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Quran and Sunnah

Reflections – Juz 17

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Juz 17 brings us to the magnificent surah entitled al-Anbiyaa’ – the Prophets. This surah has many well known and often quoted verses specifically on the subject of scientific evidences of the Quran and also because it contains the famous and oft-quoted verse, “And we have sent you (O’ Muhammad) naught else as a mercy to the universe.” [21:107] Yet, the main theme of this great surah is the various struggles of the different Prophets and their eventual success and victory over their people, hence the name of the surah. It is this point that we shall consider today due to its significance in the surah and in our own lives as Muslims dealing with our own challenges and trials from Allah.

Among the stories of the Prophets in this surah, one stands out for many people as being a particularly emotional one, and that is the ayaat that deal with the Prophet Ayoob (as) wherein Allah describes for us:

وَأَيُّوبَ إِذْ نَادَى رَبَّهُ أَنِّي مَسَّنِيَ الضُّرُّ وَأَنتَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ
فَاسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُ فَكَشَفْنَا مَا بِهِ مِن ضُرٍّ وَآتَيْنَاهُ أَهْلَهُ وَمِثْلَهُم مَّعَهُمْ رَحْمَةً مِّنْ عِندِنَا وَذِكْرَى لِلْعَابِدِينَ

And (remember) Ayub (Job), when he cried to his Lord: “Verily, distress has seized me, and You are the Most Merciful of all those who show mercy.” So I answered his call, and I removed the distress that was on him, and I restored his family to him (that he had lost), and the like thereof along with them, as a mercy from Me and a Reminder for all who worship Me. [21:83-84]

Ibn Kathir reports in his tafsir: “Allah tells us about Ayyub (Job), and the trials that struck him, affecting his wealth, children and physical health. He had a great wealth of livestock, cattle and crops; many children and beautiful houses, and he was tested in these things, losing every thing he had. Then he was tested with sickness in regard to his body, until he was left alone on the edge of the city and there was no one who treated him with compassion apart from his wife, who took care of him. It is reported that his condition continued to worsen until it reached the stage where his wife was in need, so she started to serve people (to earn money) for his sake. The Prophet said:

أي الناسأشدبلاء قال : الأنبياء ثم الصالحون ثم الأمثل فالأمثل من الناس يبتلى الرجل على حسب دينهفَإِنْ كَانَ فِي دِينِهِ صَلَابَةٌ زِيدَ فِي بَلَائِه

(The Messenger of Allah (saas) was once asked, “O Messenger of Allah (saas), who are the people who are most severely tried? He replied, “The people who are tested the most severely are the Prophets, then the righteous, then the next best and the next best, and a man will be tested in accordance with his level of religious commitment; the stronger his religious commitment, the more severe will be his test ….). [Sahih – Ahmad]

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Ibn Kathir continues: “The Prophet of Allah, Ayyub, upon him be peace, had the utmost patience, and he is the best example of that. Yazid bin Maysarah said: “When Allah tested Ayyub, upon him be peace, with the loss of his family, wealth and children, and he had nothing left, he started to focus upon the remembrance of Allah, and he said: `I praise You, the Lord of lords, Who bestowed His kindness upon me and gave me wealth and children, and there was no corner of my heart that was not filled with attachment to these worldly things, then You took all of that away from me and You emptied my heart, and there is nothing to stand between me and You. If my enemy Iblis knew of this, he would be jealous of me.’ When Iblis heard of this, he became upset. And Ayyub, upon him be peace, said: `O Lord, You gave me wealth and children, and there was no one standing at my door complaining of some wrong I had done to him. You know that. I used to have a bed prepared for me, but I forsook it and said to myself: You were not created to lie on a comfortable bed. I only forsook that for Your sake.”’ This was recorded by Ibn Abi Hatim.

As for His statement (and I restored his family to him (that he had lost) and the like thereof along with them): It was reported that Ibn `Abbas said: “They themselves were restored to him.” This was also narrated by Al-`Awfi from Ibn `Abbas. Something similar was also narrated from Ibn Mas`ud and Mujahid, and this was the view of Al-Hasan and Qatadah. Mujahid said: “It was said to him, `O Ayyub, your family will be with you in Paradise; if you want, We will bring them back to you, or if you want, We will leave them for you in Paradise and will compensate you with others like them.’ He said, `No, leave them for me in Paradise.’ So they were left for him in Paradise, and he was compensated with others like them in this world.”

