An Excellent Teacher in an Optimist
By Rafi M. Ali, M.D.
Director of DarusSalam Seminary’s Tadrīs Integrated High School Program
In times when it is fashionable to be “jaded,” an optimist is an outcast. From time to time, because of an optimistic outlook on things, I have been charged as being a simpleton pseudo-philosopher divorced from understanding the practical necessities of life. This charge usually comes after an observation of my conspicuous inability to express the obvious without burdening it with the obtuse. A befuddled, cluttered imagination borne from too much book learning is the curse of higher education.
Pessimism dissipates with deep reflection. The trouble is, not everyone wishes to think deeply. The extreme pragmatics, who often employ preemptive mockery as a distraction, are threatened by the thought of the burden of thought. What distinguishes man from beasts if not thought? A life without the nobility of ideals is the life of a rodent scurrying in the dark alleys of history.
Some find it increasingly difficult to be optimistic in our times. Pessimists flourish when their senses are assaulted with all things negative without the advantage of a positive thought framework. When Allāh announced to the angels His intentions of a vicegerent for earth, their reply was a succinct summary of their perception of what would be the human story, “Will You place thereupon one who will spread corruption therein, and who, (moreover), will shed blood, while we ever exalt You with all praise and hallow You?” Corruption and bloodshed abound — pessimists would agree. But Allāh ’s response suggests more than what is superficially apparent, “Indeed, I know what you do not know.” The scum of human events captures the masses’ imagination. Abundant good, the thread of the fabric of society, which cushions the daily lives of people rarely makes the news. Our focus determines our perception of reality.
Optimism is the natural state of a believer. For indeed, we are promised that after every difficulty, there is ease. Optimism and teaching must be synonymous. Pessimism is a poison to the soul that saps energy and can derail a student’s education by a cascade of unfortunate events that might have been avoided by a more cheerful disposition. No teacher can afford to be a pessimist. Besides, optimists have more fun! Indeed, not all those who wander are lost.
إن مع العسر يسرا
“Indeed, with hardship, comes ease” (Qur’an, 94:6). 
. Aḥmad Zakī Ḥammād, The Gracious Quran: A Modern-Phrased Interpretation in English (Lisle, IL: Lucent Interpretations, 2009), 9.
. Ḥammād, 9.
. Ḥammād, 1050.