It is narrated (in the tafsir of Ibn Kathir and others) that there was a man named Bal’am, who was known for being among those that Allah (swt) always granted their duas. Whatever dua he made, he received. He lived during the time of Prophet Musa (as) and his people asked him to make dua against the Prophet Musa (as). At first he declined, stating that it would be the end of him in this life and the next but his people were persistent. So he obliged and in turn he was …
This example of being so drawn into this world, into those around you, that you let go of the gifts Allah (swt) has given you is preserved in the Quran for every generation to benefit from. In Surah Al’araf, Allah (swt) says in reference to Bal’am (according to many of the tafsir scholars):
وَلَوْ شِئْنَا لَرَفَعْنَاهُ بِهَا وَلَٰكِنَّهُ أَخْلَدَ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ وَاتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ ۚ فَمَثَلُهُ كَمَثَلِ الْكَلْبِ إِن تَحْمِلْ عَلَيْهِ يَلْهَثْ أَوْ تَتْرُكْهُ يَلْهَث ۚ ذَّٰلِكَ مَثَلُ الْقَوْمِ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِنَا ۚ فَاقْصُصِ الْقَصَصَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
And if We had willed, we could have elevated him thereby, but he adhered [instead] to the earth and followed his own desire. So his example is like that of the dog: if you chase him, he pants, or if you leave him, he [still] pants. That is the example of the people who denied Our signs. So relate the stories that perhaps they will give thought. [7:176]
Allah (swt) gives us the example of an individual who could have been elevated to the highest levels but instead he followed his own desires and therefore became no different than a dog. Imam Qurtubi discusses that Allah (swt) chose to provide the analogy of a dog as opposed to any other animal because a dog will always pant. Most animals will pant with their tongues out when they are tired or hungry but a dog always has its tongue out. It could be tired, resting, sick, healthy, happy, thirsty, or perfectly content. Regardless of circumstance, the reaction is the same.
Those that receive the signs of Allah (swt) and His gifts but choose to pull away or detach from them are like a dog: always panting. They were blessed with the gift of guidance but despite this, it did not lead them to living a better life, it did not help them grow closer to Allah (swt). The example above may seem extreme but if we think about it, it is really easy to follow along this path - especially in these troubling times. It is many times more convenient to disassociate ourselves from Islam so we can fit in or just take the easy way out but we must be careful. This is opening the door for shaitan, it sends him a signal and creates a snowball effect:
We need to catch ourselves before we fall into the pattern mentioned above. We need to be aware. One way to protect ourselves is to practice curbing our desires. This is a spiritual exercise that our righteous predecessors would work hard on to purify themselves. It doesn’t have to be a grand move, start with simple things even halal things like food or even sleeping on the floor sometimes instead of our warm and very comfy beds.
We ask Allah (swt) to make us among those that always recognize His signs and that are not swept astray by our desires.
Written by Dua Aldasouqi, content from a retreat by Dr. Haifaa Younis