Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Which is it, of the favors of your Lord, that you and you deny? - [The Qur'an 55:13]


Never has so much been given to so many with less gratitude and appreciation. Never has so much been owed by so many to just One.

The former statement is not about modern pro athletes. The latter statement is not about the bank of one's choice. Both declarations are about the status of our collective relationships with God.

Like some Dickensonian character, we stand before God with bowls in hand pleading: "Please, Sir, we want more." No sooner do we receive, then we forget from Whence and from Whom it came.

We may even return to our respective groups with whatever has been placed in our bowl and boast about how through our: intelligence, cleverness, artistry, strength of character and, we might add, at some risk to our person, we have succeeded where others have failed. The tendency to try to take credit for that which is not our doing is part of the nature of being human.

Even without our asking, the blessings which God is constantly bestowing on us are so numerous that they cannot be counted. Sometimes, however, we become confused and limit what is, to what we experience sensorially or to what we permit into our awareness. As a result, we impose limitations on God's generosity and kindness concerning us due to the insensitivity of our instruments of apperception.

Medical practitioners have said one of the puzzles in need of explanation is not how we become ill but, rather, how we stay healthy. Within us, and on us, at any given moment, are an armada of viruses and bacteria constantly probing our immune systems for weaknesses.

How many times a day, or how many times in an hour or minute, are these probes and attacks repelled by our biological defenses? No one in medicine knows. No one in science has even a remotely informed guess.

Some say the difference between health and illness under such conditions is a function of: a balanced diet; a sufficient amount of the right kind of exercise; limiting, if not discontinuing, our intake of alcohol and tobacco; a stable emotional life; proper periods of sleep, and regular medical check-ups. Indeed, studies have been done which show a strong correlation between all of the foregoing factors and health maintenance.

However, with all due respect to the health industry, if the above recommendations were the entire story, most of us would be dead or in chronic care units. This is so because most of us don't run our life styles in accordance with what health care providers are advocating.

Our failure to heed the warnings is neither here nor there. We pays our money, and we takes our chances.

The issue being addressed here is that in most cases neither medicine nor science has been able to show a causal relationship between the absence of good health care practices and either illness in general or particular kinds of illness. The links are all correlational and statistical in nature.

Discussions are couched in terms of risk factors, statistical trends, epidemiological patterns, morbidity tables, prognosis and so on. No one can say what will happen to any specific individual, but what does happen to any given individual often, although not always, can be made sense of in terms of medical research and clinical experience.

The reason health care findings are largely correlational in nature is because the confluence of factors which lead to illness are too complex in their permutations and combinations for us to be able to reduce them to some nice, simple causal equation or principle. Our knowledge of how everything fits together is, despite all the advances which have been made in the last several hundred years, too meager.

God works both through what we know, as well as through what we don't know. Moreover, sometimes what we know-or think we know - blinds us to what we don't know, and since what we don't know is far more than what we do know, there is a potential for considerable blindness on our parts.

Without wishing to discount anything the health sciences have discovered, Sufi masters understand, in a very direct manner, that both health and illness come from God. God can keep people healthy, despite the presence of contra-indications in that person's life style.

Similarly, God can bring about illness, despite the fact the individual may be abiding by all the appropriate health care rules. Go figure.

Every second of health is, ultimately, a blessing of God. Every time our hearts beat, every moment we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, every second blood flows through our arteries and veins, every instance in which the billions of cells in our bodies perform their assigned functions in a problem-free manner, we receive uncountable blessings from God.

On the other hand, from the perspective of the Sufi masters, illness can be as big a blessing, if not greater, than the blessing of good health. When we experience the pain and enervation of illness, we feel vulnerable and fragile. Consequently, we may be more open to humility than might be the case when we are healthy and have convinced ourselves we are beyond the grasp of God's will.

When our health fails, we sometimes understand, more clearly than in health, how little control we actually have over the affairs of life. As a result, when we are ill, there may be more of a sense of ourselves as dependent beings rather than independent creatures.

When our bodies are subdued by disease, we sometimes become more cognizant of the emotional and spiritual illnesses which have been ravaging our lives even when our bodies were healthy. Whatever problems are created by the disease process, opportunities for reflection are generated as well through the down-time created by the debilitating character of the illness.

Sufi masters have indicated that the spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical condition of the ill is conducive to drawing closer to God. Furthermore, the practitioners of the Sufi path have affirmed that God listens even more closely to the plaintive cries of the ill than to the entreaties of the healthy.

Illness is not necessarily a punishment. However, the rigors of illness may be necessary for the spiritual development of the individual. To contend with the infirmities, weaknesses, sufferings and humiliations of illness, is a struggle because these are all affronts to the ego which has a very high opinion of itself.

Yet, every struggle is also an opportunity to overcome our arrogance, pride and hardness of heart. Illness is an opportunity to repent. This is so simply because we are too weak to continue feeding energy to the parasitic ego which, during health, has been resisting the idea we have anything for which to repent.

The Sufi masters have noted how, sometimes, illness is the modality God has chosen to confer grace and blessings on the individual. In exchange for the individual's pain, suffering, and discomfort, the person is given gifts, of one sort of another, which may come to fruition later in this life, or in the life to come, or in both. God can give wages of grace for many types of work, effort, struggle and sacrifice.

Illness can be the means of bringing people together. Illness can be a way of taking one out of action temporarily so that some even greater trial or difficulty may be avoided.

Illness may serve to push one in new, better directions with respect to family, friends or the community. Illness may be the catalytic agent which helps bring about constructive transformations in attitude, intention or behavior.

In view of the foregoing, one might mention something to the effect that illness can be a blessing in disguise. In point of fact, however, our whole life is a multifaceted blessing in disguise to which, unfortunately, we have become inured.

As a result, we have a tendency to be a thankless, graceless lot who are always seeking to renegotiate our contract with God no matter how poorly we have performed previously. Furthermore, somehow we frequently operate under the misapprehension that because we may have been associated, in some way, with one, or more, positive deeds at some point in our past, therefore, God ought to be indebted to us.

In reality, the opposite is the case. Eternally, we ought to be indebted to God for permitting us to be associated, in even a minor way, with deeds which are the future source of, as well as give present expression to, blessings from God


Sadiq M. Alam said...

Very beautiful. All praise be to God for giving us the opportunity to thank Him although out capacity to thanks Him is so little.

I will link this post to my blog as well, inshallah.

Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.