It was a heavy monsoon season. Rain beat against the drawing room windows as Ibtisam sat with her cousin Silvy, sipping green tea, with her tabby cat purring on her lap.
They were having a general conversation about marriages, about how difficult it was, how the selfishness in one spouse could make life hell for the other, and how we never understood the other person’s perspective. Though Silvy didn’t sound upset, Ibtisam had a feeling that she was actually talking about her own marriage struggles. At least, the way her eyes would begin shining at suggestive points in the conversation indicated that that was so.
“Why do men even get married?” Silvy whined childishly, fidgeting with her teabag. “When all they do after marriage is ignore their wife, spend day and night at the office or watching cricket, or eating all that’s cooked for them without a word of thanks?”
Ibtisam reflected on it. Why indeed, if you weren’t mature enough to handle it? Scratching her purring cat’s ears softly, she wondered how she could distract her cousin’s painful thoughts.
“So, did you buy anything new?” she attempted.
“Oh yes,” she said, her eyes suddenly sparkling with excitement, “only the day before yesterday I made Walid go with me to the new jewelers’ who just opened near our place. He’s been acting very miserly for the last few months. I just had to nag him for hours to get him to stand up! But in the end I managed to get a gorgeous platinum ring.”
There you go, thought Ibtisam. Talk of causing your own problems. She didn’t want to hear this. She took the remote from the tea table and turn the TV on.
“… torrential rain causing unexpected landslide in the area. Twenty-nine people have been reported dead and several others injured and missing,” the news reporter said.
“SubhanAllah,” exclaimed Ibtisam. “This is so horrible. All these deaths. This makes up the total count of landslide deaths to more than a hundred this year. Let’s pray to Allah that this stops soon.”
Lost in her own thoughts, Silvy was frowning at the TV with glassy eyes.
“Silvy? Are you all right?”
Suddenly looking angry, Silvy turned towards her. “Why does Allah do this?”
“Cause all these problems? Why does He make people suffer?”
Ibtisam signed. This was what she had been afraid of all along. Her cousin’s blaming Allah for her problems.
“Allah tests people to make them better, stronger and happier in the end. And as for the problems, we usually bring them on ourselves. Think about it. Look at those hills that are sliding. People cut down the trees, didn’t they? For their own selfish gains, some people went and stripped the hills of the anchors that used to hold the soil in. And the result? Innocent villagers living in the lower-lying areas suffer.”
“But then, why doesn’t Allah help the innocent? Where is He when the innocent suffer?”
“He is always there. He is al-Hayy, the Ever-Living. But sometimes He just decides not to step in. He allows things to happen, and, mind this, there is always a great reason behind it, even if we don’t realise it at the time.” Then, deciding it was time to give her cousin a reality check, she went on, “ – Just like there is a wisdom behind Walid’s tolerating your unreasonable demands and nagging, despite its driving him into taking anti-anxiety medication twice a day.”
For several moments of silence, Silvy stared her at, open-mouthed. She’d come there only to be consoled for her own sufferings. And now she herself was getting blamed? How in the world did that happen?
“How dare you?” she asked, her eyes shining again. “I never expected you to be so cruel to me. If you only had any idea how I suffer!”
Ibtisam immediately regretted her own harshness, her cousin’s hurt eyes reminding her of what the Prophet (SAW) had once said:
“Allah is gentle, likes gentleness, and gives for gentleness what he does not give for harshness.” *
“I’m sorry, Sil.” She touched her cousin’s arm gently.
“I know what you’re going through, and I know it’s hard for you. And I think he knows it too. But do you know that it’s hard for him, too? He’s not a millionaire, you know.”
“I know,” Silvy moaned, tears finally streaming down both eyes. “And you know what? It’s not the jewelry that I really want. It’s just that … he works too hard, and I miss him, and when I tell him that, he just gives me a cold stare and turns away. I get him to buy me things because I want to prove to myself that he still cares.” She couldn’t control her sobs anymore.
“O my dear, I’m so sorry!” Ibtisam took her cousin in her arms, patting her head, regretting at that moment how much she’d always misjudged the dear girl.
When Silvy had cried herself out, Ibtisam tried to gently explain to her what she was failing to see.
“You say he doesn’t reply when you ask him why he works late. But did you stop to think for yourself why he does so?”
“Why, what do you think?”
“It seems to me that he works late to earn more money to support your expensive lifestyle. And your lifestyle grows more expensive by the day because he works late. Can you see what a vicious cycle you both have got yourselves in?”
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A few months later, Ibtisam received an invitation email from her cousin. Silvy had sold most of her considerable amount of jewelry and started a new boutique business, a dream she’d had since she was a little girl; allowing her to fulfill her own little whims and to be a support system for her husband in times of need.
Allah is al-Hayy, the Ever-Living. He knows and sees everything we do. And yet sometimes it seems to us that He is absent from our lives, that He isn’t helping us in our need. If we start having such thoughts, our faith begins to wane, until we’re left without it. This is why it’s so dangerous to lose hope in Allah during times of need.
One of the most important reminders we should give ourselves in such times is that Allah helps those who help themselves. We can’t just sit back, wallowing in pain, and expect Allah to miraculously solve all our problems. We got to take a close, deep look at the situation and see what we ourselves can set right.
“ Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11)
Once we have done our part, even if it’s just a little, Allah will appreciate our effort and make it fruitful if He wills. If it still doesn’t work, then know that there is a greater blessing in the trial than in the remedy.
* Abi Dawud 4807