x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Suffering and the reciprocal agenda

The human condition is inextricably linked to suffering. It is a necessary quality of the nature of the world. Likewise, the commitment to relieve the suffering of others is a necessary quality of the Way of Islam.

The human condition is inextricably linked to suffering. It is a necessary quality of the nature of the world. Likewise, the commitment to relieve the suffering of others is a necessary quality of the Way of Islam. But it is a reciprocal spiral. All people seek a reprieve from their pain. It is the human reflex. The relief from that pain, however, is to be found in the action of relieving the pain of others.

The prophetic hadith says: "Whosoever relieves an anxiety of a believer, Allah will relieve an anxiety of his on the Day of Judgement." Anxiety, a pain of mind, has physical repercussions. It is a vicious circle, because more often than not, the causes of the mental anguish that is affecting the physiological dimension are also physical, tangible or tactile to begin with. It would be stellar if we were all examples of the stoic model of courage and unassailable fortitude. But alas, "man has been created weak".

It creates the scenario, or sets the stage for this sublime transaction of Islamic cosmology, this exchange of peace at the level of heart and mind. However, a further cause for worry is produced when we stop to reflect on how often we actually engage in relieving the suffering of others and find how often we're more likely to be causing stress to our fellow man. It would be a great accomplishment if we could cease being agents of sorrow.

They say that practitioners of Jainism walk with brooms before them to avoid harming a single insect. Would that our affairs had reached such heights of subtlety. In order to even start thinking about such nuances we would have to stop and listen to the sound of crunching under our feet as we amble through life, leaving a wake of crushed hearts and minds strewn behind us. So here is the agenda. It is a reciprocal one. The first hadith implied that the reward for helping others is a deferred reimbursement. But another text shows how the arrangement provides for this world's needs also. "Allah does not cease to be in the assistance of His slave so long as His slave does not cease to be in the assistance of his brother."

Anxiety, grief, suffering and pain come in many forms and few of us escape the trauma, or the drama. But the path to relief lies in seeking out opportunities to bring relief to others. Whether it be at the level of threats to human existence itself, like those addressed by the millennium development goals, or at the level of personal experience of the world, the relief of poverty, access to education, children's health, fair treatment and equal treatment of women and the disempowered, maternal health, the treatment of debilitating disease, and environmental health; all of these provide scenarios for you to offer your abilities and express your humanity.

At this same level the top 10 problems facing humanity for the next 50 years have been delineated by experts as the following: energy, water, food, environment, poverty, war, disease, education, good governance and accommodating an expanding world population. These are general difficulties that challenge all people. There are still other challenges to human well-being that are ethnic or region-specific. Likewise, there are threats to the conditions of people's lives that are "natural" disasters, but there are still other avoidable disasters that are intentionally visited upon targeted groups.

Islam offers the compassionate motif of the man who, coming across a struggling person, stops what he's doing to help the other shoulder his burden. Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi