A few years ago, my family moved from Southern California to Massachusetts. It was an enormous transition for us; moving from the West coast to the East involved saying goodbye to many beloved friends as well as bidding adieu to California’s warm and mild climate. We would soon find that New England’s seasons embody the extremes, from the humid, scorching summers to the bitterly cold, snow-encrusted winters. As challenging as they are, though, the dramatic seasons bring forth beautiful changes to the landscape. All of it is a testament to the power of the Creator who initiates life and sustains the universe.
During the pandemic my family has explored local hiking trails in all seasons and weathers. When the lockdown started back in March, we enjoyed watching spring bloom around us with its countless delicate yellow-green buds and glorious flowers. It was a joy to smell the earth coming back to life after lying dormant for so many frozen, barren months. Each drop of spring rain was a blessing that nourished the earth. Then it was summer, and everything around us was lush and green. The heat and humidity made us grateful for the shade of the trees and the coolness of the lakes. My absolute favorite time of year, autumn, was especially wonderful this year. I savored the crisp coolness and the glorious transformation of the deciduous trees as their leaves turned hues of brilliant red, yellow, and orange. For me, it is worth enduring all the discomforts of summer and winter in order to enjoy two months of a New England autumn.
Now it is winter, and still the worldwide pandemic rages on. My family is experiencing the dichotomy of this particular season in Massachusetts where the pristine, beautiful stillness of a fresh snowfall goes hand in hand with the treacherous ice and freezing temperatures. The extreme climate here has inspired me to appreciate Allah’s (SWT) majesty more than ever. I cannot gaze upon the wonder of His creation without feeling grateful and humbled. In the daily struggles of coping with the pandemic and all the tedium, fear, and inconvenience that it entails, the restorative powers of nature have helped my mental health enormously. I frequently walk to a small pond near our home and there I find a great deal of beauty to soothe my soul. A graceful blue heron gliding over the water, industrious beavers collecting sticks for their dam, and wild turkeys strutting through the leaves all remind me of the magnificence and mercy of the Creator. When the human world seems unbearable, sometimes, with its nonstop news of tragedy and strife, nature is blessedly reassuring and calming. It centers us, humbles us, and reminds us that Allah’s creation is vast, precious, awe-inspiring, and not to be taken for granted. As Allah SWT tells us in the Qur’an, “Have they not observed the sky above them, how We constructed it, and decorated it, and it has no rifts? And the earth, how We spread it out, and set upon it mountains, and made to grow therein every beautiful kind; an insight and a reminder for every servant who turns [to Allah]. And We brought down from the sky blessed water and produced with it gardens and grain to harvest. And the soaring palm trees, with ranged clusters…” (50:6-10).
Focusing on the Beauty Around Us
Just as a photographer carefully chooses which subject to zoom in on and capture with a snapshot, when we consciously choose to focus our lens on the beauty around us, we can see Allah’s presence very clearly in nature. It is possible to find immense comfort and inspiration there. To do this, it is not necessary to lose ourselves in a massive forest (although that can be a wonderful experience). It is usually enough to find a tree-lined street, park, or garden — anyplace with an abundance of living things. A lake or pond is always a wonderful place for reflection (both literal and contemplative), but even a simple bird bath or fountain can remind us of the healing and life-giving miracle of water, from which all things were made: “…And We created from water every living thing…” (Qur’an 21:30). In the Qur’an Allah also describes the blessing of water: “…We send down pure water from the sky, that We may give life thereby to a dead land, and We give to drink, thereof, many cattle and men that We have created” (Qur’an 25:49). If we stop to admire and appreciate the incomparable blessing of water, we can remember how Allah nourishes, refreshes, and sustains life with it.
Connecting with nature is especially important in this particular time, when so many of us are tethered to our computers for work or school. In the natural world we can’t help but relax a little and marvel at Allah’s generosity. We are reminded that He SWT loves beauty and is the source of all beauty. Anything that appeals to our senses and inspires or moves us deeply is, at its core, a reflection of His incomparable greatness. The delicate petals of a flower in bloom can remind us of Al-Latif, the Sublimely Subtle, who delivers kindness to His creation in the gentlest and most precise and insightful ways. The formidable force of the wind can help us recall Al-Qadir, the All-Powerful, who is the only One who controls the cosmos. Indeed, He SWT is the One who determines whether that wind will destroy an entire town or pass by so harmlessly that even a bird’s nest is undisturbed.
Finding Solace and Inspiration in Nature
In nature we also witness how Allah SWT provides for the animals by creating them with instincts to build homes, find food, migrate thousands of miles, or hibernate through a long, cold winter. We are reminded that He SWT takes care of His creation — from a maple tree to a fox to a human — with unparalleled insight and wisdom. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) said, “If you were to rely on Allah as He should be relied on, He would provide for you as He provides for the birds. They go out early in the morning hungry and return in the evening full” (at-Tirmidhi). Even our dua should be affected by forces of nature. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Two prayers (dua) are not rejected: the dua when the call to prayer (athan) is made and the dua made when it rains” (Mustadrak Al-Hakim). If you live in a rainy climate, imagine how many powerful and meaningful supplications you can make!
When the tedium and stress of our lives are weighing us down, nature can be our place of refuge and connection with our Lord. A Muslim must always try to keep a healthy perspective about this life’s trials. Difficulties are inevitable and can even be a source of blessings if we remember to be patient. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him; and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Muslim). No matter where we live and what kind of climate we encounter, we can appreciate Allah and grow closer to Him SWT through our contemplation of the beauty around us. The sunrise and sunset, the moon and stars, the tree branches that bow in submission — all are products of His incomparable creative power. They all submit to His perfect plan. In the beauty of nature let us find the solace and inspiration we need to grow closer to our Rabb and endure the trials of this dunya. Ameen.