In light of all the tragic and heart breaking events happening to people all around the world, of all faiths, I write this knowing that I and many of the people reading this are infinitely blessed, which can therefore cause a great amount of guilt and feelings of helplessness when we see great suffering happening around us.
Indeed, Prophet Muhammad says “Whoever wakes up safely in his home and is healthy in his body and has provisions for his day, would have acquired all the worldly possessions he is in need of.” (Al-Tirmidhi).
I am writing this though to help us all form a new lens – yes indeed, people around the world are being tested with losing their homes, their families, and their lives – with losing everything dear to them. So what is our test? What is our test when we are blessed from head to toe with safety, shelter, food, and family amongst countless other blessings?
Our test is how we will use those blessings to make this world a better place. Our test is how we will show our gratitude for those blessings that God has entrusted us with by bringing more goodness to humanity. Our test is what will we leave behind when we die and what kind of difference will we have made?
We cannot be crippled by guilt, feelings of helplessness, and despair. We must go on. We must go on to cultivate courage and build a better world because that is our job. Yes, that is my job and your job and your neighbor’s job and ultimately, everyone’s job.
God says, “And it is He (God) who has made you successors upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees (of rank) that He may try you through what He has given you” (Quran 6:165). The role of successor is not limited to the head of state – it is a role each and every one of us can fulfill because we are each responsible for something or someone or a group of people.
Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him said “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his people. A man is the guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is responsible for them…” (Bukhari, Muslim).
Thus, once again we each hold a responsibility and the unbearable suffering we see happening in the world needs to move us and motivate us and push us to take on that responsibility and do our part.
What can you do? Please figure out your talent, your skills, your knowledge, and your experiences that you can use to help others around you. Do you write, speak, draw, design, educate, mentor, parent, fundraise, advocate? You can and will do something. You just need to find it and run with it.
Each and every one of us may have reason to feel hatred, anger and fear, but we can absolutely choose to spread love, hope, and courage instead, in spite of all the suffering we see around us.
We can choose to advocate for justice, equality, and peace through respect, foresight, and wisdom.
We can choose to teach our children compassion, kindness, and empathy because we want them to live in a better world than we did.
We can choose to trust that in the end, there is An All-Seeing, All-Hearing, All-Compassionate God that is taking care of every single soul that walks this earth.
We can choose hope. We can choose love. We can choose courage.
And one of the greatest types of courage you may have to find is the courage within yourself to do what you were always meant to do, to use your God-given talents and blessings, to make this world a better place.
Find that courage, embrace it, and let it fuel your ability to make a profound difference for the betterment of humanity.
And if you’re still feeling fearful, uncertain, or anxious, please try the following steps to cultivate courage in order to build a better world:
1) Accept your fear: Fear is a natural human response that keeps us safe from life threatening situations. However, fear is also a ‘learned behavior’ which is fed by our environment such that our brain has almost become trained to be ‘fearful’. To ‘re-wire’ our brain, if you will, we need to accept and allow ourselves to feel our fears instead of avoid or fight them. Then we need to ultimately face them, while of course keeping in mind safety of oneself and others as well as God given boundaries.
Most of the time and in this particular case, it is not the fear of wild animals or jumping out of airplanes which you suddenly have to overcome, but overcoming the fears which are common to many people such as the fear of failure, or fear of what others think, which stand as obstacles in our path to courage. And the way to overcome such fears is to simply go ahead and try, even if you ‘fail’, and even if others think negatively because at the end every ‘failure’ is a stepping stone, and ultimately we should not worry about the creation, when we have the Creator on our side.
2) Talk to a trusted individual about your fear: Sometimes you don’t really know what your fears are or why you have them until you have had a chance to discuss it with a trusted, experienced friend, coach, therapist, or mentor. You may even wish to discuss it online if you wish to remain anonymous.
