Prophet Zakariyyah (as) was entrusted with the guardianship of Maryam (as) while she was secluded in her worship and dedication to Allah (swt). At one point, when he came to check on her, he found that she had provisions – fruits that were not in season. His reaction to this is recorded in this beautiful series of verses:
Allah (swt) says:
Every time Zakariyyah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, ‘O Maryam, from where is this [coming] to you?’ She said, ‘It is from Allah. Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without account.’
At that, Zakariyyah called upon his Lord, saying, ‘My Lord, grant me from Yourself a good offspring. Indeed, You are the Hearer of supplication.’
So the angels called him while he was standing in prayer in the chamber, ‘Indeed, Allah gives you good tidings of Yahya…’ (3:37-39)
When Zakariyyah saw that Maryam had provisions that seemed to appear out of thin air, and fruits that were not even in season, he was genuinely surprised. But after Maryam said to him, “Allah provides for whom He wills without account,” He turned to Allah (swt) right after and made dua for a son.
Zakariyyah didn’t immediately think why don’t I have what she has, since I’m also a believer, a worshiper, and even a prophet? or what makes her more special than me?
Instead he saw these provisions as a miracle, and a sign that Allah (swt) is capable of all things. It was at this point that Zakariyyah turned to ask Allah (swt) to bless him with a son, despite his old age and despite his wife’s barrenness.
When we see people who have things we don’t have – large homes, beauty, loving spouses, children, monetary success – we can do one of two things:
- Drown ourselves in rivers of envy because we don’t have the same.
- Recognize that these blessings are from Allah, and use it as a motivation to ask of Him alone.
I hate to bring up social media, again, but I must. Our exposure to social media means that we are constantly (even if unknowingly) comparing our lives to the lives of others. (Related and relevant: “Comparison is the Thief of Joy”)
Their blessings are on full display. (I have my own opinions on whether or not some of these displays are Islamically appropriate, but that’s neither here nor there at this point.) The issue at hand is – how do we handle the constant barrage of images showing us how much better someone is doing in life than we are?
The Muslim fashionistas always seem to have picture-perfect clothes, lives, and relationships. The Instagram moms always seem to have their houses clean and dinner cooked and kids looking presentable and happy (oh, and five DIY projects in the making on the side). The Muslim businesses always seem to be on top great new ideas and turning a significant profit.
We all know that these images are merely a sliver of what these people’s lives really entail. But that doesn’t diminish the effect that these open displays have on us.
We easily become envious creatures when we allow our consumption of these things to go unchecked. And get this: we even become envious of people we don’t know, and over things we never even thought we wanted! That’s the most surprising thing of all.
Even if we place great controls over what we view, we will always see someone somewhere with something “better” than we have. That’s just a reality of existing. What we really have to examine is how we react.
Prophet Zakariyyah saw that Maryam had been blessed with something he never had (an emotion we experience on the daily). His reaction to it, however, was beautiful. He turned to Allah and asked Him to give him a son. Because after all, it wasn’t provisions that he desperately wanted – it was a son to inherit the role of spreading the message of truth to his people.
So when he saw the blessings Maryam had, he was able to redirect his thoughts to the Greatness of Allah (swt), and then to something he actually wanted. He asked Allah (swt) for that thing – and of course, Allah (swt) responded.
In order to be able to incorporate this attitude into our lives we need to do the following:
- Limit our consumption of other people’s lives. Yes, I know their lives are on display, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy to be constantly watching. (Read this.)
- Take the time to develop our goals and our vision. When we become laser-focused on our own development, we won’t lose ourselves in other people’s achievements and blessings.
- Turn to Allah (swt) in dua always, and especially whenever we feel overwhelmed by the blessings of others.
- Turn our attention to those who have less than us, not more, and then take steps to offer help.
May Allah (swt) cleanse our hearts from envy, and allow us to focus on the betterment of ourselves and those who are struggling in our homes and communities.