I have written about The 94th surah, al-Sharh and the idea that difficulty and ease comes in continual cycles throughout life. The idea that the Qur’an repeats the exact same statement has been interpreted by some exegetes, my self included as an indication of the reality of difficulty and east. For my part I especially play with the last two verses that point us toward the Eternal. If Allah is our ragbah, our goal, then we are EVER on the journey towards complete (re-) UNION with the One and so no matter what we past through the ups and downs of our earthly life with equanimity. The good and the bad, the ease and the difficulty ALL lead us in the same direction towards the ultimate goal.
Today I wanted to talk about this same idea in relationship to the Qur’anic passage, 2:283, which includes my favorite Qur’anic du’a. I will not elaborate on all of this ayah in one essay because there is a lot to unpack. However, I have published on the full before and I have used it for a khutbah which I posted here earlier. You might want to reference that for further details.
This time I focus only on this statement: Allah does not burden a soul with more than it can bear. There is a tendency for some to interpret this to mean ANYTHING goes. That all forms of oppression all systems of tyranny are in existence and therefore justified as part of divine decree, so we cannot proclaim resistance if we are truly in surrender to Allah. That is so much nonsense, I hardly know where to start. The simple answer, for me lies in the fact that Allah categorically denounced zulm or oppression by aligning Herself ONLY and always as antithetical to it. Allah does not do zulm, Allah does NOT oppress. I can unpack that to the ends of the earth, but for now, let me just say that where on the one hand, Allah’s omnipotence has no limits, on the other hand, zulm is not within that power. That means in short answer that zulm is 100% human made and thus must be 100% human eradicated.
But it is the subtle soul crunching part of this that I wish to draw attention to here. The soul.. WHAT could be meant by a statement about its capacity to bear a burden? At one level, it could be taken to mean that anything goes. If you are starving and those in your care are starving, then you must bear it with equanimity No need to angst. That is your lot in life. Deal with it. What? Really. What kind of a God would just expect that?
Let us instead relate to all those divine feminine attributes I have been elaborating on in the short videos on this page. Something is fundamentally wrong with holding a notion of a God SO REMOTE and yet, supposedly so powerful and that is all there is go God/Allah. The rest is on us . Instead I have been working to raise up our level of consciousness towards an intimate acquaintance with Allah of kindness, mercy grace and compassion. So, this idea that our burdens must somehow be born up in stoicism and despair is contrary to such an idea of Allah.
I offer this alternative. The soul, the nafs… is also the vehicle of the breath, al-nafas. Our breath, yes, that’s right the in and out of it even without our conscious participation in keeping it going in and out, IS able to keep on breathing EVEN in the most difficult of circumstance. Subhana Allah. Now that is really a mercy. Imagine if there were another formula of the divine design perfectly for our task of being human. Imagine if we not only froze up externally, as we are all wont to do in frightening situations, but imagine if we also stopped breathing! I mean permanently. That would be horrible. we would literally die if we faced difficulty. so, al-hamdu liLah we do not STOP breathing, even if something causes us to draw our breath in an wait to exhale. That happens.
So with a burden on the soul, there is still the capacity to breathe and through it to come to make an assessment of our situation so that we can work towards a solution and we can take up partnership without our LORD towards that. So difficulty CAN be insurmountable to the way our soul feels the burden of it. That is completely and utterly human. The same human in the form that Allah made us. So Allah made us to feel the difficulty and to want to seek or to experience the ease that Surah al-Sharh repeats for us.
In this ayah the Qur’an teaches us to pray: Oh Allah do not place upon us a burden that our soul does not have the capacity to bear. So it MUST be a possibility, else why pray for the contrary? Instead, then I remind you and me: we cannot say what others experience as beyond their capacity and as we would not wish it for ourselves we lower the wings of compassion for every one in their struggles just as we wish for Allah to lower His over our limited capacity to bear the burdens. To recognize our limits or limited capacity for burdens is a testament to our humanity The lesson of humility is not one of humiliation. It is embracing our limits as a part of why we exhibit and express compassion towards all humanity. Our own humanity is the key to unlock the expression of compassion to others.
Allah does not place on a soul more than it has the capacity to bear. Because even in our darkest hour, we can remember the presence of Allah and we can be compassionate with ourselves in the struggle that it is to be human.