Growing up, I was afraid of many things. They ranged from the common (ghosts, aliens, vampires) to the absurd (permanent markers, those chlorine tablet holders that float in the hottubs). But the one thing that frightened me the most, and haunted me throughout most of my life, was the end of the world.
All my life I was afraid of the world ending. Whether it was from a giant meteor or alien invasion or a black hole suddenly appearing– and, of course, Judgment Day—the prospect of existence coming to an end frightened me.
I grew up with little religious background or inclination. Much of what I learned about Christianity I learned from my friends. And of course, with that came an education on what the Day of Judgment is. And what I learned about it frightened me to the point of having panic attacks. It was an issue I chose to blissfully ignore as best I could. The fear would come and go and each time I would simply cover it up with happy things (or other things to worry about). And it worked—that is, until I became a Muslim.
After I became a Muslim I had to deal with the reality of the end of all things front-and-center. What used to be a notion that I could just pleasantly cover up with happy things was suddenly thrust in front of me, prodding me in the chest, telling me to deal with it.
With the world as it is today, it’s easy to get overwhelmed: ISIS, rampant sexuality, corruption. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, spoke about these sorts of things as signs of the Day of Judgment. Among other things, he mentioned:
- Wine will be consumed in great quantities
- Natural disasters will increase
- Bloodshed will increase
- Power will be given to those who don’t deserve it
- Women will outnumber men
2011 was a difficult year for me. The year was notable for such disasters as the Thailand floods, the Japan tsunami, the African droughts. With each new disaster I saw before my eyes the fulfillment of the Prophet’s warning. I became afraid of even reading the morning paper, or even listening to the news, out of fear of some new disaster—some new portent of the end times. The old fears crept back into my mind and heart. I fell into a state of existential depression. I began wondering what was the point of anything? What was the point of doing anything if life was a zero-sum game? Like a movie you already know the ending to—spoiler alert: everybody dies. And why bother putting in effort to try and make the world a better place, even though we’re at the tail end of existence?
That same year my grandpa died. So death infiltrated my life not only on a cosmic and universal scale, but also on a personal and intimate level. We flew down to Ontario for his funeral. There were many relatives there that I hadn’t seen for years — some who I hadn’t seen at all. But we were here: our family. And I began wondering if this would be the last time we would all be together like this — if, perhaps, the world was about to end and this would be the last everyone saw each other.
And so I wrote.
I wrote a story about a young boy going to his grandfather’s funeral on pretty much the eve of Armageddon. In the story, everyone knows the world is about to end, and this boy (much like myself) grapples with an existential crisis. It was incredibly cathartic, and through writing I found those slivers of hope that you grab onto and make a rope to pull yourself out of despair. My narrator, at the end of the story, found meaning and purpose in his life, even as it was about to end.
And it could all be summed up by something a man once said 1400 years ago.
At the beginning of the story, the main character visits his friend, who is planting trees in front of the mosque. His friend, a Muslim (obviously), tells him about a saying of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. It was a saying that penetrated deep to my core during this depressive phase of my life. I had heard it before, but had forgotten about it; and only now, as I wrote about it, did I fully grasp the meaning of his words:
“If the Last Hour is approaching, and you find yourself in the midst of planting a palm shoot, do not hesitate to finish planting it.”
I took this and folded it into my heart and even to this day this profound statement warms my soul like hot cinnamon. When reality bites and pulls at my conscience, I remind myself of it. I remind myself of what it means.
It means that no matter how dire things seem, you can still do good. Even if things seem hopeless, if it’s in your capacity to do something to better the world, then do it. With the world as it is today, we’re in need of good now more than ever.
As the character in my story found his peace, so did I. As I wrote, I was able to come to terms with the greatest fear in my life. I was able to accept it and, more importantly, to turn it into something productive.
And so even when on the literal verge of Armageddon, keep working.
Keep doing good.
Keep planting trees.