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Why We Are Tested: The Psychology of Suffering & Misfortune – Part #1

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The main maqsad or purpose of the human being in this life is to submit to the will and decree of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and worship Him from his first breath to his last.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) through His immense wisdom and prudence has decreed the people be tried and tested in various ways in order for Him to develop their psyche and to strengthen their character towards that which is pleasing to Him.

Going through suffering makes us normal and draws us closer to Allah. As an Imam I am frequently asked by people who are going through difficulties in life ‘why does Allah give us trials?’

At that point it is always beneficial to not only provide them with the philosophical answers but it is crucial that they receive some sort of counseling.

It is always important for us believers to remind each other of the divine wisdom of calamities and misfortunes in life. Everyone, in various capacities, goes through difficulties in life.

The believer, however, is cognizant of the fact that the trials that he/she encounters are there so that Allah can develop and strengthen his character. They remind us of our limitations as human beings and our complete need of Allah. The consequence of not fully comprehending the divine wisdom of tests, I have observed, is complete denial of the existence of Allah, may Allah save us.

In the next few installments I will be expounding upon a prophetic tradition on this very subject, which is extracted from a lecture I delivered a couple of years ago at an Islamic Institute in London, based on a book called ‘Prophetic Guidance on the Purification of the Soul’ by Dr Sharaf al-Qudat (Jordan).

عن أبي هريرة أنَّ رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال يقول الله تعالى ما لعبدي المؤمن عندي جزاء إذا قبضت صفيَّه من أهل الدُّنيا ثمَّ احتسبه إلا الجنَّة. رواه البخاري

Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“Allah, the Exalted, says: “I have no reward except Jannah for a believing slave of Mine who shows patience and anticipates My reward when I take away his favorite one from the inhabitants of the world.” (Bukhari)

This Hadith is a Hadith Qudsi which means ‘holy’ or ‘pure’ hadith. A Hadith Qudsi is a hadith in which the Prophet raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) relates to the people what Allah says in its meaning [ma’nan] and its wording [lafdhan], because of His saying: ‘’slave of mine’’, if it was from the Prophet then the wording would have been: ‘’a believing slave’’ as it occurs in the first part of the hadith therefore, this hadith is from Allah, the Most High.

Some people may find this strange. Because if it is Allah’s speech why is it not included in the Qur’an?

The simple answer to this is that the Qur’an is part of Allah’s speech and not His entire speech. For example the previous revealed books i.e. The Torah and the Gospel in their original form were also Allah’s speech but they are not part of the Qur’an. This is also true in the case of hadith Qudsi.

However there are some fundamental differences between the Qur’an and Hadith Qudsi:

  • The Qur’an is unique and is inimitable in both its word and meaning. However the Hadith Qudsi is not inimitable.
  • The narration of the Qur’an is ‘Mutawatir’ or consecutive and uninterrupted. This means it has been narrated by a large number of people in every level of the chain such that it is impossible for all of them to make a mistake or error. Not all Hadith Qudsi are Mutawatir there are many that are Ahad meaning the number of people in every level are less than the mutawatir chain. Therefore some of the hadith Qudsi are Sahih, Hasan, Da’if and even Mawdu’.
  • The Qur’an is recited in the Salah and the mere recitation of the Qur’an is ‘Ibadah. This is not the case with Hadith Qudsi. [al qur’an muta’bbad bitilawatihi].

This hadith reminds us of the divine test which we may encounter in this world:

The test of Allah through misfortunes or calamities.

Why does Allah test us?

What are the wisdoms of misfortunes?

Firstly: Misfortunes and calamities are from the sunan [conventionary practice] of Allah in the universe for which every person is inflicted with, Allah says:

وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ ٱلْخَوْفِ وَٱلْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ ٱلأَمَوَالِ وَٱلأَنفُسِ وَٱلثَّمَرَاتِ وَبَشِّرِ ٱلصَّابِرِينَ

Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere”(2:155)

And He also says:

أَمْ حَسِبْتُمْ أَن تَدْخُلُواْ ٱلْجَنَّةَ وَلَمَّا يَأْتِكُم مَّثَلُ ٱلَّذِينَ خَلَوْاْ مِن قَبْلِكُم مَّسَّتْهُمُ ٱلْبَأْسَآءُ وَٱلضَّرَّآءُ وَزُلْزِلُواْ حَتَّىٰ يَقُولَ ٱلرَّسُولُ وَٱلَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ مَعَهُ مَتَىٰ نَصْرُ ٱللَّهِ أَلاۤ إِنَّ نَصْرَ ٱللَّهِ قَرِيبٌ

“Or do you think that you shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? they encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: “When (will come) the help of Allah.” Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near!” (2:214)

Secondly: The purpose of misfortune and calamity is not necessarily for revenge, punishment or humiliation:

وَأَمَّآ إِذَا مَا ٱبْتَلاَهُ فَقَدَرَ عَلَيْهِ رِزْقَهُ فَيَقُولُ رَبِّيۤ أَهَانَنِ

“But when He tries him, restricting his subsistence for him, then he says (in despair), “My Lord has humiliated me!” (Fajr:16)

Calamities and misfortunes are often tests from Allah. There is much wisdom in such tests; in fact there is wisdom in everything Allah does. The most prudent are as follows:

1-Establishment of Allah’s proof:

Allah does not reprehend a people unless they, out of their own will and deed, deny the proofs of Allah after it has been made clear to them.

