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Constant Sins & Repentance: Pearls from the Sunnah (#1)

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Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said,

“There is no believing slave [of Allah] except that he has a sin that he continually commits, from time to time, or a sin that he constantly does – it never leaves him until he leaves this world. Verily, the believer is created muftannan, tawwaban, nassaa`an – when he is reminded, he remembers.”

The Takhreej of the Hadeeth
The hadeeth is reported in the al-Mu`jam al-Kabeer of Abul Qasim Sulayman b. Ahmad b. Ayyub al-Tabarani (d. 360 A.H.).
Al-Tabarani was one of the last of the great huffadh (memorizers of hadeeth). He lived an extremely long life, dying a centenarian. Hence, in his later years, he could narrate ahadeeth from scholars who died a generation earlier than most of the other scholars of his time could narrate from. He wrote three famous works, all of them entitled al-Mu`jam (meaning: a book of hadeeth where the hadeeth are arranged according to the names of the Companions who narrated the hadeeth, or the teachers whom the author narrated the ahadeeth from). The largest of these three was called al-Mu`jam al-Kabeer, the middle one al-Mu`jam al-Awsat, and the smallest (not surprisingly) al-Mu`jam al-Sagheer. The most famous of these is the largest one – in its sole printed edition (edited by the great scholar Hamdi Abd al-Majeed al-Salafi), the number of ahadeeth is 21547. This edition utilized a manuscript that had three entire volumes missing (volumes 13 to 16), hence the printed work is incomplete, and no known complete manuscripts exist.
This makes al-Mu`jam al-Kabeer one of the largest collections of hadeeth in print. Al-Tabarani tried to narrate as many ahadeeth from each Companion that he could find, and in many cases he also narrated biographical information about them. Hence this work is an important treasure trove for information about the Companions of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam.

An Explanation of the Hadeeth
This hadeeth is a ray of light and a source of optimism for the believer. For there is no single believer amongst us who is perfect – how can he be, when perfection is for Allah alone? And there is no believer amongst us who is sinless, for it is only the angels who are sinless. In this hadeeth, the beloved Rasul salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam is reminding us that there will be sins that a believer does – notice that he called such a person a mu`min, a true believer, despite these sins. Furthermore, he pointed out that it is possible that a servant is tested with a particular sin that he has become addicted to, a sin that he continuously does until he dies.

The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam then described such a believer with three characteristics, and stated that the believer has been created with them. Hence, to have these three characteristics is a sign of a true believer.

The first of them is that he is muftan, meaning he will be tried and tested. The implication from this description is that the believer has been created in order to be tried and tested, and of the ways he is tried and tested is through sins.
Trials and tribulations are of many types, some of them are worldly, others spiritual; some of them deal with physical pain, others cause mental anguish; some of them are losses of this material world, to see how patient we are, others are gains and blessings given to us, to see how we use them. In all cases, such fitan – such trials and tribulations – should draw us closer to Allah. Even if a sin has occurred, the true believer uses this sin to come closer to Allah.
But how can a sin be used to draw nearer to the very One whom he has disobeyed?
Through the act of repentance, tawbah. Hence, the next description given is that the believer is tawwab, meaning that he repents continuously, repeatedly, relentlessly. The believer does not become discouraged due to the quantity of sins that he commits, because he realizes that Allah’s mercy is infinite and limitless. The true mu`min is not demoralized by his past habits, but rather inspirited and uplifted by hopes of a grander future. The believer always remembers the encouraging words from his beloved Rasul salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam who said, “The one who repents from a sin is like one who has not committed it in the first place” (Reported by Ibn Majah in his Sunan). Thus, this second description given to the believer shows that the believer will always repent from his sins, regardless of how many times he has done other sins, or even this very sin, before the repentance.
The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam then gave the third and final description of the believer, that he is nassaa`a, meaning that he continually forgets and relapses. Thus, the believer becomes heedless of the commandments of Allah, oblivious to the realities of the afterlife, and, when tempted by what he perceives to be a pleasing and sweet deed, falls prey to the seductions of Shaytan, and swallows that poisonous sweet. But as soon as the deed has been committed, and the outer layer of sweetness dissolves, it is followed up by the bitter aftertaste of the poison and pollutant that he has just ingested.

But not all hope is lost, for all such deeds can be undone, once again through repentance – that greatest gift of Allah to the sinners! The believer feels this guilt, and all that is needed is a prodding, perhaps he hears a verse being recited, or attends a lecture that stirs him, or listens to a khutbah that reminds him of his spiritual bankruptcy. So, ‘…when he is reminded, he remembers’, because he has an inner core of good, a repository of taqwa that need only be exposed and brought out in order to cause this change in him.

And so the believer is ever in a cycle – an perpetual, never-ending cycle – of committing sins, and then repenting, and then falling headless and committing sins again, only to be reminded of his purpose in life, after which he will repent, and fall into thoughtlessness once again, only to be prodded into action and good behavior…

So the cycle of life continues, and it is this life that characterizes the life of the believer, for the believer repents and strives to attain perfection, whereas the fasiq or hypocrite commits the same sins or worse, and cares little to better his situation.

