In The Amazing Race, we started off with the image of three runners: one with hidden weights attached to their body, one carrying a heavy load on their back, and a third person without any weights or loads running freely.
In any race, it is the third person that we would all want to be.
Specifically, in the race to Allah, exalted is He, it is who we actively seek to be. It starts with learning that we have the power and the right to let go.
There are so many people holding onto heavy loads trying to make it through the race. People are holding onto sadness and grief, fears and insecurities, anger, and all the other limiting emotions. Limiting and difficult emotions are normal to experience, and we are rewarded for enduring challenges with patience and perseverance. But after those events have brought us back to God, it’s time to let go of the pain. And, thanks to God, we have always had the power to do that.
Letting go does not mean giving up or justifying wrongs. It means you are willing to continue the race with all the lessons learned, without carrying the emotional load with you. In place of bitterness and feeling victimized, you allow yourself to feel free, and even grateful for the wisdom and reward attained. Experiencing negative emotions is not wrong, rather very normal and human, and it can even be a blessing that reminds us to turn to Allah.
But after we have turned to Him, we go back to being content with Him and His decree. We let go of the attachments of needing sadness, of needing anxiety and fear to protect us and help us, because we have God to do those things and we have been given power over our own immediate choices to work for them.
Negative emotions, when held onto, become part of the attachments of dunya (this world). They are the weights attached to the runner as they try to run to Allah and get exhausted early.
A traumatic life event is the heavy load that someone carries over their shoulders after the calamity has passed and they have the ability to put it down. Sometimes it takes the help of others to say: “Here, let me help you put that down. You don’t need to carry it anymore.” Some are so used to the weight, they’re actually afraid of what it would feel like to live without it. The heavy load allowed them to turn to Allah and they are afraid that putting it down would mean they would forget Him and become heedless. So we have to understand what God Himself wants for us.
Ease Not Hardship
While remembering God during our moments of weakness is a blessing from Him, He is more merciful to us than His wanting us to hold onto that weakness in order to feel close to Him. Actually the opposite is encouraged:
The Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us:
“The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, while there is good in both. Guard over that which benefits you, seek Allah’s assistance, and don’t lend yourself to things devoid of benefit, and if something befalls you, then don’t say ‘If I only would have done such and such,’ rather say ‘Allah ordained this and He does what He wills’ for verily the phrase ‘If I would have’ makes way for the work of the Devil.” (Muslim)
Imam al-Nawawi commented: “The intended meaning of strength here is a firm will and a desire to work for the Hereafter. So the one being described as a strong believer is more bold and stern against the enemy in Jihad, quicker to go out and searching for striving in Allah’s path, more in his enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, in his patience with the harms he faces throughout, and stronger in the way he carries out difficult tasks for Allah’s sake. He loves to pray, fast, make dhikr (remembrance of Allah), and perform the rest of the acts of worship, and he is more active in seeking after these affairs, as he keeps a closer watch over his performance of them.” (Sharh Muslim)
Allah is more Merciful than His wanting us to punish ourselves with hardship, pain, self-imposed weakness and heaviness. He wants for us ease and lightness despite the natural human tendency towards weakness:
“Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.” (Al-Baqarah 2:185)
“And Allah wants to lighten for you [your difficulties]; and mankind was created weak.” (An-Nisa’ 4:28)
Furthermore, whenever there is a command in the Qur’an or from the Prophet, peace be upon him, it means that following such a command is humanly possible. Here are just a few examples that show the option to hold onto an emotion or not is within our control:
“Do not be weak and do not be sad.” (Al-Imran 3:139)
And to Musa and Harun, peace be upon them: “(Allah) said, ‘Fear not. Indeed, I am with you both; I hear and I see.’” (Ta-ha 20:46)
The Prophet, peace be upon him, mentions: “Don’t become angry.”
It’s interesting to note that ‘sadness’ in particular and emotions in general are often spoken about in English as nouns, making them seem static, unmoving, like you cannot do anything about them once they are there but wait for them to go away on their own. People become overwhelmed by their emotions when they feel they are static, and when they think they can’t control them, so instead of trying to regain control they simply give in, and even justify it.
In Arabic, emotions are often used as active verbs that include the responsible party in the verb. So it’s as if it’s saying, “Don’t you do sadness,” or “Don’t you do fear.” Meaning, when it comes to holding onto emotions, we are the active doers, doing it to ourselves.
The nafs has tricked us into thinking we have no power over these weights, these loads we’re carrying. The nafs also tells us we need these weights in order to succeed, that they make us stronger. And sometimes they do, but only when we have learned about our power to remove them.
Otherwise, the weights carried indefinitely lead to massive health and psychological problems, rather than strength. It continuously lies to us, like any oppressor for no other reason other than staying in charge, so that these lies control our direction.
Thus, fear and anxiety don’t help us become safer. They actually make us panic and become less safe. Anger makes us lose control even though people choose to become angry in order to gain control. Feeling self-pity, actively maintaining the ‘victim’ mentality does not bring the promise of self-approval or control in life. Rather, it makes the person desperate for the attention and approval of others, and can even lead to manipulative behavior in trying to control others. Holding onto sadness after loss doesn’t make experiencing the loss any easier, it makes it harder and more prolonged, more acutely felt.
Accordingly, the nafs wants us to hold on dearly to all the emotions that can make us a slave to it. Letting go is about freeing our souls so we can run to Allah, feeling secure, loved, and in control in the presence of Al-Wadud, Al-Qadir.
May Allah allow us to let go of that which slows us down in the race to Him, and may He make us of the strong believers.
By Muslema Purmul
The lessons in this 4-Part Series were inspired by the free 7-Day Trial of the iPersonalEnrichment.com program. While this series focuses mostly on concepts, the program works to internalize them.