The Devil Incarnate and the Savant

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Written by: Atiqa Mohsin


I have found, by observation more than anything else that in most families, there are always two kinds of people: the savant and the devil incarnate. The former will be someone bright and joyous- someone who can do no wrong. Someone who, it seems to you, religion comes easy. They’ll share their food, they’ll pray on time, they’ll listen to their parents and their life will be flawless. The internal struggle that you always experience when making a decision will be (seemingly) absent from their life. They will always make the right decision, choose the right path to walk on. Hence the name: the savant.
The latter type of people are those that, no matter how hard they try, can never seem to do anything right. They always break the rules, initiate fights and live to disrupt peace and harmony. They seem adamant to walk down the path leading directly to the devil’s lair and do everything in their power to hasten their journey. They have loud personalities and everything they attempt to do ends in a disaster; you personally know one or two people who despise this person. Hence the name: the devil incarnate.
And it’s funny because most families have both of these types of people in them. A person who is religion-conscious and a person who seems to care very little about heaven or hell. In my family, I am neither.
Well, be it as it may, there is something to be gained from the balance these to people create in the family and it is this: at one point during these past two years, I had begun to question myself as a Muslim. I was a Muslim by name yet my faith, to me, seemed weak and I wanted to find a way to strengthen it.
Let’s pause here for a minute so that I can explain what it is I usually do when I begin to doubt myself: I start from the start (looking back to look forward). It’s a habit I developed when studying for tests and exams: If you forget something or get stuck in something, start again. And if you get stuck too much, start from the very beginning. So I’d start with the first thing they taught me about Islam in school: The five pillars of Islam. And I’d tick them off one by one. Shahadah. Check. Salah. Need to work on reading on time rather than last minute. Sawm Check. Zakah-does not apply to me. Hajj- does not apply to me.
So Salah was something I needed to work on. I’d fix my timetable and move on to the basics. Obedience to parents? Check. Lies? Check. Gossip, back bite? Oh no, my friends… And then I’d try to talk less about other people when I was with my friends.
And on and on and on. And most of the time, this method worked. My confidence in the level of my faith returned and I’d be content with the changes I’d made in my life. Note that whenever I tried this technique, I’d focus on successfully completing one task before starting another. If you aren’t focused or have too many habits to reform you may lose sight of your goal and become lost.
But not this time. It didn’t work. And since I had, so far, needed only one method, I was at a loss of what to do. I didn’t know how to make myself a better Muslim and I felt, horribly, like a loser. Everyone around me was racing in this race to become the best Muslim possible and I was stuck, like a rat in a hole, unable to move forward.
It was frustrating and extremely annoying. It took me a long time--- four months to be exact--- to find a solution. And four months is a long time when the answer is staring you in the face.
You see I had the best possible examples to learn from right in front of me: The savant, who could do no wrong, and the devil incarnate, who could do nothing right. I began to compare myself. Wherever I found that I was lacking, in comparison to the savant, I would redeem myself. Wherever I found that what I had been doing before wasn’t enough, when compared with the savant, I improved.
I’ll give you a real life example: I found, after comparing myself with the savant, many flaws one of which was excessive complaining. I’m the youngest in my family so everyone tells me work. Errands to run, favors and just plain commands. I don’t mind doing them it’s just that every time I do it, I complain.
I’ll be like, ‘Mom, can’t you tell so-so to do it?’, ‘Why are you telling me?’, ‘Am I the only one in the house?’ and ‘It’s like every time you look at me, there’s work stapled across my forehead and that’s all you see. So you tell me work.’
And the worst part is, I didn’t even know I was doing it. I honestly had no idea that every time I opened my mouth to complain, I was losing all the sawab I gained doing it! It was a self-neutralizing process--- the worst kind! I was doing all this for, literally, nothing!
You have seriously no idea how much this realization angered me. So I decided to change. Well, to be exact, I’m in the process of it.
Like before, this method will only work if you focus on changing one thing at a time. Too many and you lose focus. You may end up accomplishing nothing or changing for the worse rather than the better! But, truthfully, there is no such thing as a savant or a devil incarnate. Even the worst person can have something worth learning from and even the best person may have a flaw. So don’t follow or reject either completely. Utilizing this method to make yourself a better person requires you to seed out the good in people and strain away the bad. Learn from both the good and the bad and perhaps you may become a better person than us all.
(P.S Here, a better person is purely in regard to Allah ta’ala’s love of you and the worst person is one that is deprived of His love).