When we read about the great scholars of the past and their amazing accomplishments, we sometimes start to view them as some kind of alien beings, miracle-workers that we cannot relate to. We view them as almost super-human, an entirely different species from us. We think they just did it all magically. And we seldom think that they too faced hurdles, they too grew bored at times, and they too got stressed out, just as we do today.
Near the end of the preface of Fiqh ul Quloob (could any book have a more priceless preface, by the way?) the author gives a moving description of how the work would at times become difficult and dragging. He says:
وقد هاجت حين إعداد هذه الموسوعة رياح عاصفة شديدة من الأعمال والصوارف والطوارق، وأدركني التعب والسأم والملل لطول الطريق، وبعد المسافة، وكثرة المزالق، فضعفت العزيمة، وزادت الحسرة والألم، فيا لها من مصيبة وقعت في وسط هذا البحر الأعظم، أصابت مسكيناً لا يحسن الترحال بين جزائر هذا البحر الكبير، وليس معه نفقة تبلغه إلى مقصوده، فيا ليته عند أهله
The gist of which is: “And certainly while compiling this encyclopedia, I was overtaken by gusty winds from business matters and deviations, and I struggled with fatigue and ennui and boredom because of the length of the passage, and the distance of the journey, and the frequency of the pitfalls – (all this) weakened my determination and increased me in regret and pain, so alas! What calamity occurred in the midst of the great sea, that hit a poor person and did not ease his travel through the islands of this great sea – and he did not have provision to transport him to his destination. Would that he had been (safely home) with his family!
The comparison with crossing an ocean is such a perfect description of what happens to us when we start a long-ish project, like writing a set of articles, or designing a series of lectures, or making a bunch of presentations. We’re not even talking about spending twenty five years writing a book – we’re talking only about jobs that require us to consistently work at something for a few months. We navigate the waters of the bahr al a’zam (the great ocean), sometimes sailing through smoothly and at other times rocked by storms, but we cross a great part of it nonetheless. Then comes a point when we’re more than half through – we’re almost there.
And we get stuck.
The length of the journey has exhausted us. The magnitude of the task has overwhelmed us. We’re tired and bored and just want it to end. And then we reach an island, thinking we’ve reached the shore. And then get an unpleasant shock when the land suddenly gives way to water once more, and once more we find ourselves back in the ocean, for still some pruning and perfection remains for the task to end.
At such times we lose track of the journey. We lose the view of the “big picture” – we only see the waves thrashing around us, and we fail to see how close is the shore, and how great the length of the ocean that we have successfully crossed.
So since all great people too faced this situation, there must be a solution. What should we do?
And the answer is: take an aerial view.
In such discouraging moments, we need to detach a little from the immediate problems around us. We need to rise a little higher, above the waves and the islands and the stormy clouds, and take an “aerial view”. The aerial view will show just how much of the work has been done, and how little remains. It will show how great the effects of the completed job will be, and how insignificant the hurdles are in comparison. And taking that aerial view will surely put fresh strength in us for the work that remains, insha’Allah!
As Imam Ibn ul Qayyim al Jawziyyah said,
“O you who are patient! Bear a little more, just a little more remains.”
What perfect advice these people gave us, for they themselves crossed great oceans, survived great storms, and like us, did sometimes get stuck in the islands near the shores – but they took the aerial view and reached their destinations, and so can we, insha’Allah!