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~ Chronic Illness: A Different Perspective ~

It is said that just as health is a blessing, illness too is a blessing – infact many times the latter may be a greater blessing. My dear friend Nafeesa shares her experiences as she found Epilepsy to be one of Allah’s greatest gifts for her.

From the age of twelve to twenty Nafeesa suffered about thirty seizures, although some of them were years apart. From immense psychological pain to five shoulder dislocations, head injuries and countless cuts and bruises, her illness was never easy for her. But Nafeesa decided from day one that she would bear everything with a positive perspective since according to the hadith a believer is always in a win-win situation. The Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Amazing is the affair of the believer as there is good for him in every matter, and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he experiences pleasure he thanks Allah and it is good for him. If harm befalls him he is patient and it is good for him.” (Muslim)

Thus one of the first things Nafeesa learnt from Epilepsy was humility. When Nafeesa first began having seizures she never encountered any physical pain. But when the seizure would begin she would be conscious for a few moments and watch helplessly as her arms would be twisting and jerking uncontrollably. The psychological pain she would feel then was much worse than physical pain.

One day her mother said to her, “Nafeesa, maybe Allah is trying to tell you something by showing you how helpless we as humans really are.” Nafeesa pondered over her mother’s words as she realized that maybe she did need to improve her attitude regarding certain things and so she started changing herself. A few months later many people said to her that she had become a much more soft and easy-going person as compared to how she was before.

Nafeesa’s primary strength was her connection with Allah and the Quran and Sunnah. Since Allah is Al-Hayy, the Ever-Living, the Quran too is an immortal book – any person in any age can relate to any of its verses. Once, after waking up from a seizure, she was lying in bed and crying to herself. It’s worth mentioning that until the age of sixteen, Nafeesa never cried once over her illness. Mostly because she believed it was Allah’s will for her, which was no doubt better for her. But also because she hadn’t fully comprehended how her illness could affect her life as well as those of others’. This time she was feeling terribly guilty because there had been no negligence on her behalf but because of her everyone would get so worried. She opened the Quran in search of solace and the first words that caught her eye were: “And He makes it befall whoever He wills.” (Ar-Rad: 13)

After reading these words, she felt much calmer and alot less guilty as she realized that it wasn’t her fault but Allah’s will for her, which is no doubt above all flaws. Then as she continued reading she couldn’t help but smile: “… and those who remain patient, seeking their Lord’s countenance… these will have the Ultimate Home. Everlasting Gardens, which they will enter, along with the righteous among their parents, and their spouses, and their descendants… peace be upon you, because you endured patiently. How excellent is the Final Home!” (Rad: 22-24)

Once, during a class of Sahih Muslim, Nafeesa read the hadith about the Ethiopian woman who had Epilepsy. The hadith goes that Ibn Abbas once said to his student, “Should I show you a woman of Paradise?” He replied, “Of course.” Ibn Abbas said, “This black woman came to the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) and said, ‘I suffer epileptic seizures and my body uncovers; please pray to Allah for me.’ The Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said, ‘If you wish, you can be patient and you will earn Paradise (in return). And if you wish, I will invoke Allah to cure you.’ She replied, ‘Rather I will remain patient,’ and added, ‘but I become uncovered, so please invoke Allah for me that I remain covered.’” Thus he prayed for her after which her body would not uncover during seizures.

Though Nafeesa had read this hadith before, this time she was overjoyed when she read it with Imam Nawawi’s explanation. He wrote that this hadith tells us that seizures carry immense reward since Rasoolullah (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) promised Jannah to the woman who suffered them.

Before reading this hadith Nafeesa had read the hadith of the people who made two migrations and how Abu Musa Ash’ari and his companions would keep coming to Asma bint Umais (radi Allahu anhum) to hear this hadith from her. Asma (radi Allahu anha) would say that it was as though nothing in the whole world was more valuable to them than this one hadith. Nafeesa couldn’t fathom how a single hadith could be so cherishable to someone but she reconciled with the fact that the Sahabah (radi Allahu anhum) perceived things very differently from the way we do.

Then once after waking up from a seizure she recalled the hadith about the black woman and she realized how a single hadith really could be so dear to someone. In reality, she and the likes of her were nothing compared to the greatness of Allah… they were just ordinary beings among His infinite creation. But Allah, the Lord of the Universe, still understood their pain and distress. Not only did He understand it but he also placed a special reward for it, since even if no one else could comprehend what they were going through, He could. Then why wouldn’t the gift of the Most Merciful be more valuable than the world and all it contains?

Nafeesa’s illness had never been a hurdle in her education and by Allah’s grace she excelled in both her religious studies as well as worldly. But once she reached marriageable age, after a certain point her parents decided to give her a reality check. Thus one day her parents sat her down and explained to her that her illness had the potential of being a hurdle in her marriage since it was understood that they wouldn’t hide her medical condition from anyone interested in marrying her. Nafeesa didn’t say anything then but when she went to her room she cried her heart out.

Then when she opened the Quran, Allah (swt) said: “And it is He Who has created man from water, and has appointed for him kindred by blood, and kindred by marriage. And your Lord is Ever All-Powerful.” (Furqan: 54). Nafeesa stopped crying right then. She shyly smiled as she realized that she didn’t need to worry about her marriage since Allah had already written who would marry her. Then, not after too long, a proposal came from Nafeesa’s own relatives and despite telling them all the details of her illness they still finalized the marriage because they said that they were marrying for Deen. Afterwards, they really did take care of all her medical needs just like her own family would. In fact they would say to her that she should never think that she was a burden on them, rather she was Allah’s gift for them, Alhamdulillah.

Allah (swt) says: “No calamity befalls but with the leave of Allah. And whosoever believes in Allah, He guides his heart (to the path of patience and gratitude). And Allah is the Knower of all things.” (At-Taghabun: 11)

– Zainab Wasay
First published in “Northwest Muslim”, Spring 2020 Issue.

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