Deep TafsirsSoul Cleansers

Broken Yardsticks

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From surat al-Kahf: “…and say, ‘Perhaps my Rabb will guide me to [something] nearer than this in rashadā.’”

وقل عسى أن يهدين ربى لأقرب من هذا رشدا

A beautiful message rests in this `āyah, and its themes romp around the topics of optimism, personal growth, and the ills of social comparison. It’s clung to me for weeks now. I dig for it in the dusty shelves of memory when I find myself needing it most. And these first few days of Ramaḍān, as I watched my pregnant peers surpass me in prayer, surpass me in ḥifdh and productivity, I found myself visiting this verse constantly. It’s become the script I whisper when that self-nagging criticism kicks in. Look at so-and-so, managing through all of tarāweeḥ-—why can’t you be stronger?

Here’s the harsh reality of our being: we often measure our growth with the same yardstick as our peers-—a yardstick with pre-made labels of expectation. It bears many marks, like the age at which we should marry, the lifestyle we should live, the number of children we should raise, the pace at which we progress in deen. And society shoves this yardstick onto our laps and convinces us it’s “the only way.”

What I love about Qur`ān is that it bears messages that brush against social norms. They are sources of solace, you see, and when the pressure to measure up becomes overbearing, when we find ourselves wallowing in our own self-scripted tragedy of “I am not enough,” our Qur`ān grabs that yardstick, breaks it, and whispers gently, “Grow at your own pace.” And it does all of this in a few words: li `aqraba min hātha, “guide me to [something] nearer than this.” What is “hātha” and where is its place on our peers’ yardstick? Here’s the secret: it has no place. This “hātha” is the next step ahead in your personal journey. It’s your page more of Qur`ān added to your weekly ḥifdh portion; it’s your sitting still after ṣalah to make tasbeeḥ, though your chores are calling; it’s your one extra duʿā muttered in a moment of spiritual spontaneity. In a single word, our Rabb reminds us that the path toward progress is wholly a personal one, divorced from the manufactured yardsticks of success.

So soak up this verse and celebrate your baby steps. No one knows what circumstances spoiled your soil, nor what droughts you withstood, and how you are still growing despite them. Only your Rabb knows the inner workings of your growth.

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