “But I shall ordain it upon those who…

  1. • have piety (taqwa)
    • give charity
    • fully trust in Our Book
    • follow the Prophet ﷺ in what he permitted and prohibited
    • honor him [the Prophet ﷺ]
    • give him [and his religion] victory
    • follow the Qur’an that he transmitted to us (A‘raf 7:156).

You Have to Fight for Mercy

Allah’s mercy is not a free hand out. It’s not a kids’ soccer trophy that you get just for showing up. You have to fight for it. Muslims of the modern world: we have to be gritty or else we’re going to get devoured by all the darknesses (shubuhaat) and temptations (shahawat) out there. The Muslim today has to be the ultimate scrapper. In both beliefs and morals – no less politically, economically, militarily – we are the underdog.

There is no time, no room to feel sorry for ourselves and misuse the concepts of mercy and destiny when the going gets tough. A man tried this on Sayyidna Umar. Big mistake. He was arrested and found guilty of a crime. Umar sentenced him to a punishment. The man tried to be clever and said, “Do you have me lashed me for something I was predestined to do?” Umar replied, “Yes, because I was also predestined to punish you.”

In society today you’ll notice that many bad habits – vices – have been rebranded as “diseases.” People can be prone and have weaknesses sure, but tell me: how is an action that someone did with their own hands and feet be treated as equivalent to a disease that is a pure tragedy of no doing on the part of the diagnosee.

The Beautiful Struggle

This outlook appears nice at the outset. It’s a sympathetic and merciful, but in reality, it strips people of their agency. It completely undermines the belief that you can control your own behavior. It’s funny, because whenever we do something good we take credit, but when something bad happens we want to create a myth of how it was out of our power.

Struggle is beautiful. Even when you fail, it leaves you with gifts. When coffee was discovered in Yemen, the Ottomans conquered north Yemen, the residents of which were Zaydi Shi‘ites. They didn’t stand a chance against the Ottomans. But they fought anyway. For ninety-eight years, they fought and were suppressed every time. Then the Ottomans left.

But what the struggle did to the Zaydis is what made all the difference. They became ten times as strong as they were before, and the moment the Ottomans departed, the Zaydis swept Yemen and ruled over all of it for eighty-eight years (Imam al-Haddad lived in Tarim under Zaydi rule).

We can learn a thing or two from dogs, how gritty they are. Big or small, they don’t give up. Certain breeds will fight til the death for their owners. For what wisdom did Allah put this noble quality in dogs? Perhaps to show us, that if this four-legged creature can do it, then you should be ashamed not to.

With Gratitude to Dr Shadee Elmasry.