As adults, when you face certain situations, whether they be in your marriage, your parenting, or your work, and act in ways that ultimately demonstrate there is fear deep inside, you may need a trusted individual to help you dig back in and identify the events and feelings that caused that fear so you can overcome it and move on to demonstrate more healthy patterns of interactions with others in your future experiences.
3) Take the time to reflect. Taking the time to reflect and be mindful can help you overcome fears and indeed this can be best practiced through our daily prayers and supplications where we have the opportunity to share with the Creator of the Universe our deepest fears and ask Him to replace those fears with courage and strength.
Visualize yourself overcoming your fears and having more courage and doing the things you have always wanted to do knowing that they will bring goodness to humanity. The mind is a great tool to reason with, but remember to not ignore what your heart is telling you about what you love to do and need to do.
4) Do something different. We cannot expect different results when we continue doing the same things over and over again. If you’ve been afraid of public speaking your whole life, set an intention today to find or accept an opportunity to make a presentation at work or in your community.
If you’ve been writing for years but have never shared your writing with anyone or published it, start sharing it today, with at least one person who you know will be supportive and encouraging. The point is to do something different that stretches you out of your ‘comfort zone’ but that doesn’t push you over the edge so that you are never willing to try again.
5) Have faith in yourself based on your faith in God. The greatest place to feed that faith in yourself is your faith in God because He has created you in the best way possible and that with Him, everything can be possible. We are told “We have indeed created humankind in the best of molds” (Quran 95:4). I could not believe how beautiful and empowering this verse was until I read further into its meaning.
Yes, some of us are born with illnesses and ‘flaws’ and what society may label as a ‘disability’, but did any of us think that God actually created us ‘perfectly’ in many ways, not just physically? Those ways include our spirit, our willpower, our emotions, our ability to love, to forgive, to long for Allah? Many of us have self-defeating and disempowering beliefs, not knowing that this can actually be contrary to how Allah wants us to view ourselves.
If we keep putting ourselves down and holding ourselves back, how can we fulfill our role as successors on this earth and give our best to the world? If we keep beating ourselves up at failing over one task and wondering why we fail at ‘everything’, how will we ever have the courage to keep trying? We have to believe Allah, as the Master Creator, does not make errors when He creates and that He, in His Infinite Wisdom, created us in the way that is perfect for us and our situation and our time.
The important point to remember is that this does not mean that all of our actions are perfect but to remember that as per Prophet Muhammad’s hadith (authentic tradition): “Every child is born in a state of ‘fitrah’” which means in a state of goodness and purity. We were created with that inner capacity to spread compassion and equality and achieve what our society may deem as ‘unrealistic’ but deep down inside we know we can and need to do. Never ever lose that faith in yourself, bestowed to you by the Creator of the Universe.
6) Persevere in the face of fear. Facing your fears and doing something different will inevitably mean that you will encounter ‘failure’, ‘criticism’ and ‘setbacks’. However, you can reframe all of those into ‘experience, ‘feedback’ and ‘stepping stones’.
Every ‘failure’ taught you a great lesson that you may have not learned elsewhere. Every ‘criticism’ can either be constructive feedback that you take to improve yourself or simply idol talk that you ignore and that strengthens your ability to not define yourself by the opinion of others, but only through the opinion of God. And every ‘setback’ that you experience can actually be a ‘stepping stone’ to something greater that you will achieve because of that particular situation and once again a way to build your courage because you do not allow difficult circumstances to diminish your mental and spiritual power.
Know that every great person that achieved anything great persevered in the face of fear, starting with the Prophets (peace be upon them all) and current influential figures which changed our world in every way.
So in summary, to cultivate more courage for a better world, accept your fears, talk about them with a trusted individual, take the time to reflect, do something different, have faith in yourself based on your faith in God, and persevere in the face of fear.
You can choose courage. Choose courage today, tomorrow, and always. Choose courage so we can build a better world together, Insha’Allah.
First published: February 2014