Three years ago, alone in a little house on a hill overlooking the Black Sea, I found myself in the midst of a tumultuous tempest. All night and all day, it rained without relent, but instead of falling down on my face to pray for reprieve, I listened to the inner voices that frequently petition me with their calls to evil, teasing nefarious plots and plans out from my soul. As the hammering rain on our steel roof grew ever louder, so too the rhythm of the scheming nafs, invoking malevolent contrivances within. And then…
CRAA… SCH… ACK!
It’s difficult to put that sound into words. I cannot do it justice. A booming crack? It sounds too soft. Clattering glass, amplified a million times? Perhaps. But worse. It was as if the skies had been torn asunder directly above my head. It was an awesome, fearsome, crashing thunderclap, shaking everything in its path, from the land beneath me to my very soul.
As it shot straight through me, I took it as a humongous rebuke. Yes, I saw that roaring explosion in the sky — that deafening blast that moved fields from their places, depositing the sodden red soils across roads, and sent houses hurtling down into the valley below, stealing the lives of young and old —I saw that roaring reverberation in the sky as a stern warning from my Lord. I took it is a dreadful admonition, shaking me to the core, reminding me of the covenant I had made with the one who created me. To me, it was a horrifying warning of what awaited me if failed to reform my heart and soul, continuing to walk the path of heedlessness.
I recount this tale because there have been many more days like that over the years since then. Unlike the activists all around us who are determined to set our narrative, I do not see the calamities that appear to overwhelm us primarily as an attack on our scholars or ingrained Islamophobia in our midst. To be sure, discrimination and racism are real, and I do not deny the conspiracies and plots promulgated by mischievous people. But whenever these afflictions have descended, the response of my soul has been to look inward: this is a wakeup call.
The way I see it, my Lord has been infinitely merciful to me. Despite years and years of wandering off on a path of my own design, investing in plans that now send a shudder right through me, my Lord has so far granted me reprieve. But as the years go by and I grow older, and my path of reform seems to falter with ever increasing frequency, it has become clear that the occasional goodness of my soul is not strong enough to inspire a commitment to live well. Hence, public rebuke and humiliation.
That is how I see the calamities which seem to consume us. They are a warning from the Lord of the worlds. They are a wakeup call. Our Lord is telling us: however great you may appear to be, and regardless of how many years have passed by, you cannot outrun Me. Reform yourself now, or stand humiliated.
Men found guilty of hideous crimes may, ultimately, be guilty of nothing at all; they may have been victims of a miscarriage of justice at the hands of a racist state engaged in a witch hunt against people like them. Yes, that is possible. But these cases still serve as a warning: to the young man caught up with bad company, who must decide where he stands. Will he enter the world of drugs, violence and sexual exploitation, or will he look on at the men of the generation that passed before him, witnessing their humiliation, belatedly found guilty of hideous crimes, their faces forever engraved in the public imagination by the racist press?
And the supposedly wise sage, loved by millions, held in deep regard and celebrated everywhere, all of a sudden publicly humiliated, his reputation in tatters? It is perfectly possible that he is the victim of a humongous plot, targeted unjustly and brought low by his enemies.
But for me: like that terrifying lightning strike up on that hill in 2015, it was a wake up call. It was my Lord’s attempt to reach me once more. I took the case to heart because I saw myself in him; the only difference between us was that I was blessed with obscurity, preventing me from making real what the inner nafs called to. In this case, those of us with wayward souls recognised our nemesis. To me, it is a rebuke and a wakeup call. Reform, or be reformed.