A blank page stared at me from the monitor. Thoughts pounded as they raced to put words together. Twenty-six little building blocks were set to construct, but the alphabet refused to fall in place for a blasted paper. I smacked the keyboard and buried my face in my sweaty hands.
I wanted to smoke.
I directed myself away from the thought, lifting my head as I took a deep breath. I had promised to quit. After attending a few Islamic conferences, listening to various CDs, and spending time at the Masjid, I finalized my intention to reform. For the tranquility of Islam to enter my life, I needed to keep every cigarette in the trash and away from me. The first three weeks after giving up this habit were easy. But now, a heavy grey fog suffocated me. I needed to get away from the stress, the ever-increasing tick tock of the clock, and the mocking blank screen. I wanted to forget my troubles and smoke. Just one should be harmless, right?
No, I should know better. I opened my email and scrolled through the inbox. Hoping to distract myself, I opened something a brother sent not too long ago. It mentioned the story of a scholar testing his students. He instructed them to take a bird and kill it without anyone witnessing their act. All but one student left. When the student was asked why he remained, he said:
“Even if I kill this bird by hiding from you and my brothers, where do I hide from Allah?”
I sped through the story, but it didn’t help much. I closed my tired eyes and rested on my arms. After some time, sleep came.
“I.D., please,” the store clerk requested.
I took out my license and allowed the man to check my age. With a nod, he gave me the bag containing a box of cigarettes and a lighter. It was a cold night, so I thought of lighting one up outside the nearby deli. People in the neighborhood should be sleeping. No brothers would be outside to see me smoking.
A cigarette glowed alive at one end as I placed it in my mouth. A sense of euphoria came as familiar, welcoming fumes filled my lungs. I’m human and every human makes mistakes, it was alright. After convincing myself to overlook this night, I tried to exhale.
The smoke wouldn’t come out.
My eyes widened. Something was wrong. I clutched my throat and collapsed on my knees, as a burning pain erupted inside of me. I wanted to cry but my mouth wouldn’t open. I turned around to face the deli, but the clerk was oblivious to my condition. The concrete began to boil, melting my knees like wax. Flames clawed and crackled as they ate away my viscera. No one was there to help. I was alone. Soon, I saw my surroundings engulfed in fire, turning my world into a punishing inferno.
I woke up with a gasp. Sweat ran down from my brows. It was a dream, but my chest felt pain. I looked at the time. 12:17 AM. I wiped the moisture away as I thought about smoking.
Even if I’m alone, I’m still being watched. If no one is there, Allah never goes away. And if a moment of happiness could cost an eternity of pain, then I am willing to sacrifice for a moment of struggle. If my Lord has mercy upon me, then the moment of struggle can lead to an eternity of happiness. Smoking isn’t worth eating fire. With Allah in my mind and my desire pinned, I began to write.
“And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein.” (Surah Qaf 50:16)