As for His statement (as a mercy from Me): it means, `We did that to him as a mercy from Allah towards him.’

As for His statement (and a Reminder for all those who worship Me) means: `We made him an example lest those who are beset by trials think that We do that to them because We do not care for them, so that they may take him as an example of patience in accepting the decrees of Allah and bearing the trials with which He tests His servants as He wills.’ And Allah has the utmost wisdom with regard to that.

Now that we understand the story behind this beautiful and moving story, we must take a lesson from it as Allah encourages us to do in His statement (and a Reminder for all those who worship Me). It is part of our life on this earth that we be tested and as Allah has said elsewhere in this surah,

وَنَبْلُوكُم بِالشَّرِّ وَالْخَيْرِ فِتْنَةً

And I shall test you by way of evil and good. [21:35]

Thus, at times we are tested with difficulty and other times with ease, and in the words of Ibn ‘Abbaas, this means “with difficulties and with times of prosperity, with health and sickness, with richness and poverty, with lawful and unlawful, obedience and sin, with guidance and misguidance”. And this is as a means of determining “who will give thanks and who will be ungrateful, who will have patience and who will despair”. Do we only know Allah in times of difficulty, or are we also worshipping Him and obeying Him in times of ease as well? The Prophet (saas) stated the following in regards to this issue in one narration of the famous hadith of Ibn ‘Abbaas:

… Be mindful of Allah, you will find Him before you. Get to know Allah in times of ease and He will know you in times of difficulty. Know that what has passed you by was not going to befall you; and that what has befallen you was not going to pass you by. And know that victory comes with patience, relief with affliction, and ease with hardship. [Sahih – Tirmithi]

Thus, since tests are something that will happen to us, what should our response be? How should we handle them and what can we do in the face of the more severe and long-standing ones? To answer these questions, it benefits us first to know the value of these tests and what we can gain from them. Just like a person who wants to lose weight is willing to undergo some degree of difficulty in regards to dieting, physical exercise or even surgery in some extreme cases in order to get the benefit of a healthier body and lifestyle, knowing the virtue and benefit of trials can make them far more tolerable and aid us in receiving them with patience.

Firstly, we should remember as Muslims that this life is not one of rest and relaxation, it is not a permanent abode, but instead it is a place of testing and challenges and a temporary abode wherein we are tested to see which of us is best in deed (as mentioned in 67:2). When facing these trials, some people reveal their weakness in the belief of qadr whereas others, although they still find the matter difficult and they are still affected by it, they handle the circumstances better and with more stability and direction because of their firm belief in Allah’s decree and knowing that Allah knows and they do not.

Some of the ahadith of the Prophet (saas) on the subject of trails include these treasures:

The Messenger of Allah once stated, “When the people who suffered much trials in this life are rewarded by Allah on Judgment Day, those who lived comfortable lives on earth would wish that their skin had been cut to pieces with scissors (in order to achieve the same honor and reward that those who were tried received).” (Sahih al-Jaami’)

Abu Yahya Suhaib ibn Sinaan said that he heard the Messenger of Allah (saas) say, ” Wondrous are the affairs of the believer. For him there is good in all his affairs, and this is so only for the believer. When something pleasing happens to him, he is grateful, and that is good for him; and when something displeasing happens to him, he is patient with it, and that is good for him.” ( Muslim )

And he (saas) also said, “If Allah wishes good for someone, He afflicts him with trials.” (Bukhari)

And to understand this hadith better, we look to his statement (saas) wherein he said, “If Allah wishes for His servant good, He hastens for him his punishment in this life ….” (Sahih al-Jaami’)

And Abu Hurairah narrates from the Messenger of Allah (saas) that he said, “A believer remains subject to trials (in this world) in respect to their self, children and property until they face Allah, the Exalted, (on the Day of Judgment) in a state in which they have no sin.” (Sahih al-Jaami’)

And he (saas) also said, “Indeed, a man may have a certain high status with Allah that he is unable to achieve with his actions, and so Allah tries him with that which he hates until he allows him to reach [that elevated status].” (Sahih al-Jaami’)

And lastly, a statement to cause everyone to reconsider his own predicament in a different light, the hadith of the Prophet (saas) wherein he said, “If any of you is afflicted with a calamity, then let him remember his calamity in regards to me (the death of the Prophet – saas), for indeed it is among the greatest of calamities.” (Sahih al-Jaami’)

Indeed, what calamity – no matter how great – could equal the calamity of the death of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saas)? For with his death the revelation was cut from the heavens, the tribulations increased and the people became more and more distant from the command of Allah.

Having gained a better understanding of the reward and honor that we may achieve by remaining patient and steadfast in the face of these trials, we now turn our attention to the matter of how to face them and what we can do to alleviate them or soften them. One of the ways that we take benefit from in the surah is du’a. The ayah that we are reviewing in particular begins by mentioning the du’a of Ayoob to Allah wherein he (as) states, “Verily, distress has seized me, and You are the Most Merciful of all those who show mercy”. His du’a was sincere, heartfelt and as a result of this resulted in relief of his distress.

The Prophet (saas) also taught us a number of du’a by which we may ward off the worries and distress associated with trials. Imam Ahmad narrated that ‘Abd-Allah ibn Mas’ood said that the Messenger of Allah (saas) said:

There is no-one who is afflicted by distress and grief, and says: ‘Allaahumma inni ‘abduka ibn ‘abdika ibn amatija naasyati bi yadika, maada fiyya hukmuka, ‘adlun fiyya qadaa’uka. As’aluka bi kulli ismin huwa laka sammayta bihi nafsaka aw anzaltahu fi kitaabika aw ‘allamtahu ahadan min khalqika aw ista’tharta bihi fi ‘ilm il-ghayb ‘indaka an taj’al al-Qur’aana rabee’ qalbi wa noor sadri wa jalaa’ huzni wa dhihaab hammi (O Allah, I am Your slave, son of Your slave, son of Your maidservant; my forelock is in Your hand, Your command over me is forever executed and Your decree over me is just. I ask You by every name belonging to You which You have named Yourself with, or revealed in Your Book, or You taught to any of Your creation, or You have preserved in the knowledge of the Unseen with You, that You make the Qur’an the life of my heart and the light of my breast, and a departure for my sorrow and a release for my anxiety),’ but Allah will take away his distress and grief, and replace it with joy.” He was asked: “O Messenger of Allah, should we learn this?” He said: “Of course; everyone who hears it should learn it. (al-Silsilah al-Saheehah)

Another du’a that we can benefit from is mentioned a few ayahs away in another story of one of Allah’s great prophets, the story of Yunus (as). Allah states:

فَاسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُ وَنَجَّيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْغَمِّ وَكَذَلِكَ نُنجِي الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

So We answered his call, and delivered him from the distress. And thus We do deliver the believers (who believe in the Oneness of Allâh, abstain from evil and work righteousness). [21:88]

After describing the ordeal of Yunus (as) in the belly of the whale and how he prostrated in the belly of the whale and began making his special thikr, Ibn Kathir states: (And thus We do deliver the believers) means, when they are in difficulty and they call upon Us and repent to Us, especially if they call upon Us with these words (the supplication that Yunus repeated) at the time of distress.

The leader of the Prophets (saas) encouraged us to call upon Allah with these words. Imam Ahmad recorded in an authentic hadith that Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqaas (ra) said: “I passed by `Uthman bin `Affan (ra) in the Masjid, and greeted him. He stared at me but did not return my salam. I went to `Umar bin Al-Khattab and said: `O Commander of the faithful, has something happened in Islam’ I said that twice. He said, `No, why do you ask?’ I said, `I passed by `Uthman a short while ago in the Masjid and greeted him, and he stared at me but he did not return my salam.’ `Umar sent for `Uthman and asked him, `Why did you not return your brother’s salam?’ He said, `That is not true.’ Sa`d said, `Yes it is.’ It reached the point where they both swore oaths. Then `Uthman remembered and said, `Yes, you are right, I seek the forgiveness of Allah and I repent to Him. You passed by me a short while ago but I was preoccupied with thoughts of something that I had heard from the Messenger of Allah (saas), which I never think of but a veil comes down over my eyes and my heart.’

