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Instantaneous Results

Sheikh Salman al-Qadah

It would be good to ask ourselves why so many Muslims are so heedless of the relationship between cause and effect. How is it that they are able to disregard the numerous verses of the Qur'an that attest to the genuineness of that relationship with respect to world matters and to the attainment of the Hereafter?

We find in unquestionable terms, Allah says: “So he followed a cause.” [ Surah al-Kahf : 85]

Allah also says: “It will neither be according to your desires nor those of the People of the Scripture. Whomsoever works evil will have the recompense thereof, and he will find neither protector nor helper besides Allah. And whoever, male or female, performs works of righteousness as a believer, they will enter Paradise and not an iota of injustice will they suffer. ” [ Surah al-Nisa' : 123-124]

This same meaning reoccurs in the sacred texts thousands upon thousands of times. These are the texts that all Muslims hear and recite throughout their lives, and that they possibly also understand. However, rarely are they seen to apply the dictates of this meaning to the reality of their lives.

Some people might understand this concept with respect to certain aspects of their lives; however they refuse to apply it with consistency to their lives in general.

Though the simplest of Muslims can understand why a door will refuse to open if the wrong key is inserted into the lock, he will not apply this simplest of concepts to the rest of his affairs.

Consider the situation of a Muslim who is steeped in a life of sin and wishes to be free of it. However, you find him to have completely surrendered himself to his lusts and appetites and driven to indulge them. He has a desire to somehow turn penitent in a moment of inspiration, whereby his whole personality will suddenly make an about-face; he will close his eyes, and when he opens them he will be a new man with a new heart. He will, in that instant, start to love the very obedience that had all along been so burdensome to him and start loathing the sin that had always been so pleasurable and familiar to him all of his life. In that brief moment, every aspect of his past, his personality, his mindset, and even his physical being are supposed to undergo a complete and utter transformation.

He could wait forever for that moment to arrive. And very well it might never arrive, since he has made no effort and taken no practical steps to bring it about.

As for showing some initiative to take the first, small step in the right direction – maybe nothing more than to sincerely ask Allah for forgiveness or to nurture in the heart a true willingness to change and to translate this into some good action or a resolve to make today a little better than yesterday or tomorrow a little better than today – this is something that many people either do not believe in or simply do not have the patience for.

A person should look upon himself as a set of scales, with the right pan being for good deeds and the left for sinful deeds. He should see the way forward as being a perpetual effort to add weights to the right pan and remove them from the left, so that he may tip the scales heavily in favor of righteousness. Abū Bakr said: “The scale upon which nothing but truth is placed deserves to weigh heavily upon what is right.” This is a concept that many people have not been conditioned to accept. They regard it as a long, difficult, and tedious path to tread.

The human mindset is an exceedingly complicated affair. A person accustomed to a life of sin carries with him a program of deep experience, long-standing memories, and familiar habits. His sins, with the passage of time, grow and spread through his personality like weeds; they become taller and thicker, their roots sinking deeper, becoming ever more difficult to eradicate from his personality. They steadily choke out his resolve and his willingness to change, which grow weaker and weaker by the day.

For a person to all of a sudden undergo and complete transformation for the better, though possible by Allah's grace and mercy, is not to be expected when we consider the natural causes and the norms that generally accompany such a change.

Even when such a sudden change is possible, a responsible person will show some initiative to condition and prepare himself to receive such a blessing. Allah says: “Surely Allah's mercy is near to those who do good.” [ Surah al-A`raf : 56]

Why won't a person take that first step so he can find Allah's help waiting for him? The Prophet (peace be upon him) relates to us that his Lord has said: “If the servant draws near to me a handspan, I draw near to him the length of a forearm. If he draws near to me the length of a forearm, I draw near to him the span of two outstretched arms. If he comes to me walking, I go to him at speed. [ Sahih al-Bukhari ]

Why won't a person do what that man did who killed a hundred souls, then repented and went forth to go to a town where righteousness dwelled and died on the way, with his heart set on that town. He found forgiveness, as related to us in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim .

This is the positive spirit that is needed; a spirit that does not belittle any valuable effort and does not believe in quick fixes and instantaneous change. This is the spirit that is in conformity with the laws of cause and effect that Allah has placed in His creation.

By possessing such a spirit, millions of people will find the wherewithal to effectively change their lives for the better. With the help of Allah, they will be able to improve themselves, their moral character, their worship, and their lives.

Waiting around for a sudden change to take place is the dream of the lazy student who repeatedly meets with failure while waiting to be endowed with a stroke of genius. It is the dream of the poor man who does nothing to earn his daily bread, but longs for gold and silver to rain down on him from the sky and sits about planning how he is going to divvy up all that wealth. It is the dream of the ignorant fool who knows nothing and does nothing to improve himself, but who aspires in his heart to one day be regarded as the sage and scholar of his generation.

We must not confuse the righteous hopes that a person is supposed to have and by virtue of which he will be blessed with the false hopes and empty aspirations that lead to nothing but indolence and listlessness.

There is nothing wrong with hopes that are accompanied by action. What is important is for a person to take the initiative, have the proper resolve, and bring his life in order with his aspirations.

