SURAT AL-A¢RÂF IS a beautiful means to soothe our insecurities, as throughout the surah we are reminded of the various ways that Shayṭân seeks to make us feel insecure, followed by numerous examples of past Messengers and their conflicts with their people –experiencing the same emotions and doubts that we do. The good news is that we can become familiar with our own insecurities, and the more familiar we are with them, the more aware we can be of Shayṭân’s determination to use them.
Insecurities –and subsequently fear, anxiety and negative emotions– are natural, as well as part and parcel of life in this dunya. Part of the pleasure of Jannah is their obliteration. Allah says about Jannah:
And We shall remove from their breasts any hatred or sense of injury; rivers flowing under them, and they will say: “All the praises and thanks be to Allah, Who has guided us to this, never could we have found guidance, were it not that Allah had guided us! Indeed, the Messengers of our Lord did come with the truth.” And it will be cried out to them: “This is the Paradise which you have inherited for what you used to do. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:43]
Disorders and phobias aside, many of the conflicts we experience with others, or the sins we pursue personally, are the result of our own fears and anxieties, which stem from our insecurities. Shayṭân is ever ready to exploit our insecurities; he is constantly observing us, even coursing through our veins, and is very familiar with us. Allah reminds us:
And if an evil whisper comes to you from Shayṭân then seek refuge with Allah. Verily, He is All-Hearer, All-Knower. Verily, those who are al-muttaqûn, when an evil thought comes to them from Shayṭân (Satan), they remember, and they then see (aright). But as for their brethren from amongst the devils, they plunge them deeper into error, and they never stop short. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:200-202]
It is natural that we feel insecure, but it is Shayṭân’s wis-wâs (suggestive whispering) that convinces us that our insecurities are true –and then, he furthers his plot by encouraging us to take an action that is displeasing to Allah so as to alleviate our insecurities. Allah says:
O Children of Adam! Let not Shayṭân (Satan) deceive you, as he got your parents out of Paradise, stripping them of their raiments, to show them their private parts. Verily, he and qabîluhu (his soldiers from the Jinn or his tribe) see you from where you cannot see them. Verily, We made the Shayâṭîn (devils) auliyâ’(protectors and helpers) for those who believe not. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:27]
One of the areas of life in which people feel very insecure is in regards to wealth and prestige. Just like the prominent leaders amongst the communities that Messengers were sent to, they felt at risk to lose their wealth and status amongst their people if they were to obey the Messenger. Allah says:
The chiefs of those who disbelieved among his people said (to their people): “If you follow Shu¢aib, be sure then you will be the losers!” [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:90]
Thus, people may undertake business dealings that include ḥarâm elements, like riba or cheating others. People who are insecure about their self-image are worried that others will perceive them as poor, shabby, or struggling. Thus, people will go into riba-tainted credit card debt to purchase homes, cars, and other items, all with the desire to remove the insecurity they feel about being perceived as “losers” in their community.
Some women feel insecure about their ability to get married, and after marriage they are insecure that they may not be perceived as being as beautiful as they once were, so they dress in a way that undermines hijab. But modesty is about more than dress code. Both men and women can behave in a way that seeks attention from one another –with both dressing to cause mutual attraction and to seek attention from one another– because both are insecure about their likeability and want to feel validated by the opposite sex. In some cases, sexual assault has, sadly, become a common manifestation in societies where men feel insecure about their masculinity and feel entitled to a woman’s body. Allah says:
O Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover yourselves (screen your private parts, etc.) and as an adornment, and the raiment of righteousness, that is better. Such are among the Ayat of Allah, that they may remember. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:26]
Some parents, or family members, may undertake strange, cultural superstitious practices because they are insecure about the Evil Eye and want to protect their children or grandchildren from it. Even though these practices are clearly jâhil in nature, their fear of harm from the ghaib mingled with Shayṭân’s was-was to lead them astray, leads people to do some very odd things with black strings, pictures of eyes, eggs, and so on, things that are opposite in nature to having trust in Allah alone as Al-Wali, Protecting Friend, and Al-Qadîr, the One Who has Power Over All Things. Allah says:
A group He has guided, and a group deserved to be in error; (because) surely they took the Shayâṭîn (devils) as auliyâ’ (protectors and helpers) instead of Allah, and consider that they are guided. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:30]
And Allah reminds us of the right course, namely, to say:
Verily, my Wali (Protector, Supporter, and Helper, etc.) is Allah Who has revealed the Book (the Quran), and He protects (supports and helps) the righteous. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:196]
Shayṭân, is subtle at his craft. All human beings have some fear or anxiety, and Shayṭân tries to slowly lead us toward kufr by subtly stoking our insecurities. He led Adam and Eve astray when he swore to them that he was a trustworthy advisor who had only their best interests in mind –when he persuaded them to eat the fruit that Allah had forbidden to them. Allah says:
Then Shayṭân (Satan) whispered suggestions to them both in order to uncover that which was hidden from them of their private parts; he said: “Your Lord did not forbid you this tree save you should become angels or become of the immortals.” And he [the Shayṭân] swore by Allah to them both (saying): “Truly, I am one of the sincere well-wishers for you both.” So he misled them with deception…. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:20-22]
The story of Adam and Eve is an example of Shayṭân manipulating our parents’ insecurities in the same way that he does to us:
- Is it fear of losing a good opportunity unless we choose a sinful course?
