x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Its end is freedom from the fire

Each of us seeks relief and release from suffering. The close of Ramadan offers a window of opportunity for just that.

"Qabd" is the word to describe the constricted feeling in your chest when you feel the world is closing in around you. It is a step away from despair, to lose all hope or confidence, to be disheartened. Its opposite is hope, to cherish a desire with anticipation. Both are modes of thinking about the future. Despair is a negative view toward tomorrow while hope is a positive one. Each of us naturally seeks to extricate ourselves from pain and discomfort. Each of us seeks relief and release from suffering. The close of Ramadan offers a window of opportunity for just that. Ramadan is a month the first of which is mercy, the middle of which is forgiveness, and the end of which is freedom from the fire. The logical conclusion of forgiveness is a reprieve from punishment and a stay of sentence. People are amassing such a quantity of warrants for pardon, and portions of divine forgiveness during the middle of the month that it must crescendo and tip the scales at the end. For those who achieve this bounty is admittance to an expansive and serene garden. The nature of this garden is described in the Quran as a place where babbling brooks of sweet pure water flow from beneath raised pavilions that abound with the most comfortable furnishings. In luxurious garments its residents find exquisite cuisine and the most comforting of companions. Its rivers are of milk and honey, its vistas are a delight to the eye, and they are served with sweet wine the bouquet of which increases perception and exhilarates, as opposed to dulling the senses and acting as a depressant. It is a place in which there is no sorrow, only relief, only comfort and every joy. But some people will be denied access and forbidden entrance. They will miss the boat. The Quran offers a description of the fire. It is a place where faces are darkened with shadow. Its occupants are dragged along in chains around their necks, toiling in eternal exhaustion and discomfort. Its fire and smoke closes in around them like the walls of a claustrophobic prison. Dragged through the filth and refuse of open and infected wounds, en masse, they are suffocated by the only bitter food of a cactus plant that neither nourishes nor satisfies their craving. If they ask for water, it comes in the form of a downpour of boiling liquid that scalds the face and shreds the stomach. Death harasses them from every quarter but never quite extinguishing their misery. Look, one can believe this or not. But I'd sure hate to come down on the wrong side of the wager. Quite frankly there is no logical explanation for the factors of the unseen except a miracle. It's only that the matters of the unseen do not contradict rational logic, though they may contradict empirical observation; the two are absolutely different. This continues to be a fact of knowledge lost on many of the educated. So we are left to ask ourselves: "Do I have space in my life for miracles?" But for those of feeble conviction and narrow metaphysical vision, these profits and losses may seem too far off. But if the Paradise is anything, it is a reprieve and release from disappointment, sorrow, and stress. The despair, anxiety, and grief that might overcome one's heart at times in a person's life are actually weeds that grow out of the hellfire itself. That is something that anyone can identify with. Jihad Hashim Brown is the director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi