Monday, 4 June 2012

[Guest Writer] Down the Rabbit Hole

This is a post written especially for Salām in Wonderland by my ingenius and witty friend, Shrink in Wonderland, who has the amazing ability to find a moral in everything, mashā Allāh. Watch out for the toenotes [1] and let's set off on a journey...

Down the Rabbit Hole [2]
By Shrink in Wonderland

[S]he had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked 'poison,' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.
Source: oh, hello friend
We live in a world of causes. Things happen because they were caused by other things. Everything has to have a reason, has to make sense. If it doesn't, it's because you haven't tried hard enough to understand. If it really really doesn't, somebody much cleverer than you will make up a reason. And that's because we like to understand. Not understanding makes us feel silly and insecure. You'll find it everywhere you look, from the (un)simple disciplining of a young child (“If you're good, you get a lollipop”, or, as Alice astutely remembered, “If you drink poison, it's sure to disagree with you”), to the (probably far more un)simple equations you learnt in organic chemistry or maths (feel free to google one if you really want an example).

As a scientist (I think at heart if I'm honest, though I confess to being one of those artsy-type wannabes), I find it horribly difficult to get beyond this: things can't just be, can't just happen. If I have a problem, I have to solve it by systematically, working through all the possible solutions and experimenting by trial and error until my problem is solved. If someone tells me something, I need to see the evidence myself. If I react emotionally, as mere humans are often wont to do, I berate myself about it afterwards. Surely I couldn't believe that things could just happen without my understanding? And yet they can! In the midst of all our pride at what clever beans we are, we often forget the single most important factor of the equation - Allāh 'azza wa jall.

[S]he found herself in a long, low hall, which was lit up by a row of lamps hanging from the roof. There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again.
Ok, so be honest now - how many times have you fallen down a rabbit hole and found yourself in a room with lots of locked doors wondering how you're going to ever get out again? It happens to me all the time. (And I didn't even commit the cardinal sin of craving excitement like Alice - my aim in life at the moment is to attain the ultimate state of boredom.)

Sometimes, you can become so engrossed in looking for a cause, a reason, a solution to the problem, a door to escape, the key to the door that will help you escape... that you forget Him - He, tabāraka wa ta'āla, who made the cause, the reason, the solution, the door and the key. Often, you need to reprogramme your brain (and your heart, deep down inside where it hurts) to believe that not only can Allāh do something, but that He will do it. And that, I suppose, is the essence of tawakkul, a quality much easier described than enacted.

This is one of my most favourite āyāt ever:
وَمَن يَتَّقِ اللَّهَ يَجْعَل لَّهُ مَخْرَجًا. وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَحْتَسِبُ
 وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بَالِغُ أَمْرِهِ ۚ قَدْ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدْرًا
"And whoever fears Allāh - He will make for him a way out. And will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allāh - then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allāh will accomplish His purpose. Allāh has already set for everything a [decreed] extent." 
(Al-Ṭalāq, 65:2-3)

I absolutely love this verse and am in complete awe of its truth. I know I probably oughtn't sound so surprised, but it works, recurrently and consistently, and each time from somewhere a person completely and utterly lā yaḥtasib, doesn't think or understand, comprehend or imagine. And that's because you're you (whoever you are anyway, in the grand scheme of things), and Allāh is Allāh, and He does things like that - things you don't understand or comprehend, subḥānahu wa ta'āla.

That's quite difficult to come to terms with completely rationally, but will you spend your life trying locked doors and looking for keys, when you could simply put your head on the floor and ask Him who made everything, including your locked room, to get you out? He doesn't need doors or keys (though He might well offer you one). What better way to acknowledge Him and His Glory than to remember precisely that. Stop asking Him to open your door or find a solution! He makes doors and solutions when there aren't any.

She knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway; "and even if my head would go through," thought poor Alice, "it would be of very little use without my shoulders." 
How often, when you've fallen down the rabbit hole into your room with locked doors, do you look out and see the loveliest garden you ever saw? How often do you wish to be somebody else, wandering among the beds of bright flowers and cool fountains? How often are you jealous that you're in the room and someone else is in the garden? Or even that the garden merely exists without you in it?

All the time?

And what do you do to get out? Most of us look for a key to get out, we try all the doors, we look for solutions and shout after white rabbits in waistcoats (and yes, it is that ridiculous isn't it?) ad infinitum. We sit and cry, and then try again. Often, you eventually do find a golden key. And having found the golden key, (which can be seen tantalisingly through the glass table - as that's exactly how Shayṭān works) you place your hope in it. Once you catch sight of the golden key, you work to achieve it; you need to hold it in your hand, so you can open the door and walk in the loveliest garden you ever saw [3]. Unfortunately, sometimes, once you have it, you suddenly realise that perhaps things aren't as easy as they seemed initially, and maybe you need a little bottle which doesn't say 'Poison' on it to drink, so you can shut up like a telescope. And once you've shut up like a telescope, you realise that you need some cake to reach the key... and so continues the story.

