In turning on the nightly news or scrolling through articles popping up on our newsfeeds, we may feel an overwhelming sadness at the tragedies of evil that consume our society. From school shootings, to mass starvations, to bombings of innocent children, the heartbreaking pain that is devastating to us as spectators must be unbearable to those who experience that suffering and loss. As our eyes adjust to that deep darkness that surrounds us, the aching pain often gives way to something far worse—a mind-numbing acceptance and a despondency that leaves us feeling helpless and hopeless in the wake of such heartache.
Holding onto hope can be one of the most daunting tasks when we are tested in ways that we may never have anticipated or expected. Maybe the test is in our marriages, maybe in our families, maybe in our health or in our wealth—wherever that test strikes, when it hits the hardest, holding onto hope that life will get better can feel like clinging onto a slippery rope that keeps swinging just outside our grasp. The Qur’an reminds us that we will be tested in many ways: And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits but give good tidings to the patient (2:155). While we accept these tests as a part of our faith, getting through them requires a strength of iman that can sometimes feel rather shaken in the darkest of moments.
The patience to bear difficulty is directly linked to maintaining an optimistic sense of hope for the future. But, what happens in those moments when we feel that hope is gone? What happens when it becomes too difficult to see the light because the surrounding darkness consumes us? Letting go of hope is when the heart settles in despair. Knowing us better than we know ourselves, Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) commands us not to fall into this hole of darkness: 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" (39:53). Falling into despair is a dangerous trajectory that leads the mind and heart down a path of questioning the mercy of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) and the hope for a better tomorrow.
While the Quran provides us with the reminders and encouragement to hold onto hope, we live in a time where we are seeing more and more of our Muslim youth experiencing intense bouts of anxiety, engaging in self-harm behaviors, falling into depression and experiencing suicide ideation that eventually can lead to the taking of their own lives. While the incidence of suicide among youth in America is on the rise, we are also seeing a corollary spike in suicides among Muslim youth in our communities. Frankly, what may be even more alarming is the recognition that the harm of hopelessness does not always remain self-contained. When the pain of past trauma, present struggles, and future hopelessness becomes overwhelming, the resultant response to a loss of hope can spill over to those who surround the person in pain. From recent school shootings to attacks around the world, we are consistently seeing an increase in the tragic loss of life that results from people who have fallen into despair.
While the taking of a life is the ultimate culmination of that lack of hope, we also see the impact of a loss of hope in other ways as well. When the death bell tolls for a relationship, there is a familiar sense of despair that settles around the couple or the family. In that same vein, we see many marriages flat-lining and either ending in divorce or disillusionment. The death of the marriage is an indication that the hope for improvement or the hope for change has been extinguished. This loss of hope may be a direct product of outside influences such as media reports and studies that provide a very bleak outlook for the future, or a result of internal struggles that one’s entire psyche rails against.
How can we spot the signs of losing hope whether in ourselves or in the ones we love?
Frequently, a loss of hope is mislabeled as everything other than despair in the mercy of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala). For example, we will often chalk the demise of a relationship up to the loss of love. When youth rail against themselves and their peers, we attribute it to a lack of self-love. When a person loses touch with faith and spirituality, we label this abandonment of spiritual awareness as a loss of religious love. By holding onto these labels, we try to name and navigate the murky waters of hopelessness. When there is no hope in a marriage, then there is no longer compassion and mercy and that love dissipates. When a young person loses hope in society, community, family and self, then self-love is nonexistent. When a believer drifts away from a connection with Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala), then hopelessness is bred in terms of faith but mislabeled as a loss of spiritual love.
In the example of the earliest of creation, we see that when Shaytan refused to obey the commandment of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala), he subsequently lost hope of seeking the rahma and forgiveness of his Creator. His fate was thus sealed as one focused on leading others astray from hope so that they would also be sucked into a darkness that consumes those who are hopeless.
As long as there is hope, there remains the possibility of fighting for tomorrow and holding on. When hope is gone, our hearts are empty vessels—devoid of love, mercy, compassion and all the good that comes from hope. A future where change is possible becomes nonexistent. This sense of hopelessness can be more dangerous than a loaded gun because it causes a listlessness and a lack of motivation to seek that which is better. As long as there is still hope, there is enough left to rekindle the heart. When that hope is gone, then there is nothing left but darkness, despair, and an untimely death. May Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) always protect our hearts from that destructive sense of utter hopelessness by reflecting upon and remembering His infinite mercy.
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