I wrote this for IslamicEvents.sg.
A beautiful thing happened to me and my husband on the day that I was going to write this article. That beautiful thing is that a taxi driver called us dogs.
The taxi was booked to take us to the airport, but right from the start we could see that the driver wasn’t a very pleasant chap to be travelling with.
His mood swung between raging and disgruntled throughout the ride while we quietly absorbed the rain of insults on us and about our belongings. He was talking in a foreign language – possibly assuming that we didn’t understand him.
Unfortunately, we understood every single word and I can honestly say we did nothing to trigger him. He was either a nice person having a terrible day or he was naturally vicious.
I was terribly offended, but common sense told me not to confront him in a closed vehicle while we were still depending on him to drive us. So my first reaction was to surreptitiously snap a picture of his ID on the dashboard, a picture of him in his seat, and also to record the vehicle’s license plate number so that I could report him to the authorities.
But the ride was long and I started contemplating what was happening. When we were only halfway through the journey my perception shifted completely and I was struggling to hold back laughter!
Whenever I’m dealing with difficult people, lessons from Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s lecture on how to talk to people float through my mind and I’m immediately put at ease. Alhamdulillah.
The first step is to develop a greater awareness of the situation, of the person, and of your own back story.
For me, I didn’t lash out at the taxi driver because I realised that I’ve done much sin and these so-called undeserved insults will serve to erase some of those sins. I also realised that my ego gets the better of me, whereas this was an opportunity to tame my ego, to show more humility on Earth according to the examples my scholars have set for me, and to get closer to Allah through this incident.
So although I had done nothing to trigger the driver, in the broader picture of my back story, I had done much to deserve this ego-bashing. ‘This is God sending someone to teach me a lesson,’ I thought and I was truly content. I think we call that rida.
This awareness can save you from a lot of trouble because you don’t react instantly. The world can do whatever it wishes, but you have the gap between what you receive and your reaction to decide what you want to give back to the world.
Use that gap wisely and nobly. Take a walk if you have to; at least in the garden of your mind.
The second way to develop rida in the situation is to tell yourself, “They’re behaving this way because that’s all they know.”
The above is true with most people. We behave according to the best of what we know and according to what life circumstances have taught us. Nobody wakes up with the intention to deliberately destroy another’s day. Even if they did, that’s only because they don’t know any better.
Feel sorry for them that they are trapped in that narrow mindset and be grateful that Allah has not made you that way. What originally set you frowning will leave you smiling. This, again, is rida.
Thirdly, realise that the solution lies within you. The other person might be problematic, but they are not the problem.
There’s always something expected of you. Maybe the situation is an effacement of your sins – Alhamdulillah. Maybe it’s a scenario set up by Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala to teach you something and make you better – Alhamdulillah. Maybe the other person is in need of a lesson and Allah is using you to teach him – but through your wisdom and not through your violence!
A man is rowing a boat and sees another person rowing a boat towards him. The boat bumps into his and he yells at the other man, angry that the man bumped into his boat.
In an alternative version, the same man is rowing a boat but the boat coming towards him is empty. The other boat bumps into his boat, but he simply rows around it and moves on.
It’s the same situation, but only the second reaction is appropriate. Why?
The boat is always empty. Even when there’s a person on the other side acting as a stimulus, that person isn’t necessarily trying to provoke us. They are doing their own thing and their motivations lie in whatever is going on in their life at the moment. Therefore it’s nothing personal directed towards us in particular.
If only we were to see any external event as an empty boat, we’d react appropriately all the time.
As I was contemplating what happened to me, I was reminded of a story narrated from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
One day the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was helping a lady carry a load to her destination. The woman did not know who he was and, as they walked, she talked of “this man Muhammad who has become a problem to society”. Throughout the journey, she berated the prophet (peace be upon him). When they reached their destination, she thanked the young man for his selfless assistance and advised him to stay away from Muhammad. She then asked him for his name, and he replied that he was Muhammad – the very man she had been criticising all along.
As the story goes, the lady was taken aback by his tolerance and his continued help in spite of her harsh words. The experience of his good character wiped away all the bad impressions she had of him and she embraced Islam.
Likewise I thought that the taxi driver probably didn’t realise that I understood what he was saying and that it was deeply offensive to me. He was awful throughout the journey even though we were paying him!
If I didn’t apply the above example from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in my own life, then there is no point in me seeking all this knowledge and reading to feel good. I also came to appreciate how much tolerance and humility Rasulullah (peace be upon him) exercised in his life and how shamefully scant my own manners are as a follower.
Now this does not mean that we sweep every tribulation under the carpet. A believer isn’t bitten from the same hole twice. We are supposed to curb injustice. There are serious crimes that need to be addressed and stopped, while minor day-to-day incidents are more likely to carry a positive message for us no matter how nasty they appear to be. What we need is due diligence and to sort through each situation with beautiful wisdom.
I feel much more at peace that I put my role as follower of the sunnah over my role as a paying customer because I’m sure the latter would have just created more hatred and tension in the world anyway. And we don’t need more of that.
Look for the rida in whatever Allah sends your way. The priority is our destination. Wouldn’t it be foolish to engage in a mid-sea battle with an empty boat?