أَحَسِبَ ٱلنَّاسُ أَن يُتْرَكُوٓا۟ أَن يَقُولُوٓا۟ ءَامَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ
وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ ۖ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا۟ وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ ٱلْكَٰذِبِينَ
“Does mankind think that they will be left alone because they say, ‘We believe,’ and will not be tested? We most certainly did indeed test those who came before you; and so, God will surely distinguish those who are true and will surely distinguish the liars.”
29:2-3, translation mine
“You ain’t the first and you won’t be last either.”
“It’s always something, sweet Jesus!”
Lately, I’ve been going through a rough time. A series of unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances have prolonged tenure as graduate student at UCLA and my nascent marriage of one year is in the process of dissolving. In due time I’ll write about both these events individually as each of them is deserving of its own post. I’ve come away with many thoughts to share on matters concerning education, marriage, sex, community, and masculinity, particularly as they concern Islam. Suffice it to say that for the past couple of months my life has billowed upon unfamiliar, turbulent waters, and I, lacking adequate sea legs, have found myself on port side of the ship vomiting into an unrelenting ocean.
My own personal struggles call to mind what is called the Year of Sorrow or Grief (عام الحزن) in the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) in which two people beloved to the Prophet, his uncle and guardian Abu Talib and his first wife Khadija, both died. This loss happened at a time when the Muslims were victims of political and economic sanction and persecution at the hands of the pagan Meccans which would eventually led the fledging Muslim community immigrating to parts of modern day Ethiopia and ultimately to Medina. Medina, though, was no Paradise either as it wrought with its own issues of treasonous hypocrites and tribal warfare, not to mention erecting a legal edifice to supplant pagan Arab customs and culture. Even though the Prophet and his community suffered a great deal, they bore their crucibles the type of poise and grace that would make even Misty Copland envious. But like mama said, “It’s always something!”
I think the context of the Prophet’s loss and the nature of the loss itself typifies what we have come call in modern times Murphy’s Law and thus humanizes not only his experiences but the experiences of the people who were around him. Let me not mince words: whether you are a prophet, a prince, a pauper, life can be unjust, unfair and downright shitty; and given the moral gravity in creation, it seems that the more you try to be a decent human being, the more likely you are to fall flat on your face. This was as apparently true fourteen hundred years ago as it is today. It’s nice to know that God is morally consistent on some level.
Of course, the story of the Prophet has been copiously recorded in the annuls of history. We know how it ends: eventually, he succeeds in his mission. Yet I do not know how my story will end. I sincerely hope and pray to my Creator that some greater and more profound metamorphosis lurks on the horizon for having to weather this maelstrom in as much dignity as I my emotions can muster. Privations can ossify one’s body and mind; failures, I believe, can be much more instructive teachers than success. Perhaps, these hardships will forge me into a better person. Hopefully.