written by Asmaa Hussein
My husband died in August 2013 when our daughter was 9 months old. In the years that followed, I wrote extensively about my experiences with widowhood and the struggles that ensued.
While my journey over the past few years has been full of Allah (S)’s mercy and blessings, it has also been full of internal turmoil, pain, and self-doubt. One of the only ways I am able to combat these feelings is through the remembrance of Allah and studying the examples of the righteous men and women who came before me.
One of the greatest people from whom I drew (and still draw) strength and inspiration is Maryam (as). Not only is she a model believer, but in her, we see the example of someone who overcame intense physical pain and emotional turmoil.
When Maryam (as) was in the throes of labor, her pain drove her to say:
“…Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten” (19:23).
Allah (S) shows us a response in the Qur’an that illustrates just a minuscule portion of His compassion and mercy. He does not chastise her but instead, it is said to her:
“…Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream” (19:24)
What comes next is also key:
“And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. So eat and drink and be contented…” (19:25-26)
She was instructed to shake the trunk of the palm tree. A woman who was giving birth and was experiencing so much pain and fear that she wished for death was now being asked to get up and shake a palm tree!
Those who have seen the thick trunks of palm trees know that to shake one is no easy task. Those who have gone through a painful labor and delivery know that simply standing up during or after it is difficult, let alone doing anything physically demanding. Maryam didn’t collapse in pain or give up hope in recovery though; she shook the tree and ate the dates that fell from it.
There are two main lessons that I take from this story:
1) Pain doesn’t exempt you from work
More than anything, this story has taught me that being in a state of pain or struggle doesn’t exempt me from working hard. Now I stand up every day and I push all sorrow to the back of my mind. I write books, run a business, and I involve myself in projects that I believe in. Knowing that I’m able to work for the benefit of others and myself helps me understand that I still have a purpose to fulfill on this earth.
Allah (S) promises relief, but He also orders us to do the work that needs to be done. Even if the pain of life has pushed you to your knees, or you’re plagued with struggles and self-doubt, you can never stop moving forward and working towards the next step on the path towards paradise.
2) You have to “act” in order to “get”
Scholars have commented further on the act of shaking the palm tree by saying that the average person wouldn’t be able to shake this tree hard enough to dislodge dates. So in reality, it wasn’t Maryam’s physical actions that made the dates fall – that would’ve been nearly impossible. It was Allah (S) who caused the dates to fall.
So why would she be asked to shake the tree if her action isn’t actually going to yield any results?
In the story of Prophet Musa (as), Allah (S) also asks him to do something that wouldn’t normally result in a substantial reaction. Musa was told to strike the sea with his staff, and the sea would part for him and his followers. Obviously, it wasn’t really Musa’s strength that parted the sea. Again, it was Allah (S) who caused the sea to part.
These two instances are related. Allah (S) asked Maryam and Prophet Musa to perform a physical action in order to receive a specific result.
You have to act before you expect to get anything.
Allah’s Name “Al-Razzaq” (The Provider) insinuates that a person puts forth a certain effort to sustain herself, and then God allows that person’s sustenance to be placed upon her.
Don’t get me wrong; Allah (S) gives us A LOT of blessings without us ever having to lift a finger. But when it comes to our rizq (provision), He asks us to put forward our best possible effort in whatever we do. We shouldn’t be content with mediocrity; Prophet Muhammad (S) said, “Allah loves that if one does a job he perfects it.” After we perform as best as we can, the results are in Allah’s hands alone.
May Allah (S) allow us to have the strength and courage of Maryam (as), to be patient through our hardships, and to be in a consistent state of working for the betterment of ourselves and our families.