Allah describes for us what is blameworthy when He says: “Then they were succeeded by an evil generation who inherited the Book but chose for themselves the vanities of this lowly life, saying: ‘We shall be forgiven.' And if the likes of those vanities would come their way again, they would (again) take to them. Was not the covenant of the Book taken from them that they would not say about Allah anything but the truth? And they had studied what is in the Book? And the abode of the Hereafter is better for those who fear Allah. Will you not then understand?” [ Surah al-A`raf : 169]

The notion of instantaneous change can be very tempting. Some people might mistake it for righteous hope, while in fact it is nothing but the abandonment of real effort and the neglect of effective means. It is a way of deception that, by providing people with empty hopes that have no bearing upon reality, keeps them from exerting themselves and from making the steady progress that they need to make.

Waiting around for instantaneous change to take place is a way of fleeing from responsibility and hard work. This is a fact that applies to nations as much as it applies to individuals.

The great achievements of history have always been the result of hard work, good planning, persistence, and a sincere will to succeed. Behind these achievements have always been the people, uniting under some program, ideology, or collective effort.

Great failures have always been the bitter fruits of neglect, the disparaging of human effort, and lack of will. Such bitter fruits have been the just harvest of the Muslims whenever they allowed themselves to become a people without initiative who wait around for things to happen.

Allah is capable of everything. If he wants something to occur, He has but to say “be” and it is. However, Allah, in His infinite wisdom, has decreed that the world – human life included – will be governed by natural laws, and that people will be tried with responsibilities and duties and with the need to work to achieve their goals. He then promises us His help and His guidance if we do what we are supposed to do.

Even the Prophets were subject to these natural laws.

When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was taken on his miraculous night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem , it was purely an act of divine intervention, without the involvement of any human effort whatsoever. His mount for this journey was the burāq, the steed of the Prophets whose hoof s moved at a speed faster than the eye can discern. Allah says: “And His command for the Hour is naught but the glance of an eye or even more fleeting. Indeed Allah is capable of all things.” [ Surah al-Nahl : 77]

Nevertheless, when the time came for the emigration from Mecca to Madinah, this was a human endeavor commanded and sanctioned by the Prophet (peace be upon him). For this, he had to prepare himself and his mount for the journey. It was days before he could even depart, and then he did so with Abu Bakr as his traveling companion. Both of them were subject to fear, hunger, thirst, and all manner of human discomfort. However, they were throughout their journey surrounded by Allah's mercy.

The emigration was a human endeavor that took years of planning, searching for supporters, securing a place to emigrate to, and taking into account all the requirements of departure. `Ali had to remain behind at the house of the Prophet (peace be upon him) on the night of his flight from Mecca , so that all of the personal belongings that people had entrusted to the Prophet's safekeeping could be returned to their rightful owners.

Abu Bakr feared for the Prophet's life, at times traveling ahead of him fearing an ambush and at times traveling behind him fearing that they were being pursued. At other times he would move from the right of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to the left and back again on account of his fear and worry for him. He did so until the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Do not be distressed, for Allah is with us.”

Failure requires nothing more from us than a lack of planning and foresight. This is precisely how we see the Muslims conducting themselves today, whether we are talking about their governments, their nations, or their societies. Desired reforms are not going to come about in an instant. They require us to work for them long and hard, to face difficulties, to invest our energies, and to exhibit constancy, persistence, and cooperation.

There is one momentary event in the whole process. That is the critical moment in which the person resolves his will upon the task at hand. Allah says: “And if they want to make amends, Allah will reconcile between them.” [ Surah al-Nisa' : 35]

Here we see that the will to make amends is needed to realize Allah's help. This will emanates from within the individual. It is, however, nothing other than the initial push that sets a person into motion, propelling him forth into an ongoing process of serious work. What may appear to others as an instantaneous change is in reality the happy inauguration of a new enterprise.

We do not intend to diminish the sense of hope that a Muslim should feel towards his Lord. By contrast, we are merely emphasizing the sense of responsibility that should accompany that hope. It is a serious problem when Muslims allow themselves to get distracted by verbosity and rhetoric to the expense of getting a solid grasp of the real world that they can translate into a sensible program of thought and a responsible course of action.

Achievements, both great and small, may seem instantaneous to those who are standing on the outside, who were not there at the inception of the enterprise, who were not there to see its long gestation, its painful birth, and then its first tentative steps. Indeed, all human endeavors are subject to this natural order. Allah makes it clear when He makes an exception to that rule. He says: “ Verily, the likeness of Jesus with Allah is the likeness of Adam. He created him from earth and then said to him: ‘Be!' and he was.” [ Surah al `Imran : 59]

Therefore, it befits those who hope for change and reform and those who suffer under the burden of the backwardness and decline in which we are living, to study those first steps and define where individual responsibility lies.

We are not going to change the world or advance in leaps and bounds. It is not to be expected from a people who have grown accustomed to disgrace, shame, and inaction to become a lofty, productive and responsible nation without considerable effort, and preparation.

We should never belittle the efforts that we are capable of making. Our circumstances cannot and will not change overnight. This does not mean that we should remain indolent and await a miracle to descend from heaven. Yes, we believe that expecting relief from Allah is a form of worship, even though there is no authentic hadīth that explicitly says so. However, this belief does not mean that we just sit back and fold our hands. It means that we take the initiative to bring this relief about and then place our hopes in Allah's promise of help. Indeed, Allah promises that ease will come after hardship.

Allah says: “Indeed after hardship comes ease. So when you have finished (from your work) stand up (to worship), and to you Lord direct your hopes.” [ Surah al-Sharh : 6-8]