What separates the mu`min from the fasiq is not the sin – both Adam and Iblees disobeyed Allah – but the reaction to the sin. Adam repented, and became beloved once again to Allah; Iblees obstinately persisted, and become the most accursed creation of Allah.

The battle of the believer is a never-ending one. He will perpetually fall into sins, but as long as he perpetually repents, and is reminded by the Speech of Allah and His Messenger, he is still a believer, and will continue to remain a believer, until he dies.

Always remember those uplifting words of the Basheer whom Allah sent to us, “Whoever is pleased with his good deeds, and saddened by his evil deeds, is indeed a mu`min” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi in his al-Jami).

May Allah grant us all Iman and taqwa, and bless us to be amongst those who, when tested, are patient, and when blessed, are thankful, and when sinful, are repentant. Ameen!

Sh. Dr. Yasir Qadhi is someone that believes that one's life should be judged by more than just academic degrees and scholastic accomplishments. Friends and foe alike acknowledge that one of his main weaknesses is ice-cream, which he seems to enjoy with a rather sinister passion. The highlight of his day is twirling his little girl (a.k.a. "my little princess") round and round in the air and watching her squeal with joy. A few tid-bits from his mundane life: Sh. Yasir has a Bachelors in Hadith and a Masters in Theology from Islamic University of Madinah, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Yale University. He is an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center.

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. ibnabeeomar

    ibnabeeomar

    April 4, 2007 at 12:37 AM

    jazakAllahu khayr that was a very nice read. according to the definition of mu’jam then is musnad imam ahmed also considered a mu’jam work (or ever referred to as such by the scholars of hadith)?

  2. Amad

    Amad

    April 4, 2007 at 9:01 AM

    JazakAllah khair Sh. Yasir… I am amazed at the specificity in the hadith. Correct me if I am wrong, but the hadith seems to be referring particular sins that particular people are more prone to. So, on the spectrum of sins, some of us may be inclined towards music, others may be inclined towards alcohol, yet others may be inclined towards women. And what I mean by inclination in this context is the obsessive inclination, a strong fitna within the heart that yearns for this particular sin.

    As the Prophet (S) defined women as the biggest fitnah (trial) for men, this hadith gives hope– that you may falter, but you are not doomed. On the flip side, dare I say that perhaps there are people who are inclined towards the grave sin of homosexuality, and it is in this fitna that Allah continually tests them. So, if there are men who have feelings for other men (or women for women), as unnatural we may feel this is, then their fitan is in how they protect and prevent themselves from engaging in these forbidden desires.

    May Allah keep us among the tawabban (those who repent)…

  3. Avatar

    Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    April 4, 2007 at 11:46 AM

    What a beautiful reminder.

    Jazzak Allaahu Khayr Shaykh Yasir.

  4. Avatar

    Moiez

    April 4, 2007 at 12:54 PM

    Subhanallah, this makes me feel very happy. Jazakallah Khair. But I have a question though, isnt it true that if a person persistently does a bad deed and even though he repents he goes and does it again. I heard that, that wont be forgiven. Is this a contradiction? I hope I made some sense if not Ill try to explain differently.

  5. Avatar

    AnonyMouse

    April 4, 2007 at 1:06 PM

    Ameeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnnn!!!!!!!

    JazakAllahu khair for this wonderful soothing balm upon the soul… it is something that we may take comfort in and draw hope from (and boy, do we need it!), al-Hamdulillaah!

  6. Avatar

    Medinah

    April 4, 2007 at 4:30 PM

    Assalamu Alaikum,
    Mashallah, very beneficial, may we all benefit inshallah. Jazakallahu Khairan!

  7. Avatar

    Al Musaafir

    April 4, 2007 at 6:32 PM

    Assalamu Alaikum Sh. Yasir,

    That was truly very beneficial, a true pearl of many from the Sunnah. Jazakallah Khayr!

  8. Avatar

    Yasir Qadhi

    April 4, 2007 at 10:15 PM

    Amad – yes that is the primary reference in the hadeeth, that each person, without exception, has a specific weakness that he/she finds it difficult to totally abandon. So they end up battling that problem as long as they live, and this battle is a demonstration of Iman in itself.

    Moiez – if a person sincerely repents, his sin will be forgiven. Sincere repentance includes the intention never to return to that sin; however only Allah knows the future, and it is possible that a person will intend not to return to that sin but will eventually fall into it. So he will repent again, and again, and again….
    Some scholars say that any habitual minor sin becomes a major sin; what is meant by this is a minor sin that a person commits without the intention of repenting. Thus there is a feeling of carelessnes about the sin, and this feeling in itself is a sign of a lack of Iman.

  9. Avatar

    Moiez

    April 4, 2007 at 11:20 PM

    Jazakallah Khair

  10. Avatar

    BintMuhammed

    April 5, 2007 at 12:02 AM

    Ameeeeeen! JazakaAllah khair for the enormous reminder. Continous repentance helps us remember our Rabb, and in remembering Him do our hearts find ease.

