Deep Tafsirs

Removing the Plank

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Come close.

Let me tell you a secret.
Sometimes, your greatest support doesn’t come in the form of a Tumblr quote, or your sweetheart’s text, or some romping pom-poms from the sidelines; rather, you’ll find that your  greatest support stems from the soils of inquiry.

inquiry of His book-—
tadabbur-—and the willingness
to persist with questions
when some details don’t make sense.
from there, divine support is born.

Surely, you know the story of Musa and al-Khiḍr. You can adumbrate the incidents: a mighty prophet of Allah (Musa), trailing behind a man of wisdom (al-Khiḍr), watching him, distraught by three scenes that, to him, made no sense. When al-Khiḍr yanked a plank to damage the boat of some poor sailormen; when he slew a little boy; when he rebuilt a wilting wall in an unwelcoming city. Musa watched, and with a brimming curiosity, he asked al-Khiḍr: “Have you scuttled [the boat] in order to drown its people? Surely, you have committed a grievous, dreadful thing.” Al-Khidr later clarified, “As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working at sea. So I intended to damage it, for after them was a king who seized every [good] ship by force.”

Scratch the surface and the damaged boat scene is a rebuttal of the problem of evil (all three stories are, for that matter). But when you inquire, when you unstitch its details, what spawns from the cracks is a lesson that whispers, “Your efforts are enough.” Because inquirers of His book will observe something unusual in al-Khiḍr’s behavior. If the king was breaking justice and seizing all good boats from his subjects, wouldn’t it have been more effective for al-Khiḍr to stop the king altogether? Why save one meager boat, one party of impoverished sailormen, when an entire population was in danger? Was he not an aspirant for monumental change?

And in the answer to these inquiries is an arcanum for your low-spirited days-—a divine support stronger than any Tumblr quote or sweetheart text or pompom waving in your favor. You see, al-Khiḍr wasn’t settling for lazy mediocrity. He was acting in accordance to the All-Knowing, All-Wise. And by merely removing a plank, he reminds us that we are not all poised to inspire monumental change. We are not all poised to battle the evil forces of this world; to save Syria from burning, to make Black Lives Matter, to mend the broken political systems that threaten our freedom. But in the same way al-Khiḍr aided one party of impoverished sailormen, so too can we create change in our spheres of influence-—no matter how small.

So go ahead, expend yourself toward revolution. And if you can only remove one plank, if you can only impact one life, know that you have already fulfilled the legacy of the righteous. لا تحقرن من المعروف شيئا “Do not belittle any action of maʿrūf [good].” [Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ]

Note: this piece was inspired by a reflection shared initially by Abeer Sadary from Qur`ānic Reflections. Be sure to check out her work!

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