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The Future that Is Our Present

Any good story whether told in a book or portrayed on screen usually follows the same pattern. As the backdrop is set up, the protagonist is introduced. An obstacle is then thrown his or her way, which he or she spends the bulk of the plot tackling. More often than not, failure ensues and the lead character hits a low point. We, readers and viewers, root for him or her to be strong and do what needs to be done. And for a satisfying ending, most authors and directors give us that—a tale of triumph.

Why isn't life so neat, though? Why don't we hear that certain music cue? Or witness that dramatic encounter that changes the entire game? We're always guessing, wondering where we went wrong and why our experiences are so anticlimactic. We stumble unaware into unpleasant situations, then decry, in our unique, juvenile way, the end of the world, or our lives, as we know it.

We almost wish for a premonition of sorts. We want to take a glimpse into our future—to see better times ahead to give us hope, or to spy troubles that lurk, so we can be cautious beforehand. We think if we somehow could see ourselves some years from now, we would be more able to understand where we are today. After all, we're young, with our whole lives ahead of us. We could use some hints on what's in store.

That, then, takes many of us to the doorstep or website—of psychics and fortunetellers. Of course, we claim it's just for fun and insist that reading horoscopes daily is more a habit than serious inquiry.

As for our elders’ response? Truth be told, there doesn’t seem to be any. They believe it’s harmless if we dabble in astrology. For them, it's a phase we’ll grow out of once we realize life is much more complicated than can be predicted by someone with a crystal ball or by weird talismans. And, maybe, we will. But, until then, how can the severity of this matter escape them?

The Prophet Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) yarns us that if we simply approach a fortuneteller—even with no intention of accepting what we are told as true—our “prayers will not be accepted for forty nights” [Muslim]. And, if, for even the tiniest of moments, we rejoice, or are saddened or spooked, because of some psychic readings, then we have believed in them and “disbelieved in what was revealed upon Muhammad” [Ahmad].

This cannot be taken lightly, by us or our elders. In fact, if we take this a little further, what future is it that we so much seek to know? Does it include where we will go once our time here is over. Are we desperate to find out if it will be Paradise for-ever and ever, or eternal Hell? Is that something we even care about, or are we so sure of a wonderful fate on the Last Day? We have so engrossed ourselves with this life and awareness of every aspect of it, however hidden, forbidden, and unseen, that we have forgotten the next one. As Allah says: “They know what is apparent of the worldly he, but of the Hereafter, they are unaware.” [Quran 30:7]

There is no doubt that life is strange. It gives us no clues and expects us to play along and improvise. And, if we err, there is no audience to shed a tear for us, as the weak-hearted in theaters often do. We seem to be the puppeteers, puppets, and spectators of our own show.

It may be the enormity of this that is also behind our penchant for knowing the future, then, not just sheer boredom and utter curiosity. Our apprehensiveness of the unknown has led us to see it as a bur-den, instead of the beautiful thing that it represents free will granted to us by our Creator. But self-doubt plagues us. So we would rather "divine" the possibility of us achieving great things, and if, in the end, our struggles are worth it.

And yet, our entire life is a test. We don't get a dry run or a cheat sheet. Neither can horoscopes or psychics accord us those. What we need, instead of sneak peeks of a good life, is for our elders to show us in practice how it is achieved. And, in the process, help us realize that it is not our future we need to worry or ask about, but rather our current doings. For “no soul perceives what it will earn tomorrow” [Quran 31:34], but “let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow.” [Quran 59:18].

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