If Allah simply created people without putting then through some test in this life, and then announces to a group among them, ‘enter the Hellfire’ they will respond, ‘O our Lord give us a chance [to do good], command us whatever you wish and we will carry out everything you demand of us’.

If they are not given the opportunity to do good they will feel that they have been wronged. So Allah wants to give them this opportunity to establish the proof upon them. This is despite Allah’s knowledge that the polytheists, on the Day of Judgment, will swear by Allah that they have not associated partners with Him, Allah says, ‘’they will say, by our Lord we have not committed shirk’’

Anas bin Malik raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said, “We were with the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and he smiled so broadly that his molar could be seen, then he said: “Do you know why I am smiling?

We said, `Allah and His Messenger know best.’

He said: “Because of the way a servant will argue with his Lord on the Day of Resurrection. He will say, “O Lord, will You not protect me from injustice” [Allah] will say, “Of course.” The servant will say, “I will not accept any witness against me except from myself.” [Allah] will say, “Today you will be a sufficient witness against yourself, and the honorable scribes will serve as witnesses against you.” Then his mouth will be sealed, and it will be said to his faculties, “Speak!” So they will speak of what he did. Then he will be permitted to speak, and he will say, “May you be doomed! It was for you that I was fighting.”” [Reported by Muslim and An-Nasa’i]

This is the meaning of Allah, the Most High’s, statement:

الْيَوْمَ نَخْتِمُ عَلَى أَفْوَهِهِمْ وَتُكَلِّمُنَآ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَتَشْهَدُ أَرْجُلُهُمْ بِمَا كَانُواْ يَكْسِبُونَ

This Day, We shall seal up their mouths, andtheir hands will speak to Us, and their legswill bear witness to what they used to earn” (Ya-Sin: 65)

And:

حَتَّى إِذَا مَا جَآءُوهَا شَهِدَ عَلَيْهِمْ سَمْعُهُمْ وَأَبْصَـرُهُمْ وَجُلُودُهُم بِمَا كَانُواْ يَعْمَلُونَ وَقَالُواْ لِجُلُودِهِمْ لِمَ شَهِدتُّمْ عَلَيْنَا قَالُواْ أَنطَقَنَا اللَّهُ الَّذِى أَنطَقَ كُلَّ شَىْءٍ وَهُوَ خَلَقَكُمْ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ

Till, when they reach it, their hearing (ears) andtheir eyes and their skins will testify against them asto what they used to do. And they will say to theirskins, “Why do you testify against us?” They will say:“Allah has caused us to speak — as He causes all thingsto speak, and He created you the first time” (Fussilat: 20-21)

All these texts refer to after the slaves have associated partners with Allah and disobeyed Him. How would they be if Allah did not give them the opportunity to repent or do good deeds?

2-Thorough examination (tamhis):

Difficulties unveil the true nature of people by sieving out the good from the bad, the righteous from the wicked and the believer from the hypocrite.

Such thorough examinations are of great benefit for the Muslim community. Allah says, in the verses which speak about the battle of Badr and what the Muslims have obtained in it, clarifying the wisdom of this testing.

مَّا كَانَ ٱللَّهُ لِيَذَرَ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ عَلَىٰ مَآ أَنْتُمْ عَلَيْهِ حَتَّىٰ يَمِيزَ ٱلْخَبِيثَ مِنَ ٱلطَّيِّبِ

Allah will not leave the believers in the statein which you are now, until He separateswhat is evil from what is good” (Aal-Imran:179)

Difficulties, also, enable you to identify your true friends and helpers from friends of convenience as a poet said:

جزى الله الشدائد كل خير وان كنت تغصصني بريقي

وما شكري لها إلا لأني عرفت بها عدوي من صديقي

May Allah reward hardship with all good though itstrangles me and makes me breathless. And mygratitude towards it is not for any other reasonexcept that it enabled me to recognise my friend frommy enemy”.

3-Expiation of Sins (Takfir al-Dhunub):

Allah may decide to punish a person for his sin in this world rather than in the hereafter.

There is no doubt that the punishment of this world despite its magnitude is nothing compared to the punishment of the hereafter, however light it is, Allah says:

وَلَعَذَابُ الاٌّخِرَةِ أَكْبَرُ لَوْ كَانُواْ يَعْلَمُونَ

But truly, the punishment of the Hereafter is greater if they but knew” (Al-Qalam:33)

There are many texts which show that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) expiates sins of people through inflicting them with some misfortune or calamity. They include:

The hadith of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in which he said, ‘The believing man and woman will continually be tested in his self, his children, and his wealth until he meets Allah and that which he has of the misfortune.”

And his ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) statement, When Allah desires for His servant some good, He hastens his punishment in this life, and when Allah intends some good for His servant He will postpone His punishment until he will be recompensed on the day of judgment’’.

In addition, the authentic statement of the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him): Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri and Abu Hurayrah both narrated that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“A Muslim is not afflicted by hardship, sickness, sadness, worry, harm, or depression – even if pricked by a thorn, but Allah expiates his sins because of it” [Bukhari]

4-Elevation of ranks (Raf’ al-Darajat):

This is from the apparent meaning of the hadith. If a believer after being afflicted by a misfortune or hardship patiently perseveres, his sins are forgiven and he is raised up in ranks.

