قَالَ خُذْهَا وَلَا تَخَفْ ۖ سَنُعِيدُهَا سِيرَتَهَا ٱلْأُولَىٰ
Allah said, “Take it, and have no fear. We will return it to its former state.
Notice the order which Allah ﷻ gives His commands; you will find a wonderful subtlety which hides an ocean of meaning. As Musa’s (as) heart filled with fear at the sight of his staff turning into a snake, Allah ﷻ commanded him to “take it, and have no fear”. He leads with the action before addressing the emotion.
We live in an age where people’s faith is determined by their emotion. Hijab is something you feel like wearing; a beard something that’s awkward to keep. This terminology has even crept into scholarly circles. People describe the tranquillity of Madinah. Our hearts are described to be at peace with Islam. I remember one brother describing how he enjoys praying taraweeh in one particular masjid because the mosque is packed and the recitation beautiful, making him feel that brotherhood and peace. I asked him, would you still worship the same if the mosque was empty and recitation less melodic?
Scholars have described this matter as veils of light on the heart; the feeling of righteousness distracting you or is conditional to you being righteous, or the quality of it. Motivation is not to please Allah ﷻ, but rather it is to attain that feeling you know it brings, and when the feeling goes, the motivation disappears. This station is a dangerous one. Unlike the dark veils of sin, veils of light come to you in the cloak of something good. When you sin, you know you are sinning without any pretence of doing something good, but when you pray seeking the feeling, you delude yourself into thinking it’s for the sake of Allah ﷻ, when in fact it is for yourself. Many people lose faith or practice once that feeling is no longer there.
I recall my first Umrah to the blessed city of the Prophet ﷺ. Everyone spoke of the emotion you feel in the presence of the Master of Creation, and I would imagine how I would be as I stood before him in that moment. I re-enacted it over and over in my head; how would I feel? What would I say? When the time finally came, and I stood before the greatest of creation, I felt nothing. Empty. Was I a bad person? Was I a hypocrite? The emptiness was difficult to shake off, staying with me for days as I wrestled with this numbness I felt inside. I remember the moment till this day. I sat in the Rawdah of the Prophet ﷺ and it hit me; why did an emotion matter anyway? I’m here to worship, and that is what I will do, whether or not the feelings comes. I will just do my best as Allah ﷻ deserves. The moment I resolved that in my heart, it hit me like a tonne of bricks. Feelings I had never felt before flooded in as I became completely overwhelmed, but at that point I knew; this was a test of my resolve. These emotions are a distraction, and my worship is not conditional on how I felt! I was here for God, not for me.
Emotions are an essential, inescapable part of our obedience to Allah ﷻ. Be it hope or fear, joy or grief, our emotions come as a signal to remind us to turn to our Creator and to obey Him in all our states, using His commands to help regulate our feelings. Allah ﷻ could have left the command hanging but He didn’t; He asked Musa (as) to regulate his emotions too. How? By explaining exactly how Allah ﷻ is in control, and He will bring everything back to its former state. Emotions are a signal we are on the right path and are a powerful tool for motivation. Our Nafs – our base desires – require discipline, and the emotions we feel are the sustenance we give it to help it comply with God’s commands. Sin makes us feel bad to stay away from them. Good deeds make us feel good to return to them. Feelings are important. They are a sign we are on the right path and a carrot or stick to keep us going, but they are not the goal, and should certainly not distract us away from God. Balance between your states, and rise above your feelings to worship God unconditionally.
Finally, it’s worth noting the importance of mental health within the verse and how it is framed by God. As Muslims, we treat depression, anxiety and other illnesses as a symptom of a lack of faith; they are not. Allah ﷻ distinctly separates out the two, commanding our obedience whilst ordering us to take care of ourselves too. They are intertwined, yet independent; our piety and obedience should not be pegged by our emotions, but we are expected to regulate our emotions and treat our illnesses as a separate part of the process. How?
Allah said, “Take it,
First we trust and obey God
وَلَا تَخَفْ ۖ
and have no fear.
Next, we work on ourselves and our emotions,
سَنُعِيدُهَا سِيرَتَهَا ٱلْأُولَىٰ
We will return it to its former state.
Finally, we understand and vocalise how He will improve the situation for us in the end.