Happy 20th anniversary to the first HP film! The films are sort of terrible, but that’s okay!
A warning, dear reader, before you begin: if the first sentence of this post sets alarm bells ringing in your head, don’t read any further. *Dua is the Arabic word used to define any form of personalized prayer, like, “God, please bless me with self awareness when I’m feeling upset.”
I came to think of casting spells in the Harry Potter universe as making dua, or praying, for certain things to happen a few years ago, thanks to the awesome podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. It was during a reflection on a moment of the third book in which Harry has travelled back in time and is mistakenly waiting for his father to rescue him, Sirius, and Hermioe from a huge dementor attack at the lake. It takes nearly everything out of Harry in order to cast the patronus, especially in that moment in which he is surrounded by incredible numbers of dementors and is facing vast layers of emotional turmoil: the disappointment of not seeing his father, potentially losing his godfather and the life he imagined living with him, and the fear and uncertainty of what lies ahead after letting Wormtail escape back to Lord Voldermort. The dementors are physical enemies of Harry and Sirius, but they are also symbolic of depression, the mental health issue, which points at the layers of the mental and emotional agony that Harry faces as his biggest obstacles obstructing his ability to successfully cast a patronus charm. Even before I had reflected deeply on this scene in the book, the patronus charm has always been my favorite spell in the Harry Potter books and the one that I find most captivating to learn about since the reader directly experiences learning the spell with Harry as an involved process. To top it all off, the patronus itself has a highly personal form unique to the person who cast it. The most perplexing aspect of the spell is that it only works when the magical person casting the charm can connect to a memory of intense positivity or happiness, almost tricking themselves into being able to push the light of their memory into a physical manifestation that charges around and wards the dementors away. I would nerd out about all of the ways in which I can’t get enough of this spell, but I’ll refrain since this isn’t a Harry Potter fan website. Simply put, this spell is so far from the norm of the other spells in the books, it’s no wonder I’m fascinated with it.
Back to the bit about spells being like duas–please don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying that a magic spell is a dua or that a dua works like a magic spell. During my reflection, I realized that the magical folk in the book use their hands, utter a word or two, and believe and hope that the magic will happen after they’ve put in their effort to cast the spell. Similarly, when we make dua, we might use our hands in a gesture of supplication, we utter a few words which are sometimes pre-scripted if they’re from a narration of sorts, and we believe in Allah and sincerely hope that our prayers will be answered. There’s a huge range of spells; some spells are easy to cast, some take work, and some are incredibly challenging and nearly impossible given the circumstances. I think the same thing goes for praying, as well, at least in my personal experience. Generally, the characters have quite an easy time casting spells, once they’ve learned or practiced them enough. Under great duress, many times spells just shoot out of the characters’ wands reflexively (Stupefy! Expelliarmus!). But in a handful of circumstances in which a character is emotionally or mentally destroyed, spells are often exceedingly difficult or impossible to cast. I’m thinking of the dementor attack by the lake in the third book and the moment in the fifth book in which Molly Weasley is incapable of casting a spell to get rid of a boggart she has chanced upon because it is taking the form of her greatest fear–losing all of her family members in the war against Lord Voldermort. The times when the spells fail, or nearly fail, is what I am most interested in when it comes to making dua–or the “Expecto Patronum Dua,” as I’ve named it.
The Expecto Patronum Dua is the prayer a person makes when they are feeling mentally and/or emotionally wrecked and feeling disconnected from their optimistic belief and hope in the “magic” of their connection with Allah. It’s when saying a prayer is so taxing that it leaves a person drained and exhausted in every way–physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. This is the type of prayer that a person has to force themselves into their “happy place” to make, relying on a memory or experience they had when Allah was there for them in a significant, earth-shattering way. The prayer is drawn out of a positive source that is a true fact of their own life, so that the person relies on a moment when they felt bathed in Allah’s presence to the point that it warmed their bones. The Expecto Patronum Dua is a tool that a person can use when they feel like they’re not in a good enough place to be praying because things seem so hopeless and bleak. It’s when there are a hundred dementors closing in and there’s just too much other stuff going on in and around them at that moment. That’s when it can help to force oneself to remember a positive experience that temporarily transports them out of the fog they’re stuck in to call on the One and Only Being who can swoop in and help in whatever way His Divine Wisdom knows is best.
I know, being in that state sounds impossibly difficult, and maybe even just plain impossible to some of us. How can a person be so down that they don’t turn to Allah instinctively and naturally, spells, er–prayers gushing out of them like water? If making dua when you’re feeling utterly broken has always been easy for you, I want to say that I am so in awe of your spirituality, positivity, and connection with Allah–and maybe that’s just something you’ve been blessed with. But for those of us who know what this situation feels like and who have been there–it’s okay. And if, and when, it happens again, remember: think of a wonderful moment in which Allah touched you, allow the memory to fill yourself with light until you can muster up the power to say, Allah, help. How that dua manifests itself after that is up to the Will of Allah.