Source: The Vagablond
Finally, someday (after you've swum in a pool of tears and ran a Caucus race and suchlike), you escape your room with its locked doors. But things aren't always as they seem or expect. All sorts of weird (and not necessarily wonderful) things begin (continue rather!) to happen. Who would have expected the pig-baby and Mad Hatter, the Gryphon and the Queen of Hearts and things just becoming curiouser and curiouser? And, lest we forget, (for there is a moral here, and Alice's is indeed a cautionary tale) if you, or Alice even, looked back, you'd remember all the times when you escaped your locked room, leaping out of the frying pan, straight into the fire, or an argument with the Queen who orders off your head. In retrospect, you would have preferred to stay in your room perhaps, lonely, confused or scared of turning into Mabel though you were.

The story of Alice, is sadly, more often than not, the story of lives (or certainly mine at least!). And it's all very well thinking, “It was much pleasanter at home, when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits”, but now you're stuck here (qaddarAllāhu wa shā'a fa'al), you'd best make the best of it. Accept that Allāh obviously loves you [4] enough to put you in the interestingness of nonsense rather than the boringness of sense, and just pray your head off before the Queen gets to it.

But we digress, and must return to causes and keys:

For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible. 
Possibility is a relative term. For humans, there is possibility and impossibility (though I'm tempted to think of it as a spectrum rather than absolute terms). For Allāh, there is no such thing. To even attribute to Him possibility in the human sense is to restrict Him beyond that which befits Him. He doesn't do probabilities and odds ratios and relative risks, He simply does.

إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُ إِذَا أَرَادَ شَيْئًا أَن يَقُولَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ 

“His command is only when He intends a thing that He says to it, "Be," and it is.” (Yāseen, 36:82) 

Then what to do, for the scientists of little faith?

Alice laughed.”There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." 
Practice! Start with once before breakfast (I'm sure you can't be so much older than Alice?), preferably in the last third of the night. Make a note of consciously deconstructing your thoughts that tell you that life is just what you see, that power has to be visible, tangible before you acknowledge it or submit to it. Allāh's power is beyond that - (and I do abhor clichés so apologies a priori but) there is really no such thing as impossible. Look around you, and have the humility to accept that what you know is very little in relation to what really is.

We need to go to a state beyond rational, objective evidence. We need the ability to ultimately reach the understanding that despite everything we sense and perceive, reality is not restricted to that; indeed Allāh, in all His glory, is not restricted to that. This was the state reached by the prophets and saḥābah. It's a difficult concept to grasp. Theoretically I think, most Muslims will agree that Allāh is All-Powerful, does not need reasons etc., yet do our beliefs really permeate into our actions? When you say لا حول ولاقوة إلا بالله (There is no might and power but that of Allāh) [5] do you believe it really and truly? And that is actually what we should be aiming for. Rather than it being some kind of fairy-tale hippy mung-bean-eating bohemian homeopathy type thing that we would turn our noses up at, it's actually the ultimate state of cognitive development!

Anyway, I've waffled on for long enough, but in summary, when you can't find a door, ask Allāh to make you one, or just make everything right, however He wants to (sensible to you does not necessarily equate to right in real terms). Allāh jalla wa 'alā, in all His mercy, might well give you a magical golden key, but remember who gave it to you, and be grateful accordingly. Don't forget that the garden (if you get to it) may not be all it seems and don't envy others in it. But The Real Garden (which you will indeed get to, bi idhnillāh, if you remember to follow the instructions “Believe and do good deeds!”) will be all it seems and More.

لِّلَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا الْحُسْنَىٰ وَزِيَادَةٌ

“For those who have done good is the best (reward) and more.” (Yūnus, 10:26) [6]

The Duchess's Moral:
  • If you ever fall down a rabbit hole and find yourself in a room full of locked doors - make du'ā (then look for a bottle of Not-Poison because you're probably mad!). 
  • Allāh doesn't need doors and keys. 'Impossible' is not to be thought of in the same thought as 'Allāh'. If you don't believe it, you need more practice (preferably before breakfast).

May Allāh jalla wa 'āla - He who answers the prayers of the distressed - ease the affairs of everyone who can't find a door in their life. 

May He heal our sick, and free our prisoners and return them safely to their families, and help the oppressed in every situation. 

