Yesterday my 22 month old sought to exercise his independence. After climbing out of his car seat, he wanted to shut the car door like a big boy, so I stood there watching over him. Realizing that if I left him to shut the door, his little head would have gotten slammed in the process, I lifted him away, and shut the door myself. This devastated him, and he broke down in tears. How could I prevent him from doing what he so badly wanted to do?
Watching the incident, a strange thought crossed my mind. I was reminded of all the times this had happens to us in life—when we want something so badly, but Allah does not allow us to have it. I was reminded of all the times we as adults felt this same frustration when things just wouldn’t work out the way we so desperately wanted them to. And then suddenly, it was so clear. I had only taken my son away from the door to protect him. But he had no idea. In the midst of his mourning, he had no idea that I had actually saved him. And just as my son wept in his naivety and innocence, so often we too bemoan events that have actually saved us.
When we miss a plane, lose a job, or find ourselves unable to marry the person we want, have we ever stopped to consider the possibility that it may have been for our own good? Allah tells us in the Quran: “…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” (2:216)
Yet it is so difficult to look beyond the surface of things. It takes great strength to see beyond the illusions, to a deeper truth—which we may or may not understand. Just as my son could not understand how my depriving him of what he most wanted at that moment was in fact my looking out for him, we are often just as blind.
As a result, we end up staring indefinitely at the closed doors of our lives, and forget to notice the ones that have opened. When we can’t marry the person we had in mind, our inability to look beyond may even blind sight us from someone who is in fact better for us. When we don’t get hired, or we lose something dear to us, it’s hard to take a step back and notice the bigger picture. Often Allah takes things away from us, only to replace them with something greater.
Even tragedy may happen in this way. One can imagine few calamities more painful than the loss of a child. And yet, even this loss could happen to save us and give us something greater. The Prophet said:
If the child of a servant (of Allah) dies, Allah says to His Angels: ‘Have you taken the child of My servant?’
The Angels reply: ‘Yes.’
Allah says to them: ‘Have you taken the fruit of his heart?’
They reply: ‘Yes.’
Then Allah says to them: ‘What did my servant say?’
The Angels reply: ‘He praised Allah and said: ‘To Allah do we return.’
Allah tells them: ‘Build a home for my servant in Paradise and call it Baytul Hamd (the House of Praise).’ [Tirmidhi]
When Allah takes something as beloved from us as a child, it may be that He has taken it in order to give us something greater. It may be because of that loss, that we are admitted into paradise—an eternal life with our child. And unlike our life here, it is an everlasting life where our child will have no pain, fear, or sickness.
But in this life, even our own sicknesses may not be what they seem. Through them Allah may be in fact purifying us of our sins. When the Prophet was suffering from a high fever, he said: “No Muslim is afflicted with any harm, even if it were the prick of a thorn, but that Allah expiates his sins because of that, as a tree sheds its leaves.” [Bukhari]
In another hadith the Prophet explains that this applies even to sadness and worry. He says: “Whenever a Muslim is afflicted with a hardship, sickness, sadness, worry, harm, or depression – even a thorn’s prick, Allah expiates his sins because of it.” [Bukhari]
Or consider the example of poverty. Most people without wealth would never consider that a possible blessing. But for the people around Qarun, it was. Qarun was a man who lived at the time of Prophet Musa who Allah had endowed with such great wealth, that even the keys to his wealth was itself wealth. The Qur’an says: “So he came out before his people in his adornment. Those who desired the worldly life said, ‘Oh, would that we had like what was given to Qarun. Indeed, he is one of great fortune.'” (28:79)
But Qarun’s wealth had made him arrogant, ungrateful, and rebellious against Allah. Allah says: “And We caused the earth to swallow him and his home. And there was for him no company to aid him other than Allah, nor was he of those who [could] defend themselves. And those who had wished for his position the previous day began to say, ‘Oh, how Allah extends provision to whom He wills of His servants and restricts it! If not that Allah had conferred favor on us, He would have caused it to swallow us. Oh, how the disbelievers do not succeed!'” (Qur’an, 28:81-82) After seeing the fate of Qarun, the same people became grateful that they had been saved from his wealth.
But perhaps there is no better example of this lesson, than in the story of Musa and Al-Khidr that we are told about in Surat Al-Kahf. When Prophet Musa was traveling with Al-Khidr (who commentators say was an angel in the form of a man), he learned that things are often not what they seem, and that the wisdom of Allah cannot always be understood from the surface. Al-Khidr and Prophet Musa came upon a town whereupon Al-Khidr began to damage the boats of the people.
On the surface, this action would seem to have been harmful to the poor owners of the boats. However, Al-Khidr later explains that he was in fact protecting the people, and saving the boats for them. Allah tells us in the Qur’an: “[Al-Khidhr] said, ‘This is parting between me and you. I will inform you of the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience. As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working at sea. So I intended to cause defect in it as there was after them a king who seized every [good] ship by force.’” (18:78-79)
In damaging the boats, Al-Khidr was actually protecting the people by making the boats undesirable to the king who had been seizing them by force. And sometimes in life, that’s exactly what happens. In order to save us, something is taken away from us, or given to us in a way we don’t want. And yet to us—as it did to a 22 month old boy—it looks only like a closed door.