This was the condition with the prophets and messengers. They were all tested and tried and thus Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), because of their patience and forbearance, raised their ranks amongst the people. The evidence for this is the hadith at hand,

“I have no reward except Jannah for a believing slave of Mine who shows patience and anticipates My reward when I take away his favourite one from the inhabitants of the world.”

We also read this in a hadith narrated by Anas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) who said that he heard the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) say that Allah said:

إذا ابليت عبدي بحبيبتيه فصبر عوضه منهما الجنة

When I affect my slave in his two dear things(i.e., his eyes), and he endures patiently, heshall be compensated with Paradise”. (Bukhari)

5-Admonition for the negligent and a warning:

This is considered like a warning that is issued to a student or an employee who is being negligent or has some shortcomings.

The aim is to alert the person of the shortcoming. If the person takes heed he will be successful otherwise he will deserve the punishment. Perhaps the evidence for this is His, the Most High’s, saying:

Before you We sent (messengers) to many nations,and We afflicted the nations with suffering andadversity, that they might learn humility, Why then, did they not supplicate in humility when a calamity from Us came upon them? Instead, their hearts were hardened and Satan adorned for them what they were doing. [An’am: 42-43]

Adversity and calamity struck them because they neglected to supplicate to Allah in humility. They did not comprehend the wisdom of tribulation and as such did not turn to Allah in humility. Instead, Satan adorned for them what they were doing.

6-Destruction which serves as a punishment for those that were warned but did not heed the warning and persisted upon committing sins:

Allah says:

فَأَهْلَكْنَٰهُمْ بِذُنُوبِهِمْ

…For their sins We destroyed them…” (An’am:6)

And, ‘’Indeed We have destroyed generations before you when they transgressed, and their Messengers had come to them with clear signs, but they were not the ones who would believe. This is how We punish the guilty people’’ [Yunus: 13]

Also:

وَإِذَآ أَرَدْنَآ أَن نُّهْلِكَ قَرْيَةً أَمَرْنَا مُتْرَفِيهَا فَفَسَقُواْ فِيهَا فَحَقَّ عَلَيْهَا ٱلْقَوْلُ فَدَمَّرْنَاهَا تَدْمِيراً

When We decide to destroy a population, We(first) send a definite order to those amongthem who are given the good things of this lifeand yet transgress; so that the word is provedtrue against them: then We destroy themcompletely” (Al-Isra: 16)

7-A reminder of Allah’s favors upon mankind:

That is because man, who has been created with the faculty of sight, often forgets the blessing of being able to see. He does not fully give its due right.

If Allah was to temporarily take away his sight then return it to him he would realise the value of this great bounty.

Constant bounties and good-fortune often makes people forget the value of these bounties good-fortune for which they forget to show gratitude. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) takes it away from people and then returns it to them in order for them to be reminded about these bounties and that they show gratitude to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for them.

Suffering makes us human.

Suffering and adversity have existed as long as human beings have. When we suffer we are connected to the common fate of the people who came before us and the people who will come after us.

Indeed, in tribulations there is a reminder for the person afflicted and others of the bounties of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). For example, when a person encounters a senile person he will appreciate the blessing of intellect. When a person observes a non-believer living his life like cattle, he will value the blessing of iman [faith]. When a person meets a sick person he will realize and value the blessing of good health. When he sees an impoverished person he will appreciate the blessing of wealth. When he encounters an ignorant person he is thankful for the blessing of knowledge. A person whose heart is awake and open to the reality will show gratitude but those who do not have [awakened] hearts will not show gratitude for the bounties of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He); instead they will be haughty and behave arrogantly towards the creation of Allah!!

8-Lessen people’s attachment to the Dunya:

If the dunya was free of any hardship and misfortune then people would have even been more attached to it and neglect the next life.

However, calamities and misfortunes alert people to the realities of the life of this world and awaken them from their neglectful state. Also they remind them about the next world which is free of any kind of misfortunes except for the wrongdoers.

9-Strengthening the personality of the believer (Saql Shakhsiya al-Mu’min):

Through hardship and difficulties Allah makes firm the hearts of the believers. This is why Allah chose our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to grow up as an orphan and experience numerous hardships. As for those children who are pampered, generally, their personality is weakened because of this.

Through hardship and difficulty a believer is able to reach his full potential and growth in Iman and Taqwa.

10-Often a misfortune and calamity may come with a combination of wisdoms as in the case of the calamity at the battle of Uhud.

Allah says:

إِن يَمْسَسْكُمْ قَرْحٌ فَقَدْ مَسَّ ٱلْقَوْمَ قَرْحٌ مِّثْلُهُ وَتِلْكَ ٱلأَيَّامُ نُدَاوِلُهَا بَيْنَ ٱلنَّاسِ وَلِيَعْلَمَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ وَيَتَّخِذَ مِنكُمْ شُهَدَآءَ وَٱللَّهُ لاَ يُحِبُّ ٱلظَّالِمِينَ

If a wound has touched you, be sure a similarwound has touched the others. Such days (ofvarying fortunes) We give to men and men byturns: that Allah may know those that believe,and that He may take to Himself from your ranksMartyrs-witnesses (to Truth). And Allah loves notthose that do wrong”.– and so that Allah may purify those who believe and eradicate the disbelievers. (Aal-Imran:140-141)

In these two verses we can identify a number of wisdoms in what took place during the battle of Uhud:

  1. Days of varying fortunes among people – these have its causes and reasons
  2. Establishment of Allah’s proof against those who turn their backs on His Guidance
  3. Elevation of the ranks of the Shuhadah [martyrs]
  4. A test and tribulation to the believers
  5. A warning to the negligent [non believers]

Suffering is only as bad as we make it. If we believe we are entitled to a life of comfort, then a life that consists of suffering is simply unfair, and who likes an unfair world?

