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

Sh. Abdullah Hasan

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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.

 

 

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

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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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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