Sa`d said: `And I will tell you what it was. The Messenger of Allah (saas) told us the first part of a supplication then a bedouin came and kept him busy, then the Messenger of Allah (saas) got up and I followed him. When I felt worried that he would enter his house, I stamped my feet. I turned to the Messenger of Allah (saas), who said, “Who is this, Abu Ishaq?” I said, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah.” He said, “What is the matter?” I said, “Nothing, by Allah, except that you told us the first part of the supplication, then this bedouin came and kept you busy.” He said, “Yes, the supplicaiton of Dhun-Nun when he was in the belly of the fish:

لاَّ إِلَـهَ إِلاَّ أَنتَ سُبْحَـنَكَ إِنِّى كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّـلِمِينَ

There is nothing worthy of worship but You, How exalted You are above all that they associate with You! Truly, I have been of the wrongdoers.

No Muslim ever prays to his Lord with these words for anything, but He will answer his prayer.” (Sahih – Ahmad)

Lastly, I wish to close this reflection by remembering a particulary emotional story from the lives of the righteous, and that is the story of the young Bukhari – the one who would later go on to become the most famous and influential scholar of hadith in the history of Islam. Sheikh Ghulam Rasul Sa`idi records in his biography of Imam al-Muhadditheen Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari that during his infancy,

“his father passed away and his mother took on the entire responsibility of bringing him up. Imam Bukhari became blind at a young age. He had recourse to many famous and skilled doctors of his time but their treatments made no difference. His mother was a pious worshipper and a righteous woman. She cried out for help in the court of Allah the Almighty, for her child and begged for the restoration of his eyesight. At last, “the river of mercy flowed over her,” and Almighty Allah accepted her invocation. One night, she visited Ibrâhîm `alayhis-salam in a dream and was told, “Allah has restored the sight of your son because of your intense and beautiful invocations.” In the morning, as Imam Bukhari got up from his bed, glimmers of light reached out into his eyes.”

Let these examples from the lives of the Prophets and of the righteous be a guide for us in our darkest moments, reminding us that Allah is ever close and that His help and relief is ever near to the believers. Let us never despair of the mercy of Allah and may He choose us to be among those whom He blesses with security from the trials – for as the Prophet once said, “Do not ask Allah to meet your enemies (i.e., do not ask Him for trials), but instead ask Him for security” – and those who perservere when they are faced with trial – ameen.

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Dr. Ali Shehata is the author of Demystifying Islam: Your Guide to the Most Misunderstood Religion of the 21st Century. Dr. Ali is an Emergency and Family Medicine physician currently living in an area of central Florida. He was born in Maryland to parents who had immigrated to the US from Egypt. He has studied Islam mainly through traditional methods among various scholars, du'at and students of knowledge here in the US.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    December 18, 2008 at 6:55 AM

    innalhamdolillah. bismillah. jazak Allah khayr, shaykh, for these beautiful words and insights. may Allah accept from you, and increase the good of your work.

  2. muslimah

    December 18, 2008 at 3:33 PM

    JazakAllahkhair for this wonderful & very timely reminder. Come to think of it, we are ALWAYS in need of duas & dua-reminders. But, thanks to this post, i will inshaAllah, do special duas tonight.

  3. Algebra

    December 18, 2008 at 6:52 PM

    Aslamu-alaikum:
    Dr. Ali Shehata:
    This was an Inspirational article and Naseehah ……………………….MashAllah.
    Thank you
    Salam

  4. Amatullah

    December 20, 2008 at 6:37 PM

    Jazaakum Allahu khayran. I truly enjoy these reflections. Thank you for taking the time out to share them with us.

  5. anonysis

    December 20, 2008 at 11:22 PM

    subhanAllah, alhamdulillah, Allahu akbar. such beautiful reminders and reflections, baarakallaahu feekum for sharing.

  6. umm sakeenah

    December 21, 2008 at 7:23 PM

    Bismillah.

    Jazakum Allahu Khairan for this reflection. It was not only a reflection, but also a great naseeha! May Allah reward you immensely for all the benefit you bring to the Muslimeen. Ameen.

  7. vindicated

    December 24, 2008 at 3:12 AM

    Jazakallah Khair. The supplications mentioned are truly beautiful beyond expression.

  8. Muslimahh

    December 26, 2008 at 1:34 PM

    As wr wb

    JazakAllahu khairan. I ask Allah swt to benefit all the readers frm this ‘reflection’, Ameen

  9. amatullah

    February 17, 2010 at 7:49 PM

    Jazakallah for this inspiring post. May we all benefit from this and be able to help other brothers and sisters who are in need after reading this Insha Allah. Ameen.

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