After having spent the last few days in Srebrenica with two individuals who lost everything to the genocide in 1995, one thing I know for certain about Bosnians is that they hold a firm and powerful belief in destiny. This belief pervades their experiences and inevitably seems to lead to a sort of acceptance of one’s circumstances. That the destiny they believe in resides in the power of Allah is counterintuitive, given the way in which Islam is portrayed in the Western world. Such a generous, accepting, humble religion is hardly recognizable as what we perceive to be “Islam.” It is both surprising and refreshing to have the general American perspective so challenged by every interaction with the Muslims that I have met here.
Something that is particularly striking about destiny as Saliha and Hassan described it is the way in which this belief has allowed them to continue the process of healing from all that they lost 20 years ago. Their belief in Allah and his power is stated matter-of-factly, as if they could never consider another way of looking at their lives and the world around them. Subsequently, they describe a level of radical acceptance of self, as well as an acceptance of a forgiveness towards others, that is rare to find in most Western societies that I’ve experienced. Because of their unerring belief in destiny, Saliha and Hassan do not hold on to anger at the perpetrators of crimes against them and their families, nor do they grasp on to any fantasies of revenge to serve their own need for justice. They trust that Allah will provide the ultimate justice; that “everything is temporary;” that in the end the guilty are justly punished and the innocent are justly rewarded. They have no delusions about their relative lack of power to bring powerful individuals to justice, and so must put their faith in their God in order to go on living in the face of pervasive and deep loss.
Without anger, many of us would be left impotent to our feelings of grief and loss. Saliha and Hassan, however, demonstrate an awareness of and presence with their grief that is staggering both in its sadness and its strength. Neither can speak of their experiences in 1995 without becoming overwhelmed with emotion (and rightfully so), yet both face each day with the courage to fully acknowledge and feel their pain. In this way, they have learned to effectively move forward in their lives while not having to suppress an insurmountable amount of pain. It was clear from both Saliha and Hassan’s stories that their pain was very present in their daily lives. Still, they find the strength from their faith to move forward, fully experiencing their pain, not pushing it away. John Kabat-Zinn, the Zen teacher, calls this “full catastrophe living.” Buddhism calls it acceptance. Islam, I now know, calls it destiny. This yet is another contradiction to traditional Western grief, in which it is assumed that “time heals all wounds,” and eventually there will be a “time to move on.” Acceptance in America means that we can be free from our pain. We strive with all our might, sometimes for our entire lives, to be free of the discomfort that comes from inevitable loss. Some pain, though, can never be let go, should never be let go. Saliha and Hassan understand this, live it every day, and will serve as examples to me of how to relate to my pain going forward: Let it in. Feel it as it arises, be grateful when it ebbs. And move forward with the knowledge that everything– every sensation, every relationship, even our lives themselves – is temporary.