May He make easy the path to The Garden and may we all be blessed with the sight of His Face.

Source: Jessica Claire


[1] Hello - welcome to Toenotes. “Toenotes...?” I hear you wonder, so a few words of explanation. Footnotes have to be at least a little relevant to the body of the text; they ought to add something meaningful to the discussion. But what if what you want to say is something that just sprouted up in your head, and any relevance is tenuous at best? Feet, by virtue of being feet, must retain some formal link to the body. By the time it gets to the toes however, I think this is not as essential. Diabetic toes are often amputated with relatively little impact on the body (disclaimer: alḥamdulillāh for toes)
I have recently realised that unfortunately, I ramble quite a lot, and again unfortunately, this spills over into all forms of communication. When speaking I can simultaneously hold onto multiple yarns of conversation and knit them together (although how successfully is the judgement of those unfortunate enough to have to listen to me). This is not the case in writing and it become very parenthesised as such: ([{hello}]) (<-- pretty pattern!). So, if you are a Grown Up and/or have no time to read my random musings, you can read the body of the text which should be fairly beneficial, and ignore the toes. If you're strange enough to want to hear about all the little toes and things in my head (sounds a bit sick!), then you can read the toenotes. In any case, it allows me the pleasure of not having to be succinct in my thoughts which is such a tedious waste of mental effort.

[2] This was inspired by a talk on ‘aqeeḍah by Shaykh Akram Nadwi, hafīdhahullāh. It was rather an odd take on ‘aqeeḍah mainly based around the fact that he doesn't agree with the term, nor with teaching it (you've got to love those kinds of people! Sh. Akram is one of those super-cool ‘ulemā who manages to appear decidedly 'normal' despite being ridiculously cleverer than probably anyone around him. I don't usually speak about how amazing (living) people are, and especially not if I don't know them personally, but occasionally, you feel you are made to love someone without necessarily having consciously thought of it or set out to do so. One is reminded of the hadith "When Allāh loves a slave, He calls out to Jibrīl, 'Allāh Almighty loves so-and-so, so love him!' and Jibrīl loves him. Then a call goes out among the people of heaven, ''Allāh loves so-and-so, so love him!' and the people of heaven love him. Then acceptance is placed in the earth for him." (Incidentally, I figured I could say pretty much what I like here - obviously standard disclaimers apply: that is how I perceive him, wa la uzakki 'alallāhi aḥada - as the probability that he'll ever read this is 0 so that takes care of the praising in public stuff). Anyway, there were a few things which really struck me that day from what the shaykh mentioned, but curiously, this bit was what primarily struck and stuck.

[3] At first, I instinctively felt from the description that the garden was Jannah. When I thought about it however, I realised that it wasn't true at all. The garden was pretty but imperfect, and weird things happened there, whereas Jannah is perfection realised. I thought it interesting however, how easily one could be gulled into believing something is not what it appears to be, exacerbated by the fact that you're in a difficult situation and not able to anticipate what comes next. How apt then: “And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion” (Āli Imrān, 3:185)

[4] As is narrated in the ḥadīth that when Allāh loves a people he tries them [Aḥmad 23122]. Honestly, if you weren't worth it, Allāh would've just left you; you're only tested if you're worth testing - so chin up, you're in good company.

[5] For Arabic readers there's a post here. It has some really nice quotes from the scholars explaining how these words are so effective in getting rid of sadness and grief, helping you bear hard situations etc. and the amazingness of the reward which caused them to be described as a treasure from Jannah (treasure is secret and hidden from everyone - what serendipity awaits then, when you open the chest...)

[6] More (ziyādah) in this context referring to seeing The Face of Allāh as has been reported in the ḥadīth and by numerous saḥābah and tābi'een in the tafseer of this verse. May Allāh jalla wa 'āla bless us all with this honour in Jannah.


  1. mashaAllah tabarakAllah made my day, I know exactly who the author is may Allah protect her and grant her alfirdaws =)

  2. I spent last night trying out every single password I've ever had in my life for anything until I finally cracked it, wa lillahil-hamd.

    Jazakillah kheyra samothy for editing and making it nice and readable. I just noticed you got the toenotes toenote from somewhere ages ago!
    (I might revisit my revision of Piaget's theory of cognitive development one day :))

    Kheira - ameen, and the author knows you too, and loves you lots fillah :p

    1. Couldn't have people not properly understanding the genius of toenotes now, could we? I love rereading this, masha Allah. Hope we get another post soon!

  3. Awesome...may we implement the breakfast routine so we are deserving of the Ziyadah.
    Totally agree about Sh. Akram, Allah preserve him.
    much love.