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On Receiving

October 17, 2012

There was a time, back when I lived in the Gulf, when my mother and I were discussing the situation of a good family friend. (Here, I will call her “Safiya.”) She was approaching the age of thirty and had not found a suitable marriage partner, and her family was deeply distressed about the situation.

Her parents and mine were both soliciting the services of the same matchmaker. On one occasion, the matchmaker suggested a suitor for me who was ten years older than I was. She told us in a well-intentioned manner that we were the first ones she had approached for this match.

Normally I would not have blinked at such a prospect, but because I was ruminating over Safiya’s situation in those days, it struck me as terribly strange that the matchmaker would think of me first. So without thinking, the first thought I expressed to my mother was: “Why isn’t she asking Safiya’s parents?”

My mother was quiet, thrown off by my suggestion. Then she sat me down and patiently explained: “Sarah, don’t think of yourself in terms of other’s needs. You can’t compare your situation to Safiya’s, ever.” She pointed out that this had nothing to do with our not being concerned for her. Rather, when something like this presents itself, it has come our way for a reason, because we’re meant to at least consider it.

Now, to be clear, I don’t this reasoning applied to the situation at hand. There were no profound forces in operation here. I feel that, for whatever reason, the matchmaker was deliberately seeking younger wife for the suitor in question. My mother, however, reasoned that she could simply be enacting God’s will. (As far as my prospective suitors are concerned, she thinks everyone is going about enacting God’s will all the time. She has to. It’s the only way she can rationalize my still being single at a ripe old age of twenty-six.)

Now, some years after the incident, I have come to understand the wisdom in my mother’s words: when it comes to matters of fate, what others have or do not have could not matter less. That is why there is no room in Islam for jealousy. For the same reason, there is no room for pathological selflessness, either.  It makes no sense to seethe over what others have. It also makes no sense to give away half of one’s income, guilty that they were granted privileges that others were not.

So I find myself thinking of my mother’s words when I am overwhelmed by the opportunities and gifts that I am blessed with. I’m not the jealous sort, but I do veer towards extreme selflessness, a tendency that has probably cost me in many ways. When I am acknowledged in some manner, I automatically think of others who deserve more reward and recognition. One of the few occasions I become tongue-tied is when I am paid a compliment. Ridicule me all I want: I’m an English major, I’m used to it. Say something nice, and I will break into a cold sweat. The manual of Sarah has nothing to say about this.

I have rarely ever confronted the green-eyed monster. But when good comes my way, I must learn to breathe deeply: Alhamdulillah. Part of growing up, for me, is receiving with grace. Receiving without guilt.

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