  11. Avatar

    bint Bashir

    April 5, 2007 at 3:24 AM

    May Allah SWT make us all amongst those who continuously repent, for we are in ever need of the mercy of Allah.

    JazakAllah Khair Sheikh for a wonderful reminder, May Allah SWT grant you and all of us the blessings of being a mu`min, Ameen.

  12. Avatar

    Kamal

    April 5, 2007 at 5:46 PM

    Salam 3alaykum,

    It is these beautiful Hadiths that touch the heart and silence the shaytan. I wish I’d heard more of them when I was growing up as opposed to the harsh threatening approach of other scholars that have done nothing but to repel me from religion.

    Thanks once more, may Allah give you the appropriate Jazaa.

  13. Avatar

    Chihab

    April 7, 2007 at 12:15 PM

    Can someone clarify the hadith a bit further: It is comforting to know that God forgives sin but does the hadith also say that such propensity is built-in to us? Whether it be directly or as an indirect product of free will that God must have known would come about as a consequence?

    I am confused. Does God help us through sins that he programmed us to do? He is more powerful than the devil and our autonomous free will but allows these two to take course with us. Sounds like the original sin concept of Christianity. Is this a philosophy that both our religions share- in slightly different forms?

    Please help with an explanation.

  14. Avatar

    Chihab B

    April 7, 2007 at 7:22 PM

    Another point if I may: Is there anything wrong with believing in a God who is omnipotent, omniscient but not omnibenevolent?

    In other words we believe in a just God but justice necessitates being kind to some and cruel to others who deserve it. So I assume it is not blasphemous to say that since God is just it entails he is not omnibenevolent as not all creation is worthy of such benevolence.

    The reason why I bring this up is because I was bemused by an article on the existence of evil (not the type that comes about from free will but the type that comes with nature).

    The philosopher is happy to conclude that evil can not exist in the province of a totally benevolent God. I see his point but I think benevolence is a term we loosely associate with the God we worship.

    I may need to explain myself further if my point did not come across but I don’t want to be too lengthy.

  15. Amad

    Amad

    April 11, 2007 at 9:09 PM

    Br. Chihab, let me take a stab at answering some of your questions…

    First of all, there is a huge difference between the concept of original sin and the propensity to sin. Original sin implies that the new born baby comes out of the womb of his mother already sinful. A Muslim on the other hand is 100% pure and sinless when born, or when he reverts to Islam.

    As for propensity of sin, this goes to the fact that man is built with desires for certain things like food, intimacy, etc. And every desire that man has, Allah has provided a halal/permissible route to fulfill it. So, there is halal food to eat, there are wives and husbands to enjoy intimacy with, etc. It is only when, out of your own free-will, you choose to divert these desires into the haraam/forbidden. If these desires did not exist, then there would be no test for mankind, and there would be no discrimination between the righteous and the sinful.

    As for Allah’s Benevolence, we know that Allah is the Most Merciful and the Most Beneficent. These are His greatest attributes. At the same time, we know that Allah does get angry with the disbelievers and with the sinners. So, that too is His attribute. However, His Mercy supersedes His Wrath:

    The Prophet said, “When Allah created the creatures, He wrote in the Book, which is with Him over His Throne: “Verily, My Mercy prevailed over My Wrath.”
    (Al-Bukhari)

    He also said, “Allah has divided mercy into 100 parts, and He retained with Him 99 parts, and sent down to earth 1 part. Through this one part creatures deal with one another with compassion, so much so that an animal lifts its hoof over its young lest it should hurt it.” (Al-Bukhari).

    This article on islamonline.net has more ahadith and Quranic verses on the Mercy of Allah. Hope this clarifies inshallah.

  16. Avatar

    ADENIYI ADEGBENRO

    April 15, 2007 at 9:45 AM

    Kindly teach me how I can be getting regular supply of your handouts. This is the first issue that I have ever seen and its very educative.
    Jarzakallahu khaeran.

  17. ibnabeeomar

    ibnabeeomar

    April 15, 2007 at 12:15 PM

    you can get regular updates by subscribing via email here:

    http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/emailverifySubmit?feedId=770199

    every time a new post is made on the site inshallah you will get notification.
    jazakAllahu khayr

  18. Avatar

    Moin Shaikh

    April 16, 2007 at 1:07 AM

    Alhamdulillah!!!

    May Allah Taala guide all momins and give us the a firm hold on the Rope of Allah..Ameen

  19. Avatar

    Abdelrahman Issa

    April 20, 2007 at 10:56 PM

    wow that’s cool.

    So a man who is addicted to a minor sin, gets counted as a major sinner?

  20. Avatar

    Faiez

    June 4, 2007 at 4:10 PM

    Good stuff, jazakAllahu khair Shaykh Yasir.

  21. Avatar

    tayyibah

    August 9, 2007 at 12:25 PM

    Salamalaykum warahmatullah,

    may Allaah reward you very very much and grant you Jannat al-Firdaws.

