I was never very good at patience. It is easy to say that you understand the virtue of enduring periods of misfortune and dilemma calmly, but much more difficult to actually put that into practice. There have been numerous times in my life when impatience distracted me from finding contentment in the moment at hand. Yet once things had smoothed over, I realised why circumstances came together as they did and why I should have been more patient.
Among the times I failed most at being patient was when at 25, I moved back to Canada following almost two years of working in Egypt as a journalist. I had gained a lot of acclaim during my time in Cairo, but working in the bustling Egyptian capital as a single woman living alone made my mom terribly uneasy. The society was conservative and people talk, meddle and judge, she would say – and she tended to be right about such things.
Finally heeding her appeals, I moved back to Vancouver. It was springtime and ambitious as I was, I immediately began emailing my resume to media outlets searching for a job. In the months that followed, I must have mailed hundreds of resumes and written dozens of cover letters for summer internships and jobs in Canada and the United States. But to no avail; if it wasn’t for the odd rejection, I received no response at all.
Doors would appear to open only to slam shut halfway. At one point, I travelled to Washington DC on my own expense to interview for a job at Dow Jones Newswires. They ended up hiring someone locally. I applied for a graduate training programme at Reuters, and they also turned me down (the same day), as did a number of summer media internships in Canada that year.
It was a miserable feeling. My frustration, worries and anxieties were building. My mind would turn to Egypt, to the great interviews, immensely interesting articles and full days of reporting and writing. About four months into the job hunt, I took a retail job at a women’s clothing store in order to earn some cash as I attempted desperately to jumpstart my career.
My mom would beseech me to be patient, words that rung hollow in my wilful head. I suppose I felt I was entitled to a good job after the hard work I had put into my career beginning in university. The idea that God would open the right door at the right time did not resonate.
“Therefore do hold patience; a patience of beautiful contentment”
(Surah Al-Ma’arij (The ways of ascent), Holy Quran: 70:5)
During this period of limbo, my mom and I would go almost daily for morning walks along the river not far from our home. In order to distract my attention from the fruitless job hunt, she began teaching me chapters (surahs) from the Holy Quran, which I would memorise and recite back to her. I was not necessarily internalising the divine lessons on life and faith embedded in these chapters, but it was a welcome distraction.
A couple of years prior my cousin in Egypt had died suddenly at the age of 17 (God bless her soul/الله يرحمها). When I had visited her grave, one of my paternal aunts shoved a small pamphlet of Quranic verses under my nose and told me to recite a chapter known as Surah Yasin, which is important to read once someone has passed away. I could not read Arabic well, nor did I know that surah by heart, so I was left staring blankly at the booklet and, feeling quite embarrassed, mumbled a self-made prayer under my breath. During our walks along the river, I had my mom teach me the 83 verses (ayat) of Yasin. After each walk, I would circle around the school field in front of our house until I had memorised the section, which I would then recite for my parents.
The process took a bit of the edge off of my misery, but impatient I remained. I wanted a job immediately. It took more than 10 months before I was able to find a mediocre position as a copy editor for a small-scale media outlet. The job was dreadfully dull and started at 6 a.m. – definitely not what I had envisioned.
So I kept applying for work elsewhere until all at once my luck shifted. Just over a year after returning to Canada, I was accepted into an Ivy League journalism masters programme and shortly after, offered a job to help start up a new newspaper in Dubai. Things fell into place after that.
I opted for the job, unable to afford the degree expenses. And after less than a year in Dubai, numerous employment offers started finding me. I accepted one from Reuters, which left me feeling a bit astounded that a company that had rejected my application for a trainee position two years earlier was now eager to offer me a full-time job.
Nothing truly does happen before it’s time, I thought. Difficult times just make the next good thing that rotates into your life more worthwhile.
Yet the turn in fortune did not miraculously lead me to become a patient person. It was easy to apply patience to my past, to see how every struggle and triumph fit together perfectly in the divine plan. But being patient with the present and future was another matter entirely. I often remained impatient with work, relationships, family and financial struggles.
In Islam, there is a core idea that one should strive to stay on the ‘Straight Path’. My struggle with patience was something like trying to walk on this path backwards. Walking backwards is not natural: you wobble, trip and cannot keep to a straight line. You don’t have perspective because you focus on the past and judge your current circumstances by how you deem things ‘should be’, rather than realising that circumstances just ‘are’.
That is why patience is essential to Islam, an Arabic term that means ‘submission to God’. Prayer, fasting, righteous deeds and charity are incomplete without genuine patience.
“Be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing.” (Quran 2:177)
Last year, in the midst of dealing with another struggle life threw my way, the idea of applying patience now, in real time, suddenly made sense. We can put as much hard work and effort as we can muster into our goals, but we should not pre-judge the outcome. Destiny will unfold as God wills and we don’t always know what chain of events would be best for us. The natural state of the human mind is to be in submission to God; embracing this, I welcomed an undesired outcome and moved on, trusting that God knew best.
Since then, I have tried as much as possible to internalise the idea that every step we take is exactly as it was meant to be. This helped me turn around and walk forward on that Path, applying patience to my present and future in a way I had never been able to before. I became patient in real time. What is the point of worrying now when I will only rationalise later why I shouldn’t have worried?
Looking back at that year of foolish anxiety at 25, all I recall now are the walks I took with my mom. I was pleased to able to recite Surah Yasin when my uncle passed away the following year, when another died two years after that, and when I lost my father last year (الله يرحمهم/God bless their souls). Standing with my sisters at the side of his grave, I read Yasin aloud in my broken Arabic accent, in the presence of the aunt who had asked me to do so for my cousin many years earlier. That break before what has become years of uninterrupted and hectic work ended up giving me much greater value than any job would have.
We can’t always understand immediately why events unfold as they do. But that is why patience is one of God’s greatest tests of our faith. Patience is trusting unequivocally in the midst of a tough struggle that within it, a great blessing is concealing itself.
“God puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him.
After a difficulty, God will soon grant relief.” (Quran 65:7)
I look forward to your comments!