But if we believe that life is about growth and that growth entails a degree of pain and suffering, then there is nothing unfair about it.

How many people are tested with a disabled child – for example – this [in turn] is an enormous test for his entire family, and a test for him when he grows, and also, a test for the entire society – to determine whether the society takes care of him. This also acts as a reminder to others of the bounties that Allah grants them. Therefore, if the parents, the disabled, and others take heed – and the society fulfils its rights of the disabled, they all are rewarded according to their level of patience and how well they protected the weak and the afflicted.

11-Sometimes a hardship can be a blessing in disguise:

People who are afflicted with some misfortune may only see one side to the happenings and be heedless to other aspects, for which after a certain period of time, the beneficial side to the misfortune are unveiled to them.

Sometimes, they are convinced that the calamity they were suffering from was a good thing as opposed to being an omen or a calamity. Allah says:

‘’Fighting has been prescribed for you even though you detest it, it may be that something you dislike be good for you, and it may happen that something you like be bad for you, Allah knows while you do not’’.

Suffering gives us a greater appreciation of the moments of comfort. If life were comfortable 24/7, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the moments of comfort. There would be nothing to compare comfort to. This is analogous to a marathon runner. If there were no suffering in running a marathon there would be no comfort, and certainly no sense of accomplishment, in crossing the finish line. Mountain climbers voluntarily endure excruciating suffering, often for weeks on end, in their attempt to reach the summit. They risk their lives; endure high altitude sickness, bottomless crevasses and glaciers, mountain storms, snow blindness, and sudden storms all to experience the several moments of magnificent comfort and satisfaction the mountain summit has to offer.

In addition, the misfortune may be good for his religiosity and for his next life, but even, also, for his living in the dunya.

12- Suffering is a normal part of parenting, marriage, working, and every other worthwhile endeavor: 

If we are in a constant state of suffering and anguish then something is most likely not as it optimally should be. However, periodic suffering in all areas of life is normal.

Every good marriage has periods of discord and uncertainty. Every healthy parent/child relationship goes through phases of disrespect and resentment with our children or parents not doing what we think they ought to be doing and us not doing what they think we ought to be doing. Jobs, homes, neighborhoods  and communities enter and leave our lives based on need, interest, and a variety of other factors, which are often based on suffering.

Lobsters are soft animals with hard shells that do not grow. When lobsters outgrow their shells they climb into a rock cleft. They face the uncertainty of being swallowed up by another animal or of being swept away by the current. Yet imagine if lobsters stifled their discomfort rather than using it as a catalyst for growth: they would be a miniature species.

We can emulate lobsters by accepting suffering as a sign that it’s time for growth and renewal. The bottom line is that periodic suffering is part of every aspect of our lives and it need not be “bad.”

Suffering is what it is and what we make of it. Not pleasant, but generally not unbearable or unacceptable.

 

 

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Sh. Abdullah Hasan graduated with an Imam Diploma, BA and Ijaza Aliyah in Islamic Studies [Theology & Islamic Law, taught completely in Arabic] from a European Islamic seminary. He holds a diploma in Arabic from Zarqa Private University (Jordan), studied at the faculty of fiqh wa usuluhu (Jurisprudence and its principles) at the same university while receiving training in various disciplines privately with some of the leading Scholars of Jordan and the Middle East. He studied Chaplaincy at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education (MIHE). He is a Licensed Islamic Professional Counsellor (LIPC), specialising in youth and marriage therapy. In addition, he is a specialist in Zakat and Islamic philanthropic studies.He served, as an Imam, several Muslim communities in the UK.Sh. Abdullah Hasan has enormous interest and passion in the field of community and people development. He has over 10 years of management, leadership and training experience within the third sector. He is the founder of British Imams and Scholars Contributions & Achievement Awards (BISCA), which is a national platform to celebrate, support & nurture positive leadership within the community. The Founder of British Institutes, Mosques & Association Awards (BIMA), which is national platform celebrating the achievements of mosques and Islamic institutions. He also founded Imams Against Domestic Abuse (IADA), an international coalition of leaders to end domestic abuse, and is a member of the National Council of Imams & Rabbis, UK.,

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Gibran

    May 15, 2013 at 12:15 AM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    JazzakAllahu khair. I love how you skipped the philosophical/psychology nonsense and went straight to Quran and Sunnah. It is far more therapeutic. May Allah accept it from you.

    I skimmed(I’d say pretty well) and I intend to read it again.

    But just in case you didn’t include this:

    Abu Musa Al-Ashari reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever loves his worldly life will suffer in his Hereafter, and whoever loves his Hereafter will suffer in his worldly life; so prefer that which endures over that which is fleeting.”