  22. Avatar

    Ali

    November 30, 2007 at 6:18 AM

    Ameen

  23. Avatar

    Muslimah

    May 30, 2008 at 8:23 PM

    Ma sha Allah, Amazing article – one of MM’s best.
    Jazakum Allahu khayran.

  24. Pingback: Pornography Addiction Among Muslims (Stories & Tips) | MuslimMatters.org

  25. Avatar

    Umm Abdullah

    June 19, 2008 at 1:31 PM

    Salam shaikh yasir,

    After reading this article and many others on tawbah, it almost feels like that there is a strong pull towards committing sin (not major but minor) so I can be able to repent. Not to say that I am completely sinless but let’s say that alhamdullilah not into any major sins (at least not knowingly and intentionally) and Allah knows best.

    So which slave is better, the one who fights temptations and resists sins, or the one who gives in (feeling guilty while committing sin) but returns immediately to repent to Allah?

    An answer will be highly appreciated.

  26. Avatar

    zaman

    July 4, 2008 at 9:22 AM

    is the hadith saheeh?

    plz give some reference mentioning from early scholars who graded it sahih or hasan?

    if it possible plz give some explanation from early scholars?

  27. Avatar

    Maheen

    August 17, 2008 at 10:29 AM

    Jazakallahu khairen for this article. Understanding such ahadith simply overwhelm the heart–how merciful is Allah!

  28. Avatar

    Mariam

    September 25, 2008 at 4:59 AM

    Does this Hadith apply to all major sins

  29. Avatar

    Mariam

    September 25, 2008 at 5:45 AM

    Does this apply to a major sin if committed

  30. Pingback: Quran Weekly » Al-Anaam 6:12

  31. Avatar

    Renfeer

    September 15, 2009 at 3:19 AM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    This came at the right time when i needed it the most…one proof for me that God responses and does not forsakes His slaves…..fa lillaahil hamd

    The first time i read this hadees was from a book written by Shaykh Halabi [40 hadees on Islamic Personality] and it did console me for some while but the traps of Shaytaan were so cunning that the accursed one made this very hadees the pretext to sink me deeper into disobedience.

    However, this morning i would have almost slipped had it not been for this hadees which just blinked into my conscience. Tired & exhausted at the end of this spiritual warfare i just wanted an explanation for this hadees. And i remember the starting words of this hadees to its precision: “THERE IS NO BELIEVING SLAVE EXCEPT THAT HE HAS A SIN…..” and the moment i typed these words into Yahoo search, Lo! this page was the first result………

    Nothing more can be added to those words of truth which came from the True one and our brother has done well in explaining it especially with regards to the sequence of words that came in the hadees.

    It would be highly appreciated if anyone can come forward with the ARABIC SCRIPT so that those words of our Beloved resonates within our hearts…..I presume it must be starting something like this “Maa min abdin mu’minin illa wa lahu zanbun…..”

    Hoping for an immediate response……respond to the creation & The Creator responds to you – follow the Golden Rule :-)

    Was-Salaam

  32. Avatar

    Wayfarer

    October 18, 2009 at 1:56 AM

    Allaaah.. That was beautiful and very hope-inspiring. JazakumAllahu khair.

  33. Avatar

    Nadeem

    July 8, 2011 at 6:32 PM

    Thanks brother Yasir.
    May Allah guide all of us to the right path,ameen

  34. Avatar

    Perdana Karim

    May 16, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    these beautiful words have uplift my sorrowness
    and bring optimism for a better tomorrow

  35. Avatar

    Salman

    May 17, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    Although, i am not an authority on the beautiful Ahadith-e-Rasool (SAW) but I can think of a simple scenario where this hadith can easily lead people somewhat astray:
    e.g. It would give a perfect reason to a bribe-giver in Pakistan to continue giving bribes and also to a bribe-taker to keep on taking it, as long as they go back home every day and with a sincere heart apologize to God for their wrong act. And then they proceed with their routine evil the next day. They can very well justify taking or giving bribes e.g. b/c their salary is not sufficient to feed their children etc.
    However, this is in contradiction to other more authentic hadith of the Prophet (SAW), e.g.:
    Abdullah bin Amr (RA) narrated: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) cursed the one who bribes and the one who takes bribe.
    (Hadith No. 1337, Chapters on Judgements, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 3).
    Moreover, Ghalib had also addressed the phenomenon supported by the above hadith in the following couplet:
    “Raat bhar pi, subah toba kar li,
    Rind ke rind rahey, Jannat bhi na gayi”
    Hence, I am forced to question the authenticity of above hadith in the light of the Islam’s true teachings, and I feel that such views might ultimately result in the decay of a society.
    Under the light of above hadith, wrong-doers would begin to go unchecked and unpunished because they would claim to have repented to Allah and of being a true believer, while they continue to commit sins. The system of morals, ethics, and justice would ultimately perish.
    Allah is no doubt most forgiving and most merciful and forgives him/her who repents from heart (Taubatan Nasuha) and do not commit or insist on sin again and again, because Allah is first and foremost an Aadil, Just.

