My glossy burgundy subha had been dangling there for weeks, unused, upon the embroidered cushion resting casually against the Malaysian wood chair in my living room.
The prayer beads were almost camouflaged as they nestled into a tawny-coloured pillow cover I purchased during a trip to Istanbul six years ago, the image of a traditional Turkish tunic woven upon it in numerous shades of brown, gold, red and grey.
It was almost camouflaged. But mostly just overlooked.
I knew it was there, after all, for that is where I always placed the subha once I’d finished with it following an early-morning or late-night period of worship. Gliding each of the 33 beads slowly and methodically along the string with my index finger and thumb, I would repeat some poignant devotion between each click of a bead: one of the 99 Glorious Names of God, or a Quranic verse, or a phrase of sufi remembrance, all in an earnest effort to draw my attention to the Divine.
Yet supplications, as important as they are in maintaining a consistent state of peace of mind and presence in Islam, are all too often left to fall by the wayside as I get swept up in my life.
I find excuses for being too busy to do more than my daily prayers, and too distracted to remember that dhikr, a form of devotion involving repeated acts of remembrance recited silently or aloud, is just as important to sustaining a well-rounded spiritual routine.
For as many times as I may neglect them, though, those beads always lure me back, usually when a circumstance of life reminds me of my fragility.
So, there I was again, in the quiet of the early morning before sunrise, padding the pillow with my hand in the darkness to locate and grasp the prayer beads. I needed them now to help calm the turmoil gripping my heart; to soothe my thoughts from the distractions that were tugging away at my mind and pulling me from the Source.
I sat there dangled on my knees in my favourite place of prayer, near the balcony window overlooking the western London sky. Clasping the subha in my right hand, I prepared to move each bead slowly to count the times I would repeat aloud, 40 to be precise, the Surah of the Quran known as Al Inshirah. Some translate the chapter’s title from Arabic as “The Relief.” Others refer to it as “The Solace” or “The Comfort” and still some interpret it as “The Expansion.”
It is one of my favourite Surahs of the 114 that make up the Holy Book. In eight poignant and succinct lines it reminds me of all the instances God has graced my life with blessings at times of trial, filled me with love when I was in despair, brought me wealth when I was in need, or success when I was mired in the throes of doubt. More than anything else, it reminds me to be grateful and patient.
“Bismillah Al Rahman Al Raheem (In the Name of God, the Infinitely Compassionate, the Most Merciful),” I said aloud, while asking Him inwardly to grace me with His exceptional tranquility, to relieve the ache in my heart and bring me peace to my mind.
Then, moving the beads one by one, I started to repeat the lines of Al Inshirah in Arabic:
“Have we not expanded for you your breast?
And removed from you your burden?
Which weighed heavily on your back?
And exalted for you your reputation?”
Yes, yes. To each question, YES. You always have God. Over and over again in my life, as I look back, I see how You transformed a burden or difficulty into a blessing. During unrelenting periods of darkness, You shone on me your Abundant Light. I remember each broken spirit and heart of mine that You mended and healed, repeatedly, and filled with Love. I recall the arduous journey I took in to attain professional success and acquire wealth, and how You rewarded my hard work with an esteem that I could never have imagined I would deserve.
As I repeated the lines of the Surah, almost singing them and interrupting the stillness of the night, I asked myself: “Why should this time be different?”
The Surah continues:
“Then surely, with every difficulty is ease
Surely, with every difficulty is ease
So when you have finished with your tasks, strive hard
And to your Lord turn all your attention”
And like that, as I lost myself in my chant, I found I had repeated the Surah just enough times and with enough intensity to internalize and understand that the pain in my heart could be converted into joy at that very moment, if I chose to listen to the message in these beautiful lines.
The relief that we seek is not in the future. It doesn’t come after hardship. It comes with it.
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you” – Rumi