    Source: Musnad Ahmad 19198

    Grade: Hasan (fair) according to Ibn Hajar

    عَن أَبِي مُوسَى الْأَشْعَرِيِّ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ مَنْ أَحَبَّ دُنْيَاهُ أَضَرَّ بِآخِرَتِهِ وَمَنْ أَحَبَّ آخِرَتَهُ أَضَرَّ بِدُنْيَاهُ فَآثِرُوا مَا يَبْقَى عَلَى مَا يَفْنَى

    19198 مسند أحمد أَوَّلُ مُسْنَدِ الْكُوفِيِّينَ من أحب دنياه أضر بآخرته ومن أحب آخرته أضر بدنياه

    المحدث ابن حجر العسقلاني خلاصة حكم المحدث حسن

    http://www.dailyhadithonline.com/2013/04/08/hadith-on-hereafter-prefer-the-afterlife-that-remains-forever-instead-of-the-temporary-world/

  2. Avatar

    Anon

    May 15, 2013 at 6:52 AM

    Asalamualaykum wrwb,

    JazakAllah khair. It was a very uplifting and beautiful reminder.

  3. Avatar

    life is a test!

    May 15, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    Beautiful Article!!!The wisdom of the Quran and Sunnah is full of psychological//philosophicial benefit. In fact it is a shame more muslims do not understand this.

  4. Avatar

    Naureen

    May 15, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    May Allah provide you to pass on more wisdom and knowledge to the world, in the way you do, that is in digestible format. MashaAllah your article is extremely uplifting, It has helped me a lot and me look at life with a different prospective. Thank you..

  5. Avatar

    Curious

    May 16, 2013 at 7:05 AM

    Thanks for the article sheik.

    How would you categorise horrendous crimes such as child sex assault, rape, incest etc, which cripple a person mentally, emotionally and physically for life. How can these be classified by a person enduring them as a “test” from God? These horrendous acts don’t strengthen character, they destroy and obliterate it.What’s the wisdom behind this? why does Allah SWT allow this to happen?

    These situations often cripple a person so much that they enter a down spiral where they are repeatedly abused and in relationships where they’re more prone to abuse and violence. It’s a never ending cycle of pain and suffering. How do we understand these islamically?

    • Abez

      Abez

      May 16, 2013 at 1:06 PM

      AssalamuAlaikum Curious- I’m not a sheikh, but as someone whose child was born with an incurable neurological disorder, I still see beauty in my life and thank Allah for using this hardship as a means to make me a better Muslim, a better parent, and a more responsible human being. Alhamdulillah.

      Allah allows us to be broken (by pain as well as the things that you mentioned) so that we have the chance to rebuild ourselves even better. There are people who get broken and stay broken, but there are also people who use what happened to them to start foundations, change laws, force society to root out evil, and use their tragedies to become even stronger than they were before.

      http://www.abezsez.com/2010/02/inshaallah-2/

      • Avatar

        Curious

        May 19, 2013 at 6:34 AM

        Thanks for your reply Abez.

        May Allah SWT bless you and your child and elevate you to the highest levels of Jannah inshAllah.

        I work with victims of rape, sexual assault, incest, domestic violence etc. The problem is that on the MOST part, it’s a very very small percentage who can come out of the tribulations “normal” if not, better people. For the most part the experiences tear and break them physically, emotionally, psychologically and socially.

        The question these people always ask is why would a God who’s all powerful and benevolent allow this to happen? humans have free will and these atrocities are the actions of humans, but God could stop it if he wanted to. Why does God need to “test” someone in such a brutal way? does God really need to let a child be born as a heroin addict and get sexually assaulted as a young child to “test” this person and force this person to “return to Him” for eg?

        • Avatar

          Kirana

          May 26, 2013 at 5:45 AM

          I think how God will evaluate people will be fair, and take into account what they have to work with. I also think that it does not mean that something bad happening to someone, is a test for that person, or that person only. I think more often than is comfortable for us to realise, is that something terrible happening to one person is really more a test for the people around her, but perhaps mostly an expiation for her if she is patient. We do not know whose effort is accepted, and what extent is enough for each different person. Who knows but that under some extreme trial, it isn’t even necessary for someone to come out of it ‘normal’ to us, to be accepted by Allah.

          Once you think this life should be only comfortable, then you will not be able to escape the belief that suffering is unfair. Yet the belief that life should be comfortable is itself an unfair belief. Our comfort must be supplied by others’ pain, it is a fact of the living food web. All living things – suffer pain and distress. I reflect on the unfairness of being a living thing on earth that isn’t human – how uncertain are their lives, how uncertain their fate at our hands, how we squish them and kill them and drive them out and poison them and take their young and oftentimes not even for need, but ‘just because’. How anything that happens, that changes in the whole universe involves transition – from its very beginning, from its smallest physical structure. It is an inescapable attribute of this universe. Why should humans alone be spared from it? A life where comfort is an expectation, must therefore only be possible in a universe underpinned by different rules of physics. Complete absence of suffering, in this world means it is built on the amplified suffering of everything else. Consider that the amplified suffering of many people in this world as it is, is a result of other people taking their comfort and pleasure without regard to what it costs others, by their aversion to accept some discomfort and pain for restraint and doing the right thing. This runs the gamut from severe obvious cases of rape and abuse to the permanence of poverty and exploitation in some places due to people in other places demanding cheap products without consideration of living wages and ethics, which is qualitatively the same issue but is mostly below our notice.