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#Islam

The Day I Die | Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar Suleiman

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Janazah, funeral, legacy, Omar Suleiman, Edhi

Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (may Allah be pleased with him) in the midst of the torture he endured at the hands of his oppressors used to say: baynana wa baynahum aljanaa’iz, which means, “the difference between us and them will show in our funerals.” The man who instigated the ideological deviation that led to his torture was an appointed judge named Ahmad Ibn Abi Du’ad. At the moment of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal making those remarks, it appeared Imam Ahmad would die disgraced in a dungeon but Ahmad Ibn Abi Du’ad would have a state funeral with thousands of mourners. Instead, Imam Ahmad persevered through his struggle, was embraced by the people, and honored by Allah with the biggest Janazah ever known to the Arabs with millions of people pouring in from all over. Ahmad Ibn Abu Du’ad was cast aside and buried without anyone attending his janazah out of revulsion.

Now sometimes righteous people do die in isolation, and wicked people are given grand exits. There are people like Uthman Ibn Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) who was murdered by the people of fitnah, then buried at night far away from the people out of fear of the large numbers that would’ve poured out to his janazah and potentially mobilized against his oppressors. But it may be that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)  inspired Imam Ahmad with the vision to see his victory in this life before the next. To elaborate a bit on his statement though, allow me to reflect:

A wise man once said to me,

“Always put your funeral in front of you, and work backwards in constructing your life accordingly.” 

With the deaths of righteous people, that advice always advances to the front of my thoughts. When a person passes away, typically only good things will be said of them. But it’s important to pay attention to 2 aspects about those good things being said:

1. Is there congruence in the particular good quality being attested to about the deceased.

2. Are those good qualities being attested to actually truly of the deceased. 

The first one deals with consistency of character, the second one with sincerity of intention which is only known by the Creator and His servant. In regards to the first one, take our sister Hodan Nalayeh (may Allah have mercy on her) who was murdered tragically last week in a terrorist attack in Somalia. Everyone that spoke of her said practically the same thing about how she interacted with them and/or benefitted them. There is complete harmony with all of the testimonies about her. And in that case we all become the witnesses of our sister on the day of judgment, testifying to her good character.

For many that pass away, neither the deceased nor the community fully appreciates the way they benefitted others until that day. It was narrated that when Zainul Abideen Ali Ibn Al Husayn (may Allah be pleased with them), the great grandson of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) passed away, he had marks on his shoulders from the bags he used to carry to the doorsteps of the poor at night when no one else was watching. The narrations state that the people of Madinah used to live off his charity not knowing the source of it until his death.

How many people will miss you when you die because of the joy you brought to their lives? How many of those that you comforted when they were abandoned by others? That you spent on when they were deprived by others? That you advocated for when they were oppressed by others? 

Will your family miss you because of an empty bed in the home or a deep void in their hearts? Will it be the loss of your spending only that grieves them, or the loss of your smile? Will it be the loss of the stability you provided them only, or the loss of your service and sacrifices for them?

But Zainul Abideen didn’t care for the recipients of his charity to know that he was the source of it, because He was fully in tune with it’s true Divine source. He didn’t want to be thanked in this world, but in the next. He didn’t want the eulogy, he wanted Eternity. 

He understood that if you become distracted by the allure of this world, you may merely become of it. Focus on bettering the future which you cannot escape, rather than the present that you cannot dictate. Focus on the interview with the One who needs no resume, rather than the judgments of those who are just as disposable as you. 

اللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْ خَيْرَ زَمَانِيْ آخِرَهُ، وَخَيْرَ عَمَلِيْ خَوَاتِمَهُ، وَخَيْرَ أَيَّامِيْ يِوْمَ أَلقَاكَ

“O Allah, let the best of my lifetime be its ending, and my best deed be that which I seal [my life with], and the best of my days the day I meet You.”

Which brings us to the second aspect of your funeral, the sincerity of the good you’re being praised for. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “increase your remembrance of the destroyer of pleasures.” Death only destroys the temporary pleasures of this world, not the pleasure of the Most Merciful in the next. Keeping that in perspective will help you work towards that without being distracted. If it is the praise of the people you seek, that is as temporary as the world that occupies both your worldly vehicle ie. your body, and your companions in this world who shall perish soon after you.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned the one who passes away with the people lavishing praise on him that he is unworthy of. In a narration in Al Tirmidhi, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “No one dies and they stand over him crying and saying: ‘Oh what a great man he was! Oh how honored he was!’ except that two angels are appointed for him to poke him and say: Is that really you?”

But if it is Allah’s praise that you sought all along, the deeds that you put forth shall await you in your grave in the form of heavenly ornaments. Those that were known to the community, those that were known to only a select few, and those that were known by no one but Allah and you.

May Allah give us all a good ending, and an even better eternity.

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#Islam

The Spirituality Of Gratitude

Shaykh Tarik Ata

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Gratitude

The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?

What Does Shukr Mean?

Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).

Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461).[1] That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.

The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.

Blessings Even in Hardship

One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.

In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.

Allah knows best.

Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.

Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.

[1] Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.

Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude

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When Faith Hurts: Do Good Deeds = Good Life?

Loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way- even if it hurts. It is a time to learn.

Zeba Khan

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hurts, hardship. Allah, test, why Allah is testing me

The Messenger of Allahṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said that the faith in our hearts wears out the way our clothes wear out. Deterioration, maintenance, and renewal are part of the cycle.  That’s life with all that hurts. That’s normal.

But what happens when that’s life, but life is not your normal? What happens when it feels like life isn’t normal, hasn’t been normal, and won’t be normal for a foreseeably long time?  For some of us, refreshing faith becomes secondary to just keeping it.

It’s easier to say Alhamdulillah when you are happy. It’s harder when you’re not. That’s human nature though. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with what we teach about faith that can leave us unprepared for when Allah tests it. I believe that our discussions about faith tend to be overly simplistic. They revolve around a few basic concepts, and are more or less summed up with:

Faith = Happiness

Righteousness = Ease

Prayer = Problem Solved

Good Deeds Equals Good Life?

Basically, the TLDR is Good Deeds = The Good Life. None of these statements are technically untrue. The sweetness of faith is a joy that is beyond any other gratitude, for any other thing in this world. Righteousness in the sight of Allah will put you on the path to the good life in the afterlife. Making dua can be the solution to your problems. But when we say these things to people who have true faith but not happiness, or righteous behavior yet distressing hardship, we’re kind of implying that that either Islam is broken (because their prayers seem unanswered), or they are broken (because their prayers are undeserving of answers.) And neither of those is true either.

Allow me to elaborate. I think it’s safe to say that there is not a single parent who has not begged Allah to make their sick or disabled child well again. Yet, our Ummah still has sick and disabled children. Through history, people have begged Allah for a loved one’s life, and then buried them – so is prayer not equal to problem solved?

Many righteous people stand up, and are then ostracized for their faith. Many people speak truth in the face of a tyrant only to be punished for it. Many of us live with complete conviction, with unshakeable belief in the existence and wisdom and mercy of Allah, and still find ourselves unhappy and afraid of what He has willed for us.

Are We Broken?

No, but our spiritual education is. In order to fix it, we have to be upfront with each other. We have to admit that we can be happy with Allah and still find ourselves devastated by the tests He puts before us, because faith is not a protection from struggle.

Has anyone ever said this to you? Have you ever said this to anyone else?

No one ever told me. It was hard for me to learn that lesson on my own, when I pleaded with Allah to make my son’s autism go away, and it didn’t. Everyone told me –Make dua! The prayer of a mother for her child is special! Allah will never turn you down!

It was hard trying to make sense of what seemed like conflicting messages- that Allah knows best, but a mother’s prayer is always answered. It was even harder facing people who tried to reassure me of that, even when it obviously wasn’t working.

“Just make dua! Allah will respond!”

I’m sure people mean well. But it’s hard not to be offended. Either they assume I have never bothered to pray for my son, or they imply that there must be good reason why Allah’s not granting to my prayers. What they don’t consider is that allowing my test to persist – even if I don’t want it to- is also a valid response from Allah.

I have been told to think back in my life, and try to determine what sin caused my child’s disability, as if the only reason why Allah wouldn’t give me what I asked for was because I was so bad I didn’t deserve it. As if good deeds equaled the good life, and if my life wasn’t good, it’s because I hadn’t been good either.

Bad Things Happen to Good People

You can assume whatever you like about my character, but bad things do happen to good people, even when they pray. You can try your hardest and still fall short. You can pray your whole life for something that will never come to you. And strength of faith in that circumstance doesn’t mean living in a state of unfulfilled hope, it means accepting the wisdom in the test that Allah has decreed for you.

That’s a bit uncomfortable, isn’t it.  When we talk about prayer and hope, we prefer to talk about Zakariyyah 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – who begged Allah for a child and was gifted with one long after anyone thought it even possible. But we also need to talk about Abu Talib.

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was raised by his uncle Abu Talib, and in his mission to preach Islam he was protected by Abu Talib.  But Abu Talib died without accepting Islam, was there something wrong with the Prophet, that Allah did not give him what he asked for? Was he not good enough? Did he not pray hard enough? Astaghfirullah, no. So if Prophets of God can ask for things and still not get them, why are we assuming otherwise for ourselves?

Making a Bargain with Allah

If we can understand that faith is not a contract for which we trade prayers for services, then maybe we can cope better when fate cannot be bargained with. Maybe it won’t have to hurt so bad – on spiritual level – when Allah withholds what we ask for, even when we asked for the “right” things in the right way and at all the right times.

Life is not simple. Faith is not simple. The will of Allah is not simple, no matter how much we want it to be, and when oversimplify it, we create a Muslim version of Prosperity Gospel without meaning to.

If you’ve never heard of it, prosperity gospel is a religious belief among some Christians that health and wealth and success are the will of God, and therefore faith, good deeds and charity increase one’s wellbeing. Have faith, and God will reward you in this life and the next. That’s nice. But it’s too simple. Because the belief that Good Deeds = The Good Life doesn’t explain how Ibraheem 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)’s father tried to have him burnt alive.

Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)’s brothers left him for dead in the bottom of a well. He grew up a slave and spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Aasiya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – the wife of the Pharoah – one of the four best women in the history of womankind – died from her husband’s torture.

Good people are not guaranteed good lives. Islam is what we need, not a system of practices that we use to fulfill our needs.

When we limit our understanding of faith to a simplistic, almost contractual relationship with Allah, then we can’t even explain the things that Allah Tested His own prophets with.

Nor can we understand, or even begin to cope with- what He Tests the rest of us with either. We have to be real in our talk about faith, because otherwise we set each other up for unrealistic expectations and lack of preparation for when we face hardship. Faith is not protection from hardship. Faith is part of hardship. And hardship is part of faith.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) asks us in the opening of Surah ‘Ankabut,

Do people think once they say, “We believe,” that they will be left without being put to the test? We certainly tested those before them. And ˹in this way˺ Allah will clearly distinguish between those who are truthful and those who are liars.

Allah says in Surah Baqarah, ayah 155: “And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of the fruits of your labor. But give glad tidings to those who are patient in adversity.

tests, hurts, faith , hardship

Allah Tests Everyone Differently

Allah tests each of us differently, but in every single case – every single time – a test is an invitation to success. Hardship is the process through which we prove ourselves. Experiencing it– and then drawing closer to Allah through it –is how faith is tested as well as strengthened.

If we can change how we perceive hardship, then we can also change how we perceive each other. On our cultural subconscious, we still see worldly failure as being equivalent to spiritual failure. So when we see people who are homeless, we assume fault. When we see people facing depression or divorce, we assume fault. We even look at refugees and victims and special needs children and we look for fault. Because if it’s that bad then it’s has to be someone’s fault, right?

Fault is how we place blame. Blame is how we know whose mistake it is. But the will of Allah is never a mistake, it’s a test.  Instead of faulting each other for what Allah tests us with, we could respect each other for the struggles we all endure. We could see each other with more compassion for our challenges, and less aversion when Allah tests us with dealing each other.

So when you’ve done things the right way, but the right things aren’t happening. Or you’ve been charitable to others, and they’re being evil towards you. Or you’ve earned only halal, but haram- it’s been taken away from you, remember this- your faith is being tested. Allah tests those that He loves. When He raises the difficulty level, Allah is extending a direct invitation for you to climb higher.

So How Do We Succeed When Faced With Failure?

The first thing to do is redefine failure. There is only one true failure in this life, and that is dying on the wrong side of Siraat ul Mustaqeem, because if close your eyes and wake up in Jahannam, no success in this life can compensate for that.

I find that helpful to remember, when I fail to stay fit because I can’t exercise without hurting myself, when I fail to fast in Ramadan because it’s dangerous for me to do so- when I fail to discover a cure for my family’s personal assortment of medical issues through rigorous internet “research,” none of that is my failure either. And I can feel a lot of different ways about these situations, but I do not feel guilty- because it’s not my fault. And I do not feel bitter, because my test is my honor. Even when I do feel scared.

Being scared in not a failure either. Neither is being unemployed. Being unmarried is not a failure. Being childless is not a failure. Being divorced is not a failure. Nothing unpleasant or miserable or unexpected is a failure. It’s all just a test, and seeing it as a test means you have the state of mind to look for the correct answers.

Not even sin is failure, because as long as you are alive, your sin stands as an invitation to forgiveness. The bigger the sin, the greater the blessings of repenting from it.  Everything that goes bad is the opening of the door for good. A major sin can be the first step on a journey that starts with repentance and moves you closer to Allah every day thereafter. Sin only becomes failure when it takes you farther away from Allah, rather than closer to him.

Jahannam is the Only Failure

Addiction is not a failure. Depression is not a failure. Poverty is not a failure. Jahannam is the only failure. Everything else is a gap in expectations.

You assumed you would have something, but it’s not written for you. You assumed you’d ask Allah for something and He’d give it to you, but what is that assumption based on again? That good deeds are the guarantee to the good life, and that prayer equals problem solved?

Allah has all the knowledge, Allah has the wisdom, Allah is the best of Planners – how are you assuming that your wishes supersede His will? Even when you put your wishes in the form of a prayer?

They don’t. It is absolutely true that Allah may choose to rewrite Qadr itself based on your prayers – but that’s still His choice. Allah has always, and will always be in control of this world. And that means your world too. If you still think you’re in control, you will find it really, really hard to cope the first time you realize you’re not.

When we understand that we don’t get to control what happens and what doesn’t, we can then release ourselves from the misplaced guilt of things going wrong.  Lots of special needs parents struggle with guilt. I meet them often – and every single parent has asked the question- directly or indirectly-

What did I do for my child to deserve this?

Can you hear the presumption in there? That the parents were good, so why did something bad happen? They were expecting for good deeds to equal the good life.

There’s a second presumption in there too, that their life choices were a determining factor of what happened to their child. That is a presumption of control. And as long as you try to hold on to that presumption of control, there is the constant feeling of failure when it just doesn’t work the way you think it will.

