Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon
Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed, we belong to God, and indeed to Him we will return.” Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided. (Quran, 2:156-7)
I think this single utterance encompasses the essence of Islamic faith and the guiding principle of Islamic life. I share with you my somewhat unstructured reflection on it.
We are often told to enjoy our time at university, that it is the best period of our life. But my student life, although full of joy, excitement, friendship and adventure, has been marked by one constant: uncertainty. Many of us are parted from our families for the first time and are challenging what we used to consider a given, normality. We look for ourselves and aspire to become “someone”. We take part in many things: societies, sport clubs, internships, research assistantships, hiking, travelling, etc. We exert ourselves in our studies, want to achieve a certain grade, start life on the right foot. This permanent movement is traitorous, because eventually our final year arrives, and we fail to answer a simple question: What do I want to do now?
Many postpone their decisions by means of a Master’s, others settle for what they can do. Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone. But it is fair to say that we all doubt, we all worry. This feeling of restlessness will not suddenly vanish when we find a job or a long-term partner, have children or buy a house. It will come back punctually poking at us. Sometimes, I fear that I might take a wrong turn and look back at my journey decades from now, full of regret and disappointment; a period otherwise known as the “mid-life crisis”.
So, this verse comforts me. Reciting it is like seeing the first ray of sunshine after a storm, like a friend’s embrace after a breakup, a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s when you feel the blues.
Belonging to God is a mercy, because it means being its servant. We are on earth on His command to worship Him, to honour Hm, to please Him. It bestows meaning to our life and provides us with guidance. It is a moral compass, a source of conviction and strength. It also assumes that all that we have, all that we are we owe to God and to him only. The things we hold so precious to our heart and on which we so foolishly rest our hope – a scholarship, a job, a relationship – we can lose. But the idea is that these are steps on our journey, wobbly steps covered to preserve us from a fall. We simply skip onto another and continue on our path, because the destination remains unchanged.
This destination we regard often with fear, whether we believe in an after-life or not. But the Quran tells us that those who believe supplicate to their Lord in fear and hope (Quran, 32:16). Death is a fact of life. Our souls will all eventually be taken, I pray that it will be in the best of circumstances. But decreed is our return to Him. An end to every suffering, justice for every oppression, reward for every sacrifice is due. God is our protector, our pillar, our origin and our destination. I find the thought powerful beyond measures, but can hardly imagine both the difficulty of living this conviction in time of extreme difficulty and the comfort it represents for the steady in faith.
I have seen people at funerals, family members struggling against cancer, brothers and sisters from war zones. Often, I admired the resilience and faith irradiating their eyes. I wonder how some were not breaking down in tears, shaking in fear, how they were not despairing or even blaming God for His silence; instead they raised their hands in prayer, shunned their beds at night in His remembrance.
May we be of those who remember the promise of a day certain, for this life is in the span of eternity but a day or part of a day.