          The fact is, many will break because they desire comfort of this world more than nearness to God, and cannot/will not let go of the one to reach for the other. The fact is, they will get what they want – this world – and stay in it after it reaches the end of its time and becomes destroyed. And those who want God, will also get what they want, and at that time be able to leave this imploding world and pass along the siraat to a new world. This is what we’re told by the Message.

    • Avatar

      Gibran

      May 16, 2013 at 2:13 PM

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh
      I read of a Muslim women(on Islamic Answers.com) who was raped by her father, brother and cousin I think starting from the age of six. Her mother instead of helping her got angry at her. Can you imagine, going through among the most horrendous atrocities that any human ever has faced and the one person you should receive at least care and warmth from turns around and blames you? SubhanAllah.

      At 15 she was married off and her husband was horrible, abusive, I think maybe he drank alcohol and had affairs too.

      Out of her depression she turned to Allah, and she is still coping, may Allah have mercy on her and get her to the highest rank in Jannah, Al Firdaus nearest to An-Nabi sallahualayhiwasalam. If I was there, wallahi, inshaa Allah I would do my best to help her out.

      Did you think about that? That maybe, you are being tested to the degree of how you help those broken people, the people who are so unthinkably oppressed, you can hardly find someone in a third world country who was as oppressed? I too think about those people, who are deprived of rahmah from humans in their childhood.

      Perhaps this is Allah’s way of bringing the Muslim among them to the higher rank in Paradise because in Paradise the peace and pleasure never end.

      And perhaps this is to prevent the kaffir among them from having a severer punishment. Because the disbelievers will be in the blaze forever and the pain for all of them never ends.

      • Avatar

        Fritz

        May 17, 2013 at 12:06 PM

        Awesome reply Gibran.

        But what about mental illness? Bipolar/Schizophrenia etc – not during the “florid” periods of hallucinations but where a person has enough function to vaguely know what is happening but in terms of mood and cognitive capacity they can barely pull the covers over their heads. I think this issue isnt really addressed at all in our communities.

  6. Abez

    Abez

    May 19, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    Ameen, Curious.

    You ask a good question. Allah allows us free will, and man takes free will and hits his fellow man over the head with it. This is the way the dunya works, and it is a test for us and we are a test for each other.

    However, the suffering in this world is just as temporary as its pleasure, and when people will wake up on the Day of Judgment and try to figure out how long they were really alive, the best answer they’ll be able to come up with will be a day or a part of a day. We think there’s no end of pain now, but it’ll be over in the blink of an eye.

    The injustice is temporary as well, and when the people of Jannah will be asked whether they had suffered in this world, they’ll happily answer no.

    I remember once a contractor cheated my father out of a million rupees of steel, and my father (may Allah bless him) instead of saying “Why me, how could Allah let this happen, etc’- said:

    “Beta, I’ll take a million rupees of blessings over a million rupees of steel. On the Day of Judgement, I’ll take it all back.”

    People ask: why me. The answer is, because Allah knew you could handle it and that you would come out better for it. I’ve written about this before, so I’m just going to copy something here from an old blog entry:

    “I had reached a point in my life where the spray-on apathy covering my heart had gotten so thick it had solidified, crystallized, and began blocking the light out and the darkness in. So Allah took my heart and smashed it against the floor. And then again. And then again. I lost a baby, I lost my mobility- both the car and the cartilage under my right knee cap, I was violently sick with my own salmonella poisoning while also waking up with Khalid to be vomitted on five and six times a night by a crying, terrified, exhausted little boy who had no idea what was going on, and what did I get out of the whole experience? Something absolutely beautiful.

    The covering shattered.

    Allah used just enough force, and not an ounce more than I could bear, to break apart the encasement on my heart and leave a battered, tenderized, bleeding, but liberated heart laying there for me to pick up and start over with. So I did. And the shards were sharp and I have hurt more this year than I have in my entire life, but I have learned more about maintaining my faith and keeping my heart soft so that Allah doesn’t have to do it for me.

    Is it superstitious of me to believe that if Allah will scourge me if I let my faith slip? Yes, it would be, except that isn’t what I believe. I believe that Allah is kind, and He gives us chances to rebuild ourselves by knocking us down. Every hardship is both a challenge and an opportunity, and when I think of all the times that Qadr has backhanded me, it’s been when I needed a good, swift kick in the apathy. I believe it’s tough love. And I’m grateful for it.”

  7. Avatar

    Parvez Khan

    February 5, 2014 at 1:47 PM

    nice article; very beneficial.
    but i would like to ask, how does a person know if he is forgiven?

  8. Avatar

    Aisha

    January 6, 2015 at 6:58 AM

    There is nothing wrong with loving this life, hating this life and wishing for death is like those people who think long beards and sour mean faces make u look pious. Cursing the world and waiting for ur death is radical

  9. Avatar

    Anony

    July 11, 2015 at 5:47 PM

    JazakAllAH

    as I lost my mother couple of weeks ago after Heart By pass Surgery this article help me to find my some answers but still I feel my life has been finished I dosent like anything on this world I am constantly thinking when I will die and meet my mother in jannah. The colours of life has been vanished.and every time I am stuck in memories .still I coudnt find way to return to my life again and give time to my father and family ?

