I carried a prayer with me during my travels throughout Central America this summer. One of the teachings of the Prophet is that the prayers of a traveller are accepted, if their trip is with good intentions, so I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. I prayed the prayer for the soul in worry, in anxiety, in need of bravery. At the time I thought thats the prayer that would cover all aspects of the trip. I realize now that the prayer has taken on a new dimension after my travels. Reflecting on how my understanding has developed, I wanted to share the prayer.
Origins of the Prayer
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ الْهَمِّ وَالْحُزْنِ وَالْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ وَالْبُخْلِ وَالْجُبْنِ وَضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ وَغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ
But first, prayer, or supplication, in Arabic is referred to as Dua’ (pronounced Doo ah). The actual prayer Muslims perform are the five separate prayers, which involves physical movement. So this prayer is more of a supplication
The prayer is memorialized advice by the Prophet in Saheeh Bukhari, a collection of sayings and teachings gathered by Imam Bukhari. Muslims learn that the prayer was consistently read by the Prophet and that he encouraged his companions to keep it on the tips of their tongues at all times. It goes- By Your Mercy, Allah, I seek refuge in You from worry and grief; from helplessness and laziness; from cowardice and stinginess; and from overpowering of debt and the oppression of other humans. There are other variations to this prayer as well, but this is the one I memorized.
Anyway, I learned this particular prayer during college when I was plagued with worry over debt. Later, it was the prayer I recited repeatedly while faced with doubt over life decisions. I’ve carried it with me over time in relation to the events happening in my life. If I am overly worried about something, or the idea of taking out loans for education, I keep reciting this prayer. Its a mantra of sorts.
Because it was so simple and relatable to my lived experiences, I always viewed the prayer from that personal perspective, compartmentalized to specific problems. But in Central America this individual perspective of the prayer changed to something substantive about the nature of and relation of worldly problems to spiritual wellbeing.
Evolution of Understanding
According to the Prophet worry, grief, helplessness, laziness, cowardice, stinginess, debt and oppression were things to seek refuge from, and that Allah was the best place to get refuge. Each one is paired, conjoined together- like worry AND grief. I always saw this pairing as a poetic style of Arabic, the words rhymed when paired together.
On the trip to Central America, I began to see how there was a much deeper sense of meaning in the pairings. For example, all of these things affect a persons psychological well being but also are directly tied to their spiritual well being too. When I look at the pairings in the duah, I notice that the pairings are similar- one is a rational existence item, the other is one that deals with the spiritual aspect of a person. To me this pairing then can be understood as the rational and spiritual realms of ones self, and these two things together can wear down a person psychologically and spiritually.
In Honduras I heard stories of people worrying about their next meal, having gone three days without eating a tortilla (with salt and lime not even beans!). This is a sort of situation that leads to grief about one’s circumstances and existence. The same is true about cowardice and stinginess. The people in Honduras fighting against mining interests were some of the bravest people I heard from, willing to put down their lives to keep their land and customs. They also the most generous in providing us with what little they had. These people were driven by a deep rooted faith, or what in Arabic is referred to as imaan. I was mesmerized by that.
The Prophet warned Muslims that “Iman wears out in one’s heart”. There are things, internal and external, that act or eat away at faith, over time or at the point of contact, that drastically reduce the potency of our faith. Or as the hadith continues the simile “just as the dress wears out (becomes thin)” so does the imaan in our heart. When we look at corrosive factors, there are things that are more abrasive, and wear down on our iman, meaning that not all iman abrasives are equal in their affect.
The understanding really drove home the point how faith is an action. Our faith is acted upon by external factors. When we are faced with temporal problems, we also face spiritual existential crises. These attacks come in pairs. I always thought that the prayer was good for just particular problems I faced in my daily life- grief, worry, debt. But these things roll out in pairs, when we have fears of debt, there is always the coupling of oppression from other humans (or human institutions). That reality is incredibly true of Central America.
When Rev. Blackmon said go looking for the Divine in Central America, I didn’t really know what exactly that entailed. But it has manifested itself in this new understanding of the prayer, and I see where people draw from the deep reservoirs of hope and faith. I am eternally grateful for this.