Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim,
One of the clichés we hear in many wise sayings and literature is “live in the present.” It was said by wise people of the past, present, and even wise fictional characters:
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He, who can call to-day his own:
He who, secure within, can say:
“To-morrow, do thy worst, for I have liv’d to-day.” – Horace
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the “present.” – Oogway, Kungfu Panda.
The title of this article is taken from Dale Carnegie’s title of the first chapter of his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. In that book, he quotes, among other amazing stories, of Sir William Osier. He said:
. . . Sir William Osier had crossed the Atlantic on a great ocean liner where the captain standing on the bridge, could press a button and –presto!-there was a clanging of machinery and various parts of the ship were immediately shut off from one another-shut off into watertight compartments. “Now each one of you … is a much more marvelous organization than the great liner, and bound on a longer voyage.
“What I urge is that you so learn to control the machinery as to live with ‘day-tight compartments’ as the most certain way to ensure safety on the voyage. Get on the bridge, and see that at least the great bulkheads are in working order. Touch a button and hear, at every level of your life, the iron doors shutting out the Past-the dead yesterdays. Toch another and shut off, with a metal curtain, the Future –the unborn tomorrows. Then you are safe – safe for today!”
Of course, as Muslims, our goal is not just to live in the present for the sake of only enjoying what time we have on this earth, because we have a far greater advantage than these wise men. These wise men had, from struggles which they themselves might have faced, of worrying over the future, killing yourself in regret of the past, or grieving for something long gone.
They had gone through that grist mill of harsh experience, and come up with insights into the human mind. They devised ways in which the live in the present in order to enjoy life to the fullest, because “there may be no tomorrow.”
But for us, there is definitely a tomorrow! Without believing in that tomorrow, we can’t even be called Muslims. That ‘tomorrow’ is the Day of Judgment, when every creature, which had once spent its present moment on this earth, will be brought back to life.
That Day it will be weighed and measured what we did with our presents, our gifts of time, and that will decide our ultimate, everlasting, future. That ultimate distinguisher between the possible futures, the only two possible futures– the Heaven and the Hell– is our present. This present moment which we’re idly passing by, thinking of what we would do tomorrow, or brooding over old scars.
What Can We Do About the Past?
The Prophet asked us to stop regretting over the past:
Strive for that which will benefit you, seek the help of Allah, and do not feel helpless. If anything befalls you, do not say, “if only I had done such and such” rather say “Qaddara Allahu wa ma sha’a fa’ala (Allah has decreed and whatever he wills, He does).” For (saying) ‘If’ opens (the door) to the deeds of Satan. [Ibn Majah]
This is part of belief in the Qadr – that everything happens by the Will of Allah Azza wa Jall. Even if we did some blunders, Allah’s door to forgiveness is open till the moment we die. We can erase all that by simply turning back to Allah.
Dale quotes an admiral of the US Navy: “If a ship has been sunk, I can’t bring it up. If it is going to be sunk, I can’t stop it. I can use my time much better on working on tomorrow’s problem than by fretting about yesterday’s. Besides, if I let those things get me, I wouldn’t last long.”