Groundbreaking psychiatrist Michael Bennett has a sign on his wall that says, “No Whining.” He confesses to being sometimes obliged to take it down from the wall and wave it in a patient’s face.
Contrary to the long-prevailing wisdom, Bennett believes that dwelling on problems by talking about them endlessly is the worst way to deal with the pain of living. We must acknowledge that life is painful and full of problems, learning how to cope with that reality as best we can.
As usual, the Quran is way ahead of its time. When the world of professional psychology was telling us to “let it all out,” “talk it through,” and “share the pain,” the Quran was making a distinction between constructive sadness and destructive sadness and telling us not to despair.
Despite the Arab tradition of loud and demonstrative funerals, early Muslims were urged to contain their grief at the loss of loved ones, conducting themselves with the dignity appropriate to those who live in certainty of a higher reward.
The Quran doesn’t necessarily condemn those who grieve, weep, or experience despair. It does, however, makes a distinction between destructive sadness and the sadness that leads to joy.
The Tears That Destroy
If any of the following phrases reflects your way of thinking right now, you may just be wallowing in destructive sadness. What is destructive sadness? Quite simply, any sadness founded on a lie.
- No one can ever love me, not even Allah.
- I’ve sinned so badly that I can’t be forgiven.
- I can’t be happy unless I get the thing I want.
- I’ve lost something I love, and so I can never be happy again.
The Quran portrays all of these as lies of the shaytaan, the erroneous thinking of those who’ve turned away, and the last refuge of those who refuse to believe in the great compassion of their creator. Before the coming of the Messenger (peace be upon him) this was the normal state of much of humanity.
Although they were, before it was sent down upon them – before that, in despair. [Quran,30:49]
He said, ‘And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord except for those astray?’ [Quran, 15:56]
This is a line of thinking that believers must deliberately abandon.
Say, O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.’ [Quran, 39:53]
They said, ‘We have given you good tidings in truth, so do not be of the despairing.’ [Quran, 15:55]
The Tears That Lead to Paradise
There is a kind of sadness that leads to joy; it’s the sadness of those who seek Allah. It might be described as the tremendous relief someone might feel after crawling for miles through a tunnel and finally seeing a bit of light. The tears that come contain within them both a conscisousness of the pain of sadness as well as a profound gratitude that that’s not all there is.
And when they hear what has been revealed to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of what they have recognized of the truth. They say, ‘Our Lord, we have believed, so register us among the witnesses.’ [Quran, 5:83]
There is also a kind of sadness that comes from those filled with righteous zeal but who are somehow prevented from doing something good in the cause of Allah. This is another kind of hopeful sadness, because we can be sure that it will not be despised.
Nor [is there blame] upon those who, when they came to you that you might give them mounts, you said, ‘I can find nothing for you to ride upon.’ They turned back while their eyes overflowed with tears out of grief that they could not find something to spend [for the cause of Allah]. [Quran, 9:92]
Before you start condemning yourself or criticising your depressed friends, take a moment to reflect. Allah (swt) is infinitely patient and kind, and His slaves must show a tenderness of heart to those who suffer inner pain. When someone’s hurting they may not be ready to hear criticism. Instead, give them the hope of truth.
Remember the opening words of Surat Al-Asr, reminding yourself that despair is the natural condition of that part of huanity that refuses truth and patience:
By time, indeed, mankind is in loss, Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience. [Quran, 103:1-3]
The news is all good. Despite what the world has been telling us, we don’t need to waste any time wallowing in our own misery. If Allah (swt) advises you to leave your unrighteous despair behind, He will provide a way out for you. Rest assured, and be glad!
May your mind be opened and your heart enriched,
The Understand Quran Academy Team