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala

      July 13, 2015 at 3:22 AM

      Dear Brother

      It can be very hard to get past the passing away of a loved one, especially your mother who may have been the center of your world. The Prophet (SAW) said that the among the things that benefit after one’s death is a righteous child. So a person will come on the Day of Judgement and find their ranks elevated just by the actions and prayers of their child. You should make it a goal in your life to honor your mother by being righteous, by giving charity in her name and by praying to Allah (SWT) for elevation of her rank and her inclusion amongst those honored in the hereafter.

      This will help heal your pain to some extent and when in sha Allah you do join her in Jannah, both of you will be at the highest levels.

      Best Regards
      Aly
      *Comment above is posted in a personal capacity and may not reflect the official views of MuslimMatters or its staff*

  10. Avatar

    d

    August 15, 2015 at 6:25 AM

    All the talk that we have with people who are not believers in Islam (or Judaism or Christianimty) all comes down to this? WHy does a good God do bad things? The prophet ‘Isa saw more deeply into suffering, and the Christians make this how God and man connect. If we understood all suffering, as Isa did not understand his suffering, we would not be moved by it. Suffering humanizes the Imam who apparently knows it all, and tells me the meaning of my child’s death, with quotes from the Hadith and the Quran, without first weeping and weeping and weeping again, and being changed and damaged in his heart as I have in mind. There is no actuarial calculation in growth to God; we cannot say, ah, I realize that this suffering is good for me and therefore will get me an extra 10 points in heaven. No. Suffer and don’t know that there is always a reason, but reaalize that in the strange world which Allah has made, where we are all connected, where our very existence depends on us having wiped out most of the other species of man before homo sapiens, then in this world, we are all strangely bound up in suffering that we cannot know, and from which we seek to hide.

  11. Avatar

    Ali

    December 3, 2015 at 1:40 PM

    I believe in the truth of Islam as it is plainly obvious when objectively studied.

    With that said: I still don’t understand why mister allah insists on giving me a life of humiliation and misery. Not one good day I’ve experienced on this miserable earth. Why?

    Did I ask to be born? No.

    So why should I be required to follow rules and be grateful? For what?

    I have nothing to be grateful for. I wake up cursing God and I go to sleep cursing God and it is the only thing that makes me feel better.

    Seems like I’m supposed to take gods decree of humiliation and then be grateful. While other Muslims get to enjoy this life and will continue enjoying their afterlife as well. Because they are grateful. They pray they express their love for Allah because they have been blessed with things to be grateful for.

    Me? Not blessed at all. No good. Only bad.

    So what? I should pretend to be grateful? When inside I have only resentment. Doesn’t make sense.

    I’m supposed to take his abuse and be grateful just so I can be allowed entry to the big party in heaven? It’s like in this life a guy bullying me making fun of me, disrespecting me and I’m supposed to have a stupid smile on my face like it’s totally fine just so that bully can one day say “okay, you’ve suffered enough I think. Here come on in to the party now. I won’t mess with you anymore..”

    You think I’m supposed to just say “ok thank you for not hurting me anymore sir and thank you for letting me into your party”

    That doesn’t make sense in this life and I just can’t bring myself to be grateful to an abuser.

    I don’t owe an apology to God. He owes me an apology.

    Remember I didn’t ask to be here so I do not owe him anything and I certainly did not ask to be abused.

    Allah can kiss my ass.

    • Avatar

      Ali

      December 3, 2015 at 7:08 PM

      Okay I’ve calmed down. You can delete the previous comment.

      I know I’m wrong. I know I’m just being a little crybaby. But frustration and my emotions got the better of me.

      I know Islam is the truth and that after every hardship comes ease but it is not so easy for me. I know I should just accept the hand I’ve been dealt rather than curse the dealer. But that’s how I feel sometimes.

      I’m not at a point where I can bring myself to pray. Because I don’t feel grateful. If I were to pray it would be out of fear of fire rather than gratefulness.

      But really if I had a choice of being born with this life versus not being born at all, I’d choose the latter.

      Hate me for my comment but at least appreciate the honesty

  12. Avatar

    Simbey

    December 27, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    May peace be upon us all.

  13. Avatar

    Zahira

    March 21, 2016 at 12:53 PM

    Thank You ALLAH..I hear and beginning to understand each day.
    Amin Amine Ameen

  14. Avatar

    Richard

    July 26, 2016 at 3:36 PM

    i feel abused by god for no good reason, what have i done to him nothing it god wickedness that let me down because i choose not to do his will, i choose to go my own way and what happened he took my working life off me because i would not do his will what is the point of trying, god let people down i don’t want hell, but i don’t want to live with god why because god abuse people life

  15. Avatar

    Richard

    July 26, 2016 at 3:45 PM

    so forgot to say you can hear him and he said i was on to something good, but it was not what he was planning for me so that left me feeling let down, why because i can do what every i want it god who has to be evil all the time, too the point he tested me to see if i would commit suicide, i’d never thought of that until he came near me he want to test me for his own wickedness i went self employed in 2007 and now im making a claim against south yorkshire police because they arrested me for stealing a company i set up, but really it was god (Allah) he could not get me to do his will the problem is god like to abuse people for other people wickedness in the matter of that Allah has let me down abuse me ruined my relationship with my daughter mother for his own evil i turned my back on god for the evil within his own heart i never choose to kill or hurt people, but allah has done every sort of wickedness to me just as a test, all i want for the lord leave me i never needed him in the first place , but for his own evil he did things for his own needs

  16. Avatar

    Einstein

    April 7, 2018 at 4:11 AM

    Lot of bullshit. If anybody is getting screwed.. the belief is we were born to get screwed.

