Falling in Love… with the Real Thing
by Yasmin Mogahed
It’s never easy to let go. Or is it? Most of us would agree that there are few things harder than letting go of what we love. And yet, sometimes that’s exactly what we have to do. Sometimes we love things that we can’t have. Sometimes we want things that are not good for us. And sometimes we love what Allah does not love. To let go of these things is hard. Giving up something the heart adores is one of the hardest battles we ever have to fight.
But what if it didn’t have to be such a battle? What if it didn’t have to be so hard? Could there ever be an easy way to let go of an attachment? Yes. There is.
Find something better…
They say you don’t get over someone until you find someone or something better. As humans, we don’t deal well with emptiness. Any empty space must be filled. Immediately. The pain of emptiness is too strong. It compels the victim to fill that place. A single moment with an empty spot causes excruciating pain. That’s why we run from distraction to distraction, and from attachment to attachment.
In the quest to free the heart, we speak a lot about breaking our false dependencies. But then there’s always the question of ‘how?’ Once a false attachment has been developed, how do we break free? Often it feels too hard. We get addicted to things, and can’t seem to let them go. Even when they hurt us. Even when they damage our lives and our bond with God. Even when they are so unhealthy for us. We just can’t let them go. We are too dependent on them. We love them too much and in the wrong way. They fill something inside of us that we think we need…that we think we can’t live without. And so, even when we struggle to give them up, we often abandon the struggle because it’s too hard.
Why does that happen? Why do we have so much trouble sacrificing what we love for what God loves? Why can’t we just let go of things? I think we struggle so much with letting go of what we love, because we haven’t found something we love more to replace it.
When a child falls in love with a toy car, he becomes consumed with that love. But what if he can’t have the car? What if he has to walk by the store every day, and see the toy he can’t have? Every time he walks by, he would feel pain. And he may even struggle not to steal it. Yet, what if the child looks past the store window and sees a Real car? What if he sees the Real Ferrari? Would he still struggle with his desire for the toy? Would he still have to fight the urge to steal it? Or would he be able to walk right past the toy—the disparity in greatness annihilating the struggle?
We want love. We want money. We want status. We want this life. And like that child, we too become consumed with these loves. So when we can’t have those things, we are that child in a store, struggling not to steal them. We are struggling not to commit haram for the sake of what we love. We are struggling to let go of the haram relationships, business dealings, actions, dress. We are struggling to let go of the love of this life. We are the stumbling servant struggling to let go of the toy…because it’s all we see.
This whole life and everything in it is like that toy car. We can’t let go of it because we haven’t found something greater. We don’t see the Real thing. The Real version. The Real model.
Allah (swt) says,
“What is the life of this world but amusement and play? But verily the Home in the Hereafter,- that is life indeed, if they but knew.” (29:64)
When describing this life, Allah uses the Arabic word for ‘life’: الْحَيَاةُ. But, when describing the next life, Allah here uses the highly exaggerated term for life, الْحَيَوَانُ. The next life is the Real life. The Realer life. The Real version. And then Allah ends the ayah by saying “If they but knew”. If we could see the Real thing, we could get over our deep love for the lesser, fake model.
In another ayah, God says:
“But you prefer the worldly life, while the Hereafter is better and more enduring.” (87:16-17)
The Real version is better in quality (خَيْرٌ) and better in quantity (أَبْقَىٰ). No matter how great what we love in this life is, it will always have some deficiency, in both quality (imperfections) and quantity (temporary).
This is not to say that we cannot have or even love things of this life. As believers we are told to ask for good in this life and the next. But it is like the toy car and the real car. While we could have or even enjoy the toy car, we realize the difference. We understand fully that there is a lesser model (dunya: coming from the root word ‘daniya’, meaning ‘lower’) and there is the Real model (hereafter).
But how does that realization help us in this life? It helps because it makes the ‘struggle’ to follow the halal, and refrain from the haram easier. The more we can see the Real thing, the easier it becomes to give up the ‘unreal’—when necessary. That does not mean we have to give up the ‘unreal’ completely, or all the time. Rather it makes our relationship with the lesser model (dunya) one in which if and when we are asked to give something up for the sake of what is Real, it is no longer difficult. If we are asked to refrain from a prohibition that we want, it becomes easier. If we are asked to be firm in a commandment that we don’t want, it becomes easier. We become the matured child who likes to have the toy, but if ever asked to choose between the toy and the Real thing, see a ‘no-brainer’. For example, many of the Prophet’s (pbuh) companions had wealth. But when the time came, they could easily give half or all of it for Allah’s sake.
This focus also transforms what we petition for help or approval. If we’re in desperate need of something, we will appeal to the servant—only when we don’t see or know the King. But if we’re on our way to meet that King and we run into His servant, we may greet the servant, be kind to the servant, even love the servant. But we will not waste time trying to impress the servant, when there is a King to impress. We will never waste effort appealing to the servant for our need, while the King is the One in control. Even if the King had given some authority to the servant, we’d know very well that the power to give and take rests ultimately with the King—and the King alone. This knowledge comes only from knowing and seeing the King. And this knowledge completely transforms how we interact with the servant.
Seeing the Real thing transforms the way we love. Ibn Taymiyyah (RA) discussed this concept when he said: “If your heart is enslaved by someone who is forbidden for him: One of the main causes for this miserable situation is turning away from Allah, for once the heart has tasted worship of Allah and sincerity towards Him, nothing will be sweeter to it than that, nothing will be more delightful or more precious. No one leaves his beloved except for another one he loves more, or for fear of something else. The heart will give up corrupt love in favor of true love, or for fear of harm.”
One of our greatest problems as an ummah is as the Prophet (pbuh) told us in a hadith: wahn (love of dunya and hatred of death). We’ve fallen in love with dunya. And anytime you are in love, it becomes next to impossible to get over that love or separate from it—until you are able to fall in love with something greater. It is next to impossible to dislodge this destructive love of dunya from our hearts, until we find something greater to replace it. Having found a greater love, it becomes easy to get over another one. When the love of God, His messenger (pbuh) and the Home with Him is really seen, it overpowers and dominates any other love in the heart. The more that love is seen, the more dominate it becomes. And thereby the easier it will be to really actualize the statement of Ibraheem (AS):
“Say, ‘Indeed, my prayer, my service of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds.’” (6:162)
So in letting go, the answer lies in love. Fall in love. Fall in love with something greater. Fall in love with the Real thing. See the Mansion.
Only then, will we stop playing in the dollhouse.