Last week we looked at how discontentment can turn into a slippery slope of problems in our lives. We found that the solution to many – sometimes magnanimous – problems lies within easy reach right within our hearts.
So what is contentment really and what role does it play in the life of a Muslim? First, here’s a little story that you may have heard and forgotten:
One day, a group of alumni who were already doing well in their careers decided to go meet their old college professor together. Their conversation soon took a turn to discuss complaints about life; about their discontentment.
The professor intended to offer his students some coffee while they chatted. So he went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups that he had – made of plastic, glass, porcelain, crystal, and so on. Some of them were quite plain-looking, while others were quite exquisite and expensive. He set them on the table and invited his students to help themselves to the coffee.
After all the students had settled down with a cup of coffee, the professor spoke. “If you noticed,” he said, “all the nice-looking expensive cups have been taken, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones.”
“While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your stress and problems.”
“Be assured that the cup adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases, it’s just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup. But you consciously went for the best cups. And then you began eyeing each other’s cup.”
“Now consider this: life is the coffee. The jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life. And the type of cup we have does not define or change the quality of life we live. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee. Savour the coffee, not the cup!”
The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything. They just make the best out of everything. So live simply, speak kindly, care deeply, and love generously.
The richest person is not the one who has the most but the one who needs the least. In this is true contentment.
One way to define contentment is “satisfaction with the status quo”. You are happy with what Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala has provided for you in every facet of your life. You will work with ihsan to improve, but you are not dissatisfied with what you already have.
You don’t wait to find a job, take your family on vacation, buy a house, get over your illness, win a gold medal before you find happiness. Wherever you are, whoever you’re with, whatever you’re faced with, you’re able to wholeheartedly say “Alhamdulillah, I love you my Rabb”.
Contentment isn’t for later. It is now; in every moment. To really believe this, you have to look at a child. Children always find a reason to be happy. They forget annoyances very quickly as they find something else to be cheerful about. They don’t worry about criticism. Instead they are comfortable in their own skin and content with being themselves.
We need to learn to stop judging ourselves harshly and to trust our abilities. Everything happens by the will of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala of course, but we need to trust that we can do it with His permission. We neither lose hope nor do we despair.
For a Muslim, contentment springs from knowing that Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala loves us and wants the best for us in any situation. The mess you are in today or the problem you had to deal with yesterday didn’t come to you without His knowledge. He wasn’t neglecting you when it happened, nor is He being spiteful by sending you difficulty. Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala is Ar-Rahman. He loves you more than your own mother and wants to draw you close.
We have redha (contentment) in knowing that all is well – always. Alhamdulillah. We might be tasting a bitter pill in some situations – but it’s for our own cure. We might not have the super deluxe room treatment in every situation, but like the coffee, what matters is the content that we absorb from every instance.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is reported to have said:
“How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.” [Muslim]
We don’t get the dream job we seek, but we are patient. We don’t have children according to our plans, but we are content. We don’t have everything working out as we expected, but we are not anxious.
This is the nature of contentment in the life of a Muslim. It is not driven by worldly success.
What is even more beautiful is that as we learn to be content with our Lord’s plans for us, we not only enjoy the good times that He blesses us with, but we also enjoy the hardships. We find sweetness in crying to Him in our times of need, holding on to the rope of faith and depending entirely on Him. We cherish our conversations in sajdah (prostration) and look forward to waking up to ask Him in the last third of the night.
And when we reach this state, we can wholeheartedly say, “Alhamdulillah ala kulli haal.”
Fathima Nafla is an IT-professional-turned-online-Qur’an-tutor who left the corporate world after finding her passion in learning and teaching Qur’an. She also enjoys writing and maintains her blog at www.Believuh.com.