Header Credits Fatema D. (@cosmicweavers)
Chances are that you are reading this and you are currently unable to do in the region of about 50-70% of what you once used to do, at least with the ease you used to do it. Your energy, motivation, positivity and processing are currently being mined as you try to understand how not to miss people, how to get groceries, how to plan for the future, or better yet not think about it at all, how to inhere a sense of perspective in your young. You’re tired, sad, fleetingly buoyant, mostly unsure. It’s not what humans were built for – we don’t respond well to uncertainty or to powerlessness. We search in the corners of the void for something familiar or let the dark overcome us instead of patiently enduring our fate.
Hope is tricky – it’s a contract and as with all contracts, there is give and take. People talk about ways to remain hopeful, but I find they don’t talk about the cost of staying hopeful. You will keep getting disappointed and keep having to reassess the limits of your hope or at the very least, birth new hopes as old ones die. Cheery, right? I’m saying it takes work. As with all work, some days will be good, some days will be bad, but today, there’s a catch. Most of the time you’ll be able to tell if your work is yielding results – in the case of staying sane and optimistic, you’ll know it’s working if you’re not losing your mind, if you are being productive or if you aren’t making those around you worse off. But when you can’t leave your houses and when art is reduced to a screen, when you are watching zakireen on your phone instead of over the top of a jaali and when you aren’t sure when you’ll be able to hug your friends again, the boundaries of sanity, productivity and value are impossibly elastic. In other words, it’s hard to tell what is a good day. So maybe just stop measuring.
In this sense, it’s a little like what I imagine it is like to be in the middle of a storm that has been ongoing for a long, long, time. Some days, you can’t tell if there was a break in the clouds and you saw sunshine, or if that was just some light reflecting off the mass of rainwater thrashing down. If you’re in a tornado, or if cataclysmically strong winds are just the nature of this storm. If the rain has changed direction for a reason, as a harbinger of a new stage, or if it is just a meaningless blip. It’s just another day of trying not to drown. Survival, once extreme, becomes normal, and I think we as a community can attest to valuing the extreme more than other communities do.
We are the oddball community that covets rose petals and sand. We are the ones who cry on happy occasions and we are the ones who talk about death all the time. Not to be irreverent, but life doesn’t hold the same joys for us as it seems to for others. Our hopes are extreme – we know life will be tough, maybe less so than for others but that is a bonus, a tangent to the real goal which is for the afterlife to be a lot easier than it is for others. There are lessons in this kind of on-the-fringes, get-to-the-point life that we lead. Lessons like stop fighting for power, stop getting distracted by details and stop fighting the truth. Be grateful, endure, love. Hold onto the hem of He who leads you and get home. When all other hope is transient or unyielding, there are some hopes whose contracts are perpetual.
When I listen to Maula’s TUS waaz I realise, almost every time, just how much is going on that I cannot see. I can’t even feel it. I don’t know what forces are fighting to get to me, what all these Joshans are protecting me from, what armies of angels are being ordered to do while I try to talk my parents through a grocery order from 2,000 miles away. As always, ‘there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’. You can’t fight a storm and, once you’re in the eye of it, you can’t prevent the worst of its effects either. All you need to know is what, every night, I hear Burhanuddin Maula RA tell us that Maulana Ali AS told Haris Hamdaan – that Khuda has given Him the right to save us in the end. As you are soaked, whipped about and borne down upon, just hope for that.
So be still in this time of panic and maddening doubt; value the core of your faith because you are privileged with purpose and foresight; feel beaten and broken by distance and uncertainty; and then remember, because quite literally nothing else matters, what Maulana Ali Zainulabedeen SA said when he calmly got up from the floor he had been thrown onto in Karbala, stepped outside his tent amidst the horror of fire and tortured Ahle Bait AS and faced an angel sent to them in the wake of Imam Husain’s AS shahadat – we are happy with Allah’s will.