No matter how vigorously your brain has been washed with standard truths since it was premature and only sheltered by soft fontanels, the growing mind that is trying to find its right pair of shoes (or brain helmet, if you will) — shoes that fit and make sense — will one day strike a WALL.
The expanding mind will one day find its growth momentarily impeded; it will find itself banging against that wall day after day, the brain helmet just micrometers within each — if you could only find the means to bore a hole through that wall and let a little light in.
The simplest truth that you’ve been trained to accept? That God does what He does, for whatever purpose. That He knows best.
You don’t question fate, you don’t tempt destiny. You don’t ponder, you don’t implore. What’s the point? The answer will always be, resonated in echoes, that God does what He does for whatever purpose. That He knows best.
You go to school, you live your life, and you accept what rolls along.
But for how long? What happens when you hit a wall (the wall could be a Death, it could be Heartbreak, it could be a War), and you don’t understand why it’s there, let alone how to get around it? You search, through whatever route that you are inclined to take, and you question through whatever means you are capable of.
It will lead you to one conclusion: Life and the world do not make sense.
Do you then despair and plummet into an existential abyss? Do you abandon the framework of spiritual belief that you once gripped tight with iron fingers? Some of you might, forever. Some of you might ignore this opportunity, and shut out this conclusion (without trying to understand what it means), and go about in blind faith. Some of you, insyaAllah, might for a little while lose faith. But you will then begin a nouveau quest. Your quest.
You will not be alone in this quest; others before you, some notable greats in fact, have fallen into despair, have searched and tried to find a way out and through the wall, and they have emerged, and they found solace in their faith and subsequent greatness as well. This is a fundamental human quest — a quest in finding the meaning of existence, in discovering where you fit in the larger scheme of things.
Whether you write a book about it, or mull it over briefly as you pass change into a customer’s hand, or try to understand why you feel what you feel when you see the sun in all its magnanimous red rays sink behind the mountains, you are in some way involved in this very quest.
Warning: There will be no deducible answer.
As al-Ghazali said it in his semi-autobiography, his deliverance from error did not “come about by systematic demonstration or marshalled argument, but by a light which God most high cast into my breast. That light is the key to the greater part of knowledge. Whoever thinks that the understanding of things Divine rests upon strict proofs has in his thought narrowed down the wideness of God’s mercy. When the Messenger of God (peace be upon him (pbuh)) was asked about ‘enlarging’ (sharh) and its meaning in the verse, ‘Whenever God wills to guide a man, He enlarges his breast for Islam (i.e. surrender to God)’ (Q. 6, 125).”
In other words, you will find peace without needing an answer, and life does not have to fit in your narrow framework of logic to be one with meaning — to be one that is liveable.
Muhammad (pbuh) was no stranger to the grapples and pains of swimming blindly, as if in the pitch darkness of midnight in the spiritual sea. As Reza Aslan in his critique of Islamic evolution and Yahiya Emerick in his biography of the Prophet illustrated, Muhammad (pbuh) was troubled by the paradox of his role in society. He was on one hand (the philanthropic hand) giving alms to the poor, extending kindness to the troubled, and on the other hand (his entrepreneurial hand) reaping from the very Jahilliyyah system which created the throngs of poor and needy in the first place. His solace came from extended isolation from the people, retreating into the dark and otherworldliness of a cave, the Cave of Hira.’
And it was there, in the midst of his long and complicated thoughts, that Gabriel spoke to him, pushing the domino that would continue setting waves to our present day. Such clear metaphysical messages would not reach him again for another few decades — torturous and painful it must have been to know that there is a God, and that He has chosen not to speak to you. But like the great man he was, and with the support of his wife Khadijah and his best friends, Muhammad (pbuh) would continue with his search and prove that he was not chosen to be the best of men without justification.
Because Muhammad, despite what teachers might have told you, was not a perfect man who was without his own demons and troubles. He was not simply delivered enlightenment on a silver platter while carelessly whistling away. He was a man who rose to the occasion to set right the wrongs of an unfair system.
Siddharta Gautama, the propagator of Buddhism, abandoned a sheltered life of luxuries to live the suffering existence of a lonely mendicant, after being provoked by the mere sight of a sick and dying man and other casual realities of life. It was only after almost self-starving to death that a sense of pure concentration took hold of him. He was refreshed and could resume his life in moderation.
Of course, these were men chosen by God to spread good faith over the world — and their enlightenment was in a sense by proxy for all of mankind. But that does not mean that each individual’s enlightenment is complete by virtue of following their teachings and practice. The quest for truth, at its roots, should be a personal one. Impressive human thoughts and philosophies came from individual contemplations, asking first the very basic of questions. The branches of these thoughts gave rise to schools and sects, chemistry and poems, paintings and piano sextets and plays and π — they (for better or worse) flourished, developed and built the world and its history. They carry different facades and are attached to different names, names like Rumi and Ibn Sina, or Rilke and Einstein. But they all are the result of purposeful, most probably painful, quests for truth and enlightenment.
So you’re at your wall, and you’ve banged your head long enough. God with His unending Mercy imparts upon you a shard of peace, a little teaser of what Heaven might feel like. You are okay, you are good to go. Perhaps you won’t write a history-changing sonnet, or build the next mode of vehicle for man. Perhaps you will. Perhaps you will only leave that wall, and progress, to be a decent human being (which is quite a challenge in itself). You will leave knowing now that the standard truths you’ve been brainwashed to believing, that “God does what He does, for whatever purpose, that He knows best” is simply the truth. It will be a wonderful, comfortable, rejuvenating truth.
Featured image is “It is cold here on the beach, at dawn” by Khayriyyah Mohd Hanafiah.
Khayriyyah occasionally gets herself into a dark place because turning on the light later is so much fun.