By Dr. Jasser Auda
You might think that He is giving you, while in reality He is depriving you. And you might think that He is depriving you, while in reality He is giving you. If through your deprivation, He opens the doors of understanding for you, then this deprivation is exactly a gift. You feel bad about your deprivation because you do not understand. He might open the door of worship for you, but does not open the door of acceptance. And you might be destined to sin, but this becomes a means to ascension towards Him. A sin that produces humbleness and need is better than an act of worship that produces pride and prejudice.
At times, God gives you and at other times He deprives you. God might test you through bad and good things, through misfortune and hardship, or through bestowing blessings on you or depriving you. The matter is apparently different from what we assume.
At this stage in our journey to God, we have to understand the wisdom behind God’s giving and deprivation. God says:
But as for man, whenever his Sustainer tries him by His generosity and by letting him enjoy a life of ease, he says, “My Sustainer has been (justly) generous towards me”; whereas, whenever He tries him by straitening his means of livelihood, he says, “My Sustainer has disgraced me!” But nay, nay… (Al-Fajr 89:15-17)
It is as if God is saying that this is not the correct understanding of the issue of providence.
When God tries you by straitening your means of livelihood, this does not mean that He is disgracing you. And when He tries you by letting you enjoy a life of ease, this does not mean that He is generous towards you. The question is: how should we judge this issue?
Wisdom behind Deprivation
The Sheikh, Ibn `Ata’illah, is drawing our attention to a very important meaning is this word of wisdom which is that of ‘understanding’: “If through your deprivation, He opens the doors of understanding for you, then this deprivation is exactly a gift.” If God deprives by losing your money, job, health, or family, but at the same time He opens the doors of understanding for you, then this is not a deprivation but it is a gift from Him. In this case, the trial turns into a gift.
By understanding, you come to know that the trials you are afflicted with are the actual giving. This is because before understanding you were looking at the material, at the five senses and at numbers. You say, for example, I lost ten thousands or I lost my family, my health, etc. This is the material calculation.
God might take the ten thousands but gives you the understanding or makes you content, or makes you do a good deed, or gives you a strong will or gives you a good friend or gives you humbleness and closeness to Him.
Therefore, the loss of the ten thousands is the actual giving and gift. It is possible that God gives you 100 thousands later when you review your calculations and improve your behavior.
Therefore, we have to understand the actual meaning of giving and deprivation. Sometimes, we think that a specific thing is a deprivation while it is the actual giving and vice versa.
The above-mentioned example may be given the other way around. One might suffer ten thousands of trials, but he does not thank God either by sayings or actions. He might be deceived by money or might spend it in something unlawful and the result will be undesirable. God may give this person more than a chance so that he can return to Him. God says:
… for, behold, though I may give them rein for a while, My subtle scheme is exceedingly firm! (Al-Qalam 68:45)
God sometimes throws open to them the gates of all [good] things as a kind of punishment.
… Until -even as they were rejoicing in what they had been granted – We suddenly took them to task: and lo! they were broken in spirit. (Al-An`am 6:45)
If God opens the doors of providence for you or answers your request for something, you have to understand. First, you have to thank God so that the blessing is tied to you. Second, you have to understand the wisdom and the meaning behind this giving and to be cautious about the trial it might involve.
The Sheikh gives another example which has the same meaning. He says: “He might open the door of worship for you, but does not open the door of acceptance. And you might be destined to sin, but this becomes a means to ascension towards Him.”
Missing the Reward
God might guide you to do good deeds such as praying qiyam al-layl (late-night supererogatory prayer) memorizing the Qur’an, giving out in charity, observing fasting, or performing Hajj. But you have to be cautious. Sometime you imagine that the worship is in itself a giving from God, but in reality it is not. The question is: why?
The answer is that the servant may miss the reward after doing a specific good deed. God says:
They who spend their possessions for the sake of God and do not thereafter mar their spending by stressing their own benevolence and hurting (the feelings of the needy) shall have their reward with ‘their Sustainer. (Al-Baqarah 2:262)
Stressing benevolence and hurting the feelings of the needy nullify the charity and block the door of acceptance and receiving God’s rewards.
The servant might do a good deed only to show off and to be praised by people. Thus, the good deed devoid of sincerity leads to punishment.
Behold, the hypocrites seek to deceive God – while it is He who causes them to be deceived (by themselves.) And when they rise to pray, they rise reluctantly, only to be seen and praised by men, remembering God but seldom. (An-Nisaa’ 4:142)
The main purpose of worship is sincerity and gaining moral and spiritual benefits from it. A ritual devoid of sincerity and moral, spiritual benefit is worthless. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, God is not in need of his leaving his food and drink.” (Al-Bukhari) This means that God will not accept his fasting.
Then the Sheikh gives us another example related to the issue of acts of worship and sinning which requires an accurate understanding. The Sheikh says: “And you might be destined to sin, but this becomes a means to ascension towards Him.” Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah says in this regard: “A sin may produce humbleness and need so that it takes one to Paradise. An act of worship may produce pride and prejudice so that it takes one to Hell.”
Of course, sinning itself does not lead one to entering Paradise, but the sin already happened and the one who committed it repented sincerely to God. A sinner always remembers his sin and tries his best to do good deeds in order to go to Paradise. Therefore, sinning produces humbleness and need and thus it becomes a giving and a gift from God.
But this does not mean that one commits sins and says that I am sinning in order to repent to God. This is a wrong and deviated understanding adopted by some ignorant people. Here I am talking about past sins which produce humbleness and need. This is much better than an act of worship that produces pride. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“He who has in his heart the weight of a mustard seed of pride shall not enter Paradise.” (Muslim)
Therefore, we have to consider the degree of being close or far from God and make it the criterion of deprivation or giving. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.” (Muslim)
The hadith indicates that you are the one who brings good or bad to yourself. It is all up to you. If you are thankful for God for the good things that happen to you, this is good for you. If you are patient when bad things happen to you, this is also good for you.
However, if you feel pride when good things happen to you, this is bad for you. If you are impatient when bad things happen to you, this is also bad for you. Thus, based on your reaction you are the one who determines whether what happens to you is a deprivation or giving.
You might think that God is giving you, while in reality, He is depriving you. And you might think that He is depriving you, while in reality, He is giving you. So, you have to understand God’s wisdom when He gives or deprives you.
This understanding is very important for those journeying to God with excellent good deeds. God always gives you what is good for you. He always chooses the best for you. Then it is up to us to determine whether what happens to us is deprivation or a giving. This is in itself a blessing and a favor from God. “In Your hand is all good. Verily, You have the power to will anything.” (Aal `Imran 3:26)
We pray to God to make use understand well His deprivation and giving.
The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda