whose burden is it? 35:18

وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى وَإِن تَدْعُ مُثْقَلَةٌ إِلَى حِمْلِهَا لَا يُحْمَلْ مِنْهُ شَيْءٌ وَلَوْ كَانَ ذَا قُرْبَى إِنَّمَا تُنذِرُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُم بِالغَيْبِ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَمَن تَزَكَّى فَإِنَّمَا يَتَزَكَّى لِنَفْسِهِ وَإِلَى اللَّهِ الْمَصِيرُ (35:18)

AND NO BEARER of burdens bears another’s burden; and if one weighed down by his load calls to help him carry it, nothing thereof may be carried, even if it be one’s near ones. Hence, thou warn those concerned about their Sustainer unseen to them and stand upon blessing (that sustainer), for whoever is cleaned [of troubles], attains to purity [i.e. freedom from their worries/troubles] but for the good of his their own self, and [how are these troubles cleaned away?] – > [when you see that] all things are heading towards the God [i.e. perfect and abiding existence] – 35:18 

There is much to say about this verse. I am want to reflect about what i hear about burdens here and what I learn from it for my life.

At any moment, I have the freedom to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to anything. I can even say ‘no’ to what I have said ‘yes’ to previously and say ‘yes’ to what i had said ‘no’ to previously. What does this mean? It means that there is no real, final argument that has authority for me “from the outside”. And by the same token, no matter how reasonable my arguments seem to me, they have no final authority for another. We can say ‘no’ at any time. If this is the case, why would anyone say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to anything? If nothing outside me can compel me, what reason might there be for me to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’?

It seems that the reason that I say yes or no to things is because I feel they are beneficial or harmful to me. My yes comes from my sense of what is good for me and my no comes from my sense of what is bad for me. It also seems that this “sense” of mine is subject to change and educatable and responds to reason. If i see something harmful, I won’t say yes to it. If i see something beneficial I will likely say no to it.

So what then is beneficial and harmful to me? The interesting thing is that my sense of benefit and harm are tied to my very particular position or condition at any given moment in life. Let me use an analogy.

Imagine that I am floating in a river. that is my situation. I am feeling that I must keep my head up so that I don’t drown. This is my condition. Now suppose another person feels they are in a house with a very low ceiling and the ceiling is on fire, it is very hot. They feel they need to try to keep their head as low to the ground as possible to avoid getting burned. Both of us want benefit – we want to not die or get harmed.

Now imagine these two people speak to each other. The guy in water is convinced (and correctly) that keeping the head high is necessary. The guy in the burning house is convinced that keeping your head as low as possible is the key. The suggestion of one person sounds like crazy and even “evil” to the other. It is definitely not convincing to the other. And the reason is that the one cannot actually experience the real condition of the other. They CAN, if they want, empathize with the other. So, for instance, the burning house man can realize that he is speaking to the one in a river trying to avoid being drowned. And vice versa. But more importantly, what they can do is to try to find out if the person in the river is right to feel that he is in a river and of the person in the burning house is right in feeling that the ceiling is low and burning. Lets assume they agree that they are in a river actually, then both would (for their own reason – for their own benefit) want to keep their head up. What does this example teach me?

It teaches me that I can talk to people about my real condition and try to be sure i am interpreting my condition correctly. My ‘yes’ and ‘no’ will be based on my understanding of my situation because my sense of what harms and benefits is tied to that. No one can really know what my condition is. And I can’t really know someone else’s real condition. One can speak theoretically or imaginatively only when one speaks to others and what others say can be heard theoretically only in that sense. ONLY if i begin to see my condition or state in a certain way do I see harm and benefit in a certain way. It is impossible for anyone to convince me except that I convince myself about my condition. And vice versa. I can only share my real condition with another (if i share a hypothetical condition which I am not really in, it loses its honesty and force) and I can share why I think it is my condition and what is harm and benefit to me as a person in that condition. And i should listen to others who say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to different things than I do and try to understand how they understand their condition and why. I cannot change someone’s yes into no or no into yes. Nor can anyone else do that for me. What I can do is to understand my condition and my harm and my benefit.

The choice then arises: how shall i understand my condition? by myself? or shall i ask my maker? since i do not think i put myself in the condition that i am, i do not feel i can understand that truth of it. My choice is to ask my unseen maker – how shall i understand my condition? my benefits and harms? I already have a sense of benefit and harm but it is based on my own understanding (taken from teachers, parents, cultures, books, wise men etc) of my condition. But I am not sure if any of these sources have given me the right answer. I want to be sure that I understand my condition as it really is. None of the other things are my maker, my sustainer. You, whoever you are who made me and keeps me here, you tell me! I do want to be cleansed of what troubles me. I want to be able to proclaim that everything is perfect and blessed. I want to affirm that existence, as it is, is perfect! i will just leave that there..

the main point for me here is that my burden is for me to carry and to un-carry. No other being has access to my real condition so that they could tell me what my harms and benefits are in that situation so that they could judge or guide me about what I should say yes or no to. Same for me. What I can do is to find out the truth of my condition. I can tell others my condition as it really is. I can tell people what I find harmful and beneficial in that situation. I can assume (i kind of have to) that other human beings also want benefit and want to avoid harm and so their yes and no are tied to harm and benefit as they see them. and their sense of harm and benefit is tied to their sense of their condition. Thus, i worry little about people’s yeses and nos. My concern is to understand the truth of my condition as told by my maker. I invite others to also find the truth of their condition from their maker and not from any other source. This truth is so important because from it flows my sense of what is harmful and beneficial to me (in my own eyes) and what i should say yes and no to for my own reasons. Am I in a burning house? Am i in a river? I should ask whoever made me and the world i find myself in and I should look for a message that tells me (warns me? makes me aware of?) what my condition is. Even the phrase in this verse that says that someone is going to be a “warner” already suggests to me that i might be in danger or trouble. That my condition is not great! I kind of sense that already (not knowing what my condition is itself a kind of torture and worry). The verse ends with a big claim – a claim that both summarizes my condition and thereby making a claim about what my harm and benefit is. That matter can be for another post…

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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