I am not proposing that we lose hope in Allah and despair of His Mercy. I am in no way insinuating that Allah doesn’t hear every prayer, hasn’t counted every tear, and isn’t intimately aware of your pain and your challenges. Allah hears your prayers, and in His wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we want. In His Wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we need.

Even if we don’t see it.

Even if it scares us.

Even if it hurts us – because Allah has promised that He will never, ever break us.

hurts, hardship, special needs

Allah Tests Us in His Mercy

I am proposing that we put trust in the wisdom of Allah, and understand that when He tests us, that is part of his mercy, not a deviation from it. When He grants something to us, that is part of His mercy, and when he withholds something from us, that too is part of His Mercy, even if we don’t like it. Even when we ask Him to take it away.

The third thing I would like to propose, is that we correct our understanding of – Fa Inna Ma’Al usri yusraa, Inna Ma’al usri yusra.

So verily, definitely, for sure- with hardship there is ease. Again, Inna – for sure, with hardship there is ease.

I’m sure lots of you have said this to people you loved, or to yourself when you’re struggling with something and you’re just trying to get through it. But did you mean that this hardship will end, and then things will be good again? Like as soon as things have been hard for a while, Allah will make them easy again?

Would you believe that’s not really what that means? Ma’a means with, not after. With this hardship, there is ease. And maybe you’re like aww man, but I wanted the ease! I want the hardship to go away and Allah I’m ready for my ease now!

But that hardship, will bring you ease. Allah does not tell us what the ease will be, or when it will be- but He says it’s there, so trust Him. Even if you can’t see it right away, or in this life –it will become apparent.

I can tell you some of the ease I found with mine.

Learning When It Hurts

When my son was diagnosed with autism, my husband and I had to drop everything. We dropped our plans to save, to travel, and to live the charmed life of neurotypical parents whose only fears are that their children may grow up and NOT become Muslim doctors. We spent our earnings and our savings and our time and our nights and our tears and Alhamdulillah, we learned patience. We learned perspective. We learned compassion.

We really learned what we thought we already knew – about unconditional love and acceptance. We learned to be bigger than our fears, and smaller than our own egos. We learned to give and take help. We learn to accept what wisdom our cultures could offer us, and respectfully decline what did not. We learn to set boundaries and make rules that did justice by our children and our family, regardless of whether they were popular. With hardship comes ease.

When we couldn’t afford therapy for my son, my husband and I founded a not for profit organization in the UAE that provided it for my son and dozens of other people’s sons and daughters. Three and a half years ago I left that organization to seek better educational opportunities for my son here in the US, but it’s still running. The seed that our challenges planted has grown into something beyond us. With our hardship came ease for ourselves and others as well.

When I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, my health issues were upgraded from challenging to permanent. I had to rethink how I lived, how I planned, how I dressed, and even – my relationship with Allah. But if I had never been sick, I would never have started writing. When it hurt, I wrote. When I was scared, I wrote. When I was lonely, I wrote. And by and by the grindstone of fear and sickness and frustration sharpened my skills. Where I am today both spiritually and professionally – is actually a direct result of both autism and chronic illness. With hardship comes ease.

I don’t like my hardships, but I don’t have to. You don’t have to either. Being a good Muslim doesn’t always mean being a happy Muslim. It just means being Muslim, no matter the circumstances.

That means loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way – even if not loving everything He throws your way. You may hate your circumstances, and you may not be able to do anything about them, but as long as you trust Allah and use your hardships to come closer to him, you cannot fail, even if this life, you feel as if you never really succeeded.

hurts, depression, faith , hardship

Faith Wears Out In Our hearts, The Way Our Cothes Wear Out on Our Bodies

The hardship that damages and stains us is Allah’s invitation to repair, renew, and refresh ourselves. Our test are an invitation, an opportunity, an obstacle – but not a punishment or divine cruelty. And when we know that those tests will come, and some may even stay, then we can be better prepared for it.

Trust Allah when He says that He does not burden any soul with more than it can bear. He told us so in Surah Baqarah Ayah 286. Remember that when you are afraid, and Allah will never cause your fear to destroy you. Take your fear to Allah, and He will strengthen you, and reward you for your bravery.

Remember that when you are in pain. Allah will never cause your pain to destroy you. Take your pain to Him, and He will soothe you and reward you for your patience. Take it all to Allah – the loneliness, the anxiety, the confusion. Do not assume that the only emotions a “good Muslim” takes to Allah are gratitude and happiness and awe. Take them all to Allah, uncertainty, disappointment, anger — and He will bless you in all of those states, and guide you to what is better for you in this life, and the next, even if it’s not what you expected.

The struggles in your life are a test, and whether you pass or fail is not determined on whether you conquer them, only on whether you endure them. Expect that they will come, because having faith is not protection from struggle. Faith is protection from being broken by the struggle.

I ask Allah to protect us all from hardship, but protect us in our hardships as well. I ask Allah to grant us peace from His peace, and strength from His strength, to patiently endure and grow through our endurance.

Ameen.

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