The light is red. It seems to have been red for an eternity. The minutes tick slowly forward as the heat of the sun mercilessly beats down. Is it broken? You are so late! Not a single vehicle is passing through the intersection. It seems to be red for everyone. The empty intersection shimmers like a mirage before your eyes. Surely it must be malfunctioning. The person in the car next to you mouths a curse and as if on a cue you complain, “It’s never going to turn green.” The instant the words leave your lips, as if by magic, the light turns green and you are free to go.
How many times do we try our best not to complain but the circumstances seem truly impossible and whining just seems the natural, acceptable thing to do? We rarely question these slips of the tongue, especially because everyone around us is doing the same. But these sighs, eye rolls and snippets of ingratitude chip away at our iman (faith). They are a subtle form of arrogance. The thought process behind the complaints is that I am so special that all lights should turn green as I approach. The carefully crafted car commercials are a true indicator of what our hearts desire. In the commercials there are rarely any stop lights. The cars zoom by or climb to heights that no mortal can actually drive to; leaving all the ordinary people in the dust. Confetti falls and flags wave in the breeze as music blares in the background.
This message of hedonistic self-fulfillment is the greatest trap of Shaytan (Satan). When he promised Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (may He be glorified and exalted) that he would take us down with him to hellfire his strategy was already set. He did not ask for a few years to operate. He asked for our entire testing period.
“(Satan) said, “Reprieve me until the Day they are resurrected.” (Surat Al A’raf 7 : Verse 14)
What worked for him would work for humans, since we are mere mortals crafted from clay. If he could make us arrogant and ungrateful, than the descent to moral depravity and the fall from the favor of Allah (swt) would be simple. There are those, however, who escaped from his devious designs and made it safely through this life and were guaranteed Paradise. Most eminent among them was the second Khalifah `Umar bin Khattab radi Allahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with him).
The Prophet ﷺ (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “O Ibn Al-Khattab! By Him in Whose Hands my life is! Never does Satan find you going on a way, but he takes another way other than yours,” (Sahih Bukhari). Subhan’Allah—glory be to God—the life of Umar (ra) is an amazing story of the love of Allah (swt) and His Messenger ﷺ. That love is stamped forever on the pages of history through his success in this world and in the Hereafter. But why did Shaytan consider him a hopeless case? Why was the Shaytan, who whispers to us day and night, afraid to even go near `Umar?
`Umar (ra) was a source of strength for the Muslims from the day he accepted Islam to the day he returned to his Lord. Verses of the Qur’an were revealed that agreed with his opinion. During his ten years as the khalifah (caliph) the Muslim state grew to an unprecedented degree as the empires of Persia and Rome toppled. `Umar (ra) had much to be proud of, but he never let arrogance taint and destroy any of his deeds. He led a simple, humble life and even at the moment of death asked his son to put his face on the ground.
If we look into his achievements as a sahabi (companion) and as a khalifah and then we read his words, his greatness becomes apparent. From `Amir ibn Rabi`a: “I saw `Umar pick up a straw from the ground and say, “Would that I were this straw! Would that I were nothing! Would that my mother never bore me!”
He walked the streets of his city for fear that Allah (swt) would hold him to account. From Dawud ibn `Ali: “If a sheep dies on the shore of the Euphrates I fear lest Allah ask me to account for it on the Day of Resurrection.”
Once `Umar (ra) called people to the Masjid and when they all assembled, `Umar stood on the pulpit and said, “I had some aunts and I would take their goats or sheep to this valley and I would come back at the end of the day and they would give me a handful of dates or raisins and I would have a miserable day.” Then he came down from the pulpit. Abdul Rahman ibn ‘Awf (ra) said, “You haven’t done more than belittle yourself.” `Umar (ra) replied, “Woe to you son of ‘Awf! My nafs [lower self] was telling me that you are Ameer ul-Mu’mineen so who is better than you? So I wanted to teach myself a lesson and let it know who it is.”
How could Shaytan influence his nafs when he never let it stray for a moment? He reined in his ego before it had a chance to become inflated. It is reported that `Umar ibn al Khattâb (ra) said: “Bring yourselves to account before you are brought to account, and weigh your deeds before they are weighed,” (At-Tirmidhî).
It would have been so easy for `Umar (ra) to let his achievements instill in him a sense of false pride but he always considered himself nothing but a slave of Allah (swt). Presidents and kings rule for a few years and have memorials and statues built in their honor and books written eulogizing on their greatness. They write memoirs listing and elaborating on their terms in office. `Umar (ra) who was assassinated while in salah (prayer) was worried about completing his salah even as the blood poured out of his body! He was irritated with Ibn Abbas (ra) because while trying to comfort him, Ibn Abbas (ra) used words of praise. `Umar (ra), whose example we can only read about and tremble at his greatness, was with his last breaths anxious about being saved from the fire:
“When `Umar was stabbed, he showed signs of agony. Ibn `Abbas, as if intending to encourage `Umar, said to him, ‘O Chief of the believers! Never mind what has happened to you, for you have been in the company of Allah’s Apostle and you kept good relations with him and you parted with him while he was pleased with you. Then you were in the company of Abu Bakr and kept good relations with him and you parted with him (i.e. he died) while he was pleased with you. Then you were in the company of the Muslims, and you kept good relations with them, and if you leave them, you will leave them while they are pleased with you.’ `Umar said, (to Ibn “Abbas), ‘As for what you have said about the company of Allah’s Apostle and his being pleased with me, it is a favor Allah did to me; and as for what you have said about the company of Abu Bakr and his being pleased with me, it is a favor Allah did to me; and concerning my impatience which you see, is because of you and your companions. By Allah! If (at all) I had gold equal to the earth, I would have ransomed myself with it from the Punishment of Allah before I meet Him,’” (Sahih Bukhari).
Shaytan was smart enough to realize early on that it would be useless to waste time trying to deceive `Umar (ra). Shaytan’s time is much better spent riding with us. Ibn Qayyim described Shaytan as patient. He can wait for years till his whispers convince someone to boast about an act of goodness they had done. Sadly for many of us, he only has to wait a few seconds before we utter some words of arrogant impatience.
The reality is that we can only pay lip-service to the greatness of `Umar (ra). There is little chance that we will adopt his ascetic lifestyle and attain the high stature of humility that he achieved. One small step that it is possible for us to take is to eliminate the whining from our lives and become content with what Allah (swt) has blessed us with. This could be as simple as accepting the seemingly interminable thirty seconds at the light, or the greater challenges that we face in our relationships, finances and health. We cannot convince Shaytan to take another street but we can gradually nurture our level of patience so that we make his journey as miserable as possible. If Allah (swt) wills, the light will still turn green and opportunities to do good will open up before our eyes.