overcoming self-harm and finding peace II 27:20-44

وَتَفَقَّدَ الطَّيْرَ فَقَالَ مَا لِيَ لَا أَرَى الْهُدْهُدَ أَمْ كَانَ مِنَ الْغَائِبِينَ

And he tried to find the [particular] bird; and so he said: What is it with me? I do not see the hudhud? Is it among those that disappear/are absent/lost/not to be found?

لَأُعَذِّبَنَّهُ عَذَابًا شَدِيدًا أَوْ لَأَذْبَحَنَّهُ أَوْ لَيَأْتِيَنِّي بِسُلْطَانٍ مُّبِينٍ

I am going to punish it most severely or will slaughter it or else let it bring me a clear evidence!

I am surrounded by so much that I am in touch with  – so many things so many thoughts and states of heart/mind that I call “feelings.” I have so much I like and love about the world and life. I find much that is pleasurable and pleasing and beneficial. But I nevertheless notice even when one particular beloved or beneficial thing goes missing from my life. I am prone to feel: why did I lose it? What did I do to deserve to lose it? I did not deserve to lose it! Whenever a particular thing (a “hud-hud among the creatures/birds that I communicate with) eludes me, I notice its absence. I look for it. I pursue it. I feel angry and mad about it’s absence, its lack – be it pleasure, respect, honor, love, kindness, approval etc. My dependence on it is revealed to me. And I sometimes wish to cut off this dependence. I want to say, “Go! I don’t need you! I am fine without you!?” I am upset with it because I am upset for being in need of it. And I say to myself, “even if I were to get you, I would voluntarily throw you away. I wouldn’t care about you. I am not afraid to lose you. I will, as if, cut off your head, myself. I do not need you. I am beyond such pettiness. I am strong, high and dignified! I can do just fine without you!” There is something in me that reacts to the absence or loss of what I find myself wanting. I wish it to be there, to be found, to be present and not absent. Often, I try to put up a stoic, brave face (to ignore or hide my weakness and dependence and need) and I may say “I don’t mind! I don’t mind the loss. I am not affected by it! I don’t desire it! I don’t need it that bad! I will be fine!” and things like that. The Quran is of the view that these are not, ultimately, a satisfactory response. Not one but all the birds in my life that I communicate with are flying away. The one that I notice as missing is not an exception. It is the fate of all birds in my unguided eyes. Deep inside, I am upset and angry and sad. I want something and I can’t have it. I can’t find it. This existential nakedness cannot be covered up by leaves of excuses and denials and I-am-fine kinds of self-deceptions! I am upset! I am bothered, even devastated. Here, I find myself quite in agreement with the Quran’s claims as I understand them. I find Solomon’s rage and anger quite relatable. I find a Solomon in me in – angry and upset and saying/screaming “why can’t I find hud-hud???!!!”

I know how to appreciate beauty and love, dignity and friendship, joy and pleasure. I have been taught, if you may, the language of these birds (the alight upon me like birds and fly away without warning as well). They come and go without my permission and volition. I cannot unlearn love of such things. I can deny that I need all these at my own expense, imagining this to be a kind of self-care when it is simply is a vain effort to be “ok” with self-deprivation. The Quran does not want to numb my wounds. Does not want deprivation to be the final word. Neither do I. So I agree with it. I need to find the meaning, the truth about this kind of reality, a kind where I know the language of birds (I appreciate beauty even as it constantly goes missing in my allegedly “unguided” eyes – in the eyes of a Solomon who finds hudhud missing) and yet I do not fail to be hurt and angered when I find it absent. I am not indifferent to it even as I loathe being in need of it when it abandons me. It’s not like I can get used to its absence and just “get on with it”. If you, the reader, can get on with it, please go ahead. Go and “get on with it”. I refuse to. Its not a satisfactory response to me. My hurt matters. I am not going to suck it up on the advice of other creatures. I am going to instead ask my maker for meaning – a clear meaning that would convince me why the absence of what I want and need may not be a terrible thing, may not be a threat to my peace as it first appears to be. What am I doing wrong here? Is it that I don’t deserve all this? Is it something about me?

In the Quran, this Solomon in me should want this missing bird to report to me with some meaning – how can I not be harmed and be angry and devastated by the absence even of a single thing? Why do a thousand things I still have cannot fully compensate for the loss of a single beloved thing? Why is the absence not cancelled out and why is it not inconsequential in light of all that is still present? I should demand answers from what has gone missing – this is what the Quran teaches me . It is not enough to know that I still have so many other “blessings” that speak to me about my merciful maker. My missing “hud-hud,” something that might be a ridiculously minor thing to others, has something important to report. Do I expect it? There is nothing here for me if I am not waiting for hudhud to speak to me with a satisfactory and clear explanation. The Quran claims to be making my hudhud speak.

فَمَكَثَ غَيْرَ بَعِيدٍ فَقَالَ أَحَطتُ بِمَا لَمْ تُحِطْ بِهِ وَجِئْتُكَ مِن سَبَإٍ بِنَبَإٍ يَقِينٍ

Thus it did not tarry for long and immediately spoke: “I have encompassed something that you did not encompass and I have come to you from “Saba” [a place, a reality as yet unknown to me] with a call or news that is certain.

Once I call the absence into question, the Quran claims that it immediately (without delay) starts to speak to me of a news – the absence speaks of a certain news!). What does it say? I don’t know. It claims to have accessed something (a meaning, a reality?) that it claims that I do not know. And indeed I do not know. And it interests me what it is that it has “encompassed” so I am curious what the absence “says” (I am expecting the Quran to now make the absence speak of something I did not realize when I found hudhud missing) and I am curious whether it is a “certain” news! And then the absence speaks and says in the next four verses:

إِنِّي وَجَدتُّ امْرَأَةً تَمْلِكُهُمْ وَأُوتِيَتْ مِن كُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَلَهَا عَرْشٌ عَظِيمٌ

“Behold, I found there a woman ruling over them; and she has been given [abundance] of all [good] things, and hers is a mighty throne

And I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of God; and Satan has made their deeds seem goodly to them, and [thus] has barred them from the path [that leads to God] so that they cannot find the right way:

أَلَّا يَسْجُدُوا لِلَّهِ الَّذِي يُخْرِجُ الْخَبْءَ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا تُخْفُونَ وَمَا تُعْلِنُونَ

that they not prostrate to God, the one who brings forth all that is hidden in the heavens and on earth, and knows all that you would conceal as well as all that you bring into the open

اللَّهُ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ رَبُّ الْعَرْشِ الْعَظِيمِ

God, save whom there is no deity – the Sustainer, in awesome almightiness enthroned!

To be continued in a later blog…

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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