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#Islam

He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

Tawakkul- a leaf falling
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While discussing an emotionally-heavy issue, my therapist brought up the point that in life we can reach a point of acceptance in regards to our difficult issues: “It sounds cliche, but there’s no other way to say it: it is what it is.”

Okay, I thought, as I listened. Acceptance. Yes, I can do this eventually. She went on to add: “It is what it is, and I know that everything will be okay.””

Tears had already been flowing, but by this point, full-blown sobs started. “I…can’t….seem…to ever…believe that.” There. I had said it. I had faked being confident and accepting, even to myself. I had faked the whole, “I have these health problems, but I am so together” type of vibe that I had been putting out for years.

Maybe it was the hormones of a third pregnancy, confronting the realities of life with multiple chronic diseases, family problems, or perhaps a midlife crisis: but at that moment, I did not feel deep in my heart with true conviction that everything would be okay.

That conversation led me to reflect on the concept of tawakkul in the following weeks and months. What did it mean to have true trust in Allah? And why was it that for years I smiled and said, “Alhamdulillah, I’m coping just fine!” when in reality, the harsh truth was that I felt like I had not an ounce of tawakkul?

I had led myself to believe that denying my grief and slapping a smile on was tawakkul. I was being outwardly cheerful — I even made jokes about my life with Multiple Sclerosis — and I liked to think I was functioning all right. Until I wasn’t.

You see, the body doesn’t lie. You can tell all the lies you want to with your tongue, but after some time, the body will let you know that it’s holding oceans of grief, unshed tears, and unhealed traumas. And that period of my life is a tale for another time.

The short story is that things came to a head and I suddenly felt utterly overwhelmed and terrified daily about my future with a potentially disabling disease, while being diagnosed with a second major chronic illness, all while caring for a newborn along with my other children. Panic attacks and severe anxiety ensued. When I realized that I didn’t have true tawakkul, I had to reflect and find my way again.

I thought about Yaqub (Jacob). I thought long and hard about his grief: “Yaa asafaa ‘alaa Yusuf!” “Oh, how great is my grief for Joseph!”

He wept until he was blind. And yet, he constantly asserted, “Wallahul-Musta’aan”: “Allah is the one whose help is sought.” And he believed.

Oh, how did he believe. His sons laughed and called him an old fool for grieving over a son lost for decades. He then lost another dear son, Binyamin. And yet he said, “Perhaps it will be that my Lord will bring them to me altogether.”

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

So my first realization was that there was no sin in the grief. I could indeed trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) while feeling a sorrow so profound that it ripped me apart at times. “The heart grieves and the eyes weep, but the tongue does not say that except which pleases its Lord. Oh, Ibrahim, we are gravely saddened by your passing.” These are the words of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for a lost infant son, said with tears pouring down his blessed face, ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

I thought of the Year of Grief, Aamul-Huzn, when he, Allah’s peace be upon him, lost the woman who was the love of his life and the mother of his children; as well as an uncle who was like a father. The year was named after his grief! And here I was denying myself this human emotion because it somehow felt like a betrayal of true sabr?

Tawakkul, tawakkul, where are you? I searched for how I could feel it, truly feel it.Click To Tweet

Through years of introspection and then therapy, I realized that I had a personality that centered around control. I expressed this in various ways from trying to manage my siblings (curse of the firstborn), to trying to manage my childbirth and health. If I only did the “right” things, then I could have the perfect, “natural” birth and the perfect picture of health.

When I was diagnosed with a chronic disease, these illusions started to crack. And yet even then, I thought that if I did the right things, took the right supplements and alternative remedies and medications, that I wouldn’t have trouble with my MS.

See, when you think you control things and you attempt to micromanage everything, you’ve already lost tawakkul. You’ve taken the role of controlling the outcome upon yourself when in reality, your Lord is in control. It took a difficult time when I felt I was spiraling out of control for me to truly realize that I was not the master of my outcomes. Certainly, I would “tie my camel” and take my precautions, but then it was a matter of letting go.

At some point, I envisioned my experience of tawakkul as a free-fall. You know those trust exercises that you do at summer camps or company retreats? You fall back into the arms of someone and relinquish any control over your muscles. You are supposed to be limp and fully trust your partner to catch you.

I did this once with a youth group. After they fell–some gracefully and trusting, some not — I told them: “This is the example of tawakkul. Some of you didn’t trust and you tried to break your fall but some of you completely let go and let your partner catch you. Life will throw you down, it will hit you over and over, and you will fall–but He, subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), will be there to break your fall.”

I am falling. There is a degree of terror and sadness in the fall. But that point when through the pain and tears I can say, “It is what it is, and no matter what, everything will be okay”, that right there is the tranquility that comes from tawakkul.

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#Islam

The Day I Die | Imam Omar Suleiman

Janazah, funeral, legacy, Omar Suleiman, Edhi
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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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The Spirituality Of Gratitude

Gratitude
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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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