I was recently listening to a lecture by Professor Abdul Hakim Murad of Cambridge University. He is what I would call, ‘Britain’s answer to Hamza Yusuf’. I say this because, like Yusuf, Professor Murad is also a revert to Islam and a very active academic in his field. He is also extremely eloquent in the English language. Listening to any lecture by both these individuals is, for me, a mesmerising experience. It is not simply the content of what they talk about which rivets me to my seat, but the way in which it is delivered. Eloquence is something I find very alluring in any human being and is testimony to a refined set of social skills and manners.
The topic which Professor Murad was deliberating on in this recent lecture was that of sabr, or patience. More importantly, he extended his focus to discuss the concept of ‘ridhaa’ (contentment). On the face of it, there may seem little difference between the two. After all, sabr is to bear something unbegrudgingly and without protest. To have ridhaa, is to be pleased with whatever situation we find ourselves in.
However, on listening closely, I realised that there is a significant difference between the two concepts. Contentment is a state which encompasses patience and has it at its core. It is definitely a higher position to aim for. Looking back at my own personal situation in the last few years, I know I have had to learn the art of having patience; to control my thoughts which often belie the cool exterior I may have displayed to the outside world. Patience is something we need to learn to master in the midst of any challenge we might face and it isn’t something we adopt retrospectively when the event has passed. In other words, there is no point having a tantrum and regretting it later and promising to be patient next time. We need to exercise patience in the very heat of the moment. This is, arguably, one of life’s greatest challenges.
About that cool exterior…. Yes, sometimes presenting a façade to the outside world is necessary if only because it offers time and space to develop our own fragile mental states. Prying eyes and constant questions from others often do more to shatter the delicate defence we try to build up for ourselves. I have been through that phase. Back then, I could not even begin to think of being content. I was simply too busy trying to get through each minute of each day. It was a mission just to survive. I was too consumed with anger and frustration to even imagine being content. That was too much of a tall order for me back then. Yet I don’t chastise myself for choosing to let my emotions dictate my thoughts. It was a necessary process to get to where I needed to be.
Alhamdulillah, now I feel I have recently entered a new phase of life where patience has been overlaid with the notion of ridhaa, contentment. Having worked through a lot of negative energy, I have not only come to accept my fate but embraced it. Where patience was a tender sapling, it has matured into contentment which is a tree firmly rooted in its place. I have had time to ponder, reflect and understand how and why I have ended up where I am today. Despite the losses, the gains are now the focal points of my life and my sight is locked onto them.
But contentment is not a one-way street. It is not enough that I am content with Allah’s plan. The unspoken but reciprocal arrangement is that He too is content with me. The relationship I have with my Creator cannot flourish on my terms only. In fact, I realise that I have no right to dictate any terms as I will always be in need of and reliant upon Him. As the one who is in absolute control, Allah needs to be content and satisfied with me. There is no escaping that paradigm. Insha’Allah I have passed the test He has placed before me and the many more that will come to pass.
So, how do I know I am not simply stating fanciful ideas? I actually do believe I have found my own little Utopian space because I see the wonderful things that surround me in my life now – from my friends to the beautiful natural environment that I engage with so often. Alhamdulillah, I know there are things I have been blessed with which I am not even aware of. It is that state of gratitude which leads to contentment and awe. If I endeavour to set this as my default mode, then I have no time to be anything else.
At its highest level, I believe ridhaa is to be in a state where Allah is pleased with me. To achieve that, I have learnt that I must not only be passively accepting of my fate in life but to be genuinely satisfied with it. Using all my positive energy, I must not only know how to survive but how to thrive.