Do not burden yourself with what you cannot do

One of my friends is one of the best people in terms of his manners, religious commitment and intelligence. He was an Imam of a mosque right next to his house. However, I often used to hear him criticised by many people and be amazed at that, yet unable to find a justification.

One day, his neighbour came to me and said, “Dear Shaykh! Your friend neither leads us in prayer nor prays along with us!”

I said, “Why is that?” He replied, “I don’t know, but he is the Imam, and despite this, he is often absent from the mosque.”

I began to make excuses for him and said, “Perhaps, he is busy with something very important, or perhaps he isn’t at home.” He said, “Dear Shaykh! His car is parked outside his house and I am quite certain that he is home, yet he does not attend the prayers with us, in spite of being the Imam!” I began to investigate into my friend’s reasons for not praying in the mosque until I found the answer. The man, being an Imam of the mosque, would have everyone coming to him asking for help.

One man would come to him with debts and ask him to find someone who could pay them. Another who has just finished his secondary school would want him to be a character reference for admission into university. Another is ill and he needs his help to be admitted into such-and-such a hospital. Another has daughters for whom he is looking for husbands. Another has to pay his rent and needs help. Another wants him to write a legal query over a divorce issue which he can then take to the Grand Mufti. Many people with many needs come to him, but he is just an ordinary person who is neither able to do much himself, nor does he have many contacts, or even social status.

The poor man was overcome with shame and embarrassment when dealing with people, such that he was never able to excuse himself from others. Rather, he would speak to a person and promise him that he would pay off his debts. He would take the second person’s phone number and promise him that he would be accepted at the university. He would tell the third person, “Come after a couple of days and you will find a letter addressed to the hospital ready”, and so on.

They would return to him as promised, but he would excuse himself and give them another appointment, until he began to avoid them. He would not answer his phone calls and often not even leave his house! When one of them would meet him by chance, he would insult him and shout, “OK, but why did you promise me? Why did you raise my hopes?”

The second person would say, “I did not speak to anyone else only because you had promised me!” When I saw his situation, I realised that he had dug a hole for himself and fallen therein. I once heard him excusing himself to someone, “I am sorry. I haven’t been able to do anything regarding your case”, while the person would reply in anger, “OK, but you wasted my time! Why didn’t you tell me before?” There I remembered a wise saying, “Excusing oneself at the outset is far better than excusing oneself at the end.”

How excellent it is for a man to realise his limited abilities and to move within those limits? Allah teaches us this lesson and says, “Allah does not burden a soul more than it can bear”, and also says, “Allah does not burden a soul more than what He has given it.” The Prophet e also forbade that a man should burden himself with more than what he can bear.

I have experienced this myself. I remember once giving a lecture in a police convention in Riyadh. After the lecture, one of them came to me and said, “Dear Shaykh, I need your help regarding a very important matter.”

I said, “Go ahead, what is it?” He said, “I cannot tell you now, but we must meet again when we have more time.” He was speaking as if the matter was very important as I listened with interest.

My life has taught me that many people give a lot more importance to issues than they deserve. This person who came to me was fanatical about his problem. He said to me, “I think you have a lecture tomorrow in such-and-such a city.” The city was about 200 km from Riyadh.

“Yes”, I replied. He said, “I will come to see you there and meet up with you after your lecture.”

I was stunned at his eagerness. As I left after delivering the lecture, he came after me in a hurry, barefoot, with a small piece of paper in his hand. I stood by his side and said, “Go ahead. May Allah reward you for your eagerness, but what do you need?” He said, “Dear Shaykh, I have a brother who only has primary education certificate, and I would like you to find him a job.” I said, “Is that it?” He said, “Yes, that’s it.”

The man seemed really keen and his appearance made me pity him. It seemed as though his brother was going through a rough period. However, I knew that if I promised him anything, I would not have been able to keep it. We are living in times where one with a bachelor’s degree cannot find work, let alone someone with a primary education certificate. I knew the limits of what I could do. It was an embarrassing moment for me, and I wished that I really could do something to help this grieving person’s need. However, I literally was able to do nothing, so I said to him, “Dear brother, by Allah, I want to help you. Your brother is my brother. I feel for him as you do. However, I am not able to help you at all. I hope you can graciously excuse me.”

He said, “Dear Shaykh, please, at least try.” I said, “I am sorry, I cannot.”

He then gave me the piece of paper in his hand and said, “Okay, dear Shaykh, just take this piece of paper with our phone numbers. If you ever find a job, please give us a ring.” I realized that he still wished to have hope in me. I knew that if I took the numbers, he would continuously wait for my call, pin his hopes, and encourage his brother to do the same.

I said, “Actually, keep the piece of paper and take my number down, and if you find a job for him then please give me a call. Perhaps, I will write a recommendation letter to the employer for him to be accepted.”

The man remained silent for a while as I waited for him to say goodbye. I was surprised when he then said to me, “May Allah brighten your face! By Allah, dear Shaykh, I have previously spoken to Prince so-and-so about the matter a year ago. He took the piece of paper and still hasn’t called me! Once I spoke to Major General so-and-so, and he too took the piece of paper and didn’t call me or even care about me. These people do not care about the weak! Allah will seek revenge from them!”

When he began to pray against them, I thought to myself, “Al-Hamdulillah, if I had taken the piece of paper, I would have been the third person to be prayed against!”

Yes, to excuse oneself from the outset is to keep one’s promise. How excellent it is to be straightforward with people, knowing and acknowledging the limits of what one can do. This does not only apply to people’s needs in general, but also to small needs involving the wife or the children. Sometimes, as you leave the house, your wife shouts out, “Please, buy milk, sugar and tonight’s dinner!”

Be careful and do not keep repeating, “OK, I will”, knowing that you are not able to. Rather, you should call out to her, saying, “I cannot”, for this is better than making excuses upon your return, such as, “I didn’t have time… The shops closed… I forgot…” The same applies to your colleagues and brothers. I hope you get the idea.


Excusing oneself at the outset is far better than excusing oneself at the end. Accent

Source: Enjoy Your Life page 413-418,

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