- Is it fear that by not taking a certain action, we will be plagued by regret or will be unhappy?
- Is our self-worth on the line, and do we believe a sin will remedy our doubts about how valued, special, or successful we can be?
- Do we feel insecure to be abandoned by someone who appears to be a caring friend, unless we keep his company and follow his suggestions?
Ironically, Iblîs himself is the very recorded incident of an insecure being. He was insecure that he was being replaced as the best of creation by Adam. Rather than appreciate his own unique value to Allah –or his own race, the jinn— he compared himself to Adam and let his insecurity consume him, ultimately leading him on the path to Hell. Allah recounts His conversation with Iblîs:
What prevented you (O Iblîs) that you did not prostrate, when I commanded you?” Iblîs said: “I am better than him (Adam), You created me from fire, and him You created from clay. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:12]
Many people suffer from low self-esteem, and Shayṭân is ready to generate insecurities about our worth, with the hopes that we will take ḥarâm measures to numb their pain or engage in evil acts that give us the false sensation of being valued to someone else. Other people who fear abandonment may become controlling and abusive, and ultimately, oppressors.
The things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are al-fawâḥish (great evil sins) whether committed openly or secretly, sins (of all kinds), unrighteous oppression, joining partners (in worship) with Allah for which He has given no authority, and saying things about Allah of which you have no knowledge. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:33]
If we manage to resist his incitements, even the strongest Muslims can fall into a state of depression. It is in this state that Shayṭân wants us to despair, to say, “Oh Allah, I did everything right, I avoided sin and depended on You, so why isn’t my situation changing? Why am I still suffering and uncertain?” Shayṭân creates doubts in our minds and hearts; he wants us to believe that we are outside of Allah’s help and mercy.
Allah quotes the statement, below, that the people who are still awaiting their eternal fate on the a¢râf (heights) will say to the people of Hell, about the people of Jannah,
Are they (the people of Paradise) those, of whom you swore that Allah would never show them mercy? (Behold! It has been said to them:) Enter Paradise, no fear shall be on you, nor shall you grieve. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:49]
While insecurities are a natural part of being human, it does not mean that they cannot be confronted and minimized. Many of us have insecurities stemming from our childhood, those that we have felt too uncomfortable to acknowledge, let alone deal with. Insecurities mount as we experience life: relationships with parents, friends, children or significant others; struggles or failures at school or work; issues with our body image, sexuality or identity. And let us not forget the insecurity of being a Muslim in islamophobic times. It doesn’t help that there is very little discussion about insecurity outside of conversation which validates them. Most of us are taught to avoid things that will trigger those exchanges, but this is nearly impossible. We need to learn to deal with our insecurities in a healthy fashion lest Shayṭân take advantage of our vulnerable state. Some pointers:
- Identify your emotion. Then reflect, read, or journal to discover what insecurity lies beneath this emotion. Ask yourself, what am I afraid will happen? What is the worst that I think can happen to me?
- Seek refuge with Allah from Shayṭân; then make du¢â’ to Allah to help you overcome your insecurity. One good du¢â’ would be,Oh Allah, do not leave me in charge of my own affairs, even for the blinking of an eye. Find one or two of Allah’s Names that pertain to your insecurity, and make du¢â’ using that name. Such as: Al-Wâsi¢ (the All-Encompassing”), help me to understand the parts of myself that I struggle with, and guide me to change my thoughts, feelings, and behavior so that it is free of my insecurities.
- Remember that Allah is Al-Raḥmân. Insecurities do not vanish overnight and many times they can be only minimized and managed. Sometimes we think that we have mastered ourselves only to have our insecurities blow up again in certain circumstances, and we may display behavior that harms others or engage in some sin as a result. Keep turning back to Allah and asking for Allah’s forgiveness and help. Allah knows that some struggles truly last for a lifetime. Do not be too hard on yourself; berating ourselves is a trick of the Shayṭân to get us to give up.
- Be grateful. Shayṭân hints that his plot can be foiled by our thankfulness when he says to Allah,
(Iblîs) said: “Because You have sent me astray, surely I will sit in wait against them (human beings) on Your Straight Path. Then I will come to them from before them and behind them, from their right and from their left, and You will not find most of them as thankful ones. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:16-17]
From these two âyât we can see that even though we may doubt our worth, and other people may doubt us, Allah is most Merciful and wants to give Paradise to His Slaves. We learn in the second ayah that one of the ways to keep ourselves strong and protect ourselves from Shayṭân’s whispering is to be thankful. In being thankful we turn our focus; rather than being inwardly focused on our feelings, we turn our focus outwardly to the blessings in our lives. By reaching out and interacting with our blessings, we are essentially blocking any devious thoughts Shayṭân wants to plant in our minds and hearts.