Contentment with Allah’s Decree

At every stage in life, things are pre-ordained a certain way, which we might not like. Accepting them, however, will help us attain peace of mind, writes Sadaf Farooqi.
Often since motherhood, I have caught myself critically analysing my reflection in the mirror: the added inches on the waist, the half-circles under the eyes, the white hair in the forelock that is now making its debut, and the slight double-chin. “Youth is wasted on the young” I muse. A few moments later, however, I realise what is happening, and chastise myself to stop it.
There was a time when I used to fantasise over open textbooks as an undergrad student – younger, fresh-faced and skinny – about whom I’d marry, how many children I would have, and what kind of family life I’d have beyond my twenties. With a start, I realise how, despite being given everything I wanted, I am instead brooding on that which I do not have anymore. When I had that narrow waist, I used to visualise myself with a baby bump!
The verb “qadaa” in Arabic means to decide, settle or judge. As a noun, Al-Qadaa refers to a binding decision that has been made. “Ridaa Bil Qadaa”, therefore, is a phrase that refers to a person’s pleasure with that which has been decreed by Allah. It is a state in which they do not feel ingratitude for their lot in life, but instead revel in a blissful, acquiescent acceptance of everything that Allah has pre-ordained for them.
It is common to behold the wistfulness people feel when they hear about the blessings of others. When a friend of ours got engaged during university, we were all happy for her, but when she started receiving lavish gifts from her in-laws, we sometimes found ourselves wishing to be in her place. As more friends got married, those who were single felt pangs of unhappiness and impatience at the arrival of their appointed time for marriage – their qadaa. Some wondered if it would ever arrive.
Every one of us experiences a vicious cycle of such feelings throughout life.After marriage, how quickly we forget our single days, and anxiously await the blue line on the pregnancy test. Once our first-born is a toddler, when we hear of a sister having her third baby, we start desiring our second one. Eventually, it’s the bigger house in the suburbs, the family van, and the foreign vacation. Every time, when Allah gives us what we pine for, we forget how we longed for it, and move on to the next item on our wish list.
It is a fact that Satan, our avowed enemy, tries to make us ungrateful for Allah’s blessings and favours upon us. He always reminds us of the things we do not have that we think will make us happier; making us dwell on what others have which we don’t; and making us despair of imminent relief from trials which we are facing in life.
The strategy that we should use to achieve Ridaa Bil Qadaa for ourselves has been provided for us by Islam. Prophet Muhammad SWT gave us the following advice:
“Look towards those who rank below you, so that you may get used to being thankful, and do not look at those who rank above you, lest you should despise the favours of Allah upon you” (Ibn Hibban).
The key to achieving Ridaa Bil Qadaa, therefore, is to consciously look only at those lower than us in worldly status and possessions, and deliberately refuse to look at, or think about, people who have more worldly blessings (talent, wealth, social acceptance, familial prestige, or good looks). Only when a believer obeys this advice of the Prophet r, will he be pleased with what Allah has decreed for him. Simultaneously, he will be able to eliminate envy, avarice, and competitiveness from his relationships with people.
Interestingly, the strategy recommended in the above hadith also exists in contemporary psychiatry and life coaching. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) involves making a person alter his thinking by identifying each negative thought, assumption, belief or behaviour, and countering it with a forced, positive, beneficial one. In fact, Islam’s teachings of not suspecting ill from others, harbouring positive hopes for the future, focusing on the blessings we possess, and overlooking others’ weaknesses and misgivings, entirely embody the ‘positive thinking’ approach needed to achieve Ridaa Bil Qadaa: the ultimate peace of mind.
Allah SWT says in the Qur’an:
“And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you excel others” (An-Nisaa:32).
Therefore, the next time a sister’s spacious house makes you bemoan your cramped one, or your husband’s layoff undermines your financial security, or you hear of the impending marriage of an umpteenth sister much younger than you, or if you are forced to move to another city or country from the one that you love, or you give birth to the fifth child of the same gender, and that nagging feeling of indignation and ungratefulness creeps into your heart, know that it is totally up to you to be happy and satisfied with what Allah has chosen for you. Dwelling upon the supposedly fair seeming, better-off circumstances of others will not improve your situation at all; in fact, it will deplete your strength to face it with patience. Besides, everyone has problems; it is just that you don’t know what they are!
In order to help believers achieve Ridaa Bil Qadaa, performing istikharah before picking a course of action or making a major decision is prescribed in Islam. Part of the du’a of istikharah goes: “If You know that this matter is good for me, in the matters of my deen, my life, and the outcome of all my affairs, then decree it for me. And if You know that it is bad for me, then turn it away from me, and turn me away from it, and make me pleased with it”. The latter part “make me pleased with it” enables a believer to achieve Ridaa Bil Qadaa even if the choice doesn’t work in his favour, knowing that if Allah willed it, it is good for him; this will make him satisfied with the outcome of that choice. He will never regretfully look back over his shoulder thinking “if only I…”
The wise believer struggles to harbour positive expectations of his future. He believes that if Allah has decreed something for him that he does not like, it is good for him – even if he cannot, due to limited knowledge and wisdom – decipher exactly how. Be it marital woes, injury, illness, infertility, or financial stress – we should accept the choices that Allah makes for us, remembering that He is merciful, and that His choices are best.
Sadaf Farooqi is a Pakistan-based mother of two, who has learned a few lessons along the way in life; one of them being that controlling her thoughts allows her to recognise each “problem” as a stepping stone towards inner peace, acceptance of fate, and most of all, pleasure with Allah’s will.